Night Waltz: the Music of Paul Bowles collection

Biographical and Historical Notes

Paul Bowles

Until the publication of The Sheltering Sky in 1949, the American author Paul Bowles was probably better known for his musical career as a composer and critic than for his writing. Bowles has written of his interest in music as a child, but it was his introduction to the composer Aaron Copland in 1929 that marked the true beginning of his music career. Copland became his teacher and Bowles traveled extensively in Europe with him, meeting literary figures such as Ezra Pound, Jean Cocteau, Christopher Isherwood, and Gertrude Stein. It was Stein, in fact, who advised Bowles to visit Tangier, and he first traveled to Morocco, with Copland, in 1931.

Virgil Thomson also had a profound influence upon Bowles’s music career. In 1936, Thomson helped Bowles obtain his first major theatrical commission, the score for the John Houseman/Orson Welles production of Horse Eats Hat (1936). Bowles worked on other plays under the auspices of Houseman’s Group Theatre and went on to become one of the most successful composers of American theater music, writing scores for plays by William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, and other dramatists. Bowles also wrote orchestration for ballets, notably Yankee Clipper and Pastorela for Lincoln Kirstein’s American Ballet Caravan. Tennessee Williams and Bowles became close friends and Bowles wrote the music for some of Williams’s greatest plays, including The Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke, Sweet Bird of Youth, and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Bowles also collaborated with Williams on a number of songs. In 1942, Virgil Thomson arranged for Bowles to be hired as the music critic for The New York Herald Tribune. Bowles held this position for nearly four years and wrote over four hundred articles and reviews for the Herald Tribune before he resigned in February 1946.

Paul Bowles had a lifelong fascination with the indigenous music of other cultures, intensified by his travels in Latin America and North Africa, and later the Far East. Characterizing his work in theater, film, and ballet as “functional music,” Bowles said that he found the “primitive” music of South American and African cultures satisfying to his philosophical and emotional interests in composition. In 1959, Bowles received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to record the indigenous music of Morocco for the Library of Congress. For the next two years, he spent much of his time traveling through Morocco recording music performed by native musicians in small towns and villages. His tapes were subsequently sent to the Library of Congress’s Music Division and in 1972 a selection of the music Bowles recorded was issued in a two-volume LP record set.

By the late-1960s, Paul Bowles’s energies were directed more towards his writing, and less frequently towards music. Interest in his music began to wane in the 1970s and his work as a composer was largely forgotten. During the 1980s, however, there was a resurgence of interest in Bowles as a new generation of composers, musicians, and musicologists discovered his music. In 1984, Peter Garland published a collection of Bowles’s Selected Songs, and a number of well-received recordings featuring Bowles’s music have been released over the past two decades. His music has also been performed in concerts, including major concerts in Paris (1994) and New York (1995), both of which Bowles attended as the guest of honor. A festschrift, Paul Bowles’s Music (Eos Music Inc., 1995), was published in conjunction with the New York concert. At the time of his death in November 1999, Paul Bowles had reclaimed his place as an American composer of significance.

Owsley Brown III

Owsley Brown III, born July 1970 in Kentucky, is the director and producer of the film Night Waltz: the Music of Paul Bowles. The film was originally titled Odd Man Out, the latter title taken from Gore Vidal’s characterization of Bowles’s place in arts and letters. Brown began developing his idea for a documentary film dedicated to Bowles’s music in 1997. Night Waltz was co-produced by Brown’s San Francisco-based production company, Owsley Brown Presents, and Robin Burke Productions of Louisville, Kentucky, and was made with Bowles’s full cooperation and support. The film is distinguished by being the first documentary focused on Bowles’s music, and the selected compositions are presented in their entirety without the interruption of voiceovers. Bowles himself appears in the film in several interview segments and in conversation with Phillip Ramey.

Released in 1999, Night Waltz won the award for best documentary film at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Truer Than Fiction Independent Spirit Award, sponsored by the Independent Film Channel and the IFP West.

Owsley Brown is also part owner of Chameleon Cellars in St. Helena, California.


Miller, Jeffrey. Paul Bowles: A Descriptive Bibliography. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1986.

Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.

University of Delaware Library, Special Collections. Paul Bowles, 1910-1999: Catalog of an Exhibition August 22, 2000-December 15, 2000: Special Collections, Hugh M. Morris Library. Newark, Del: University of Delaware Library, 2000.

Note: Biographical information also derived from the collection.

