(Photo by David Oppenheimer)
I’m taking a week away from all things Bernie Worrell. This will probably happen three or four times in the course of writing this book. Sometimes I need to take a step back to clear my head. It helps free up the things stuck in my mind, unable to make their way to paper.
I’ve played the guitar off and on since 1997 or so. As such, I’ve come to look upon just about any form of music I listen to from the guitarist’s perspective. Bernie Worrell was a keyboard player. And while I have plunked out a few chords on a piano once or twice — I even had two synthesizers in my studio a few years back — I have never taken the time to look at music from they keyboardist’s point of view. This is a new challenge, and essential in order for this project to succeed.
Dizzy Gillespie once told a story about teaching aspects of composition to Miles Davis. Both were trumpet players, but Dizzy impressed on Miles the importance of being able to play the piano when writing music. “It enables you to see the entire spectrum of notes,” he said. I must admit, this makes perfect sense.
The guitar offers a wide spectrum of notes and possibilities, but not in the rigorously organized form of the keyboard. A guitarist looking for a particular sound can change the tuning of his instrument. The keyboardist does not have that luxury. Here are the notes. They are presented in this order. Make the most of them. For me, this is quite the foreign concept.
Years of playing and listening to guitarists gives one insight as to what the player is doing in the moment. Is he playing with an open tuning? Is he soloing using the pentatonic scale? Is he using a pick or his fingers to get the sound? How heavy are his strings, and what kind of pickups are in his guitar? Geeks like me love to listen to and analyze these kinds of things.
Keyboardists are no different. Trouble is, I don’t speak their language.
Bernie released a DVD covering his playing techniques and compositional methods. I have a copy. But Bernie was not the most talkative person in the world, and his interviewer wasn’t doing a whole lot better with translating what the star was saying. I was still confused. I needed a different approach.
In the end, the solution was simple: if you want to know what a keyboardist is thinking and how he’s making the sounds he makes, ask another keyboardist! I actually “hired” two keyboard players to assist me toward the aim of translating the style of Bernie Worrell. Between those points of view, I should be able to get closer to what I aim to describe in the book.
I’ve often told my fellow officers that it’s good to see policing from more than one angle. That way they understand what goes into the decision making process, and why bosses and others bring forth certain rules and policies. I have been known to think like a drummer or bassist from time to time, but I have spent next to no time thinking like a keyboardist. Well, that’s about to change.
This will be a fascinating journey.
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