Composing Music Part 2

In part one I gave an overview of my compositional journey and that there has never been a real organized process. There are times when nothing comes of interest and other times the floodgates seem to be open! I have been fortunate that this past several months has been one of those times. In this post I will talk about my personal evolution of the compositional process.


For much of my life, composition was just the result of some ideas that came to completion. It didn’t really matter if I was happy with it, if I wasn’t, I just wouldn’t perform them! If that was the case, off to the next batch. I have always been a big picture person who struggled with the details. I could hear what I wanted but putting it on paper for others to understand was /is difficult. A prime example is my big band writing. Conceptually it all makes sense in my head. Although not usually complicated, sometimes it takes a while for the band to “get it”, on the flip side others who write for my band will write much more complicated material and the band will usually read it and perform it correctly much quicker. I have come to terms with that and lately even more so embrace it. My low attention span has both been a challenge and a strength as my compositional style will change directions on a whim. I could write groove tunes for my organ trio and then all of a sudden some more esoteric music comes.


A teacher in high school once told me he liked the tune that I wrote but that the phrase of my introduction needed to be an even number of measures. The contrarian that I am, I argued but that is what I wanted. The tune kept the 3 bar intro and later in college wrote a 13 bar blues in spite trying to make it not seem “odd”. Much of my music was odd and I always tried to make it less so. Over the years I did get better at it but certain “Keithisms” would often be present. Why was I avoiding this!? In hindsight I should have embraced my differences but instead I would be on the edge of normal and weird in my writing styles. I think back as I write and maybe that really is my spot. I enjoy the edge and balancing on that edge.


My earliest compositional influence was the composer Phillip Glass. The steady continuous repetition drew me in and the gradual changes kept me in. Soon after it was the polytonality of Stravinsky’s the Rite of Spring that took over my world. Not just composing but it would shape my improvisational style tremendously as well. It may seem weird for me to say these two composers were so important to my music making as I have been known as a jazz musician as well as funk and blues. But there is the colorful side of my interest in making music that stems straight from them. I also could not forget my early love of rock and heavy metal! And then of course the 1000’s of hours spent listening to jazz and avant garde music.


Soon beyond trying to write jazz tunes, I was trying to write conceptual pieces that would be considered more on the avant garde side. Sometimes similar to classical compositions, sometimes for rock or jazz groups. Sometimes for anyone! One night in the early 90’s while in college, an idea came to me for a card game composition. I had a bunch of index cards and by the next day had about 200 cards that would shape the spontaneous composition. We played it that day and had a blast! It still gets used, although mostly as a teaching aid now.

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