Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Roger Williams, Al Tory, and I...

During my early teaching career, I was far more involved in listening to pop and jazz than I am now, and total democratization in my musical tastes came out of this period.
One of my many pop heroes during this period was Roger Williams, who passed away last week at the age of 87. His splashy and crystal-clear playing was always attractive to my young ears, and his immense success in such recordings as "Autumn Leaves" or the theme from "Doctor Zhivago," among many other releases, was a source of a different kind of pleasure(perhaps a kind of release?) from the disciplines of the world of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and the other giants in my everyday pursuits, both in performing and teaching.
At that time, I decided to find a way to play some pop music, and with my compositional abilities, thought that I could write some pop arrangements along the way.
And so I elected to take a number of lessons from one of Boston's better-known pop pianists, who played all over town. His name was Al Tory, and he taught me how to build chords and improvisational patterns in a matter of a few weeks. The result was erecting some arrangements of a number of ballads, which was relatively easy, as I could glean ideas from 19th century classical music, such as "Chopinesque," or Schumannesque" styles I could inculcate into some of the pop tunes which I chose to build arrangements around.
Strange; on the day that Roger Williams passed away just a few days ago, the above reminiscence about my lessons with Al Tory reappeared in my memory, along with an arrangement I had fashioned in the interlocking style of George Shearing. The tune was called "I'll Never Smile Again"(until I smile at you, etc.), and after all these years, I went to the piano and played it again, resulting in guffaws from my wife, let alone myself - imagine! After a lifetime of performance, teaching and musicological study, I instantly became the Roger Williams of my bailiwick, and it was both funny and proof that I chose wisely by sticking with classical music.

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