William Susman New Trier TARP Speech
Ed. Note: William Susman was a member of the 1976-1978 NTW Recording Jazz Ensembles. In 1978 he received the Samuel A. Mages award in ‘recognition of outstanding achievement in instrumental music,’ and the American Music Foundation award presented for excellence in modern American music. His lifelong music career, and distinguished accomplishments, have been well documented by musicians around the world. He was recently invited by the Trevian Association of Retired Personnel (TARP) to relate his ‘Story That Needs to be Told’ to the TARP fall luncheon. This is the transcript of his speech, complete with all included videos, that was presented on October 3, 2023.
My name is William Susman and I have been invited to address you today about ‘A Story That Needs to Be Told.’
I am a 1978 New Trier West Graduate who was a pianist in the New Trier West Jazz Studies Program and a member of the Recording Jazz Ensemble.
I want to thank Mitch Jones, Matt Ottaviano, and the members of TARP, for inviting me to speak at today’s TARP luncheon.
It is a bit daunting that my visit today represents 45 years since I left the confines of New Trier West High School, but as it turns out… New Trier has never left me. It is also rather interesting that 45 years ago my teachers stood in front of the room, and I sat before them as a student. It seems a bit surreal, at least today, that the TABLES ARE TURNED, at least in this venue, and it is all of you who are sitting before me today.
When asked what I do for a living, I usually reply that I am a Composer. That almost always elicits a sort of blank stare with a response such as OH…REALLY?…followed by a brief silence.
But, yes indeed, I am a Composer! I traveled a long route to arrive where I am now. Today I want to trace my New Trier background, that ultimately led to my professional career, and try to explain what the word Composer means to me. In doing so, I’ll try to answer some of the questions that you may have…probably never having met a composer. Questions such as, how do you compose? How long does it take? How do you compose music for a movie? How do you create music from a picture?
To begin, I would like to share with you my personal Story, beginning at New Trier West High School, a school whose motto of
‘Committing minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity’….
It seems to, in retrospect, have pervaded my musical career, and as it turns out many of our NTW jazz alums.
In telling this story, I’ll try to weave my Jazz Ensemble experience throughout this talk, with the help of video, including that of the NTW Jazz website, musical examples of some of my compositions, and finally with a piano performance.
Since I will be alluding to performances, and information contained on our Jazz Ensemble website, I want to begin with how that all came about.
The website idea began 3 years ago… when a self-appointed ‘Team’ of jazz ensemble alumni (now with the participation of almost 200 alums) set out to build a website to recap what happened that motivated a whole bunch of high school kids, now some 50 years later, to showcase their music, and related careers. So, you see, my story, as it turns out, is much like theirs.
Recently, a feature article appeared in the international jazz publication, DownBeat Magazine. The author refers to us, and I quote ‘surviving pioneers of jazz education across America.’
He goes on to say that…
‘the story of the beginning of jazz, at New Trier, was in danger of being lost which prompted the creation of the NTW Jazz website…’assuring that the beginnings of jazz education, both at New Trier, and across America, will remain.’
I am very proud to be a part of that!
Forgotten however, are the now approximately 125 NTW professional musicians, recording engineers, and composers for orchestra and film, who could provide a network, for New Trier, of lecturers, guest performers, and writers, among other things.
Indeed, my personal path took me through a career, in performing and composing music…throughout the world’s stages, and educational institutions, from Carnegie Hall, to Juilliard, to I.R.C.A.M. in Paris.
As an aside, I would be remiss in not acknowledging that none of my accomplishments could have happened without the existence of the NTW Jazz Program, created, and directed, by Roger Mills, and which had a 16-year evolution, that continues today.
Let me illustrate the beginning of my personal story with a 1976 WTTW TV appearance, called MADE IN CHICAGO, which aired nationally.
In these upcoming clips I get to solo while showing a bit of youthful 15-year-old exuberance.
Made in Chicago Performance WTTW-TV 1976
[Comment] It was the NTW jazz studies program that I first learned how to improvise.
Each NTW Jazz Ensemble had special events, or goals, that the members worked towards.
It turned out to be very fortunate, that in the early days, Roger and his students built a Recording Studio at West, called Soundtraks. The original intention was to allow his students to learn from listening to their performances. But another very significant outcome turned out to be that NTW jazz history was preserved.
There were 16 years, from 1966 – 82, of NTW Jazz Ensemble record albums that we produced and pressed on vinyl.
The next video I’m going to show you is the home page of our jazz website. In the center is the United Nations Globe, surrounded by the Album Covers of each jazz band, representing NTW world travels. When you click on an album you go to that year’s band highlights, scrapbooks, media, and members including over 80 personal autobiographical sketches.
Website, Pages, Highlights
[Comment] There is also a SPOTLIGHT TAB which changes regularly and spotlights the comings and goings of our members. For example, 1981 grad Dr. Beth Bowman Peterson, was honored, two weeks ago, as the guest conductor, of the national anthem, at the University of Michigan Homecoming game vs Rutgers. 110,000 in attendance at the ‘BIG HOUSE.’ She was also, for many years, the associate director of the University of Illinois Band Program…One of Ours! There are so many alums, just like her.
[Incredible]NTW jazz bands always had something cookin.’
Invitations to perform throughout Mexico, Montreux Switzerland, France, Germany, Greece, Romania, as well as a wide variety of invitations, including 6 years of Fourth of July Day performances at Ravinia Park.
