Serenade to a Cuckoo – Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Fables of Faubus – Charles Mingus
Some Other Nightmare – Ammon Swinbank
Phantom Orchid – Ammon Swinbank
Big Apple Bonkers – Ammon Swinbank
The Ammon Swinbank Quintet
Michael Conklin, tenor saxophone
Francesca Prihasti, piano
Jonathan Gardner, bass
Paul Shaw, drums
Ammon Swinbank, flute and composition
Big Apple Bonkers
A Musical Tale of Becoming a New Yorker
Big Apple Bonkers is a work for jazz quintet which tells the story of my adventures in New York City. It makes use of materials from jazz and 20th Century flute repertoire and weaves them together. The pieces represent the diversity of experience that New York has to offer: the sound of sirens, the taste of wine, the smells of hot trash in summer and the glitter of skylines.
The story begins in Colorado with the bird-filled tree outside my window. Serenade to a Cuckoo/Le Merle Noir represents the influence this cacophonous tree had on my growth as a musician. Birdsong is referenced throughout the album and is never forgotten through the wild and dreamlike twists and turns of surviving the Big Apple.
Fables of Faubus illustrates the beginning of this survival. I spent my first night in New York at John F. Kennedy Airport waiting for morning by the Airtrain. I had never seen the city in person before and did not want to hunt for my hostel at night. There was a television screen next to me that displayed images of a strange orange man walking around on a red carpet with a caption announcing that he was running for president. In my sleep deprived state, it felt hallucinatory and I laughed it off.
Then came Some Other Nightmare, the time after the election of Donald Trump and of hunting for a place to live. In less than three years I completed two master of music degrees and moved six times. I became swallowed up with the buildings, the lights and the blinding pace at which life unfolds in a city of over 9 million people. This time in my life was twisted and bizarre, similar to the dream I once had in which I first heard this tune.
But I weathered the storm. I found myself walking to the melody of Phantom Orchid, which is written after the flower of the same name. This flower grows in the forest floor in the cool weather rain forests of the American North West and is uniquely hard to find, hence its name. In New York, I find this illusive orchid in architecture, city lights, people, food and sudden unexpected moments.
The title track is the sum of all these experiences and grapples to make sense of them. Big Apple Bonkers is a tour through rapid life changes, stunning views, incomparable encounters and the enduring memory of that long-gone tree.
The intensity of life in New York is overwhelming and is the force behind this album. The chaos has been a blessing in disguise, and I am very proud to present Big Apple Bonkers.