In his own words: "The musical influences in our family home were very traditional: a piano in the dining room covered with stacks of music books including the "Scribner's Radio Library" and selections from many of the then-current Broadway shows. Next to the hi-fi were lp collections such as the Reader's Digest "Festival of Light Classical Music". Piano lessons for my sister and myself began at age seven. Music-making was a natural part of growing up.
Some of the records were soon worn out from overuse --"Gypsy", "A Chorus Line" and "Company", "A Little Night Music" and "Pacific Overtures" come to mind. Stephen Sondheim's brilliant shows from the early and mid-70s were a revelation and as a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to learn composing and work in the musical theater. Summer courses at the Berklee School and at Bucknell University showed me how normal and 'organic' it is to create music through composing and improvising . I began writing songs and arrangements for big band while in high school.
Jazz became a synonym for making creative music. I improvised alot on the piano and the trombone, and began to listen to - and try to understand - all genres of music using the vocabulary which jazz offered, especially with the syntax which the Berklee courses had offered. The modal 'chord/scale' system taught there seemed to open doors to most of the classical music heard at home, not just to jazz.
'Down Beat' arrived in the mailbox every two weeks and acting on its tips, I discovered pianists like Keith Jarrett (his 'Bremen/Lausanne' LP had just been released), Chick Corea (and the initial Return to Forever formations), and Joe Zawinul as keyboardist with Weather Report. I also became a real admirer of Dick Hyman, first through his work with trombonist Urbie Green and later through his always tasteful work as music director for Woody Allen's films.
Studying at Oberlin College changed a lot of these parameters. It was somewhat disconcerting as an incoming freshman to discover that the jazz-based perspective to making and understanding music which I had enjoyed as a comparative autodidact in New Castle was regarded as, well...secondary, if not irrelevant! The 'official' expectation that traditional 4-part harmony be the starting-point for most musical analysis awakened a feeling of rebellion, and it wasn't until much later that I began to understand how complementary the various systems actually are, and that it actually makes enormous sense to comprehend music using tools and methods which were part of the common language at the time during which a particular piece of music was composed.
Now that I work a lot with film music and other genres which borrow heavily from past styles as well as from non-Western traditions, the openness of jazz harmonic structures is helpful. On the other hand, when arranging a new piece for orchestra and then when rehearsing it, it is absolutely essential and eminently practical to "know the rules" of traditional harmony and understand why they have evolved."