New Inventions

Total Time — 79:10

    (John Hofmann) 2:51
    1. SONATINA (0:56)
    2. A SAD SONG (1:28)
    3. THIRDS FOR PAUL (0:25)

    (Paul Hofmann) 70:08

  2. NO. 1 IN C (2:25)
  3. NO. 2 IN C MINOR (2:53)
  4. NO. 3 IN D-FLAT (2:32)
  5. NO. 4 IN C-SHARP MINOR (1:48)
  6. NO. 5 IN D (1:22)
  7. NO. 6 IN D MINOR (2:43)
  8. NO. 7 IN E-FLAT (2:33)
  9. NO. 8 IN E-FLAT MINOR (1:47)
  10. NO. 9 IN E (1:25)
  11. NO. 10 IN E MINOR (4:13)
  12. NO. 11 IN F (2:43)
  13. NO. 12 IN F MINOR (3:06)
  14. NO. 13 IN F-SHARP (4:47)
  15. NO. 14 IN F-SHARP MINOR (2:43)
  16. NO. 15 IN G (2:16)
  17. NO. 16 IN G MINOR (2:27)
  18. NO. 17 IN A-FLAT (2:02)
  19. NO. 18 IN G-SHARP MINOR (1:52)
  20. NO. 19 IN A (1:35)
  21. NO. 20 IN A MINOR (2:44)
  22. NO. 21 IN B-FLAT (2:01)
  23. NO. 22 IN B-FLAT MINOR (8:44)
  24. NO. 23 IN B (3:39)
  25. NO. 24 IN B MINOR (4:41)
    (Mike Metheny) 6:00
  • Compositions published by PBH Music BMI
  • except Three Short Pieces (unpublished)
  • and Deceptive Resolution (Mike-Meth Music BMI)
  • Produced by Paul Hofmann
  • Engineered by Ron Ubel
  • Recorded digitally, August 12, 2002 (Nos. 1-25) and August 22, 2001 (No. 26) at Soundtrek Studio I, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Digital editing by Jeff Schiller
  • Art direction and design by Keith Kavanaugh

New Inventions

Two contrasting views:

“Invention breeds invention.”

“Society and Solitude” (1870)


“Everything that can be invented
has been invented.”

Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents (1899)

With New Inventions, composer-pianist Paul Hofmann has realized a major musical offering, successfully integrating his artistic and educational vision.

In this set of ‘inventions,’ Paul presents original melodies that sound natural and spontaneous. He then proceeds to elaborate and develop a variety of musical settings and atmospheres – and yes, stories – from these. Paul manages to combine his classical and jazz sensibilities into a cohesive whole, and performs every selection with admirable pianism at the core. These qualities invite casual listeners and serious students alike to participate in the process of making music; here Hofmann sheds much-needed light on how simple, yet profound, this process can be.

Paul and I share much in our views about music and the piano. Although I have thought of a project somewhat similar to what is accomplished in these pieces, I ended up abandoning work on it. It is not easy to tackle programming a composition through all major and minor keys, and my friend has proven himself to be both musically fearless and thorough. Above all, Paul has succeeded convincingly in combining a personal musical statement with an important instructional premise.

I have generally kept my teaching approach separate from my artistic endeavors, opting to direct my attention to scientific order and clinical methodology, both in my own studies and in mentoring students. In contrast, I find that Paul has given generously of his artistry throughout this work, making an inspired connection that could enable any adventurous pianist to develop improvisations utilizing these written themes and concepts. The compositions and performances herein give a true glimpse of who Hofmann is, and this music is truly the work of a mature and caring artist and teacher.

I look forward to repeated hearings of New Inventions, both for pleasure and study. Maybe I’ll even attempt my own versions of them in time. It is my hope that this work opens many new musical avenues for Paul Hofmann, and for those who follow his lead.

Harold Danko
Chairman, Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media
Eastman School of Music


“We do have several different accounts that absolutely rave about [Frederic] Chopin’s improvisations, and no less an artist than Eugene Delacroix, who was friends with Chopin, wrote that Chopin’s pieces were but pale distillations of his improvisations. Do you see the significance this begins to take on?”

–Jeffrey Kallberg,
professor of music at University of Pennsylvania,
quoted in The New York Times (May 12, 2002)

“[H]ow new, how expressive, how beautiful were his ideas in improvising! How perfectly he realized them!”

–Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with Johann Friedrich Agricola (1754),
from “OBITUARY of The World-famous Organist, Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach,
Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer, and Music Director in Leipzig”

Those of you who have more than a passing familiarity with the MHR catalog are well aware of my lasting interest in ‘chamber jazz.’ It is beyond doubt that many of jazz’s most important figures created music whose vocabulary is fundamentally linked to that of earlier Western styles. I’ve long observed the remarkable similarity between the syntaxes of jazz and classical music, even allowing for jazz’s distinctive phrasing and articulations.

Seminal jazzmen like Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell typified this intimate connection (Powell’s Bud on Bach comes immediately to mind – an exuberant 1957 rendition of C. P. E. Bach’s Solfeggietto), not only in most of their adlibbed bebop solos but also through a number of their formal compositions. Most of these pieces, as might be expected, were written as vehicles for jazz improvisation (Parker’s entire output; Powell’s Tempus Fugit and Parisian Thoroughfare among others) while others were mostly notated – Ellington’s Reflections in D and Melancholia; Powell’s Dusk at Saudi and Glass Enclosure; all pieces I had fun interpreting on my first disc, recorded in 1990 – “When You Dream.”

With these among dozens of inspiring examples, I’ve enjoyed writing several related originals, many of which have appeared on other MHR releases (including Chopinesque from “There With A Smile”). The New Inventions represent an offshoot of this idea, the emphasis here not so much on ‘piano jazz’ – although jazz elements are heard throughout – but more on improvised pianoforte music regardless of musical style or period, and Keith Jarrett has been a stimulating influence in this regard.

Chopin’s brilliance notwithstanding (!), in several important respects this project is an homage to J. S. Bach, the composer who has inspired me most profoundly since childhood. Formally, these twenty-four short pieces follow the convention of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, moving uninterrupted through the major and minor sonorities of all twelve keys.

Each composition is heard thrice:

– Harmonies omitted, the original improvised theme stated as a ‘solo’ note (i.e., a single tone), with occasional modifications – the melody sometimes played in octaves and even heard in different registers (‘jumping octaves’);

– A rubato right hand improvisation supported by a newly written left hand harmonic framework, this reminiscent of the improvised cadenzas once commonly played by concert keyboardists;

– The original theme buttressed by the written harmonies.

This preparatory blueprint – the sense of order so emblematic of the Baroque period – is counterbalanced by the often unpredictable aural results of these pieces, heard particularly in the improvisations (some of which are free-wheeling). As it happens, many of these melodic fragments, root movements and inner voice resolutions have their basis in 18th-century music. And yet the overall performances reflect a fully modern approach by the integration of these elements with jazz rhythms, blues inflections, and tonal sequences suggestive of composers from Claude Debussy to Paul Hindemith to Bela Bartok (to whomever else I may have been listening to at the time).

The themes were intermittently adlibbed from early-2001 to mid-2002, my aim being to avoid improvising phrases that were excessively intricate. Instead, I simply sat at the piano with the tape recorder running, thinking “Aha! Let’s adlib a brief melody ‘in C’ or ‘in C minor’” (or in whatever key happened to land next in the series; the New Inventions were created sequentially). I deliberately limited myself to recording the first version of each theme, its length undetermined. I played the first notes that fell under my fingers; I wished to retain the sense of capturing stream-of-consciousness notes and phrases that were ‘in the air.’

These melodic phrases were quickly transcribed so as to add harmonies (I later learned that another of my favorite musicians has employed a similar technique for decades: composer-keyboardist Josef Zawinul). With my self-imposed ‘immediacy’ constraint still operative, I purposely allowed myself only a few minutes to complete each underlying chord sequence, often choosing functional harmonies that complemented the melodies.

In the improvised sections, I utilize the musical material somewhat after Bach and the other great composers (by reworking portions of the original melody over the harmonic foundation: whether this consists of rhythmic patterns, brief themes and phrases, grace notes, intervallic relationships, etc.) – but with a jazzy twist: by merging certain notated melodic ideas with new impromptu melodies. The result? A synthesis of traditional and improvised composition. A New Invention every time.

Prior to Edison’s inventing his tin foil phonograph in 1877 (the precursor to today’s compact discs, which have the wonderful advantage of keeping sounds alive so durably), the only way for musicians to preserve their ideas – both to hear contemporaneous performances of their works and for posterity’s sake – was by refining (and safeguarding) their written music. I wonder: Which of the great keyboard composers more consistently demonstrated their best musical ideas through their surviving manuscripts, and which through their improvisations?

