I will be featured on a Jazz Composers Present livestream Listening Session on Sunday, May 21st at 1:00pm EST. During conversation with composer Chelsea McBride, I will be sharing and discussing 4 wonderful recordings of compositions by Mike Malone, Fred Stride, the late Jim Knapp as well an arrangement by Michael Abene of a Charles Mingus composition. Hope you might tune in. A live Q&A will conclude the event. To watch, visit https://www.jazzcomposerspresent.com.
In May 2022, Paul received the Distinguished Service Award from The International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers (ISJAC). This recognizes his 3 years as the curator of the ISJAC blog: a tremendous resource containing articles and commentary by some of the great jazz composers and arrangers of our time. Their blog continues to develop and thrive with under watchful eye of JC Sanford.
I’ll be presenting a short talk for the Canadian Jazz Composers Workshop on September 18, 2021. I’ve always been very interested in the processes used by composers and arrangers in any genre. I’ll be talking about my own processes within the general headings of Getting Started (some of things I use), How to Keep it Going (maybe the hardest part?) and Finishing (editing and more editing and then realizing that the work is done).
A significant number of jazz composers and arrangers I know and admire have credited Russ Garcia and his book, “THE PROFESSIONAL ARRANGER COMPOSER – Book 1” with having had a significant impact on their development as writers. I have owned a copy of this landmark, and hugely influential book for decades. I’ve looked through it casually from time to time, but recently, I spent some quality time revisiting the information-rich pages. I also read the Wikipedia entry for Russell Garcia and learned that he was ‘self taught’. (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.) Amazing. Not everyone who teaches themselves is so successful (if you don’t know about Garcia’s accomplishments as an arranger/composer, check out the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Russell_Garcia_(composer)&oldid=1011691281). Don’t be fooled by the self-published look of publication. (The text appears to be typed in all caps on a manual typewriter (younger readers might have to look that one up) and the examples appear hand copied with a music pen.) The contents are solid gold. In my teens my parents gave me Henry Mancini’s “Sounds and Scores”. Those two sources were practical and complimentary. The Mancini book is particularly helpful with orchestration, which the Russo text does not address significantly.
The New Normal
There are times when I hear people write or say, “When will we find the new normal”. Usually in the context of hoping for an earliest possible end to the current pandemic.
So I start wondering about “normal”. What ‘normal’ are we hoping to resurrect? Being able to go to the grocery store without a mask or without worrying about social distancing? Being able to hug your children or grandchildren? Of course. But will that be the “normal” state of human interaction and activity?
Does the ‘new normal’ include exploding warehouses in Beirut? The elections of tyrants? The ongoing battles to stabilize or destabilize political activity?
Does it include heinous crimes against humanity (pick one). Does it include the creation of a masterwork?
Nothing is normal about human existence. All we can predict is the fact that lives begin and eventually end one way or another. Maybe I should say that everything is normal.
Humans love with passion and hate with rage. Normal.
Humans are selfish and philanthropic to extremes. Normal.
Humans try to believe, to be faithful and hopeful.
Humans are cynical and pessimistic.
When the pandemic ends the ‘new normal’ will be just the same old normal. Greed and love. Kindness and brutality. Hopeful and helplessly discouraged.
But we won’t be wearing a mask. At least not a visible one.
The power of human imagination is tremendous, when one chooses to use it. For me, this is important and even essential while composing music. You imagine specific players playing in a specific situation and in your inner ear you hear their sound and you can imagine the situation to great advantage (when all your circuits or spark plugs are working well.)
The human imagination can be loads of fun. Today I’ve been imagining, with astonishing success. Astonishing to me that is. Imagine actually being Neil Armstrong, for example. In this example, I start with an experience I know first hand (breathing using SCUBA gear) and then using whimsical flights of fancy, I add props…like putting on a motorcycle helmet (imagined only), and a big bully winter coat with fat mitts. I can hear my voice, not tinny and phone-like as humans on earth were able to hear, but my real voice inside the helmet saying “one small step”, as I put my big fat snow boots on the ash and dust below the bottom step. And then adding the rest, “One giant leap for mankind”. If that’s what he actually said. I know there is some argument about what was actually said. Imagine that. I mean, IMAGINE that was YOU doing that.
