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--- Mar 24 1999 Go to category
Subject: Composing Process
Category: General Questions
From: Jazz Online (sf,ca)

Being a longtime fan of your music, I sense a heightened level of group empathy when I listen to live and studio sessions. I know that this comes from playing and being together for a long time, and the related question I have to ask is this:

What's your process of putting together orchestrated songs from the time they're conceived (playing melodies and chords at home, in a hotel room, or wherever), to the time the group gets together and expresses them completely. Do you communicate your ideas to the group through home-studio tapes, modems, faxed charts, etc., and/or do you bring everybody together for a month or so and rehearse until you go on the road or into the studio?

Pat’s Answer:

generally, what i do is to put together a tape of things that i think set the direction for what i want the group to do for a certain project. this is one part of what my "job" is of being the leader. on this tape is usually stuff that is me playing live guitar along with the synclavier sequencer, doing rough simulations of the basic melodies or grooves that i have in mind and have accumulated. there are usually 30 to 40 "things" on the tape that may range from a 2 bar drum groove looped with me noodling over the top to almost finished compositions that are fully orchestrated,and everything else in between. one of the things i love most about the "modern world" is the way you can make a "mock up" quickly and easily of new tunes using the synclav or sequencers, etc. then i listen to the tape about a thousand times over and over again to make sure i like the feel of the whole thing. when i think i might sort of like some of it, i send it to the guys to see if they sort of like it too. of course, the most important reaction will be lyles', cause he'll be the one who often will be most involved in actually helping me get the final thing written and as you all know, he'll sometimes actually go ahead and co-write with me on something if he has a strong reaction to hearing something he really digs. then, assuming that we all agree that there's something cool there to work on, we start to work on really finishing up things. this process is usually hard but fun. lyle and i almost never sit there together and "write". we kind of play what we've got over and over and discuss what we DON"T have yet that we need, then kind of go off on our own and write it and then compare notes again. this process recently is often "produced" by our bass player, steve rodby, who provides us with a kind of "adult supervision" thing, keeping me from saying that everything we've done sucks and we should all kill ourselves and keeping lyle from obsessing on whether the retrograde inversion of the third four bars would be functionally interesting if super-imposed over the final 3 bar phrase as triplets etc. steve keeps us moving. by this time, lyle has also usually come up with some things on his own too and we work on those as well. when we finally get the tunes written, i've usually tried to go out on the road and play 'em for a while before we record. this was true with all the group records until this last one. we did rehearse for some days before the recording but basically we figured it out as we went along. i don't really recommend this, but for us it was cool cause we have played together so much that we sort of knew that it would all work.

once the record is done, then comes the tour. we don't really rehearse that much, usually a week before the first gig is enough. the music evolves along the way. at the end of the week we spend a few days in "production" rehearsal which is more for the sound and lighting guys than us. then on the road for a year or so! that's the funnest part, at least for me.