In recent years, I’ve become more involved in writing music, thanks in part to the fact that I co-lead a band, Acme Jazz Garage, that plays frequently and is quick to learn new originals (and often helps with arrangements).
So I’ve given more thought to a)what it takes to create a tune that appeals to audiences (still don’t have a clue) and b)the process behind creating something from nothing.
I have a background as a journalist, and I’ve studied creative writing, and written a few short stories, only one of which has been published (in the journal Florida English). That story, probably not coincidentally, had something of a music-oriented theme, as it’s titled “The Night Frank Sinatra Saved Pop’s Life.”
I’ve been thinking about the similarity between the two arts, in terms of the task of — again — taking a blank page, and putting words or music together that add up to something more than the sum of their parts.
In both cases (journalism/creative writing & composing), what I write has been deeply influenced by what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, respectively.
For Acme Jazz Garage’s first “major” collection of original compositions, all penned by me (so far), there are two tunes that were directly inspired/influenced by others: “Sandprints” takes some cues from Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” while “Mr. G.P.” is named for bassist George Porter, Jr. of the Meters and inspired by that band’s swampy, funky old-school R&B, although the Acme twist on that sound also features a horn section (flugelhorn, bari sax and tenor sax). The title of the latter tune is a play on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” itself named for bassist Paul Chambers,
For me, a song can start with a riff I hear in my head — once, I heard a tune in a dream — or something that I come up with while noodling on bass, piano or guitar. “Last Call,” the most jazz-oriented of the tunes we’re recording, actually is rooted in a little guitar progression I first messed around with 30 years ago or so.
The point of all of this, I guess: The act of creation is a mystery.
And there’s also that head-space conundrum to deal with, at least for me: Why would anyone care about something I write?
What I do know, for sure, is that the more I do it, the easier it gets for me to achieve the desired result — the more proficient I get at translating my ideas into stories or songs. Something similar happens when playing an instrument. When it comes to music, I’d be even better equipped if I had a stronger understanding of theory and harmony.
Will the end result of our creativity and hard work, a full-length recording, have an impact beyond our local fans, friends and family? Are the tunes any good?