Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Norman Meehan is more than a jazz composer and gifted pianist, he also teaches jazz composition and history at the New Zeaand School of Music in Wellington. And he wrote the very fine biography of Mike Nock, Serious Fun (reviewed here) and Ten Conversations with Paul Bley.
On his own albums he has set the poetry of Americn e.e. cummings and New Zealand's Bill Manhire to music, and – as you may see from hs answers below – he also has a fine sense of humour.
So here's Norman Meehan . . .
The first piece of music, jazz or
otherwise, which really affected you was . . ?
I loved ‘I’ve Been Bitten by the Lovebug’ which I think was playing on the radio when I was about 7. I had a fantasy of playing this tune on lead guitar while the attractive girls in my standard 2 class at school in Hastings danced to my playing. It hasn’t happened yet.
I also loved Roger Whittaker’s version of ‘I’m Gonna Leave Old Durham Town.’ I still love it, actually.
When did you first realise this jazz thing was for you?
I had the flu one night and had the radio playing while I took a bath. I was pretty woozy and the student radio station was playing a lot of fusion. The memorable tracks were Billy Cobham’s ‘The Red Baron’, and Jeremy Steig – something from the Wayfarin’ Stranger album I think. The combination of heat, flu and codral was intoxicating. I’ve not been the same since.
What one piece of music would you play to a 15-year old into rock music to show them, 'This is jazz, and this is how it works'?
Sonny Stitt with the Oscar Peterson Trio playing up-tempo bebop. Maybe their version of A Privave or Scrapple from the Apple.
Time travel allows you go back to experience great jazz. You would go to . . ?
Miles – around 1969 I guess – some of that Silent Way / early Bitches Brew music live would be killing. Or maybe Edward Vesala’s Sound and Fury group.
Which period of Miles Davis' career do you most relate to, and why: the acoustic Fifties; his orchestrated albums with Gil Evans; the fusion of the late Sixties; street funk of the Seventies or the Tutu album and beyond in the Eighties . . .
In A Silent Way – hands down the best period for me. Pretty well everything from 68-70 is the shit
Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?
No. We have a pink ukelele – does that count?
The best book on the jazz life you have read is . . .
What is the ‘jazz life’? If that’s about drugs, then Hampton Hawes or Art Pepper’s biographies are compellingly ghastly. If it is about music (and the music business) I really enjoyed Bill Bruford’s autobiography. I don’t know – they are all so different. Ian Carr’s book ‘Music Outside’ is pretty wonderful, and ‘But Beautiful’ by Geoff Dwyer is unique and memorable.
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)
I’d love to play piano with Tomasz Stanko (although I don’t think he’d have me)
The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
Any three episodes of Get Smart.
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
Pacific Eardrum’s first album on vinyl. And I downloaded Suzanne Abbeuhl’s new album yesterday.
One jazz standard you wished you had written . . .
I wouldn’t mind the royalties from The Theme From M*A*S*H. Is that a jazz standard?
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
I’ve got a big picture of Ornette Coleman on the wall – from the cover of The Shape of Jazz To Come. I think we all need Ornette watching over us.
Three non-jazz albums for a desert island would be . . ?
Blue Lines – Massive Attack
Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time (a good version…)
Sigur Ros’ first album.
Your dream band of musicians (living or dead) would be . . ?
Don Grolnick – piano
Mingus with Dannie Richmond in back
Tomasz Stanko and Paul Gonsalves in front
I have no idea what they’d play – given the personalities it’d have to be something by Mingus. But imagine that group playing some of Grolnick’s music; that’d be beautiful.
And finally, is there a track on your most recent album you would love people to hear. And, if so, why that one?
‘Scott Dying’ from These Rough Notes (VUP, book and CD) [It’s not jazz – does that still count?]
I think it captures musical melancholy – that’s what I am trying to do with music, I think – as Henry Mancini has it: ‘the musical sadness that makes life worth living.’