You might not expect a mere kid, living on her own as a street musician in the hippie culture of 1970 San Francisco, would wind up as the principal flutist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, a faculty member at the University's School of Music, and one of the highly energetic movers of the Bach Dynamite and Dancing Society, the town's brilliant chamber-music group, but Stephanie Jutt has done just that and a good deal more. It was the BDDS that really brought Jutt to rave critical notice, I'd say, but curious to know what lay behind her seemingly boundless drive and energy, I simply asked for her life story as a musician, and for nearly two very high-speed hours, she told me.
Rebelling against the banality of suburban life and high school in her native Stockton, California, Jutt ran away from home at 16 and got her parents to agree, as a condition of returning, that she could attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Although she had been exposed to playing at the first-rate University of Pacifica Conservatory of Music, she didn't really intend to have a life as a musician. Rather it just happened, the outgrowth of a whirlwind sequence of one event leading to another. Fiercely independent, Jutt's Interlochen camps led in due course to college studies at San Francisco State University. "There I studied with Lloyd Gowen, who was the piccolo player in the San Francisco Symphony. He was a great teacher."
Jutt supported herself as a street-orchestra musician during those unrestrained free-spirit years, roaming around San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. "We made a pretty good living, playing Bach Brandenburg concertos with Julliard dropouts, playing jazz, playing in rock bands." For a time Jutt became a dance major, interested primarily in the complex movements of ethnic dance styles. The legacy of this training, she says, "was that movement was the key to understanding music." Another important quality that has stayed with her from this period includes not rehearsing too much, to avoid losing the spontaneity of the unexpected: "I like to be surprised by being surprised." she says.
The next great leap took Jutt across the country, to Boston. "I decided I didn't want to be just good; I wanted to play really well. I had enough money for a year in Boston, where I studied with James Pappoutsakis, the second flutist of the Bostom Symphony. He was not a soloist, but from him I learned to appreciate the colors and sensitivites of playing the instrument in the French style. I worked very hard to master technique." Awarded a full scholarship to the prestigious new England Conservatory of Music, Jutt furthered her progress by studying with a very soloistic player, Paula Robison, and in Vermont with Marcel Moise. "This helped a lot with smoothing the rough edges of my playing," she says.
Finishing her Master of Music degree in 1979, Jutt went to New York, where one of the great shapers of her style turned out to be opera. As she puts it, "That's where I got my vocal line: singing arias, playing them, listening to them." After free-lancing in any and all venues, she took a job as an orchestra player in Hong Kong. "It was really a great experience, and Hong Kong is a fabulous place, but I ended up going back to New York, where I continued playing orchestral music, chamber music, and especially newer music at every opportunity." She also got into the jazz club scene, subsequently marrying a bassist who played in the Bill Evans Trio. "Evans loved playing classical music," she told me, "so we played together a lot. His phrasing was so incredible!" The marriage eventually foundered. "Mark had to travel a lot, and I had to stay home with the children." Jutt's two daughters are with her here in Madison, where being a working mom is just one more facet of her fast-paced, busy life.
Les Thimmig, known far and wide as both a jazz and a classical player-composer, encouraged Jutt to submit her resumé to the School of Music when a flute vacancy occurred. Jutt was not optimistic, since she had no prior college teaching experience. But suddenly there was phone call from Thimmig: could she come to Madison for an audition, which she did on two days' notice. So here she is. "I love my students," she says, "they're whole, complete people and endlessly interesting, but they're also incredibly alert and instantly detect anything that isn't genuine. I try to impart the fire and passion of playing music, helping them realize the importance of having a great fervor in everything they do."
I speculated aloud that coming from the hurly-burly of all this exotic background to the relatively calm shores of Lake Mendota must have entailed making a major adjustment. "Well," Jutt says, "everyone has been very helpful. There has never been the least thing negative since I came, though perhaps people look a little askance at the fact that I am constantly running -- literally, I mean -- up and down the halls of the Music School. But they know it's just my usual excitement."
Excitement would seem too bland term for the incredibly demanding schedule Jutt keeps, as the coming few weeks will certainly attest. She has just signed on for a six-week trial stint with Madison's South American music troupe, Sotavento. On April 17th Jutt will present a formal recital at the School of Music, racing away the very next day to do a residency with Milwaukee's Pabst Artist Series. During the summer here in Madison, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society plans to present another pair of concerts, as usual under the provocative and slightly irreverent titles of "French Tickler" and "Continental Drift." Of these programs, Jutt says, "The first is going to be rather frankly erotic, at least the music could be said to be sexy. The second will include Bach's 5th Brandenburg Concerto, the Copland Duo, and the Brahms Piano Quintet."
Jutt's unstoppable zeal for living, her vibrant pursuit of new ways of expressing herself, and her on-going self-definition and redefinition as a creative artist possibly derive some of their motive force from her ethnic background (she is half Mexican) and her early-found need to escape the confines of suburban conventionality. But as it has worked out, she finds herself here in the absolute prime of life -- mind you, she's raising a family all the while -- cooking up and carrying out all sorts of projects. Still to be realized is one of her greatest dreams, a complex one-woman show summarizing her conscious reinvention of self, from the not very happy kid in Stockton through all the turns Fate has afforded, down to the seemingly inexhaustible force majeure she has become in recent years. The evidence is strong that this will be an opera with no last act, for Jutt is not the sort of person we can imagine having a final chapter; the story is way too rich for that.
Isthmus, March, 1994
Copyright 1994 Jess Anderson