2005 July at John Mackey's Blog



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  • July 19, 2005

    Rock Swings

    I bought an album the other day, essentially as a joke, thinking it would be good for a laugh. Turns out it’s great.

    Check out the Paul Anka album, “Rock Swings.” Paul Anka, best known for hits in the early 60’s like “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” and the theme from “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” is still around, and man, he’s still sounding fantastic.

    The album contains over a dozen superbly-engineered tracks of Anka singing big band arrangements of rock songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Eye of the Tiger.” I thought, “this sounds like it’ll be funny,” but although some of it will make you smile, it’s largely because it works so surprisingly well. My personal favorite is Anka’s rendition of “It’s My Life” — originally by Bon Jovi.

    Anka still sounds great, and the arrangements — by Randy Kerber, Patrick Williams, and John Clayton — are unbelievable. The Washington Post seems to agree. (The only real misstep, to my ear, is the beginning of “Jump.”)

    So pour yourself a martini, head over to the iTunes Music Store, and buy this album.

    And I’m being totally serious.


    July 15, 2005


    I’ve written before that for the past 2 years, AEJ has been — and I don’t mean this to sound cheesy — the biggest inspiration and influence on my music. We talk about every piece before I start it, and throughout the composition process. I had been reluctant to talk to her about the new piece — the one I’m still trying to start — because, well, I had no real idea what I wanted it to do. “Percussion-driven. Kinda like Tool.” I mean, is that even a cell of an idea?

    For AEJ, it was. We started talking about the piece last night as we were going to bed, and before we knew it, it was after 3am. Bad news was that AEJ had to get up early and go to work, having gotten very little sleep. Good news is that I now know what the piece is called, and more importantly, I know what it does. If I have the technique to pull it off, it’s going to rock.

    That, of course, is the big question — Do I have the technique to write the piece I want to write? Most of my music isn’t about “technique,” but rather about instinct while I’m writing it. At least that’s how it feels. I mean, the “record-speeding-up” section of Sasparilla took some technique to write, but really — it was minimal. What I’m planning with this new piece, though, will be tricky.

    More to come, as I figure this thing out.

    And if this doesn’t work, I’ll just write “Snooze,” the sequel to Eric Whitacre‘s “Sleep.” The piece will start with an annoying, blaring, grating, “beep. beep. beep. beep,” followed by some pretty dream-like music, and ending — far-too abruptly — 9 minutes later, with a return of the “alarm”ing beep. beep. beep.

    Well, it was funny at 3am.


    July 14, 2005

    Blast from the past

    Way back in the early 90’s, I got a commission for a grade 3+ band piece from a high school in Oregon. That was my first actual piece for band. It was short, and too difficult, as I had no idea what “grade 3” meant. I never heard a recording of the performance, and the reading that I heard at my college was awful (the kind that makes you think, “wow, I wrote a big ol’ piece of crap,” just because what you’re hearing is so bad — even if it sounds nothing like what you put on paper), so I essentially forgot about the piece. Last night, though, I got an email from the conductor who originally commissioned the piece. I hadn’t heard from him for over 10 years. He wants to arrange that band piece for his community orchestra. I gave him permission, and I’m very curious to see what he comes up with. We also discussed the possibility of me writing a choral piece, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages.

    Since I had thought the original piece (called “One Part Invention”) would never be heard again, I took the theme (there was only one motive; thus the title) and reworked it as the slow movement of “Mood Indigo,” a piece for drum set and piano that I wrote back when I was a student at Juilliard. I just posted that movement, “Sour Heart,” on the “Mood Indigo” page, complete with a PDF of the score. Happy downloading.

    Had a nice night out with Newman & Steve yesterday. Nothin’ beats dinner & drinks at Dallas BBQ — especially when Texas-sized Blue Hawaii’s are involved. I think my head has finally recovered…


    July 11, 2005

    Go Team!

    It’s been hot and sticky for the past few days in New York — a typical NY summer. It’s weather like this that makes me want to move to a nicer climate.

    In the past few days, I’ve learned of two exciting upcoming performances — both with H. Robert Reynolds! Bob is going to conduct “Redline Tango” with the National Honor Band at Carnegie Hall next Memorial Day weekend, and on October 6, he’ll conduct the piece with the Oberlin Wind Ensemble. I did my undergrad at the Cleveland Institute of Music, just up the road from Oberlin, and AEJ’s brother attended Oberlin, so I have a definite place in my heart for that school. I’m sure it’ll be a hell of a performance. It’s amazing to have Mr. Reynolds as a champion of my music.

    I can also think of some of these performances in a different light: performances by rivals. As a student at CIM, Oberlin was kind of a rival school, only because it was a major conservatory just a few miles away in the same state. (I kind of suspect that it was the one-sided type of rivalry, though — kind of like my “rivalry” with Steve Mackey, whom I consider my nemesis, simply because we share a last name and we’re both composers, but I’m relatively sure that Steve doesn’t concern himself too much with what “the other Mackey” is up to.)

    Another rival performance this fall is at the University of Michigan. Don’t tell my friends from Columbus, and especially don’t tell those who attended Ohio State, as there isn’t a bigger college football rivalry than Ohio StateMichigan.

    I kind of think, though, that if CIM and Oberlin had football teams (or sports, for that matter), their football rivalry would challenge any other.

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    July 8, 2005

    The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

    Just to update from the earlier post… I installed DP 4.6, and all seems to be well. Maybe I’ll actually get some writing done next week.

    I found some Tool albums online that I hadn’t heard before, and I’m listening to them now. It’s not the most tuneful stuff, and the lyrics are not my style, but I’m consistently intrigued by the music itself, and something about their meter choices make me wish I’d written almost every track. Right now I’m listening to “Forty Six & 2” and trying to figure out what meter these breaks are in.

    Oh. My. God.

    The end of this track is perfect. I’m blown away. I am SO going to rip this off. It’s largely in 7+7/8 — sounding like half of the band is in regular 7/4, but there’s a repeated ostinato in 7/8 on top of it. Then it does this sweet thing at the very very end that took me about 5 listenings to decipher. The guitars are in a syncopated 4/4 (sounding, over two bars, like 7+9: 2+2+3+2+3+4), and the drums and bass are doing hits in 4+3+3+3+3 against it, ending with the entire band playing hits (with the drummer hitting choked crashes) in that rhythm.

    If I listen to enough of this stuff, I’m going to write one messed-up piece for the SEC. (I already blame Tool for the last movement of Juba.)