Martha Mier is undoubtedly one of America’s finest educational composers.
Best-known in the UK for her Jazz, Rags & Blues and Romantic Impressions series, she is also a co-writer of the Alfred Premier Piano course (the new Express version of which I plan to review here soon) and composer of several other collections and stand-alone works.
Hot off the press, Jazz Suite in Color (don’t blame me for the spelling here!) joins Alfred Music’s growing Recital Suite Series aimed at intermediate players – in terms of the UK grades, these pieces are around Grade 4 level.
Let’s take a look…
Alfred Music’s Recital Suite Series
According to the publishers Alfred Music,
“Alfred’s Recital Suite Series was created for performing piano students. Each Suite is a short collection of fresh-sounding solos carefully crafted to be played as a group in a recital. Musical challenges, appropriate for the level, provide interest and appeal. Aspiring pianists are challenged to reach higher degrees of excellence while playing music that is truly enjoyable for them and their audiences.”
The bedrock of the series are short piano Suites celebrating the culture and geography of the different American States, whose popularity has guaranteed the growth of the series beyond the parochial to include a catalogue of works which celebrate the whole of the USA (there’s also now an Australian, a Canadian and a Celtic Suite in the series – perhaps the rest of the world will soon follow!).
Many of these suites are composed by well-known names from within Alfred Music’s stable that readers will be familiar with, including Dennis Alexander, Joyce Grill, Robert Vandall and Melody Bober.
Visiting the US to teach a couple of years ago, I returned with a few of these publications, and while they haven’t so far found a place within my own teaching repertoire I was certainly impressed with the quality of invention.
In terms of presentation and “house style”, the Recital Suite Series booklets are slim – in the case of Jazz Suite in Color as well as the various others I have, 12 pages including the cover.
Rather than card, they have glossy paper covers, which are contemporary, vivid and eye-catching.
The notation is cleanly engraved in a slightly larger-than-usual font size, making the pieces easy to read. Minimal fingering is provided, and teachers will perhaps want to augment this, but the suggestions given seem to me sensible and generally sound. All necessary pedalling is included too, and while in some publications I have felt too much pedalling is included, here it is just right.
All in all, then, this is a very nicely presented and effective publication. So what of the pieces themselves?
Jazz Suite in Color
Martha Mier’s Jazz Suite in Color is actually a new solo piano arrangement of a previous publication – the pieces were originally scored for clarinet, trumpet and piano.
The Suite comprises three pieces:
- Fluorescent Pink Jazz
- Sapphire Blue Blues
- Spring Green Rag
There are currently no recordings or samples of the pieces, but I will take a moment to describe each:
Fluorescent Pink Jazz kicks off the Suite in style with an uptempo swing piece built on a recognisable jazz bass line, peppered with some great scrunchy jazz chords that instantly appeal. The middle section continues the harmonic adventure with seventh chords descending chromatically while the RH plays a more lyrical melodic interlude. The piece ends with a crowd-pleasing bass tremolo and RH glissando from top to bottom end of the piano.
Sapphire Blue Blues isn’t exactly what I expected. Meaning, this is not really a very bluesy piece at all. What it is, instead, is a lyrical interlude in 6/8 time, which would not be entirely out of place within the Romantic Impressions books, other than the occasionally ripe jazz harmony that is added, and a Gershwin-esque turn towards the end.
Spring Green Rag is familiar territory for those who have enjoyed Martha Mier’s Jazz, Rags and Blues books – a jaunty Ragtime with a few challenging LH jumps for the player to navigate, making the piece excellent preparation for playing the music of Scott Jopplin and other more challenging pieces of the early jazz era.
Players will no doubt pick their favourite from these three pieces – for me, Fluorescent Pink Jazz edges it (and if the exam boards are reading, this would make a very popular Grade 4 exam piece!)
Six Reasons to Buy this
If you already have a collection of Martha Mier’s pieces (and if not, why not?) then you may be wondering what this new Suite offers that makes it worth getting hold of. Here’s my suggestions:
1: If you’ve enjoyed Martha’ Jazz, Rags and Blues books you may well be ready for some fresh pieces in a similar vein. And these are among Martha’s best!
2: While it would be easy enough to pick your favourite three pieces from that series and call them a “Suite”, there’s something really good about the core concept of the Recital Suite Series, and the selection here certainly add up to a coherent whole.
3: Being short, students can learn the whole collection without it becoming a longer distraction from their other playing and musical progress.
4: Lasting little over five minutes in total, the Jazz Suite in Color (and it’s performers!) are unlikely to outstay their time on stage in any Studio or school concert. While more pieces would have been welcome, this very nicely fulfils its essential remit as a performance Suite.
5: It costs less than £5.00, which is a bargain!
6: It’s by Martha Mier. Seriously, what more do you need to know?
Martha Mier’s Jazz Suite in Color is, then, an easy recommendation!
And why not check out the rest of the Recital Suite Series if you are curious, and looking for fresh music to suit intermediate players!
Jazz Suite in Color is available from music retailers worldwide, and directly from the Alfred Music store online. Alfred Music UK site.