Monday, February 1, 2010
MUSIC THEORY 101
I don't really know much about music.
Okay, I led with the punchline because I didn't want to bury the lead.
I've made my way in this world assisted by music. A soundtrack has helped, guided, and continues to underscore my life. No really. When I was a teen, I appeared on national television as the youngest contestant ever on Name That Tune. I won a total of $100,000 by knowing loads of popular songs. I'm proud of that. I used to watch FRANK SINATRA perform, twice a night, learning everything I possibly could by observing this great man. And I'd talk to his Musical Director, VINNIE FALCONE, and learn so much more. As one of a handful of guests to be present at recording sessions where Sinatra conducted an album of standards in Burbank in the 80's, I wisely kept quiet and took it all in, later writing an article that would win some kind of award. The great lead trumpet player CHARLIE TURNER played his ass off and the musicians were all First Call players, many from the Tonight Show Orchestra and man, they had great stories.
Running up-and down Highway 101, I learned more than any Into to Music class could ever teach.
When I was a college student, I'd sit still and silent in the backs of concert halls where classy people were making classical music, trying my best to understand the powerful force playing me by focusing on each section, recognizing repeating themes and melodies, fascinated by the rhythms. Later, while producing a small show at The Hollywood Roosevelt, I hung around on weekends to see the brilliant KENNY RANKIN perform in the Cinegrill. The late great singer could do more with his voice than anyone I'd ever heard, and he was cool enough to talk with me about music and lyrics. And I made multi treks to San Diego just to catch this up-and-coming singer-songwriter named MRAZ, watching in amazement at the ever-so-slight and almost imperceptible pauses in young Jason's guitar work as he'd seek out a fresh new chord change. And his rhymes? Clever and poignant. Others were entertained by this handsome guy's beautiful voice. Me? I fell in love with the magical musician's lyrics.
I've written some music my own self along the way, and also lyrics and what they call 'special material.' Prior to a series of count 'em three throat operations that literally scarred me for life, I used to sing a bit. I look back with great pride the night I sat at the piano and did 'Breaking Up Is Hard to Do' at a high class Las Vegas party, pounding out the chords in a half-way decent way. When the hostess requested I sing JACKSON BROWNE'S 'Sky Blue and Black,' a friend took over the baby grand and I somehow came up with those beautifully intricate lyrics, entertaining the party, and amazing myself. It wasn't so much that I knew the music, it was more like the music knew me. Really.
I learned a helluva lot about music visiting with NEIL SEDAKA in the Riviera Spa. For years, I represented popular Riviera shows 'An Evening at La Cage' and 'NORBERT ALEMAN'S Crazy Girls' as well as some acts in 'Splash.' I'd work in the office during the day and was often at the Riv into the wee small hours so, prior to the shows, I'd workout up in the penthouse level health club. Whenever NEIL SEDAKA was in town, he'd come up to unwind but when we spoke music, the headliner was all business and I loved that, him. We developed a real friendship based on my respect for his songs. Believe me- he knows so much about music and the business of music. Now Sedaka is a classically trained concert pianist, I mean, the real deal, but his memorable melodies are what you know well. 'Calender Girl,' 'We Can Make It If We Try,' 'Laughter in the Rain,' 'The Hungry Years,' oh, and "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,' are some of his best.
So, one day, after we'd had several serious discussions about pop songs, I just admitted it to him. "Mr. Sedaka? I really don't know much about music."
He laughed and then said, "Willie? None of us do!"
MY MUSIC THEORY-
My belief is that we all travel with a theme that plays just under our lives, that we move to music, only many don't stop to recognize, to remember. Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, concentrate on the roaring traffic's boom and enjoy the beautiful noise. As for me, well I hear the sound of the world where we played. Maybe we come from music and we're all just stumbling around on this earth trying to reconnect with it. It may be invisible to many, but face it: music is way too powerful not to take seriously. I've been changed by music. Music changes me still.
I don't really know music but I have a growing feeling that music knows me.
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