Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Conversation with the Late Doug Riley - 1988

Music scenes are the creation of players with great ability and draw power. I’m sorting through stored cassettes and recall with nostalgia and sadness the names passing between my fingers; pause and reflect on the moment I interviewed. The big six band leaders and community organizers are all there – Moe Koffman, saxophonist/flutes – gone since 2001, Doug Riley, keyboards – 2007, Jeff Healey, vocalist/guitar – 2008, Rob McConnell, arranger/trombone - 2010, Jim Galloway, saxophone/TD Jazz - 2014 and Archie Alleyne, drummer - 2015.

Noise keeps a community alive. All six made big noise. Rooms were packed, international artists dropped in; there was always a buzz. Those days are far behind with the closure of music venues, a fractured music scene and the lack of engaging bigger-than-life personalities. There was always apprehension musicians bred in classrooms would be short on life experiences, favor blandness over edgy, and fail to build a following. It seems those predictions are playing out in real time in the jazz scene.

With that in mind, I thought I’d revisit an interview from 1988 at CIUT 89.5 with one of Canada’s and certainly Toronto’s most revered and celebrated musicians. Galloway and McConnell took some shots from detractors; Riley, took no bullets or heat. It was always a lovefest!

BK:  You seem to have a firm footing in all idioms of music.  Is this what stimulates you?

Doug:  Yes, it does.  It helps me in all aspects of my writing – film, scoring, commercials, or the various recording artists I work with.  I try to touch as many bases as possible.

BK:  What would a normal work day consist of?

Doug:  A normal workday begins with me waking up, which can be the most difficult task of the day.  I usually go to my office around 10:30 a.m.  Once there, I examine my mail, review any video cassettes that have come in and then decide on what I want to work on that day.  I always try to write for three or four hours.  If I’m going into the studio that day or the following day, I prepare myself for whatever is happening recording wise.

My day is usually a combination of things, but much of it is dealing with priorities and focusing on which projects require the most attention immediately.  Also, setting myself up for whatever sessions I may have that week.  I often have to book contractors, orchestrate, arrange, and get the music off to the copyist.  I try to prepare for sessions with three hours of homework for every hour spent in the studio.

BK:  I remember you took a sabbatical from doing commercial work.  Has that ended?

Doug:  I’m doing a lot of commercial work now.  It’s lucrative and I find it very challenging.  Every project is different.

BK:  Your Company is called Dr. Music.  Is this the same title used by your band in the ‘70s?
Doug:  I actually had that name, Dr. Music, before the band came into existence.  It was when we were touring and recording that the band adopted the name.  I left the name in limbo but when I formed the new jingle company, I decided to use it because many people associated Dr. Music with me.
BK:  What motivates you to take on a project?

Doug:  Apart from the financial end, I think the script and the concept make the difference.  If' it’s a recording project, obviously, the artist and the material make a big difference.  If it’s a film there are a lot of different things.  A film takes a lot of time to score properly, spot it and go through all of its various aspects.

BK:  Do you choose which films you score?

Doug:  I have turned films down, but there are not that many to pick and choose from.  I wait for the right one to come along before I commit myself to the project just because of the amount of time a film project takes.

As far as writing chamber music, or so-called “serious music”, those kinds of projects come along in the form of grants, either Canada Council or Ontario Arts Council grants.  They are, for the most part, commissioned by artists or conductors of orchestras.  Again, it’s a major commitment.  I wrote a piano concerto for Elyakim Taussig and Mario Bernardi, for the National Arts Orchestra, which basically took six months of my free time to compose.

BK:  How do you maintain a balance between the various projects you’re involved with?
Doug:  You have to be very selective.  Otherwise, some projects that are peripheral prior to taking on a major commitment would automatically go by the wayside.

BK:  You received your Bachelor of music, in composition, at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto in 1967, and then completed half of your master’s degree in ethnomusicology.  Is there a certain period or culture that interests you most?

Doug:  I was particularly interested in Canadian Native music and I spent two summers living on Iroquois reservations, collecting and transcribing music in the field.  I am also very interested in the music of Java Bala because of the Gamelon Orchestra techniques.  I’ve incorporated a lot of their orchestral techniques in the modern music I write.

BK:  Have you collected any artifacts along the way?

Doug:  Yes, most of them are with the university in the faculty of Music, and all of my transcripts are in the National Archives in Ottawa, but I have some items I collected when I was on the Iroquois reservation’; water drums, turtle rattles, mating flutes.  These are all authentic items, not the kind purchased in souvenir shops.

