Poster for US Highball tour, 1976

West Coast Tour Poster from 1976: "U. S. Highball"
(click on poster for audio montage)

Partch's "U. S. Highball" occupies a significant place both in his output and the creative works of uniquely American composers. This poster was designed by Dennis Dunn, an ensemble member during the 1970's, for a West Coast tour in 1976; the production was directed and staged by Danlee Mitchell. The accompanying music track is the opening section of the work, introducing the instruments one by one. The live recording was made during the 1976 tour at the Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Among others in attendance (as I recall) were Don Ellis, Frank Zappa and Emil Richards. Other stops on the tour were San Diego, San Jose and Gilroy, California. Gilroy is best known as the Garlic Capitol of the World. The undeniably stunning boo playing, which enters around the 1:06 mark, is yours truly. Yes, me, when I was young, virile and practiced a lot. Well, younger and practicing.

The remarks by Partch during the montage were taken from an interview conducted in 1974. They illuminate both his desire to think in terms of a dramatically-whole presentation (as opposed to a mere concert setting), and his thoughts on both the film presentations and remembrances of the daily dangers of riding the rails - highlighting why this isn't just light-hearted Americana. I do run the risk of offending Harry's spirit here: he was adamant about not ever having his music as background music, and I considered having only his commentary. I did it this way, for now. I may change my mind again.

To my knowledge, the 1976 production is the only production to have fulfilled Partch's desire to have a corporeal presentation of the work, with the instrumentalists portraying the hobos and other characters. This is also the production that prompted a member of the audience to remark that it reminded him not only of the sights and sounds of riding the rails, but the smells, too...[JMS]