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Terry Plumeri: Singing Strings

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One of the elements I love so greatly, is music's ability to unite humans rather than divide them.
Terry PlumeriBassist Terry Plumeri wears several hats and wears them well. He has scored films, written his own symphonic tone poems, conducted symphonic orchestras all over the world and worked with some of the top names in jazz.

Chapter Index

  1. Conducting and Tchaikovsky
  2. Tone Poems
  3. Film Scores
  4. Jazz


Conducting and Tchaikovsky

All About Jazz: You have an affiliation of over a decade as a conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic. How did this partnership initially come about?

Terry Plumeri: My first trip to Russia came about because of being hired as a film composer by an American film company who had a joint production deal with a Russian film company. Inclusive in their deal, was the use of a Russian studio orchestra to record the score to the film. After writing the music in Los Angeles, I traveled to Moscow for the recording. Things went very well. The musicians did a very good job of recording the score, I was very much enjoying the environment and the people, but most of all, I was loving being in the country which had given birth to a number of my favorite composers of the past. You must understand that having been very influenced by Russian symphonic music from an early age, this trip was a musical pilgrimage for me.



After having made my second trip to Moscow for the same American company, which took place approximately one month later, I was hooked. So...the next time I was hired to write a film score, I made the call to Moscow, set up the recording on my own, and returned for the third time feeling very glad to get back. By that time, the Moscow Philharmonic had become aware my work, which led to an invitation to do a concert. This concert brought about the premiere of "The Pride of Baltimore" as well as the recording of the CD, Plumeri Conducts Plumeri (GMMC, 1995). This CD features two of my large scale concert works, "The Pride of Baltimore" and "Windflower," which features the great oboist, Sara Watkins. This took place in '94 and I have been working with the Moscow Philharmonic ever since.

AAJ: How old were you when you started with the Moscow Philharmonic?

TP: I was in my forties. Since then, it has turned into a consistent relationship that's lasted fourteen years and has produced numerous film scores, performances and recordings of a number of my concert pieces, the latest recording being Tchaikovsky Symphonies No. 4, 5 & 6 (GMMC, 2007).

AAJ: Has the repertoire or composers whose work you perform changed over the years as your relationship with the Philharmonic deepened?

TP: The repertoire has basically been pieces that I like. I have never known the orchestra to be resistant to anything that I've presented, whether it be my own original works or traditional masterpieces.

AAJ: How has the working history you now have with the Moscow Philharmonic changed the way you perform a piece together?

Terry PlumeriTP:In essence, it's very similar to playing in a jazz band. The more comfortable a musician feels with another musician, the better the music. The outcome of that comfort is a relaxed flow and execution of the ideas. So when an orchestra feels comfortable with a conductor, or a conductor feels comfortable with an orchestra, then everything seems to move with a relaxed fluency, which generally displays a greater depth in the feeling generated by the musical outpouring. The more the orchestra trusts you and the more you trust the orchestra, the more flowing the music is in time.



My relationship with the Philharmonic has consistently improved over the fourteen years I've known them. One of the great loves of my life is the Moscow Philharmonic, because they are so instrumental in helping me realize my musical dreams.

AAJ: With the best symphonies and conductors it becomes like a collaboration that unfolds before the audiences eyes.

P>TP: It is very much so. And I, as someone who comes from a player's point of view, am very aware of that. A big part of my consideration as conductor is leaving the kind of room that every individual needs to perform at their very best. It is very important that everyone function in a comfortable fashion, able to express themselves in the best way possible.

AAJ: With the Moscow Philharmonic you have performed and recorded the symphonies of Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). What is the appeal for you of his work?

TP: From my first time of hearing Tchaikovsky, which was by a grade school orchestra when I was in the first grade, I was quite taken by his music. From that point on, I have had the greatest respect for the compositional elements, the orchestrations, the beauty of line and the sense of character journey in time of the music of Tchaikovsky. My relationship with the Moscow Philharmonic has given me an in-depth view of the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, which has deepened my love and involvement with his music. It's like playing Coltrane's music in Coltrane's band.

AAJ: There seem to be more bad CDs of Tchaikovsky's music out there than good.

