In June I had the opportunity to go to Nassau in the Bahamas with my wife, Cheryl and my son, Matt. Although enjoying a wonderful family vacation on a beautiful island can’t be discounted, the motivation of this issue’s presidential message is to acquaint you with a person who had a great deal to do with my decision to pursue a career in music and suggest that you make that call today to those that have inspired you.
This last year is a testimonial to why we should celebrate and communicate with our talented icons. I only wish that I could have had more in depth conversations with David Raksin, Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith and let them know what a special place they played in all of our lives through the professional dedication they brought to the art of film music. David and Elmer’s vision and uncompromising stewardship of this organization has been a humbling experience for me as I learn more about their valiant efforts on our behalf.
I lost my great friend and mentor, Albert Harris at the beginning of this year. I know that many of you had the opportunity to study with him before he moved to New Zealand some years back. President of ASMAC, an accomplished composer, and the arranger and orchestrator for many talented artists, he taught me much of what I know about film scoring. I was fortunate to learn the basics and benefit from the knowledge of his long and fruitful career in film, where he worked with Victor Young, Earle Hagen and my good friend, Joe Harnell. Early in my musical evolution, I had attended several of Dr. Harris’ sessions at CBS Radford Studio when he was composing for the William Conrad series “Cannon”. While observing, I had the opportunity to meet many of the great musical talents of the day such as Veryle Mills, Pete Jolly and Kenny Watson. I had planned to call Dr. Harris on numerous occasions, but couldn’t quite find the time.
In the summer of 1966, my parents took me on a trip to the Bahamas, where I met one of the island’s great calypsonians, Count Bernadino. I was in awe at that early age to find that someone could achieve so much joy and passion from writing and performing music. He was the ultimate entertainer, master of the steel pans, and had been christened the Count by winning a highly respected competition among all island entertainers.
After spending much of the fifties in New York City, performing in venues such as The Rip Tide Club, the African Room and even Carnegie Hall, Count Bernadino returned to his Bahamian home in 1960. He composed calypso songs for John Kennedy and England’s Prime Minister MacMillan during their visit in 1962 , and was performing at the Nassau Beach Hotel when I met him four years later. Although my musical career has followed its own path, he has remained an inspiration to me. In fact, through all the summers over the past forty years, his recordings have been an underscore to my visits to my family home in Oklahoma City, and my children have grown up to the Count’s music.
Some of you are aware that I have recorded two albums as personal projects that are purely for the joy of doing it, with no commercial and certainly no financial incentive. Starting a year ago, I began recording a third, which was to be a collection of the Count’s timeless material, paying homage to his artistry and the love that he taught me always to have in my own music, separate and apart from the career that it has ended up being for me.
Many studio hours over the last year have been spent with my amazing musical team, in studios such as Capitol “A”, Firehouse and Martinsound playing old records from my trip in 1966 and listening once again to this seminal figure in calypso music, all the while trying to stay true to the essence of these recordings. What began to transpire as we recreated these songs over the past months was a genuine fulfillment, not tied into financial gain, but an affirmation of why I pursued music in the first place.
As plans for our trip began to crystallize, much to my amazement, I found that at eighty-one, Count Bernadino is very much alive and well and still performing in Nassau. Fortunately, he is as honored and respected in the islands as would befit a man with his talent and vision.
Our trip was filled with days of getting reacquainted, learning about his life and most importantly, joining him as he performed as many as three engagements a day and realizing how much of a creative force that one can be in their eighties; an inspiration in its own right. I was able to get the Count into a studio and actually record him on several of the tracks that I had been working on, amazingly enough on Digital Performer at a small studio near Paradise Beach. The session was imbued with a magical feeling, not unlike having the opportunity of collaborating with someone like Louis Armstrong and seeing how the years had added to the reinterpretation of the songs I knew so well. Always the calysonian, the most difficult part was teaching the Count the way he had done the songs in 1966, as they had evolved dramatically in the last forty years, and he rarely does anything the same way twice.
So I encourage all of you to make the calls and let those people know in your own lives how much they mean to you. One of the big joys that I find in our SCL Ambassador program is acknowledging great talents and demonstrating the respect that we have for them. The program is a testimonial to how we have learned our craft from their example and will continue to be inspired by their wisdom.
The SCL has established wonderful relations with Ray Evans, who gave us such classics as “Silver Bells,” and “Mona Lisa,” and Earle Hagen, who’s classic themes and underscore will be playing as long as there is a medium to showcase them. Ray Charles will always live in our hearts with his wonderful contributions to vocal writing and the variety show format. Vic Mizzy, whose clever mastery of the television theme is only surpassed by his sharp wit, will hold a special place in my memory of our events. Each one of these men has as much to offer today as they ever had.
Too often, we fail to recognize those who have made an impact in our lives, whether it is a teacher who motivated us, a great composer or songwriter who has inspired us, or even a close personal friend we haven’t spoken to in awhile. Each of us has those persons who have played a great role in making us who we are today. I can tell you that Count Bernadino was amazed to find that I was out there for forty years and had been finding inspiration in his creativity. Hopefully each of you will find the time to re-unite with your own Count Bernadino, and reap the rewards of doing so.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XX, Number Three, Fall 2005]