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Robert Black, Avant-Garde Bassist Extraordinaire, Passes Away at 67 – The Gentleman Report – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Robert Black, Avant-Garde Bassist Extraordinaire, Passes Away at 67 – The Gentleman Report


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In 2015, Robert Black shared his experience during an interview where he felt a lack of trust from his colleagues. He recalled attending orchestra rehearsals where his interest in contemporary and unconventional music like John Cage’s works led to him being pushed away. Conversely, when participating in hardcore new music events, he was not fully embraced due to his involvement with orchestras.

However, inspired by his partner, composer James Sellars, and pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, Black gradually immersed himself in contemporary composition when classical virtuosos had little dedication to new musical pieces. One early showcase of his dedication was Sellars’s composition “For Love of the Double Bass,” which blended music and theater and featured Black seducing his instrument by dressing it up, dancing with it, and even taking it to bed.

As a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Black played a significant role in promoting experimental music worldwide through their international tours and acclaimed albums. Alongside guitarist Mark Stewart, the only other original member remaining in the ensemble, he performed for over three decades.

Mark Stewart described Black as deeply kind, often playful, and devoted to the composer and his fellow musicians on stage. He also noted that Black’s humility was genuine, shaped by his attentive listening and gained wisdom.

Apart from his work with the ensemble, Black embarked on a successful solo career, expanding the repertoire for his instrument and recording the complete bass music of Giacinto Scelsi and Christian Wolff. As an influential educator, he taught at the Hartt School for 29 years. In 2017, he established the Robert Black Foundation to provide support for contemporary music. Even during the pandemic, he continued championing young and emerging composers by commissioning their work and streaming monthly performances from his home.

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During an interview in 2015, Robert Black reflected on an era when he felt a lack of trust from his colleagues. He remembered attending orchestra rehearsals and being pushed away because of his interest in contemporary and unconventional music, such as the works of John Cage. Conversely, when participating in hardcore new music events, he was not fully embraced due to his involvement with orchestras.

However, inspired by his partner, composer James Sellars, and pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, Black gradually immersed himself in contemporary composition when classical virtuosos had little dedication to new musical pieces. One early showcase of his dedication was Sellars’s composition “For Love of the Double Bass,” which blended music and theater and featured Black seducing his instrument by dressing it up, dancing with it, and even taking it to bed.

As a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Black played a pivotal role in promoting experimental music worldwide through their international tours and acclaimed albums. Alongside guitarist Mark Stewart, the only other original member remaining in the ensemble, he performed for over three decades.

Mark Stewart described Black as deeply kind, often playful, and devoted to the composer and his fellow musicians on stage. He also noted that Black’s humility was genuine, shaped by his attentive listening and gained wisdom.

In addition to his work with the ensemble, Black embarked on a successful solo career, expanding the repertoire for his instrument and recording the complete bass music of Giacinto Scelsi and Christian Wolff. As an influential educator, he taught at the Hartt School for 29 years. In 2017, he established the Robert Black Foundation to provide support for contemporary music. Even during the pandemic, he continued championing young and emerging composers by commissioning their work and streaming monthly performances from his home.

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