TP: It's great music so it gets performed often, but that doesn't mean it gets performed correctly. Compositions, which receive repeated performances, tend to give rise to interpretations which are not always accurate in terms of the composer's original intent.

AAJ: In the United States, he is known predominantly for "The Nutcracker," have you found this has made stateside audiences come to a concert of other works by him with a sort of preconceived notion of the feel of a piece, what they are going to hear?

TP: Well, I can't say that because the only Tchaikovsky I have performed as conductor is the symphonies. Individuals, who come to hear a symphony, come to hear music. With all due respect to ballet music in the world of Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky, it is still music meant to share the light with a visual. So, it's not quite as hardcore as symphonic music, which is music meant to hold its own without the visual.

AAJ: Much like jazz, classical seems to be taken a little more seriously in Europe. What are the factors in what works you will record and perform? How much does "the bottom line" figure into it all and do you feel you can present more challenging programs in some places more so than others?

TP: Well, I'm not someone who really thinks that much about that. It is not my position to play down to an audience. It is my position to give them the best I have, and hopefully they will get it. Some of them I know will and some of them I also know will not. Some of them will not get it no matter how far down you play to them. You can be the most commercial symphonic or jazz musician possible and they still will not get it. So I essentially don't take the position of trying to get to those people. Yes, it's great when you are appreciated and understood by everyone, but I don't cry when I am not.

AAJ: Do you ever get the feeling though that you can present a more challenging program in some places rather than others?

TP: I think it is still possible in Europe to receive appreciation for a more challenging program. That was the case in this country some years ago. But, it seems as though this country has developed a very severe leaning towards a more conservative musical vocabulary over the past twenty or thirty years.



It depends on time and place but I essentially follow my heart, which is connected to my voice. My compositions stem from my vocalization of melodies, harmonies and rhythm and my conducting comes from the same place. When I am conducting, I am singing the piece constantly in my head and transferring it through my physical motions, which are directing the orchestra.

Terry PlumeriAAJ: Conductor Gunter Wand (1912-2002), who is now considered one of the people most responsible for our understanding of Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies, felt he had to gradually ease into them over the course of decades. In your relationship with Tchaikovsky or any other composer do you feel you are waiting for time to further add to your palette?

TP: It is a known fact that the more experience you have, the deeper your understanding of anyone's music, including your own. You can always generally give a better performance at a later time than you can at an earlier time. But then you have situations where you look back and think, "that worked...it just worked." You may not have been very conscious as to what you were doing, but it was working beautifully.



Your musical expression comes from your conscious as well as your subconscious. So it's a balance that you always kind of fight with because, obviously we like to have control of our expression and what we are displaying musically, but at the same time, sometimes you have to give in to the fact that your subconscious has great things to say. Sometimes your subconscious is the greatest voice. Your lack of control can actually be in your favor.

AAJ: Too often, especially in classical music apocryphal tales are passed on so often they became the established history. On the CDs you released with the Moscow Philharmonic some of the liner notes are transcripts of Tchaikovsky's letters to friends, family and peers. This seems a unique way to gain real insight into not just the work, but artist as well. How did you come by this idea?

TP: The company gave me a choice of what I wanted in the liner notes and I chose Tchaikovsky's writings, because there is no one better to speak about Tchaikovsky's music than him. And I say that as a composer. You want to hear about my music, ask me. Don't ask someone else. So that's why I made a serious effort, and I am grateful to GMMC Records for allowing me the freedom to display his letters there.

AAJ: What is entailed in rehearsing for a performance and does it differ from preparing for a recording?

TP: When you are rehearsing for a recording or a live performance, there is basically no difference. You are doing your best to get the orchestra to sound at its best: the most cohesive, the most musical, the most beautiful and then going on from there.

AAJ: In all of your recordings of Tchaikovsky there is a great layered delicacy which never becomes overly fragile. How involved were you with the actual mechanics of the recordings?

TP: I was the mixing engineer along with the collaboration of the impeccable ears of one of the great mastering engineers in recording history, Arnie Acosta.