BK:  In what period of your life were you involved in this research?

Doug:  This was while I was a student in my last year as an undergraduate and during my post graduate year.  My professor felt I was equipped to handle something like this so he procured a Canada Council grant for me, which meant it was a commissioned project.  I’ve always been interested in ethnic music of any kind.

BK:  when did your interest in rhythm and blues surface, and what was the first group you worked with.

Doug:  I can’t remember not liking R’n’B.  The natural evolution, I’m not sure which comes first, whether the blues and jazz influences came out of R’n’B or R’n’B influences came around as a result of the blues and jazz.

I guess my first major influence in R’n’B was Ray Charles.  Later, I ended up arranging an album for him called Ray Charles – Doing His Thing.

BK:  When was this out?

Doug:  1969

BK:  What styles of music were on the lp?

Doug:  Jazz and R’n’B compositions plus a couple of ballads backed by a big band consisting of four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, a rhythm section and a full 16 piece string section.  There was a lot of leeway to do pretty much what we wanted.

BK:  There are a lot of gospel influences in your playing.  Many of the radio and TV commercials of the ‘60s and ‘70s were rooted in this tradition and much of what was heard can be attributed to you.
Doug:  My father played a lot of Mahalia Jackson in the house and, of course, Ray’s influence was always a present.
BK:  Did you listen closely and try to absorb the spiritual feel of the music?

Doug:  I used to play along with Mahalia’s records.  At the time, I wasn’t thinking about how this would be useful later but, as it turned out, that kind of playing fits remarkably well into R’n’B settings.  People like Billy Preston brought it to the forefront.

I was also involved with Tommy Ambrose in a series of shows called Celebration, on CTV.  Every week we would have gospel guests from the U.S.; a lot from the bible Belt.  We had a cookin’ gospel band with a choir of eight which had to adapt to each artist.  Boy was that fun.

BK:  The pianist Bill Evans played an important role in your musical development.

Doug:  During my late teens he became a major influence in my life because of his musical way of thinking.  It was much more introspective than the gospel, R’n’B thing, which is based more on feel and high level musically.  It consists of very complicated structures with rhythms within rhythms.
He’s always fascinated me with his complete control of the instrument.  Technically, he could do about anything.  His playing was influenced by the classical composers:  Ravel, Scriabin and Chopin.  Evans certainly affected my playing, there’s no question about it.

Bill and I also became close friends and we spent a lot of time together.  He’d stay at my house on many of his trips to Toronto.  He always told me not to copy, because it could be the worst thing for me to do.  What I did get from him, in terms of melodic and harmonic conceptions, I tried to apply to my own style of playing.

BK:  Were you and Shawne Jackson in the house band at the original Blue Note Night Club?

Doug:  Yes, The Silhouettes.  It was a band that I had when I was 16 years old.  When the original house band, The regents, left the Blue Note, saxophonist Steve Kennedy stayed on and Al Steiner called me while I was playing at The Peppermint Lounge on Bay Street and we brought our own band in.  Steve joined the band, along with Diane Brooks as a vocalist.  We were there for three years so Shawne used to come and sit in with the band and perform in the floor show.  Later, she came in as a soloist with a band called The Rogues.  That was Domenic Troiano and Whitey Glan.  This was The Blue Note, on Yonge and Walton, just south of Gerrard.

BK:  That was quite a hotspot...

Doug:  It was unbelievable.  Everybody who came into town like The Band, Jesse Davis, Junior Walker and the All-stars would come to The Blue Note after their performance to jam.  Stevie wonder would drop by, and the Supremes, Jimmy Reed and all of the blues legends.  It was the best education you could ever get.  We backed most of these greats.

BK:   Where would they be performing?

Doug:  The Colonial, Le Coq D’Or, the Zanzibar, the Edison Hotel, the Brass Rail.  On our breaks we’d go listen to them play.  We’d play until 3 a.m. so they’d have an opportunity to loosen up after their engagements.  No alcohol, just coffee.  I was only 16 years old then.

BK:  What were the most impressive performances you can remember from those days?

Doug: There’s three I’ve got to mention that come to mind immediately.  One was Miles Davis with Jack DeJohnette on drums, Chick Corea on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Wayne shorter on tenor.  Weather Report was another and the other one was the Bill Evan trio with Marty Morrell on drums and Eddie Gomez on bass.  Bill’s thinking is more melodic and harmonic.

