Grab it! for tenor saxophone and ghettoblaster was composed in November 1999, for Arno Bornkamp, commissioned by the Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst. When I was asked to write a piece that would comment on French composer Christian Lauba's solo piece 'Hard', I decided to make something which would be even HARDER. Not in a technical or virtuoso sense - how could I, HARD was in this regard unbeatable - but rather in a musical dramatic sense. To me the saxophone is part of the recent American music history. Growing up in the sixties with blues, jazz and rock, American music had a strong impact on my own music. In my opinion, the roots of all these different musical styles can be found in the American language, in the spoken word. I think that language is one of the origins of music. The more emotional the spoken word, the more it starts 'singing' and becomes 'music'.
In GRAB IT! I tried to explore the 'no-man's-land' between language and music. I selected voice samples from an old American documentary about juvenile delinquency, called 'Scared Straight', in which life- sentenced prisoners played an important role. Their world, on the fringe of society, with its heartbreaking verbal assaults moved me deeply and was very inspiring. The rough, vital sound of these shouting men formed a perfect unity with the harsh and powerful sound of the tenor saxophone. GRAB IT ! is a kind of duet, a 'duel' if you like, for tenor and soundtrack. The tenor competes unison with a perpetual range of syllables, words and sentences, demanding endurance of the performer. The meaning of the lyrics becomes gradually clear during the piece, as well as the hopeless situation for the prisoners, and suicide is not uncommon: 'He tied one end around the pipe, and he hung himself. So he went out the back door rapped up in in a green sheet with a tag on his toe... You lose everything!' In a way death row is a metaphor for life. Yet the piece is not just sad, and can also be understood as a 'memento viver'. Life is worth living: Grab it!'
After a performance by Arno Bornkamp at the World Saxophone Congress in Montreal in July 2000, GRAB IT! soon became a repertoire piece, regularly played and recorded around the globe by many soloists. I added an ad lib drum part, a bass part, and made a version for electric guitar by request of Kevin Gallagher. In 2003, Willem Breuker asked me to write GRAB IT! XXL, an arrangement for big band/orchestra, to be performed by the Metoppole Orcestra starring Hans Dulfer on tenor, which was premiered at the Dutch Music Days of December 2003.