My facility as an engineer is something I have developed over the years. When I began recording a good bit of music, it became very evident that the mixing engineer was representing me in a very serious manner. And so little by little, I developed the facility for doing it myself. The advantage of having the conductor also be the mixing engineer is, achieving what I heard when I stood in front of the orchestra during the time we were recording, and then being able to translate that on to the CD. A CD is a serious compromise to live music. When you assess what actually gets on a CD in relation to what was recorded, you are lucky if you get fifty to sixty per cent of what was there. CDs are a serious degradation of the live experience so I, as the engineer, am always ready to do what is necessary to achieve the very best representation of the actual recording.

AAJ: You are coming from a background of playing bass. Do you find, when conducting, this background makes you approach a piece different from a conductor who plays piano or no instrument at all?

TP: I play piano also, but bass is my main instrument and is probably my greatest love as far as instrumental color goes. Although as a composer, I have developed a love and understanding for all the colors in an orchestra. But, I think that playing bass in a jazz band is one of the greatest things you can do as a preliminary to conducting.



For instance, there is a responsibility on the bassist in a jazz band that deals with a consistent and buoyant time-feel. So the result is, when you stand in front of the orchestra as conductor, you take that same kind of responsibility and it is not something new for you. But beyond the responsibility of moving 100 musicians through time in a flowing manner, your ability to accurately imagine the sonic journey a split second before the orchestra gives it to the world is another very important element. You truly need the ability to hear the orchestra playing the piece in your musical mind.

AAJ: When conducting a piece do you strictly go by the score or do you ever use what other conductors had done before with the piece?

TP: I always try to begin with what was written by the composer. I have my influences like everyone. I played under Leonard Bernstein and was influenced by his musicianship, energy and presence as a conductor as well as my conversations with him. And my teacher, Antal Dorati, who I played under in the National Symphony of Washington, D.C. was certainly an influence on my conducting. But when I stand up to conduct, I forget all of that and rely on my voice. I am singing the piece the way I hear it, whether it be my music or someone else's music.

AAJ: For instance Pierre Boulez is often accused of injecting new things into a piece, and I didn't know if you ever heard some conductor do something and thought "maybe I will add that to the symphonic palette."

Terry Plumeri TP: No I try never to do that. It is like I was saying; I do my absolute best to present the music as Tchaikovsky desired it. Conductors can be notorious for making the music their own, like changing tempos and so forth. I come from a composer's point of view, and I don't like people making my music their own so if I am conducting Tchaikovsky I do my best to present Tchaikovsky as Tchaikovsky left it. That is done out of respect to him as a composer



I treat it like "do unto others" basically. I have seen people conduct my music and have questioned "why did they do that? That's not what was written in the score." So by the same token, whenever I am conducting someone else's music, I try my best to present the music in an accurate manner.

AAJ: When reading about the past great conductors, a lot of them specialized in one specific composer or era. Is this mode of operating largely a thing of the past?

TP: It's hard to say. I'm sure that's specific to every individual conductor. Unless he's in a position where he has to conduct what he is told to conduct; a conductor is generally going to make choices according to his likes and dislikes. So that depends on the individual and what music they have been exposed to and what their likes are.

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Tone Poems

AAJ: You studied under Antal Dorati (1906-1988), who was a student of B?la Bart?k (1881-1945). Both composers had programmatic aspects to their music which also mixed in folkloric elements. Your piece "Windflower," a beautiful tone poem, is dedicated to your mother and contains Scot-Irish components which were part of her background. When composing these types of pieces how much influence do you feel from what they had done in regards to structure of a piece?

TP: I am aware of formal structures that exist. But when I write, I am much more free in the sense that I use certain gestural elements of formal structure, but beyond that I enjoy allowing the piece to journey to its point of desire.



That requires sitting down with the musical characters themselves, and finding out who they are and what they are capable of. I never lock in the musical events in time until I research the musical characters, very much like writing a play.



You can't write a play or a screenplay about a character you know nothing about. But, if you really know the character and spend enough time researching the personality so that character begins to live in your head, then there is a natural flow to the journey you create. And it's the same way for music. Once I choose a musical personality that I like, I spend lots of time finding out what that character is capable of. I exercise the idea by singing it out loud or internally, at different paces, in different types of environments, with different types of harmonic backgrounds, until I thoroughly understand what this musical character is capable of. "Windflower," my tone poem for solo oboe and orchestra, is a very good example of an entire piece built out of one thematic idea which is displayed in the first few bars of the piece. Without researching the capabilities of this thematic personality, I would never have been able to create a convincing journey in time, of this character and all of its family members.

