Talking with premier composer Larry Delinger about the Blues, Jazz, Koan, Ezra Pound and Frank Zappa

"If the music is good then it doesn’t really make any difference what kind it is."

Larry Delinger: Music Is A Zen Koan

Larry Delinger is one of the premier composers of contemporary music in the United States. His compositions cover a wide range of styles, from his intimate solo piano pieces Open Endgames, to his more abstract works Orange and Lemon for marimba and soprano and Studies in Light for soprano and chamber orchestra, to his chamber opera Talk To Me Like The Rain And Let Me Listen. His published compositions include Elegy for John Lennon, Brass Rings, King Lear Sonata, Paradox, Nightwalls, The Philosopher and the Sunrise, and Lachrymae.

He has received commissions to compose works for the California Brass Quintet for Nightwalls; the University of Northern Colorado Wind Ensemble for Elegies for Winds, Flute and Percussion; the Coastal Access Music Alliance  for Studies In Light; the Varian Foundation for Meditations; the Denver Brass for Paradox; the San Jose Chamber Orchestra for Traces (A Mourning Music); the Denver Municipal Band for Bagatelles for Band; and the Knaben Kantrei in Basel, Switzerland, for Ich möcht ein Clown sein.

Mr. Delinger has composed incidental music for over one hundred productions for theatres in the United States and Europe, including the Old Globe Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory Theatre, Denver Center Theatre, Cleveland Play House, National Actors Theatre, and the Oslo Nye Theater in Norway.

Mr. Delinger has received eleven Drama-Logue Critics Awards for Outstanding Theatre Music and the Distinguished Service Award from Chadron State College. His score for Julius Caesar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was represented in the 2003 Prague Quadrennial.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the music?

It makes me pay attention, not only to the music but to my life, it’s a very exacting art form.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?

From the music itself.

What does the Blues and Jazz mean to you?

Blues and Jazz is the foundation of American music. I’m a classically trained composer but if it weren’t for Blues, Jazz and Rock and Roll my music would be much less dynamic.

"All experiences relate to one’s development as an artist. Some are intense some fleeting but, the simplest sun drenched morning can, sometime much later, when one is not aware of it, add to the breadth and depth of your art."

What characterize Larry Delinger’s music philosophy?

I don’t think I have a philosophy except maybe this: Whatever works.

I write music because it’s my way of reaching my inner self. I love it when others respond to what I write but that’s not my reason to do it. I feel that I was born to do it. Whether I do it well or badly, I have to continue this path I’ve chosen.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

 It’s all been good. I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes.

Would you mind telling me most vivid memory from your meet with the alcoholic jazz pianist?

Hanging out with her at her apartment with other musicians, jamming and eating good food.

A woman came to our town, an alcoholic jazz pianist whose husband, a bop viola player had recently OD’D on heroin in Los Angeles and she taught me about jazz and the hazards of drugs and we Analyzed Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” as a jazz musician would. We started a jazz group, I played trumpet and she taught me the “jam keys” of the standards and I hid her whiskey bottle in the inside jacket pocket of my sport coat. I was still a teenager. 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Now because it’s NOW!

"Blues and Jazz is the foundation of American music. I’m a classically trained composer but if it weren’t for Blues, Jazz and Rock and Roll my music would be much less dynamic."

Do you know why the Blues and Jazz is connected to the underground culture?

In my opinion, it’s because it’s such a dynamic art, always changing, always breaking rules never ready to settle down to some stale theory.

Some music styles can be fads but the Blues and Jazz are always with us. Why do think that is?

Because it’s not a fad, it’s a highly developed art form that never ceases to expand.

What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, JAZZ, CLASSICAL, and FOLK feeling?

If the music is good then it doesn’t really make any difference what kind it is. Good music is what I like, Bad, what I don’t like. Rather subjective, I know but music is a personal choice and should never be judged by a committee. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”

Why did you think that Ezra Pound and Frank O'Hara continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because they are great poets, they teach us how to live our lives as richly as possible.

If the Music was a Zen koan, what would it be?

Music IS a zen koan.

What experiences in life make a good composer and musician?

All experiences relate to one’s development as an artist. Some are intense some fleeting but, the simplest sun drenched morning can, sometime much later, when one is not aware of it, add to the breadth and depth of your art.

"I write music because it’s my way of reaching my inner self. I love it when others respond to what I write but that’s not my reason to do it. I feel that I was born to do it. Whether I do it well or badly, I have to continue this path I’ve chosen."

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians and artists thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Work hard because it’s damned difficult! And be ready to accept ideas intuitively. Love what you do, do what you love.

What would you ask Igor Stravinsky? What are you missing nowadays from Thelonious and Mingus era?

I have nothing to ask Stravinsky, he’s already told me so much through his music. The same with Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus, both of them fill me with incredible musical experiences.

What would you say to Frank Zappa? How you would spend a day with Paul Bowles?

Nothing. Their music and writing is enough. I’ve read most of Paul Bowles’s books and love the biting humor and technical slash of Frank Zappa’s music.

LARRY DELINGER - OFFICIAL WEBSITE

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