Who could have imagined that something that happened in 1977 would result in a new vinyl LP in 2017? It all started when a young college professor was invited to compose the music for a film promoting the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. His task? Compose a Tone Poem for each of the five departments within R.I.T.’s School for American Craftsmen: Wood, Metal, Weaving, Glass, & Clay. There’s quite a story behind-the-scenes, so let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
The young professor had just produced an LP of the student Jazz ensemble he directed at Genesee Community College, on a hilltop in farm country outside the small town of Batavia, New York. The ensemble was performing a concert for the local community. As luck would have it, which luck always does, a film-maker from Chicago was in attendance. After the concert, she enthusiastically approached the young professor and asked if he would consider composing original music to accompany the afore-mentioned promotional film.
“Love to,” he answered simply.
“I’m afraid there’s a very limited budget, though,” she warned. “Actually, there’s no budget!”
“Sounds like fun! As long as I can cover the cost of a few local musicians I know and some recording studio time, that’s all we’ll need.”
“Really? But what about your fee?”
“Hey, I do it for the love of composing and recording.”
“How soon could you do this?” she asked, raised eyebrow baiting the hook.
“I can start tomorrow,” the hook already buried deep in his beard-covered chin.
“I need a finished score delivered in two weeks! Is that even possible?”
“Sure. Wanna grab lunch tomorrow to talk about it?”
So, they met the next day, and she described the mood she envisioned for each of the five Tone Poems: Wood, Metal, Weaving, Glass, and Clay. They agreed on a minimalist budget to cover costs for the project. By that afternoon, she had begged the required approval from the Dean, along with advance payment for the musicians and studio time, and they agreed to meet two weeks later, when the young professor would deliver the master tape of his finished score. Alas, he was soon to suffer a series of behind-the-scenes events that no one could have dreamed possible! Now for the story-within-the-story!
The smartest thing the young professor did was to call Jeff Tyzik, a marvelously gifted trumpet player the professor had worked with several years prior. Jeff agreed to bring along three of his Eastman School of Music faculty band mates, woodwind specialist Ramon Ricker, drummer Dave Mancini, and bassist Aleck Brinkman. The professor’s second call went to the great pianist Sonny Kompanek. The final call went to Tom Rizzo, an acclaimed Rochester guitarist who had worked with the professor in the recording studio. Of course, they all coveted studio work, as their collective music careers would demonstrate all too well. True to form, all agreed to a minimalist fee to accommodate the available budget.
The next smart thing the professor did was to book an eight-hour recording session at the $150/hour recording studio in Rochester where he had produced the college ensemble’s album. Admittedly, completing even one Tone Poem in eight hours was a stretch. But five? That’s all the budget would allow, so they would simply have to make do. With that in mind, the last smart thing he did was to compose the music the first week, sending the performance charts to the musicians in advance. He knew he didn’t need to ask them to master the music beforehand. He already knew they would. And that turned out to be a life-saver!
The recording session was scheduled for a Saturday morning at nine o’clock. Naturally, all the musicians had gigs that night, so 5 o’clock was the latest they could stay. As with all his sessions, the professor arrived with sealed envelopes, containing payment in full for the day’s recording. No surprise, everyone showed up early, eager to get started on time. All except the recording engineer, that is! So, they sat outside on the stoop, awaiting his arrival. 10 o’clock. No engineer. 11 o’clock. Still no engineer. The professor was in a panic, pressured by the Monday due date of the completed master tape for the film. No cell phones in the 1970’s, so dozens of phone calls were dialed from nearby telephone booths. You know, like in Superman movies? The engineer was nowhere to be found, and voice messages went unanswered. At noon, Jeff Tyzik came running from his phone booth waving his arms frantically, out of breath but smiling.
“We’re in luck! I just got ahold of Mick Guzauski. He got home this morning from a European concert tour. He has a key to the studio, and he’s on his way!”
“Man, no way he’s gonna make it here before 1,” Dave bemoaned. “And we gotta be outa here by 5!”
They all looked at each other. And at the professor. And at the envelopes in their pockets.
“I can stay ’til 7, maybe 7:30,” Ray offered.
They all looked at each other again. And at the professor. And at the envelopes in their pockets. They took a vote. Without exception, all agreed to stay and work until 8 o’clock, but that would have to be the limit. The professor smiled.
Mick arrived at 12:45, looking none the worse for wear, studio key in hand. The musicians filed in with their gear. Normally, it takes the typical engineer hours to set up a studio for recording. But Mick was far from typical! He had everything ready to roll in 20-minutes, the professor marveling at his calm and cool demeanor, despite his lack of sleep.