AAJ: Are your pieces generally recorded one way or another (studio versus live)? Do you have a preference?

TP: I prefer documenting my music in the studio. It gives you the opportunity to achieve accuracy with what you have written. Live performance doesn't always provide that.

Terry PlumeriAAJ: Is there any difference in what is done with a piece live as opposed to on a recording?

TP: Sure, if you are recording in a concert hall the sound is definitely going to be different, because there is natural ambience in a concert hall. In a studio recording you may have to add some artificial ambience but with the sense in mind that you know what the natural ambience sounds like. So the desired result is, the studio recording has a natural sound to it rather than that of an artificial sounding hall. .



The recordings with the Philharmonic were done in a studio in Moscow that's a very large room. It's almost like a concert hall in size. But still, the studio is not as ambient as it sounds on the recordings. Part of that is added ambience, but it's done from the point of view of my ears. I have hundreds of hours of being on concert hall stages, so I've got a good sense of what a hall sounds like. So whenever I adjust the additional ambience to what the natural room ambience is, it's done with a sense of trying to achieve a natural hall sound environment.

AAJ: Do you utilize any of today's technology such as computers or orchestrating programs?

TP: I do use computers in regard to the sound engineering process. But in relation to composition, I do not. I still very much enjoy pencil on paper. I have literally put thousands of musical symbols on paper since I began composing and feel very at home there.

AAJ: Which composers do you admire and what if any effect do they have on your music?

TP: I probably never wanted to write music until I heard B?la Bart?k's music. So I give Bart?k absolute credit with making me seriously want to write music. My most inspirational pieces were Bart?k's string quartets and the "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta." Being a string player, it opened an amazing door for me. I felt at home in that room and therefore wanted to take part in making more music in that environment.



The funny thing is, the more I got into composition, being an extension of Bart?k was so natural to me that I began to shy away from it. It was just too easy to be Bart?k. I heard his music so strongly in my head, it was almost like I had been Bart?k You can hear "Windflower" and "The Pride of Baltimore" and they may show some Bart?kian influences but they are quite a ways away from the sound of Bart?k's music.



In regard to the compositional process, Beethoven has been my greatest teacher. His music displays such a conscious clarity of the musical mind, it's impossible to pick up a piece of Beethoven's music and not learn something.



Some of my other strong influences include the music of Palestrina, Byrd, Haydn, Mozart, Berlioz, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Vaughan-Williams and of course, Johann Sebastian Bach.

AAJ: Are labels such as "American composer" now rendered completely superfluous? Do you give any thought or preference to any type of label?

TP:I really do not. I am not involved with that state of mind, because for me...it's all music. I have experienced the incredible power that music has, in its ability to cross national boundaries. One of the elements I love so greatly is music's ability to unite humans rather than divide them.



You can't really say American Composer in a true sense, because all symphonic music has European origins. All of us, who write symphonic music in America, have been influenced by the European composers of the past. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by those European composers of the past. Many of them wrote beautiful music and have given great gifts of amazing sonic journeys, which never cease to provide inspiration and solid foundations for compositional thought of the future.

Terry Plumeri

For instance, one of my greatest influences was Dvorak, specifically his "New World Symphony." I played that piece in orchestra when I was sixteen years old. I still remember very well the night of playing that piece for the first time, in the University of South Florida community orchestra. It was also my first time playing in a symphony orchestra. The orchestra was probably playing out of tune like most community orchestras do and probably rhythmically ragged, but the experience of being in the middle of that music with everyone else and feeling the unified forward motion of all the musicians was an incredible experience for me. I came away from that rehearsal a changed individual. Up until that time I was very serious about being an architect. After that initial experience with orchestra, I immediately became dedicated to having a life with symphonic music. Today, I am deeply grateful for having been shown by Dvorak, the door to a world which has given me so much love and beauty.

AAJ: For someone just discovering your body of work, which is a piece you recommend they start with?

