Written By Bridgid Brousseau
“How does an artist continue finding ways to rearrange 12 simple notes to create a new song? We breathe, we listen and if we’re quiet enough…we hear.” ~Terry Wollman~
Billboard charting guitarist, music director, producer and composer Terry Wollman shared priceless insight into the release of "The Terry Wollman SIlver Collection," importance that music and education has played in his life and career, his dreams and the emotional connections and inspirations behind some of his beautiful music. So "Welcome to Paradise," at least for a few minutes.
Bridgid: You have been in the music business for over 25 years. As many times as you’ve probably been asked this question I too must ask not only because I don’t know the answer but because I want readers, particularly young readers to know the limitless possibilities and importance of music education. My goal is to get Woodshed Jazz Magazine into physical publication and into schools and on shelves so that our younger generation is reading more books and magazines rather than spend so much time on the computer. How were you introduced to the world of music?
Terry: First, I really appreciate that you want physical issues because there’s something very important about picking up a book and having a tactile experience with reading and engaging kids to pick up books and magazines and read like we did growing up and not just looking at a screen. I think that’s just fantastic!
Bridgid: Thank you so much!
Terry: I got my start like most kids did. I was forced to take music lessons from my parents because they thought it was the right thing to do, and it was. I started with guitar. We had a teacher that came to the house. I have to say in retrospect that he wasn’t the best teacher but he did point me in the right direction and I really appreciate that. He just wasn’t really into leading creatively in any way. He was about learning to read music and technique and things that are really important but I struggled with it because I was also making up songs when I was first starting.
Terry: I was always a composer as well as a guitarist. I wanted to figure out how to learn other artist’s songs like the Beatles. It was an interesting, informative and slightly rocky start but I had a natural ability and desire with guitar so I kept up with it. I studied for a few years and my parents ended up getting a piano. They wanted me to take piano lessons as well. I figured out songs I heard on the radio as well as the classical studies and traditional things on the piano. I was equally interested and probably more so in figuring out things, really exploring how to make chords and play melodies that I was hearing on the radio. I was really drawn to that. I probably studied piano for a year or so but really didn’t connect with the teacher.
Terry: I really wanted to play drums but my parents were not thrilled with having something that loud in the house. They said that if I was serious about it they would let me study on a practice pad and if I did that for a few months they would get me a snare drum. If I stayed with that for a while I could work my way up to a full kit. I actually studied drums for a year or two as well and never got past the snare. My parents really didn’t want drums in the house. It was pretty obvious. They were hoping that I would lose interest in the drums but I loved it! I loved the rhythm of it and practicing paradiddles.
Terry: In junior high school I ended up joining the school band and I wanted to try the trumpet but I was discouraged again because it was a loud instrument. So my parents said “why don’t you try the flute?” At the time I thought it was kind of a girl’s instrument which was really limited thinking back then because there are some amazing flute players like Herbie Mann, Paul Horn and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. That’s full-on testosterone flute playing. I just didn’t want to play the flute so I shose the clarinet. I soon discovered I had a had a natural inclination towards the guitar, piano and percussion.
Terry: I got back to playing guitar and piano, took more lessons and learned from friends. When I was fifteen I lived in Mexico City for six months with my dad and older brother. That’s where it really started for me because I bought myself a classical guitar when I was there and practiced every day and found really interesting musicians that gave me lessons. I never turned back. I continued when I was in junior college and I started studying piano more seriously and took a few years of jazz and classical piano as well as guitar. I then started arranging and composing. Guitar is my first instrument, my first love.
Bridgid: You wear many musical hats; guitarist, producer, arranger, and musical director. Your fans know you as guitarist first. There is an ongoing debate about the role in which music and music education plays in our schools within early development and throughout life. How has music being such a major part of your life enhanced your life outside of the music realm?
Terry: It has enhanced it greatly. It’s given me a manner to express myself emotionally. It has created opportunities for me to travel and see the world and have remarkable life experiences that come from being a musician but not necessarily related to playing music. The places and the people that I have met and the experiences that I have had that music has brought me to and provided has just opened up a whole new world of magic, mystery and love to me.
Bridgid: That’s exactly why I ask that question because there are so many great musicians fighting to keep music education in our schools. It’s not only about the music. It’s about becoming a well-rounded individual and a more productive, active member of society along with the host of other attributes that come along with it.
Terry: My parents were also teachers. I come from a family of educators; aunts and uncles. So, I grew up with a deep love and respect for education, taking responsibility for my own education and seeing it as a privilege. I really believe so much in being well-rounded, being a good person, being a contributor to society and the planet and to having a full enriched life. It’s a combination of art, academics and health. This also includes healthy eating, physical activity, sports and getting outside. Any of those things without the balance of the other creates an incomplete life.
