Ashley Adams Trio

Ashley Adams, bass; Phillip Greenlief, woodwinds, marimba; Michel Dumonceau, drums


The Ashley Adams Trio was formed in 1996 after Ashley had met and played with Phillip Greenlief in Marco Enieidi’s American Jungle Orchestra. After gigging for nearly a year in an open free-jazz vein, the group latched onto Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, and used the book as a springboard in their musicial realization, Flowers for Mrs. Dalloway.

From the liner notes of, “Flowers for Mrs. Dalloway”:

Beneath a simple veneer, one often discovers a complex reality. As Clarissa Dalloway spends the day in post WW I England preparing for her party, Virginia Woolf unveils the unspoken resonance of self-denial, regret, and the sense of lonliness that comes from living contained lives.

Woolf’s lyrical stream of consciousness style lends itself well as a model for musical improvisation. Her flow of words mirrors life in its seamless development. Our trio used this characteristic as a reference in our own creative process as we sought to find a common thread to weave our music with Mrs. Woolf’s writing style.

Whereas the novel has no chapters or breaks, we divided our interpretation into three sections to aid in organizing the material into a structure that served the music. Morning, afternoon, and evening illustrate the feelings and moods each section conveys. The first movement is full of the energy of a June morning. Most of the characters are outside running errands amidst the hustle and bustle of the London streets. Anticipation and excitement fill the air. In the second movement, people begin to slow down and unwind. As they rest, they drift into introspection, self-doubt and self-reflection. The third movement brings the darkness of a suicide and the arrival of Mrs. Dalloway’s party. The house fills with guests and gossip. The music goes in and out of each character as they re-unite and reflect upon both the day and their own lives.

Each reader derives from a novel their own interpretation. What each instrumentalist brings to the trio’s collaborative composition makes the music personal as well as representative of the spirit of our ensemble. Nevertheless, the result is not three different musical approaches, but one integrated tone poem which deepens and changes with each performance (attesting to the creative process) in search of Virginia Woolf’s original vision. Whether you have read Mrs. Dalloway or not, we hope to leave you with the spirit of this wonderful story.

Ashley Adams
San Francisco, 1997

Further Reflection on “Flowers for Mrs. Dalloway”

Ashley and I had met in Marco Eneidi’s band and got on well and wanted to put together a trio right around the time I had met Michel, and it was easy to form up and make some music. We mostly just got together and jammed at Michel’s house for some time, and one day during a rehearsal break I noticed a copy of “Mrs. Dalloway” on a bookshelf. I pulled it out and thumbed through it while we talked about the themes and structure of the book for some time.

I had read the book many years before when I was quite young, and then again only a few years prior to that rehearsal while I was deeply entrenched in the writings of James Joyce. I vowed to read Mrs. Dalloway again, because I felt I had freed myself from the Joycean straightjacket I had created for myself, and enjoyed the book more than ever on that 3rd reading. So many academicians try to force Joyce and Woolf into separate camps and resist one in favor of the other (and I was highly influenced by the folly of these critics). And yet I felt this project with Ashley and Michel really helped me to see the profound depth of both books, although realized in radically different means, and I’m deeply thankful for that step in my critical evolution.

Meanwhile, Michel and Ashley picked up copies of the book as I was talking about it all the time, and we decided we would do some sort of musical response to the novel. I drafted a “text score” for the trio – basically taking the book and breaking it into three parts (as Ashley discussed above) and jotting down the principal action. I created a series of episodes with central events we would try to evoke and we all discussed the themes of various internal monologues. I used a similar approach to “characterization” in my adaptations of Kafka’s “The Trial”, and Joyce’s “Ulysses”, so that we all shared as many roles as we could divide easily (I “played” many of the central characters with a variety of wind instruments), but it was really the collaborative effort that we put into this project that struck me so deeply. Ashley and Michel really dug into the book, reading it several times (not once) and found no end of thematic joints and links to celebrate musically. Everyone did a great job of hiding a bevy of leitmotives, and thematic statements into the mix that some critics (rightfully, I think) noted an almost symphonic quality that this small group (trio) was able to produce.

I am most thankful to Ashley and Michel for all the time we shared on the project. We worked really hard on it, and for me the record still has the ability to illuminate many of the themes that Virginia Woolf brought to Mrs. Dalloway (although my readings of the book and the creation of the music are so intrinsically entwined, that perhaps it’s not surprising, and that is another fascinating aspect of this project – the inquiry into how the musical mind processes narrative and how music has the ability to communicate something that is beyond language). It’s funny now, especially since Michael Cunningham has won a Pulitzer Prize doing his “setting” of Mrs Dalloway (The Hours) and a filmmaker has taken his novel and brought it to the screen – I find our version somehow extremely satisfying because it exists in a world outside the realm of literary voice (my main criticism with “The Hours” – the book – was that it read too much like a study in how to write like Virginia Woolf) and yet dwells in a realm where a literary interpretation could exist, but someone could just as easily sit back and enjoy the sounds on a purely musical level.

Phillip Greenlief
Oakland, 2005