It has been a troubling and depressing week for many of us in the US as we reckon with the results of last Tuesday’s election. It’s made it hard for me to focus on music. And when I do think about music, I find myself taking a step back and contemplating: what exactly is music for? What does it mean to people who are engaged in a struggle simply for existence, dignity, material comfort and self-determination? I think one of the reasons jazz is so powerful because it is an art form that is by definition an act of resistance. It was created by largely self-taught descendants of enslaved Africans on Western instruments (that originated in European classical and marching band ensembles), and these people poured into their foreign tools their entire souls and intellects, often at great personal risk. They forged a unique aesthetic that was at once fiercely modern and virtuosic and thus demanded respect, but also often witty, tragic, sophomoric, romantic, angry, sensual, and vulnerable – in other words fully human. In a society that constantly denies one’s humanity, that in itself is a miraculous and heroic act of anti-colonial liberation through sound. And I think one of the reasons that we as Americans of all races treasure jazz so much is because that the music, at its core, is really a vital source of healing for an embattled and oppressed community. It’s deeply spiritual kind of medicine, created by and for one group of people (with lots of crucial contributions by people of other races) – but its healing spirit is accessible for everyone.
As Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) said, “Negro music is essentially the expression of an attitude, or a collection of attitudes, about the world, and only secondarily an attitude about the way music is made…This music cannot be completely understood (in critical terms) without some attention to the attitudes that produced it.” In that spirit, and given that the attitudes that produced jazz are more relevant than ever right now, I have compiled 5 classic jazz songs of protest and resistance, and a list of many more below that for further listening (though the list is by no means comprehensive.)
One of my favorite things about film scoring is getting to compose in so many different styles of music. I love discovering artists or genres, delving deeply into them and trying to find my voice in a new musical language. One example of this was a cue from a short film I did a few years ago, in which I did my best imitation of a classic 19th-century Italian opera aria. I asked an Italian composer friend (Vincenzo Marranca) to write the lyrics, and had the privilege of recording the excellent soprano Allie Tyler for the vocals. While I think I’ve become much better since then at sequencing realistic orchestral textures, I’m still pretty proud of this little tune. Check it out:
From Bitch Media, here’s an interview with Courtney Bryan, composer of a work dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who was found hanged in her jail cell in Texas in 2015. The piece, called “Sanctum”, was a commission for an activist orchestra called The Dream Unfinished, which premiered the work in a concert last summer.
I love the use of extended techniques to give the orchestra some fresh new colors, and the bluesy phrases based on the pentatonic scale which recall John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” (That may or may not have been intentional…) The work as a whole has a meditative, almost sacred quality, even though the subject matter is so raw, full of anger and heartbreak.
For more, here’s a list of 10 Black composers to check out. (Guardian)
This is a track I originally produced for an experimental short film about a man attempting to deliver a pizza to an address that doesn’t exist. It was a blast to compose, and very different from my other work, so I thought I would share a little about how I made it. Continue reading →
This piece of music has long been one of my absolute favorites. From the first sparkling, crystalline chords, this short movement from Ravel’s “Sonatine” seems to cast a magical spell that lasts until the last clanging bell tones of the coda fade into silence. Here’s my analysis of the first half of the score, but I have to admit that ultimately there’s no way to intellectually explain why the piece is so emotional for me.
Like everyone else on the planet, I’ve been geeking out over Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s score for the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” An homage to the works of classic 80’s artists and composers like Giorgio Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and John Carpenter, the score is full of the warm, nostalgic sound of analog synthesizers, and is an impressive piece of dramatic storytelling. Continue reading →