- Moonlight my ass!
- The HUMBLER
- Who’s the top-selling pianist in history?
- Fly Away :(
- The Mozarts of Hair Metal
- How To Compose Today
- What time is it?
- Twins separated at birth
- To hear the world in a single note and heaven in a triad
- RIP Elliott Carter, Maestro of Thorny Complexity
- Monster Mashup
- May the best man wi… Oh, damn!
- Music for driving into trees: Sweet Wine
- Music for driving into trees
- My Favorite Things
- Mammas Please Let Your Babies Grow Up to Play Cowbells
- Claret for Clara
- Last of the Bohemians
- Guy walks into a bar
- How to break a heart with one chord
- What are oboes good for?
January 01, 2013
Playwright Michael Puzzo’s passionate drama Spirits of Exit Eleven* imagines a cranky jukebox in a pizza strip joint which patrons feed with their Friday paychecks, playing their hair-metal life soundtracks, waiting for the pole dancers to appear on the dais. As sound designer for a Theatre Row production of this play, I conferred with Michael about walk-in music — his suggestions, mine, and crew-sourced.
“Gotta have Def Leppard, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, G’n’R…”
“Yeah, the usual suspects. Even if they’re not on our personal iPods”
“…but,” says Michael, “We must have Led Zeppelin. Must have. The Mozarts of metal.”
Mozarts of metal! Ah, I have found a musical soulmate.
* If you’re from Jersey, or have ever been prisoner to the Turnpike, you catch the reference.
December 09, 2012
Lifelong friend Shaun McNally drew my attention to this empassioned, illuminating essay by Robert Beaser on how composing has evolved over the last few decades.
December 05, 2012
5/4, 7/4, yes the time sigs were cool. But for me, Dave Brubeck’s pinnacle achievement was his quartet’s blues playing. If you want the crème, turn not to his storied Time Out album, but to the more masterly follow-up, Time Further Out. Highlights:
— Dave’s and Paul Desmond’s heartwrenching blues turns on Bluette
— Joe Morello’s bluesy solo on Far More Drums, the greatest drum solo ever performed and recorded. Yes, you heard that right!
A quirky but lovely, blues-drenched interlude between the Time Out pair is the Brubecks’ (Dave and brother Howard) Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Symphony Orchestra, with Bernstein leading the New York Philharmonic.
So, dust off an old Brubeck LP (I know you have one; look next to your Sketches of Spain) and spin a timely tune for this recently departed and beloved master.
November 28, 2012
No? The evidence:
— Both Sagittariuses
— Both thrilled and terrified princes and princesses with their playing — way beyond anyone else around at the time — and both busted up their instruments.
— Both imagined a sonic grandeur beyond what there instruments were capable of… till they advanced the technology and made it happen.
— Both were so shockingly revolutionary that composers and players are still playing catch-up.
No? Then try this:
Play your record of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, first couple of minutes. Imagine you’re back in 1809. You’re thinking:
“Whoa! Never heard anything like that before! Aren’t concertos supposed to start off with the orchestra charting out a theme? Not here! Ka-boom! An orchestral chord explosion. Which triggers a barrage of solo piano fireworks: ‘Who’s your daddy, now?’ Then another explosion and more solo fire: ‘Yeah, that’s right: Not your daddy’s concerto. OK, now we’ve established who’s boss, let’s play the tune.’”
Now place your tonearm down on Jimi’s “House Burning Down.” Hear any difference from the Emperor opening? No, you don’t. Not at the core. Same creative DNA. Substitute “guitar” for “piano” and you’d be loath to describe the works differently.
No? Still no?
C’mon! Just look at the hair!
(See also: http://donaldstark.com/news_notes/doppelganger)
November 19, 2012
Doesn’t it blow you away when someone sneaks into your brain and snatches your thoughts? That’s what Tommasini did in his NY Times column yesterday.
A single chord can knock you on your ass. (How to break a heart with one chord.) Even a single note. (That growling bent E string in Jimi’s "House Burning Down" solo.)
