Having spent the better part of my training and performing as an instrumentalist, it wasn’t till I was older that I discovered (much to my surprise) that I am indeed a composer. I’ve always written music, but never trusted my instincts about what was “good” or “bad.” It probably came from growing up in proximity to such a great composer as Chico O’Farrill.
Here’s the thing though – composing is brutal work in that your compositions are like children to you. When you put them on public display, it is as if your essence, your intelligence, your talents and all your emotions are subject to critical analysis. That is why if you’re ever going to get past the blank page, you must divorce yourself from the process of defining yourself by simplistic terms like “good” or “bad,” or whether people, musicians and critics (in that order), “like” or “dislike” your work (you).
Since the early nineties though, I’ve had to compose and arrange just to keep evolving as an artist and I’ve had some special opportunities.
Some of my favorite “children” are pieces inspired by people. It seems to bring out the composer in me, writing “portraits” of friends and others who’ve inspired me. Amongst these works are “Victorious,” a mini suite commissioned by Meet the Composer in 1991 and inspired by a college friend. “Such Love,” commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2003 and dedicated to Sam Furnace, a great musician who joined the ancestral spirits that year. “Bajo Descarga” was written to celebrate the great Cuban bass master Israel “Cachao” Lopez. As a matter of fact my first composition when I was 14, “Everything’s Peter” was about my next-door neighbor.
I’ve worked on a chamber music commission for The Philadelphia Music Project, which was a collaboration with Tania Leon. I also take every opportunity I can to compose for the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and for my newest project “Riza Negra”. I also maintain an active schedule working on music for films and special projects.
“Riza Negra” is the first truly original project I’ve led in that all the music we play is either mine or fellow members of the group. Some of the past and previous members of “Riza Negra” have included Peter Brainin, Dave Samuels, Dafnis Prieto, Joe Lovano, Pablo Calogero, Tom Harrell, Willie Williams, John Benitez, Rafi Malakiel, Greg Ryan and so many who’ve contributed their creative energy to this project.
I’ve included three lead sheets on this web page from the “Riza Negra” project. The first one is called “Blue State Blues” and is a simple blues with a weird twisty head. It was written the day after George W. Bush was falsely re-elected, one of the darkest days in modern history. I was so depressed and heartbroken that this despicable man of violence was reinstated that I had no choice but to put my fears and anger on manuscript paper.
”The Lost Americans” was written to honor those people who’ve gotten shuffled to the bottom. The Walmart workers who get paid crap, the chamber maids, gas pump attendants, all those whose lives seem to have been forgotten by Washington and the greedy corporate thugs that seem to run Washington. Well, I haven’t forgotten, and this composition was meant to evoke the wide gap between those who have (an incredibly small selfish minority) and those who don’t (nearly everyone else).
”One Adam 12 Mambo” was written as a loose, fun, kind of easy head chart based in traditional mambo type melodic construction over a more harmonically expansive jazz type structure. The title is taken from an old 70’s cop show called “Adam 12”, which was the radio jargon for a particular patrol unit, Adam is also the name of my youngest son (who will turn 12 this year).
In short, though I love to compose, it seems as if this may turn out to be the musical activity I love best of all.
Original Compositions (Downloadable PDFs)
Big Band Pieces