Glass was the first Tone Poem they recorded. No rehearsal. One take. Done! The creative juices were flowing. Jeff assumed the duties of organizing everything from that point on, devising innovative solutions for all the tricky overdubs the professor’s music required in order to make seven players sound like a much bigger band. True to their promises, they managed to wrap up the session at 7:59 P.M. Mick and the professor remained until midnight to edit and master the score. As promised, he handed the magical master tape to the film-maker on Monday, and the young professor departed, assuming his obligation was complete. Not so fast! A week later, the professor answered his ringing phone. It was the film-maker.
‘Uh-oh,’ he thought to himself.
“The Dean loves the music!” she gushed. “In fact, he wants to know if you can create four newTone Poems for the School of Art & Design: Painting, Printmaking, Foundations, and Communications Design. These would be added to the film, already near completion.”
“Wow, that’s great! Same approach as before? Same budget?”
“…uhhh…well…there’s no money available,” she winced. “I’m afraid we spent everything we had on the School for American Craftsmen project. Do you think you might…uhhh…youknow…”
He scratched his head, thought about it, and an idea came to him in mid-scratch.
“You know,” he mused, “I’ve got my own little project studio in a 9’x11’ space I rent for $50-a-month in an old industrial warehouse in town. Nothing even close to a professionalrecording studio. But I’ve got an eight-track tape deck for multi-tracking, a small mixing board, a two-track deck for mastering, and a synthesizer. So, if you’re game, I’ve always wanted to jump into the one-man-band genre. A real challenge, for sure. So, yeah, I think I could give you exactly what you need.”
“Let’s do it!”
“Let me guess…you need it in two weeks, right?”
“…uhhh…well…I actually need it in a week…can you do that?”
“Yep. I can. And I will.”
The young professor spent the next week, day and night, in his little make-shift project studio in the Batavia Industrial Center. Of course, back in those days, there were no personal computers, no MIDI sequencers and the like. So he performed every part on every instrument himself. He persuaded another musician friend to play on two of the tracks. That musician was saxophonist Dick Griffo, a fellow alum from the University of Buffalo music department. Sure enough, the exhausted professor delivered his second master tape a week later. He had a good feeling that something good might come from all of this. Once again, he assumed he had fulfilled his obligation, and his search for a new project was already underway.
The phone rang! Yes, it was the film-maker.
“Uh-oh…you didn’t like it?” he asked.
“Like it? The Dean loves it so much that he’s decided he would like you to produce all nine Tone Poems on a long play record album!”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“He thinks an LP of your music scores would be a great recruiting tool for the School for American Craftsmen and School of Art & Design. They’re going to mail copies to high school guidance counselors and promising students across the country, and Europe, too, I believe. What do you think about that?”
“I think the Dean is a very wise man with a vision for the future. Okay, how’s this gonna work, financially?”
“First, he insists that you register the music copyrights in your name to protect your legal rights. Second, you’ll be given full credit for the music on the album cover, along with contact information for anyone who wants to reach you. R.I.T. will pay for everything. The Dean wants you to oversee the whole project to completion.”
“I can handle that. I hate to even ask, but when do you need it done?”
“Surprise! Take whatever time you need! The film is already doing its job, that’s for sure, so the LP is just icing on the cake,” she explained.
“Speaking of the film, what kind of response are you getting?”
“To quote the Dean, ‘viewer response to the professor’s innovative Jazz-Fusion music has been immediate and overwhelming.’ ”
“Count me in. I’ll get everything rolling on my end. By the way, what are we going to use for the album cover?”
“The Dean invited one of the faculty members to design the cover, which will have four-color art work on both sides. Side-A will be SAC, for the School for American Craftsmen. Side-B will be A&D, for the School of Art & Design."
“This is exciting stuff, for sure! Thank you for involving me in such an innovative project. I’ve really enjoyed it, every step of the way.”
“All I can tell you is that the Dean isn’t easily satisfied. This is all happening because of your passion for your work,” she complimented.
Six months later, the LPs were mailed across the globe. In the meantime, the young professor left teaching…another story for another time…and opened a music production company in his 9’x11’ studio in the decrepit old industrial complex. With a film score to his credit, he ventured into advertising by composing and producing jingles for ad agencies. That little production company eventually morphed into a full service national ad agency, yet another story for another time and place!
But before we conclude this story, the young professor has a confession to make: he is me. And I am him. But you already knew that…didn’t you?
I can only wonder how that LP could have become a favorite of rare-LP collectors around the globe, bought and sold who-knows-how-many-times? And for how much money! Yes, I did the required research, contacting the rare-LP collectors who had been following my music for all those years, unbeknownst to me. When they heard I had a few unopened LPs in my attic…well, you can guess the rest!