And saying….”One giant leap for mankind”.
Then an interesting development can take place. You can start to consider the situation in a real context. What was actually happening? Man’s first footprint on the moon was history with a capital “H”.
But was it? I mean, “a giant leap for mankind”? Maybe it was no more important than the first time a human jumped over a horizontal pole 7 feet off the ground. Unassisted. Or when Beethoven completed the final draft of the 9th symphony. Or when the first West African slave ship came ashore in the southern USA.
Maybe it WOULD have been a giant leap if Neil had found some ash or dust or even a rock up there that turned out to be a cure for all cancers.
Other experiments for the imagination. Imagine being the first person ever to ride a bike. Or set fire to something. Put yourself there. Imagine the astonishment. the sense of achievement. You probably would have wanted to run around shouting your word of choice (assuming eureka hadn’t already been taken, you certainly could shout that – or you could shout eureka anyway). How must have it felt for Wilbur Wright to experience the first moment of lift in the early part of the 20th century? Eureka!!! Bloody hell!!! Holy SHit!. I’m pretty sure the word, fuck was not used back then, but,…maybe?
There have been so many firsts. So many PROFOUND firsts. Some astonishingly beautiful or horrific. Some so destructive that their effects will never die away. Some so magnificent that human life will forever be the richer.
Who was Gordon Delamont?
A major figure in Canadian music history, Gordon (Gord) Delamont was a great and influential teacher. His list of notable students reads like a Canadian jazz composer/arranger all-star team. Wikipedia lists the following partial list: Peter Appleyard, Gustav Ciamaga, Ron Collier, Jimmy Dale, Hagood Hardy, Herbie Helbig, Paul Hoffert, Moe Koffman, Rob McConnell, Ben McPeek, Bernie Piltch, Paul Read, Fred Stone, Norman Symonds, Rick Wilkins, Maribeth Solomon, among others.
He was also a composer with a unique voice. Regrettably, few are familiar with his music. Wikipedia mentions his “Three Entertainments for Saxophone Quartet” which is published by Kendor Music. While it bears his personal stamp, the composition is not, and let me be clear this is a very personal opinion, his best or most representative work. From my perspective, his three-movement suite commissioned by the Ontario government for Expo ’67 in Montreal is quintessential Delamont. The orchestration is clear, simple, varied and rich. His use of serial techniques, which he taught us, is expertly and musically on display. The melodic lines are strong, the rhythms swinging and the harmonies fresh and engaging. The suite was recorded by a-list Toronto musicians and played on a loop at the Ontario Pavilion in Montreal in’67. Not only did it sound great on its own terms, but it captured a distinct Canadian vibe. It sounded like Canada!
I have been studying Gordon’s work lately and my first task (underway) is an analysis of the Ontario Suite. I will need permission to publish the paper because it contains score excerpts, and also, I need to track down who owns the performance rights. Hopefully permissions will be obtained soon, and I will be able to bring some well-deserved attention to this historically and artistically important composition.
How I Discovered Gordon Delamont and became his student:
When I was in my early-teens I had already been taking piano lessons (in the typical European tradition – largely German and French composers). I hadn’t played much contemporary music and if there were any Canadian composers present in my studies, I can’t remember any. Not surprisingly (as I look back) my teacher, Edith Goldthorpe, offered no opportunities to play music from the American ‘popular’ songbook or jazz of any kind. We marched down the Royal Conservatory path, playing the pieces in their graded curriculum. But Edith, to her credit, did supplement these pieces with a healthy dose of Beethoven, Kuhlau, Czerny and a few others. But my interests had already evolved. I started to hear a bit of Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and then Herbie Hancock among others. These master players were heavily influential, but so were their compositions. I began to really want to write my own music. I listened to lots of ‘classical’ recordings (my dad’s small collection). Also, I had started paying attention to film/tv music composed by Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, and others. Oliver Nelson’s tv music killed me, on top of his jazz recordings. So many of these musicians could play and write as well. And that is what I wanted to do.