Terry: I went to Berklee College, one of the top music schools on the planet. They are an accredited four- year university and I have a degree in arranging from there but one of my pet peeves was that they didn’t have a physical education requirement. I remember talking to a guidance counselor and having him explain to me why it was so important that I fulfill some of their academic requirements in order to get a degree. I almost didn’t graduate because I had already taken world history and art history from a junior college and they didn’t want to accept the credits. I told them that they might want to look at my transcript and see that I had a really high GPA, I take my education seriously and understand that you feel that it’s important to provide a well-rounded education at your university, but if you felt so strongly about it there would be a nutrition class and a physical education requirement. So I fought for my credits and of course I did graduate.
Bridgid: So your parents were teachers and I know you have siblings. Are you the only musician in the family?
Terry: I was the only professional musician in my family. I have two brothers and my younger brother plays percussion but he never formally studied. Michael is a great musician and he has a great joy for playing. He plays with a band in Miami but I’m the one who really dug in and put myself through music school. I got in the car and drove across the coast with my guitar and my juicer and came to Los Angeles to make my way into the recording and touring industry.
Bridgid: I know how one would naturally write for themselves as a musician but how did you come to arrange and compose for others?
Terry: That’s a good question! I think it was a curiosity I had for what makes music work. I truly always wanted to be a record producer. I was intrigued and enthralled by the recording process. I love performing so much. It’s an amazing experience to be on a stage and feel the energy of moving an audience through music and receiving everything they give back to you. That’s remarkable and something that’s a very important part of my life but I love being in the studio and making records. I knew some people who were studio musicians when I was in Miami and I just thought what they were doing was just so amazing.
Terry: There was a big movement of making records in Miami back in the 70’s. I knew people that were doing it and I wanted to do it too. Arranging was something that I was always interested in. I was always intrigued when I would hear a string quartet play. I wanted to know how that was done. I was so hungry to know so I started studying music theory, arranging and composition and enjoyed it. I felt challenged by it but it unlocked the mysteries of how music was made. Part of the reason I chose to attend Berklee was because I knew that they had a great arranging program. I wanted to learn how to write string and horn arrangements and understand how the bass and kick drum function to make a track groove. That was all arranging. That’s how I became an arranger.
Bridgid: You’ve done some wonderful collaborations. You worked with Melissa Manchester on her 1st new album in 10 years. “You Gotta Love the Life.” How did that collaboration come to be?
Terry: That came about from a breakfast conversation I had with Mellissa. She and I had done some work together previously. Melissa was a guest vocalist on one of my records and I had written with her before as well. So, I had developed a friendship with her and she called me up because she was thinking of going in and making her first record completely independent record. Melissa knew that I had a lot of success in being an independent artist and she wanted to know how I did it and what the process would be. She asked if she could pick my brain. I said “of course!” I have the deepest respect for her has an artist and I’ve been a fan of hers since her first record. So, out of that she asked if I would co-produce a record with her. I was delighted!
Bridgid: “Our Love” is a beautiful song originally done by Michael McDonald. I can now say I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you performing it live with Amy Keys at Herb Alpert’s Vibratto Grill Jazz. How was that particular song chosen to remake and how did the collaboration with Amy Keys come to be?
Terry: Amy and I don’t often get a chance to perform together that often. It was a real treat for me that she was in town and able to do a live show with me. “Our Love” came about when I was putting together my “Say Yes” record. I’ve always loved that particular song of Michael and David Pack. I got an idea for a really interesting arrangement that would be my own, bring my own voice and my own point of view to one of my favorite Michael McDonald tunes. I knew a few people that had worked with Michael. I had also met him years ago when I was music directing a late night talk show. So I reached out and asked if he would consider singing on my record and he said yes. It evolved into doing it with Amy and Michael together.
Bridgid: What’s the most difficult challenge in that aspect of arranging and composing?
Terry: In music when you have a very clear vision of what you’re trying to say and how you’re trying to make a piece of music feel, there’s more than one solution on how to achieve that. For instance, on one of my earlier records, “Bimini,” I had recorded a song called “We’re Almost Home” and Joe Sample played piano on it. When Joe played and added the acoustic piano it soared to a whole other world because of what he had put into it. He essentially soared it to church. So, my arrangement was lacking another element. The music broadened after Joe played. And what it really needed was strings.
Terry: For example if you listen to a Crusaders record, there are always strings and horns and Joe would play all of these remarkable themes on the piano. Then they would be punctuated with this magnificent orchestra and rhythm section. I didn’t have budget to write a string arrangement and bring in an orchestra so I ended up writing for flugelhorns and valve trombone. I then brought in my friend Lee Thornburg and we created a brass quartet and it worked beautifully and achieved the same result. So, in a way music can be more special when you make an unpredictable choice because the obvious thinkg would be to have added strings.
