Stephen Pollock - Saxophonist
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So Near, So Far

So Near, So Far CD








"Exceptional musicianship of the finest saxophonists I know."
Branford Marsalis
“… worth hearing again and again.”
Gordon Spencer, Pittsburgh Magazine
"Breathtaking love songs ...impeccably performed."
David Levenson
“So Near, So Far… is a finely tuned and precise piece of work. It stands with some of the best classical recordings of the past few years…”
Dante A. Ciampaglia, Pittsburgh Metropolitan
“….a wonderfully lyrical CD with beautiful melodies and lush tones coloring the listener’s palette to create a warm, and very listenable recording.”
Frank Bongorno, The Saxophone Journal

Program Notes:

Years ago when I was a student, I went to a recital given by my teacher James Houlik. In that performance he played a piece by Claude Debussy. I remember the way he sang through the long lines from the beginning of the piece to the end. When he reached the end he held the last note so long it was as though he was holding the entire audience just off of our seats in the palm of his hand. We didn’t even breathe until the horn came out of his mouth, his shoulders relaxed and he finally took a breath of his own. It was magic,…it was music. Since then many great classical, jazz and pop performers have touched me in this way, but Houlik was the first, and when he did it I was forever spoiled. He used to always tell us as students that playing with passion was much harder than playing fast and that we should strive to be good musicians first and good saxophonists second. I think he was right. In my opinion, playing musically is one of the hardest things even for a good musician to do. I struggle with technically difficult passages like everyone else, but I work hardest on playing expressively,….passionately. This challenge, and the desire to play music I really love and want to listen to, has brought about this project: my first solo recording - "So Near, So Far."

I feel very fortunate to be joined on this recording by some of the finest musicians performing today. My guests are the world renowned Alexander String Quartet, Armenian pianist Vahan Sargsyan, bass virtuoso John Patitucci, legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis, members of the New Century Saxophone Quartet - Connie Frigo, Michael Stephenson and guest alto saxophonist Andrew Hays.

On this recording I wanted to focus on line, shape, color and melody, so I have chosen music that lends itself to all of these things and I have chosen to use different instrumentation for ways of expressing this as well. The saxophone has such a wide variety of possible colors and timbres that can be achieved and one of my favorite settings for this is playing with strings. Several years ago Robert Besen, New Century Saxophone Quartet’s manager, introduced me to members of the Alexander String Quartet who are also on the BesenArts roster. After a few meetings in bars and at performances of ASQ, I became good friends with members of the quartet; therefore, it only made sense to ask them if they would like to join me on this recording. Needless to say, I was very excited when they said ‘yes’ as I have always really enjoyed and respected their playing.

At that point, all I required were good arrangements for tenor saxophone and string quartet. A few years back when New Century Saxophone Quartet decided to make a Christmas recording we commissioned several composer friends of ours to arrange Christmas tunes in their own compositional style. During this process, Michael Stephenson, the long time soprano saxophonist of NCSQ, mentioned the project to his church music director Glenn Haynes and shortly afterwards Glenn presented to the quartet his arrangements of “Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming” and “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.” While all of the music on that recording was wonderful, those two tunes stuck out as real gems to me. So I called Glenn to ask if he was up for another project and he said ‘yes’.

Early in my childhood I remember hearing my mother and father hum or sing melodies that I later found out to be folk songs from the British Isles. I didn’t know if these tunes were favorites of theirs but these melodies stuck in my head and because of this I have always been fond of the folk music from that part of the world, especially Scotland and Ireland. After all, the Pollocks came from Scotland!

