Stay tuned for upcoming performances.
APRIL 25-28, 2019
Moog Fest 2019 :: Durham, North Carolina
OCTOBER 16, 2018 at 9:30pm
The Cutting Room, NYC
44 E 32nd Street, New York
MUSIC AND ME
A Tangled Story of
Love and Rejection
I started piano lessons at six. By the third grade, jazz hit me hard. I began playing out of Mary Lou Williams’ jazz piano books. After school, my best friend Jeff and I would listen to jazz records in his parent’s den – Art Tatum, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Hamp and the rest.
When I was practicing, I’d change the music to make it sound more like jazz. Mom caught on and she’d yell from the kitchen, “Doesn’t sound like your lesson, Pat!” We didn’t know this was called improvising.
A hip cousin, Mary Gleeson, was dating Norm Bobrow, a jazz musician and DJ for Seattle’s “race music” station. When I was thirteen, they set up this meeting between me and Ernestine Anderson’s accompanist, a local piano player whose playing I adored. Mary asked him if he ever accepted students. The guy looked at me and said, “Why don’t you fall by the pad and let’s see what happens.” Fall by the pad? My god!
I ran home to tell my mother, who wasn’t exactly pleased. For this Irish immigrant couple who’d planned I’d be a doctor, this seemed…umm, risky. Mom told me that if my regular piano teacher approved, I could take jazz piano lessons in addition to my regular lessons.
My piano teacher, whom I disliked anyway, decided this wouldn’t do. My parents agreed. I was devastated and quit music for 15 years.
Music Again, and Politics
By 1965, I was a young Ph.D. teaching at San Francisco State. As the faculty advisor to the campus SNCC group and one of the founders of SF State’s Experimental College, I was also beginning to be in political hot water. Some conservative administrators began working on a tenure hearing – an exciting and troubling time (a bit like the one we’re in now)
One night I dropped acid and listened to Bartok’s First Violin Concerto. It became clear that making music was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do and that I needed to seriously reboot my life.
I began spending time at Mills College Tape Music Center playing on the first Buchla synth. I composed some (primitive) electronic music for Ann Halprin’s dancers. Bruce Conner and I put on a music/film/dance happening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I did live performances accompanying Kenneth Anger’s films at California Hall and other rock venues. These events seemed wonderful. School didn’t. I was arrested for sitting in. Finally, I just resigned. How would I live?
I told dad what I’d done and asked him to lend me $20,000 to buy a Moog III synth – a lot of money in 1968. He was disappointed in me, but loved me and agreed. Amazingly (it was San Francisco in the 60’s), within a few months I was making a living creating music for local ads and overdubbing synth tracks for San Francisco rock groups: Jefferson Starship, Doctor Hook, Sammy Hagar and, later, Journey. I helped Sammy create the title track for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I scored some PBS docs. Soon, I had enough money to start an 8-track recording studio in the Mission District. A year later, Different Fur was a 16-track studio and we were on our way. (This little studio eventually became widely known, with clients like Stevie Wonder, David Byrne, B.B. King, Devo and Brian Eno. I sold it a long time ago to a wonderful music lover. Going strong, it’ll have its 50th anniversary this year).
After the last session of the day, I’d go into the studio and work late into the night on a synthesizer orchestration I was improvising over Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. It sounded incredible, I told David Rubinson, San Francisco’s one big-time producer. When he signed Herbie Hancock I began badgering David about letting me play on Herbie’s new record.
David told Herbie, look the guy’s not a musician of your caliber, but he’s good with synths – maybe he can set up some patches for you.
Herbie and I met at Different Fur. He’d brought one side of what would become Crossings, the breakout recording for Herbie’s Mwandishi band. We put on the tape and began listening to “Water Torture.” About 30 seconds in, Herbie said “Maybe something here”. I began patching the Moog as fast as I could, afraid Herbie wouldn’t be impressed and would walk out. Soon, I had a sound like a flock of birds ascending into the music. I said, “You could try that.” “You didn’t record it?” Herbie said. “Well, no, I thought you’d play it.” Herbie said: “You’re fine: record it.”
We continued this process, working our way through the tune. After an hour or so, Herbie said, “Look, I’ll come back tomorrow. Keep going.”
I stayed up all night and by the time Herbie returned I’d overdubbed one side of the album. Later, he told several music magazines that the experience had blown his mind – he’d never heard anything like it. A few months later, I’d joined Herbie’s band and was on the road.
By the time the band broke up a couple of years later, I had become a real musician. Downbeat nominated me for best new talent, NARAS nominated a record of mine for Best Classical Technical Achievement and soon after I was overdubbing for everybody on rock, R&B and jazz records, writing music for the Kronos Quartet and beginning to produce records for other musicians. Francis Ford Coppola decided I would be “the master synthesist” for the score of Apocalypse Now. Other great breaks continued. Soon I had a film music agent and was regularly writing for almost stupid amounts of money.
But the part of me that fell in love with jazz in the third grade wasn’t completely happy. I mean, yeah, I’d been extremely lucky with music in nearly every way. But the music I was writing for film and television didn’t have anything to do, really, with this revolutionary fusion of jazz and electronic music where I thought Herbie and the band were headed or the crazy vision of some future music I’d hallucinated when I was listening to Bartok. It was just a pleasant way to make money.
Also, along the way, I’d picked up some new musical passions, playing for awhile with Steve Reich’s ensemble on the West Coast, scoring several wonderful, weird Bruce Conner films, one of them, Crossroads, with Terry Riley. I loved what Steve and Terry were doing.
In the late nineties when really interesting things started to happen with electronic dance music, I thought, well, these three musics – Miles Davis/Herbie Hancock funk jazz, electronic dance music and the American minimalism of Reich and Riley – are all related offshoots of Indian and African music. They’re all linear and improvisational. I felt an urge to find a graceful and exciting way to combine them.
Another thing, I’d always told myself I’d quit film scoring when it stopped scaring me, and by 2008 I realized it hadn’t scared me in years. So I quit.
But how, exactly, could these three musics fit together? Solving that puzzle was exciting and also frustrating – it took a more than four years of trying. Once I’d figured that out, the question remained: how to actually perform and improvise this music, not just DJ it?
There were technological obstacles to overcome and software to write and then another year to find the right guys to play with. These turned out to be Sam Morrison, Miles’ last reed player and either one of two great drummers, Michael Shrieve (Santana’s original drummer) and Lenny White, who’d also played with Miles, all of them into electronics. I’d worked with these guys before – toured with Michael in Stomu Yamashta’s GO band and produced and played on and produced Lenny White’s first album after he left Return to Forever. Sam and I had worked together on Mike’s solo album and for years Sam had wanted us to play together live, which I didn’t know until I asked him to join me.
My ambitions for this music probably sound a bit daft. We’ll do clubs for as long as it takes, but I think eventually the music will capture a larger audience. I’d love to play for audiences that enjoy Herbie, Snarky Puppy, Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington. Some of Aphex Twin’s stuff has been knocking me out for years. Jacob Collier is fun and a genius.
I hear our music playing at electronic music festivals, on the Red Bull circuit and at progressive jazz festivals that are open to jazz continuing to evolve. When I go to an EDM concert, I hear new sounds and rhythms, sometimes great, sometimes not, and I see young people standing up, swaying joyfully and often dancing. I want them to get up and dance to this music.