A collection of my featured writings
Honey from the Rock, compiled by Roy Shoeman.
Chapter: God of Abraham, God of Mercy, Ignatius Press, pp. 239-252. The story of a spiritual journey.
Review of Walter Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: From Revolver to Anthology, Music Library Notes, Fall 2000, pp.159-161.
The author reviews this groundbreaking work that addresses individual songs as compositions. While this book is a comprehensive chronological study of every aspect of the Beatles’ musical, including full examinations of composition, performance practice, recording, and historical context (1966-70) it’s most important contribution is to make the case for understanding the Beatles’ music as exceptional music based on structure and originality of musical thought.
Bemsha Swing: The Transformation of a Bebop Classic to Free Jazz.
Music Theory Spectrum, Fall 1997, Vol. 19, No.2, pp.206-231. This study compares two performances of Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing," now a jazz standard. One improvisation is by the composer himself and the other by Cecil Taylor recorded in the early 1950s before the free jazz style developed. A number of major assumptions made both about the style of free jazz and even about the nature of its origins in bebop are either facile or incorrect. Even where common jazz and blues riffs can be heard within a predominantly tonal language, these same riffs may also function as the structural foundation for improvisations that may not seem to be rooted in standard jazz and blues idioms. Techniques that are associated with free jazz (motivic development, textural variation which also may imply structural connections, and pitch-class transformation) exist in the early works of Cecil Taylor and, to a lesser extent, in Monk's own Bebop rendition of "Bemsha Swing."
Vector Products and Intervallic Weighting, with co-author, Jack Douthett, Journal of Music Theory, Spring, 1994, Vol. 38, pp. 21-41.
This article develops a method for weighting interval-class sets in relationship to compositional preference rather than by abstract interval content. The tool created allows composers to weight set-classes by the composer’s own intervallic preference in a given section of music (e.g., emphasis on perfect intervals with secondary preference for semitones) as a pre-compositional structural device.
Bread from Heaven, Ronda Chervin, editor. Chapter: Steven Block (1978), Remnant of Israel Press, pp.111-126. The story of a spiritual journey.
Review Ear Training for Twentieth-Century Music by Michael L. Friedmann, Integral, Vol. 5, 1991, pp. 101-23.
This is the first article to be published in an academic jazz journal to address theoretical and structural implications within free jazz. In addressing the music of Ornette Coleman, largely understood as derived from the diatonic preferences of the artists, the author demonstrates pitch-class relationships within the same diatonic setting that bears superficial resemblance to improvised music based on chord changes.
Pitch-Class Transformation in Free Jazz. Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 12, no. 2, fall 1990 p. 181-202
This article was the first theoretical explanation of the American improvised art form in an academic theory journal. The article demonstrates that while pitch-class organization was a prevalent tool in 20th C. composition, free jazz artists utilized similar organization, hearing the same pitch-class relationships within their improvisations as they performed. Set-theoretic methodology is applied to the music of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and Anthony Braxton in order to reveal the wide variety of pitch-class transformation present in free jazz. Each composer's music has been classified somewhat differently by other analysts--Coltrane's as modal, Coleman's as diatonic, and Taylor's as non-tonal--yet all the improvisations examined here are shown to be based on tightly constructed conceptions which make use of such twentieth-century constructs as the multiplicative operation, transformation of embedded chords, and the use of a small number of transformational operations which control the course of the composition.
Review of Sound Color by Wayne Slawson, Integral, Vol.1, 1987, p. 155-65
Block reviews the groundbreaking book establishing timbre as a separate, easily identifiable musical quality, one subject to organizational use in music composition. The primary instrumental grouping of the 20th Century is that of percussion, a set of instruments as a whole that exploits timbre as having primary importance in sound.
Music Lives, Musical America, Vol. 107, 1987, pp. 40-42
George Rochberg: Progressive or Master Forger, Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 21, 1982-1983, pp. 407- 409
A response to Jay Reise’s article in Vol.19 of Perspectives in which Reise proclaims that composer George Rochberg’s use of a mixture of tonal, non-tonal, and quotation techniques opens a vast variety of musical expression. This article attempts to demonstrate that the use of entire movements in an imitative style (e.g., late Beethoven String Quartet, Mahlerian orchestral slow movement), while masterful (as is the individual writing of a Bach-like fugue), is merely a craftsman-like exercise rather than an original and personal musical expression.
The Making of a New Music Ensemble, Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 20,1981-1982, pp. 592 – 599; and/or High Fidelity/Musical America Edition, Vol.33, Oct 1983, pp. MA30-31
Chronicles the emergence of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in the late 1970s in the context of a decreasing audience for classical concert music as well as a decreasing number of performance opportunities for composers.