RUMINATIONS ON THE MUSIC
Whenever I compose, more and more I wonder where a particular passage comes from. We all steal shapes, gestures, rhythms, and even melodies from works that make a profound impression on us. While I eventually want to sound unique and original, I am doomed to be too close to my work to really understand the phenomena. Ultimately, I ask myself: from whom am I stealing ideas? Sometimes it is screamingly obvious, but sometimes it is surprising and obscure, even to me after subjecting my music to detailed scrutiny.
I have been composing large ensemble/chamber music ever since my Berklee years, twenty or so years ago. However, it was not until recently that I started to feel comfortable with my composing chops and the sound possibilities of a band this size. For a number of years I gravitated toward a vocabulary and a sound coming from a big-band vernacular and the results were frustrating to me as I felt the outcomes did not represent who I was. Some of my biggest influences are Thelonius Monk, Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, Bill Holman, and Duke Ellington, however, the picture of my aesthetics was incomplete. As I started to get closer to classical contemporary composers like Berio and Ligety, and their precursors Hindemith, Berg, et al; and to a repertoire with more of a classical sensibility, I felt my direction benefited from the exploratory nature and openness of these composer’s sounds, while retaining the excitement and spontaneity of my jazz and rock references and background.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
At my core, I am a drummer. When I am composing I always start with rhythm. To me, when I “get it right” with the rhythmic aspect of the piece (i.e. phrases I use, counterpoint, and when the different variables come in and out) I have certainty of the success of the piece.
Take In Your Face for example.
This piece has an intrinsic exploratory quality, both as a through-composed and an improvisational landscape. In Your Face, has a continuum of forward motion where I tried to depict the impending force of “the establishment,” the status quo. The piece is interrupted and bombarded by improvisation and horn stabs with a martial/militaristic quality that I juxtaposed with polyphony and groove. I wrote these components so that they never agree until the very end. All these parts are to be played with a lot of flare and gusto, with an innate theatricality and an obvious hilarity.
When I finally heard the piece performed live, I realized that I got lucky. All these concepts worked well because of a number of factors, but mainly succeeded due to the flow of notes that are re-orchestated numerous times through the whole tune.
More thoughts on the subject later,……
INSPIRATION: MY “FAV LIST”
Not too long ago, I realized that my listening habits were pretty predictable, at least to me. Truth be told, I usually have a pool of not too many artists, and not too many genres. However, I have never sat down to enumerate which tunes are my absolute favorite. I know now, that the list of songs I normally have on rotation is not that big, but it is not that short either. This is relevant to me because whenever I compose, more and more I wonder where a particular passage comes from. We all steal ideas, gestures, rhythms, and even melodies from works that make a big impression on us. My list then, was of interest because I would like to have a clearer idea as to what I strive to sound like, a question never easy to answer. While I eventually want to sound like myself, as every other artist I am doomed to be too close to my work to really understand what “I” sound like. In all, I ask myself: who am I stealing ideas from? Sometimes it is screamingly obvious, but sometimes it is surprising and obscure even to me after subjecting my music to detailed scrutiny.
I constantly listen to my “fav list” music for inspiration and in no order of importance. Most of it is music I stumbled upon and absolutely loved from the first time listening. In that sense, I do not think there is anything in this list that has been an acquired taste. Some stuff is standard repertoire, some it is not, and all is dazzling and vibrant to me for different reasons. Some of it, I just like because it reminds me of a place, or certain people that are important to me. Every time I feel I need to wake up creatively, I can go to any of these tunes and I usually will get going.
In addition, I have also noticed that if I am trying to study some music technique or rationalize how to produce a sound, I am more inclined to look it up in my list of “tunes I love” instead of going to a song a book suggests because that particular topic is exemplified in a clear way. In other words, there is no clearer way to me, than learning something new in music I already know. Then it is just a matter of giving names to sounds and musical going-ons/events I am familiar with.
I also realized that this ‘fav list’ is only but a blurred photo of my listening habits of the last five years or so. Before, I definitely would have found a pool dominated by jazz derived music. The more this list reveals itself to me, the more I am enjoying this process of discovery, as it is a time capsule of aesthetics I decided to embed in my psyche at a particular moment in time. On a funny note, there is music I love but I do not know its name. I have taken the time to look into that too and was able to match the song with its name on a number of occasions, feeling good!
Ultimately, I made this list because while I love these pieces I really don’t know them thoroughly, but I desire to know them profoundly. Even though it is a list of thirty or so songs, I could dedicate a lifetime and not even touch the surface of these works of Art. At this particular point in my life, I just want to “peel” the next layer of each song and my creativity will be sufficiently quenched.
- Sonatine for Piano by Maurice Ravel
- Serenade for Winds Instruments Op. 44 by Antonin Dvorak
- Violin Concerto No. 1 by Jean Sibelius
- Academic Festival Overture Op. 80 by Johannes Brahms
- String Quartet in F by Maurice Ravel
- Symphony No. 2 by Blas Galindo
- Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte by Maurice Ravel
- Romance Letter No. 4 by Johannes Brahms
- Janitzio by Silvestre Revueltas
- La Noche de los Mayas by Silvestre Revueltas
- Violin Concerto in D Op. 35 by Erich W. Korngold
- Symphony No. 5 C sharp by Gustav Mahler
- Violin Sonata Op. 6 (Adagio) by Erich W. Korngold
- Mirroirs No. 4 by Maurice Ravel
- The Lovers by Samuel Barber
- Ma Mere L’ Oye by Maurice Ravel
- Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev
- Chicago Remains by Mark Anthony Turnage
- Africa by Camille Saint Saens
- Song of the Black Swan by Heitor Villalobos
- Toys by Thomas Ades
- Cello Concerto in D major by Luigi Boccerini
- Symphony No. 2 (Little Russian) by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
- Sicut Servus (Martinus) by Palestrina
- Violin Partita in E Major by J.S. Bach
- Piano Quintet No. 2 by Antonin Dvorak
- Mazurka (from Masquerade suite) by Aram Khachaturian
- Piano Sonata No. 2 by Paul Hindemith
- Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy
- Crown Imperial: A Coronation March by William Walton
- Music for the Theatre by Aaron Copland
- Valses Noble et Sentimentales by Maurice Ravel
- Variations on a Rococo Theme by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
- Le Tombeau du Couperin by Maurice Ravel
- Piano Concerto by Aaron Copland
Plus anything by:
Rush, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Andriessen, Elis Regina, Igor Stravinsky, Pedro Aznar, Levon Helm, Eugene Friesen, Cazuza, John Coltrane, Agustin Lara, Yusef Lateef, Tom Waits, Miles Davis, The Police, Gyorgy Ligeti, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Louis Armstrong, Manu Chao, Elvis Presley, Manuel M. Ponce, Mel Lewis Big Band, Frank Zappa, Ella Fitzgerald, Egberto Gismonti, Lennie Tristano, Los Panchos, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Astor Piazzolla, Duke Ellington, Los Tres Diamantes, Tonha La Negra, Jan Garbarek, Benny More, Johnny Cash, Rage Against the Machine, Andrew Hill, Tigran Hamasyan, Caetano Veloso, Renaud Garcia-Fons, Luciano Berio, Bjork, Marisa Monte, Thelonious Monk, Joni Mitchell, Charles Mingus, Los Tigres del Norte, Zeferino Nandayapa, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Stevie Wonder, Bela Bartok, James Brown, everyone at Creative Undergound Los Angeles, and anybody who has the courage to play with abandon and passion…