For my 20th birthday my great aunt gave me five bucks. I bought Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth. It was over my head at first, but eventually I transcribed "Stolen Moments" the great jazz standard he wrote for that album and used it in my classes. I knew Oliver. I first met him at the very first jazz festival I took my Ohio State Band to in 1964. He approached me and asked to see one of the pieces I had written. I got out the score, and he critiqued it for me. He loved some of it and was critical of other parts of it. Two years later he borrowed some of my ideas for the opening of one of his "Sound Pieces." He was also a judge when we won in Miami in 1967. Bill Fowler brought him out to Utah on several occasions. I got drunk with Oliver once. I was barfing in his toilet, and he kept asking, "Are you okay, man?" And I performed with him at least twice at the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was director of the All-Star High School Jazz Band. He even called me up from time to time. The last time he did that he told me that his hand was rejecting the pencil. He was working too hard writing music for The Six Million Dollar Man TV show. His condition didn't sound good. I moved to LA in September 1975, and he died suddenly the next month. I always wondered if Oliver would have been able to open some doors for me. He certainly seemed to appreciate my talent. I have always treasured the times I got to spend with that very creative man.
Other inspirational composers
Gerald Wilson rhythmically. He gets down and dirty. Those albums he did in the 1960's for Pacific Jazz. We just saw him at IAJE, and he remembered my Ohio State band from the Notre Dame Jazz Festival. Gil Evans for the colors, the tension, the clusters. Those albums he did with Miles Davis. Johnny Mandel-the album Pearls with David Sanborn, about 1993. Sanborn gets a wonderful sound with that orchestra behind him. Mozart for his cleanliness, melodies, and integrity. Every note is right.
Cannonball Adderley for his earthiness and swing. Phil Woodsyou can hear the Parker in him, but I'm not much of a Parker fan the way I am with Cannonball and Phil. Gene Ammons-I transcribed his "My Romance" solo [ Boss Tenor , 1960] and learned it. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis for his fire, energy, and command. The Basie Band would be playing. It was so wonderful itself, but Lockjaw would notch it up a couple of degrees when he soloed. Miles Davis took me a while to get next to. Kind of Blue opened a new door after bebop, and I tell my students at the Mancini Institute to buy it. Bitches Brew didn't have the immediacy for me.
The Henry Mancini Institute (HMI)
It's for four weeks in the summer. They take over the music building at UCLA. Jack Elliot started it, and when he died Patrick Williams became the artistic director. Last year they auditioned 500 students from all over the world. They pick an orchestra of 77, and they pick seven composers. There's a big band within the orchestra. All they have to do is get themselves to Los Angeles. Everything is scholarshipped. They work really hard for four weeks, and they do a lot of performances. I teach beginning and intermediate improv. These students at HMI are all at a very high level. Because they're orchestrally trained for the most part they don't know much about jazz. It's amazing how fast they can progress. I give them ideas about scales and what notes to emphasize and tell them it's okay to make mistakes. My class this year was seven of the eight legit winds, five French horns, a tuba, and a harp. Because I have Sibelius now the instrumentation doesn't matter. I can write lead sheets for whatever I want to do. (They're mostly modal tunes.) Last year I had almost all string players.
Inspiring musicians to play at their best/conducting
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.