Classical influences on my upcoming album “Pieces of Sanity”- Bach, Beethoven, and Ravel

There are many artists that have influenced my playing and writing, and I recognize the importance of giving them credit for being part of the process that got me to where I am today, in my lifelong musical journey.

In the Classical ‘tradition’, there were many composers who influenced the way I approach improvisation. Among the most influential were Bach, Beethoven, and Ravel. While Bach has a way of very casually flying through changes in his invention lines and solo compositions, Beethoven had a way of injecting emotional energy and tension into his compositions, and ravel had a way of creating some of the most beautiful soundscapes. All three composers required performers to put their all into the music, and all three composers changed music forever.

There are moments in the tracks I recorded for “Pieces of Sanity” that could be most recognized as nods to these influences. In a way, Bach’s influence is behind any line of improvisation. His extensive treatment of every key in his inventions and preludes/fugues, as well as Cantatas, provided a lot of context. Everyone likes to study Bach for this reason. He devoted his life to composing in a recognizable and standardized form, yet eeking out as much variation and diversity within that form as possible, on a daily basis, for decades.

Many moments of rhythmic interplay between the right and left hand were phrased in ways that may have come out of my practice of Beethoven Sonatas. Many times when I read and practiced his Sonatas, I found that he used rhythmic “phasing” between the hands to drag the phrase on, creating tension that was rhythmic just as much as harmonic or melodic. It’s an aspect of Beethoven‘s genius that probably wasn’t conventional at the time.

Ravel can have influences on a lot of my playing, from some of the intros I play, to the way I try to utilize dynamics to create layers. Many of Ravel’s compositions are layered dynamically, and the effect is to feel like there are soundscapes surrounding singular and poetic melodies. That kind of approach can influence the way I interpret standards, the way I write, or the way I perform some of the more open sections in my music.

One of the tracks where all of these influences show up, is “before you ask”, a tone poem with a longer form and 7/4 meter. I will say that at many points, the drums handle the ‘soundscape’ part, which makes it possible for me to think ahead, and also just adds rhythmic color to the entire thing. Which is why I tend to say, “you can’t spell “Ravel’ without “Rave” 🤓.

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