Name from the Past

No obituary I’ve seen for the record producer Teo Macero (1925-2008) has mentioned that he was also a composer, though the Times notes that he studied with Henry Brant. I offer the only piece I’ve heard of Macero’s, One-Three Quarters (sic): a six-minute quarter-tone piece for two pianos and ensemble from 1968. It’s pretty cool. It was on an Odyssey vinyl disc, with Ives’s Quarter-Tone Pieces and other 24tet works.

As a just-intonationist, I officially disapprove of quarter-tone music and would never write any, but I harbor a secret affection for it anyway. My music starts to sound all too normal after awhile, but quarter-tone music just never stops sounding weird.

UPDATE: Tom Hamilton sends a link to recordings of Macero’s music. I always feel bad making a big deal out of a composer just after he dies. That’s why I’ve devoted the bulk of my musicology work to living composers while they’re around to appreciate it.


  1. says

    I know that LP well, Kyle, and that was the first time I had heard of Macero’s work. It’s also a very good performance of the Ives; my favorite, in fact. After awhile, the Ives stopped sounding weird to my ears, at least. I was not aware that there was a schism between just intonationists and quarter tone composers.
    KG replies: David, we don’t have enough room in the microtonal world for a very big schism. It’s more of a small trough. That Odyssey disc is the *only* recording of the Ives, I think, that really gets the quarter-tone tuning exactly right.

  2. says

    Macero was also pals with Edgard Varèse, from the late 50s on. He and Earle Brown organised the 1957 jam sessions, where jazzers like Macero, Art Farmer, Ed Shaughnessy, Hal Overton improvised to graphic scores written by Varèse. Those graphic scores were also the same ones used later that year in Europe as the working “score” for Poem Electronique.

  3. says

    Macero actually picked up a BMI Student Composer award in 1953–along with Dominick Argento, William Bolcom, and Donald Martino. One of their more solid years, I think.

  4. kraig Grady says

    I heard an orchestra score (a suite) on vinyl a few years back on cowboy themes. No quarter tones in it that i can recall. Someone had it in their collections. I still marvel at Teo’s mix of the drums on Go Ahead John (big Fun) he makes one drum set sound like two!. All is editing is superb and am sorry others hasn’t approached improvisation with a little of the razor. It really works!

  5. says

    While I was at NEC, they brought Teo in to honor him as a guest artist. There was a concert in his honor that included a lot of his work as a composer, including some orchestral works.
    The student musicians in the NEC Orchestra staged a near-riot at the prospect of being forced to perform music by someone they considered completely unworthy of their talents.
    This wasn’t sometime in the benighted past — it was just six years ago.
    KG replies: I only know one piece of the man’s music, and like it, but that sounds sad under any circumstances.

  6. says

    You’re dead right that this is the governor version of the Ives. I bought this when I was a kid, at a time when I bought anything in the 50 cent or buck bins with a modern-art cover (still have a whole load of toe-tappin’ uptown Pulitzer winners because of that, but it was the closest thing to an education in my town). I often wish that more microtonal pieces would have those stomach-sinking descents. Usually it doesn’t happen.

  7. says

    Teo’s music has been fairly widely available for many years via jazz-related releases on small labels; he put out three — The Eclectic Side of Teo Macero (2000), Black Knight (2003), and Impressions of Miles Davis (2005) on his own Teo Records and (Impressions) Traditional Crossroads. As I write in Miles Ornette Cecil — Jazz Beyond Jazz “. . . a skilled and sometimes adventurous orchestrator, [he[ has a sgtrong sense of drama and a phonebook full of contact numbers for prime soloists. His Impressions employs tropes Miles introduced and/or exploited . . . but only approximates music Macero might have wished Miles had made.” Mingus had Macero (as a tenor saxophonist) in his Jazz Workshop in the ’50s, and together they recorded three of Macero’s works. You’ve also heard Teo’s compositions if you’ve heard Miles’ In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew or Jack Johnson and believe that radical structuring of improvisation post-facto is a compositional if collaborative process. He was a man of parts. . .