Bridgid: I love it when a jazz artist does a remake of a vocal tune. It just gives it a whole new feel. “Our Love” is a beautiful song. What is it in particularly that you love about that song that made you want to do a remake of it?
Terry: I really love the melody. That’s what I connected most with. You mentioned remakes. That’s the reason I remade it one more time on my new “Silver Collection” record. I revised my arrangement and turned "Our Love" into an instrumental version with nylon string guitar, still using the orchestra and strings that I had written and using Michael McDonald singing all of the background vocals. It was really a fun challenge for me to do one more revision of that song. It’s the melody that drew me to do that.
Bridgid: You wrote a song called “Mandela.” Mandela signified everything that this world should be and that he truly believed it could be; strength, unity, compassion and love. What is the inspiration for you behind that song?
Terry: “Mandela” was the first song that I wrote for my “Buddha’s Ear” record. It came about through me working with my co-writer Keb Mo as we were working on arrangements for one of his records. It grew from a conversation with Keb asking me when I was going to do another one of my own records. He said “I think it’s time for another Terry Wollman album.” I really felt the fire in my belly to do that again. I needed to see what my point of view was going to be, to pick a voice and a sound and whether I was going to be featuring electric or acoustic guitar, . We sat on his back porch and wrote “Mandela” right then and there.
Bridgid: Did you ever have the honor of meeting Mandela?
Terry: No, I never had the pleasure to meet him personaly but I felt I knew his history very strongly that he was a great world leader and his vision, belief and commitment was rock solid. I read about him and heard him speak and it was an honor to name the song after him. It really connected with the feeling of the song that we wrote. Once we decided that it was going to be called “Mandela” I made it a point to bring in more African influences in the rhythm track.
Bridgid: Where does the title “Buddha’s Ear” come from?
Terry: “Buddha’s Ear” came to me in a dream. I woke up with this idea and the title. First it became a song but it became clear to me that it would also make a great title for a record. I don’t really talk about what it means to me because I am more interested in what it means to other people. I’ve never really told the entire story because it means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s created many conversations. I I will say that a small part of what it means to me is that it reflects the art of listening. When I make a record I put a lot of thought and care into the sound and quality of the record, not just the notes, but how it’s recorded and how it’s mixed and mastered so that when people put on their headphones or sit in front of a great pair of speakers they can be invited into a sonic world that I enjoy creating. There is an art to listening not just to music but to life and to each other. To me, it’s a little about that but the rest of it I would like to keep a mystery.
Bridgid: Nice! That will make it all the more intriguing when I go back a relisten to it. That’s what I love about jazz. Each listener can perceive it a different way, it will evoke a different emotion for everyone. It’s a just a great escape!
Terry: A song can mean something different to each person and an album title such as “Buddha’s Ear” can mean so many things to different people.
Bridgid: I love a quote from your biography that reads; “How does an artist continue finding ways to rearrange 12 simple notes to create a new song? We breathe, we listen and if we’re quiet enough…we hear.” Elaborate if you will.
Terry: Every song that has been written has been written before. The thrill and beauty of being a song writer and a composer is to take an idea that’s universal and find a new way to spin it. Quite simply, to put your own point of view and your own experience to it and see if you can arrange the ideas in a new way so that somehow there’s a different twist. This is not limited to particular styles of music,but with any genre; classical, jazz, rock, blues, pop and electronic dance music. We’re still limited to twelve notes.
Terry: In some parts of the world other scales are used. For example, in Indian music they use quarter tones. So they have more notes to play with but we have half steps between each note and once you get to the twelfth note you start over again. Our palette is simpler and limited. So basically you’re looking at ways of rearranging these twelve notes so that you can come up with something powerful that hasn’t been done before. That’s been the goal of the composer as well, to express a point of view and to emotionally move people.
Terry: That’s what we’re doing with music. It’s to move ourselves with the experience of creating it and then to have the listener participate in that experience. If I’m in a room collaborating with people there’s a faster pace. You’re responding and throwing ideas out. It’s a real dance to be reactive and not edit any of the ideas. But it’s still a slowing down process in that you really need to be aware, present and listen, to make yourself available to the other ideas that the people in the room, or if you’re writing by yourself, to open up to whatever creative views provide the melody. I believe that our best work doesn’t come from us, it comes through us.
Terry: Often times when I’m writing I’ll step away from my music as well. I’ll step away from my guitar, take a walk, bike ride or something that allows me to let is simmer to see where the melody really needs to be. Some things come really quickly. For example, with the actual song “Buddha’s Ear,” I woke up singing that melody on my birthday five years ago. It was in my head and it was “Buddha’s Ear.” It took me a moment to realize that it was a new song. I just thought I was humming something that I had heard.
