The Patrick Moraz Interview
In some ways, keyboardist Patrick Moraz has attained a scent of mystique since the 80s. The keyboardist who played with not one, but two, top-shelf bands — Yes and the Moody Blues — was fairly visible in the 70s and 80s. Once his membership with the Moodies expired under tenuous circumstances, Moraz sought refuge with his piano, and issued numerous solo albums, rooted very much in classical and jazz modes, far and away from the radio-friendly music he’d made with the Moody Blues.
While Moraz’s credibility and musical contributions have been recognized, it’s only been recently that his place in progressive rock and affiliation with Yes have been reinvigorated through the release of tribute records he’s played on like Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute To The Doors and of Yes’ 1974 album Relayer — the only Yes album Moraz appeared on — in high-definition stereo and 5.1 surround sound.
There are numerous other tribute albums he’s played on, plus other sessions, including some with Yes members, but Moraz also continues to compose and record his own music. In fact, he has a new band with drummer Greg Alban called The M.A.P. (The Moraz Alban Project) that he says he wrote and arranged a majority of the material for. The veil of mystique that once shrouded Patrick Moraz, at least to the public at large, is about to be lifted.
Tell me a little bit about your participation on the Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute To The Doors CD.
I was contacted several months ago by a very good friend Billy Sherwood, whom I have the greatest respect because he’s a great producer; he’s always around doing all kinds of productions. I probably was one of the very first musicians to be asked to participate in the classic rock tribute. (Laughs) Funny enough, my agent proposed that and asked, “What would you like to play on? You know, you have the choice of all the music.” Of course, I’d like to play on “Light My Fire” because it’s the most known hit by the Doors and it’s their greatest. But anyway, so I think five or 10 minutes later he got back to me on email and said, “Well, I’ve got to tell you, this title has already been taken, so give me another list of titles.” So I started with “L.A. Woman,” of course, and that was it. Then I started working on it, and I worked online, like little sessions are being done like that. I took quite some time to do it, because I also wanted render homage to the Doors and to Ray Manzarek. Funny enough — funny enough, I mean, it’s not funny — but suddenly enough, Ray Manzarek passed just about two weeks, one week or two weeks before I heard that I had delivered the tracks. That was it. The CD came out and it came out actually on the 24th of June, and I really enjoyed listening to it and all the work that had been done. I really enjoyed what Jimi Jamison did singing “L.A. Woman,” especially, and Ted Turner on guitar from Wishbone Ash, and Scott Connor and — funny enough, of course, Billy Sherwood on bass, because the Doors didn’t have a bass player. So it made the whole thing really much more fuller sounding. But I really was very surprised, and shocked to hear that Jimi Jamison had passed. That’s why I did homage on my Facebook and stuff, and my newsgroup and so on, because I didn’t know the guy — I knew of his work, of his voice, of his presence. He was a fantastic singer.
So you didn’t actually interact with Ted Turner and Jimi Jamison; you just did your parts and send them in to Billy. Is that pretty much how that project worked?
That’s right. I think it is the same for the other players. We didn’t meet in person in the same studio at the same time. That’s why, seven years ago, I had a project — it’s still actually very dear to me — I was calling it “Seven Days a Week,” you know, versus the “Eight Days a Week” title from the Beatles. “Seven Days a Week: Music on the Road From A to Z,” which is, of course, an anagram of my own name, Moraz. “Music on the Road From A to Z.” And I was seeing real people in real time, and the idea was to record in one week, in seven days — actually seven different CDs, one CD every day with a different theme every day. I kind of started to prepare production, because it’s a rough animal to do that, but as of yet I haven’t had the chance to complete such the project. But it’s still in the future works, as a future operation. Now I know, of course, all these guys, all these people, all these keyboard players, all these drummers, all these bass players, you know. And even since I’ve been working on tour very recently with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I just finished a track with them. So it really has enlarged the potential area, the potential umbrella of all the people I can interact.
Did you have any connection with the Doors? Did you ever see them when they toured Europe?
I didn’t see them as such, but in the 90s I got to know Ray Manzarek personally, and I even did a couple of radio interviews at the same time. So we were able to talk. I was very interested by the fact that he had started to record some jazz music with Tony Williams, who used to be, as you know, the fantastic, extraordinary drummer that Miles Davis played with for many, many years. Funny enough, the first time I saw Tony Williams was in 1963 in the Antibes Juan-les-pins Jazz Festival. I was just at the time a punter, a fan, though I had played some jazz festivals myself. I was into that kind of area at the time of music. Not only rock, but I was very much interested by playing and listening to jazz, and the rest is history. In 1965, I won for the fifth time, at the jazz festival in Zurich and I was rewarded the great honor to open for John Coltrane in Europe for several concerts at the time.
I read that about you and wanted to ask you what that was like, opening for John Coltrane. Did you interact with him at all?
