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Vince Mendoza: Streams of Influence Flowing into a River of Sound

Victor L. Schermer By

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Vince Mendoza is a jazz composer, arranger, and conductor of consummate originality, skill, and adaptability, so much so that he has for several decades received frequent invitations and commissions from the whole gamut of ensembles and performers like the WDR Big Band, the Metropole Orkest in the Netherlands, the Los Angeles and Berlin Philharmonic, and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. He has written and arranged for jazz icons like the late great saxophonist Michael Brecker and pianist Fred Hersch, and legendary singers like Sting, Joni Mitchell and most recently Luciana Souza on her new recording Storytellers (Sunnyside, 2020). His music reflects many different influences, and when you listen to it, you can hear these brooks and streams of influence flowing together into an ever-changing river of sounds that stimulate and sometimes surprise performers and audiences alike.

What the following interview with him suggests is that Mendoza does not simply write great charts in a standard reproduceable format as did for example, Neal Hefti for the Count Basie band, Billy Strayhorn for Duke Ellington, or Bob Brookmeyer for the Vanguard Monday Night Orchestra. Rather, he starts with a melodic idea, a feeling, and/or an improvisation and lets a full composition evolve from it in an organic way that integrates musical ideas and influences, feelings, and personality with the ensemble and soloists who will perform it. His compositions are never complete until they are actually performed, which of course is the essence of jazz. This approach to jazz writing is appearing more and more among various larger ensembles (it has always been there for smaller groups), and Mendoza is at the forefront of such a development. It takes someone with big ears, a big heart, and an open mind to go in this direction, and Mendoza has all three.

All About Jazz senior contributor Vic Schermer wanted to speak with Mendoza to explore his personal perceptions, experiences, and views of his music. He arranged a coast-to-coast call from Philadelphia to Mendoza at his home in Los Angeles. The interview took place at the beginnings of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., and the conversation may bear the mark of a time in our lives when, among other things, we were all wondering what was going to happen next.

All About Jazz: For a warmup, the infamous desert island question. What would be a few of those recordings that you would take to the desert island?

Beginnings and Developments

Vince Mendoza: I became interested in music at a very early age, and those things have influenced everything I like and the way that I think. Right now, I find myself thinking about those early influences. I knew early on that I wanted to have my life in music, so my choices would probably reflect a cross-section of those beginnings. That might include Karajan's recording of the Bach Magnificat, as well as Igor Stravinsky's Mass. Even earlier was the recording that was given to me when I was a 14 year old trumpet player, which was Miles Davis' Four and More (Columbia, 1966), with that amazing quintet with George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. As a young trumpet player who was just starting out and learning the mechanics of the trumpet, I was mostly listening to classical music, studying the rudiments of the brass instruments. But having a teacher say, "Check this out," while handing me a book of jazz etudes to practice, pretty much changed my point of view. Miles Davis' Four was very different from anything I ever heard before. An early Henry Mancini record, Mancini '67 (Columbia, 1967), also made light go on for me. The trumpet player on that album was Jack Sheldon, the West Coast trumpet genius. His manner of playing was quite different than Miles. Jack's playing was about singing, but Miles' playing on Four was about painting, and being in that moment of experimentation. That quintet really took the music to another place.

AAJ: At that point, were you intending to be a trumpet player, or had you already got interested in composing and arranging?

VM: I was writing at the time, but I was mainly a trumpet player, and I also played the guitar and piano. But most of my musical experience at the time was with the trumpet. At that time, I dreamt about being a studio trumpet player in NY or LA.

AAJ: The great composer and arranger Quincy Jones started out as a trumpet player. Johnny Mandel was a trombonist. Like you, they started out on an instrument. I'm curious as to what makes someone move into composing and arranging as opposed to continuing on as an instrumentalist.

VM: Right. A lot of composers were trumpet players like myself. For me, I think it had to do with the difficult challenges of the instrument, and hearing someone else do it a lot better than you! But I was also writing music and improvising from a very young age and found that writing music was far more satisfying than enduring the challenges of playing a brass instrument. When I was in middle school and high school, I was given the opportunity to write for ensembles. My band director in high school, Lee Bash, was really into Frank Zappa, Don Ellis, and Jimmy Hendrix, whose music often was supplemented with strings, double guitars, two bass players, two drummers, and woodwind doublings.

Bash chose me as his student to adapt the music to the instrumentation of our band. I loved the feeling of being able to sit down and write something, and bring it to a group of musicians and hear it come to life.

