Once each year Global Music Awards honors a musician with its Odyssey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music Award. This year the award goes to Ron Carter, the world’s most recorded and accomplished bass player. LINK
Watching Ron Carter play is to see a man, through force of will induce an inanimate object into profound, deliberate and complex sound. If you watch his face while he plays it is clear that he is intentionally turning mind into music. Listening to Ron Carter play is to hear beauty. To witness Ron Carter is to understand the power of determination and intent in the life of an artist. LINK
If you are a jazz lover, you owe a debt to Ron Carter. He has recorded on over 2000 albums/CDs and counting. Chances are you have a number of Carter’s performances among your jazz collection. His fans appreciate his fluid, elegant and rich bass lines. This American bassist, cellist, and composer was born 04 May 1937 in Ferndale, Michigan. After fifty-plus years of performances Carter was elected to the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2012.
While Carter has been playing music for 68 years, longevity is not the point, he is receiving Global Music Awards Odyssey Award for his deep contribution to jazz and the example he provides for younger artists through his willful and determined mastery of his craft. His gigging and recording spans half a century and he is recognized as one of the most recorded artists in music history. Carter earned our admiration and Lifetime Achievement in Music Award for his contribution to jazz, the depth to which he has developed his skills, and the manner in which he has lived his musical life.
As you read this article, please remember this is an artist who played alongside jazz greats like Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Tommy Flanagan, Gil Evans, Lena Horne, Bill Evans, B.B. King, the Kronos Quartet, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery, and Bobby Timmons. And, don’t forget that Carter was Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Music Department of The City College of New York, having taught there for eighteen years.
During a bass roundtable discussion, Carter was asked what advice he would give to aspiring bassists. He responded, “Off the top of my head, play in many environments. A lot of young bass players are just in one group. You only get a limited view. Second, bass players play awful notes. Your job is to try to play as few of those as possible. When you play in different bands, you can make a terrible sound one night that sounds good with some other band. Third, make sure your instrument is in good shape to play. I’ve seen some awful basses with cracks, the pickup wire broken, pegs squeaking. A bass needs a tune-up like a car. Fourth, go hear guys play live. Figure out how they get from point A to point B, what strings and pickups they use, how they hold the bass. You see those things and you can start getting a view of yourself with what works for you. And finally, enjoy playing time. That’s how we work.” This is advice from a master.
Carter has a date-filled international touring schedule; one might say he has reached the pinnacle. But Carter says, "Well, I'm kind of like Martin Luther King, but I haven't been to the mountaintop yet. I'm trying to find out what the top of the mountain looks like and the only way to get there is by playing every night like it's my last chance to get this right. I think I've come close several times and the view, I would imagine, is spectacular. I'm about at the tree line right now, but I'm getting there.”
Carter’s climb to the pinnacle was hendered. He was born a black man in 1937 in Jim Crow America. While Carter never allowed race to determined his life, it is difficult to appreciate now the willpower and determination required 50 years ago to overcome the racial discrimination thrown in his path. During his Detroit high school days he switched from cello to bass because he was not invited to perform at extracurricular functions. He gave up his goal of playing in a classical orchestra while at Eastman School of Music after world-class visiting conductor acknowledged his skills on the bass but explained that he would not be hired because he was an African American. This caused Carter to redirect his career from classical music to jazz.
In an article by writer Ted Panken commissioned by DownBeat Magazine at the time of his induction into the Jazz Hall of Fame, well-known bassist Stanley Clarke said of Carter, “Ron is an innovator … a great storyteller. Probably 99.9% of the bass players out here play stuff from Ron. … Ron to me is the most important bass player of the last fifty years. He defined the role of the bass player.”
In response to Stanley Clarke’s comments about his impact on bass lineage, Carter said, “I’m embarrassed, actually. I’m from a time when one of the effects of society on African-Americans, especially African-American males, was to not acknowledge your success. Not that you couldn’t be successful, but when you were, you were kind of told not to ‘groove,’ so to speak, on that level of achievement. It’s taken me a while to get past that. African-Americans in my age group will tell you about someone telling them, ‘you can’t do this or that.’ For example, I remember my math teacher in junior high school told the class, ‘Don’t worry about studying Latin, because you’ll never need it, you’ll be digging a ditch.’ I told my mom, and she wigged out. All of us got that kind of response in these situations sixty years ago.
“So when I hear comments like Stanley’s, it floors me that I’ve had that kind of impact on an industry. I say, ‘Wow, I did that? All these guys do this because of my presence?’ It throws me a curve. There’s a list of what they call ten records that are milestones of the music, all different, and I’m on eight of them. When I hear people talk about that, I have to tiptoe out of the room, because it embarrasses me to hear that my impact has been rated as such. I had my hopes crushed at a very early age. I had peeks of what it’s like to play in a great orchestra, and to not be allowed to do that for the simple reason that I’m black … to this day I do not understand that fuckin’ mindset, man. I don’t know what that’s got to do with playing a B-flat blues, man, or playing the Bach Chorale, or Beethoven, or playing an Oliver Nelson arrangement. But my family went to church every Sunday. We understood that there is somebody upstairs who is really in charge of the ballgame, so to speak. I’ve always thought that I was directed to do this because the Creator thought that I could be important in this industry. And I have to trust that he allows me to go out every night and try to find the best notes I can find. When he tells me, ‘Ok, you’ve had enough,’ then I’ll stop.”
