Vintage Guitar - February 2018 - 80
"Record companies were selling
widgets on pieces of vinyl that
had nothing to do with art."
jazz artists. For instance, after a stint with
vibraphonist Red Norvo, Lowe was asked
by Norvo to find a replacement for himself
before he returned to NBC.
"I told Red about was a wonderful player
at The Little Club in New York City. I said,
'He doesn't have much of a name, but he can
play the guitar.' It took me three or four days
to convince him that this guy, Tal Farlow,
could handle it. And honestly, Tal did have
a bit of a time at first with Red's fast tempos.
But he learned, which is what I had to do with
Charlie Parker. You can't practice it; the only
way to learn to play fast is to play fast. You
can't sit around and think about it. Years
later, I ran into Red and asked, 'How did
that guitar player work out?' (laughs). Red,
Charlie Mingus, and Tal Farlow became one
of jazz's classic trios."
COMP SKILLS AND
THE WEST COAST
In 1960, Lowe assumed a dual role at NBC.
Reuben Frank, who ran the Department
of Special Events, employed the guitarist's
composing and arranging skills for several
documentaries including Castro's Year of
Power, The Changing Profile of Baseball, The
Marriage Racket, and a few others.
"That's how it began," he said. "But I
FINDING A GOOD GUITAR
Lowe is famous among jazz guitarists for
tuning his low E string to D. "I discovered
Drop D tuning and liked how it gave the
bottom a little room to spread out. Evidently,
Johnny Smith liked it, as well. I like how
it facilitates the accompanying aspects of
Photo: Bob Barry.
At the North
Wales Jazz Guitar
Festival in 2007.
could see the handwriting on the wall with
"In '65, I visited friends for Christmas in
California and ran into Jackie Cooper, who
hired me to compose scores for TV and film at
Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems. I've always
been curious about what made music work;
I studied with a lot of seriously good people
including Hall Overton, Walter Piston, and
then Professor LaGourge, who'd been the
headmaster at the Paris Conservatory. I
studied 12-tone composition for seven years.
"I once heard a conversation with [Antonio
Carlos] Jobim, who had a way of instinctively
working with tone rows. He set up rows so he
didn't have to go looking for notes when we
wanted to compose. I did the same; I'd look
at a phone dial or a clock face and translate
the numbers into scale steps. The 12-tone
approach is the greatest vehicle I discovered
for writing film music and dramatic things.
You take a series of numbers - five, four, three,
eight, and so on, and you convert those into
the key of C. From that you get your motifs
and expand on them. But, you have to listen
to what's being said on the screen, convey the
mood, and translate that into some kind of
sound. There's your starting point. If you
have lovers in a soft scene, you're not going
to have a brass band playing underneath.
That would call for woodwinds or strings.
"Another technique involves writing a
melody with a complementary bass line.
That will insinuate the harmony - what the
chords will be. Still, you have to use your
ear to make it logical. Speaking of using
ears, Walter Piston said, 'If you can't hear it,
don't play it. Because if you can't hear it the
listener won't hear it.'
"After seven years at Columbia, working
from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., I got so worn out I
couldn't play at night. And Dave Grusin was
there and having the same problem. I finally
had to leave. Jackie was so nice and said I
could do what I needed and that he'd give me
enough outside work to keep me busy and
encouraged me to go back to playing. He was
that kind of guy. So, I began to freelance at
other studios and did some things for Woody
Allen. I also did a series called 'The Courtship
of Eddie's Father,' another called 'In Name
Only,' and a picture with Glenn Ford called
The Long Ride Home. I was lucky and got to
do projects I really liked."