We’ll never really know, especially as all musicians at least up to the time of Franz Liszt’s death in 1886 lacked the technological means to preserve their adlibbed inventions. Of course, I appreciate methodically worked-out Art as much as anybody. There are numerous examples of composers who meticulously searched for ‘this one missing note’ or ‘that one needed harmony’ – the so-called Lost Chord? – and I’ve certainly fine-tuned a few musical elements of my own compositions (just as this essay itself, while initially improvised, was improved through the standard editing process).

And yet musical improvisation is commonly considered an inexplicable gifting imparted only to ‘the few.’ Might this not be more easily understood as the natural outgrowth of one’s fluency in any living language? We all improvise every day as we speak…is this so unusual? Observing my daughter’s gradually becoming articulate in speaking, reading and writing English has had a lasting impact on me; nobody ever suggested (especially to her!) that her attaining such facility has been ‘too hard.’

Taking this observation to its logical end, who is to say what percentage of Shakespeare’s surviving words reflect his immediate thoughts and what percentage were later refined? More recent artistic achievements have featured a considerable improvised element – not just in jazz music but in other fields such as comedy (Lucille Ball; Robin Williams), literature (Jack Kerouac, who published “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” in 1958) and the fine arts (Wassily Kandinsky, who created a series of paintings titled “Improvisations” almost a century ago).

These thoughts dovetail with (while significantly impacting) my teaching method: of bringing out each student’s inherent creativity, he or she having first gained a good working knowledge of general musical principles. Bach has been a big inspiration here, too. From The Bach Reader (ed. David-Mendel): “[for Bach, m]usic was a craft. It could be taught, and it could be learned…[t]o have talent was a matter of course: had not everybody, for instance, five healthy fingers on each hand…?”

At first glance, using Bach as an example of ‘talent’ may seem a bit daunting, especially given Bach’s overwhelming attention to musical detail. And yet for years I’ve worked with many students in this way, everyone from professional musicians to college and high school kids to doctors to rabbis to sign language interpreters to my wife and daughter, and relaying similar thoughts (particularly when encouraging improvisation):

“Music has endless possibilities; drawing from the existing vocabulary of Western music (which, after all, is what Bach did), now YOU turn out some creations that may end up being turn wonderful pieces. Play as if you’re singing; create new melodies as if your fingers were your voice. Instead of allowing the enormity of Bach’s incomparable genius to ‘weigh us down’ (‘How can WE achieve THAT?’), let’s allow Bach’s musical depth to affect us positively – to inspire us to achieve, as we absorb his spirit of creativity; of what may be possible. And doesn’t the best jazz music stimulate us in the same manner?”

For me, the most rewarding aspect of this musical approach has been its validation. In each and every case my students’ own improvisations have turned out delightfully. To me, this reinforces an exciting general truth, an idea readily transferable from music to other spheres of life: one’s innate inventiveness, particularly when promoted (unleashed?), can lead to wonderful and surprising discoveries. I have often, after transcribing a pupil’s invention, remarked how much I enjoyed ‘this or that melodic phrase.’ I also have found many of their instant musical ideas to be compelling.

One of the happiest outcomes of this methodology has been my hearing such a variety of improvisations – all very different; yet all convincing. In similar fashion, these August 2002 performances of the New Inventions simply reflect how I chose to interpret them on that one day. The on-the-spot artistic judgment calls that were made, especially my deciding what thematic ideas to include – or not to include – in the improvisations, resulted in these particular versions…

And while I’m pleased with the results (or I wouldn’t have released them here!), each rendering represents one of literally dozens – hundreds? thousands? – of adaptations which might prove equally persuasive, whether performed by me or by someone else. That’s the exciting pedagogical discovery. One’s simply getting one’s hands ‘in the clay’ (in this case, a musician’s experimenting with various configurations of notes, rhythms and sounds) goes a long way towards the final production of a uniquely beautiful sculpture.

Some of the essential elements of Bach’s musical vocabulary so finely honed in collections such as Inventions and Preludes and Fugues (and later brought to their ultimate realization in The Art of the Fugue) may be heard here, even if never systematically cultivated. No two- and three-part writing; no fugal or contrapuntal ingenuity. Instead, I’ve treated the subjects organically, with interrupted rhythmic motion; as starting points for ‘new inventions’ in the spirit (if not the styles) of the great jazz pianists Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano and Herbie Nichols – each of whom took quite different approaches to improvisation, and often with exhilarating results.

