It’s been a long road back for Holly Burke, but a road, with its every inch, foot, and mile, very worthwhile. The composer has reemerged with her longtime collaborator Bill Runge for a new album entitled Dreamride, which was just released this past Friday, January 13th. This has been a release long in the works, with the roots of these compositions extending back to the early days of the global pandemic. It was around that time that Burke resumed taking the piano seriously as a composer, after a five-year period in which she was hampered by the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. As she got going again, she found herself re-enthused, and she was motivated to share the compositions she was working on with Runge to see what he thought.
Runge, to say the least, was impressed and very moved by the elegance and beauty of these new compositions that Burke was working on. At this point, he got on board, and the two began crafting and finetuning these works, doing up to 20 to 25 drafts until they were happy with the results. It has turned out to be a very fruitful collaboration, with Dreamride inspired by a wide variety of genres, including jazz, pop, tango, and various classical styles.
Today, we are joined by both Burke and Runge themselves for a chat about their music, their songwriting process, touring, and musical influences.
How would you describe your own music?
Holly Burke: “For me, this music is a pastiche of everything I love! John Coltrane said, ‘The main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe…’ Love that. This music is an instinctual sensory, sensuous response to being alive! Like breathing or dancing or watching a bird fly.”
Bill Runge: “The pieces that I wrote specifically for the Dreamride project fell into two categories. Firstly, two pieces are Tangos as I am a big fan of the Nuevo Tango style (harmonically more modern than trad). Tango perpetrated primarily by Argentinians Astor Piazolla and Daniel Binelli. These pieces are definitely homages to those incredible composers.
‘Amoroso’ was an orchestral piece that I reduced for solo piano, and ‘Lindo’ was written as a dedication to our pianist, Linda Lee Thomas, who is a brilliant concert pianist, but who also shares my love of Tango and has performed with Daniel Binelli and also with her trio Tangissimo in Argentina.
Secondly, I wrote two pieces inspired by Bela Bartok’s Mikrokosmos series of educational piano pieces. They are the most harmonically challenging pieces in the project, and are meant to introduce some contrasting moods to the project.”
What is the story behind the name Dreamride?
Runge: “Holly’s son, Alexander Hunt (who has indigenous heritage and is something of a Shaman), after listening to the music, astutely labeled it a ‘dreamride’ and we knew that was to be the name for the project.”
How would you describe your creative process?
Burke: “It just happens, at the piano (usually); it’s in that thinking/not thinking space. Maybe I’m just letting my hands find things that please me, soothe me. Maybe it’s just letting the piano get really big and I follow the sounds all the way through…when I find something that has a cool vibe I put it on my handy zoom so it doesn’t disappear!
When I’m happy enough with something I’ll show it to Bill. He gets it down in Sibelius (a score-writing program) and the games begin! Back and forth between us; sometimes as many as 20 re-writes. We work in the same room sometimes, otherwise email.”
Who are your biggest influences?
Burke: “From the beginning, I’d have to say Mr. Bach. He was my favourite composer from my early piano studies. Also, Vaughn Williams is big with me, Sting, the English school. As a performer, Ian Anderson blew my mind getting the flute out there front and forward. Jobim’s orchestral stuff, Ivan Lins. American funk and jazz also feature pretty big, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Betty Carter, Chick Corea. Actually hearing Motown for the first time changed my life, as did hearing Bossa Nova.”
Runge: “As regards the Dreamride project, which primarily for me was a collaboration as sometime co-author and full-time arranger of the pieces, I would say my influences are the great composer/pianists: Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and composers Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, and Astor Piazolla.”
What’s the best criticism you’ve ever received about your music or performance?
Burke: “‘You have your own stamp’ from California composer Nancy Briggs. That meant a lot to me! The music does have its own character, its own sound.”
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
Runge: “I think that right near the top would be my performance on Alto Sax with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra with the music of former Police drummer Stewart Copeland’s Police Deranged show, featuring re-orchestrated Police songs.”
What’s next for you?
Runge: “The next phase for the Dreamride project involves the orchestration of the Dreamride piano pieces for symphony orchestra. For our CD release concert, we have, alongside Linda Lee Thomas on piano already incorporated Holly on flute, myself on clarinet and sax, and Pablo Romero, an operatic baritone singer who adds a Josh Groban-like quality to the music. The end plan to create a Symphony Pops show.”
