Suite Noir — The Passion of Perry Mason

Suite Noir — The Passion of Perry Mason

— Triple Concerto for Alto Saxophone, Violin, Percussion & Chamber Orchestra —

in three movements

— I. Whispering Sands —
— II. The Court of Last Resort —
— III. Cerulean and Other Colors of the Sky —

duration — 30 minutes

Score and Parts available from Voice House Publishing

Suite Noir — The Passion of Perry Mason was made possible through the generous commission of The California Chamber Orchestra and Warren Gref.

Program Note:

Suite Noir — The Passion of Perry Mason (Premier November 7, 2009) Judge Sonia Sotomayor mentioned in her Supreme Court briefings that watching Perry Mason influenced her to become a prosecutor:

The Perry Mason character was the work of Erle Stanley Gardner — the most published American author — who died in 1969, and is almost forgotten…

But his most famous character, Perry Mason, is part of American culture.

I was commissioned to create this work by the California Chamber Orchestra, based in the City of Temecula, California, where Gardner lived, and the more Ilearned about Gardner, the more I came to believe that this is a story that deserves to be told.

Gardner crafted the Perry Mason character in his own image — he was an iconoclast, a maverick, a true original who took seriously his responsibility to give the public a figure that epitomized integrity, and struggled to keep balance within democracy. Gardner was a criminal lawyer for 18 years before he started to write, and drew on his real-life experience with the vagaries of the criminal justice system to create a TV personna with depth.

The Perry Mason character is an example of commercial media at its finest – where it never forgets its responsibility to contribute to the public dialogue about who we are and what we struggle with to maintain balance in an imperfect system…

This is a huge topic, and there are a thousand things to discuss… from my point of view the role of the artists, the connections and relationship of fine arts and popular culture — the places where they intersect and merge into one another, the implicit value systems and contradictions…

Suite Noir — The Passion of Perry Mason is “about” all these diverse cultural strands and how they converge in the media that surrounds us..

.. the dark, dimly lit, smoke-filled NYC 42nd St. of 1960s is a central element — martini lunches, the girdled, constrained sexiness of post WWII USA, lush jazz harmonies — with reflections of the anonymously scored TV dramas, sitcoms and cartoons that color our shared cultural recollections of those times…

The work is a musical journey through many landscapes, and is takes its form after the 30 minute television drama, with station IDs, commercial breaks, musical characters and themes. There is no explicit program, but I had somehow in my mind from dimly-lit, smoke-filled bars to chase scenes and big imagined Hollywood moviescapes…

.. composing it was fun and challenging – I wanted to write a piece of American chamber music, in the tradition of Gershwin, Copeland and Bernstein that respected the life and times of Gardner, but was a piece clearly of today…

— took me places I’ve never been creatively but were somehow in my mind — kind of a combination of Dvorak, Steely Dan, Cab Calloway, Borodin, a bit of Kanye West & Beethoven, John Williams and Fred Steiner (composer of the Rocky & Bullwinkle Theme, as well as the Perry Mason theme)

Erle Stanley Gardner — creator of Perry Mason, author of 600 novels — lived in the dessert near Temecula with 5 female secretaries and a pet coyote, and communicated with his publisher via carrier pigeons… quite unknown maverick iconoclast — despite being the most published American author — college drop-out — passed CA bar after 3 years of self-study — practiced criminal law for 18 yrs. before writing.. and was a real life activist supporter of the underdog — started the “Court of Last Resort” — volunteer group of prominent law people (judges, publishers, law scholars etc.) that sought out victims put behind bars for convenience or corruption… Gardner was also an inveterate explorer and passionate lover of the desert — wrote 4 nature books on the CA desert and Baja CA… — went on lengthy expeditions exploring, photographing and documenting those… Am hoping that we get a chance to talk!

Suite Noir — The Passion of Perry Mason was composed for SWARMIUS and California Chamber Orchestra

Joseph Martin Waters, November 18, 2009


SWARMIUS comprises SAXIMUS (Saxophones), Fiddlus (Violin), Crotalius Redfoot (Percussion), and Jozefius Vattierz Rattus (Electro-Acoustic Composer/Laptop performer). The quartet is committed to expanding the avant-garde classical literature to encompass a New Relevance. The New Relevance demands works that are non-elitist, rigorous, and multi-level: works that are simultaneously accessible and challenging. To this end, SWARMIUS combines traditional virtuosity with a search for new timbres, performance practices, and 21st century cross-cultural aesthetic reflection. It challenges timeworn, outmoded norms for the uses of classical music, the means by which it is presented, and the venues in which it is experienced. SWARM unites performers, composer, and choreographer, focuses them on a common goal, and puts them onstage together. SWARMIUS is in residence at the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University, home for 17 years of the maverick genius Harry Partch Ensemble. SWARMIUS strives to emulate Partch’s uncompromising aesthetic values.

© 2020 Joseph Waters
All Rights Reserved