Q&A: Michael ‘Doc’ Woods - Hamilton College Professor Michael “Doc” Woods talks about “Sonic Photos” and his creative process



Local jazz musician and professor of music at Hamilton College Michael “Doc” Woods will perform a free concert, “Sonic Photo” at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, at Hamilton College in the Fillius Events Barn.

We caught up with Woods and asked about his newest work and what inspires him.

Question: You’re always creating, always moving musically. Where do you get your energy, inspiration? Is there anything that doesn’t inspire you?

Answer: The only things that I find un-inspiring are evil, cruelty and poverty. And even then I am compelled to work against those things with great energy.

Q: Talk about the significance of the title Sonic Photo:

A: You usually see a picture and hear a sound. But I love to mix idioms so much so that the very title of the concert begins to get you “out of the box” even before the first beat. A photo is a still shot of something that the photographer found interesting, but what if there were so many subjective elements involved that a snapshot could not tell the whole story. The music then becomes a (lengthier) essay.

Q: One of your new songs is titled “Crude Blues.” Is it about the Gulf oil spill? Talk about that.

A: I love double entendres. The word “crude” can mean raw and lacking in refinement. Of course crude is a type of oil. The oil does not have the blues, but it is sure giving the water the blues. The water does not have a personality, but if it did it would be blue for sure. I like to create titles that cause the listener to feel something from a fresh view point. How would you feel if you were the water?

Q: What specifically inspired this new batch of work?

A: There are four reasons for my latest set of jazz charts. Here they are and not in any specific order. My degrees have been in composition and I go out of my way to stay active in that area. I consider these concerts as a part of my civic duty. God gave me a gift, and if I want Him to constantly provide me with new opportunities I have to do my part by using that gift. I love to make people happy. I have always felt that one can think and react better when they are happy. Hearing a brand new work convinces an audience that a finished product came from a realm of inexhaustible supply. I am also trying to write the next chapter of my own life. I would love to contribute something of dignity to the musical fabric of the United States. I do not know if one of my pieces written 10 years ago will do that, or one that has not been scored out yet. Therefore, I have to write as if the very next one is the gem.

Q: How are you hoping to influence or touch the audience with this new batch of music?

A: My goal in reaching an audience is to cause an interpersonal level of insight to take place between the title, the themes and the great soloists when a new work is played. I want people to say: “I heard that first at Hamilton College back in 2010.”

Q: What’s on your musical radar? What can we expect next from you?

A: I am sketching out some themes for a new orchestral score for Heather Buchman (Hamilton associate professor of music and director of college orchestra and chamber music) to conduct. I am also working on a piece for five instruments for the Syracuse New Music Society. My overall goal is to capture the sound of a nation. If you want to know what America sounded like in the ’40s, you could listen to Duke Ellington and Count Basie. In the ’50s, the sound was rock n roll; in the ’60s, James Brown provided not just the individual voice of two great R&B artists, but the very voice of African- American people as a whole. I want to be one of the voices that America can be proud to say represented wit and humor and craft for several decades. A hint at the new harmonic language that I am employing at this time can be found in a selection called “The Visceral Touch.” This tune will be performed on Monday night.

Q: Concert date and time and place:

A: The concert is at 8 p.m. tonight at Hamilton College in the Fillius Events Barn. The concert is free.

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