You know I've been meaning write this up here for almost a year...bear with me. It might be long, but for anyone composing music, it might be somewhat inspiring to you.
This is a dedication to film composer Michael Small, who wrote some extremely unique and memorable scores that impressed me to no end when I was younger. I used to take cassette recorders to the theater in the 70s so I could record the scores and go home and listen again.
I was just starting out getting commercial work in the early 80s here in Florida when I decided to try to contact him...to tell him how much I loved his work, etc. I managed to find his home phone number after really not much effort, and called him cold one day. As I heard the phone ring I was a nervous wreck, but endured.
"Yes...is Michael Small there?" I said...
"Is this THE Michael Small...the film composer?"
"Well..this is a very big moment for me. I'm a fellow composer, but just starting out...and I just wanted to call and talk to you for a moment or two, because you've been such a great influence on me..."
(Laughs)...."Well....wow, that's great...now...where are you calling from?"
And so the conversation went. At the end, I asked if I could send him some of my work from a recent PBS documentary, and he welcomed it. I did, and when I called a week or so later, his wife Lynn answered and said that he was out of town, but had gotten my tape, and loved it. "He wants you to call him, so try at the end of the week, he'll be back...."
And I did. You can imagine how I felt when this hero of mine said "Yes, I got your tape and I was very impressed. The writing was very mature and the orchestrations sounded great."
I told him I suppose he picked up on his influences on me here and there and he said "Yes, I heard that" with a grin in his voice.
And so began a telephone relationship with one of my idols. I would call him about once a month, and pick his brain about his scores ("Geez, you're as bad as my youngest son...he hears EVERYTHING and wants to know what it was!" he said to me once). And I would share my insecurities with him, and he would have none of it. "Look, now if you're going to call and act insecure, I don't want to hear it."
"But what if I got an assignment to do a COWBOY or something?" I'd ask.
"Then I'm sure you would do your homework and come up with something great. I don't want to hear you speak negatively" he would answer.
Finally, on one phone call, he abruptly said..."Listen, I'm doing a session in New York this Friday, and it's jingle making (he did post scores between films) at it's highest level. Big agency, good size section. You should get up here and see it."
Well I almost flipped. "Just get on a plane, book a room overnight in the city and be at the session at 10 PM. You'll learn a lot."
So I did. I went by myself and flew up on some super saver fare....stayed in the hotel all night...got up and took a cab to the session. I arrived before Michael did. I was greeted by his orchestrator and the engineer.
The studio had a fair sized string section....maybe 24 strings, woodwinds, brass, the works. Up on the monitor in the control room, a very cool TV spot, played....a commercial for Sperry Rand Corporation....the kind of big image spots you see on Sunday during football games.
All of a sudden the control room door opened and in walked a young, very well dressed and GQ looking man with a briefcase. After greeting everyone, he looked over to me and said ...."And you must be Tom..." and I got up and shook hands. "Glad you could make it."
The next hour was filled with Michael running between the control room and conducting in the studio, as the agency producer monitored from the console. The spot just sounded huge. Sonny, the orchestrator, gave me a copy of the score to follow. It all looked really complex, and sounded like a million bucks.
And just like that, the hour was up, the musicians were out of there, and Michael was saying..."So, let's go to lunch! Did you like the score?"
I told him it looked complex and sounded great...."Do you think it's complex? I thought it was really pretty easy..." which made me feel like I had even FARTHER to go.
I told him he looked younger than I pictured him, and that his voice on the phone was kind of stern....and he was turning out to be a really nice and easygoing guy. "Well, I don't want to be too nice here, I want you to get something out of this," he said. "Also, you don't have to eat that Borscht if you don't like it, " he added with a smile.
As lunch ended, he reached into his briefcase and said "Would you like a copy of the score?" and I said..."Are you kidding, yes!". As he handed it over across the table he paused and said....."Now...I don't want to HEAR This anywhere..." and gave me a grin. I promised. I still have it.
I walked with him to Union Station, where he took a train home. He showed me the con artists on the streetcorners with their 3 card whatever it's called...and he pulled a lady out of the way of a cab who was ambling toward the street. "I'm always rescuing people here in the city," he smiled.
I thanked him profusely and watched him melt into the crowds catching their train. I called a cab for the airport and returned home, never to see him again.
We talked a few more times, and he finally said that he had done all he could do for me. He now wanted me to go find musical happiness, whether that was staying in Florida (which I did) or moving to LA and trying to be a big gun. He had been gracious, and patient, and more than understanding. He didn't want to be a crutch. He wanted to let the bird fly free. I never felt like I couldn't call him anymore, but I did understand what he was trying to get through to me.
I hadn't spoken with him in years, and was shocked to see Michael had passed away last year, of prostate cancer. I called his wife and she said it was very sudden.
It hit me like a shot because I will always remember his youthful exuberance that day in NYC. After I got back, I forever dressed better at sessions, and tried to be more prepared. More like Michael.
A real life personal hero.
Thanks for listening. And don't forget to contact your heroes. You never know.