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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 4. (Bernard Herrmann)

Continuing my blog series on musicians who have and continue to influence and inspire me. There is no particular order in my presentation of these and they all are ranked number one for me.

Bernard Herrmann is one of those film composers who broke all rules of instrumentation, instrument groupings, harmony and the "proper way" to compose for moving picture. The Golden Age of Hollywood standard was big, lush film scores. The "Hollywood Sound" they called it.  Brilliant composers like Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomken, Franz Waxman and Erich Korngold wrote in that style with a lot of Leitmotifs (character based themes or instrumentations) borrowed from Opera composers like Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. When you see an English battleship for instance,  Max Steiner wrote a leitmotif to tell you that an English battleship was coming. Bernard Herrmann on the other hand wrote a lot more in colours and textures I found. Very influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky Korsakov.

The opening Main Titles for Orson Wells' 1941 "Citizen Kane" is brilliant and the combination of instruments he chose really made it dark and brooding. Lots of dissonance and clashing harmonic overtones really set the score apart from anything up to that point. It's still one of the best Main Title music to this day. He used four alto flutes along with low, bowed double basses. The brilliant opening five note motif ends with a tri-tone interval.

His score to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 "Psycho" was all strings. No woodwind, no percussion and no brass, just strings. He wanted that sonority and feel for the black and white film because he wanted to reflect the starkness of the film's look and storyline. Wow it certainly worked.

Listen at the 2:00 mark because that is when the theme comes in. Again nothing but strings. Brilliant.

Herrmann also wrote one of the scariest and most influential music cues of all time. It is also one of the most copied and parodied. He uses the most dissonant harmonic intervals ( a minor 2nd) and has the violin section play them. In this cue it's a D and an Eb.

**Notice the flushing of a toilet before she gets into the shower. A first for a movie up to that point. There was never a toilet in any scene of a movie let alone it being flushed before "Psycho" plus a naked woman gets stabbed to death in a shower. That film really pushed the envelope. I feel the only reason the film board let it be released was because Hitchcock decided to film in black and white. Colour would have been too realistic for the time.

The things I loved about Bernard Herrmann and what has influenced me a lot, was his composing music for the task at hand and entering into that with no preconceived rules or concepts. The music is the most important thing and if it breaks rules, so be it. I try to write and improvise with that in mind. Usually my best compositions and my best playing happen when I try to be free of any preconceived approach. I also loved his use of dissonance and that is another thing I've definitely been influenced by. I try to boil down a chord to it's barest form to create space, so I quite often will use intervals that are dissonant. They fatten up the chord and make it sound bigger than it is as I am only using two notes sometimes. Herman also used a lot of space in his music. Watch "Gone With The Wind" 1939 with Max Steiner's beautiful score then watch "Citizen Kane". Both great movies and great scores but Steiner composed music for every single scene. It sometimes even segues from one scene to another. Herrmann's score has so much space. The use of space is another thing that has influenced me.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 3. (Eric Clapton)

This is another post on the topic of musicians who have and continue to influence and inspire me.
Again this list is in no specific order of importance or self discovery.

Since high school, Eric Clapton has been one of those guys for me. I even played and sang "After Midnight" at my Mount Royal College final jazz recital. It was the only non-jazz piece in my recital. I felt that excluding Eric Clapton in my final recital in a post secondary music setting, would not fully represent me as a musician.

Eric Clapton has done a bunch of things for my musical growth.

1. For starters, he introduced me to the blues. He is still one of my favourite blues guitarists and through him I discovered a whole world unknown to me. Through Clapton I was introduced to Buddy Guy, B.B. King ( who I had heard), Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howling' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Robert Cray, Elmore James and the list goes on. Wow, what a discovery! Thanks Eric! I know I'm not alone because he along with Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and  Keith Richards helped a whole generation of kids discover their idols and these blues men got a second career in some cases. His sound and playing on John Mayall and the Blues Breakers "Beano" record is some of the best blues guitar playing I've ever heard. He also sounds fantastic playing on the two Howlin' Wolf recordings made in London in the early 70's.

2. He is the ultimate rock star in my opinion. Cool, collected and is extremely talented. He never jumped around on stage and did windmills or anything like that (sorry Pete) and because of that, he still looks cool playing on stage at age 70. I think one of the greatest rock songs ever is "Layla"( the original version). When that opening riff starts, the hair still stands up on the back of my neck. I also love Duane Allman's slide work on that record (Derek and the Dominoes - "Layla and other Love Songs"). He and Clapton played very well together. Clapton has always had such a great tone whether it was his Les Paul through a Marshall sound which he demonstrated from his early years with John Mayall's Blues Breakers through his years with Cream, to the great Strat tone he still has. You can always tell it's him.

3. Clapton always has a fantastic band on recordings and on tour. I remember hearing Jamie Oldaker on "461 Ocean Boulevard" and "Slowhand". Wow, what a great drummer! His feel was great and even though the band played pretty loose, he grooved hard. I've always been a big fan of the drums and find myself really listening to the drummer on recordings and of course when I am playing as well.
Clapton had world class drummers like Steve Gadd, Steve Jordan, Steve Ferrone (likes Steves for some reason) Jim Keltner and of course his association with the great Ginger Baker in Cream and Blind Faith.

4. Clapton is not only a fabulous guitarist but has a great voice. I love Clapton's voice. So soulful and his phrasing is great. He is one of my favourite singers as well.

Here is Clapton singing and playing Ray Charles' "Hard Times" on the David Sanborn Show in the late 80's called "Night Music". Great show and great band. Not only Clapton, but David Sanborn on alto sax, Omar Hakim on drums, Hiram Bullock on guitar, Tom Barney on bass, Don Alias on percussion etc.
Here he is playing "Layla" with Nathan East on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, David Sanborn on alto sax, Greg Phillinganes on keyboards etc.

That's all for now.