Four of the tunes that I was especially fond of I asked Glenn to arrange for tenor saxophone and string quartet. At the same time I asked him to make versions with piano accompaniment as well. The tunes are Barbara Allen, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, The Water is Wide, and Danny Boy. All of the arrangements came out beautifully and while it was my original intention to do all of them with string quartet, I fell in love with Glenn’s piano version of Danny Boy. Back in seventh grade when I first started playing the saxophone, my parents took me to my Uncle Leonard’s music store during one of the family trips to my mother’s home town of Reidsville, NC. I was just a beginner on the instrument but my uncle Leonard wanted to know if I could play Danny Boy because it was one of his favorite tunes. I couldn’t play it back then but I remember him sitting down behind a Marlin pedal steel guitar, that he had made himself, and playing the tune for me. I’ll never forget that and I so wish my uncle Leonard could have heard Glenn’s arrangement of the tune before he passed away as I know he would have really liked it. It’s also one of my mother and father’s favorite tunes so I just couldn’t leave this beautiful piano version off of the recording. Maybe I’ll do the string version on the next recording?

When I was about nine or ten years old, before I could actually read music, I use to make up melodies some of which resembled the familiar Irish or Scottish folk music I was hearing at home. One of the melodies stuck with me through the years and later on, after I became a musician, I harmonized the tune but then never really did anything with it. When Glenn was working on the other folk tunes I sent him this melody. He arranged it for tenor saxophone and string quartet and while simple and sentimental in nature, the arrangement turned out beautifully. I ended up calling the tune So Near, So Far after a line in a poem I once wrote.

Another original of mine on this recording but a much more recent composition is O Northern Star for saxophone quartet. The first performance of this piece was at Wildacres Retreat in the Mountains of North Carolina in June, 2001. The performance was given by the chamber ensemble that I helped found and have been a member of for over 20 years, the New Century Saxophone Quartet. NCSQ has been in residence at Wildacres for the James Houlik Saxophone Retreat every summer for the past 15 years. This beautiful location, this ensemble that I love along with the members in it, allowed me a safe environment to premier my first work for saxophone quartet. Like So Near, So Far, O Northern Star also draws its influences from that wonderful music of the British Isles. As you can see that music has influenced me since I was a small child and still to this day I become filled with emotion when I hear melodies from some of my favorite songs. As human beings we are inspired and moved by many things in this life. This music as well as the night sky has always inspired me. In my youth, my family moved to Alaska and like many others in that awesome place I spent a great amount of time in the outdoors hiking and camping. Also during this time I became very interested in the stars and constellations as well as their movements across the night sky. I spent many a night looking up in awe at them from my sleeping bag wondering if anyone else could be looking at the same stars at the same time. Out of all the stars there was always one that stood out to me. For some reason I was drawn to Polaris - the North Star. It’s not the brightest star in the sky but it’s always there in that same place. No matter where I was I could find it in that same spot in a straight line just off the end of the Big Dipper. In all my travels and in the years since then, that constant star has become a source of comfort for me; always there, reminding me of the way home when I felt lost or alone. In a way that Northern Star has been a guide for me through this life. It has also been a way for me to keep the ones I love close to my heart. Thinking that they might be looking up at that star at the same moment somehow makes a loved one seem not so far away. This piece was inspired by and written for an Angel.

As a college student at the North Carolina School of the Arts most of my friends were orchestral musicians. By this association, along with my music history classes, I was introduced to a large amount of orchestral music. I was so inspired that my classical record collection which barely even existed when I first got to NCSA grew to over 100 records in my first year. I quickly realized that since I was a saxophonist, there was a lot of great orchestral music that I wasn’t going to get to perform, like the music of Gustav Mahler. I was so moved by his music. I used to sit in my dorm room to the wee hours of the morning with fellow students listening to Mahler. I really wanted to find a work of his that had enough of a melodic line that I could make a transcription for tenor saxophone and piano work without the text. I found that work in Mahler’s Rukert Lieder - Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (O garish world, long since thou hast lost me). Playing this piece by Mahler with pianist Vahan Sargsyan has been one of the highlights of this recording. Vahan, you are awesome!

