Schemes And Dreams
By Ralph Burnett
"There are only two categories of music . . . good music and bad music," states a reserved yet friendly Pat Coil, who rests his conviction in this adage he borrows from band leader Woody Herman (whom he worked with for several years in the early eighties). And though you may not be aware of this keyboard master yet, there's a good chance you've heard some of Pat's "good music" in one form or another.
For those who work making music for television and film, Pat Coil is a highly respected, "A list" keyboardist, who has added his magic to such shows as "Matlock", Star Trek: The Next Generation", "China Beach", "Murphy Brown", "Growing Pains", "Major Dad", "Spenser for Hire", "Alien Nation", "Father Dowling Mysteries", "Knot's Landing", "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest" among others. His film credits include "Throw Momma From the Train", "Madhouse", "Back to The Beach" and "The Best of Times".
Besides his three solo records, Pat has recorded on dozens of projects including 1992's "Album of The Year" Grammy winner, Natalie Cole, Unforgettable, the Harry Chapin tribute album, The Last Protest Singer, as well as albums by Nancy Wilson, Grant Geissman, Barry Manilow, B.J. Thomas, Scott Henderson and Suzanne Dean (whom he also produced). Pat has also toured and recorded with Woody Herman and Ernie Watts, toured with Carman McCray and Pat Metheny, backed Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand in concert, and played on more than a dozen episodes of Dionne Warwick's TV show "Dionne and Friends."
An impressive Résumé indeed. But one thing that separates Pat from the handful of studio keyboardists who have also recorded solo albums, is that all of Pat's projects were performed and recorded "live." His third record, Schemes and Dreams, has just been released by Sheffield Lab, the label that has built a glowing reputation for sonic quality around its' live to two-track philosophy, and flaunts "it feels live because it is live," as part of its moniker. Sheffield releases are still the standard for high-end audio component testing. To pull-off a "live" recording session, however, you have work with some pretty sure-handed musicians and engineers, of which Pat's projects have never been lacking. For Schemes and Dreams the roster includes producers Lyle Mays and Steve Rodby (of Pat Metheny fame), Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Johnson, John Robinson, Steve Houghton, Ernie Watts, Bob Sheppard, Louis Conte, Mike Fisher, and the list goes on. But no matter what the recording method, the audio is only as good as the compositions and arrangements allow, and in this case, both are stunning.
It was in high school that Pat points to an experience that most likely became the catalyst for his ambition to become a serious musician. "My band director took me to a night club in Kansas City to see a Stan Kenton concert. They wouldn't let me in because I was under age so we wound up standing by the back stage door, hoping we could get in through one of the guys in the band that my band director knew. They still wouldn't let me in. Stan Kenton was standing in the kitchen observing all this (and if you remember what he looked like--he was this big huge tall man) and after everyone filtered away, he motioned for me to follow him. I went with him through the kitchen and through the back corridors until finally wound up on stage behind the curtains. He instructed his band members to put drum cases under the piano and told me to sit under there behind the drum cases. And so my introduction to hearing a live jazz band, was underneath the piano surrounded by the Stan Kenton Orchestra. It was quite an experience and a turning point for me."
Pat decided to attend North Texas State University to continue studying music and soon earned his spot as the pianist for the schools number one lab ensemble, the "One O'clock band." It was here at North Texas that Pat met his match. "Everybody was talking about this great piano player that had just showed up at school," recalls Pat, "and I decided I really wanted to meet this guy. I first saw Lyle [Mays] in a dormitory cafeteria, Bruce Hall as a matter of fact, and I sat down next to him and I said: 'Hi Lyle, my name is Pat Coil and I I'm a piano player and I really like the way you play, it's really nice to meet you' (and all that stuff), and he . . . (I don't know if I should tell this story, it might embarrass him). . . put a plate of spaghetti on his head. I guess that was Lyle's way of breaking the ice and telling me, 'hey, you don't have to be that serious.' I guess he figured I would either run away or stick around. I decided I could either view this as competition or something to learn from, and I made the wise choice that I could learn from this guy. Plus I kind of enjoyed his individuality and free-spiritedness so we ended up getting a house together. Nobody could understand why we were friends. Lab band was as competitive as football is at most schools, and vying for the top band was the big deal there. Everybody was coming from that high school band contest scene and sports mentality. Lyle let me know that all that didn't mean anything and that we could be friends. And I was really glad he did that. Lyle came to school playing like Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson and the rest of us were trying to figure out what to play on a C7 chord. I spent my years as a roommate with him absorbing his talent and just the way he looked at music and the way he thought about it and his concept, sort of speak, I just learned so much from him. It was like having Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea as a roommate, he's always been on that level to me -- and still is -- even more so now."
But what about that "One O'clock" spot? "We, of course, wound up competing against each other," continues Coil, "and the only reason that I beat him out was because I could sight read better than he could. By the following year he beat me. It wasn't until Lyle left to join Woody Herman's band, that I was back in the "One O'clock."
The title, Schemes and Dreams, was born from a discussion Pat had with Lyle in the planning stage of this project. "At the end of our conversation," recalls Pat, "Lyle closed by saying 'send me your tunes and your demos and we'll get together and we'll scheme and we'll dream.'" Pat and Lyle co-wrote most of the material on the album, and in spite of their long history, this is the first time they ever really sat down to write compositions together for a specific project. "I knew it would be that way when I asked Lyle to produce this project with Steve Rodby. There's no way you can get Lyle to collaborate and not have him want to input the music and it was a very natural occurrence as far as that goes. Since Lyle was such an important part of my development musically, so much of the way he thinks is part of me, and that's why it worked so well. And because of our history together, I think he was able to understand exactly where I was coming from and where I really wanted to go with the music, which I think is pretty rare. I would have a tune and he would say, 'in this section how about going here' and I'd go 'great, and once we go here let's go here' and it felt right and we just linked. He kept the best parts of what I wrote and than expounded on that and sort of kept the essence of all the melodies and all the harmonies that I'd envisioned he just expounded on them and made them better."
Of all the tunes, "Where Are You From Today" is the only one from Pat and Lyle's college days. "Lyle had lost it and totally forgotten about it," says Pat, "but I had kept the music all these years and suggested that we include it on the record. It's about Mr. Putt', who was a really spaced-out, neurotic cat that we had, and was the subject of a whole series of songs that Lyle and I wrote. The original title was 'Where Are You From Today, Mr. Putt.' I guess in college we were kind of crazy."
Although Lyle was producing form a compositional standpoint, Lyle suggested Steve Rodby for the direction of the actual "live" recording. "Steve is a real people person," States Coil. "He can go out into a room and make you feel really good about what your doing -- he's able to pull the best out of you, which in recording a live record is essential. He was able to keep things going even after the sixth or seventh take of a tune, when people would normally start to get a little tired and loose the edge, he was able to keep the inspiration going. He was also key in helping with the mix in the booth and the sounds of the instruments and guidance for soloists -- getting people the think of things as a composition rather than just a solo."
"The feeling of sitting in the control room and listening to what we had done and what we had created, was probably the most fulfillment I had ever gotten as a musician or as a player," reflects Pat. It meant so much to me to have my good friend that I had gone to school with and then Steve who had become a real good friend during the process and it was just a very, very emotional high for me which I think sometimes when you do a record the "normal" way, you don't get as much of that. When you're going for the performance, all at once, the emotional highs tend to be real intense. I had some close friends there listening and they were all sharing in the experience and it was a real special thing for me."