AAJ: In the wonderful YouTube videos of you with the WDR Big Band and with the Metropole Orkest, you can see the special rapport that you have with the musicians. And it really feels like you are writing specifically for them, and it always reflects their personalities and approaches. Would I be correct in thinking that you don't just write generically for any band, but for a specific group of musicians?

VM: That's correct. Jazz is unique in that respect. As a jazz composer, we are constantly writing from the perspective of the player. That's always on my mind when I am writing: who is going to play this, where does their improvisation fit into it, how can I adapt the structures of my composition to accommodate the ones who are playing my music? That's unique to jazz. Classical composers tend to work from their vision or a pre-determined story or text, and the performance generally has to yield to that vision. To me, the performers are an integral part of the process of composing improvisational music.

AAJ: That fits with the feeling of jazz musicians being part of a family.

VM: Exactly. It's a very social art form. A composer can't take themself out of the community of players, even if your instrument is a pencil.

AAJ: I hear echoes of so many different musical influences in your pieces. Were there any special influences on your writing early on?

VM: Early on, it was Johannes Brahms for his lyricism and in particular for me, the way that he wrote string music. Stravinsky was huge influence early on. His music changed the way I thought about structure, harmony, and counterpoint. And then, of course, there was JS Bach, and how the perfection and inspiration of his music affected me from the very beginning. Alban Berg was important for me, because he never lost the sense of lyricism even while pushing the boundaries of harmony and structure.

AAJ: Berg's Violin Concerto is a good example of lyricism within a modern musical language.

VM: Right! That piece just gets you to the very center of my soul.

AAJ: Your Homecoming album (Jazzline, 2017) has Latin styles and references. When I listen to "Choros #3," for example, I find myself thinking about Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasilieras. Were you influenced by him?

VM: Not specifically by that piece, but yes, I was influenced in a limited way by Villa-Lobos. He wrote a bunch of the guitar music that I studied at an early age. For me, it wasn't so much the lyricism, but the harmonies that he chose, and the shapes of the melodies that he wrote that were appealing to me. And his use of intervals, at least from the guitar music, are different from Rodrigo, Lauro and the other composers for guitar that I was studying at the time. And V-L's use of African rhythms through the Brazilian lens is a bridge to jazz as well.

Villa-Lobos also wrote some Choros for the guitar, and I was very attracted to them, but I didn't really know what a choro was until I was older and started really studying Brazilian music! And of course I learned a lot more about Brazilian music as a part of the new recording with Luciana Souza, Storytellers, which includes my "Choros #3." It brings together what I experienced when I was young with Brazilian music into where I am now. Now I might consider writing #1 and #2!

Mendoza's Approach to Composing and Arranging

AAJ: I am impressed that so much of your music swings, and yet you bring in musical ideas from so many diverse sources, that it goes beyond swing into other many other spheres. You have so many ways of structuring the music at your disposal.

VM: Structure is what we think about as composers, along with shapes, rhythm, density and color, which are the important elements to integrate into our music. These days, I am way into structure and how I can make it more fluid, to the point where you can't tell the difference between what was improvised and what was composed.

AAJ: You have suggested elsewhere that you like to start a composition by improvising. How do you go about bridging the gap between composition and improvisation? What is your process?

VM: I start out improvising because I want a composition to come from within. I want it to be a visceral experience. I want to feel something. For my students, I made a stack of cards with the names of different emotions on them. And if I want them to have something to write music about, I have them choose an emotion from the stack and compose something around that emotion. We must start from a particular feeling. Our improvisation may not yield something that's formally perfect, but when we look at what we've done, there will be some aspects that yield the particular emotion that we've selected. And from that, we'll start working on the structure, and how we are going to paint that emotion. And I want the structure to include aspects of improvisation and a chance for an instrumentalist in the band to tell his or her chapter of the story. I don't want to be so stuck in a pre-ordained structure that I can't stretch things if I want to.

AAJ: So when you are conducting one of your pieces, will you let the improviser go his own way and take more than one chorus?

VM: Absolutely. however, if I feel their improvisation is affecting the narrative as a whole, and telling another story rather than the one I am telling, I allow myself as a conductor to be open to such possibilities and adjust to them.

AAJ: So, in effect, you haven't finished the composition until you've performed it.

VM: And theoretically the next time I play it, it could be different. But I'm not sure if I would take it that far. To be honest, the way that I've operated over the years is that I mostly make recordings, which gives it a certain finality. If I were to tour with the same music, I imagine that with repeated performances I would want it to morph into something else. I could see that something I've written could change in its structure as a result of it being played over and over again.

