Joseph B. Zito – I used to fall asleep every night listening to the sounds of my dad writing gorgoeus music at the piano at all hours, writing for symphony orhestra, for rock bands, for 100 piece choirs, for jazz combos, for Nat “King” Cole, and on and on, streaming his utterly unique and progressive sound into my sub-conscious mind. His music shaped my hearing and my instinct at the most fundamental level.
Gino Vannelli – Gino and his brother, Joe Vanelli, played incredibly sophisticated rock music — with all these super satisfying, meaty jazz chords, played by a rock band but backed by a full symphony orchestra (or a stack of synthesizers), and Gino was running around stage in a white leotard while pyrotechnics went off on-stage. He is truly a brilliant composer who has the courage as a writer to break out of the norm of pop/rock songwriting, and inspires me to try to do the same.
Television Sit-Com Theme Songs – At about 1 minute long, there’s no time for fluff. Only the great hooks remain to form a perfect joyful little niblet of sound. Some of my favorites are: “The Incredible Hulk” by Joseph Harnell (seriously, listen to the counter-theme in the french horns), “T.J. Hooker” by Mark Snow (my heartrate goes up by the end), and Monday Night Football (“Superstar” A.K.A. “Heavy Action”) by Johnny Pearson — the WHOLE theme which you may not have ever heard before. Amazing!
Michael McDonald – “What a Fool Believes” will be my musical carrot until my dying days. With every song I write, I am in some fashion chasing the perfection of “What a Fool Believes” (co-written with Kenny Loggins). I recently figured out why you never hear an original band covering a Michael McDonald song — once you play it, you can’t possibly follow it up with anything else, and you’d be forced to leave the stage.
Def Leppard – I listened to so much Def Leppard that I wore out 3 cassette tapes of Pyromania. Between studying theory, orchestrating and arranging with my dad, he used to make me analyze specific songs like “Hysteria” or “Foolin’ “, then write down the song form, including how many measures of music were in each section, naming each section (Intro/Verse/Prechorus/etc.), and what repeated when. I really understand song form now. Thanks, Def Leppard!
The Pat Metheny Group – There are so many incredible bands that challenge my musical knowledge and inspire me to keep learning. And there are so many bands that move me deeply, to the point where I can only listen, quietly and passively, without analysis, as I am taken away to another place. But there is only one band who does both, and that’s The Pat Metheny Group. They are the most amazing band I’ve ever heard. My attempts to emulate them are plentiful.
Antonio Carlos Jobim – Besides my dad, Carlos Jobim has had the biggest influence on my writing. It is hard to put into words how I feel about Carlos’ music. Bossa Nova is a music style that seems to flow through everyone’s veins, no matter how hard of a rocker they are. He combines chord progressions that can give you carpal-tunnel of the wrists and mind if you’re trying to sight-read it, then puts all these chromatic melodies on top that are basically made from every note in every key. Yet, its the most beautiful, simple, CORRECT sounding music ever. I try to “Bossa” with my band whenever possible.
Billy Joel – How can somebody write so many good songs, one after the other like that? When I was recording my current album, we played Billy Joel’s jazz-influenced album, “52nd Street”, over and over. We weren’t trying to copy it, just trying to unlock the essence of what made it so magically musical. It was just Billy being himself. And, of course, his piano playing is great — he can bang it out, and he can also make the most delicate sounds you ever heard in popular piano playing… he is one of the original GREATS.
Michael Kamen – Michael Kamen was my film scoring idol, and later, my professional and personal friend. He was the master of fusing together rock music with symphonic music, such as on his Grammy Award winning symphonic collaboraton with heavy metal greats, Metallica. He wrote too many filmscores to mention, penned loads of song-chart hits, founded The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which donates musical instruments to underserved school music programs and young musicians, and changed the lives of countless young musicians that he helped, including mine.