Wayne Horvitz's Latest Album Is Inspired by the Poetry of Richard Hugo

For the last decade, Seattle-based innovative pianist and composer Wayne Horvitz had been looking for an excuse to combine two of his groups: the Gravitas Quartet, a chamber ensemble, and Sweeter Than the Day, which has the same lineup as his previous project, Zony Mash, but in an acoustic setting.

Horvitz thought last year's album, Some Places Are Forever Afternoon, a tribute to Pacific Northwest poet Richard Hugo, would be the perfect setting to combine both projects. He says he didn’t just want it to be a chamber ensemble, but he also didn’t just want it to be a band. While Horvitz has done many projects in which he set text to music, he knew from the start that Some Places Are Forever Afternoon was different. Hugo's poems inspired the music, and when Horvitz performs the album in its entirety at Dazzle on Friday, April 8, the poems will be read in between songs.

While Hugo was born and raised in Seattle and died there in 1982, he spent many years in Missoula, Montana, where he taught poetry at the University of Montana. Horvitz took a two-week road trip to the state, visiting towns and places that Hugo had written about. The pianist then spent a month (“away from everything and everybody,” he says) working on songs that would end up on Some Places Are Forever Afternoon.

He had a book of Hugo’s poems sitting on the piano, and he says that he’d sometimes look at a line and it would give him an idea and he’d go from there. “And sometimes I’d just be sitting at the piano and start playing something, and I’d think, ‘Wait, that makes sense for this poem.’ And I’d rifle through the book and try to find the poem.”

Horvitz says that about half of the album’s eleven songs were more inspired by a line of one of Hugo’s poems rather than the whole poem, and those lines became the titles of the songs. Each song was based on a different Hugo poem, which are published in the CD booklet.

When it came time to record the album, combining the Gravitas Quartet and Sweeter Than the Day was probably the easiest thing he’s done in his entire life. He says that Denver-based cornetist Ron Miles, cellist Peggy Lee and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, who all play in the Gravitas Quartet, have each sat in with Sweeter Than the Day (which includes guitarist Timothy Young, Keith Lowe and drummer Eric Eagle)  at various times and that they all knew each other even though they hadn't yet officially played as a septet. 

“When I made the last Sweeter Than the Day record and the last Gravitas Quartet record, I made them at once. So Gravitas came in for a few days, and then Sweeter Than the Day came in for a few days to the same studio. Some of the people were in town at the same time. It was just kind of flawless. You get your two favorite bands and you put them together, and you get your next favorite band.”

Wayne Horvitz performs at Dazzle on Friday, April 8. 
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon