Most of us in Fresno know Benjamin Boone because of the annual performances of his jazz quartet at the Rogue Festival. But Boone, a music professor at Fresno State, has also carved out a career as a composer. His work is especially popular in Europe — so much so that he was the guest of honor this past weekend at a conference titled “The Saxophone Music of Benjamin Boone” in Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast of France.
I caught up with Boone at the Salt Lake City airport via email on his way to the conference. Here’s a rundown:
Question: Why are you going to France?
Answer: I got really lucky! Bernard Cantau, Professor of saxophone at the University of Bordeaux, has been playing my saxophone music for several years (including my concertos and saxophone quartet pieces). He has organized a conference called “The Saxophone Music of Benjamin Boone” with a consortium of 4 schools in the “Bassin d’Arcachon” (in Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast). They will hold 4 concerts of my music over 2 days (March 31 and April 1) along with workshops and lectures. I’m the guest of honor. (Later, when he arrived at the conference, Boone on his website posted a program, pictured, from the event.)
The French military orchestra is supposed to be playing my concerto for alto saxophone (squeeze) with Cantau as the soloist, as well as other works, but I just got an email last night they may not, because of some crazy bureaucratic thing…. but then two hours ago I got an email saying maybe they still were ….. so we will see about them — but I do know about 20 of my pieces will be played by various ensembles and soloists. The consortium of schools commissioned me to write educational works for saxophone which will be included in their educational literature and those will be played. I am really honored and humbled.
Do you go by yourself or with your quartet?
Just me. This is primarily my “classic” compositions that are being played. They did ask me to bring my saxophone to play some jazz tunes and do some demonstrations and workshops.
Have you ever been the subject of an academic conference before?
Heavens, no! This was totally unexpected and I still don’t quite know what to make of it.
What are the titles of a couple of the workshops and lectures that will be devoted to your work?
I actually do not know all of what will be going on – but they sent me a schedule of what *I* am expected to do and I am busy from morning to evening — coaching various ensembles, conducting a few pieces, but not many. They actually asked if I would conduct the military group and I just laughed out loud. I mean, I work with GREAT conductors like Anna Hamre, Gary Gilroy, Thomas Loewenheim, and so I KNOW I am a horrible conductor.
As a musician and scholar, are you ever surprised — or even learn something — by what other people in the field have to say about your music? Can you think of an example where you thought to yourself, “Wow, I’d never considered that before!” in terms of commentary about your work?
One student at USC did a dissertation on my sax music several years ago and she compared me to Gershwin ….. never thought of that …. but then she analyzed these classical pieces of mine and saw patterns in my music I was totally unaware of. She even speculated that I had been practicing John Coltrane’s A LOVE SUPREME solo while writing one piece … that there were elements of it all over the piece. I thought back, looked at the music and guess what, she was right and I had had absolutely not consciously done that. Can you tell I am a fan of analysis? I tell my students composers cant analyze their own music – they have no perspective.
Is a conference such as this all praise? Or will you be expecting criticism, too?
In any enterprise you will be criticized, and often you can learn great lessons from that criticism IF you don’t get defensive. I tend to get defensive, so I will try and look at any criticism I get as my teacher.
Do you feel you’re better known as a jazz musician and scholar in Europe compared to the U.S.?
Hmmm…. I think the place I am best known as a classical composer is in Portugal. FUnny, huh?
Anything else you’d like to say about your trip?
Well, the boarding was just announced — so off to the plane!!!!