The Fools of Time

By Frank Proto

The idea for The Fools of Time came about during a conversation with Cleo Laine. Cleo was reminiscing on some of the events that she has observed during her lifetime. At one point she took pen to paper and wrote down some of her thoughts - sometimes wondering what her grandchildren, who will live most of their lives in the new millennium, will think of their 20th-century ancestors. I gave her notes to John Chenault who crafted the lyrics with Cleo's thoughts in mind. I then added the music with Cleo's unique vocal abilities in mind.

Cleo Laine has not let her 1997 knighthood change her approach to music. As the first British jazz artist to be knighted by the Queen, "The First Lady of Song" took the honor not as a cue to rest on her laurels, but as an affirmation of her full-steam-ahead approach to music. In more than 40 years of collaboration with her husband, saxophonist and clarinetist John Dankworth, Laine has continued to push the supple power of her voice across all boundaries of pop, jazz and classical genres.

The Fools of Time was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. as part of the First Decade Initiative, a ten year commissioning project that celebrates the rich and vital variety of the arts.

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Fantasy on The Saints

By Larry Dickson

George T. Simon, noted jazz authority and big band devotee, has observed that "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" originally became a musical staple at New Orleans funeral parades, "during which the mourners would march to its stirring melody as they paid homage to those they were about to bury. Since then, it has served as the closing piece de resistance at many a jazz concert." Frank Proto's Fantasy on the Saints, composed in 1975, not only celebrates the jazz elements associated with this classic American song, but also offers a unique symphonic approach to the well known melody. The composition features in succession four stately French horns, an exotic oboe and eventually a jazzy trumpet, as the melody undergoes a clever series of musical metamorphoses. The exciting finale reflects the power of this time-honored folk melody to serve as the ultimate "closer."

The first section of Proto's four-part Fantasy establishes the initial melody in the French horns. Then strings and finally trumpets take over the melodic line. Next, the Fantasy journeys to a more exotic musical locale with the entrance of the solo oboe. The composer has suggested, in his notes to the score, that this solo be performed in the style of the "Tunis" section of Ibert's Ports of Call. Alternating between 4/4 and 3/4 measures, the minor-keyed melody is backed by shimmery strings and darkly mysterious percussion.

In the third section the mood changes once again; this time a spirited waltz generates a high level of symphonic energy. Spanish elements of castanets and tambourines compliment the soaring string lines. The overall effect is not unlike the orchestrations of Lalo and De Falla or Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel in their Spanish moods. A change to a higher key creates even more excitement, only terminated by the descending brass chords which signal the slow, quiet interlude that introduces the final section.

After the solo trombone restates the last phrase of the melody, a brassy introduction alternating with energetic percussion (complete with a marching band "roll off") leads to melodic expositions by piccolo and flute and then by the trombones. The musical temperature further rises with a heated trumpet solo which fully explores the jazz origins of this great American song. A powerful drum break, reminiscent of the Dixieland format for ending a jazz performance, sets up the animated final ensemble which speeds to a rousing conclusion.

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Yesterday's News

A Satire for Jazz Band with Actors and Vocalist

By John Chenault

Ever since human beings invented it, Time has remained a mystery to us as perplexing and enigmatic as life itself. It is no wonder why most of us fail to comprehend one of its greatest paradoxes: that the past is not past, the past is present.

Things may happen now but the moment now is elusive. Even in an age when information travels through cyberspace at the speed of light, there is no such thing as instant communications. By the time we transmit and receive images via the Internet or television, even if the procedure occurs in a matter of seconds, they already belong to the past; they have become a part of what was, a part of memory. This means all news is "Yesterday's News." All news is history. All news is old.

Rooted as we are in traditions, ceremonies, and ideas that date back for centuries and millennia, our beliefs and value systems, our ways of thinking, can become reflexive, ritualistic, and repetitious. The danger in this is obvious: if we fail to recognize the mistakes of our past we are doomed to repeat them again and again.

As a nation America needs to comprehend the fact that our history is replete with baggage, junk that we transfer from one generation to the next, junk that forms a legacy of political corruption, hypocrisy, racism, sexism, violence.

The dilemma that confronts us as culture is how to break out of this destructive cycle. Perhaps the answer lies in how we study, learn, and teach history. If we learn about the connectedness of events, the underlying root causes, then perhaps we will come to recognize that such things as prosecutorial witch-hunts and impeachment trials are not aberrations but the natural outgrowth of seasons of political failure.

Bill Clinton is a direct heir of Thomas Jefferson. Henry Hyde, though notably less flamboyant, is a successor to Wilbur Mills. Remember Wilbur Mills? These men are not isolated or separated from their predecessors any more than we can draw a line in space and divide and separate time.

"Yesterdays News," satirizes our inability to come to terms with our past and to recognize in the madness and mania of our present problems the fingerprints and footprints of history. It is a cautionary tale that treats our recent history of political scandal and corruption as predictable and preventable.

This composition premiered April 27, 1999 at the University of Cincinnati. It was performed by students of the jazz program of the College Conservatory of Music. The text and lyrics were written by John Chenault. The music was composed by Frank Proto. And it was all made possible by the dedicated men and women of our government in their grim determination to amuse, entertain, and enrage us with their antics.

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