Monday, January 31, 2011

Music Outside The Box - Part One

I've been a fan of contemporary concert music for a long time. First, I'm intrigued by composers who think so differently about music, and who hear the world in a completely different way than I do. How do they create this music? What's the spark?

Second, the music business can be tough. As Hunter Thompson once famously wrote, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Generally speaking, contemporary concert composers aren't expecting or even seeking to become rich and famous. They relentlessly pursue their musical vision with the near certain knowledge that they will never achieve the celebrity or success that so many in the music business aspire to. I admire that.

In my capacity as a Board member of ASCAP I have the privilege to meet and hear some of the country's most talented young concert composers when they come to New York to receive awards from ASCAP's concert division or from the ASCAP Foundation. I never cease to be inspired by their music, their optimism, their fearlessness.

I often see visual images in my mind when I hear music. A few years ago as I sat listening to performances at one of the concert music awards ceremonies, the images came fast and furious, just like the music. And it occurred to me that much of the music I was hearing would make fantastic soundtracks for really creative productions. Not for the typical things, of course, but for the really unusual ones.

So my associate Dave Hab and I set out to find some of the most interesting and visually-stimulating concert music we could. The fruits of our search form the basic Music Outside the Box collection we're launching today. In the next few days we'll tell you how we put this particular collection together, and why we think you may find it more useful than you think.

            - Doug

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sessions with Marian

Marian McPartland, the jazz legend, lives here in Port Washington.  I've been incredibly fortunate to have worked with Marian on a variety of projects, from her promos for NPR's "Piano Jazz" to original tracks she has composed for the Omnimusic Library.  There are many things I love about Marian - her sense of humor, her British slang, her determined spirit. But the thing I love most about Marian is her fearlessness.

Most jazz music is built on a framework of sequenced chord patterns and rhythms. Improvising musicians build on this framework, concocting elaborate melodies, and even going off on tangents, but eventually returning safely home at the end of their solo chorus. So long as the underlying framework remains intact, it all works and everyone knows where they are.

But if someone in the group starts playing unexpected rhythms, or using different chords, it rocks the foundation of the tune. It can feel as if the rug is being pulled out from under the soloists, and it's a little scary for most ordinary musicians.

But Marian has no fear.  When she plays, she often climbs out on a limb, introducing new chords and new rhythm patterns until the original framework of the tune is almost completely obscured. I'll admit that at times like these, I've sometimes wondered if she knows exactly where she is.

Then all of a sudden - BAM! - her left hand comes down with authority on the final chord of the chorus, and she calmly re-enters back into the original tune without batting an eye.  

Incredible. And inspiring. Taking chances is what makes the great ones great.