Eight years after his brother’s untimely death, guitarist and composer Bill Horvitz pays homage to Philip with his latest release, The Long Walk, set for national release, April 2. Special tribute performances are being planned for the SF Bay Area (March) as well as New York (June).
The Long Walk is a suite of eight pieces composed by Bill Horvitz for the 17-piece Bill Horvitz Expanded Band as a tribute to his youngest brother Philip Horvitz, who passed away suddenly of a heart failure in 2005 at the age of 44. Philip was an inspired writer, director, actor, dancer, and choreographer, who worked primarily in San Francisco and New York. The music includes a wide range of styles drawing on jazz, funk, folk, and new music. The compositions are tightly composed and arranged and contain sections of conducted improvisation. Each piece relates in some way to a part of Philip’s life.
After Philip died, Horvitz wanted to compose music as a tribute to him, and about a year after his death, began hearing the beginnings of new compositions that felt in different ways related to Philip’s life. As Horvitz worked tirelessly on his compositions, the music evolved and he began adding instruments. The resulting pieces are a collection of jazz, rock, folk, classical, and funk-influenced works that have come out of the enormous range of emotions Horvitz has felt since his brother’s untimely death, “I did not compose this music with literal ideas about Philip in mind, but found elements that related to him as each piece grew.” For example, “Child Star” with all the appropriate fanfares, refers to a time very early in Philip’s life when he often performed for his family, “Philip would create theatrical pieces, command performances based on Broadway musicals, for which he printed and sold tickets. He would dance in the living room and lip sync or sing along with recordings, all highly choreographed and rehearsed to a tee.”
Bill Horvitz has spent nearly 40 years combining composition and improvisation and expanding the voice of the guitar in both large and small ensembles. Between 1978 and 1988 he lived and worked in New York City, where he worked with a long list of composers and musicians. Horvitz’ lengthy and varied experience in the realms of jazz, rock, classical, folk, and new music have resulted in an entirely original compositional voice-a voice that is forceful and innovative, yet always intelligently accessible. As a guitarist, Horvitz stretches the boundaries of guitar music and points it in new and exciting directions. He fuses traditional and extended techniques in a most inventive way; his strikingly personal instrumental vision endows his music with an infinite array of tonal color. The pieces in The Long Walk combine through-composed, tightly arranged music with a variety of settings for improvisation. Exercising his creative writing abilities with his Expanded Band proves to an exhilarating experience for Horvitz, “The instrumentation includes brass, winds, strings, and rhythm section and enables me to shift between a traditional jazz sound and something less conventional.” The Expanded Band includes a stellar line-up of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s (and beyond) finest musicians, who add an enormous amount to the music already on the page as excellent readers, interpreters, and improvisers.
The improvised portions commonly begin with one or two soloists and build from there as directed by conductor Omid Zoufonoun. Hailing from a renowned family of Persian musicians, instrumentalist and composer Zoufonoun studied conducting in Vienna for three years.
When performed live, Horvitz introduces the pieces with brief stories about Philip, connecting the music to him. These stories have a profound impact on the audience as well as the musicians. The stories are poignant, evocative, and often quite humorous. Band members play the music with increased passion, and following the concerts, audience members speak of being deeply moved, sharing similar experiences of loss of their own. This, for Horvitz, is the most significant part of the project-how the combination of story and music touches people, uniting all in the human experience. Writer David Templeton said, “The program has universal appeal, beautifully illustrating how the loss of someone very close can be turned into a work of healing, acceptance, and love.”
The first Expanded Band performances came in the fall of 2006 in San Francisco and Sebastopol, California. The original ensemble included twelve musicians, and by the spring of 2007, the ensemble grew to 20 and performed the music in New York City at Roulette. In 2009 Horvitz had yet another vision for his Expanded Band, opting to revise the music extensively, add a new piece, and slightly alter the instrumentation. From this the ensemble came into existence as it is today, with 17 musicians and a conductor. The music was recorded in 2011 at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA.
In addition to leading and playing in The Bill Horvitz Expanded Band, since 2004, he has sung and played guitar, banjo, and ukulele with TONE BENT, a folk duo with his wife, composer, musician and singer Robin Eschner. Their first release, Say What You Will, has been described as “a roaring ride through the heartland of human experience.” They’re second release Angels In the Kitchen will be released in the spring of 2013. Horvitz also leads and composes for the instrumental trio, The Skerries, with bassist Scott Walton and drummer Tom Hayashi. He is a founding member of Take Jack, a nine-member vocal and instrumental band and has composed music for theater, film, dance, art installation, and spoken word.