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Ben Wolfe: The Freedom to Create

Stephen A. Smith By

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AAJ: How did you put the band together?

BW: Well, the tenor player, Ned Goold, we're like musical partners. We've been playing duets in living rooms since '85, playing all his music, all my music. We talk about music on the phone every day. We play together constantly. We played together with Harry Connick, Jr. He's someone I need to have. I couldn't make a record without him. I would hate to have to try. And the trumpet player, he's been playing with me, different gigs around town, since 1990. The drummer, his name's Ron Steen, he taught me how to play jazz, in Portland, Oregon. He would hire me, teach me. He was kind of like a mentor, like a big brother. The pianist, Steve Christofferson, he was a teacher of mine, also. Basically, I brought out Ned and Joe Magnarelli, and got musicians from Portland, who I have playing relationships with or that I grew up with. All the musicians, I know that way—which made it kind of fun. It was fun to put people on record that I've known since I first started playing.

AAJ: Where did the title Murray's Cadillac come from?

BW: A friend of mine I grew up with, in grade school, named Rick Murray. He was an interesting character. I still think about him sometimes. On his sixteenth birthday, his father gave him a Cadillac. We all used to ride around in his Cadillac—a whole bunch of us in the car, driving all over the place. I always tell my friends about this guy. You know, everyone has people they know from when they were kids, that they just remember. He was one of those kind of people. If he ever sees this, he'll know it's him. [Laughs.]

AAJ: You've mentioned that the idea of film scoring is a strong influence on your music.

BW: Oh, definitely. That's something I'd love to do. But in a jazz context. I've always been attracted to that sound, like the low piano kind of stuff, like Jerry Goldsmith, "Planet of the Apes," and Bernard Herrmann. And also, as silly as it may sound, even the music on some of those '70s TV shows, like "Barnaby Jones." Some of those shows have great music. I just like the sound. It's hard to describe; it's just a certain kind of sound. Also, I think it'd be a real challenge. It'd give me an opportunity to write a lot of different types of stuff, within a jazz style. I think it'd be a lot of fun. I love the sound of music coming through the speakers in a theater. For some reason I've always wanted to do it. So I just started writing music for my CDs as if it were a film, in a way. In a lot of ways, I've put records together that way. I think of it as if you were seeing a play. I try to have some connection between the pieces, and how it goes together, as if it were connected to something else. It's hard to explain, really.

AAJ: What would be some of the differences in approach to film scoring, as opposed to just writing a tune?

BW: You'd have to consider if, say, they're showing someone walking down the street, you'd think in terms of that. And if, in the next scene, they're going to have someone doing something totally different, the music would have to reflect that. So you have to actually consider what the music's supposed to represent. So there are different considerations, versus just...writing. I like that. I kind of think in those terms, as if it's for a person, or even a mood of some kind. I like writing that way, where it's attached to something. Or even two opposing things; I do that a lot, too. I write things that have different meanings—that maybe the listener wouldn't notice, but I use that as a way of writing. It gives the music a certain sound. For instance, there's a tune on the record called "Ursula," which is kind of like a sequel to "Ursula's Dance" from "13 Sketches." It's the same system of writing, where it starts off with what sounds like the melody, and then in the next section of the tune another part comes in that actually is the melody. The first thing was a counter-melody, so there are two melodies, and you don't know which one the actual melody is; so it's like a dance with two themes. It's like a duality. If I think that way, it makes me write a little differently, versus just playing a chord and humming a melody—which I do also.

AAJ: How do you break into something like film scoring?

BW: You know what, I would love to know the answer to that question. [Laughs.] And the way I want to do it is even more difficult. A lot of those guys, they tell them what they want. I would like someone to hire me to write my music for their film. It's a different thing. I don't know if people even do that. I'm sure I could start with doing an independent film, not making any money. There's so many independent films, and they never use jazz in them. I always think it would sound so great if they did. Like those Quentin Tarantino films. I'd love to do something with him. If you had to say, "Name someone whom you'd like to write for," it would be someone like him. That style of movie, "film noir," that kind of stuff. I love that sound, of detective movies, that minor-major-seventh chord all the time...I love that.

I'm just dying to do it. I feel that I can do it. It's not just that I want to do it. I really feel like I can bring something to it; and I think it would bring something to me, also. Who knows where it will lead me? I tend to desire to do things, musically; and once I end up doing them, they're different than I imagined.


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