We’ve had the privilege of interviewing loads of our musical heroes over the past 40 years the years. Here’s a handful of excerpts from some of Keyboard’s most memorable Q&As.
The composer side of me is into a total sound. I want to hear certain things, but the elements I’m using are not only my own likes and dislikes for the structure, harmonies, and so forth; I’m also looking for ways to bring out certain musical abilities and approaches that others in the group have. So when I orchestrate something for the quartet I’ll know that Stanley [Clarke, bassist] could really sing a certain part so I’ll have him play it, or I’ll know that Al [DiMeola, guitarist] would like to get into this part, or maybe I’ll think it would be interesting to see what Lenny [White, drummer] would do with this concept. It’s a combination of using specified notes and phrases and dynamics in combination with general concepts that you give to the other musicians to help the composition be realized.
The vocal group, the Hi-Lo’s, were the greatest aid to me in harmony. I loved the harmonies they were using, especially Clare Fischer’s arrangements, which I used to take off the record. By the time I studied theory in college, I breezed through it. I also listened to mood-music orchestras a lot, like Robert Farnon’s orchestra from England. He’d take a tune like “Laura” and—although he might have some corny things in there—by the time he got to the third chorus, he’d go all kinds of places with the harmony. I learned a lot of progressions from listening to his music.
Had I not been in the position that I’m in, and had it not been for the fact that various manufacturers, for whatever reason, feel pleased that I’m interested and will make concessions for me to try their instruments, it would have been a lot harder to do this experimenting. I’d hate to be one of those youngsters out there trying to keep up with this parade of instruments. Where does a kid get six or seven thousand dollars a pop? Or even $2,500?
I use the Fairlight in a basic way, really. What appeals to me most is the idea of having any sound that is available put into the Fairlight. I mainly use it as I would my piano. So it’s finding the sound I want, which can take ages, and then working around it musically to make it suite the song. When I’m writing the song, normally I just use chords with a simple Fairlight sound. Then if I want to build up things, I’ll do small overdubs as we go through the album, with the Fairlight being dragged in every other week. So in the writing process, the main Fairlight sound goes down even on the demos…. For me, the ideal is the combination of Fairlight and acoustic instruments, rather than it being all electronic or all acoustic.
You’ve got to remember that when you hear a guitar sound, you think “guitar.” So when you play a sampled sound, and the whole concept is a guitar sound, you gotta think with a sense of how the structure of the guitar would be. If you play strings, you think strings. You’ve got to put yourself in the mode or the place of being that musician, or of yourself playing that particular instrument, as much as you have the ability to play that instrument as if you were a guitarist, or a bassist, or a violinist, or a trumpeter.
If I never had a physical relationship again, I would be completely sexually satisfied just by playing music. And I’m not just talking about physical response. I’m talking about every chakra. I’m talking about a transcendence, when you’re fully aligned with creativity. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen, it usually happens in performance. Because there’s something about not being able to repeat yourself, about it being alive, about the dangerous side of performance, about being exposed. And when it’s achieved, there’s a sense of wholeness. You’re not separate from the piece. It’s fully integrated within your being.
When Mozart touched a little harmony, it changed the whole thing. It’s as if you see a cloud coming, then you see little tears falling down. He’s so detailed. His music really seems like God wrote it through him.