Before I was a choreographer/director/producer/writer/humorist/mover/shaker/upstart, I wanted to be a musician.
I had dreams of being a classical clarinetist in a major metropolitan orchestra. I was pretty good except for one thing….I SUCK at theory. I just do. Luckily, I still have my passion and ear for music. That passion and ear have contributed to most if not all of my artistic work…whether or not music was even present. Ask my dancers about the way I count rhythms!
Below, I have compiled a list of my top musical influences in no particular order. To those that know me, many of these will not be surprising..or will they?
Each of them have a place in the original composition that is the soundtrack of my life!
1) Bobby McFerrin – Now, before you say it…“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (1988) isn’t even the TIP of the McFerrin iceberg! This one-man orchestra sublimely embodies (envoices?) jazz, pop, classical, American and African-American traditional music with a style, flair and precision that is truly one of a kind. In fact, he might be the only musician who is orchestra AND maestro!
2) Prince – Oh, the genius of The Purple One! Prince has been a hit factory since “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979.) Hell, the soundtrack to “Purple Rain” (1984) alone taught a whole generation to “just go crazy.” We also learned to avoid girls named Nikki who masturbate with magazines in hotel lobbies…but that’s another conversation entirely!
He taught himself an orchestra’s worth of instruments and mastered almost all of them. The real reason he has a band is because even HE can’t play everything at the same time alone onstage…though I bet he’s tried! He has a MASSIVE discography (tee hee) that I own in several formats!
In short…Prince is
fucking simply AMAZEBALLS!!!
3) Meshell Ndegeocello – This woman is everything! Bangin’ ass bassist, composer, singer, poet, activist…yes, mama! Her discography takes us through the themes of racial identity, black love, homophobia, religion, love and heartbreak! And that’s still just scratching the surface. Her blending of soul, funk, rock and r&b mixed with a touch of the classical make this velvet voiced diva a force to be reckoned with!
4) Roni Size – The man who made Drum n’ Bass that much cooler! His funky compositions are in turns bouncy, arrogant, sexy, triumphant or mixtures of all the above. His remixes for artists ranging from The WuTang Clan’s Method Man to Janet Jackson open up new possibilities for entire musical genres. I find it impossible to sit still when a Size track is playing!
5) Armand Van Helden – When I think of house music, I think of Armand Van Helden. From voguing in the clubs to my choreography on the stage, Armand’s beats were there. His infectious grooves get under your skin, tickling your soul! His remixes for artists like Tori Amos, The Sneaker Pimps and Britney Spears made him a household name. His discography is perfect for a good head nodding session!
6) A Tribe Called Quest – These gentlemen personify what I refer to as “good hip hop.” Jazz influences, smooth flow, an intelligent awareness with a working vocabulary…yes, please. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammed made the perfect team that outshone its individual parts. Unfortunately, their solo efforts just didn’t pack the same punch. Of the three, however, Phife’s solo album “Ventilation: Da LP” (2000) was my favorite of the lot.
7) Michael Jackson – The King of Pop, The Gloved One, MJ, the man/myth/legend, singer, songwriter, dancer, choreographer, producer, director, actor…whatever you want to call him, it all adds up to GENIUS! SO many hits, so many awards. He raised the bar everytime he did anything! And he did it with a style and sound completely his own. Constantly imitated but NEVER duplicated, it goes without saying that Michael is greatly missed!
8) Dizzy Gillespie – One of the best trumpet players to ever walk the earth. Dizzy’s compositions, arrangements and improvisations are the stuff funky ass dreams are made of! Dizzy was a king of cool, whether he was giving us some good old fashioned bebop, or taking us back to the motherland. When Dizzy’s playing, who needs air conditioning?
10) Graeme Revell – New Zealand composer Graeme Revell is the reason for my passion for film scores. There are some really shitty movies out there that I watched solely based on the knowledge that he scored them. Luckily, he also worked on some awesome films too!
11) Glenn Miller – I’m a huge fan of big band and swing. No one was happier than I during that brief resurgence of so-called “neo-swing” in the 90’s. Glenn Miller & His Orchestra are the ones that planted the seeds of that love. Sure, his arrangements were a bit uptight when compared to the orchestra of, say, Lionel Hampton. But, hey, it was still fabulous!
12) Yo-Yo Ma – The cello is probably my favorite musical instrument. It can express virtually any and every emotion. Whenever I need an emotion translated through the cello, Mr. Yo-Yo Ma is my go to vessel for that expression.
13) Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky – The epic, organized chaos of Stravinsky’s compositions speak directly to the way my mind works. His pieces were powerful enough to incite riots when they premiered. I wish I was that fierce!
15) Kronos Quartet – Whether they’re rocking our socks off with one of their avant-garde original compositions, re-working classical works or performing the motherfucking score to motherfucking Dracula composed by motherfucking Phillip Glass….ahem…I like Kronos Quartet.
16) Miles Davis – The poster child of jazz cool. Miles has such a distinct sound on the trumpet, his flavor is immediately recognizable. His compositions have wowed millions across the globe…including this one.
17) Nine Inch Nails – Trent Reznor and NIN encapsulated my general mood and style in college. Trent’s music was perfect to choreograph to (still is, in fact.) Also, like Prince, the main reason Nine Inch Nails exists is because Trent can’t play everything himself onstage. But I definitely love them for it!
And there you have it…I make a little bit more sense now, don’t I?