I got to know him. I got to talk to him and so on. I interrupted with his musicians like McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones the drummer, and Jimmy Garrison the bass player. John Coltrane was a very, very quiet, almost shy, the only thing that was really impressive about him was the playing of his saxophone (laughs). Of course, everybody wanted autographs, to shake his hand, whatever. He was kind of very protective in that respect. It was absolutely extraordinary to do, even in Europe, concerts. Like an open air concert we did I remember. It was in front of 35,000 people. We used to open — we played for an hour, but the John Coltrane quartet played between three and four hours a night, and it was absolutely unbelievable. It was an unbelievable memory and experience, which was probably one of the highest remembrances of my musical career, from the beginning of it, you know. Absolutely unbelievable.
In doing my research about you, I was fascinated by your jazz and classical roots. You are known as a progressive rock guy, and getting back to the Doors record, of course, it features you and other guys like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman and then other guys who played with Yes like Geoff Downes and Steve Howe, and, of course Billy Sherwood, who produced the record. I mean, this is like the cream of the crop of progressive rock. Are there other projects coming up that you guys are doing?
You’re mentioning, of course, Rick and Keith — Keith did a fantastic job doing that opening piece. I think Steve Howe and Rick did an excellent job on “Light My Fire.” Not to mention one of my very, very good friends in the rock and music industry since from 1968 I’ve known him and I’m talking about Brian Auger. And even Mark Stein from Vanilla Fudge who I saw at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 in Switzerland. And all these guys I have the greatest respect for. We’re old friends as well.
You worked with some of the other guys from Yes and you’ve worked with Bill Bruford over the years. Do you still follow Yes in their present incarnation? Have you heard their new record?
I listen to as much music as I can, time permitting. I have to tell you that I know that Yes has put a new album out, and I will certainly purchase it on the Internet as soon as I can do it, but I’ve been so unbelievably busy these last few months, especially since I came back here. In LA, I was in the finishing stages of a very important album — actually it’s for a rock album — which I just finished the production of, which took quite some time to do. I composed all the tunes and all the music. I think it’s going to be a nice surprise. To come back to your question, yes I’ve heard most of their albums and I’m always interested to hear whatever all these guys have to say and how they express themselves and how they come up with the songs and so on. I was always a fan of them, even when I was a part of the Moody Blues for like 13 years. I really look forward to listening to their new album.
I actually had the opportunity to see you with Yes at Anaheim Stadium in 1976.
Right, I remember that. Do you remember the helicopters that were circling just above the stadium and the parachutists? Backstage, we had the children of President Ford. That day there was about 83,000 people at that concert.
That was a big show. It’s funny, I’ve talked to the other guys in Yes who played there and I’ve talked to the guys in Gentle Giant about that gig, and I’ve talked to Gary Wright. And, of course, you were touring behind one of my favorite Yes albums, Relayer, and it was recently remixed in 5.1 by Steven Wilson. Were you involved in this reissue in any way?
I was in the knowledge of it and they asked me my opinion about the remastered version before that. I even corresponded with the guys over there in England. I don’t know where in England. They even asked me to send them a couple examples of “Sound Chaser.” In the remastered version, there was always some aspect of a little mixing problem. Of course, when you are not an active member, there’s always a tendency for the other guys or whatever to be covered somewhat in terms of instrumentation. I wished them the very best and I asked them to make sure especially on “Sound Chaser” that my electric piano, which was ultimately recorded at the audition I did for Yes on the Wednesday afternoon, a couple days after Nixon was coming out of his office. I remember that afternoon, during the audition, they played me a couple bars of the song itself. At the same time, Jon and Chris asked me, “Patrick, what would you do as an introduction for this song?” I came up with what’s exactly there because Eddy Offord had a studio in his van — he had a mobile studio, which was absolutely revolutionary at the time. I mean, we’re talking about 40 years ago. I remember having played that introduction and composed it really as an instant composition and explained the rhythm action to Chris and Alan at the time, of course and that was it. That must have surprised a lot of listeners and fans at the time. Later on I heard some versions, which were really kind of different. I’m very happy that the 5.1 is coming out and it’s going to be released with Relayer, because it’s really a nice album for the group as far as I’m concerned, although I came in later than the inception of the whole album itself.
I remember having worked very hard. In the matter of a few weeks I had to not only get into the playing and the assimilating to all this music, and creating my own kind of voices and instrumentation, but also I had to learn how to play and how to be with the seven kind of previous symphonies that Yes had created up to that time. I remember having only about six or seven weeks before, we had very few rehearsals before our first tour of the United States in November of 1974. I’ll tell you, that was a very, very big responsibility, to do all this work in such a short time. When we recorded the rest of the song of “Sound Chaser” and bits of “Delirium” and “To Be Over,” that took place at Chris’ studio, which was actually in Buckinghamshire. I was living in central London in Earl’s Court. I had an apartment there and it used to be about 40 miles in and 40 miles out every day. One of my engineers and a very, very good friend, who used to be the bass player of my first group, Mainhorse, came to my rescue and was driving me every day. During those little journeys I had to learn all this material and take some notes and take the cassettes back and forth and back and forth and all this.
After Yes, you enjoyed a really long run with the Moody Blues. You were talking about how much you were bringing to the fold of Yes, but coming into a band like the Moody Blues, which had so many strong songwriters, was it a challenge for you to get your ideas across?
