Writings about Music

With Three Teachers: Steve Reich, Zakir Hussain & Lee Konitz

Above is one of the postcards Steve Reich sent to Michael Robinson while serving as a mentor having the utterly transforming effect of convincing Robinson to move to NYC.

Glad to notice how I'm joined by three of my teachers on The 100 Best Recordings of 2019, including my Spirit Lady album, curated by author and music historian Ted Gioia. These are Steve Reich, Zakir Hussain and Lee Konitz. Konitz is actually featured on a second list of 100 Honorable Mentions.

The full list of recordings is included lower on this page, a direct link now accessible @ Ted Gioia's The Honest Broker substack blog.



Most who know me or know of me are perhaps most familiar with my relationship to Lee Konitz, who I studied jazz improvisation with following my freshman year of college. At the end of that summer, my father asked Lee in person point blank what my future prospects were for a life in music, and Konitz simply replied directly and succinctly as is his nature: "He's going to make it." At the time, when Dad related Lee's reply to me very seriously and movingly, this affirmation from a legendary musician, I recall feeling astonished that Konitz would make such a pronouncement, but Dad did put him on the spot, those two extremely serious and intelligent people, both about as no-nonsense as you can get. I've rarely thought about that moment since, but now it is a fond memory.

After meeting Leonard Altman when he was the Director of the New York State Council on the Arts Music Division, he took a special interest in my musical life, showing tremendous enthusiasm, including inviting me to study at Tanglewood, and later asking me whom I would like to have as a compositional mentor. My choice was Karlheinz Stockhausen, but Leonard replied that I had managed to come up with perhaps the only composer who was out of his or anyone else's reach. Altman then decided on his own that Steve Reich would be a good fit for me. Sure enough, Reich acquiesced to Altman's request, and even though he preferred never to meet in person - for this reason there is no photo of us together having never met to this day - the postcards we communicated with proved to be absolutely transformative towards developing my life as a composer. We did not get off to an auspicious start when Steve sent back some oversized scores I initially mailed to him, stating they took up too much space in his Manhattan apartment, suggesting I photocopy them to smaller dimensions.

These were the same oversized scores I carried the year before in a giant red suitcase after accepting an invitation to meet with John Cage, and when he opened his front door to greet me, John appeared astonished perhaps wondering if the suitcase meant I was intending to move in! And he was even more surprised by how unusual my music was, observing that it didn't coincide with Stravinsky or Schoenberg (or himself). After this extended afternoon meeting of roughly three hours, Cage always responded to subsequent letters I sent with mailed telegrams.


Michael Robinson and Zakir Hussain earlier in the evening of a memorable midnight interview.


When I was given a chance by editor Jack Bishop to select anything I wished to write about for the esteemed Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology published by the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department, founded by yet another important teacher, Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, I immediately sensed this was an opportunity to have a music lesson with tabla great Zakir Hussian because I could simply approach such a lesson in the form of an interview. That is precisely what happened, and our interview was even featured on the cover. Having spent countless hours studying Zakir's recordings helped prepare me for our encounter. This exchange remains a treasure trove of information enjoyed by many, including being used by Carnegie Hall publications and classes at UC Berkeley.


Michael Robinson and Lee Konitz celebrating Lee's 92nd birthday in his Manhattan apartment last October.


From what I can tell at first glance, I am the only artist on this list using the Meruvina, or any other approach similar in conception. One astute observer, Alejandro Cohen, noted how Frank Zappa came to favor this method even though our respective music is worlds apart. Simultaneously, if in ancillary fashion, I am exploring piano improvisations, playing a traditional instrument in a traditional manner if not contentwise. It's just that I feel differently how to go about music composition.

Here is the complete list of recordings, including albums by my teachers Steve Reich and Zakir Hussain. As mentioned, the Lee Konitz album is on a second list of 100 Honorable Mentions not included here.


The 100 Best Albums of 2019


All styles, all genres

Below is my list of the 100 best recordings of 2019 (all styles, all genres).

This list is in alphabetical order. 

John Luther Adams   

Become Desert   

Ecological Orchestral Soundscapes

Laurie Anderson / Tenzin Choegyal / Jesse Paris Smith

Songs from the Bardo           

Musical and Textual Evocation of 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Areni Agbabian         


Genre-Crossing Music for Voice, Piano and Percussion Influenced by Armenian Folk and Sacred Songs