Bridgid: What’s the longest time that it’s taken you to write a song?
Terry: My whole life. Some ideas just germinate. They don’t complete themselves for a few years. It’s a beautiful process but it’s always different. I have been on deadlines and needed to write something that was going to be on TV, record or film the next day and you use your creative juices combined with your skill set to craft a piece of music that's due immediately. That gets done within the shortest amount of time that they’ve allowed. There are other songs that will happen very quickly and on their own like “Buddha’s Ear” that kind of write themselves. I consider them gifts.
Terry: There’s a song on one of my records called “Once One Moment,” it’s a baritone, acoustic guitar piece. I dreamt the string intro. I just woke up in the middle of the night. Because I consider those moments a gift I got myself out of bed and went to the piano and started playing what I was hearing, wrote it down and went back to bed. The next morning I went to see what I had dreamed. What I dreamed is what you hear on that record.
Terry: Some songs take a few days or they happen fairly quickly and you go through the rewrite process of checking and refining to see if you can make the lyric better or record certain melodies stronger in any way. Like many writers, I also keep a notebook of lyric ideas melodies and chord progressions and look to them, pull out ideas and see if I want to develop any of them and I’ll finish the piece. It may sometimes be a year or two later. It’s an ever evolving and changing process.
Bridgid: For those who don’t know, tell us about “Terry Tuesdays” and how it got started?
Terry: Lee Ritenour said that I should have a YouTube channel and a lot of other artist friends pointed that out to me. They said that people want to know more about you. They want to know more about the musical process. Not just to listen, but to see and hear you talk about it and get to participate in a deeper way. So, I developed the idea with somebody I was working with, a young, bright woman named Cambria Broadway. We were doing some marketing together and she came up with the title “Terry Tuesdays.” I've continued creating these videos with an inspired project manager named Barry Harris. It’s a weekly video where I talk and show people where I work, what I do, how I think, why I do things and lots of behind the scenes stories.
I took it upon myself not only to talk about me because I don’t find it that fascinating to only talk about myself. I’d rather include other topics, artists, people, foods, and books that I’ve read that I find interesting. I’m fascinated by other people too, so that’s why I’m including more interviews with other people that I work with or find interesting. It’s basically my way to stay connected with my fans and to be able to share more about myself than just the music which makes the music more meaningful.
Bridgid: Now that I know your background, upbringing, history and your extensive education it makes me wonder. When you’re in the audience at a concert are you truly able to enjoy it without critiquing as the consummate professional in some ways even at the slightest level?
Terry: Yes, because I really love music and I love hearing other artists and I get inspired by them. So I can generally enjoy it in a virtual way. I would say that when the musicianship is not at a higher caliber it’s not as easy for me to enjoy it. When someone is playing, singing out of tune or just not at their best I get distracted because I want to enjoy the art. I want to enjoy what they’re playing so I would say that’s the only time I struggle with it.
Terry: On the other side of that, sometimes when I’m listening to music it’s hard for me not to want to run on stage and join them. It’s hard to sit in my seat when I see how much fun people are having. I just want to be in it.
Bridgid: Where can we expect to see you performing next? I constantly see your name at a venue somewhere.
Terry: My main focus right now is promoting my latest record “Silver Collection” which is the 25 year retrospective of my career as an artist. I made my first record back in 1988 and I thought it would be very interesting and timely to take a look at my catalogue and digitally remaster a few songs from each of the records, write a few new songs and reapproach a couple of things. Even my current single “Welcome to Paradise” was a song that I had recorded on my first record. I went back and rearranged and recorded it with Dave Koz, John Robinson, Abraham LaBoriel,Sr. , Luis Conte and Greg Manning. We slowed it down a notch and had a blast playing it. That song ended up being chosen as the first single, so I’m looking at ways to continue to support that record.
Terry: We’re looking at touring around the US. I just played in London last year. I had three nights at Pizza Express and had a remarkable time so I want to go back there again. I’ve also performed on the last two Dave Koz cruises and seeing the world with that jazz family and that’s been really remarkable. More things like that are in store as well as continuing to performing at some of my favorite local venues.
Bridgid: Tell your fans anything that you would like us to know that we might not.
Terry: What I’d like everybody to know is that If they want to get a real good idea of who I am as an artist to listen to “Silver Collection” because it tells a lot about me and you can always go to my website, terrywollman.com, my Facebook artist page or my YouTube channel for the weekly Terry Tuesdays to really see what’s going on with me and what I’m thinking every week. “Silver Collection” is a very important album to me because it really shows the broad stroke of the path that I’ve been on as an artist.
Bridgid: Thank you so much for taking some time out to speak chat with me. It’s been a thrill!
Terry: My Pleasure!