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JAZZ

Grusin, Ritenour Plug Into Future

September 28, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour are not officially partners, yet the success of their many collaborative ventures during the past 15 years (mostly in the Hollywood film and recording studios) leaves no doubt about the significance of their association.

Grusin's has been a five-step career: pianist, arranger (and musical director for Andy Williams, with whom he toured from 1959-66), movie composer, record producer, and record company owner. He and Larry Rosen, once Andy Williams' drummer, are partners in the fast-rising GRP label, specializing in pop-oriented jazz.

Ritenour, who has a new album on Grusin's label, "Earth Run" (GRP S 1021), is best known as a guitarist who has played on at least 3,000 sessions, but he, too, is a composer with 100 writing credits and an imposing list of recent television and movie scoring assignments. Though he lags far behind Grusin, who has four Academy Award nominations (for "Heaven Can Wait," "The Champ," "On Golden Pond" and "Tootsie"), he is the pianist's junior by 18 years and may well turn out to be the Dave Grusin of the year 2000.

That particular year was on their minds as they recently found themselves discussing possible answers to an all-but-unanswerable question: What will music be like at the dawn of the next century?

"Let's assume," Grusin said, "that we're talking basically about jazz. I think it might be easier to predict in the classical field. One of the essential ingredients is that it has to keep moving. It can't become categorized and stagnate because that negates everything that jazz stands for.

"I see players like Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and the clarinetist Eddie Daniels, and I hear the technique of today's artists keep climbing and climbing; so the composers will be writing more and more challenging works for them.

"Composing will infiltrate digital technology more and more. Score pages may become defunct--if I could communicate to an orchestra what I want without having to write it down, that would be my dream--just plug in my head and do it direct. Young kids today are all into computers in a way that we never could be. That's what I see for the future in terms of tools. It's not that everything will be computerized or electronic, but rather that these developments will be adjuncts to creativity."

This led to another question that has been on the minds of innumerable musicians whose careers may depend on it: To what extent will synthesizers put conventional musical instruments out of business?

Ritenour replied: "It seems to me that the great virtuosos on traditional instruments will always be around. When Julian Bream plays the lute it's a wonderful sound, and I'm talking about a pretty old instrument.

"But I'll tell you, if I had a kid now, I wouldn't recommend that he pick up one of those instruments unless he was tremendously drawn to it. The demand is going to diminish. Still, orchestras will be around. In fact, I've noticed that even in my generation, and the new generation that we're working with right now, there are a lot of people who are sort of anti-electronic, who want to hear real virtuosity, good songs. Those basic values don't change."

Ritenour's words and his actions seem to be at odds. In his new album he plays no less than eight instruments, all guitars or guitar synthesizers, and most of them electric. How can this possibly be necessary, and how can the listener tell the difference?

Ritenour laughed. "I can tell the difference, and it's important to me. Dave and I are good examples of what's happening. He still uses the acoustic piano for his roots, but he employs state-of-the-art synthesizers for additional effects. I'm using this new digital guitar synthesizer, the Synthaxe, but I don't make wall-to-wall use of it on the album. I still have the acoustic guitar in there when it sounds right.

"It's amazing--when I was around 19 and just trying to break in, I had just two guitars and an amplifier. Today, if you're a rhythm section player, especially a keyboard player or guitarist, you have to walk in the studio door with $25,000 to $50,000 worth of equipment. I don't like to discourage young people, but this is certainly going to be essential to the generation coming up."

Grusin pointed out that musicians of an earlier generation are acknowledging the electronic wave of the future: "Gerry Mulligan, who has been very vocally anti-electronics, called to tell me he had bought a Synclavier. I gave him a book for his birthday called 'Computer Wimp,' which you're supposed to read before you buy one, and now he wants to use the Synclavier to help his composing."

From electronics the conversation drifted to specific personalities. Stanley Jordan seems to have revolutionized young guitarists' thinking through the technique of tapping instead of strumming or plucking the strings. Will this supplant the orthodox guitar approach by 2000?

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