For those not familiar with you as musicians, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Burke: “Sure, we’re two lifelong jazz musicians who dreamt up a project to keep us from going crazy during the lockdown. I was also thinking fondly of the all the piano and flute books I enjoyed growing up and wouldn’t it be cool to write a book. So yes, this started out as a book project, and like all creative endeavours, it takes on a life of its own, leading to the recording with Linda Lee Thomas, and Jon Washburn (of Vancouver Chamber Choir fame) Linda’s husband, writing lyrics to a few of the tunes, and then meeting Pablo Romero in the forest (our young Mexican baritone who will appear on the next recording). Serendipity, it’s a beautiful thing.
So this is Bill’s and my third collaboration. The first was for my CD Nature Girl (2014) the second was a commission from the Hard Rubber Orchestra called ‘Lagoon’ and Dreamride is our third. I’m in awe of Bill! Our musical tastes are remarkably similar and our skills are so oddly complimentary. Bill rocks!”
Runge: “I am a saxophonist and composer/orchestrator. I’ve done many shows as a side musician and have been a professional for 50 years. Yikes! I have four CDs released under my own name and have recorded with many great artists; Jerry Granelli, Bill Frisell, Nancy Wilson, Amos Garrett, and Michael Bublé.”
Now that Dreamride is complete and released, how do you feel about it, and what has been the response so far?
Runge: “I am really happy with the results; I think the piano playing is sublime and the sounds are really top notch, and the general mood portrayed is beautiful, meditative, nurturing, and a positive offering to the planet.”
What is your writing process like?
Burke: “Often I’ll send over to Bill some ideas, motifs or what have you, in various stages of development from totally raw (a pure improvisation), to semi-developed. He gets it down in Sibelius, which is thrilling to see it all laid out, then the fun begins! Back and forth between us, adding on as much as we can, then taking away as much as we can. Bill’s the ultimate patient guy and very sensitive to my limits in terms of brain work.
I’m still getting over a concussion I had years ago, so our sessions would typically go an hour max. Doing these questions on the computer is tough on the old noggin as well! Lighted screens, ugh!”
When you write do you do so with the live setting in mind or do you write a song just for the song’s sake?
Burke: “I’m all in for the song’s sake. It’s total immersion or go home. Follow the magic, let it happen, see where it leads… I don’t have the kind of brain that can be objective about the process, not until much later anyway. It’s kind of like fishing in the sky for me, I only think about that (when you’re trying to land a fish!) Being in a state of thinking/not thinking.”
What is the story behind the name of the new record?
Burke: “I was having breakfast with my son Zancity (who raps) and we were talking about dreams (as I often do, I’m into my dreams, or they’re into me) He came up with Big Dream Ride, which morphed into Dream Ride, which Jamie Sitar our master guy finally morphed into Dreamride (rolls right off the tongue).”
What is the strangest thing that has happened to you on tour, or at one of your shows?
Burke: “I guess it was the time I was with a rock band called Blackhorse, doing a college tour in the States. At the time, I was using a Barcus Berry flute mic that fits right into the head joint, and has a long, thin wire. It was close to my solo and I noticed the mic had popped out and the guitarist and singer was now standing on my cord! I tried signaling him to no avail, he was focused out to the crowd like Mount Rushmore. So I ended up crawling, slowly, across, the, stage to his foot where I finally got his attention and got my mic cord back and actually managed to play the solo.”
When recording Dreamride, did anything strange, wonderful or terrible occur?
Burke: “Yes, we lost the second batch of ten videos, couldn’t use them; we didn’t get the production values we needed. The second batch had some of our best stuff in it! ‘Two Eagles,’ ‘Lindo,’ ‘Briny Deep.’”
Runge: “After several years of painstaking collaboration involving often dozens of drafts for each of 20 pieces, Holly and I were finally ready to record and decided to video the process…Unfortunately, we had picked the wrong pianist, wrong studio engineer, and the wrong videographer and couldn’t use any of the takes except as demos. After pulling our hair out, I thought of Linda Lee Thomas as a perfect pianist for our project. I got the music to her and sometime later Holly and I went over to Linda’s house to hear her play. After the first piece, Holly and I were both in tears; Linda had played so beautifully and had intuited exactly how to express the inner soul of the music. We knew then we were on the right track!”