TP: I don't know, it is hard to say. "Windflower" is one of those pieces that seems to work for everyone. It is probably one of the most accessible pieces I have ever written, because it was written for my mother and I truly wanted her to enjoy it.

And there is Sarah Watkins, who plays so beautifully on that recording {"Windflower"}. She gives it that thing that every composer dreams of, and that is to have a soloist who takes their ideas and makes them sing with real beauty and elegance.

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Film Scores

AAJ: You have scored fifty five films; style and subject wise, of amazing diversity. What dictates which projects you will work on?

TP: Being hired does, but you can also become known for a certain style or genre which you might be more inclined towards. There was a time when I got into a niche of crime stories and action films, so I did a good bit of that. But I've done Disney channel films and things of that sort, which I really enjoyed working on. Sometimes kids' films are more fun to do in the sense that you walk away at the end of the day, more lighthearted than you do when you are writing crash and burn. Crash and burn is a 24-hour a day tension that exists in your body. There always comes a time when that tension can really wear on you and can seriously take its toll, especially after you have been living it for weeks.

AAJ: Do you have a set way in which you approach working on a score or does it vary from film to film?

TP: It varies a little, but I do have a basic way of going about it. No matter what the genre, I initially try to view the film as much as possible. Sometimes I even watch the entire film in the fast forward mode, several times. Due to the limited amount of time there usually is to compose a film score, this gives you fairly quickly, an in-depth view of the story. Usually, upon repeated viewings of the visual journey, music will begin to play in my head without actually sitting to compose. Sometimes what plays in my head is clichÈ'—©d, sometimes it's original, but at the least, it's at this point I know that I am beginning to live in the story and that I am ready to sit down and begin the long and complex journey of giving the film it's vibrational and psychological underpinning. Beyond this, it is usually long hours of being alone, trying desperately to force out your very best while the clock is ticking...way too fast.



But then there comes the day when the inner torture is over and you stand in front of the orchestra, give the downbeat and suddenly, there in the external world, is all your inner thoughts and dreams of the past weeks. And for that moment and the moments to follow, you are deep in the privileged world of musical magic.

AAJ: It would seem that a scene would be far shorter that a non-song piece. Do you get in the mindset of thinking to compose in a sort of clipped fashion or do you just rely on editing a longer piece to match up certain aspects of a composition to fit a scene?

TP: I always write specifically for each scene and it is mathematically timed. The mathematics is done with absolute precision, to the tenth of a second. I rarely edit music to fit to a scene.

AAJ: A lot of the more recent film scores do not seem to hold up on their own when not accompanied by the cinematic images. Do you think about this when composing for film and what you will do?

TP: I always do...and it makes your job tougher and more complex. I am old school like that. I come from Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann and Alex North. They all wrote music which stood on its own and simultaneously worked well with the picture.



That was a great time for film music in the sense that it was common for the music to be used as an additional character in the film. Nowadays, quite often the music is used as a carpet to walk, talk and display violence over.



One of the beautiful elements of Alfred Hitchcock's filmmaking was that he periodically gave the music its own moment, treating it as if it were a character in the film. Which is a great thing psychologically, because music has much more of an in-depth mystery and activates the imagination much greater than any visual ever will.

AAJ: You did the film score for One False Move (1991), for which received an Independent Spirit Awards nomination for best score. How closely did you work with the director?

TP: Some directors come around more, some come around less. Carl Franklin was a director who came around a good bit. It was our first time working together and he wanted to see what was going on with the music in his film. When film music is done well, it is very powerful and has an ability to seriously alter the psychological underpinning of a film. So a director is wise to keep an eye on what is coloring the psychology of his film. As the composer, you are essentially in that position of displaying what you are using, and agreeing or disagreeing on whatever it is you are choosing to use as accompaniment to the visual. I have been very lucky in general, in that I have had very few disagreements about what I have chosen to use in the films I have been hired to write music for.

Terry PlumeriAAJ: In general, do you prefer your score work to be almost a collaboration with the director?

TP: It works both ways because some of the best scores I have ever written were for directors who had no sense whatsoever what the music was about. So they basically left me alone. There is a lot more freedom to that style of working. I do very well with freedom.