Also during my time as a student at NCSA, I took orchestration classes with one of the founding teachers of the school, composer Sherwood Shaffer. I had heard quite a bit of Sherwood’s music and was very taken by it. I was also encouraged by my teacher James Houlik to go out and commission good composers to write for the tenor saxophone. Shaffer hadn’t written for the tenor yet so I asked if he would write a piece for me. Shortly there after he presented me with the work “Sonata: When Mountains Rising”; a three movement work for tenor saxophone and piano which I premiered back in 1983 at NCSA. At the time of commission, I mentioned that I would like the individual movements to be able to stand alone in a performance if someone chose to only play one or two of the movements. This is something that New Century also asked Shaffer later on when commissioning the “Sinfonia for Saxophone Quartet.” Shaffer was fine in both cases which now makes me very happy as the 2nd movement of the Sonata called Past Singing Springs works so well on this recording. In my opinion this movement is one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the serious tenor saxophone repertoire. Look for the entire work on the next recording.

The Aria by Eugene Bozza has been played by almost every student of the classical alto saxophone either in lessons or recital or both. It’s so common that sometimes I think it gets taken for granted. In truth it’s one of the most beautiful works for alto saxophone and piano in the repertoire. The piece was basically stolen by Bozza from J. S. Bach’s Organ Pastoral in F major, BWV 590. Some of the lines are almost identical. However, this in no way diminishes the piece and Bozza never tried to hide the fact that the piece came from Bach. I have taught the piece countless times to students quite often playing it on my tenor in their lessons trying to get them to be more expressive. I always wanted to perform the work on tenor but was too lazy to transpose the alto part to make it work with the available piano part. I had heard from my teacher that there was a transposed piano part that would allow me to play it on tenor but I had a hard time placing my hands on it. One day not too long ago I was talking to Washington DC based saxophonist Leigh Pilzer about getting some arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s music. In the course of the conversation she mentioned that she had done a transposition of the piano part to Bozza’s Aria that would allow b flat soprano or tenor saxophonists to play from the original e flat alto part. Thanks Leigh, my fellow alto players might not agree but I think it works so much better on tenor anyway. As saxophonists, we steal tunes from other instruments all of the time but it’s really fun to steal from one of our own kind!...and it’s such a good piece to teach your students how to play with passion.

Speaking of passion! What about Piazzolla? Back in the 1990’s like many other people I became familiar with and a fan of the music of Astor Piazzolla. New Century played an arrangement of one of his pieces and then I heard both saxophonists Dale Underwood and my former teacher James Houlik play Milonga del Angel with piano. In talking to Dale, I found out that the piece was arranged by and available from Daniel Hamuy. Later when I was talking to Leigh Pilzer I found out that she had done an arrangement of Piazzolla’s Oblivion for saxophone and five strings or basically string orchestra. Both of these pieces I have included on this recording. The Milonga del Angel I play with Vahan Sargsyan on piano and then the Oblivion I play with the Alexander String Quartet with special guest, and a real pleasure to work with, bass virtuoso John Patitucci.

I have also included a medley of American love songs: A Time for Love, When I Fall in Love, and My One and Only Love. The medley was arranged for James Houlik by Ronald Rudkin, the director of jazz studies and a former teacher of mine at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Vahan Sargsyan accompanies me on piano for this recording and, once again, is wonderful. I played this piece many times with my former pianist Steven Jones years ago when I lived in Winston-Salem, NC. Steve worked very hard on this difficult piano part but he always looked forward to playing it. It’s a beautiful arrangement and Steve loved it. Steve passed away not too long ago but not before I could tell him that I had plans for recording the piece. I know he would have liked to have heard it. Steve, this one is for you. You are truly missed.