Melissa Aldana          


Jazz Saxophony

Laurie Antonioli         

The Constant Passage of Time        

Jazz Vocal Interpretations of Singer-Songwriter Classics

Christian aTunde Adjuah     

Ancestral Recall         

Traditional and Futuristic Diaspora Soundscapes with Trumpet


Homecoming: The Live Album         

Contemporary R&B/Pop Meets a Marching Band

Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian         

When Will the Blues Leaves            

Previously Unreleased Live Jazz Trio Recording from 1999

Blue Heron/Scott Metcalfe  

Johannes Ockeghem: Complete Songs, Vol. 1

Neglected Love Songs from Flemish Renaissance Liturgical Composer

Richard Bonynge/Victorian Opera  

Alfred Cellier: Dorothy         

Forgotten Gilbert & Sullivan-esque Operetta That Was a Huge Hit in the 1880s

Liz Brasher     

Painted Image           

Modern Memphis Soul-Pop Music


Walkie Talkie

Disco from the Future

Jeffrey Brooks            

The Passion   

Contemporary Classical Music with a Psychedelic Rock Ambiance

James Carter  

James Carter Organ Trio: Live from Newport Jazz

Groove Jazz

Brìghde Chaimbeul   

The Reeling    

Contemporary Scottish Bagpipe Soundscapes with Noir/Gothic Flavoring

Chicago Sinfonietta/Mei-Ann Chen            

Project W: Works by Diverse Women Composers

Orchestral Music

Ivan Conti      

Poison Fruit   

First Album in 20 Years from a Pioneer of 'Samba Doido' ('Crazy Samba')

Chick Corea (with Christian McBride and Brian Blade)   

Trilogy 2         

Jazz Piano Trio

Cosey Fanni Tutti      


Techno with Touches of Cornet and Road Vehicles

Theon Cross   


Tuba-Driven Dance Jazz from London

Cucina Povera           


Songs Made by Finnish Sound Collage Artist With Tascam Zoom Recorder and Loop Pedal

Colin Currie & Steve Reich   

Live at Fondation Louis Vuitton       


Daisy the Great          

I'm Not Getting Any Taller   

Acoustic Punk Pop (Spiced with Folk Music) for Two Voices

Lana Del Rey  

Norman Fucking Rockwell    

Pop Singer-Songwriter

Jeremy Denk  


Pianist Surveys 700 Years of Music in 100 Minutes

Arrington de Dionyso           

Shouting Over Deep Water Blues

Avant-Garde Horn Music Played on Homemade Instruments by a Man in a Boat off the Coast of Sweden

Dolphin Midwives     

Liminal Garden          

Fractured, Floating Music for Harp, Voice and Electronics

Carolina Eyck and Eversines           


Transcendent Alternative Pop for Theremin and Voice

Billie Eilish     

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Alt Pop Singer-Songwriter

Peter Eldridge (with Kenny Werner)           


Jazz Vocals with Strings

Kelly Finnigan           

The Tales People Tell           

Old School Soul

Flying Lotus   


Soulful NuJazz with Elements of Chillout and R&B

Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan


Jazz Guitar and Bass Duets

Ricardo Gallén           

Leo Brouwer: Guitar Sonatas  

Contemporary Classical Guitar Works by Cuban Composer

Antón García Abril (composer), Hilary Hahn (performer)           

6 Partitas by Antón García Abril      

Contemporary Music for Solo Violin

Stan Getz        

Getz at the Gate         

Previously Unreleased Live Jazz Recording from 1961

Rhiannon Giddens    

There is No Other     


Pasquale Grasso        

Solo: Standards, Vol. 1          

Virtuosic Solo Jazz Guitar

Johnny Griffin & Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis     

Ow! Live at The Penthouse

Previously Unreleased Live Recording of a Titantic Tenor Sax Battle from 1962

Iro Haarla       

Around Again – The Music of Carla Bley    

Jazz Trio Intrpretations of Compositions by Carla Bley



Afrofuturist EDM Constructed from Saharan Folk Songs (Nomadic Herding Ballads, Caravan Songs, Wedding Chants, etc.)

Brian Harnetty          

Shawnee, Ohio           

Sonic Ethnography of a Small Town in Ohio Presented Via a Sound Collage of Archival Interviews and Chamber Music

John Hartford            

Backroads, Rivers & Memories: The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford

Previously Unreleased 1960s Tracks from a Folk Music Legend

Claire Hastings          

Those Who Roam      

Scottish Singing Storyteller

Miho Hazama

Dancer in Nowhere   

Contemporary Big Band Music

Fred Hersch (with the WDR Big Band)      

Begin Again    


Laurence Hobgood    


Popular Songs Reimagined for Jazz Trio and String Quartet

John Dee Holeman    

Last Pair of Shoes      

90-Year-Old Piedmont Blues Guitarist Plays Juke Joint Music

Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter

Good Hope


Jimmy "Duck" Holmes          

Cypress Grove           

The Last of the Authentic Bentonia, Mississippi Blues Musicians

Bruce Hornsby          

Absolute Zero            

Rock (With a Dose of Jazz and Electronica)

Shahbaz Hussain and Helen Anahita Wilson         


Tabla/Keyboard Duets

Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram            


Modern Mississippi Blues

Ahmad Jamal


Solo Jazz Piano

Yves Jarvis     

The Same but by Different Means  

Folk Noir with Tender R&B Flourishes

Jatayu Chango


Carnatic Funk from Chennai

John Jeter/Fort Smith Symphony   

Florence Beatrice Price: Symphonies 1 & 4           

Premiere Recording of Symphony by a Pionnering African-American Female Composer

Hobo Johnson            

The Fall of Hobo Johnson     


Ahmed Ag Kaedy      

Akaline Kidal             

Tuareg Singer-Songwriter form Northern Mali Performs in Stripped-Down Solo Guitar Setting

