with the piano dates at least as far back as the mid-1960s, when his parentsBurton
Caine C49, a professor of law at Temple University, and Shulamith Wechter
Caine, a poet and professor of English at Drexelenrolled him in lessons.
He was eight years old.
was moderately into it, Caine recalls, but when I was about 13 I met
Bernard Peiffer, who was a French pianist who lived in Philly. He influenced
a lot of the musicians who were coming up in Philadelphia. And he stressed
the importance of studying classical music as a way to get towards a certain
facility on the piano, in order to improvise. So I would say he was really
the first big influence that I had.
years later, while still working with Peiffer, Caine began an informal
apprenticeship with the noted composer George Rochberg G49, who had won
renown within the academic classical realm in the 1940s and 1950s for
his considerable contributions to serial music. At the time, serialismthe
cerebral, atonal compositional method conceived by Arnold Schoenberg and
refined by his pupil Anton von Webernhad just begun its reign of influence.
Rochberg not only composed serial, or 12-tone, music; he also published
the first study on the subject. But by the end of the sixties, Rochberg
had become disenchanted with the movement, and gradually embarked upon
a reevaluation of tonal music. This decision, perceived by most modernists
as a defection, alienated the composer from the classical music establishment.
Nevertheless, Rochberg chaired Penns music department from 1960 to 1968,
and served on the faculty for another 15 years.
emeritus professor of music, Rochberg remembers the adolescent Caine for
his intuition, his talent and his very large flexibility of mind and
nature. He gave his young protÈgÈ weekly assignments in composition.
Caine explains: Basically he would take a formlike a Chopin prelude
or a Bach choraleand say: Study examples of this. And we would study,
and he would say: Write one or two, and bring them in. So every week
I would be writing pieces in different styles. It forced me to really
break things down in terms of understandingharmonically and formallya
lot of different pieces. I wasnt really sure how that was going to connect
with a lot of the jazz stuff that I was doing in terms of playing. But
it was more a general music understanding; especially of harmony and form.
was also honing his craft on the bandstand. Philadelphia has always had
a well-deserved reputation as an incubator for emerging jazz talent. In
those years, the city boasted a haphazard network of clubs, bars and neighborhood
joints. Caine dove into this scene headfirst. The jazz sound occasionally
identified as the Philly stylea rhythmically aggressive branch of bebop
exemplified by (but certainly not limited to) such musicians as Lee Morgan,
Benny Golson and Philly Joe Jonesimpressed itself upon the aspiring pianist.
By the time he came to Penn as a student in 1977, he was playing at a
notes that the University was not exactly a haven for jazz musicians.
Penn was the type of place where they didnt even have a jazz program,
he says. It was taught by the folklore department; they would come in
and teach it because the music department didnt feel that it was a valid
form of music. A lot of the professors were really very academic and closed-minded.
entering the music departments graduate program early (via a specialized
University Scholars curriculum), Caine had more encouraging exchanges
with the faculty composersnotably Rochberg, Richard Wernick and George
Crumb (with whom he often played four-handed piano).
hallmark of the program was its rigorous masters exam, in which students
were expected to identify individual pieces of musicfrom the Baroque
period to the presentby hearing the briefest of passages or seeing a
fragment on a page. Caine remembers this ordeal with masochistic fondness.
He trained by way of marathon sessions in the music library (then a new
arrival on Van Pelt Librarys fifth floor). I went into this thing of
listening to 20-second excerpts of different pieces, for hours every day,
he reminisces. It had another really weird effect on how I was hearing.
did the aesthetic of avant-garde jazz musicians, many of whom visited
the western reaches of campus, thanks to a concert series in the basement
of St. Marys Church. There Caine saw Cecil Taylor, the Art Ensemble of
Chicago, Henry Threadgill, and Sonny Rollins for the first time.
aspects of Caines stint at Penn provoke no trace of nostalgia: the pretensions
of the academy and the still-overwhelming dominance of serial composition.
A lot of the people that I was dealing with were totally into 20th-century
musicwhich I was into alsobut they werent really instrumentalists,
he explains. So they had almost a bias against instrumentalists as being
somehow just the tradespeople of music, while they were the great theoreticians.
And I wasnt relating to it that way. My gig at Penn was to play for the
choirs. I just had so much fun playing, in all these different experiences,
that I never really understood that attitude.
a student, Caine essentially supported himself as a musician. After moving
across the Schuylkill River to Center City in his second year, he had
begun playing with local tenor-saxophone mainstay Bootsie Barnes. Through
Barnes he met (and played with) virtually every Philadelphia-based jazz
luminaryfrom Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones to Grover Washington Jr.
Galperin C78 G79, then a sculptor, remembers seeing Caine play in a
Center City club. He already had a name in Philly, she remarks, smiling
at the memory of her own rock n roll proclivities at the time. Galperin
and Caine, acquaintances at Penn, were married in May of 1999.
of Caines peers in the music department were receptive to his gigging;
many regarded jazz with clear disdain. Different people would tell me:
You should really watch what youre doing. This is not the path to go
down, he recalls. On the rare occasions his fellow graduate students
ventured out to hear him perform, it had the air of a delegation visiting
a foreign shore. Wed go out to some bar like the Watutsi, and theyre
sitting there, and on so many levels that was bizarre to them. He pauses
for a moment, then adds: They were scared, too.