A highlight, of My 1976 year, was the MADE IN CHICAGO Project, taped at the WTTW studios, with many NTW classmates in attendance.
Here is one more part of that show, with the band, and 1972 graduate, Ross Traut, who by the way, was the winning guitarist in Montreux Switzerland. By age 22, Ross had already performed with jazz legends Joe Henderson, Paul Bley, and Buddy Rich.
Ross Traut, 1972 NTW Graduate
(1976 WTTW-TV Performance, “Made In Chicago”)
Although Ross Traut represents just one of our alumni it could have been scores of others who perform at a similar level and who, it turns out, have documented their distinguished musical careers on our website. Now you know why the website theme is ‘A STORY THAT NEEDS TO BE TOLD.’ So, now after all these years, we can examine their important career moments. One of these is Steve Kujala, from the 72-73’ bands and winning flutist at the Montreux International Jazz Competition. He graduated a few years before I arrived. It was a part of our jazz studies, at NTW, to listen to, and to be inspired by previous members, usually through their recordings, or their return visits to NTW. Yet another legacy that has been archived through the contributions of Soundtraks!
Here is a short clip of Steve, performing with the renowned Chick Corea. Please excuse the quality of the video. It’s not what I would have liked. It’s many years old, and like me, not what it used to be.
Steve Kujala (NTW, 1973 grad) with Chick Corea, 1994
Here is a video of 1978 grad, Dave Schumacher playing Baritone Sax with the now legendary Lionel Hampton.
Dave Schumacher (NTW 1978 grad) with Lionel Hampton,1998
Of historical interest, when the schools merged, and since New Trier East did not have a similar jazz program, Roger brought all the tenets of the West Jazz Program, including the building of a Soundtraks studio, to the combined campus. To kick off the new school, Roger got, world renowned, Lionel Hampton to be the first guest artist to appear as part of the now Trevian Jazz Studies Program.
This next Clip is from the previous Lionel Hampton Video. It features pianist Rob Bargad, a 1980 grad. It is interesting to note that TWO NTW JAZZ ALUMS appear in the same ensemble with Lionel Hampton. Incredible! TO SAY THE VERY LEAST.
Rob Bargad (NTW 1980 grad) with Lionel Hampton 1988
Could ‘Hamp’ ever have imagined that six years later two of OUR NTW ALUMS would be a part of HIS band!
Rob is now Professor of Jazz Piano at a world recognized conservatory in Austria. He is one of many NTW Jazz alums to have maintained an international presence in Jazz Education.
This next clip is of internationally acclaimed Bassist, Eric Hochberg, a 1971 NTW Alum, in an appearance during the 2022 International Society of Bassists Convention, performing his composition, with his ensemble StringThing. This performance was performed virtually due to the Covid Pandemic. It is so nice to hear the beauty of an Acoustic Bass.
Eric Hochberg with StringThing 2022
Now, I want to show you a little bit of what I do. Some people say that composing music is like slowed down improvisation. Doesn’t that fit well with what you have heard so far?
A composer of music takes life moments and tries to find a way to create a relationship between music and the human experience.
Within each of these concepts I try to add varying speeds (tempo) and various instruments to give a unique sound. Then the big part is that I have to write it down showing the relationship of everything to the whole. That’s what’s called the musical score. You will be able to see the score as the music plays.
Sometimes I get inspired by looking at a photo. As it was, this next piece, Trailing Vortices, is exactly that. Now I think you have some preparation that will help you listen to my composition, Trailing Vortices.
Trailing Vortices was a commission from the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard that I did in my mid 20’s. Coincidentally, after it was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival, it went on to win an ASCAP award and was featured at The Gaudeamus International Music Festival in The Netherlands.
Trailing vortices from a rectangular wing (An Album of Fluid Motion, Milton Van Dyke, 1982).
Gaudeamus Music Festival, Hilversum, Netherlands, VARA Radio Orchestra, Ernest Bour, conducting 1986 Performance
On another occasion, in 2002, I met a director, Steve Bilich, at the Sundance Film Festival. I had traveled there to see films, and to meet at a program for documentary filmmakers … It was four months after the 9/11 tragedy… that Sundance premiered only 2 minutes of his film.
After the screening, we talked about his plans for developing it further. We stayed in touch, and I scored what became a 13-minute film that screened at over 30 film festivals around the world, winning the Tribeca film festival. It was screened at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., and was included in many “best of” retrospectives for avant-garde films. This documentary short called Native New Yorker is now taught at film schools nationally including Chicago’s Art Institute.
What makes this film unique is that it was shot with a 1924 Cine Kodak hand-crank, spring-wound, silent film era camera, before, during, and after 9/11.
Here is an excerpt from that film.
Native New Yorker
William Susman “Quiet Rhythms, Prologue and Action 10”
William Susman, piano
I would like to introduce 6 NTW Jazz Ensemble Alums who are present today, they are:
Heather (Dickinson) Burghgraef (1980), Mike Friedman (1976), Dave Frohlichstein (1974), Eric Hochberg (1971), David Tropp (1978), Scott Weingart (1978), Roger and Joanne Mills.
In closing I want to thank you again for your invitation to appear here today. I’m waiting for the BELL to ring so I can send you on your way to the next class, giving me time to say that…
I remain William Susman and I am a Composer. And now the next time you have someone tell you they are a Composer, you now have an appropriate response…OH, REALLY?