Composer Gary Eskow sat down with journalist Gary Eskow recently. The two discovered that they have much in common.
GE Means Gary Eskow
GE: I understand that you call yourself a composer, but I've done some digging, and the fact is that aside from a prize you won a few years ago you haven't earned a cent from music in over ten years. What gives?
Gary Eskow: I'll disregard the churlish tone because you're on to something. I speak to high school kids on occasion and like to share an observation with them. In my view, the most earnest leftists in the crowd- believe it or not, some wear tie dye shirts and listen to ancient Grateful Dead recordings- often overlook what they have in common with peers who in a decade will be selling futures on Wall Street: a self image that derives in large measure from the manner in which they earn a buck. Rebel though they might against living high on the hog, for the time being at any rate, most of these kids have allowed themselves to be branded with the white hot iron of our capitalistic society: I AM MY JOB.
You can find much more information about Gary Eskow at his website.
You can hear excerpts of selected works from his chamber music CD Many Streams, One River here.
For more information about the music of Gary Eskow, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I understand completely, because until the age of 40 so did I! At that time I was a husband and father of two small boys, duking it out in the highly competitive Manhattan advertising and corporate communications industry. Despite the pressures that come with life as a free lancer, for 8 or 9 years I really enjoyed writing music for spots and short films. The level of production you must achieve in order to stay in that game is very demanding, and as a result you learn how to make records. You also get to work with the best musicians and singers in the world.
Jingles seemed like Bach chorales; short pieces that must be quickly understood by an audience of average folks that also let you develop your craft as a composer. Nice theory, but after awhile having producers tell you to write something that sounds like The Fine Young Cannibals or Metallica- or Afternoon of a Faun, gets old.
Fortunately, my father-in-law had a business and no sons. Until just several months ago, in fact, Marven owned washers and dryers in garden apartment building laundry rooms. He's 81, so he figured it was about time to consider retiring!
But could I really learn his craft? A self-styled artist and high thinker changing belts, reading the current on a thermostat, keeping track of inventory? You get greasy doing that stuff! On the other hand, I knew that I'd absorbed all I could from the music production business. It was time to move on.
So, after studying with Dad for about three months I approached my brother-in-law, Zygi Wilf. Zygi's family owns real estate, including a number of apartment buildings in New Jersey. Zygi was kind enough to start me off with one complex. Over the last 11 years I've added more, and now service a total of 23 complexes.
Tamino had to enter the forest not knowing how it would transform him, and so did I. The first time I walked into a diner dressed in old jeans and a tee shirt, with keys hanging from a telephone cord on my belt, the waitress called me "hon." It startled me; she thought I was a laborer- and I liked it!
Pondering a repair shortly thereafter, I looked at the exposed guts of a Maytag washer and understood why gears fascinated Da Vinci. Everything changed. I realized that far from inhibiting my growth as an artist, the laundry business, if approached with the proper spirit, could make me a better composer. At that point I was able to define myself on my own terms: I'm a composer because I write every day and am fully engaged in the process.
By the way, you didn't complete your research. I still get quarterly royalty checks from BMI.
GE: Where'd you grow up?
Gary Eskow: I was born in Utica, NY, where I lived until the age of 12. My parents moved to Suffern, NY at that time and I decided to join them.
GE: What kind of early music training did you receive?
Gary Eskow: I begged my mother to let me take piano lessons in the first grade, though standard procedure was to begin in the third grade. I was a profoundly unimpressive young pianist, largely due to the fact that I refused to practice.
God bless old Miss Mayberry, my first teacher. She kept telling mom that she felt bad accepting money because I wasn't working, and it was true. I just liked being around the piano once a week or so. Miss Mayberry was also a committed leftist and I'm glad to have been exposed to this influence at an early age!
I took up the trombone several years later, and then the guitar. Gene Rice, my first teacher, had a great love for Chet Atkins and nailed Warm and Windy and a bunch of other Chet tunes. I played the guitar for many years. In my late twenties I got tired of the classical guitar repertoire and practicing six hours a day, so I gave up the instrument.
GE: Besides Chet Atkins, what were your other early influences?
Gary Eskow: The first record I ever bought was Our Day Will Come, by Ruby and the Romantics. The second was Neil Sedaka's Happy Birthday Sweet 16. I I mean you, recently had the pleasure of interviewing Neil, who still has a very active career.
Much of the pop music of my time, and this day, has influenced me. Thankfully, the line in the sand that once kept composers of "new" music at arm's length from popular art has been scratched away.
One of my favorite Beethoven stories is the one about his frequent trips to a bar- maybe it was called The Raven- in one of Vienna's outer circles. He'd down a few beers and write out figured bass arrangements- chord charts- for the bar band that gigged there.
How can anyone who listens to the work of Tupac Shakur not be affected by this guy's tremendous talent? To Live and Die in LA may not rank with John Donne's best work but it kicks! Did you know that this ghetto child went to a prestigious arts high school in Baltimore where he fell in love with Shakespeare, and that his film performances were widely praised? And have you listened to BT, the guy who, if he didn't create Trance music, elevated it to another level? He's terrific!
If Stravinsky, Bartok and Mozart hadn't gotten off on the popular idiom, would we be listening to their output today?
GE: Did you go to college?
Gary Eskow: Yes. I received an undergraduate degree in American Studies from Albany State University. I had no interest in academics until I spent half of my sophomore year and my entire junior year at an experimental college in Alvescot, England that my father, who at the time was the president of Rockland Community College, helped set up.
Alvescot, located in the heart of the Cotswalds about 15 miles from Oxford, only had about 25 students, and they were from all over the world. I fell in love with Donne and William Blake and took up the classical guitar during my stay in England.
When I returned to Albany for my senior year I became fascinated with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the expatriot movement of the 20's. The pull that America exerted over these writers, even as they sought to distance themselves from it, was something I could relate to.
After graduating in 1973 I spent a year studying music theory at the Mannes School of Music and then took a Master's Degree in that subject at Queens College. I never formally studied composition.
I recorded an album of some of my chamber music several years ago at Sony Music Studios, called Many Streams, One River. I knew that it represented the end of my tonal phase; I had written Four Brief Pieces For Woodwinds using serial techniques, but that was about it as far as atonal music goes. At that point I had no idea what turn my work would take.