On the other hand I have worked with directors who are more involved, like my work with Lou Diamond Phillips. Lou is great to work with in the sense that he's got ideas that will take you beyond where you are yourself. Even though he doesn't write music for orchestra, he has very nice ideas about what the music can be, but at the same time he is not overbearing about his wants. The great thing about working with Lou is his ability to suggest doorways into other rooms without clamping down on you.



In working with Lou I have written music which I would not have written ordinarily, which came out quite good, because he stretched the boundaries with his in-depth understanding of the film itself, and what his desires were in terms of the sonic environment.



One thing you have to remember is, when you're doing a film score and you work with a director, the director has already been there for six or nine months, or maybe a year or sometimes two years. So, you can't come in and think that you know everything about the film, even though you may be more experienced than the director. I have written the music to fifty-five movies and I may work with a director who has done two movies. So obviously, I have much more extensive experience in putting sound to visuals than a director who has done two films. But at the same time, I have to be very understanding and empathetic to this individual who has spent much more time with the story than I have. The balance of both sides can sometimes bring about a greater score than I would have written by myself.

AAJ: Do you find with your score work there are certain combinations of instrumentation you prefer to use or avoid?

TP:It depends completely upon the project. A good example is [Francis Ford] Coppola's The Cotton Club (1984) . It is set in the 1920s. So how could you actually write music for that film without having a sense of what the music of the day was, the dance styles, the instruments which were common, the type of orchestration used in the bands, the style of the beat and so on? An awareness of those elements and many, many more is absolutely necessary in being accurate to what the sound environment was of the period.



The same thing is true if you are accompanying a film shot in Afghanistan. If you don't make any kind of implication or addition of ethnic instruments that are organic to that specific place on earth, then you have not created an accurate sound environment to accompany the visual. If you end up with a score that is like Little House On The Prairie, which is kind of [Aaron] Coplandesque in a sense, or The Red Pony, which Copland wrote himself. If you have that type of music with an Afghanistan visual, then your soundscape is going to come across as inaccurate or not convincing, as opposed to a score which incorporates ethnic instruments which are indigenous to the area.



The ultimate criteria is, do you accept it or do you doubt it? And when you accept you may not even think about it at all. You don't go "oh they did this or that." As the viewer, you just accept it. When you accept that you are in Kabul, Bombay, Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles or New York without thinking, then it works. But when you say to yourself, "What's that?" It's like your bullshit meter suddenly goes into the red and you question it. You are immediately pulled out of the fantasy, and the beauty of your escape into a foreign land has been ruined because the moviemaker's technique is faulty. You've had that experience happen before I'm sure, probably more times than you would like.

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Jazz

AAJ: You have worked with some heavy hitters from the jazz world—Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones and many others. Were these collaborative in nature or were you a sideman?

TP: They were as a sideman except for my experience with Herbie. Herbie was gracious enough to play on my very first jazz album [1971's He Who Lives in Many Places]. I will always be grateful to him for appreciating my work enough to agree to do that. The album came out great.



There was an unusual chemistry among the musicians who played on that recording and Herbie's presence was certainly a treat for all of us.

AAJ:How long after your classical studies was it before you got involved with jazz?

Terry PlumeriTP: I was always involved in both styles of music simultaneously. Trumpet was my first instrument at the age of ten. I began playing acoustic bass when I was sixteen years old. Right away I was playing jazz and also playing electric bass in rhythm and blues bands, as well as playing in symphony orchestra.

AAJ: For playing jazz, do you find you must be in a different mindset than your score work or classical projects?

TP: It is a very different mindset. Writing music is like meditation on an idea. You could spend ten years in a room all by yourself, writing one minute of music if you so choose. The beauty of jazz is the spontaneity of it and the fact that you are in a situation where you can't really contrive anything. You have to take what comes out of the moment. So the beauty of the two working together is: the more time you spend composing, the higher quality your spontaneous improvisations are. And the more improvisation you do, the more spontaneous and less contrived your compositions sound.



What I began to realize, after years of working as a writer, was the more I wrote, the better my improvisations were. The more you improvise the better your writing is because when you improvise you are always exploring. You're finding new rooms, new avenues and you are developing and extending your vocabulary. The result of which is, when you sit down to meditate on an idea, generally your ideas are better for having experienced the research you achieve in improvisation. So, even though you may spend ten days writing one minute of music or a year writing twenty minutes of music, generally speaking it always comes out better because of your time spent as an improviser.



