Just spent a lovely evening of beer and laughter in the company of an old commercial west-coast arranger. Not that old. Fred is actually a handful of years my junior. But certainly old-skool. With craft expertise and professional fluency in generous abundance. And his models for organising the musical universe are those he learned from Dick Grove
The Dick Grove School of Music in the San Fernando Valley was, through the ‘70s and ‘80s, Southern California’s leading trade school for instrumentalists and singers planning to work in Hollywood studio and entertainment scenes. Students include Michael Jackson, Linda Ronstadt, a whole legion of west-coast professional jobbing lesser-knowns like my co-writing partner, Pat Coleman, for instance…..
Dick Grove’s own comprehensive system of music education incorporated the old Schillinger system which formed the basis of curricula at Berklee – I once encouraged Alistair to choose one of their free courses for fun and unrealistic challenge – and the Fred Stride system is grown from Grove’s. That’s the vague lineage of a style of thinking, as I understand it, which became the muso lingua franca.
A couple of years back I spent half-a-dozen hours a week for a handful of months studying theory under Fred’s tutelage. A very high-intensity privilege. Then another handful of months sub-editing his un-published pedagogic texts. And all full of the stuff (finally!) that I wish I had known about fifty years ago. If only …
Right now though, in my dotage (or “though in my dotage”), I have gathered together a collection of songs as last-gasp performance vehicles for my decrepit self and rhythm section with small horn-section of trumpet (doubling flugelhorn), tenor sax (doubling soprano), and trombone. But my progress in writing the arrangements has been slow and tentative. So I asked Fred for help – and he made me a magnificent and unexpected offer.
Fred said we should treat the performance in entirety.
My job first, he told me, is to organise two sets. Paying attention to keys & tempos, grooves & styles, continuity & contrast, tension & release, he asks me to make a detailed sketch of their emotional contour. And then, when I bring him the lead-sheets, we can sit down together at his piano and construct complete written arrangements for a satisfyingly coherent evening of entertainment.
I am excited.