A few years ago, Yeager, a pianist and composer who studied in the dual-degree music program at Tufts and New England Conservatory and now teaches at Berklee, began writing some tunes inspired by Vonnegut. Once he collected four or five of them, he realized he had quite a project going on.
On Friday, Yeager celebrates the release of his latest album, “Unstuck in Time: The Kurt Vonnegut Suite,” in his hometown at the Amazing Things Art Center, officially known as atac: downtown arts + music. A brief visit also includes a stop in Portland, Maine on Saturday and a special performance at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in Indianapolis on November 11, in celebration of what would have been the writer’s 100th birthday. (Born and raised in Indianapolis, Vonnegut lived most of his adult life on Cape Cod. He died in 2007.)
It is a cycle of songs played by a versatile big band consisting of brass, woodwinds, bass, drums and vibraphone. Saxophonist Miguel Zenon is invited on two tracks.
Each song title – “Kilgore’s Creed”, “Blues for Billy Pilgrim” – is a Vonnegut reference. The music ranges from meditative and daydreaming to questioning and – as Vonnegut would have approved – full-throttle farting. (The minute-and-a-half track “So It Goes,” named after Vonnegut’s trademark catchphrase, consists of the band members and the songwriter’s son Mark repeating those three words in a cacophony of voices. )
The characteristics of Vonnegut’s writing are all present in the music. The writer’s work, says Yeager, is a combination of “a mischievously dark sense of humor, a sense of adventure and also cynicism, paired with a direct tone. In my music I try to capture the playfulness, the dark and funny way he pokes fun at the weaknesses of humanity.
Like Thelonious Monk, he says, Vonnegut was a master of his art form who often ignored its conventions.
“They were both brilliantly intelligent craftsmen,” Yeager says. “Monk practiced endlessly, refining exactly what he wanted. Vonnegut wrote countless drafts of “Slaughterhouse-Five”. But they both break the “rules,” in quotes. »
Yeager’s musical mentor Bob Sinicrope, a longtime Milton Academy educator, will introduce the school’s current jazz students as the opening act on Friday. For Yeager, this is a pay-it-forward moment. As a student at Milton Academy, some of his first public performances came on bills with Sinicrope’s own band at places such as the Ryles Jazz Club.
The pianist, who lives in New York, will be joined in Framingham by a pair of fellow Berklee teachers, multi-instrumentalist Mark Zaleski and bassist Fernando Huergo, as well as first-call drummer Jay Sawyer.
“One thing that was very gratifying was that there was a lot of excitement in the recording studio and the rehearsal process about how fun the music was to play,” he says. “As a composer, this is your first audience. If they like the music and are having fun, it shows on the recording.
More than any other philosopher or poet, Vonnegut was inspired, he liked to say, by comedians and jazz musicians. “Historians of the future, in my opinion, will praise us for very little more than our clowning and our jazz.”
James Sullivan can be reached at jamesg[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.
Celebrating the release of “Unstuck in Time: The Kurt Vonnegut Suite”. Chez atac: downtown arts + music, 160 Hollis St., Framingham. Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. $25. 508-405-2787, www.atac160.org