Subvert expectation

The element of Surprise!

The element of surprise in music is paramount. You never want the listener to feel that they always know what’s coming next. Pop music is most often based on fulfilling expectations not to mention fantasy. This is why so little of it contains the requisite mystery that attracts me to deeper art. Great Jazz and classical music are most powerful when the listener’s expectations are sometimes thwarted, so that the journey always feels new. Here are some practical ways to do that: (more…)

Composition Post #2: Respecting the 4 phases of your work

There are different phases in the creative process, and each of them must be respected for their unique qualities; the generative phase, the assembly phase, development, and the editing phase.

1. When you are generating ideas for a piece, NOTHING should come in the way. All ideas are welcome, and critical faculties should be turned on very low, if at all. This is a time of flow, excitement, emotion, the time where if you’re lucky, you ‘re in touch with the deepest parts of yourself. You could label this phase “inspiration”, but to me that word lacks the gravitas and subtlety of these precious moments, where you are knocking about the recesses of your being, opening an attic door, pulling away the cobwebs to see what’s there. (more…)

Reflections on Composing #1


This is the first of what I hope will be a bi-monthly composer’s blog. In it I will discuss not only insights from my own life as a composer but lessons gleaned from others, regardless of style. You can find a lot of basic information on the web, as regards the foundations of composing. I would like to focus on ideas that are perhaps less discussed, observations large and small from my own idiosyncratic journey. (more…)

Alternative Guitar Festival #3- 2013

Here is info for AGF: see for a trailer of all the artists.

7:30 pm

Guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee performs his “Sunrise from the Bottom of the Sea” — a psychedelic homage to Jimi Hendrix for solo electric guitar and electronics — as well as other smaller works for solo nylon string guitar. Andrew McKenna Lee’s music has been commissioned and programmed by ensembles and organizations including the Brentano String Quartet, eighth blackbird, Kroumata, Concert Artists Guild, the American Composers Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (more…)

Paul Motian memorial at the Vanguard

I was honored to attend the Paul Motian memorial, which was organized by ECM records at the Village Vanguard on a cold Sunday afternoon in January. The first thing I noticed as I emerged into this holy room was a huge, vibrant picture of Paul that sat in front of the bandstand. From the first moment he dominated the proceedings, with his spirit, and with his absence. (more…)

honoring Paul Motian


10 years after I conceived the String Choir Project, a year after the cd was released, I  finally toured these arrangements of Paul Motian’s singular music for 11 days in Europe this Fall. It was on our 4th gig, in Malmo, Sweden, that we performed the music in the way I had always dreamed possible. We achieved an alchemical mixture of spontaneity, fine intonation, ensemble attunement, intimacy, playfulness, and gravitas in a perfect acoustic environment. Sorry to be sentimental, but I almost wept. It was a long time coming. (more…)

Arguing with David Orr about the value of art

I just finished reading David Orr’s book “Beautiful and Pointless: a guide to modern poetry.” Orr writes for the New York Times Book Review and obviously has read a ton of modern work. There’s much to admire in his common-sense insights into what verse has to offer the average reader. He tries to gently lead us into the mindset of modern poets in a humorous, non-threatening way. I like his plain approach; he takes pains to distance himself from the pretense and metaphor-laden earnestness that can typify this type of inquiry. (more…)