HAVE THE MUSICAL INFLUENCES OF THE PAST BECOME OBSOLETE?

Yesterday I was listening to the car radio with my teenage daughter when we began a discussion about the music she liked, and why.  Since she has been taught to make polite conversation, she then asked me who my own musical influences had been.  Here were the names that came to my mind:

Frank Sinatra: Mr. Sinatra was revered in our home in part because my dad had played on practically all of his records in the orchestras of Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, and Nelson Riddle.  From Frank, I learned about phrasing, swing, and the importance of well-crafted lyrics.

Composer Michel Legrand: As a 10 year old girl I was hired to sing beside him on national television, and his music taught me the power of incredible melodies. Jazz pianist Bill Evans:  As a young jazz pianist myself, Bill led me into a  harmonic world filled with many colors  and possibilities.

Chopin and Ravel: Through my classical piano studies, I discovered the emotional power and range of harmony and form.

Antonio Carlos Jobim:  Upon hearing the rhythm and music of this Brazilian songwriter, I immediately grabbed my guitar to see if my fingers could channel my hidden bossa nova soul.

Peter Matz and Robert Farnon:  From my developing sensibilities,  I  realized  it was their great arrangements which made me aware of singers who I had previously ignored

Johnny Mandel:  When I heard his evocative film score to “The Sandpiper”, I think subconsciously my career path was set.

My daughter’s eyes glazed over—she was clearly not interested in any of this musical history.  But it got me thinking—what a shame that the music of the past does not seem to speak to today’s youth with the passion and urgency that it did to me when I was girl, discovering who I was to become.   In my opinion, the music of the immediate past—for the most part—is vastly superior to today’s music in almost every regard:  its sophisticated and poetic lyrics, its emotional harmonies and its memorable melodies.  Is there anything we can do to keep this music from being forgotten?  I think an answer lies in film—biopics, to be specific.

Audiences embraced “Ray” and “Walk The Line” with perhaps no prior knowledge of Ray Charles or Johnny Cash.  The films “Amadeus” (Mozart), “Lady Sings the Blues” (Billie Holiday), “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (Tina Turner) and “Bird” (Charlie Parker) were all widely acclaimed and successful.  Why?   Because their stories were retold with young, popular actors using state-of-the-art recording and filmmaking techniques.  And beyond that, the struggles these musical artists faced—addictions, legal and marital troubles, career highs and lows—are universal, identifiable, and timeless.

In fact, there is a whole treasure trove of film ideas in the untold stories of these icons.  If their lives were dramatized using today’s technology, a whole new generation would be exposed to their music, and thus, to the musical values so sorely missing today.

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