Many things distinguish Ron Carter as pivotal artist in the history of jazz.
Obviously, among the top factors we admire most in honoring him with our life time achievement award is the depth to which he has developed his skill as a bassist. He has unmistakable tone and, as noted by Cliff Engel, “the inevitable quality of note choice and phrasing contained with his lines remains unprecedented.” John Patitucci observes, “He is an architect of the highest order on the bass. People don’t realize how deep an effect he has had on bass lines in music. He widened the boundaries.” Finding the best, the “right notes” has been Carter’s lifelong quest. Carter says, “Satisfied is not always the word that applies to me. Looking for the best set of notes with the best pitch and best sound, yes, I still try to do that.”
We also want to acknowledge his work ethic as a musician. Professionalism is Carter’s hallmark as a musician. In a DownBeat Magazine interview by Ed Williams, Carter said, “I’m on the time for the job. I am prepared musically and technically to meet the demands of the music.” He notes his goal is to contribute to “a positive frame of reference in terms of expecting to be musically delighted” about the job in which he is involved. It’s no small item that Carter has 68 years of being well-prepared, well-dressed, sober and letting others know they can count on him.
Ron Carter earns our admiration and our Odyssey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music for his contribution to jazz, the depth to which he has developed his skills and the manner in which he has lived his musical life.
(Source: Information for this story and many of the quotes are from the excellent book by Dan Ouellette, Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes, Retrack Publications, Inc., LINK)
Photo by Beti Niemeyer
Q: You have certainly had a remarkable career. How did that come about?
A: My career has been a series of opportunities and lots of work. You never know where the opportunities will come from but I’ve learned that hard work creates most of them. It’s like the definition of luck; when opportunity meets preparation. I have been fortunate to work in many musical genres. So many of the films I have scored have brought me great creative joy and satisfaction. It's always difficult to look back over the last 26 years of scores and pick favorites. However, there are some films that have proved to be more significant than others because of their creative opportunities.
Without question Amazon was one of those projects. Early in my career I hoped to work on a large-scale project so when the Academy Award winning director Keith Merrill called, inviting me to score his upcoming IMAX film Amazon, I jumped at the opportunity. I only had two weeks to compose, record and mix 40 minutes of music for the film. I had an 80-piece orchestra, choir, ethic winds and percussion instruments that we recorded at the famed Sony Pictures Scoring Stage. Standing in front of world-class musicians was a monumental achievement for me. At the time, it was the pinnacle event of my career. Even though I was so thrilled to be standing at the podium, conducting at Sony Pictures, I feared I might never get back there again! Amazon went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1997. I did return to Sony Pictures to record the scores to the IMAX films Mark Twain’s America, Island of the Sharks as well as Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa. Each project and collaboration seems to provide future opportunities. You may meet a future collaborator from a current film. Each project is important and special. I’ve learned to take each project very serious and strive to do my best work no matter the scope or budget of the film. At the end of the day, it says “music by Alan Williams.” That credit will live forever so I had better do my best work.
Q: It must be amazing to listen to your music attached to spectacular IMAX footage, which always have bigger than life visuals. How do you approach such films?
A: There is nothing like hearing your music in an IMAX theater. IMAX or Large Format films focus on music more than other genres. Many times, the music and images are all that carry the story. Music becomes a character in the story. I approach the musical score for Large Format films just as if they were any other dramatic narrative. For Amazon and Kilimanjaro there were not a lot of dramatic elements from characters in the film, but there were many opportunities to treat the river or the mountain as characters themselves. By thinking this way, I approach the score just the same as if it were a dramatic feature. I still work on creating a melody or theme that encompasses the location as if it were a character or underlining emotion of a feature story.
Q: You have written scores for both feature and short films. What is a highlight?
In animation, I've been fortunate to work in both feature and short films. Writing the score to animated feature The Princess and the Pea was certainly a highlight. I felt I could really stretch my musical muscles with both the score and the songs, which I wrote together with David Pomeranz. The music and songs for Princess are very thematic and melody-driven and stands as some of my best, most musical work.
I’ve also scored numerous animated shorts. They have all been unique and very entertaining. It’s an art to tell a story in only a few short minutes. The score to Pajama Gladiator and Estefan were very special projects. Pajama Gladiator won the Student Academy Award for Best Short and Estefan was nominated for an Annie Award for Best Score. Estefan contained no dialogue at all, so music and image conveyed all of the drama and story of the film. I love when music takes a larger role, where it acts like a character in a film and really can take an active role in developing the story, and not just as underscore music. I'm very proud of those scores.
Q: Do you still find the work engaging?
A: Yes. Although I've written scores to more than 100 film and television projects, I still enjoy the challenge of finding just the right sound, theme and voice for each new project. I feel that I'm more prepared now than ever before to look at a film and work to get inside of it, to determine how the music can really enhance and further the story. That is really the function of film music. It's all about story. I love new collaborations with filmmakers. I love collaborating with the musicians who breathe life into the scores. I love any form of storytelling, whether it is live action films, animation, documentaries, live events or even games.
