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The person who really got me started listening to specific composers and trying to understand what they were doing was Gene Krupa. Gene used to carry a phonograph and records on the road, and he used to enjoy having some of the musicians hang out with him in his hotel room, where he'd play stuff for us. He had such enthusiasm for the music. He'd say, now listen to this, and listen to what the trumpets do here, and listen to the timps here. He"d focus us in on things and it really had a good effect. The best way to learn about something new is to have somebody who"s enthusiastic and who zeroes in on aspects of the music that you might miss if left to your own devices.
There was a composer I met in Boston and used to enjoy hanging out with who was an avant- garde guy. We used to have funny arguments because I've always been kind of conservative in my tastes. I loved [Igor] Stravinsky and all that, but I thought [Béla] Bartók's "Concerto for Orchestra" was kind of fragmentary and episodic, and had a lot of slam bang. But John Bavicchi would say, "Come on you don"t know what you're talking about." So he finally sat me down in front of a phonograph and did the same thing with the "Concerto for Orchestra". After a couple of hearings it started to come to life for me and then finally, all of a sudden the whole thing opened up and I heard it. I said, "Oh, Christ, what a piece;" it killed me. So if you don’t know and are left to your own devices, you might never find out unless somebody else opens the door for you. I suddenly became a heavy duty fan of Bartók. I was totally fascinated with the way he used the orchestra. He was so imaginative and had a unique approach to sonorities. Fantastic piece. And I have John to thank for that.