No, because the challenge — I love the music, I love the songs with the Moodys. I remember I had a very big area of keyboards, a big rig, different keyboards. I had four Mellotrons at the time. I had so many kinds at the time. I had an unbelievable amount of gear. I had an Oberheim keyboard with 16 oscillators. I remember, not only during recording but when we toured, I remember that when I used to bring those octaves down, the buildings were shaking (laughs). I really, really enjoyed my stint with the Moodys, especially from 1980 to the end of 1990, being in the studio for five albums. I mean, Long Distance Voyager, The Present, The Other Side Of Life, Sur la Mer and Keys Of The Kingdom, partially. All the other albums, I was totally involved with them in the studio at the time. I remember that even the first number (“the Voice”), which opens Long Distance Voyager actually started with a piece of music I had composed for the Moodys but also I had composed it in my own studio in Geneva, Switzerland, for the recording of an album I had just finished called Future Memories in 1979. Future Memories was my first album of completely instant compositions, which means in front of TV cameras I improvised and did the music without any edits, without any overdubs. What is on the record is exactly what I played in front of those TV cameras. So there’s a record of that. Anyway, coming back to the Moodys, I remember that when I got the gig, which was back two years before that in July of 1978, I decided to do some touring with them. At the very beginning of 1980, maybe at the end of January, I was backing on them with all my keyboards and I played “The Voice” on the guitar, and the producer Pip Williams was there — a very, very good producer; I loved working with him. Justin played the song, then he recorded the backing, just the accompaniment with the guitar. I remember having done my first recording with them in one afternoon — a Tuesday afternoon — I remember having played all the parts that I play. Every one of them was one and only take, with the modes and so on. I added some overdubs later and I think all the keyboard parts I played with everything I’ve done on all the albums, not only Long Distance Voyager, but all the albums of Moodys, was very, very appropriate to their songs. Like you said, there’s so many songwriters, but I contributed with a lot of my music to the arrangements and so on. Eventually with Graeme Edge, I was invited to write one song. But I have written a lot of music for the Moodys, which you know, it’s always the songwriter that gets the credit in the group. But I really enjoyed every recording I’ve heard with them at the time, and the rest kind of is history.
Since the Moody Blues, you have carried on as a soloist. You’re very prolific, doing classical and orchestral and jazz albums, and you’ve done soundtrack work and you’ve collaborated with so many different people. I was listening to your first solo album, The Story of I, last night just to get some more insight — really a great record. According to your website, you have a new album called A Way To Freedom. Is that right?
I am in the finishing stages of A Way To Freedom, because I’ve got some other productions that take precedence. For example, I’ve heard you mention the name of this great band that I respect extremely from the 1970s and 80s, Gentle Giant, of which I’ve just finished that song with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They asked me to play within the band to play a piano part of “Think of Me With Kindness.” It’s not a solo piano per se; it’s the piano as part of the orchestra. The conductor was extremely complimentary of the work I did, and that made me very, very happy. I think that’s going to come out very soon, the whole album, as the Symphonic Rock Project or something like that. Talking about A Way To Freedom, that’s going to be my solo album. I’ve been working on that for several years on and off. But the one I just finished, which I also composed and arranged the music for, which also took several years to complete, was for a very, very good friend of mine, a very excellent drummer called Greg Alban — he’s from LA. He asked me several years ago to compose songs for a solo album he wanted to do. The music came out fantastically well. I’ve got to say that I was enlightened to work with him and his production skills, as well as in a very, very good studio in LA. They’re based in Torrance, called Total Access Studio. We’ve decided to call the album The M.A.P.. The M.A.P. means the Moraz Alban Project. I composed 14 pieces, of which we chose nine. I arranged everything. We also have the great pleasure to have, on some of the tracks, John Avila, who was as you know the bass player for Oingo Boingo for so many years. In 1985, I actually hired those two guys, Greg and John, to be part of an album I completed at the Record Plant at the time here in LA called Timecode. I was able to hire them to play on three out of the nine or 10 tracks of that album, and we’ve been friends anyway every since. I was very, very happy to see those guys in the studio playing on tunes I had composed. We have also the great pleasure to have Lenny Castro on percussion on six tracks, which is really adding to the final. A couple of weeks ago, I received the final mastered version and that album is going to be released hopefully very soon. We’re just in the middle of preparation of the sleeve and the credits and this and that. I think it’s a very, very strong album. I really enjoyed doing it and composing it and arranging it. People will be pleasantly surprised.
That sounds great, Patrick. I’m going to let you go, but it sounds like you’ve just got a lot of exciting things coming up. I’m looking forward to all of it. It was great to talk to you. You have a great day.
Fantastic man. I really enjoyed your questions so much. In a few minutes, you’ve made me cover the gamut of the most great moments of my career and memories. I’m playing every day. I’m in the studio every day. I’m playing the channel and I’m at the keyboards all the time, composing all the times. Now I’m preparing that. I’ve got to say, this interview made my day today. Really, really nice. Great, great questions. Thank you.