While working on a major in jazz performance and a minor at University of Colorado Boulder, pianist Annie Booth took a nineteenth century literature class where the work of French poet Charles Baudelaire was discussed and dissected. She set one of his poems to music for voice and piano to perform at her senior recital in 2010, and since then she's wanted to expand on it and make something bigger.
Over the last year, Booth, voted best jazz artist at the Westword Music Showcase for the last three years, has been working on her forty-minute composition, Flowers of Evil, which she'll premiere at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder on Wednesday, March 14. The work draws its name from Baudelaire's collection of poems written in the 1850s; Booth set six of his poems to music.
"I've basically taken his poetry, his words, and turned them into lyrics," Booth says. "I've written music to go underneath the poems. The poetry is pretty weird and dark. I like to call it 'beautifully dark.' It manages to captivate you with its beauty. It can be an incredibly beautiful phrase, but it can be a really dark subject matter where he uses really interesting metaphors."
Booth assembled an ensemble of jazz and classical musicians, including woodwind players Anisha Rush and John Gunther, trumpeter Brad Goode, trombonist Adam Bartczak, violinist Adrienne Short, cellist Kari Clifton, double bassist Patrick McDevitt and drummer Alejandro Castaño. Kathryn Radakovich, who's classically trained soprano and a jazz singer, will be singing Baudelaire's words, some of which are in original French while others are translated to English, and the text will also be projected on a screen behind the ensemble.
"The piece is not really classical music, and it's not really jazz," Booth says. "It's hard for me to describe what it is because it's a little of both. There's improvisation and it's definitely influenced by jazz, but it's kind of a chamber piece in a way, or a piece of concert music."
Booth says some of the Baudelaire poems she selected were fairly light in nature while others were more dark and mysterious.
"It kind of forced me and allowed me to explore different bi-tonalities in music and different harmonic structures than I would normally gravitate toward," Booth says. "Just darker sounds, like how can I create something that's moodier and darker than I would normally go for."
Although Flowers of Evil is a departure from her other jazz compositions, writing the piece has affected how she's approached other songs since then.
"It's just made me think about things more cinematically," Booth says. "Like how can I really tell a story and really create a mood with only sound. And of course, here I have words. The audience is going to be able to feel things with the words. But it's something I've always tried for in my music: How can I tell stories?
"A lot of my original music with my trio, I'm usually inspired by a story or a person, or something that's happened. This has kind of made me think, how can I orchestrate things to be more effective, just pairing different instruments. What happens when I pair cello with trombone. What does that sound like? Or flute with the upper register of the piano. What kind of sound does that create? Thinking really big picture."
Booth says working on Flowers of Evil also reaffirmed how much she loves composing and how much she wants to make it a bigger part of her career.
"I'm a performer and composer," she says. "I do love performing. There's nothing that beats that, but I do think that process of composing a piece... I'm in it for the long haul and thinking big and looking toward the finish line. That is also something I'm just very addicted to. I want to do more big stuff like this in my career, like write symphonies and write more chamber pieces."
Annie Booth, Flowers of Evil world premiere, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 14, Dairy Arts Center, Boulder, 303-440-7826, $10-$24.