Q: What have been your influences?
A: There have been many influences on me throughout my career. I have been shaped, influenced and inspired by so many great composers. Certainly, Jerry Goldsmith is at the top of the list for me. Jerry had a gift to get inside of the story and translate the pure essence of a film or its main character and creating a theme that could be developed and varied throughout a film, with an emotional payoff like no other composer. Having attended many of Jerry’s recording sessions, I would look at his scores and I was always amazed at how few notes on the page created such an enormous emotional experience. There are so many other great film composers, John Williams, James Horner, John Barry and James Newton Howard who have influenced me and taught me how music and image are married together to tell a story. Vaughn Williams, Shostakovich and Stravinsky have also been great influences. For me, film itself has been an incredible influence. I have learned so much about drama, character arch and pure story, simply by being immersed in film.
Q: You did a TED talk about creativity. What do you suggest to other composers?
A: For the next generation of composers, I suggest a few things. First, learn from the past. Many young composers don't know the music and films from the past. Learn the works of the masters, both composers and filmmakers. Why has their craft endured? There is a reason. Discover it for yourself; it will be different for everyone. Know the past even if you have no interest in writing a certain style of music. Be a student of film. As film composers, we must never forget that half of our job title is “film” so know all genres of film and learn about the process of making a film. Directors don’t speak “music”; they speak “film.”
Q: What is your work ethic?
A: My work ethic is simple. Write, write, write! A composer needs to compose daily. Those creative muscles need to be strengthened on a regular basis. Don't wait for a project to be creative. Explore, discover and compose each day. There are so many creative outlets for composers. Establish a schedule to help with the discipline of being a composer. For me, I'm most creative in the morning before the day becomes cluttered with other distractions. I've found for me; the best schedule is a regular schedule. When I begin a movie, I determine how many minutes of music needs to be composed for the film and how many days I have in which to write the score. I then figure out how many minutes of music I must compose each day to meet the deadline. My day doesn't end until those minutes have been written. If I finish early, then I can forge ahead into tomorrow's minutes, or finish early for the day. Since my studio is at home, work is always there. I've found that this discipline of writing a pre-determined amount each day has allowed me the structure to work and meet the deadline and still be able to leave work to spend with my family.
Q: Have you had failures along the way?
A: There have been many triumphs as well as many failures throughout my career. There have been more rejections than successes. I believe this is true for most composers. Music is subjective. If a director doesn't like my music, either for a scene in the movie or for an entire project, it doesn't mean I'm a failure as a composer. I just may not be the best musical fit for the project or I many need to go back and work hard to find a better creative musical solution for the scene. It's also important for young composers to know that this is the music business. It is a business so know business and especially the music business. Bill Conti, composer of Rocky and The Right Stuff, told me 27 years ago, when I was a student at the University of Southern California, "Talent never was a prerequisite for success in this business." He was totally correct. I've reminded myself of this quote over-and-over again, in so many different situations. He also told me, “A composer needs to be totally committed; you have to be all-in. If you wake up in the morning and can’t imagine doing anything else, you may have a chance in this business.” So that has been my passion for these past 26 years, waking each day searching for the next opportunity to write a new score and writing music each day.
Q: What are you composing now?
A: I just finished composing the scores to 2 new films for the Netflix series Moving Art. Both Moving Art: Dolphins and Whales and Moving Art: Angkor Wat will premiere on Netflix May 01, 2017. I also just completed the score for a new feature documentary, Toxic Puzzle narrated by Harrison Ford as well as a new album release called Oceans. I’m looking forward to beginning a new animated feature and I have my first book being released this year entitled, Directing Creativity: The Art of Innovation.
Alan Williams has earned our admiration and our Odyssey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music for his contribution to composition of film scores, the depth to which he has developed his skills and the manner in which he has lived his musical life.
Beguiling and captivating film scores earn composer Alan Williams
Global Music Awards’ 2017 Odyssey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music
Once each year Global Music Awards honors a musician with its Odyssey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music Award. This year the award goes to Alan Williams, one of the world’s most accomplished film score composers. LINK
Williams is a prolific composer and conductor with more than 100 motion picture and television credits. Williams’ scores include the Academy Award nominated IMAX film, Amazon, Sony Pictures Classics’ Mark Twain’s America in 3D and some of the highest rated movies made for television. He composed the award-winning score to the animated film, The Princess and the Pea, and co-wrote the original songs with award-winning lyricist David Pomeranz. His score to Estefan received an Annie Award nomination for Best Original Score. He was awarded the Insight Award for Excellence for his score to Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, and fourteen Accolades for Best Original Score. Over the years, Williams has received eight Global Music Awards’ honors for his albums: The Cinema Collection, The Documentary Collection, Patriots of Freedom, Cinema Voce, The Princess and the Pea, Television Suites, The Christmas Carol Collection and Moving Art: Underwater.
We recently caught up with Williams for an interview.