Writings about Music

On Being Emulated

Michael Robinson (Sherman Oaks)

Makanda Ken McIntyre, who founded the first African American music program in America at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, recorded with Eric Dolphy, Archie Schepp and Cecil Taylor, and performed with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, once told a class I attended that if someone steals your music you shouldn't worry about it too much because eventually the truth of who created it will be revealed. I imagine this is so, but what that time frame might be is another question with varying possibilities.

Reggie Johnson, Makamba Ken McIntyre, unidentified percussionist

At the time Ken stated his opinion, it seemed a momentous and unforgettable declaration, making an indelible impression. Having a private improvisation lesson with McIntyre was also most memorable. He instilled in me how a musician, even if playing with others, most embody all the pertinent elements of music individually, something that now appears prophetic given the sole nature of my meruvina music creation and, very recently, my solo piano improvisations.

The first time I heard my music being emulated while watching a famous movie online a few years ago, I was incredulous - it ruined both the film and the evening. My music in question was Encanto Drive from the Ocean Avenue album. Distinguishing traits of Azure Rivers from the Viridian Seas album were also evident.

 

 

 

Sharing this with a close friend, she was completely skeptical initially, being an extremely practical and realistic individual, but after actually watching and listening was reduced to an extremely rare display of tears, distraught because she believed my music had truly been stolen. Similarly, a musician friend, also utterly practical and skeptical of wild claims, first stated it wasn't possible, but after a personal review was astonished to report it had actually occurred. I should mention that both these individuals have an extremely high level of musical intelligence and sensitivity. Subsequently, a prominent colleague in the music department of an esteemed university said it was at least "plausible" this had occurred.

A famous friend deeply embedded in the commercial music world, a domain I'm pretty much oblivious to, gave me the names of four music lawyers, and I added another referral received from another colleague, who all turned out to be among the pinnacle of their profession in America. They all took my calls immediately, which was very cool. After considerable back and forth over a period of time, the general consensus, with some notable exceptions, seemed to be that if my music was deliberately modeled, they were very careful to alter it enough to avoid infringement.

Since then, I noticed another movie that very much seemed to have emulated my music, if less emphatically this time, so there seemed to be no point in once again asking for expert opinions. My music in question here was Snow and Wood from the album of the same name.

 

Both films were very famous with numerous Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Nominations for the second referenced film included music, winning an award in another category.

In both instances, my original compositions and performances for meruvina, Encanto Drive, from the Ocean Avenue album, Azure Rivers from the Viridian Seas album, and Snow and Wood, from the album of the same name, are far superior artistically if less "commercial" than what may have been emulations. Encanto Drive is a 30 minute piece, Azure Rivers is 22 minutes long, and Snow and Wood is 7 minutes, all substantially longer and substantive than the possible emulations. These are fully notated compositions, of course, as are all my works for meruvina.

Please note how Encanto Drive, a contemplative and introspective piece with carefully modulated, building drama, follows the rhythmically charged title work, Ocean Avenue, and the album is intended to be heard in its entirety as a single, varied utterance.

In 1995, a friend who worked in computer technology, Donald Rose, revealed to me how he knew Herbie Hancock, and would be glad to give me the pianist's home phone, including mentioning his name when I called. Donald and I met when he attended one of my Beverly Hills Library concerts, exclaiming that Inspiration Point was one of the greatest compositions he had ever heard. Two of my favorite Herbie Hancock tracks have long been Right Off with Miles Davis, and Samba (Struttin') With Some Barbeque with Paul Desmond.

Sure enough, I ended up speaking to Herbie for at least an hour, and he invited me to send my new album, Hamoa, which was my third release, to his home. We had a smooth rapport, and I went so far as to invite Hancock to meet for coffee or lunch, too, feeling this would be even more meaningful than conversing on the phone, but Herbie said the first thing he would do when there was some extra time was actually sleep in his bed, confessing how he was falling asleep at the computer each night in the wee hours of the morning.

Michael Robinson and Lee Konitz (Manhattan)

After speaking with Hancock, it occurred to me how exciting it would be for him and Lee Konitz to record an album of duets. Phoning Lee, he enthused that Herbie Hancock was one of his personal favorites, and he was down with my concept. Next, I called Herbie back, and he revealed in kind with touching sincerity how Lee was one of his favorite musicians, but that's as far as it went for whatever reasons.

A few years later, I learned how Herbie released an album of duets with Wayne Shorter, so it seemed likely this concept originated with myself, if with another saxophonist, which is fine. I mean, all musicians and composers are inspired by each other all the time, including myself, with both concepts and more specific musical materials. What's key is how close or far that inspiration comes to what is inspired.

Ray Manzarek and Michael Robinson (Beverly Hills)

The wildest influence I ever heard was from my friend, Ray Manzarek, who said Break On Through To the Other Side by his band, the Doors, was inspired by the Stan Getz recording of the Girl From Ipanema!

It's too bad Lee and Herbie didn't record an album of duets, too, because that would have been out of this world. After all, Konitz did record what I've long felt is the greatest ballad performance in jazz history with pianist Michel Petrucianni in a duet setting.

Now, it appears I am developing a unique approach to jazz piano with the possibility of influencing others.

Charlie Colin, Irene Colin and Michael Robinson (Maui)

My dear friend, Charlie Colin, a leading trumpeter, brass teacher, and brass music publisher, who also published music by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, knowing them personally as well with riveting anecdotes, and whose students included Dizzy Gillespie among other luminaries, once surprised me by stating he believed others would be inspired by my musical innovations in the future.

In closing, my music industry friend has subsequently advised me, "I’m sure someone will try again to steal your property so please get the proper/knowledgeable attorney for protection." This I have done.

If emulation did occur, one might view it as an extreme compliment and affirmation for the originality and prana of my music, especially given how two of my favorite actors of all time star in one of the films.

Film music is something I've never pursued despite living here in Hollywood, but I have always felt that my music is perfect for those seeking distinctive sounds and moods, and might welcome working on a special project aligning with my sensibilities.

My composition teacher at CalArts, Mel Powell, who began his life in music playing piano with the Benny Goodman Orchestra at a tender age, and later inherited the Composition Chair at Yale from his teacher, Paul Hindemith, looked down on film music, considering it to be a compromise and comedown for those aspiring to be classical composers.

David Amram and Michael Robinson (Los Angeles)

Conversely, I greatly admire the art of film scoring being simply an alternative realm, and how it provides essential rasa and atmosphere for the ocular action. My friend, David Amram, enjoyed briefly this milieu, including scoring The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh, Splendor in the Grass with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, and The Arrangement with Kirk Douglas and Faye Dunaway. Then, with multitudes of monied offers pouring in, David listened to his heart and returned to pure music composition and performance, valuing time above all.

Shades of Tannhäuser...

- 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.