For a while I debated whether to title these pieces Improvisations, especially as each new time they are played the results are unique (in the same way that different jazz versions of the same themes produce distinct results, even when by the same performer). After I discovered that a synonym for ‘improvisation’ is ‘invention,’ I happily settled on New Inventions – and the nomenclature was confirmed as I recalled Bach’s celebrated skills in this area.

The disc features two additional tracks. The opening Three Short Pieces were written for me in the early 1970s (around the time my father was working toward his Eastman Doctorate), and helped solidify my keyboard facility from an early age. Just as importantly, they gave me the confidence to begin composing my own little minuets (“Hey…maybe I can do this, too?”). My mother recently located the original manuscripts and it was a real pleasure becoming reacquainted with them. Sometimes I think I hear traces of my own compositional style in these charming, well-crafted miniatures which recall the musical language of Franz Josef Haydn (the Sonatina), Hindemith (A Sad Song) and Bartok (Thirds for Paul).

Mike Metheny’s Deceptive Resolution is an enormously creative piece I never tire of playing due to its fascinating structural and intervallic ideas, challenging harmonic movement and truly gorgeous melodies. As it happens, it appears last in this musical sequence; yet it’s certainly anything but least, given its inspiring musical content. Those Metheny brothers…I’ve long been a big fan both of trumpeter Mike and guitarist Pat.

These two performances employ many of the same musical principles that the New Inventions do – the ‘classical’ bent of the Three Short Pieces; my extended treatment of Deceptive Resolution’s harmonic progressions (thanks, Mike, for allowing me such extemporization) – and I’m pleased to be able to include them here. More than anything else I’ve recorded to date, this program afforded me a consistent challenge: creating ‘orderly improvisations,’ which I’ve always believed was the hallmark of the best jazz…or speechmaking…or storytelling.

According to Donald Jay Grout’s A History of Western Music, Bach’s Inventions are “little pieces that teach technique and musicianship at the same time.” The Bach Reader states that Bach “provided the manuscript [of the Inventions] with a title page on which he promised to the ‘lovers of the clavier, and especially those desirous of learning upright instruction’ to teach them ‘not alone to have good inventiones [ideas, particularly thematic ones], but above all to arrive at a singing style in playing and at the same time to acquire a strong foretaste of composition.’”

Of course, improvisation is nothing if not instant composition; which leads me to another question: Did I begin playing jazz as a teenager more because I was attracted to its ‘swing’ rhythms and distinctive inflections (jazz’s accents, subtle stresses and note choices – particularly when taken from the ‘blues scale’), or because I knew that jazz happens to be a style of music which regularly features improvisation? Was I initially more attracted to the rhythmic vitality of jazz or to the complex nature of improvisation itself?

I wonder about this because as I absorbed the language and mechanics of musical composition through practicing the great keyboard works of Bach, Debussy, et al, I also remember recognizing the improvised effect of these notated masterpieces (their lingering sense of spontaneity) from the standpoint of a listener. Was my early gravitation toward jazz a necessary outcome of my awareness that our contemporary classical world leaves little to no place for adlibbing? I don’t recall my thinking in those terms back then; still, I may have…and simply forgotten.

Whatever the case, perhaps these New Inventions will help challenge the prevailing notion that the skill of improvisation should remain unconnected to the art of contemporary ‘legitimate’ (now there’s an interesting word!) piano performance. I am heartened that these pieces have already encouraged greater numbers of musicians of every stripe and style, whether concert artists or enthusiastic amateurs, to improvise more.

Sheet music is available from MHR Records, for use in and out of the classroom, with the harmonies expressed as chord symbols similar to jazz ‘lead sheets.’ The music accurately reflects the first statement of each theme as originally improvised (into that tape recorder). Depending on the performer, some of the markings – fermatas, tempos, precise harmonic placement, etc. – may be altered and even disregarded at times during the final statements of certain pieces. This surely is the case every time I play them, including in some of these renderings.

I’ve always believed this ‘taking liberty’ coincides with how polished speakers tend to improve the delivery of their written speeches by sometimes deviating from the written text. In the same manner, I encourage performers and students to supply new harmonies, whether adlibbed or pre-composed. For this reason, I have – apart from the tempi and the Italian expressive terms – offered little to no performance guidelines (i.e., dynamics, phrase marks, etc.), as I wish to give the broadest possible latitude to each pianist who interprets these New Inventions.

Whether you’re learning these pieces at the keyboard or simply listening to this disc (or both), I sincerely hope these performances inspire your own individual creativity.

Paul Hofmann