I’d love to know — what notes (or rests!) send you flying?
November 08, 2012
“When’re you going to slow down, Donald?”
And I’d reply, “Look at Elliott Carter. Old enough to be my grandfather.”
I can no longer say that. I just learned, after eight dark days in Hurricane Sandy’s wake, that he’d passed away a month shy of 104.
I think of Carter’s music as a rowdy Thanksgiving conversation — every guest’s quirky personality on flamboyant display, everyone talking over each other, interrupting, arguing, storytelling. There’s eloquent Aunt Flo exaggerating some event that befell her on some cruise. There’s monotonous Mildred always trying to get 70 words in edgewise. There’s stentorian Uncle Stan, all wise saws and modern instances. There’s tipsy Poppop, bobbing and weaving, losing track of his stream of semiconsciousness. Can the center hold? Things get out of hand, cool down, then heat up…
This music is not for the faint of heart, but it’ll sure clean the cobwebs out of your ears.
Elliott Cater, national treasure.
October 24, 2012
One dark and stormy night, I was brewing espresso at my Mendocino coffeehouse when a friend came in with a stranger. Dirty black leather jacket, greasy hair down his shoulders, junk-ravaged face, one last lungful of weed expelled into the indoor air.
“Donald, this is Lenny. He wrote ‘Monster Mash’. Lenny, Donald’s a musician, too. You guys should talk.”
I’m dubious. “‘Monster Mash’? Thought that was Bobby Pickett.”
“Yeah, me and Bobby. Hey, but what about you, man? What kind of music you into?”
“Oh, all kinds — rock, jazz, folk, classical.”
“Classical? You like classical music, man? Like what?”
“Oh, all kinds, but especially twentieth-century orchestral music. Not everybody’s taste.”
“Yeah, I can dig that. Anyways, like who? You got any composers you specially like?
“Well... Mahler, Shostakovich, and some lesser known guys.”
“Yeah? Turn me on, man. Like who?”
“Well, I’m particularly into Paul Hindemith. Underrated German composer. You probably never heard of him…”
“… Oh, yeah, man, far out. So, what do you like by… Hindemith?”
“Well, I like the stuff he’s best known for — Mathis der Maler, Symphonic Metamorphosis, Symphony in E Flat. But I especially love the ballet music he wrote about the life of Saint Francis, Nobilissima Visione… Aw, man, this is crazy. I’m sorry. You can’t really be interested in…”
“No, man, that’s cool, that’s cool. Hey, that piano over there, is that working?”
“Yes, ’less somebody gummed up the keys. Kind of honky-tonky, though.”
“Mind if I play?”
“Sure, Lenny, go on ahead. Been a while since anybody’s come in here and rocked the joint.”
About half a measure in, I realized that walking bass was not New Orleans boogie. It wasn’t ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll either. It was Lenny’s playing-by-ear but faithful rendering of the three-voice contrapuntal opening measures, reduced from full orchestra to piano (and in its original key) of Nobilissima Visione.
Lenny looked at my gawking mouth and smiled as if to say, “If we was gambling, I’d own your pants now, punk.”
September 27, 2012
I have a friends-sourcing challenge for you: Suggest a name for a category of music.
• The first time you heard a piece of this type of music, it jolted you. You’d never heard anything like it before. The world stopped as you listened. Dervishes and monkeys froze in place.
• This music struck you in the gut, heart, and mind in equal measure, made your pulse shoot up, your mind reel.
• This music cracked the walls of what you thought was expressively possible. You could now imagine a creative world that was locked until this music took possession of you.
• If you’re a musician, you stood in bewildered awe at the craft: How the f* did they create this?!
• If your car stereo was cranked at the moment, your life was in peril.
My first shot:
• “Drive-into-a-tree” music
• “Drive-off-the-road” music
• “Drive-into-a-ditch” music
Also, what music would you put in this category?