Instrumentation: 2 pianos (lids off, if possible), 2 percussion (xylophone/vibraphone/marimba/triangle/ride cymbal/snare drum/hi-hat/maracas/splash cymbal/castanets/bongos)
Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)
Duration: 15 minutes
World Premiere: August 4, 1994 / Symphony Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota / Minneosta Orchestra
Lounge Lizards (1994) for two pianos and two percussion was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra Association, David Zinman, Music Director. The world premiere took place at Sommerfest in Symphony Hall, Minneapolis, performed by members of the Minnesota Orchestra, on August 4, 1994.
Lounge Lizards is a musical recollection of my student years when I supported studies in music composition by playing jazz piano in lounges, bars and nightclubs across America and Europe. At the Sip ‘N’ Stir, a drinking establishment in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I entertained patrons on an out-of-tune piano during the summers of 1976-78. To pay the rent during my studies abroad from 1982-84 with composer György Ligeti (1923-2006), I played jazz at Dennis Swing Club, in the infamous Reeperbahn red-light district of Hamburg, Germany. In 1986, one of my most memorable piano gigs was at the Ramada Inn (Exit 1, New Jersey Turnpike), where I had the pleasure of playing for one disinterested customer every night: the bartender! I also played jazz for double-shifts of customers (the first shift arriving at 10 pm and the second trickling in around 4 am) at the Bamboo Bar in Amsterdam, which has to go down as the smokiest nightclub of all time. Each movement of my composition refers back to one of these locales, never to be forgotten, where I paid my dues as a lounge lizard.
The first movement, “Sip ‘N’ Stir (Cedar Rapids, Iowa),” begins with a series of seemingly endless musical sequences marked “Cocktail Rubato.” Things quickly heat up as pulsating, syncopated piano and xylophone riffs are punctuated by grooving triangles and sizzling cymbals. A rousing coda, entitled “One for the Road,” leaves the listener asking the bartender for one last martini.
In the second movement, “Dennis Swing Club (Hamburg, Germany),” I create sultry “mood” music, with the pianos and vibraphone performing block chords reminiscent of the jazz piano styling of George Shearing (1919-2011). As the music accelerates, it becomes increasingly polytonal, until a rim-shot on the snare drum makes the pianists leap off their benches in a startled fashion, bringing this movement to an abrupt conclusion.
The third movement, “Ramada Inn (Exit 1, New Jersey Turnpike),” evokes the “exotic” easy-listening music of Martin Denny (1911-2005) and Les Baxter (1922-1996), which was wildly popular in the 1950s and 1960s. I compose a bizarre, beautiful waltz of alluring piano arpeggios and swirling chromatic runs, shadowed by enticing marimba tremolo and brushed cymbals.
For the fourth movement, “Bamboo Bar (Amsterdam, Holland),” I have composed canonical rock’ n’ roll riffs and piano rhythms, reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis (b. 1936) and Henry Mancini (1924-1994). Like a torch in a 1950s Tiki Polynesian restaurant, the beatnik bongos and groovy xylophone add fire to the music. For our “Last Call” coda, descending and ascending glissandi on the white piano keys signal “the party’s over, it’s time to call it a day.” Please do not forget to leave a something in the tip jar for the pianist on your way out.