AAJ: That's a wonderful way to approach composing for jazz. It's such a living, organic process that brings the composer into a creative interaction with the musicians. Have you ever done such a tour where you could alter the piece as you go along?'

VM: In a limited way, I do something like that when I'm a guest conductor for various large ensembles, but not in an extended tour situation. For big bands, tours are less economically feasible than in the past. With smaller groups such as a quintet or a sextet, there are more opportunities for me to make changes to the music and say, for example, that "this section needs to be longer," or "let's start here rather than at the beginning," or "let's put the beginning at the end." I could reorganize the structure to make it more alive. I think that happens more with a smaller group just for practical reasons. One commonly doesn't stand in front of a small jazz group to conduct it!

AAJ: Although it's rare, sometimes you can! Anthony Branker in Princeton formed a quintet called Dialogic (Origin, 2011). He was a revered trumpet player until he developed an illness and had to give up playing. He turned to composing and arranging for a small jazz group of carefully selected musicians who were very experienced and flexible. He wrote arrangements which suggested improvisational interplays between composed parts and solos. When he performed them, he wouldn't conduct, but sit unobtrusively to one side and convey his intentions through various gestures to the group more like a composer than a conductor. It made for some very exciting performances.

VM: I do see that there are a lot of younger groups that are doing something like that. But it requires just the right conditions to accomplish. There's a spectrum where on one end you have the composer with complete control of the music and on the other end, you have just a few written remarks from the composer and the rest is improvised. I'd like to operate somewhere in between in a way that is practical and feels right to me.

AAJ: Over the course of your career, you have been very productive and engaged in a wide variety of projects from the WDR Big Band to arranging for Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now; Travelogue, Nonesuch, 2000, 2002), Bjork, and Sting. If you look back, do you think there has been a trajectory or path of development over the decades, or do you just go wherever the spirit moves for various reasons?

VM: I think there has been a development over time. As you probably know, over the years I've been doing a lot of arranging, working in different styles with various artists. And recently, I've been getting back into composing my own music again. For example, I'm so happy with the recording that came out last year with the Temple University group and Terrell Stafford (Love, A Beautiful Force, BCM&D Records, 2019). Being able to sit and write an orchestral commission is heaven as it allows me to get back to my own ideas about shape, structure, and energy. Thinking back to my earlier recordings Start Here< (World Pacific, 1990) and Instructions Inside (Manhattan Records, 1991), that is all I thought about in those days. So, I'm getting back into the concerns or a composer, thinking more about my view of the elasticity of structure and to more often change my language of expression, and so on. I want to push my harmonic language and my melodic language into areas beyond my comfort zone. That's something I hope that I will always be doing. It's part of the fabric of being a jazz composer and musician, that we always have to be pushing ourselves, coming up with new ideas, absorbed in the music that we hear, making new friends in our community who can help us to mold new structures.

AAJ: In a way, you're suggesting that over the course of your career, you've developed new compositional structures, and that's been significant part of your evolution as a composer.

VM: Yes, and our experience working with jazz musicians teaches us what they need. Regardless of the format: orchestra, big band, string quartet, you start learning what the musicians need to fully express themselves. I talk about that a lot with my students with regard to orchestration. It's not really about getting the book out to find the ranges of the instruments. It's about considering where the instrument sounds good, what the players like to do with the instrument, where they can be the most expressive. That could also be where the soloists sound the best. I might ask them, "When you are composing do you have Michael Brecker in your head, or do you have John Coltrane in your head, or Miles? And when you're writing, what kind of a sound do you want the musicians to use?" The answer to those questions changes over extended periods of time, as you experience more players, hear different things, work with various musicians, and acquire lots of experience. And as a result of such experience, the music actually changes dramatically.

AAJ: Yes. Often, the styles of the musicians themselves evolve over time, as it did for Miles over the course of the years, from bebop all the way to fusion. Similarly, your evolution as a composer/arranger both influences and is affected by your colleague's development over time. So you don't write the same way for Michael Brecker as you would, say, for Joe Lovano.

Composing with Musicians in Mind: Musical Empathy

VM: That's right. I always heard Michael's sound in my head when I wrote for him. Same with Joe. They played so beautifully on my recording Epiphany (Zebra, 1999) both with such individual approaches to playing melodies and improvisations. But in general, if a piece doesn't work with a particular player's sound, I'd have to think of the sounds of other players. It's the same with an orchestra: you have to get the right sound of the French horn, the violin, etc. It's important to have the sound in your head when you're writing.