So, I started off improvising at the piano. First, I slowly worked out some familiar tunes at the piano using my ear. Then I started to copy a few things I heard on records. My ear improved, and I wrote a few short piano pieces (nothing to write home about, as the saying goes). I was hungry to learn and my parents, recognizing that I was eager and needed help, bought me a copy of Henry Mancini’s “Sounds and Scores”. That was a game changer because Mancini showed score layout, the importance of learning to write and read transposed scores, orchestration both typical and atypical. I started to write out individual parts for some of the scores and I started to write for 3 horns and rhythm section. (I had joined a band by that time). My efforts were well-intentioned but much more training and education were required.
When I was 18, I contacted (the late, great) Doug Riley who I knew as a young and highly successful pianist, organist and arranger/composer. I remember thinking Doug was doing what I would like to be doing, so I asked his advice. He immediately responded. Call Gord Delamont.
Ok, I asked myself. Who is Gord Delamont? Some digging around and I found out that I had been steered to one of the most important and successful teachers in the country. He had published books on harmony and orchestration and taught many of Canada’s most respected and successful jazz musicians. That lead to my contacting him to ask for lessons and he agreed to see me for an assessment. I recall the trip to his home in the northern part of the city and being quite excited and anxious. He was kind, but business-like in that first meeting. He administered some ear tests and we spent some time talking about my musical aspirations and experience. He explained his approach to teaching and also laid down the ground rules for attending my lessons and completing assignments. I was relieved and excited when he said he would take me on as a student. But there was a wait list. In my case, that turned out to be about 6 months.
A bit of context is needed here. I had already begun my undergraduate studies at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. It was challenging and I was learning a lot, but I knew, once I was into it, that I was not going to get instruction in jazz at all. And I really wanted to study jazz composition and arranging. The only answer was to add supplemental studies with Delamont. Prior to my studying at the university I had studied harmony and counterpoint with Canadian composer, Walter Buczynski and had passed the required examinations to qualify for studies at U of T. So, I wasn’t brand new to theoretical studies.
Finally, Gordon called, and lessons commenced. I learned quickly that his approach was going to be very detailed and thorough. He took into account my previous studies but insisted that we start from scratch and work quickly (but thoroughly what I had learned or partially learned from other teachers and in university courses taken to date.
…to be continued.
The Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and have started posting articles about the Faculty’s history. Today this article concerning the beginning of the Jazz Performance Degree Program in 1991 was published and brought back many memories. I was hired that year to design a new jazz curriculum, hire faculty and became Director of Jazz Studies. For many years prior to the formal jazz degree program starting, Phil Nimmons had been teaching jazz courses. When I was hired in 1991 we kind of moved in together in an office we shared for many years. Maybe 1991-2008. Thankfully, this shared office arrangement worked well, or maybe I should beautifully. We knew each other for years before that, but in’91 our relationship blossomed into one of the great friendships of my life. Phil and Noreen Nimmons and their family treated me and Trish Colter (my wife) like family. There were many great events and adventures (golf trips and other holidays) with the Nimmonses over the years. I am so grateful to have worked with Phil all those years. We are 25 years apart in age, but we never seemed to be aware of that. Conversations would often start with phrases like, “People our age…”. The part time faculty we had over the years was tremendous. All were working A-list jazz musicians with a special knack for teaching along side us. And the students who attended while I was there were inspiring and exciting to be around (most of the time :)) Many of them now teach at the Faculty and so many went on to do great things in music in Canada, the USA and elsewhere. /PR