"The Pride of Baltimore" is a good example; there is a storage unit with about two times more music than what ended up in the score of the "The Pride of Baltimore."

AAJ: Will you use any of that for another project or in your mind is it too connected with "The Pride of Baltimore?"

TP:It's too connected. It ended up being material that I chose not to use. Once you begin to exercise the ideas, you say, "OK, this is too much" and "That's not enough" and "I want more of that" and "I don't care to use this at all," but "I do want to use this." Everyday there are hundreds of choices of notes to be used and ideas to be incorporated or left behind.

AAJ: Blue in Green (2005) is a trio date you recorded with David Goldblatt on piano and Joe La Barbera on drums. How did you decide upon the trio format?

TP: It's something that I have been doing since I was sixteen years old, bowing melodies to tunes and soloing on the bow. It's only because of getting lost in a room for 25 years writing film scores, that my bowed bass work has not been more exposed to the public.



Why bow a solo on the bass? My first influence on the bass was Paul Chambers. Paul educated me to the possibility of expression on the bass with both pizzicato and arco. I began to lean towards an arco style as a solo expression because I liked the sound of the bow and because you can sustain a note the way a voice or horn would sustain a note. Also, one of the other attractive elements about the bass is, the mid-to-upper register of the instrument is right in my vocal range. So the bass is a naturally placed extension of my voice. And it is a singing act that I do when I am bowing the instrument, with my voice being translated through the sound of the bass. It is a great thing to have the facility to sing like a voice where your general function on the instrument is more like that of a pitched drum. In utilizing both arco and pizzicato, you have two completely different instrumental colors and methods of expressing your musicality.



Bowing the instrument with a swing feel is not the most natural thing to do. One of the deterrents is the physical difficulty of playing in the upper register of the instrument and playing in tune. The other deterrent has to do with jazz being a percussive music, and the bowed bass is not so percussive by nature. Pizzicato is percussive, it's a very drum like action when you strike the string. Playing piano is a struck motion. The drums are struck, the tenor saxophone is struck by rhythmic tapping of the keys, and also there is a percussiveness with the tongue. Same thing with the trumpet, but if you think about the bowed bass, it's a drawn action that has no percussive quality unless you articulate every note.



From the beginning, I was always dreaming of being able express myself in a more legato and vocal style of phrasing, one in which I choose not to articulate each note with a separate bow. But in chasing this style of expression, there quickly became an evident problem, and that was playing a succession of notes without changing the bow became much more difficult in terms of achieving the percussiveness the music required.

Terry PlumeriAAJ: Is it something in playing in this style that you are restricted to playing only with musicians you have played with before or can you play with any jazz musicians and be in great sympathy with each other?

TP: No I can play with any musician and do it as long as the musician is sensitive to accompanying the bass. The bass has a recessed and transparent sound and is easy to cover. So as a bass soloist, you need to play with musicians who are sensitive to the delicacy of the instrument, and can play dynamics which support the bass rather than cover it. Joe La Barbera and David Goldblatt are two such musicians who always have a sense of just how far to go in support of the bass. With them, I never find myself stressing to hear myself over the drums or piano, nor does the supportive activity reach a point of overwhelming the solo voice of the bass. The result is I am immediately in the music and not spending energy just trying to accomplish the basics of hearing oneself or trying to find a place for my voice in the middle of a barrage of accompaniment.

AAJ: On the album with Herbie Hancock, did you do the same thing?

TP: No, it was more composition and less bowing because I was just beginning to get going at the bowing in a way which was comfortable for me. There's another album from that period with John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner. Those albums show a growth of the bowing because the one with Herbie was recorded in '71, and the other with John, Ralph, Marc Copland and Michael Smith was recorded in '76.

AAJ: The one with Ralph Towner, was that before the group Oregon?

