I escaped the public school system and spent my senior year of high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, where I met 50% of the Brubeck kids – Kathy and Danny were both at the Academy and Chris, who had just graduated. Danny and I became good friends.
Dave was visiting his kids and attended my Senior Recital on Thursday, May 7, 1970. The first half of my graduation requirement consisted of three “classical” works: a solo flute piece, a piano trio and a string quartet. The second half consisted of three pieces I wrote for the jazz band – or as it was called at IAA, “The Studio Orchestra.”
The last work on the programme – FINALE – consisted of a frenzied accumulation of bebop jazz clichés and harmonies which gradually settled down into a 5/4 groove in which I quoted the “Interlochen Theme.”
I met Dave Brubeck right after the recital. He asked me if he could look at the scores, which I had created with my specially-nibbed ozalid pen, black ink and my drafting tools – the way we notated music in the olden days, ya know?
He seemed very impressed with my manuscripts, and asked me if I would come to work for him that summer, and copy the score to his latest orchestral work, TRUTH IS FALLEN (Atlantic Records, OOP, write your congressman and tell him to release it on CD already!)
I had already made a commitment to work at Interlochen that summer, but it ended in early August and he said that was fine with him.
I arrived at the mansion in Connecticut and we immediately went to work.
An early breakfast was always the highlight of the day. Iola, Danny, nine-year-old Matthew and I listened to Dave’s incredible stories about EVERYTHING – the early days on the road; his refusal to play in clubs that would not admit blacks (one such story moved the entire breakfast table to tears); Lena Horne; and his studies with Darius Milhaud, which was particularly fascinating for me. [Months later, my studies at Juilliard were interrupted when I was nearly killed by a drunk driver. When I got out of the hospital and made my way back to New York, Dave asked me to come visit. It was now the second semester and because I had started in advanced classes (third-year theory, for instance), it would not have made any sense for me to return to Juilliard at that time. Dave picked up the phone and called Milhaud who suggested I go to France to study. A few days later I was living in Paris, studying with Nadia Boulanger.]
Then we went to work, walking down the ramp by the waterfall to the sunken music room. Dave’s record collection – around 10,000, it seemed to me – was stacked in high shelves above the pianos.
I sat at my drafting table while Dave sat at the piano and the process began. I was constantly surprised and honored at Dave’s interaction with me vis-à-vis my “classical” education – and I was consistently encouraged to express ideas and concerns about orchestration, particularly the problem of balancing a large symphony orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists, with … a ROCK BAND! (New Heavenly Blue, Chris’s band, which had recorded an LP for RCA Records.)
The human body is tuned to 4/4 time. We march, left-right, left-right. We sing:
(1) EENIE (2) MEENIE (3) MIENIE (4) MO
(1) CATCH A (2) TIGER (3) BY THE (4) TOE
(1) IF HE (2) HOLLERS (3) LET HIM (4) GO
(1) EENIE (2) MEENIE (3) MIENIE (4) MO (5) bang!
(1) CATCH A (2) TIGER (3) BY THE (4) TOE (5) plop!
(2) (1) IF HE HOLLERS (3) LET HIM (4) GO (5) crash!
You are now in 5/4!
Try putting the 5th beat in some other place within the phrase and you alter the accents; and further, subdivide the beats into 10 units instead of 5 (1/8th notes) and you can see how delicious you can make an unusual rhythm sound!
On one of the most exciting days of my life, Dave and I were discussing the meter of SEVEN, which is usually subdivided into either 3+4 or 4+3. You set up the rhythm and the melody fits into either of those patterns.
I bravely and nervously invited him into my guest room where I had my KLH record player set up – and put on Frank Zappa’s “Legend of the Golden Arches” from UNCLE MEAT. Zappa’s 7 rolls over barlines, twisting and turning over an ostinato which continually plays with 7/8 – 7/4 paradigm (making two bars of 7/8 into one bar of 7/4).
His nose wrinkled at the electric “noise” – but I could tell he was impressed!
That’s what pioneers do. Others follow and try to make sense out of the past.
Personally, in my own world, I hear nearly everything in SEVEN or NINE or ELEVEN (6/8 + 5/8) …
Thank you, Dave. bang! plop! crash!