BK:  Did you catch Bill Evans’ last performance here? 

Doug:  Yes, I did.  Marty wasn’t playing with him then; Pat’s brother, Joe LaBarbera was.  Marty was sitting with me at the table and said, “This is the best I’ve ever heard Bill play.”

BK:  Were the Blue Note years also the beginning of your recording experience?

Doug:  Yes, this is when I first started in the studio.  Ben McPeek gave me my first job in the studio and I remember how scared I was.  I went in all the hot players in town were on the session; Moe Koffman, Guido Basso, Rob McConnell and Ron Pullen was playing drums.  I was just shaking.  They wanted me to lay an organ solo in the track and I can remember trying to control my hand long enough to play a solo.  When I had finished, all of these guys came up and congratulated me.  After that I was called for other sessions.

BK:  When was Dr. Music formed?

Doug:  In 1971.  I was approached by Allan Blythe and Chris Beard to put together a background, on camera, choral group for the summer replacement of The Andy Williams Show, which was hosted by Ray Stevens.  The show was called Who is Ray Stevens.  Ray had quite a few novelty hits, but not many people knew his name.

For thirteen weeks I was the choral director.  The group consisted of musicians from the Blue Note and from the original production of Hair, which I was also involved in.  That’s where the singers came from, four guys and four girls.  They sounded so great together that we started getting asked to perform on other shows:  The Barbara McNair show and Kenny Rogers and The First Edition’s Show, Rolling on the River, and the very early pilot series of Music Machine, with Moe Koffman as musical director.

Then we were offered a recording contract from GRT Records and along with that, requests for concerts.  We put a band together with four rhythm players, four horns and eight singers.  When it came time to determine the name, it was suggested we use the name of my company at the time, Dr. Music.

BK:  You had a few hits from the first lp, which consisted of a rich blend of harmonic and melodic textures.

Doug:  Steve Kennedy’s tune, Road to Love, interested Bell Records in the States.  They were the company who were successful with the Fifth Dimension, so we signed with Bell.  Actually, Sun Goes By became a hit south of the border.  Rosalie Tremblay got it off the ground in Windsor and it took off in Detroit.  She was so strong in radio that on the second album I took it to her, and when she didn’t like one of the mixes, I went back and remixed it.

BK:  Do you have any plans to record a new jazz lp soon?

Doug:  I have had plans for the last four years to do something.  The closest I’ve come is a duet thing I did with the flutist, Jeremy Steig.  We’ve recorded the whole thing but I haven’t secured a label.  It’s just flute and piano.  He came up from New York and we recorded in my house with my Hindeburg Steinway.  We had all the equipment set up.  It was done on reel to reel through a Fostex eight track board.

BK:  You’re playing on the soon to be released Brass Connection album.

Doug:  It was fascinating because Doc Hamilton brought in trombone players from all over the place to appear as guest soloists.  Ian MacDougall flew in from Vancouver, Carl Fontana and Bill Watrous came up from L.A., and Bill Holman arranged two of the charts.  I think it’s going to be a benchmark album.

BK:  Do you enjoy composing for dance and is this a complicated process? 

Doug:  I like writing for dance and movement, or something that has theater involvement.  It is even more satisfying than working in film because it’s in your imagination, rather than viewing frames of film going by.  Working with a good choreographer, as I did on two ballets, is a very exciting and creative process.  It’s time-consuming and very complicated.  The movement has to be choreographed as the music is written.  Each segment of the music has to relate to a place in the ballet.  We would have preproduction meetings that would last for hours as the choreographer relates what he sees and how the story unfolds.  Then, I would go away and write the music as I conceived it.  After this, we would get together again and begin working on the movement.

The second ballet we did was based on a string quartet.  I had written and was composed in three movements.  This was called sessions for Six or Sessions for Twelve, depending on the number of dancers to be used.  This became a piece that the National Ballet performed on tour in Europe.  The music was already written, but Rob Icove came up with the idea that in between each movement of the string quartet we would have a completely different band, So I wrote three rock movements which were played by rock musicians in between the string pieces.  The string quartet was a twelve-tone sound which added stark contrast to the rock, but I’m more interested in doing a solo piano album now.  I’m presently writing music for it, and it will be jazz.  It’s fairly atonal type music but with melodies.

No comments:

Post a Comment