Kayhan Kalhor          

It's Still Autumn        

Iranian Kamancheh Master Meets Jazz Trio

Eleni Karaindrou      

Tous des Oiseaux   

Cinematic Greek Music Blending Traditional and Orchestral Instruments

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan          

Live at WOMAD 1985           

First Release of Historic Live Concert by Sufi Vocal Master

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard           

Fishing for Fishies     

Art Pop with Unexpected Blues Twists

Sarathy Korwar         

More Arriving            

Indian Classical Music + Hip-Hop + Jazz

Kronos Quartet         

Terry Riley: Sun Rings          

Music for String Quartet, Chorus and Sounds from Outer Space

Julian Lage     

Love Hurts     

Genre-Crossing Guitar Music

Daniel Lanois (with Willie Nelson, D'Angelo, Rhiannon Giddens & others)   

The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2       

Cowboy Video Game Soundtrack

Sam Brady Long        

Satie, Dilated

Celestial Reverberations from Reconfiguring Satie at 1/5th Normal Speed

Russ Lossing  

Motian Music

Piano Trio Interpretations of Compositions by Paul Motian

Joe Lovano (with Marilyn Crispell)    

Trio Tapestry

Impressionistic Trio Music for Saxophone, Piano and Percussion

Hugh Marsh   


Stream-of-Consciousness Music for Solo Violin and Pedals

Ben Monder   

Day After Day            

Guitar Jazz


Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum 

Experimental Saudi Arabian Techno Influenced by Pre-Islamic and Quranic Poetry

Phillip Nangle            

2 Karimba 3 Octave

Pulsating Percussion Music Played on a Three-Octave Hepatonic Karimba

Kinloch Nelson          

Partly on Time: Recordings 1968-1970  

Seminal Tapes by Fingerstyle Guitar Innovator Released After 50 Years



Afrofuturist Music Perfromed on Traditional Percussion  Instruments from Uganda

Carola Ortiz    


Indian-Catalan Canciones with Clarinets

Nao Otsuka    


Layered Minimalist Drones with Japanese Soundscapes

Marianne Parker       

Pages Intimes: Haitian Works for Solo Piano

Rediscovered Haitian Piano Music from Ludovic Lamothe ("The Black Chopin") and Others

Michel Petrucciani (with Roy Haynes and Gary Peacock)            

One Night in Karlsruhe        

Previously Unreleased Jazz Piano Trio Recording from 1988

The Raconteurs         

Help Us Stranger       

No Frills Rock

Joshua Redman & Brooklyn Rider   

Sun on Sand  

Genre-Crossing Chamber Music Suite Composed by Patrick Zimmerli

Michael Robinson      

Spirit Lady    

Modern Raga Performed by Vox Organ, Tamboura and Percussion (inspired by Lennie Tristano)

Rodrigo y Gabriela    


High Octane Mexican Guitar Duo

Adam Rudolph's Go Organic Orchestra with Brooklyn Raga Massive     

Ragmala - A Garden of Ragas

21st Century Global Fusion Orchestra Meets 13th Century Raga

Toyohiko Satoh          


Combination of Traditional Lute Music with Japanese Aesthetic of 'Iki' (Translates a 'Elegant Refinement')

Seba Kaapstad          


South African Neo-Soul/Hip Hop

Smith N Weston        

Get Down       

Hot Blues-Rock Trio from Greece

D.J. Sparr       

Electric Bands            

Electronically-Enhanced Contemporary Chamber Music

Joanna Sternberg      

Then I Try Some More

Emotionally Stark Singer-Songwriter


The Sick Room          

Unorthodox Pop Dirges Influenced by Javanese Gamelan, Gregorian Chant and Arvo Pärt

Rafael Thomaz           

Invenções para Violão e Percussão

Brazilian Music for Guitar and Percussion

Miguel Trapaga & Teresa Folgueira            

Guitar Double Concertos      

Contemporary Classical Music for Guitar (and Accordion, Vibraphone)

Mark Turner/Gary Foster    

Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster


Uncle Hassell

Delta Drone   

Experimental Electronic Music

Various Artists           

Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969       

Live Recording of Historic 1969 Blues Festival

Various Artists           

Antologia de Música Atípica Portuguesa, Vol. 2     

An Anthology of 'Atypical' Portuguese Music

Various Artists           

Benefit Of Mr. Kitesurfer    

13 Bands from 13 Countries Play Surf Rock Versions of Beatles Songs (from 13 Albums)

Various Artists           

Kanky? Ongaku

First US Release of Pioneering Japanese Environmental Music from the 1980s

Denny Zeitlin

Remembering Miles  

Solo Jazz Piano



Here are links to Book 1 and Book 2 for the Spirit Lady autograph score mentioned in Ted Gioia's second tweet above which is specifically a total of 540 pages long as you can see.


Again, a direct link to The 100 Best Recordings of 2019 (and 100 Honorable Mentions) is now accessible @ Ted Gioia's The Honest Broker substack blog.

- Michael Robinson, December 2019, Los Angeles


© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.