AAJ: But if you get someone like Brecker or Coltrane, each has such a distinct personality and way of expressing himself, wouldn't your tendency to be just to give them room to do their thing, rather than write it in the score? At the same time, would you be trying to put things in the score that stimulate and facilitate and even challenge their playing?

VM: I can't speak to Coltrane. My experience with Michael was that he was open to playing all different kinds of music, and he would lend his voice to it because he wanted to be part of the experience. A dream scenario for a composer, if you ask me. But when you write for a particular musician, you must know what their sound is going to be like when they perform your work and how they're going to interpret it. Of course, they're always going to give you a performance that's a million times better than you can imagine. But having their distinct sound in your head is the first step in bridging the gap between your idea and what you're going to bring to the player whom you respect and have them run with it.

AAJ: One could call it "musical empathy." It's as if you are putting yourself in the musician's place, becoming what they might become as they play the score, feeling and thinking what they are feeling and thinking. Your music flows from your connection to the player.

VM: Ideally so, yes. It's a different exercise perhaps than a classical composer thinking of the sounds of shattering glass or the sounds of asteroids in the cosmos: some image, poem, concept, etc. I would think of the players, say Michael, or Miles, Wayne Shorter, or Tony Williams—as they can provide the sonic frame of reference for me in my work.

AAJ: The emphasis on the performers in jazz, then, is very different from classical composition, where any fine musician up to the task can play the piece. For you, as a jazz composer/arranger, the piece is written with specific players in mind, or in the case of Joni Mitchell,, a singer with a very distinct musical personality.

VM: With Joni we're diving into a whole new territory, because you're now talking about working with lyrics which provide a narrative that is an additional element to the music, in Joni's case, main element. We're now talking about someone telling a story, so they'll give you a line of poetry or a description of an image or a character, and the arranger's job is either to prepare the listener for it, or to guide the listener to a feeling for what the lyric means. In that respect, I'm not talking so much about Joni Mitchell's voice, which is of course etched in our consciousness, but phrases of the lyrics about, for example, the rough beast of the apocalypse in "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," or "they paved paradise," or simply, "I've seen life from both sides now," the poetry rules the day. And if you understand that and are empathetic towards the words, then everything else falls into place.

AAJ: That is also true of classical song cycles, like those of Ned Rorem and Samuel Barber.

VM: ...or any composer that resonates with the core meaning of a text. For every song on those Joni records, Larry Klein and I had a stylistic point of departure, relating to composers from Strauss or Brahms to Gordon Jenkins, or ask, "what would Gil Evans do with this lyric?" That would be the beginning of the process, but in the end it really about what Joni wanted, which was word painting. Not in a specific way, but in what Joni felt the meaning of the text should be.

AAJ: I believe that at some point in your other interviews, you refer to such writing as a "tone poem."

VM: Exactly. A tone poem with words.

Creative Freedom

AAJ: Both speaking with you now and when listening to your music, I'm awestruck by the creativity and imagination involved in the way that you work. There are so many sources and ways of making music that you draw from, and you feel free to express yourself and trust yourself to put it all together. I think that sort of creative freedom begins in childhood, as a kid might bang on some pots and pans, or make a drawing on a blank sheet of paper. Some parents facilitate the child's creative development and others stifle it. I wonder if there was something in your childhood that allowed you to have that freedom.

VM: When I was a really young boy, when I wasn't listening to the radio, I spent a lot of time improvising on the piano, making up tunes and experimenting with chords. I don't recall whether I had any real technique at the beginning. We always encouraged our son when he started playing the piano, to improvise and have his technique further inform his improvisations. Now, improvising at will is a natural thing for him.

AAJ: My hunch is that your parents didn't force you to take lessons!

VM: They did strongly encourage it, but I think they saw that I loved playing music and that I did it all the time, and that everything I did was focused through the lens of "when can I play next." My mother was a pianist, and we used to get together and play from her fakebooks, and that's where I learned the American Songbook. So that experience informed my work as well. Of course, I had many incredible teachers along the way that shaped the way I learn and think about music.

AAJ: Perhaps your rapport with your mother set the stage for your subsequent rapport with the musicians who participate in your compositions and arrangements.

VM: Absolutely.

AAJ: It sounds like your mother welcomed what you did spontaneously, rather than force you into a mold.

VM: That's right. My parents saw that I loved music, which is just what I hope to see in my son, and in my students; that their love of music will transcend any difficulties they encounter, whether they're logistical or artistic. Because we do have challenges in everything, and if you really push yourself, sometimes you'll ask yourself "why am I doing this," or "why don't I just play this easier chord instead." But you reach for possibilities because you love it. Even the practice is part of a worthwhile process.

Personal Life and Some Reflections

AAJ: Could you tell us a bit about what your life is like when you're off the grid?

VM: Well, my wife and I have been married for an amazing twenty-five years and we have a wonderfully talented 21 year old son. Originally, I'm from Connecticut. I did my under graduate work at Ohio State University (OSU). OSU was a great place to be as a young musician. There were a lot of legendary musicians there at the time. Those were the days of Hank Marr the organist, Rusty Bryant the saxophonist, the keyboardist Bobby Floyd. There was a scene there, and a couple of good recording studios. OSU was a very large school, and we had small but talented music program, so I was writing non-stop while I was there. It was a great training ground for me as a writer and trumpet player with a lot of beautiful people and great musicians there. It made me ready for a life in music. I had my own big band there at the time, and when I graduated, I had a pretty large book that I took to L.A. In 1983 I went to USC (in Los Angeles) as a graduate student in Composition. I met a lot of great musicians in L.A. keeping my big band band together. In those early days in L.A. I also got a lot of experience in the studios, writing and orchestrating television scores, jingles, and so on. In fact, I got my first job in L.A. from Doc Severinsen at the Tonight Show.

AAJ: Speaking of your days at Ohio State, Fred Hersch is from Ohio, and you did a great recording with him and the WDR Big Band fairly recently (Begin Again, Palmetto, 2018). Did the Ohio connection come up at all when you were working on that album together?

VM: Not so much. He's from the Cincinnati area, and by the time I got to OSU in Columbus, he was already in New York.

AAJ: How did you get to know Fred and become interested in working with him?

VM: I got to know Fred when I got the commission from the West German Radio Band, the WDR Big Band in Köln, with whom I have worked for decades now. They wanted Fred to do a project with the band, and we thought to do a recording and then have him come back and do some concerts. So, over the course of six months of preparation for the recording, Fred and I got to know each other, and we talked about music and life, and we became friends. During that time, I wrote the arrangements, and then we met in the studios in Köln . All of my arrangements were of Fred's original compositions.

AAJ: Like you, Fred has a very imaginative creative force, and he is always inventing new ways of doing things.

VM: Yes, he does. His sense of lyricism is felt in his tunes, the way he plays, and even in the way that he makes recordings. I really enjoyed the times that we spent together because we got to talk about so much music and art in depth.

AAJ: I wish I could have been the fly on the wall to hear those conversations!

VM: It was a great gift to talk with Fred about so many things that were important to us, especially as a break from the hectic process of making a record. And the one great thing about Fred, is that his life is inextricable from his voice as a player. When you hear his touch and the way that he plays his music, it's so unique to him. It's rare to find someone like him for whom the way he approaches his instrument and the way he improvises over the changes reflects who he is at the deepest level.

AAJ: And like you, he is very tuned in to the musicians he works with. He's very empathetic. To shift the topic a bit, here's a question I ask in all my interviews. John Coltrane said that music is his spirit. For him, I think he meant that it expresses his relationship to a higher Being, which of course is manifest in A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1965). I do think that music can express our deepest convictions and the meaning of our lives. Do you have an approach to living and a sense of what life is all about that underlies how you live your life and create the music?

VM: Certainly, music is one of the gifts we have to express our humanity. And it's been given to us by the Creator, much in the same way that we see a great poem or painting that moves us. The Creator is in everything, and I want to think that that's where the music comes from. That is a big part of the music from Nights on Earth (Horizontal, 2011). Its about gratitude for my life, my wife, my son, family, friends, nature, everything.

AAJ: So, do you feel connected to someone or something that is beyond you or greater than you?

VM: I don't think we can help but to think that. That something might or might not have the structure that some people think it might, and as I get older, I realize more and more that I don't really know.

AAJ: Sonny Rollins once told me that he experienced a lot of his music as if it were coming from a source other than himself.

VM: Yes, it has to be that way. I don't get that feeling so much when I'm in the writing process, as much as I feel that way when I hear it coming together in performance. Then I'm thinking that this is a moment designed by the Heavens, and I have a sense of wonder about how it all happened. But it's the same feeling you get when you look at a flower or a tree. And you think that way when you look at a person! So, I think music is another one of those signs that all this is given to us to embrace our humanity and acknowledge the Creator in everything.

