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On the 2nd of March, 1959, drummer Jimmy Cobb played a note on a cymbal just before Miles Davis started his solo on So What.  The album they were recording was Kind of Blue, and for me, that cymbal crash exemplifies everything I like about the idea of flow in music. The moment that he judged so perfectly was how to set the scene in the transition from the composed music to the improvising section, and it opened up a whole know way of playing jazz. There is a lesson in this moment that I must bear in mind: simple things done in just the right way are all that is required. My piece is about flow. Perhaps every time I am tempted to overcomplicate the orchestration, I just need to remember that one little tap on a round piece of suspended metal …

Back to 3 minutes.  I’ve been writing hard, and am reasonably happy.  Possibly because I haven’t finished and haven’t had to make any decisions about orchestration though…

Positive: my recent John Adams-related epiphany.  Negative: my lovely computer which never crashes or gives me any problems, has crashed and is giving me problems.  No files have disappeared, I just can’t access them.  That means I can’t use my notation software to write my piece with.  So, I am being forced to be the musician I used to be.  I was trained to write music using manuscript paper, a piano, and my head.  So I am rediscovering what you see when you are not looking at a computer screen.

OK, for this blog, forget the 3 minute rule.  I have had a ‘moment’.  Let me explain.  In my musical life, there have been a small number of times when something that has been going on at the back of my mind suddenly bursts through into my consciousness.  The first was when I was 5 or 6 and my recorder group played Raggle Taggle Gypsy.  It hit me: I loved playing music. There were a few others, but the next really life-changing moment came when I was 26.  I was at Ronnie Scotts, listening to Michael Brecker.  I had heard him live before, but in large concert halls.  This time I was up close and personal, and something about him impressed me a lot.  I decided then and there to become a jazz musician.  Fast forward 10 years, and I am a musician working in jazz, trying to find a my own way of doing things.  I assumed that learning about the LSO would be a part of that.  That was until last night, or more precisely, yesterday afternoon, which was the last day of three consecutive days of attending LSO rehearsals with John Adams.  I knew some of his music, and thought that it was the rhythmic quality that was of interest.  Not so.  Yesterday afternoon I saw the film documenting some of the creative process behind his opera, Dr Atomic.  A few hours earlier I had heard members of the orchestra playing his Shaker Loops.  Seeing the journey from early to mature work had a similar effect on me as Brecker did 10 years previously.  Adams explored such an interesting theme in the Opera, and although it may seem simplistic, having the knowledge that music can be used to go beyond just musical ideas has been inspiring.   So there it is.  My 10 year plan.  Write an Opera!  I never saw that one coming…..

It is now the beginning of week 4 of the scheme. I started writing in the second week – on good advice – and having those ideas ticking away as I go to the concerts has certainly helped with my thinking.  I have been going to as many rehearsals and concerts as I can, and each time I find that I learn something new and unexpected.  This is a very similar process to the one I undertook when I started to seriously study jazz.  Under the guidance of my teacher, Dave Liebman, I spent just under 5 years listening, transcribing, and playing solos of the great jazz musicians.  In the ‘transcription process’ I could feel my hearing and judgement becoming sharpened.  I hope that there is something similar going on as I go to each rehearsal, each concert.  Time’s up…..

Well, what can I say? I have started writing a lot, and although some of the quality is questionable, it feels good to be in the process of writing.  So many questions get thrown up and then answered by circumstance.  I’m really enjoying digging into my jazz chord hall of fame.  Of course, I also know that the material I’m using goes past so quickly, that ultimately, I will have to sacrifice their richness for the sake of clarity.  Oh well. And so on to South African Print Making.  After the LSO’s concert for A Journey through Life, I have been thinking a lot about image and music.  The only other orchestral example I have seen was Adés’ Seven Days, which used a very different technique.  I have been around Southern African prints all my life, and they are deeply fascinating to me.  To what end, I don’t know, but I think that I have a way to investigate this relationship between image and sound.  William Kentridge and Ndavasla Muafangejo are the starting points for me with this.  Oops, just checked the time – five mintues…… Better stop.!

Experimenting with some jazz ideas.  The plan is to try to use them at three different strengths.  At the moment it is the extra mature variety: rich chords, moving fast, similar to what I would write for my jazz group.  It has been an interesting LSO week so far. Phillip Glass and Franz Lanting.  I have learned a lot by just going to the rehearsals and seeing where it takes my ear.  I have come out with impressions that I did not expect to have.  Up until this week, I never realised how much I liked the triangle.

Here’s the plan. 3 minute piece, so only 3 minutes to write each blog entry…… Firstly, the title of this blog was going to be ‘What would Frank Zappa say?’, but then I changed my mind. The theme is the same though: how do non-classical musicians/composers write for classical musicians? At the moment I’m listening to A Fiddler’s Tale Suite by Wynton Marsalis. Full with New Orleans rhythmic stye, it shows a very interesting solution. Marsalis writes for non-jazz musicians, and does not include himself (its always easier to import your style when you are there to do it). Useful for me? Can’t say: 3 mins is up…..

February 2020
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