About the music – No Beginning, No End
This recording marks the end of a long journey that began in early 2006. My great friend and
musical soul mate, Joe Lovano called me one afternoon while I was at home lunching with my
wife and daughter to ask me to write music for a performance at MIT. The concert would
celebrate the 80th birthday of Bradford Endicott. Being major supporters for the arts in
Massachusetts and MIT in particular, Bradford and his wife Dorothea commissioned the piece
for this occasion. I accepted the commission with the idea that the piece would be written for the
MIT Wind Ensemble featuring Joe and Judi Silvano for a performance in May of 2007.
While I had more than a year to write the piece, I had never written for this type of ensemble
before. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I called Fred Harris, the conductor of the MIT
Wind Ensemble and the one who suggested me for the project, to ask him what exactly a wind
ensemble was. Fred sent me a stack of scores and recordings that he thought would be
particularly of interest to me.
While I had a number of writing projects to complete prior to this one, and a summer’s worth of
gigs, it became most difficult for me to keep up as both a player and a composer simultaneously,
so my plan was to finish the other projects, get through my summer gigs and settle down in the
fall to start writing the piece.
Well, needless to say, the world changed drastically for my wife and me that fall. On October 2nd,
as my daughter was driving home from her martial arts class she had a terrible car accident and
At the same time, I was in Los Angeles having just given a clinic at a university there. I was
having dinner with a close friend before leaving for the airport. While at dinner, I received a call
from my wife Lorraine. Though tears and cries on the phone she said to me, “Kenny, something
really bad has happened. Kat has had a car accident.” I said “Oh no. How bad is she hurt?” And
she said, “She’s dead!”
It took me a few minutes to process the news. This couldn’t be! Katheryn’s destiny is to live a
long life and do great things. This is something we read in the newspapers about other people,
but would never happen to us! Slowly the news sunk in and I began to scream and had to leave
the restaurant immediately. Fortunately, Delores Aguanno, one of my dearest friends, was driving
me to the airport. As she paid the bill, I sat on the sidewalk crouched over, experiencing the
worst nightmare of a parent’s life. Dee was just as shaken, but somehow we got to the car in an
attempt to drive to the airport. I was in no shape to go to the airport and be among strangers but I
had to get home as fast as possible. Luckily I was booked on a redeye that would get me back in
New York by early morning. And, thankfully, Dee canceled all her plans and accompanied me on
the flight home. I was most fortunate—if one can use that word—that she was with me at that
point in time.
We have an incredible community of friends where we live who came to our aid with so much
love. We wouldn’t have survived without their support. They took care of us for months,
cooking, cleaning, and helping us to arrange things necessary under the circumstances. One of
these friends offered us their condo in Puerto Rico for as long as we needed. I canceled all my
gigs and we traveled to Puerto Rico in January to decompress with Lorraine.
When we arrived in Puerto Rico, we were alone for the first time since the accident. It hit us like
a ton of bricks, so we did nothing but sleep for almost the first week. Both of us would pick our
head up for a moment; look out at the beautiful sea through the window, and collapse back into a
deep sleep. As the week progressed, we started to feel a little better, and began to revive our
spiritual practices of chanting and meditating. Every morning we’d wake up, almost with the sun
and do these practices. Through all the pain we started to experience occasional moments of
Lorraine and I are most fortunate to have enlightened teachings that have shown us another way
to view our lives. There are two ways to view events in one’s lives; one way is living exclusively
in the human drama. When bad things happen we suffer and when good things happen we
celebrate. But there is another way, a transcendent way. This is viewing the events of our lives
through the divine eye if you will. In the first state of consciousness death is the end of things,
loved ones lost. In the second state death is a transition to another plane, another destination
though a succession of lifetimes. Souls often travel together throughout the journey, teaching
each other and learning from each other as they go.
In those inspired moments we still felt Katheryn’s presence and our connection to her. It was
more like we had to work on our love and light in order that our tears alone wouldn’t impede her
journey. I know when I am being lifted by these practices because I start to write poetry. Light
starts to stream out of me and being an artist, a communicator, the light manifests in words,
music and whatever other media I choose.
To affirm that death was in fact not the end of life I wrote a poem titled No Beginning, No End:
No Beginning, No End
Voices from within,
Voices from without.
Voices fill the void
Voices fill my heart
Voices from the wind,
Voices reach out
Voices sing the lyrics,
Of love devout.
No beginning, no end.
Rather a series of moments.
Flocks of souls travel together
On wings of eternity.
No beginning, no end,
No such thing as loss.
The voices say,
That we are never lost.
