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VALLEY WEEKEND

Son's Birth Creates New Musical Collaboration

Jeff and Joan Beal say they combined talents on 'The Gathering' album to celebrate their joy and renewed sense of community.

May 16, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What a change a baby can make in the lives of artists.

Take Jeff and Joan Beal, the trumpeter-pianist-composer and the operatic soprano. While Joan has sung here and there on several of Jeff's albums, including 1994's "Contemplations," the couple had never fully collaborated on a major project.

Then along came Henry, born Jan. 8, 1995. Now the pair has released "The Gathering" (Triloka Records), a new album blending classical, world music, jazz and pop styles that is directly inspired by their son. Henry's arrival and presence prompted the Beals to make a celebratory album that reflected their profound happiness and their renewed sense of community.

"Henry has taught us that we have so much more in common with other people than we have differences," Joan said, sitting with her husband at the dining room table of their comfortable Studio City home. (Henry was off playing at the home of a friend down the street.)

"This experience of being a father is so joyful, and very emotional, and it opened up a lot of feelings that had been closed down for a long time," said Jeff. "The experience transformed me and I wanted to make a joyful record. In my area of music, joy is not always considered a hip emotion; it's like the territory of the banal. So it was a challenge to make a record that was joyous, celebrated life but found the beauty, the sincerity of that celebration."

Composer Beal also wanted "The Gathering" to mirror changes that are taking place in the world of classical music, changes he feels are similar to those that occurred in jazz in the late '60s and early '70s, during the beginning stages of the jazz-fusion era.

"There is now emerging an eclectic kind of modern chamber music, music that is more tonal and roots-based than it is abstract and avant-garde," he said.

This music often employs vocals. "The history of Western music is really vocal music, and we drew on a lot of that for a starting point," he said. "The album goes from British pop, a la the singer Enya," to the atmospheric textures of Estonian composer Arvo Part, with aspects of Middle Eastern, Brazilian, early vocal, jazz and contemporary classical music styles combined along the way.

The Beals will perform pieces from "The Gathering" on Saturday at the First Christian Church in Studio City. They will be backed by a small chamber ensemble, which includes Linda Kordek (flute), Stephanie Fife (cello), Gail Acosta (viola) and Ellie Choate (harp), and will also present excerpts from cantatas by J.S. Bach and Scarlatti. The program is a benefit for the church's music fund.

On "The Gathering," Joan offers wordless vocals, sometimes delivering soft, soothing sounds in the background; at other points, her sound is interwoven with the front-line instruments. The job was not easy, she says, because it involved singing simply, and without the kind of vocal power she has employed with such ensembles as the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. Again the influence of her son entered the picture.

"I had to allow my voice to be itself and that's very scary because it's a very exposing experience," she said. "But that's the way I sing lullabies to Henry, by not giving him my full volume or virtuosic singing. Jeff heard me sing this way and wanted it on the record. It's a vulnerable and personal place that's appealing. I didn't get to show my stuff, but I got to show my heart."

Simplicity also marks the instrumental side of "The Gathering" said Jeff Beal, who as a composer has been acclaimed for such pieces as "Concerto for Jazz Bass and Orchestra," recorded by noted bassist John Patitucci on his "Heart of the Bass" Stretch Records CD. More hats off to Henry.

"This is a melody-driven record with not a lot of improvisation," he said, "and some of the ideas are very simple. The baby got me in touch with that simplicity, with the directness of what music can do. But there is complexity in the orchestrations, the way Joan's voice blends. That's satisfying."

The Beals, who met in 1981 while both attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., were married in 1984. Besides the spiritual, physical and emotional bonds that connect most married couples, the two also are artistically entwined. They say they rely on one another to help spur artistic growth.

"Having each other as respective muses has helped to keep us in check, accountable to our talent," said Joan.

To which Jeff added, "You need community to be an artist."

DETAILS

* WHAT: Jeff and Joan Beal.

* WHERE: First Christian Church, 4390 Colfax Ave., Studio City.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

* HOW MUCH: $10.

* CALL: Reservations and information: (818) 763-9027.

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