What Patrick Williams is doing with Soundwings, his new record company, makes no sense. Not, at least, from the old-line viewpoint of the merchants who run the recording industry.
From Williams' aspect, as well as that of the artists he is recording, it makes a great deal of sense. Fortunately, his attitude is shared by Larry Welk, president of Teleklew, a conglomerate owned by his father, the bubble king. The younger Welk is a jazz fan and a believer in the durability of valid music of all kinds. Teleklew is distributing Soundwings Records.
Williams, a successful motion picture and TV composer since 1968, discussed his project recently. With him was Bill Watrous, the trombonist whose album "Someplace Else" (Soundwings SW 2100) is one of the company's most daring ventures.
"It's been a time-consuming job getting our first releases together," said Williams. "It took me eight months to write the score for 'Gulliver.' That's an album narrated by Sir John Gielgud, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, in a story by Larry Gelbart based on 'Gulliver's Travels.' I spent another two months writing 'One Night/One Day,' an album showcasing the saxophonist Tom Scott. The Bill Watrous assignment took three months, even though the actual recording--live and digital, with no overdubbing--only took one four-hour and one three-hour session."
Presumably Gielgud, Scott and Williams have all the security they need, but for Watrous the Soundwings experiment marked a pivotal point in a once-brilliant career that had been floundering.
"What happened basically," said Watrous, "was that synthesizers had begun to take over in the studios, replacing horns. I found that 1983 was pretty ugly, but 1984 was disastrous. Between May and September, I didn't get a single call, except for a weekend at Disneyland."
The situation seemed doubly ironic since Watrous, an all-around musician who had been on staff at CBS and ABC, had led his own band (the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge) and was equipped for any contingency, jazz or pop, found eight years after his move to Los Angeles, that things were grinding to a halt.
"Here I am with a lovely young wife to whom I had made elaborate campaign promises; I'm also a new father, and I'm sitting in the bathtub trying to get up the guts to put my head under the water and leave it there. Happily, around that time, Pat called up and gave me hope. He told me, 'I'm thinking about a plan that can change not only your entire career but the whole music business.' And now here I am, thanks to him, on an album with my jazz quintet plus an 87-piece symphony orchestra."
Williams' three initial ventures for the label involved an expenditure far beyond what most new companies can afford. "I brought the albums in for a recording cost of just under $75,000 each," he said. "Sure, that's a lot of money, but look at it this way. The compact disc market, the audiophile potential, has a wide enough base now to justify making top-of-the-line, genuine quality product. People are looking for music that is ambitious, well conceived and beautifully recorded and performed. I'm obviously not looking to climb the R&B charts or anything like that, but if we can expand the public's listening experience, establish ourselves with a high-grade image and do reasonably well around the world, our LPs and CDs and cassettes will be selling many years from now. Durability is a factor too many people neglect to take into account."
The Watrous album, best categorized as third-stream music, involves a seamless fusion of classical and jazz elements. On the first side are Williams' "La Fuerza," two pop standard songs and Robert Farnon's adaptation of "Shenandoah," all with stunning performances by Watrous. (The CD offers a bonus track, Jobim's "No More Blues.") On the B side are a medley of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" (theme song of the 1940s trombone pioneer Tommy Dorsey) and "Yesterdays," and adaptations of works by Massenet and Debussy.
Williams believes, and there is substantial evidence to support his belief, that along with the new demands made by the buyers of compact discs, there is a burgeoning demand for eclecticism in repertoire and performance. "The success of Wynton Marsalis has had a valuable impact. Here comes a new artist who records a jazz combo album, a pop-jazz album with strings, and a classical album, and finds a market for all three, and he wins awards and sells well in all these areas. So I said to Bill, 'Rather than doing a classical album and a jazz album, why don't we combine them?'
"Then the question arose: What was he going to play? After all, the repertoire for the trombone is not like the repertoire for trumpet, not nearly as extensive. Even though Debussy didn't write for trombone, however, we found that his music was adaptable.