Liner notes for Mick Rossi: One Block from Planet
Earth (OmniTone 15207)
Mick Rossi isn't the first creative musician to feel like he's sometimes living one block from planet earth ... though he did live, at one time, one block from a used clothing store named "Planet Earth." Thinking about that place and its neighborhood got him thinking about what to name this recording.
It's that kind of fusion between the real and the fantastic that allows Mick to distill a vast array of life experiences into his arresting music. He has worked in film and on TV; in Atlantic City and on Broadway; with Carly Simon, Hall & Oates, and "a million years ago" (as Mick stresses) with the classic East Coast goombah crooners.
Mick grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, in an Italian-American household filled with music. His father, a brilliant accordionist, gave Mick his first musical lessons at age four. Instead of teaching Mick accordion, as he did first to his two older sons, he started Mick on piano. "My brothers eventually stopped, but I kept playing, and then I started studying the drums while continuing with piano, and then oboe, and then a bunch of things," he recalls. "I had already started improvising, and I was just a kid."
By the time he was twelve, some "unbelievable" grammar school and junior high school teachers had augmented his musical mentoring. Admits Mick, "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been given such a broad range of high culture in music." One teacher in particular, Carl DiDonato, who directed the school orchestra and was "an incredible pianist," exposed Mick to the piano music of Chopin and Liszt, took him to New York for orchestral concerts, and allowed him to play both percussion and oboe in the orchestra. DiDonato also inspired Mick as a composer and orchestrator. "He also arranged the music for the school orchestra, comprised of 80% misfits and a couple of 'ringers,'" recollects Mick. "I mean, we're talking about fifth and sixth graders, but he'd make it sound like a high school orchestra because of the way he would write for everybody's instrument." As an adult, his main compostitional influence was Philadelphia's Dennis Sandole (John Coltrane's teacher), with whom he studied for many years.
He credits his early, broad upbringing in the European classical music tradition as one of the factors that make his music distinctive. This education would prompt his later fascination with the music of Stravinsky and, particularly, Shostakovich, and become the reason Mick feels like he just naturally "gets" music — as a listener, a player, and a writer. "The music writes itself," he explains. "I put the pencil down and, when I get to the end, even if there's something 'wrong,' unless it's really, really wrong, I don't change it. If I don't like it after the first couple of measures, I throw it away. The music just has to feel right."
He likewise wants the listener to feel his music, not to intellectualize about it. Though he says his primary goal is to "make music for music's sake" by pushing musical boundaries and mixing styles and traditions, Mick believes he shows respect for the listener by keeping his music uncluttered. And though it's not necessarily easy (or easy to play), he wants his music to be simple (though not simplistic), as opposed to cerebral.
This inclination toward emotion over intellect may have arisen because Mick spends a good deal of his time intellectualizing about music; he earns part of his living composing scores for documentary films. "When people are paying you a lot of money, you're going to have to adhere to certain conventions that are part of that medium," admits Mick. But he is able to balance the demands of that work with more creative outlets. Beyond his work on the piano, he is thrilled to undertake the physical and musical challenge of playing percussion as a touring member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. He also makes music in New York's "downtown" music scene and has received commissions for the concert hall and silver screen, including for the silent film Nosferatu, The Vagina Monologues, and the hit Standing in the Shadows of Motown. He has scored, orchestrated, or mixed films on ABC, NBC, Fox, and A&E, and when he's not playing, you'll find him on top of his Cadex CFR-2, indulging his passion for biking.
For all the color and sparkle of his pieces, Mick strives for subtlety over splash. "What interests me is the way it's all blended. That's what really gets me going. It's not that all these elements are just sort of plugged in, it's the way that they're blurred together that's what's engaging - when you don't know when the music's written or when it's improvised," notes Mick.
The music - an extension of his previous quintet CD, They Have a Word for Everything - does blur and blend, cavorting its way through the CD's eight quirky, virtuosic mini-melodramas that masterfully engage the listener with familiar elements of pop coolness, cinematic suspense, heartstring-pulling divaesque showbiz, and slick cartoon hijinks. His life experiences, his experiences as a musical artist, and his experiences in the entertainment industry all combine to inform his music.
"And," Mick reminds us, "of course, the people playing the music bring their intelligence and feeling to it. They're all great composers on their own. It's like these guys are composing on top of my composing. It doesn't get any better than that."The result is that Mick's creative music is just "music," something that just about anyone can enjoy. It feels like it's coming from a very real place, maybe from just down the block ... even if that block sometimes happens to be one planet away.
[For the complete interview with Mick Rossi including his biography, discography, and more, please visit: www.OmniTone.com/oneblock.]