Upper Michigan Suite

One of Phil's original pieces based on a UP location (North Shore by Night) met with a very nice reception in 2015. Then local Dyrk Trout clued the group into the existence of Sonny Stitt's recording of a piece called Escanaba Beat from the '70s. Phil realized with the addition of one or two pieces, they'd have a suite, so he dug out his staff paper and got to work in the winter of 2016. The result is Upper Michigan Suite, premiered at the Calumet Theatre in July 2016. It can be played in full in concert settings; or in selected movements outdoors.

Descriptions below are by Phil, taken from program notes from the 2016 concert season.

I. Escanaba Beat (Eddie Russ, 1974, © Jazz Masters Inc., BMI)
This funky time capsule portrays a happenin’ blue collar city in the early Seventies. Eddie Russ, an electric pianist, wrote and performed this with Sonny Stitt who recorded it with Russ on the album Tornado. According to music historian Steve Seymour, "Russ named the song because he once worked in Escanaba and was really fascinated by the city." And rightly so.

II. Makin’ the Mac
I should offer a unified vision here, but there were, in fact, two images at the genesis of this brief, beboppish piece. In my mind I can see old black and white movies of strong guys in hardhats walking along the cables of a partially-built, humongous bridge while flinging rivets left and right. They are literally making the Mackinac Bridge. The other image I have is of 1960s kids bouncing around in the back of a station wagon, all antsy from being cooped up (though without seat belts back in the day). They are anticipating the trip across the great bridge to a mysterious, other land full of gift shops and fishing. So “Makin’ the Mac” in this sense means a welcome answer to that eternal question, “Are we there yet?”

III. Who Labor in the Bowels of the Earth
Here is a tribute to all those who worked hour after hour, day after day, in very hard circumstances underground; all so their children, and their children after them, might have a better life. This piece is built on a recurring pattern of descending chords and – I hope not overly dramatically – a soul wanting to soar and crying out because it cannot. You’ll also hear a brief interlude on upright piano coming from the front room of the family’s company housing. The title is taken from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as Scrooge is flown around the world to see how people keep Christmas. "What place is this?" asked Scrooge. "A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth," returned the Spirit. "But they know me. See."

IV. North Shore by Night
We transition without a break to US-2. It’s that beautiful stretch just west of the Bridge, where we stop to wade or swim to break up a long ride. It’s quiet now, just after sundown. Though the breeze has died down, the cool of the evening begins its work as the sky turns to indigo. Waves lap at the shore and we enjoy the peace.

Mvmts II - IV © 2016 Philip B. Lynch, ASCAP