AAJ: That's beautiful. So, Vince, what are you doing these days, and what do you project for yourself in the future, especially when this coronavirus pandemic is over?

VM: Well, notwithstanding current events of the pandemic, we musicians are so focused on the human-to-human aspect of our performances. Currently, going out on the road is precluded, and that is so injurious for musicians and their livelihood. But we continue to think about what we have coming up and what we want to do. At this point, I'm finishing a recording with Melody Gardot. It's a beautiful recording produced by Larry Klein. There are quite a few of her new songs on it. They're all beautiful, strong, and have great depth. It is my second project with her, the first being My One and Only Thrill (Verve 2009).

AAJ: Gardot is from my home city of Philadelphia, and I've heard and reviewed her more than once in live performances in addition to her recordings. She is phenomenal.

VM: On the other side of things, I'm finishing up an orchestral recording with the Czech National Symphony, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Derrick Hodge, and some surprise guests. The project began with a commission for orchestra, a five movement concerto that we recorded last July. I also wrote a trumpet concertino that's also on the recording. And the last piece is for soprano voice and orchestra with a text from the poet Rilke from the Book of Hours. We did the orchestral recording two weeks ago, before the borders shut down. And at some point, we'll add the soprano, and a surprise guest for the concerto. So, we're finishing all that up and hoping it will come out in the fall.

In addition, I'm continuing to work with the Metropole Orkest as its conductor laureate doing a commissioned piece. And I have some projects with the WDR Band as the Composer in Residence coming up. I have some touring in Italy scheduled for the spring of next year. And I have some recording projects coming up. Basically, I'm trying to balance off my activity as a composer with active work with other musicians.

AAJ: It all sounds like you have a very complete and fulfilling musical life.

VM: I'm very grateful for my life. I've been able to so many things that I've always wanted to do and have a life doing what I love. It's a great gift.

AAJ: I'm just now thinking of two other current composers/arrangers who in their own way, share your creative and deeply committed approach. They are Alan Broadbent and Daniel Schnyder. Are you acquainted with them?

VM: Of course! They're both super-talented. Alan is a superb writer and also a wonderful pianist. I met him when he was with Charlie Haden's Quartet West in the 1980s. And Daniel Schnyder is great, too. I see him on the more classical side of things, like Derek Bermel,, who was nominated for a Grammy award this year. He has a great feel for the language of Jazz while using classical orchestrations. And I conducted some of Daniel Schnyder's music with the Metropole Okest. He's a great saxophonist too.

Thoughts for Aspiring Composers/Arrangers

AAJ: My concluding question is about the younger generation of aspiring jazz musicians. There are a great number of them coming up today, very talented and enthusiastic, attending conservatory, acquiring a great deal of knowledge through the internet, great mentoring with top jazz players, but then feeling insecure about what to do after they graduate. Among them are those who, like yourself, want to compose and arrange music. What guidance would you like to offer them? What are your thoughts about their musical development and how they can have a successful career?

VM: One of the lessons I learned from Joe Zawinul early on was to not think so much about what everybody else was doing! Just concentrate on what your vision is and what you want your music to be. But for me, the encouraging thing about our younger musicians is that they give and receive so much support now with their peers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, even in the smaller cities. These young musicians love to get together, play, experiment, and create. So, I think it is a lot easier for a young composer who is part of that scene to get people together.

I see a lot of that in Los Angeles now. The younger writers are getting their friends together to experiment with their music, record things, put bands together, go out on tour. I think about the way that jazz started, like Duke Ellington's band in the 1920s, how it started as a smaller group and morphed into an incredible vision which manifested itself as a miracle of humanity and expression. That can happen on a smaller scale with a younger writer, and I see how they get together, do what they hear, and let it unfold. I love going to those gigs here in town where they are just going for it and trying stuff. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, you think, OK, this could be a new thing!

Quite a few young writers like Darcy James Argue, and Miho Hazama, have their own amazing bands, loyal groups of musicians who understand their music. And to the extent that new works are written, their groups can step in and make it come to fruition for them. It makes it easier to tour and record, and there's a continuum of musicians who understand the composer's work. I would say to the younger writer, wherever you are, try to find your community and make a scene! Create a scene of people who will understand your point of view and step into your stories.

I think the way that music is going to be made in the future has to take into account that the constructs we've been using for the last twenty or thirty years don't exist anymore. The only things you really have are your ideas and your community. Even now, as I have a lot of time behind me as an accomplished musician, when I go put my composer hat on, all I have are my ideas and my community.

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