“Blue” Gene Tyranny Degrees of Freedom Found

The fearless work of the late avant-garde pianist is celebrated with a momentous new anthology, showcasing his immense talent and passion.

When he was in kindergarten, the late avant-garde pianist “Blue” Gene Tyranny brought his favorite records to show-and-tell. He made tape recordings of sounds in his backyard, sang in his Lutheran church’s choir, and even attended additional Baptist services to accompany them on piano. At 11, he took composition classes at Trinity University, where his teacher sent him off with Charles Ives and Harry Partch LPs after their first lesson. For one of his early assignments, he unintentionally composed a 12-tone piece. He soon befriended composer Philip Krumm, and the two put on events where Tyranny performed music by John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Anton Webern, as well as theater pieces from Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Yoko Ono, and La Monte Young. He was 14 at the time.

Despite his stage name, Tyranny was a kind, funny, and self-effacing person who uplifted others whenever possible. In David Bernabo’s 2020 documentary, Just for the Record: Conversations With and About “Blue” Gene Tyranny, sound engineer Philip Perkins notes that, when playing in live ensemble settings, every musician except Tyranny was generally given a solo: “He’s supporting everyone else… that’s who he is.”

Those who knew Tyranny considered him one of the greatest pianists alive. And while such praise didn’t lead to sizable fame, archival releases from the label Unseen Worlds—most notably the reissue of avant-pop masterpiece Out of the Blue and the live album Trust in Rock—have helped bring his music to a larger audience. Degrees of Freedom Found, his first posthumous release through the label, is even more momentous: a six-disc anthology featuring 380 minutes of music recorded between 1963 and 2019, complete with extensive liner notes from Tyranny himself.

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