Q: When you are creating, is your approach different, depending on whether you’re playing acoustic or electric guitar?
A: In the beginning, I was influenced by so many things that I grew up with – classical music, jazz, modern jazz, Israeli folk – you don’t know it until you write the music, and if you say “it’s melodic,” where does the influence come from? Before I moved to the States, I was listening to standards. But I love to write music on my nylon string. I cannot tell you if I’m going to write funk, like my tune, “Mr. X” from my second album. The melody I did with Dave Liebman playing unison, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Eddie Gomez on bass. I think I can still play it on a nylon string guitar because the bass line is still the bass line, but when I want to deal with something that is a little bit more in a different kind of style, I want to have the sound already there while I am working on it. So then it might be on electric guitar.
It’s funny, because I contradict myself sometimes. If you hear me play the electric guitar or the nylon string at home, sometimes you won’t hear the difference, because I play a similar sound when I don’t use effects. But if I want to do something really in your face, with distortion or wah-wah, of course I can’t do it on both.
I have a tune that I play with a Harmonizer, and if you take the Harmonizer away, there’s no tune anymore. The whole thing about this tune is the Harmonizer. Sometimes I write tunes with pedal points which I need to record into a sequencer. I’m using the term “sequencer” because I come from the ’80s. Now, you put everything into ProTools, so you can start with a bass line, like in “All Blues,” or in “Footprints.” If you start with that, then you come up with some kind of a melody to add to it. So there are different ways of writing. Sometimes I get a melody in my head and sometimes I just play harmony chords. If I feel like it’s a happier thing, I might go into a major sound – sixth, ninth, major seventh, major seventh-sharp-eleven. If I feel darker, I know already that I’m going to start some kind of a D minor with flat thirteen, so the sound comes while I’m playing.
Also, as an exercise, I like to write the song, and then I take the same song, leave out the chords and do a new melody, or I leave the melody and I change the chords below them. It’s a great exercise of composition. So there are many different approaches.
When I write for Megatrax, it’s more technical, because I’ve been told to write for a specific project. When I write for myself, it’s a longer process.
Q: How do you work with a theme when they give it to you?
A: That’s good for me. I’m a movie buff; I see a lot of movies, and for me, if you put a picture in front of me, it’s easy. I’m a very sensitive person, so if you tell me a story, I can almost cry, and it would go straight into the instrument. There is a chord for hopefulness, there is a chord for forgiveness, there is a chord for fear. Usually, an augmented chord is dreamy, maybe a C major seventh to D minor. A diminished chord is like if somebody is coming to strangle you. When you add the ninth to C major, you’re adding a color, like painting. A sharp eleven is like an apple that wants to fall down from a tree. You know it’s going to resolve to G. So I look at notes as life, and the closest thing to life is jazz music. I come from that approach. It took me a while to understand that idea.
I think some of the most successful for Megatrax were “Jazz Nights” and “Jazz & Blues.” The last few CDs I did, like “Jazz & Blues,” are very authentic. There was one tune, “Bagel Man,” that made more money for me than all the others on the CD by itself – mainly because of the name.
Q: Does it surprise you when you find out how some of your songs are used?
A: Yes. I did a tune that was so simple – nothing to it – but then I’d hear it on Chris Rock’s show, I’d hear it on an airplane. The Japanese market was the greatest for that tune.
Q: Tell about your teaching.
A: Teaching is something I really like to do because it’s natural and I like to share my knowledge. But I really need to do that at my age. I got to be a father for the first time almost three years ago, so now Mordy is not just responsible for himself!