The last tune on the disc is a song that everyone knows, Over the Rainbow. I never really thought about playing this familiar tune by Harburg and Arlen until I heard a wonderful version of it by the late folk/blues singer Eva Cassidy. I was so taken by her simple treatment of the tune with just her beautiful voice and guitar that I thought it would be really nice to do a duet for soprano and tenor saxophones in a similar way. Branford Marsalis is one of the finest musicians I know. I have been following his career for many years, even before we became good friends. When I decided to do this recording I knew I needed someone at the board in the booth who thought about making music the way I did,……someone who wouldn’t pull any punches and someone who really cared about the music no matter how difficult or simple it was. I needed Branford, and when he agreed to produce this recording, the whole project started to fall into place. I’ve always loved the way Branford plays the soprano saxophone and I have always wanted to play with him so I thought Over the Rainbow would work really well. We played it together one time at his place in NC with me playing the melody and Branford improvising around it and then quickly decided to let it go without rehearsing it until the actual recording. When we got to Tarrytown we just let it happen. What a pleasure, thanks Bran.

Stephen Pollock

To Mom, Dad, Beth, Becky, John and your families - my wife Kim and her family, for always being there and believing in me; you all allow me to continue to chase the dream. To Jimmy Harrison, my first band director, for planting the seed for this dream. To Freda Silberman - Freda, I couldn’t have done this without you. To all members, current and past, of the New Century Saxophone Quartet (my family away from home) - being in your presence has always made me a better musician and person. To James Houlik for his inspiration and guidance - Jim, I can never thank you enough. To Andrew Hays - Drew, what a future you have, I look forward to seeing it unfold. To Vahan Sargsyan - wow Vahan,… you are the man! To Griffin Campbell - Griff, you probably don’t know what an influence you have been, friends forever. To Robert Besen for your insight and support. To Jared Sacks for teaching me how to step up in front of a microphone. To Glenn Haynes for his awesome arrangements. To Tarrytown Music Hall and the Hayti Heritage Center for their hospitality. To Amy Blumenthal and Alry Publications for making this music available to the public. To The Alexander String Quartet for taking the time out of their busy schedule to play with me - I hope we can do this again someday guys. To John Patitucci - I can’t believe you are on my recording, I am so honored. To Tevis and Sheryl Laukat at Cannonball Musical Instruments for making the finest saxophone on the planet. To Rico for their support when I’m off and on the road. To Wayne Leechford and Leechford Media Web Design for a great web site. To Rick Klein and Marlon Kittrell for really smooth photo shoots. To Tom Kikta, Frank Rodriguez, Jim Manly and everyone at Digital Dynamics Audio for all of your hard work and support. To Daryl Dickerson and Rick Dior for your time and expertise. To Delfeayo Marsalis “The Edit King”! To Nicole, Reese, Peyton and Thais Marsalis for allowing me to invade their home over and over again. Finally to Branford Marsalis, a true friend and brother in music - it’s been a pleasure Branford.

This recording is dedicated to my mother and father, Jean and Henry Pollock, and was inspired by an Angel.

Several works on this recording will be published and available from Alry Publications.
O Northern Star
is already available.

So Near, So Far is available from Cristobell Music Inc. Contact Alanna Records.

1. Oblivion / Astor Piazzolla, arr. Leigh Pilzer
2. Danny Boy / Traditional, arr. Glenn Haynes
3. Three American Songs of Love, arr. Ron Rudkin
sssssA Time for Love / Mandel
sssssWhen I Fall in Love / Young and Heyman
sssssMy One and Only Love / Mellin and Wood
4. So Near, So Far / Stephen Pollock, arr. Glenn Haynes
5. “O garish world, long since thou hast lost me”. / Gustav Mahler, arr. Stephen Pollock
6. Barbara Allen / Traditional, arr. Glenn Haynes
7. O Northern Star / Stephen Pollock
8. Past Singing Springs / Sherwood Shaffer
9. The Water is Wide / Traditional, arr. Glenn Haynes
10. Aria / Eugène Bozza, piano transposition Leigh Pilzer
11. My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose / Traditional, arr. Glenn Haynes
12. Milonga del Angel / Astor Piazzolla, arr. Daniel Hamuy
13. Over the Rainbow / Harburg and Arlen


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