Scope and Contents

The collection of the documentary film Night Waltz: the Music of Paul Bowles spans the dates 1997 – 2000, and contains 16.3 linear feet of film footage, video and audio tapes, compact discs, computer diskettes, photographs, production notes, promotional materials, and correspondence related to the research, production, and promotion of Night Waltz. The archive contains materials from all stages of production, ranging from the original 16 mm color film negatives to the commercially released VHS video tape. Originally titled Odd Man Out, most of the materials in the collection refers to the film by the earlier title. The title Night Waltz appears to have been chosen in the late stages of production. The correspondence contained in the collection, which is spread throughout the various series, reveals the filmmakers’ conception of the film and its evolution, providing a running narrative of the difficulties and challenges of independent filmmaking. In addition to documenting all aspects of the film production, the archive is valuable for inclusion of interviews with Bowles not used in the final version of the film, as well as audio recordings of music by Bowles and Phillip Ramey, an audio recording of a BBC interview with Bowles, and video tapes of two other documentaries on Bowles.

Night Waltz includes excerpts from films by Rudolph Burckhardt (1914 – 1999), a photographer and filmmaker whose primary subject was the cityscapes of New York City. Burckhardt had come from Switzerland to America in 1935 with the poet Edward Denby. By 1936, Burckhardt made his first 16 mm film, 145 West 21, for which Bowles wrote the score. The film featured Bowles in its cast as well as Aaron Copland, Denby, John Latouche, and Virgil Thomson. The three short black and white Burckhardt film segments included in Night Waltz, made from 1946 – 1953, include footage of a group of boys swimming under the Brooklyn Bridge, subway passengers, and New York City street life roughly contemporary to Bowles’s most active period of musical composition.

The American composer and writer Phillip Ramey (1939 – ), a part-time resident of Morocco and Bowles’s long-time friend, served as musical advisor for the film. Ramey, who was introduced to Bowles by Aaron Copland in New York City in 1969, was annotator and program editor for the New York Philharmonic. In the early 1980s, Ramey arranged several of Bowles’s keyboard pieces for a Dutch recording by Bennett Lerner, and he continued to support international performances of Bowles’s music in New York, Paris, Madrid, and Nice through the 1990s. The correspondence sub-series (see F42 Ramey and F44 Vidal) reveals how Ramey assisted the production crew with both the selection of Bowles’s musical compositions and more practical concerns such as the Morocco film shoot, correspondence with Gore Vidal, and other general administrative matters.

The archive is organized into five series, generally following the production progress of the project. Series I. Research comprises news clippings, photocopies of archival photographs, sheet music, and Bowles’s letters to musicologist Peter Garland, correspondence between the production crew and the research libraries that provided photocopies of materials related to Bowles, and general biographical background information on Paul and Jane Bowles.

Series II. Production comprises correspondence and notes related to the conception and planning of the film, budget documents, shooting schedules, production calendars, camera reports, audio logs and indexes, and other items. The materials frequently bear autograph notes, corrections, and revisions, revealing many of the steps and changes that took place in the creation of the final film. The series also includes several correspondence sub-series for the film’s primary participants: Paul Bowles, Phillip Ramey, Owsley Brown, co-producer Robin Burke, assistant producer Cynthia Gimbel, assistant director Don Simandl, film editor Nick Dorsky, and contributor Rudolph Burckhardt.

Series III. Transcriptions comprises several versions of the on- and off-camera transcriptions of the interviews and conversations that took place during the filming of Night Waltz. The series includes interviews of Paul Bowles by Owsley Brown, Robin Burke, and Phillip Ramey. The transcripts include long passages of Bowles’s reflections, memories, and his ideas about the composition of literature and music that do not appear in the film.

Series IV. Promotional comprises photographic reproductions, brochures, media fact sheets, correspondence, and other materials related to the promotion and marketing of Night Waltz.

Series V. Audio / Visual comprises 16 mm film color negatives, Betacam SP and VHS video tape, digital audio tapes (DAT) and cassette audio tapes, and compact discs of Bowles’s music. The series appears to include a comprehensive collection of the audio and video materials resulting from the production of Night Waltz.

Series V. is organized according to the production process followed by Brown. The original material, including location footage shot in Morocco and filmed interviews with Paul Bowles, Phillip Ramey, Joe McPhillips, and others, was made in 16mm color film. The film was then transferred via telecine to Betacam SP video tapes, which serve as the master source for the final film. The black and white stills that appear in the film were also captured on 16mm film and were transferred to Betacam tapes. Rudy Burckhardt’s archival footage of New York City was transferred to Betacam, but no earlier version of the Burckhardt footage is contained in the collection. Also, VHS video tapes were made from the Betacam master tapes in order to facilitate editing of the final film. The audio source for the film is recorded on DAT audio tapes, and a complete index, with time codes, is available in F26-F27 for all audio and visual sequences. A 35mm print of the film was also made, but is not currently part of the collection.