I was sad to hear of the passing this week of the gifted arranger, orchestrator and composer Angela Morley. Morley’s evocative and subtle work on many of the TV Dramas of my youth (Dallas, Dynasty, Hotel etc) still play in my head as the background music of my childhood and was often many magnitudes higher quality than the show itself. Morley composed the wonderful soundtrack to Watership Down, arranged for Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Petula Clark and Dusty Springlfield and worked as orchestrator/arranger and often uncredited composer on many of John Williams’ great scores including ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘E.T.’ and ‘Schindlers List’.
Back when I was but a wee lad growing up in Rochester New York I used to play piano in a society orchestra called The Len Hawley Band. It was made up of a mix of local jazz musicians, down-on-their luck lounge buskers and top talent from Eastman School of Music. The band’s mission was to keep an audience dancing no matter what. We played an eclectic and often crazy mixture of styles from a vast heap of fake books that Len carted around. We did not take a lot of breaks and often did not get fed. These were not easy club date gigs for the faint of heart and the Eastman kids often had a hard time getting through them. Some would show up for their first gig, go outside for a cigarette after the first set and never return. One exception was a drummer named Tom Nazziola. He rocked those gigs. He could play anything on drums and also played a mean piano and was a very capable rock singer. He really knew how to spin gold from straw. Tom has ended up becoming a serious composer. He heads up The BQE Project – a chamber ensemble that performs original Film scores. I recently got to see them perform to Buster Keaton’s hilarious “Battling Butler” at Lincoln Center. Tom has composed a vibrant, carefully synced score that sounded both modern and thematically appropriate. It is a rare treat to watch a great old movie on a big screen accompanied by a live chamber band performing an original score. I would highly recommend checking out one of their performances if you get a chance.
This is Henry Mancini’s famous book on orchestration. Every musician should own a copy. It has been around for many years in many formats but exists now as a book with accompanying CD. Sometimes I just like listening to the example CD and reading trough the score like it is a very cool story album. Mancini is great at describing the textural effects that can be achieved with different unconventional big band/orchestral instrumentation and how that could map to certain moods or visual cues in a soundtrack. He describes the philosophy and uses of some of his signature colors like alto flute + alto sax. He also walks through single pieces with different voicing and instrumentation structures so you can hear the result of certain decisions. There are extremely cool, useful tricks to be had here that could apply to almost any style of music and this type of knowledge is also highly applicable to jazz piano voicing/comping.