Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Daryl Kojak, Composer

“I do it because I can’t help myself.” Composer Daryl Kojak keeps coming back to that phrase to characterize his creative process. As a master of the Great American Songbook, Kojak could be expected to be traversing this realm for his upcoming recording project for the Maginus Project. But Kojak’s genius lies in his ability to work in and create across different musical genres, and he has chosen the classical waltz for his next inspiration.

Daryl Kojak
Daryl Kojak

Drawing insight from the 20 waltzes composed by Frederic Chopin, Kojak has composed twenty of his own, with the first two abstractly modeled after the great composer, and the remaining pieces moving into more contemporary harmonic and melodic realms. Kojak and Phil Lewis, Executive Director for the Maginus Project, have brought in the classical pianist Elizabeth Poole to perform the pieces for the recording.

No stranger to classical music -- or virtually any musical genre for that matter -- Kojak has been at his craft for decades. He is perhaps best known as musical director to New York's finest vocal talent, many of whom are Broadway, cabaret and jazz staples. Kojak also serves as a musical director and mentor for Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Foundation, teaching and preserving the music for younger generations. As composer, Mr. Kojak has written extensively for stage, screen, and studio, and in 2000 released the well-received album of his semi-classical compositions for chamber ensemble, Notes From the Pilgrimage.

The Maginus Project chatted with Kojak to probe his composing methods and musical ideas in anticipation of his upcoming release.

MP:  Can you tell us a bit about how this project came together with Phil and the Maginus Project?

DK:  Sure.  For years I had been revisiting the waltz -- a long-neglected classical form -- and knew that some of my waltzes were inspired by Chopin. I decided to compile a print volume to see if it was feasible to publish. A bit into the project I was wondering who might have an interest in this music, and while speaking to Phil, he expressed an interest in seeing some of the scores. One thing led to another and Phil offered to sponsor a recording of the project. He introduced me to a very talented pianist -- Elizabeth Poole -- to record the pieces.

MP:  Would you consider the music an homage to Chopin or simply inspired by him?

DK:  It’s not really an homage, but is definitely inspired by Chopin; perhaps the first two waltzes are modeled after his in terms of feeling, but not in harmonic content. The rest are a melange of different influences, including Strauss, New Age, and some 20th century modernism.

MP:  Let’s stay on the topic of harmony and counterpoint -- what are your thoughts about harmonic structure when you compose?

DK:  With music from the Baroque era, there is a predominant linear quality about the music that must be followed, and sometimes that linear structure can be very strict, as with a fugue. The harmony tends to be a result of these moving lines. With Classical and Romantic era music, there is a different balance between melodic lines and harmonic structures. I think what is notable for me about composing in the Classical later genres, is that the melodies and the harmonies seem to come together all at once.

MP:  Is that different than when you are composing songs?

DK : It can be. I’m fascinated by harmony, and with songs, I find I can take some more liberties, starting with the melody and sometimes backfilling with harmony.

MP:  And with the songs, do you closely follow common 32-bar and related structures?

DK:  Yes and no. When I do I use them as a departure point since these forms are very accessible. I like to experiment with the bridge -- what used to be called the release -- to write songs in different ways.

MP: Listening to your piano technique, I can’t help but be curious about your most influential list -- please tell.

DK:  There are many, but Bill Evans would be one of my top, along with titans like Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea.  I was in a lounge in LA once speaking with an elegant African American woman who asked me who my favorite pianist was.  When I mentioned Bill Evans, she asked whether I knew the song Peri’s Scope.  I replied “of course,” and she coolly told me that she the song was dedicated to her, Peri Cousins.

MP:  That is a terrific story.  What wisdom then, in all your music travels, would you care to impart to the Maginus Project community?

DK:  For me, I enjoy studying music of all different genres. Music is informed by other music. Keep in mind that even with the titans -- Beethoven, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Chick Corea -- as brilliant as their work is, their greatness drew from the many that came before them, all in little steps.

MP:  Daryl, thanks for spending time with us today, and we are looking forward to your waltz project.

DK:  Thank you and thanks to the Maginus Project for the wonderful opportunity.

-Daniel Lilie, special contributor to the Maginus Project Blog