In a twist to a night of music, Taylor Barton—wife of 10-year “Saturday Night Live” band leader G.E. Smith—has curated a unique three-night experience featuring actors, painters and fellow musicians to showcase their sometimes unexpected musical talents at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
Mr. Smith, a master guitarist who has also performed with Bob Dylan and Hall & Oats, will be jamming with the likes of actor and musician Ethan Hawke, and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, but not before he kicks off the series—dubbed “Portraits”—on Saturday night with painter Dan Rizzie, photographer Ralph Gibson and film score composer Carter Burwell, whom he met one afternoon at the composer’s beachfront home in Amagansett.
“Taylor thought of this idea and calling it ‘Portraits,’” Mr. Smith said of his wife during a recent conference call with Mr. Burwell. “Her original thought was that there are so many different types of artists out here on the East End, and a lot of them also play music. So she said, ‘We’ll get a painter, we’ll get a photographer,’ and so on. We’re friends with Carter and his family, so he was an obvious choice. And even though he’s a musician, people might not be able to see him play all the time. They’ve heard his music, because he scores so many movies that people have seen.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever performed out here actually,” Mr. Burwell interjected. “It’s my East End debut!”
Several impromptu nights of music sound much like a festival in the making, which Mr. Smith said he envisions as an annual event. “I would love it, sure, to be able to work with quality people,” the Amagansett resident said. “Then to go home at night in 15 minutes is always a great idea, as far as I’m concerned.”
Each performing artist will bring textures to the series, Mr. Smith said. “Even though the event encompasses their music, the photographer Ralph Gibson and the painter Dan Rizzie will incorporate elements of their artwork. There will be visuals. With Roger Waters, it will just be music, and with Ethan Hawke, it will just be music, because people have seen him in his movies, people know who he is. We put a band together to play Ethan’s music. I don’t know what we’re going to do with Carter. His wife, Christina, is quite a good artist. We might work something in.”
Mr. Burwell, heir to the Carter Hall tobacco fortune, eschewed the family business and joined the New York music scene in the late 1970s.
“I came to New York in 1978, playing in bands as an avocation, playing in places like CBGBs. Out of that, someone asked me to make music for a film. That’s how I started,” he reminisced. “It was never anything I intended to do. It turned out to be the Coen brothers’ first film. When it got distributed, other people started calling. Pretty soon I had a career.”
When asked why he settled on the East End, he said, “I lived in New York City for 30 years, and I decided that that was enough. I wanted in a place with more nature, more than three animal species, so I started a project of trying to convince my wife to move somewhere. We looked at all these different areas of the country, but this is the one that she finally agreed to.”
For “Portraits,” he will play pieces he’s never performed live, including music from “No Country For Old Men,” “Bella’s Lullaby” from the “Twilight” series, and music from “Carol,” a film starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Todd Haynes, which will be released in November, and which screened last weekend during the Hamptons International Film Festival.
“I love working with Todd. He’s a nice guy to work with. Not all directors are as nice as he is. He’s also very astute musically. It was a great pleasure working with him on ‘Carol,’” Mr. Burwell said. “I want to do a piece from that, because it’s very current. But I’m also going to be playing something going back to ‘Blood Simple,’ by the Coen brothers, which was my first film score. And other things in between.”
He said he’ll also commentate throughout the program, from the inside scoop on his composing process to some of Hollywood’s most famous directors. “I’ll get to complain about all the directors I’ve ever worked with. Compliment the good ones. I’ll be explaining where the piece came from and what they mean to me.”
The challenge for Mr. Burwell is that his scores are often played by dozens of classical musicians. “That’s the secret of that show. It’s a good question, especially the piece of ‘Carol,’ which was written for 12 different instruments. Trying to put that under my fingers as a pianist. I’m close, I’m definitely getting there.”
“Carter, correct me if this isn’t right, but most film score music, it’s evocative—that’s what it’s there for, to evoke emotions, to amplify it or damp down what’s going on on the screen,” Mr. Smith added. “There are little motifs, right? Melodic things within most of these pieces that are very significant that will give the audience an emotion. I think that’s where we’ll concentrate our energies on.”
“I’m not so much a writing-notes-on-a-piece-of-paper kind of guy, really. I’m so slow at that,” Mr. Burwell said. “This work involves pretty grueling schedules, actually. My piano faces the ocean, so I start there. I extemporize at the piano, I think about the film, what it needs, what might be missing that I could bring out with music.
“I like the piano because it doesn’t involve having to turn anything on. Once I turn on a power switch, that’s when I feel like I’m working. That begins my work day. If I just play, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like fun. Once I have some ideas, then I do go and I will turn on the power, and then I’m working.”
The film scores will blend with Mr. Smith’s rock and roll, as well as rhythm and blues, and classical arrangements. “I won’t necessarily always be rocking,” he insisted. “I play pretty, too.”
When asked if there were any surprise appearances scheduled for “Portraits,” Mr. Smith just giggled and said, “Maybe. It won’t be a surprise if I told you, would it?”
G.E. Smith will kick off his “Portraits” series with a concert featuring Dan Rizzie, Ralph Gibson and Carter Burwell on Saturday, October 17, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $35. Ethan Hawke will participate on Saturday, November 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $55. For more information, call (613) 725-9500, or visit baystreet.org.
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