Writings about Music

Melody, Harmony and Computers

Stan Getz and Tony Williams

My Dad was in charge of the early giant computers for Equitable Life. They would sometimes phone him at 3 AM with a problem, and he could tell them what to do in a few seconds.

I was the last person in the world to get involved with computers, not being drawn to science or math, but was taken by how they could make music, something Reggie Johnson inspired me to pursue.

It was fantastic learning how John Lennon envisioned music whereby you just press a button and a synthesizer plays everything by itself, which is pretty much what my meruvina music is. Of course, there's a lot of preparation that goes into it, the goal being for the music to come alive.

While putting finishing touches on my initial article about Stan Getz, I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with his oldest daughter, Bev. It was so moving hearing how he would sing lullabies to her when she went to bed as a child.

The last time I spoke to Bev, I then visited the dry cleaner, and met a woman there whose name was Melody. And then she told me she had a boat named Harmony. So funny having this happen after speaking to the daughter of one of the great conquerors of melody and harmony!

Bev lives in Delaware Water Gap, and invited me to visit, reminding me of when I had an improvisation lesson with Phil Woods at his home there. I'll always remember the night Phil played Body and Soul with his alto hovering over the table in-between my date and I at a Manhattan jazz spot, the name of which eludes me, not being one of the more famous clubs. My sense is Woods was beguiled by her, an art major.

While writing my Stan Getz article, I also enjoyed speaking with his son, Steve Getz, who mentioned interactions with Herb Alpert. Herb produced one of Stan's finest albums, Apasionado.

Getz once humorously mentioned feeling lonely onstage when he performed music together with a computer at Stanford, sharing the platform with only four speakers.

John Chowning, who founded the computer music center at Stanford, was one of my teachers at Tanglewood. We subsequently corresponded by regular mail and email.

During my two-year appointment at UCLA for a recording project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, extended beyond the initial one-year hire, they had me confer with the Chair of Ethnomusicology, Tim Rice, about funding for a Mexican music project. I thought for a second, and recalled Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, suggesting they contact him. At the time, the CalArts Music Department was named after him. Some years later, so was the UCLA Music Department. I'm not sure if my suggestion is what led to that. Another suggestion I made to use a particular brand of CDR for the recording project was met with skepticism by a presiding professor who didn't believe anyone could tell the difference in audio quality until I scored 10 for 10 on a blindfold test.

Alpert has a fine restaurant in Bel Air named Vibrato, including live music. When I hear that word I think of Ben Webster, featured on one of the finest jazz albums ever, Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. This masterpiece was originally lent to me by, again, Reggie Johnson. "The Touch of Your Lips" is the unforgettable opening track, no doubt inspiring my inclusion on the Wonderful Schemes album, my piano improvisations presenting a personal vision of melody and harmony, as does my meruvina music, together representing two different manifestations of jazz, a musical form that became the predominant Western classical music of the time beginning around the middle of the past century.

Vibrato's decor seems to have been inspired by one of my favorite restaurants ever, Granita, which was situated in Malibu. At brunch there one weekend, we sat next to Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine, who are brother and sister, seeing and sometimes meeting film artists being part of living in Hollywood.

When my first album, Trembling Flowers, was released, I mailed a copy to MacLaine, knowing of her interest in music from the saintly Bodhi Tree bookstore on Melrose, sadly no longer there. She was very kind to send a thank you note.

It would be fascinating to hear Shirley's thoughts on the singing of Frank Sinatra, having appeared in film and on television together. Bev Getz told me her father wanted very much to record with Sinatra, his favorite jazz vocalist, but didn't actually contact him about that for some reason. Related, it's obvious how Stan's Getz/Gilberto album inspired one of Frank's finest efforts, the Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim album, released in the spring prior to the Summer of Love while married to Mia Farrow. What an education listening to the genesis of a momentous track through three takes in the video below.

Farrow's sister, Prudence, inspired one of the finest Beatles songs, Dear Prudence, composed in India during the winter following the Summer of Love, included on my upcoming piano improvisation release, Chance To Say.

You may have noticed how this article jumps around, but there's always a connecting thread pronounced or subtle similar to the way I compose and improvise music.

- Michael Robinson, July 2022, Los Angeles


© 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 177 albums include 151 albums for meruvina and 26 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.