Inspired by A.A. Milne’s 1924 book of poetry, When We Were Very Young, Cornelius presents a composition commissioned by Chamber Music America. It features Bill Evans-like voicings and Ellingtonian ideas.
While growing up in San Antonio, Patrick Cornelius listened to JazzSet on KRTU. Off the air, he taped the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band playing Lalo Schifrin’s Gillespiana in the 1990s and more. Cornelius went on to complete degrees and diplomas from Berklee College of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School.
In 2012, Cornelius won a New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble grant from Chamber Music America, and this episode of JazzSet features the composition for which he applied for support, titled While We’re Still Young.
WBGO’s The Checkout: Live is at Berklee College of Music’s Café 939 in Boston for the premiere performance, broadcast and webcast. Onstage, four horns — trumpet, two saxes including Cornelius’, trombone — are in front of guitar, piano, bass and drums. Among the players are Berklee grads, as they contemplate how far they’ve come since they were still young.
When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne is the inspiration. Writing in England in the 1920s, Milne introduced Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin and more sweet characters. Cornelius’ grandmother read the verses to his mother, his mother read them to Cornelius, and now he reads Milne to his daughter and her baby brother James.
“From the moment I started reading [the verses] to Isabella, my daughter, ideas for melodies came into my head,” Cornelius told The Checkout’s Josh Jackson. “I want to write tunes that are almost singable, but have a high level of craft. I want melodic simplicity to mesh with complexity,” Patrick recently told a hometown journalist on mysanantonio.com. Cornelius lists Gil Evans, Benny Golson, Duke Pearson, Duke Ellington, French turn-of-the-century composers Debussy, Satie and Ravel, and contemporaries such as Alan Ferber among his many influences.
Before the first four movements, Patrick reads a Milne verse. The words launch the melodies. “Jonathan Jo” has Evans-like voicings, and I hear Ellingtonian choices in “The Invaders.” “Vespers” is the lullaby. But While We’re Still Young isn’t really for children, Cornelius says. It’s for parents who read to their children, or whose parents read to them.
Originally published on NPR.org