On Monday 27th April, composer/pianist/ educator Roland Perrin’s new work ‘Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man’, for jazz singer, narrator, choir & jazz orchestra, will receive its world premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with the Crouch End Festival Chorus. Sebastian interviewed him:
LondonJazz News: What first got you interested in the subject of Meyer Lansky?
Roland Perrin My family history coincides with Lansky’s. My grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Russia. Like Lanksy’s family, they were fleeing pogroms and settled in New York City. Similar to Lansky, my father wanted to escape poverty fast. My Uncle said “too fast,” and that’s why my father ended up as the subject of an FBI file. He never went as far as Lansky but their issues were related. The gangsters in the first part of the 20th century were mostly Jewish and mostly born into dire poverty. It’s part of Jewish history how we as a race have responded to adversity. Lansky’s generation are a particularly colourful incarnation of this two thousand year old struggle.
LJN: So the themes of Jewishness and the suppression of it are important?
RP: My parents tried to hide our Jewishness from us. Since they have passed away, what my siblings and I always sensed, has been confirmed by subsequent revelations and discoveries. Finding out I am Jewish has had a deep effect on me and my music. I have been doing lots of exploration of Jewish history, literature and music. The Lansky piece is one of the fruits of this.
LJN: And for you, musically, the subject of Meyer Lansky seems to have been one of those gifts that keeps on giving….
RP: Not only does the story open my heart to powerful issues that have shaped me, but the subject matter is appropriate to my musical style. My music spans Ellington, film noir, Afro-Cuban styles and of course Jewish music. These styles can be heard in the piece. Jazz was inextricably joined at the hip to prohibition, B movie soundtracks are part of our mental picture of gangsters (even to some of the gangsters), Lansky was big in Cuba in the 1950s, and of course Lansky was from the shtetl, the home of Klezmer.
LJN: What’s your own story? You first lived in New York? When did you leave and come to London?
RP: I was born in New York City and as a result of my father being on the run from the age of 3, we lived in many different places including Mexico, the Caribbean, Florida, back to New York, Scotland and finally London where things finally settled down a bit.
LJN: You have played on the elusiveness by not presenting him directly in the piece. Why have you wanted to present him as a sort of shadow?
RP: Lansky was a master of being discreet. He never faced a major conviction. They never found his money. (All true of my father too.)
So he refused to be in my piece also. But the effect he had on people and events and the things that shaped him are there in the music, acting and narration.
LJN: What instrumental and other forces have you scored the new piece for?
RP: The piece is scored for large choir (140 voices), a jazz singer/ actress (Rachel Sutton), a narrator (Allan Corduner) and a 12 piece big band (two reeds players, two trumpets, two trombones, violin, cello, piano/accordion, bass, drums and tuned/untuned percussion.
LJN: How have you conceived the roles of the singer, the choir and the narrator?
RP: The singer takes on the roles of Lansky’s two wives, his mother, grandmother, a streetwalker, a stewardess and finally either an angel or an actress playing an angel.
The choir take on the roles of murderous gangs, the inhabitants of the streets of the Lower East Side circa 1910, Cuban revolutionaries, an Israeli jury and more. They also provide commentaries.
The narrator tells the story like a distant Uncle.
LJN: Have you worked with David Temple of the Crouch End Festival Chorus before?
RP: David Temple commissioned me before (in association with Hertfordshire Chorus) to write ’songs from the cage’. That was settings of poetry by Charles Bukowski.
LJN: How did the process of this commission work?
RP: When you get offered a commission it sometimes does not drop in your lap but you are asked, ‘if we commissioned you what would you write?’. So then you prepare a pitch. That is what I did with Crouch End Festival Chorus. They are great choir to work with in that they have sung all the great Classical, Romantic and modern repertoire as well as working with the likes of Ray Davis, Liam Gallagher and lots of film composers. So they can groove as well as negotiate rich harmony.
‘Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man’ is a commission from Crouch End Festival Chorus