These artists and this composer have graced these pages twice previously. First in the wonderful production of Perry’s opera, Tawawa House and some of the musicians appeared in an article on Valerie Capers. The present disc and the two previously mentioned articles are all indebted to a significant degree to the work of musicologist and composer Jeannie Gayle Pool. It was she who kindly sent me this disc for review and her scholarship which brought forth the production of the opera (Perry was the subject of her doctoral thesis).
Zenobia Powell Perry (1908-2004) was an American composer. pianist and teacher who counts R. Nathaniel Dett and Darius Milhaud among her teachers. Her sound is not far from that of Aaron Copland in her use of basically tonal harmonies and folk elements. She is, in a sense, a lost populist and quite a gem.
This 25 track disc fills a major gap in the discography of American music in general and music of black Americans in particular. Perry has roots in African and Native American (Creek) ancestry and Pool’s work may very well have rescued her from total obscurity. The lost thread of which I refer in my title is to suggest that there is more populist and jazz influenced American music that needs to be brought to light.
Listening to this disc is pure entertainment. These are undiscovered gems lovingly rendered with love and authority by Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker and (civil rights advocate and retired judge) La Doris Hazzard Cordell. The entire project seems to be a labor of love and one can only hope that it will not be the last installment in the recorded canon of Perry’s work.
These 25 tracks are all brief pieces. They range from the 1935 Childhood Capers to the 1985 suite from Tawawa House arranged for piano four hands by Josephine Gandolfi. The entertainment here ranges from light pieces like the Childhood Capers to some more deeply thoughtful pieces with jazz inflected harmonies. Some are quite demanding technically, a tribute to Perry’s skills as a pianist.
The Homage to William Levi Dawson on his 90th Birthday, Times Seven, Soliloquy, Nocturne, A Jazz Trifle and Rhapsody seems to be rather substantive works and pique the curiosity as to what else lies undiscovered. The suite form Tawawa House is great but it will have to hold that place until the full opera can be recorded. It is worth hearing, especially as one of the few operas dealing with slavery.
The very fine recording done a Bosendorfer piano at Stanford University by engineer Mark Dalrymple. The production by Pool and Gandolfi leave this writer wanting to hear more. Kudos!