Reflections re composing

When my early musical training was at its peak (1965-1973) I was listening to a lot of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band, Oscar Peterson, and many others. I though the Hanna/Fontana band was pretty cool. Under my father’s influence (his record collection) I listened to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington. And because of a friend of mine I also listened to Henry Mancini’s soundtrack recording for “The Pink Panther”. Some great musicians on that one (Plas Johnson, Dick Nash, and others). I adored Bill Evans “Trio 65” and tried to play some of that – I wasn’t that successful. Although I did pick up a few voicings here and there.

But I listened to hardly any John Coltrane (as a leader) except for the Ballads album. No Charlie Parker, no Dizzy Gillespie, No Dexter Gordon or Hank Mobley. That came along as time went by and I became obsessed with bebop and more modern styles.

So that is what I tried to play. (Maybe one might not start right away by emulating Oscar, I guess – requires huge hands, incredible technique and stamina. But I tried anyway. And I couldn’t believe how that music SWUNG).

Eventually my writing started to develop and I took formal lessons in harmony and counterpoint with Walter Buczynski, and starting in 1967, I studied with Gordon Delamont, who painstakingly took me through a slow paced and detailed course in harmony, voice leading (with a modern twist) and eventually melody writing, counterpoint, 12 tone technique, and arranging.

Somewhere along the line I read or heard two very important pieces of advice: “Don’t fall in love with what [everything] you have written”. And “Don’t get stuck in the past. Or someone might say, “Do you really like your writing, or do you like the way people are writing nowadays?” OUCH!!!

The messages were clear. Don’t get stuck with current and past practices. Listen to, and accept/embrace change”.

Today I listen and try to learn from as many musical sources as I can. Everything has continued to evolve, as it has all along the way. I’m certain that it is important to hear, and absorb current music. And important that I bring my own aesthetic in contact with it. What comes out when you take all your past knowledge and training, all your listening to older styles of music (thousands of them) and marry it with what I hear as current directions (at least those that appeal to me).

I recall vowing in my early twenties that I would stay current. I wouldn’t get stuck in the music I heard when I was in my teens through to my twenties. Harder to do than to say.

SO I am trying to listen and study the melodic practices of contemporary composers. And RHYTHM. Harmony isn’t as much in the foreground as it was for me at one time. I’m less interested in voicings than at any time I can remember.

Also, forms. AABA, ABAB, ABCA and so on were relevant and remain relevant, but there is so much new thinking. So much more freedom.

More later…