spring 2003
"For me, to not blend things would be inaccurate, unnatural."

Listening with the Inner Ear

Kitty BrazeIton belongs to what's known as the "downtown school": baby-boom musicans, such as Laurie Anderson or members of the Kronos Quartet, who grew up listening to rock and jazz and don't see any reason to set that experience aside when they compose more serious music. Kitty Brazelton has been blending musical genres in quirky combos for three decades. The New York Times called her "one of the brighter lights on the downtown scene." Her latest effort is called Chamber Music for the Inner Ear. From New York, Tom Vitale has the story.

Korva Coleman, host:
Tom Vitale, reporting:

Kitty Brazelton spent much of the 1990s composing and singing with DADADAH, a group which blends electric guitars, brass, harp, and cello. Brazelton says on her new project, she didn't want words to get in the way.


There were a lot of things that, in song form, I couldn't say. Song form brings in words, it brings in a certain amount of theatrics, and I just wanted to focus on notes. I think of myself as, at heart, a classical composer, and then I just use rock and I use all these other languages.

Ken Smith of Gramophone magazine:

Whenever we listen to music, you know, you have little clues to sort of tell you how to listen. Kitty's music doesn't really give you any of those clues.


Ken Smith reviewed Brazelton's Chamber Music for the Inner Ear for Gramophone magazine. He says the music is satisfying on a gut level, but trying to figure it out is maddening.


You walk into a piece like "Come Spring!, " you try to follow the melody. It's a really thorniy, modernist piece. And yet, you're listening to the brass and all of sudden, you feel at times like you're in an R&B section.


Kitty Brazelton has collaborated with the Manhattan Brass Quintet and the California EAR Unit, a septet of woodwinds, strings, and percussion. She's also written for alto sax and cello and for computer and trombone. Brazelton studied voice and flute as a teenager, then she discovered the music of John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones while she was at Swarthmore College.


For me, to not blend things would be inaccurate, unnatural. I just tried to combine everything I was learning in school, all the medieval music that I'd encountered for the first time and all the surrealist, 12-tone music that I was fascinated by al all the Coltrane-influenced jazz that I had discovered on the Impulse label and the rock music that I'd been playing. I put all that together, because it had to work. How could it not work?


In 1972, while she was still an undergraduate, she started her first professional band called Musica Orbis. To support herself and her band, Kitty Brazelton became a topless go-go dancer.


It was actually, like, this sort of — like you were in a bubble with the topless stuff. And we were already studying pop music, so I could study it with my body. And, man, do I know those tunes. I know every inch of those tunes I used to dance to, every instrument that came in, where it comes in, and then I would dance it.


By the 1980's, Brazelton had started another band, Hide The Babies, a group that, she says, "perfected the three-minute radio singer."


I became more and more fascinated with pop music and how stripped down, how elemental, and how tough it was. I think a good pop song is as hard as you can get to write. And I think there's a lot of bad pop songs, but a really great one, Mozart would have wanted to do that. You know? I mean, you can't get better than that.

Hilly Kristal, owner of New York City nightclub, CBGB:

She was quite captivating on the stage; a lovely young lady, and she was very good. Whatever she did, she was quite good, some very good songs.


Hilly Kristal is the owner of CBGB, the Lower East Side club where the careers of Blondie, Patti Smith, and The Talking Heads were launched. Kristal has booked Kitty Brazelton's bands more than 100 times since 1976. She played there as recently as a year ago. He says Brazelton had the talent to make it as a pop star, but she didn't stick with it long enough.


When you are frustrated by the fact that you know you're good and people don't pay enough attention to you, you do something else, if only for your own ego, because you want some sort of satisfaction. The audience always liked her and we liked her here.


And the critics liked her, too. Rolling Stone called her latest pop record "an album of impressive nerve." But by then, Brazelton had already gone back to school to get her doctorate in music at Coumbia University, spurred on by an experience at CBGB.


I was on stage doing a showcase for a record company. They listened to one tune and they said, "Toe tapping," and then got up and left. And I was so filled with hate and frustration, and I realized that all I was going to do was take away the one thing I loved, which was making music, from myself and that I better make the music I wanted to make.


Composer Kitty Brazelton's latest effort to please herself is her classical music CD called Chamber Music For the Inner Ear. Two years ago she joined the music faculty at Bennington College, where she teaches composition. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

related links:

"Chamber Music for the Inner Ear"

Other CDs by Kitty Brazelton

CRI (Composers Recordings Inc.)

Kitty Brazelton, composer

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