Moonlight my ass!

September 01, 2016

Moonlight my ass! 
That was Beethoven’s publisher’s slimy means to milk a few deutsche marks from the sheet music buying frauleins.
Listen — in that slow first movement — to those prolonged, aching minor ninths, slouching into wince-worthy major sevenths.  Ouch!
Moonlight my ass.  More a cri de coeur:  God, why are you doing this to me!?
Then there’s that hair-on-fire third movement.  Pain becomes rage, and ol’ Ludwig SHREDS it, middle finger to the heavens.
Though Beethoven imagined it, the instrument had not yet been built that could do justice to this sonata.  I’m guessing ol’ Louie would’ve adored this shredder’s version.

Moonlight, shredded like it was supposed to be


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Donald Stark's Story
The Humbler


October 04, 2015

Me and my confreres usually place Jimi at the crest of all-time greatest guitarists.  But then, there’s case of Danny Gatton.  Not for nothing is he known among peers as the HUMBLER.  Danny (along with Stevie Ray and a few others) might get close to copying knuckle-busting Jimi solos note for note.  But I doubt it could’ve have worked the other way around.  Danny was a chameleon and master of more styles than any other guitarist I can think of.  Rock, blues, jazz, shred, rockabilly — all jumbled together.

And maybe that was the bugaboo.  He was too good at too much.  Record store clerks couldn’t figure out where to rack his albums.  There was no single hole shaped like his pegs.
If, during his lifetime, Gatton had gotten even half the acclaim he deserved, maybe he would’ve granted that lifetime a little more longevity.  Instead, on this day 21 years ago, aged 49, Danny deprived the world of his genius. 
If you don’t know him already, YouTube a few random tunes.  They’ll floor you.

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Donald Stark's Story
Louis Jacob Weertz

Who’s the top-selling pianist in history?

October 01, 2015

Who’s the top-selling pianist in history? 
If you chimed in with LOUIS JACOB WEERTZ, you’d be right! 
Later rebranded after the guy who founded Rhode Island, this latter-day Roger William hit gold with his rendition of that most poignant of ballads, Autumn Leaves, with his signature descant.  Part finger-busting Hanon exercise in chromatically descending major thirds, half tone painting of the wafting descent of fall foliage.
After that, 18 gold and platinum albums, as charted by Billboard.
Born on this first day of October — same exact day as Jimmy Carter — Maestro Weertz would’ve turned 91 on this first day of Ocotber.

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Donald Stark's Story
Guardian of the Light

Fly Away :(

August 06, 2013

Remember those old analogy quizzes?  Here’s one for you:

Guitar    is to    Jimi Hendrix
Synthesizer    is to:    ??? 

Granted, there’s no single right response here.  But mine would be: the great George Duke, who passed away last night. 

Sadly, Seaside’s soaring, stomach-rumbling, scream-inducing JetStar rollercoaster got swept to sea by Sandy.  But if you’re jonesin’ for that thrill ride, just click and give a listen to Jimi’s “House Burning Down” or “Message of Love” (live Band of Gypsies version). 


George Duke’s “Fly Away” or his “Tryin’ & Cryin’.”

Who needs a rollercoaster?

Would love to know who you’d pick for that analogy quiz.

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Donald Stark's Story

The Mozarts of Hair Metal

January 01, 2013

Playwright Michael Puzzo’s passionate drama Spirits of Exit Eleven* imagines a cranky jukebox in a pizza strip joint which patrons feed with their Friday paychecks, playing their hair-metal life soundtracks, waiting for the pole dancers to appear on the dais.  As sound designer for a Theatre Row production of this play, I conferred with Michael about walk-in music — his suggestions, mine, and crew-sourced. 
“Gotta have Def Leppard, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, G’n’R…” 
“Yeah, the usual suspects.  Even if they’re not on our personal iPods”
“…but,” says Michael, “We must have Led Zeppelin.  Must have.  The Mozarts of metal.”
Mozarts of metal!  Ah, I have found a musical soulmate.
*  If you’re from Jersey, or have ever been prisoner to the Turnpike, you catch the reference.

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Categories:   Composers, Mozart, Events, Musicians, Led Zeppelin, Unified theory of music

Donald Stark's Story

How To Compose Today

December 09, 2012

Lifelong friend Shaun McNally drew my attention to this empassioned, illuminating essay by Robert Beaser on how composing has evolved over the last few decades.


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Categories:   Commentary, Composers, Music education, Unified theory of music

Donald Stark's Story
Far more blue

What time is it?

December 05, 2012

5/4, 7/4, yes the time sigs were cool.  But for me, Dave Brubeck’s pinnacle achievement was his quartet’s blues playing.  If you want the crème, turn not to his storied Time Out album, but to the more masterly follow-up, Time Further Out.  Highlights:
— Dave’s and Paul Desmond’s heartwrenching blues turns on Bluette
— Joe Morello’s bluesy solo on Far More Drums, the greatest drum solo ever performed and recorded.  Yes, you heard that right! 
A quirky but lovely, blues-drenched interlude between the Time Out pair is the Brubecks’ (Dave and brother Howard) Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Symphony Orchestra, with Bernstein leading the New York Philharmonic. 
So, dust off an old Brubeck LP (I know you have one; look next to your Sketches of Spain) and spin a timely tune for this recently departed and beloved master.

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Categories:   Composers, Musicians

Donald Stark's Story

Twins separated at birth

November 28, 2012

No?  The evidence:
— Both Sagittariuses
— Both thrilled and terrified princes and princesses with their playing — way beyond anyone else around at the time — and both busted up their instruments.
— Both imagined a sonic grandeur beyond what there instruments were capable of… till they advanced the technology and made it happen.
— Both were so shockingly revolutionary that composers and players are still playing catch-up.
No?  Then try this:
Play your record of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, first couple of minutes.  Imagine you’re back in 1809.  You’re thinking:
“Whoa!  Never heard anything like that before!  Aren’t concertos supposed to start off with the orchestra charting out a theme?  Not here!  Ka-boom!  An orchestral chord explosion.  Which triggers a barrage of solo piano fireworks: ‘Who’s your daddy, now?’  Then another explosion and more solo fire: ‘Yeah, that’s right: Not your daddy’s concerto. OK, now we’ve established who’s boss, let’s play the tune.’”
Now place your tonearm down on Jimi’s “House Burning Down.”  Hear any difference from the Emperor opening?  No, you don’t.  Not at the core.  Same creative DNA.  Substitute “guitar” for “piano” and you’d be loath to describe the works differently.
No?  Still no? 
C’mon!  Just look at the hair!

(See also:

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Categories:   Composers, Musicians, Unified theory of music

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