Rave Reviews for Stars and Stripes Forever! The Great American Piano
“Another sure-fire winner.”
The Union News Springfield MA
Eminent Gershwin biographer Edward Jablonski
“Mr. Bisaccia, as he has in the past, does it very well and
always sounds as if he is having a good time.”
“What’s New” WNPR radio
“The fun and humor Bisaccia portrays (in The Great American Piano) makes him the most requested pianist by our listeners.”
“Bisaccia’s career may be headed for another high note.”
Manchester Journal Inquirer
“The Great American Piano is indeed…
especially with Paul Bisaccia at the keyboard”
Mel Ellis, director New Britain Museum of American Art
“Essential milestones in the formation of an American musical voice…audaciousness and daring”
“Compelling sensitivity, stunning virtuosity, engaging and upbeat personality – it doesn’t get any better than this!”
Jerene Weitman, Coordinator Public Programs The Heckscher Museum of Art
Imaginative, fun, well played and totally satisfying." Michael Feinstein
When PBS approached me about doing a second television special I joked that PBS would no longer stand for "Public Broacasting System" but instead, "Paul Bisaccia Special". I suggested doing a program of piano music from a distinctly American point of view and this CD is the logical outgrowth of that television program.
American piano music is like American itself - full of crazy contradictions, humour, irony, inventiveness, boundless optimism and creativity. American composers approached the piano in a way that was radically different then their European counterparts. This is not polite music. As George Gershwin wrote, "This music should be made to snap and at times to cackle." For a concert pianist like myself who is used to playing the music of Chopin, Liszt and Beethoven, this is certainly a different type of musical collection. I found myself going back to the music of my childhood for inspiration. One of my earliest musical memories is of Stars and Stripes Forever. As a preschooler, I quickly learned how to operate the family phonograph and to my parents' dismay I would hop out of bed at 5am to blast this particular Sousa march. I couldn't resist coming up with my own version of this greatest of all American marches.
The first piece I ever played at the piano was Yankee Doodle. It happens to be the Connecticut State Song and the great composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk incorporated it during the Civil War, (along with the Star Spangled Banner and Hail Columbia) into a fantasy called Union. Gottschalk considered Union his contribution to the war effort, and he played it all over the northeastern United States. In 1864 he played it for the President and Mrs. Lincoln.
When I was growing up what I really wanted to play was ragtime. This was perhaps the first uniquely American contribution to world music and more than anyone else, Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime started the ball rolling with his classic rags. This music has affected popular music up to the present day and you can easily hear the influence of ragtime on all the composers from Bowman's Twelfth Street Rag, to Gershwin's Swanee, Zez Confrey's Kitten on the Keys, and Irving Berlin's Puttin' on the Ritz.
I want to make a special note abou the Gershwin arrangements. These are Gershwin's own personal arrangements as he recorded them for Columbia records in 1926. Thus these piano performances are actually transcriptions (excepting Swanee) taken from his recorded performance on disc. Of course back in 1926 editing of records was impossible so we know without a doubt this is exactly how Gershwin played these pieces.
Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues is a bold commentary on the American experience. The music is a daring depiction of the sound created by the machines in a cotton mill. (The direction by the composer is to play this music "expressionless and machinelike.") Playing this music reminds me of the movie "Norma Rae" in which Sally field plays a union organizer in a textile factory. At one point in the movie, the din of the machines in the mill is all but deafening - and then suddenly all the looms are shut down by the mill workers in protest. The silence of the machines at this moment is one of the great effects in film history, just as when the machines finally stop in the music. This leads to a blues sequence with, some diabolical contrapuntal writing and finally the actual song "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" quoted completely. My grandmother worked in the mills as a child at the turn of the century and she told me that the effect created by this music reminded her exactly of what it was like in these mills.
Finally I wanted to have something contemporary, American, and written in the 21st century to play for this CD. When the wonderful composer Tom Schuttenhelm heard I was going to do a television program for PBS on American piano music he graciously consented to write a new piano piece for me. I played the third movement alone for the television show,
but here on the CD I am happy to play all three movements. I find these pieces to be sparse in texture, but rich in content. Delicate, elegant, and deliberately beautiful.