Family of souls
Share a love sublime.
They play throughout the universe
And beyond all space and time.
Now is the gift.
Earned over many lifetimes.
Loved ones may depart,
But spirit never dies
There is a flame
That lights the way
It blazes with the force
Of a thousand suns…
There is a flame
That shines, that shimmers.
With this flame She lights the way.
Through the night of transition.
A flame so small
Yet so mighty
Illuminates the inner world.
And all the outer universes.
The light of a thousand suns
Is Her pedestal
The light of existence
Is Her servant
The goddess dances
She dances the Self,
The source of all being.
Life is not a start,
Death is not an end.
There is no loss
To the God of time.
Who are we?
Where are we going?
What do we represent?
What is the goal?
These are the tools of improvisation.
Voices sing our song, which has,
No beginning, no end.
The question of what to do about the MIT commission was not even addressed, nor did anyone
approach us about it. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the mood for writing a wind ensemble piece at
that time. But suddenly I had a reason to write the piece! I would use phrases from my poem to
create a simple message. The singer, Judi Silvano, would sing melodies on single notes or pedal
points. In Indian music this is called the Sa. In western music we call it the root. The singer
would sing words of wisdom on the Sa and the wind ensemble would swirl around her like a
hurricane, she being in the eye of the hurricane.
Now I came home on a mission, a conviction about a piece that needed to be written, a
composition I very much needed to write. And I had about a month to write it, so I got right to
work. With such a short time to complete the piece, I began writing day and night. At one point I
had a gig with Betty Buckley in New York City that lasted two weeks. I wrote all day, played the
gig, and then wrote through the night. Lorraine came in to be with me. She’d watch movies all
night and I’d sit at the desk with headphones as I wrote on my computer. I was so grateful she
was there because I knew that I’d be more productive if she was with me.
This was a time of madness. I was on the phone constantly with Fred Harris, getting advice about
the conventional rules of writing for wind ensemble. As I completed each section, I’d send them
to Fred to rehearse. He would send recordings back to me and then we’d discuss what was
working and what wasn’t. As I look back on this time I honestly don’t know how I did it. It’s a
blur, a dream, but it engaged me and put me on a mission that helped me climb out of the abyss,
if only for a moment.
In April, I traveled to Cambridge a few times to work with the ensemble. The week before the
concert, Joe, Judi and I went to MIT for rehearsals. At the performance, the piece was ragged and
unfinished at best, but the MIT students had worked hard and did a great job. Judi was fantastic
and Joe, well, he’s a modern miracle! He played what was a very loose and difficult part so
naturally that it sounded like he was improvising throughout the piece. I don’t know who else
could have pulled that off.
Ragged as it was, the piece was a great success. It was exciting, dramatic, at times complex and
most importantly, deeply moving. We all knew we had been part of something special, but with
only one performance the piece for me still left a lot to be desired. Bob Brookmeyer once told
me, “If there are problems with the piece you’ve just written, fix them on the next piece.” Which
is another way of saying don’t look back. But this piece was too important to me. I vowed I
would rewrite it and record it someday.
No Beginning, No End didn’t have one great moment where people came together in a common
cause, but two. Moving forward to early 2009, I’m in a car with Jeff Levinson, producer of Half
Note Records, the recording arm of The Blue Note Jazz Club. While driving I played a recording
I had made of the concert. Jeff was so moved by the piece that he said that Half Note had to
record it for their label. While Half Note is known mostly for CDs recorded live at the Blue
Note Jazz Club—two of which I made for the label—amazingly they were now willing to record
a 37-piece wind ensemble that might be perceived as more of a classical piece then something
from the jazz world. That was quite a gamble for them! Given the go ahead in the spring of 2009,
I began rewriting a large sections of No Beginning, No End, now with the luxury of hindsight. It
was such a chaotic piece in some ways that I didn’t really know what worked and what didn’t
until I heard it. With the benefit of a few years to re-listen, I accentuated what worked and
eliminated what did not.
Jeff devised a way to fund and complete the project, but we both realized that we would have to
rely on the good will of many other people. Enter Dave Schroeder and the NYU Steinhardt
Music Program. Dave is head of the Jazz department. He used his position and resources to help
organize the ensemble, which was mostly made up of NYU music majors and some
professionals, and he secured the Frederic Loewe Theater for us to record the piece.
In August 2009 we gathered, almost 40 of us (minus Joe and Judi who would overdub at a later
date) at the theater to simultaneously rehearse and record No Beginning, No End. I was most
fortunate to have Paul Wickliff as the engineer for this recording. He has been a close friend and
partner for many years.