Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli was 20 years old when he discovered the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, known for exploring the uncanny relationship between nature and humanity.
That it has taken the Los Angeles-based composer more than 30 years to set Jeffers to music suggests there is more to his poetry than meets the eye.
“I grew up in ‘Jeffers Country’ on California’s Central Coast and developed a reverence for his monumental nature poetry,” says Anderson-Bazzoli, who specializes in contemporary classical music and film scores. “For years, I tried to find an approach that would do his work justice. Then I discovered Music for People [MfP], whose techniques helped me ‘release’ that struggle.”
Last year, Delos released the premiere recording of Anderson-Bazzoli’s Continent’s End, a song cycle based on nine of Jeffers’ poems. The MfP-inspired work originated as solo vocal improvisations, after which Anderson-Bazzoli composed accompanying piano parts.
Critics agree that the album, featuring mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott and pianist Kevin Korth, captures the spirit of Jeffers’ lean, enigmatic verse.
“Vocal improvisation organically connects the music to the poetry,” says Anderson-Bazzoli, who also writes and conducts for record labels and film studios, including Interscope, Universal and Paramount. “The music flows more naturally than if I sit at the piano and compose measure-by-measure.”
We recently caught up with Anderson-Bazzoli, who is working on an album of original folk-rock songs, to discuss the impact of MfP on his career.
Congratulations on the success of Continent’s End. How else has MfP influenced you?
One of the first things I did after reading Return to Child [by MfP Co-Founder David Darling] was pick up a new instrument. It was my love of singer-songwriters such as Van Morrison and Elvis Costello that led me to the guitar. After spending almost 10 years with it, I’m excited to release some music that is a result of that passion.
Interesting, considering you trained as a tubist and pianist.
Singing and drumming also have become central to my composing process. I used to get frustrated with the piano because when I looked at it, all I saw were traditional scales and familiar chord progressions. I knew that if I was going to find my original voice, I’d have to release all of that.
Recording my solo improvisations provides a hunk of clay to work with. It’s a great solution to the problem of [staring at] a “blank page.” I start by embracing in-the-moment, judgement-free instincts. Afterward, I study what I’ve done and then let the intellectual crafts of development and orchestration take over. It’s a good balance of the two sides of the brain.
Recording my solo improvisations provides a hunk of clay to work with…. Afterward, I study what I’ve done and then let the intellectual crafts of development and orchestration take over.Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli
You were Esa-Pekka Salonen’s editor and music copyist for part of his celebrated tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic [from 1992-2009]. What was that experience like?
I was grateful to live in L.A. during the 17 years that he conducted and composed there. Esa-Pekka helped move the orchestra toward the progressive, risk-taking one it is today.
I met him shortly after earning my master’s in composition at UCLA. We were introduced to one another by stage director Peter Sellars, whose UCLA classes I had attended. Esa-Pekka hired me, at the young age of 25, to prepare parts for the 1996 premiere of his now-classic composition ‘LA Variations.’ At the time, I also was ushering at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the very theater where the performance took place. I even showed composer John Williams to his seat that night.
Brilliant people such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Peter Sellars understand how important it is to empower young people, to give them a chance to get their foot in the door.
You also have worked with many pop stars, including Christina Aguilera and Michael Bublé. Any delicious stories to share?
If you’ve seen the documentary The Defiant Ones [about producer and rapper Dr. Dre and record executive Jimmy Iovine], there’s a shot toward the end showing Dr. Dre on the podium, baton in hand, giving a downbeat to an orchestra. As the actual session conductor, I am proud to say that I convinced him, after much resistance, to get up there and try his hand at conducting.
What was it like studying with such luminaries as Henry Mancini, David Raksin and Jacob Druckman?
Being a jazzer, Mancini definitely embraced the MfP spirit. In the handful of film scoring lessons I had with him, his frequent comment was “Kid, you’re overthinking it.”
Raksin taught with a lot of humor. He used to say things like, “If you insist on writing that particular B-natural for the oboe, be prepared for a sound that hasn’t been heard since the death of Donald Duck.”
I spent an amazing summer at the Aspen Music Festival and School, where I took seminar with Druckman. He was very soft-spoken but vehemently shared his passion for the innovative harmonic techniques of Stravinsky, especially those in the ballet Orpheus.
You’ve cited Dark Wood, David Darling’s 1993 solo album, as a singular influence. Did you ever think that you’d work with him?
When I found out he was teaching MfP seminars, I knew I had to make a cross-country pilgrimage to check them out.
David and everyone at MfP helped me create music free of fear and other “mental kaka.” After UCLA, it was what the doctor had ordered. MfP has affected my creative life, profoundly and permanently.
Photo by Scott Campbell