TP: No. Oregon was in existence at that time. It was just that Ralph and John were playing duo on a regular basis at that time and Ralph was in town at the same time we were recording this album. So, I wrote a piece for strings and two guitars with rhythm section. The personnel was Michael Smith on drums, myself on bass, John on electric guitar, Ralph on acoustic guitar and a string quintet made up of members of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

AAJ: How long has the trio with David and Joe played together?

TP: David Goldblatt and I met playing with Wayne Shorter in Los Angeles, probably something like eighteen years ago. There was an immediate chemistry, and so we have played together off and on ever since. Joe, David and I have played together for roughly five or six years now.

AAJ: Did you do much rehearsing before recording or did you prefer complete spontaneity?

TP: I wanted to do a standards album to show that the bass was capable, within the traditional context, of bowing the heads of standard tunes and then soloing on them in a bowed fashion, without putting the listener through a painful experience. The result is, Blue In Green is a notable showcase of what the bass is capable of as a bowed instrument in the context of mainstream jazz. I say this as a student of the bass rather than as an egotist.



Other than adhering to the desired concept of the trio, there was no rehearsing whatsoever. Because musicians know me as someone who stands in front of a ninety piece orchestra, having written all the music and so forth, naturally when I go to the studio to record a trio album, I get asked "What are we gonna do here?" and I say, "Well, we are just going to play." We never said anything about we have to do this or that. The common goal was to present the bass as the lead voice in a trio context. Beyond that, we just played.



At one point, I remember asking David, "What do you think about a bit of an intro here before the bass enters?" That was the extent of what was said and nothing more. So the album is very much a composite effort of all three musicians. All three musicians interacting in the way they felt most comfortable, with hardly any direction whatsoever. We are just all there as three voices, which is the beauty of working with those two musicians. We sit down to play and magic begins to happen.

AAJ: The album's program is made up of standards. What dictated which pieces you chose?

TP: I chose the tunes because the physicality of bowing the bass is such that you need to have tunes that lay well on the instrument. Tunes that have large intervallic leaps don't work too well for the bass because they are awkward to play on the instrument. So I tend to choose tunes that have a quasi-vocal style of line. That is the way the tunes came about. I also lean towards moody type tunes because the instrumental color of the bass seems natural in that context. I must confess that I also, feel the most comfortable in that context.

AAJ: Will the trio tour at all?

Terry PlumeriTP: We have toured already and will be doing more in the future. There is a clip on YouTube of a portion of the performance at the East Coast Jazz Festival located here.



There's also a new album of the trio being released later this year.

AAJ: Overall, with all the hats you wear, do you have a preference to projects?

TP: I love playing in that trio, which is a serious treat. I also love conducting, especially my own pieces which is a very expressive act...to actually conduct your own compositions with a full symphony orchestra. The palette is so extensive. The palette in a trio is more restrictive, but the spontaneous interaction between the musicians is incredible and very rewarding. It's hard to say what my preference is. Each has its own reward and each has its own education. I have always lived both lives. They each have their own beauty the same way that being alone inside your mind has its beauty, as does conversation with another being.

AAJ: Do you have a dream project as yet unrealized?

TP: There are a number of them: One is to do more recording with the trio of David Goldblatt and Joe La Barbera, similar to the style displayed on the Blue In Green CD. Also to do a recording with the Moscow Philharmonic strings and the trio, which as you can imagine, would be quite a nice combination.



In addition, I have a number of original works which have not yet been recorded, so I would love to be able to record those.



On May 16th [2008], there is a concert in Moscow, which is being filmed for public television, with myself and the Moscow Philharmonic performing the "Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5," as well as my own compositions, "The Pride of Baltimore" and "Windflower."


Selected Discography


Plumeri/Moscow Philharmonic, Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 & 6 (GMMC, 2007)


Terry Plumeri, Blue In Green (GMMC, 2005)
Terry Plumeri, Nate & The Colonel (GMMC, 2004)
Plumeri/Moscow Philharmonic, Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6; Plumeri: Concerto for Bassoon & Orchestra (GMMC, 1997)
Plumeri/Moscow Philharmonic, Plumeri Conducts Plumeri (GMMC, 1995)
Terry Plumeri, Water Garden (1978, reissued GMMC, 2007)
Terry Plumeri, He Who Lives In Many Places (1976, reissued GMMC, 2006)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Terry Plumeri


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