About a year ago, I purchased some music composition software, and started to play around with it. Using a computer to compose and arrange music has, for me, been a life-transforming process.
My compositional approach is to run back & forth between my vibraphone (where I figure out melodies & basslines) and the computer (where I attempt to get my ideas onto paper). The software helps make my music more proper and palatable; but it corrects only SOME, not ALL, of the mistakes… so I don’t look at what I create in this way was as a finished product.
The Things That Are Heard was supposed to be a one-off (or two-off) project that I wanted to undertake (for somewhat narcissistic reasons) to celebrate my own 50th birthday. Basically, I wanted to write some music and organize a band to play it. I thought I’d have all the music written by May 2009 – but I wasn’t done until August! In parallel, I started looking for musicians to play these pieces.
I knew I wanted a large-ish group & fortunately most of the people I asked to be in the band accepted right away. The trombonist, Paul Bossert, and conga player (Elliot Ryan) I knew from ‘Samba Fe,’ a Brazilian-styled batucada that I’ve been playing with for about 18 months. Both of these guys are great, bold players with distinct musical personalities. Dan Pearlman – the cornettist – is an old friend from Zimbabwe Nkenya’s various groups. He’s a superb soloist and a classically-trained musician who has helped make my raw compositions more coherent and manageable. The 2 guitarists – Ross Hamlin and Sean Buckley – I have known for years. They are both fantastic players, but totally different. One primary aspect of using 2 guitars in this band was basically an excuse to get them together. The bassist, Casey Anderson, is a phenomenal musician whom I did not know at all prior to starting this band. He has a great natural feel on the bass and great chops which do not get in the way of his grooves. This is very, very important! He’s only 18, but plays with the poise of someone twice that age.
The truly amazing thing that happened is that everyone in this group really got along well with each other. It seems as if we’re all kindred spirits, in a way. We have a lot of fun, and now that everyone is contributing compositions for the group to play, it really has taken on a life of its own. So, we are pressing on as long as we are able to keep it going.
The music is not really jazz, and it’s not really rock – but somewhere in between the two, while still being apart from both. I am hugely influenced by Frank Zappa, The Meters, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman, and I listen to various types of ethnic music a lot (African, Eastern European, etc.). These influences are huge – I like to build the music around basslines, rhythm & melody and leave the harmony aspects up to the players’ discretion. I look at the musical score as a sort of ‘serving suggestion’ not so much to be followed not-for-note, but as a guideline towards a final result that works for everyone in the band (and hopefully for the listener). I also rely some of the examples, lessons & advice that other composers whom I’ve worked with – such as Mark Weaver and Chris Jonas – have given to me directly when I was working on their music as a drummer.
I like music that is fast, complicated and busy – but I also like strong melodies and funky grooves. I try to get it all in on every tune! The trombonist, Paul Bossert, has also written a piece for the group which is really quite excellent. Ross Hamlin and Sean Buckley have also contributed pieces that really work well in the context of the band. I feel very, very fortunate to be playing the drums and working with these people!
PS: I have a Myspace page that has some info & some samples of the music i’ve done: