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Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of Galt MacDermot


Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of HAIR and Galt MacDermot It's okay for the conversation about Galt MacDermot to begin with HAIR. After all, the iconoclastic composer’s score, or HAIR, helped change… well, it changed just about everything. HAIR changed hearts, minds and the way we think about war, peace, and spirituality. It also created an unprecedented dialogue between mainstream theater and the youth culture. MacDermot’s score for HAIR was the pulse that beat out these changes like a drummer at the head of a parade. The music altered the relationship of rhythm and melody, of score and narrative, of show tunes and the pop charts. But more than anything else, MacDermot’s score taught Broadway how to groove. So, sure… it’s just fine to start the Galt MacDemot conversation with HAIR.

Bu,t to let the conversation end in 1969 with HAIR would be nothing short of a crime. To truly understand and appreciate MacDermot’s place in the pantheon of American Music, it is vital that listener travel back and forth in time from that high-water mark of Americana that HAIR represents. You must travel back to 1961 and hear MacDermot’s first Grammy-winning hit, African Waltz, recorded by jazz great Cannonball Adderley, the polyrhythmic result of the composer’s time spent in the settlements of Apartheid-era South Africa. Jump way ahead in time to the Hip Hop revolution, and discover what so many African-American musicians, DJs and producers found in MacDermot’s early work: a fountain of rhythms, breaks and beats that were poured like concrete into the foundation of a new musical form. Why is MacDermot so beloved, and so often sampled, by the hip hop community? The truth is found in the groove.

What makes MacDermot’s rhythm and grooves so special, so irresistible? The answer is at the heart of Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of HAIR and Galt MacDermot, the film and series directed by Eric Marciano and Jeff Lunger. For most composers and songsmiths, melody and rhythm are two separate parts of the whole. At their very best, most composers hope to craft songs that treat melody and rhythm as opposite sides of the same coin. They are related and complementary, but emanate from different sources to be soldered together later in the creative process. MacDermot goes further.

To him, rhythm and melody are one, cohabitating on the same face of that coin. The melody creates the rhythm, and the rhythm carves out the tune. There is no separation of church and state in MacDermot’s compositions. That is the commonality found across MacDermot’s body of work. His melodies (whether sung or played) are so inextricably entwined with his rhythms, the listener is gifted with that undeniable and magical state of being that musicians call “groove.”

Songs are just like people. They walk and they talk, they whisper and scream, they can be serious or silly, hot or cold. Like people, songs are either groovy or they’re not. And no one writes groovier songs than Galt MacDermot. This is affirmed by the dozens of collaborators and colleagues who appear in Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of Galt MacDermot… people like The Public Theater’s Oskar Eustis, HAIR co-creator James Rado, director Milos Forman, playwright John Guare, HAIR cast members Tim Curry and Kenny Ortega, hip hop artists Oh No, Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf, and so many more. And no discussion of groove would be complete without hearing from MacDermot’s longtime collaborator Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (called the most recorded drummer of all time) and bassist Wilbur ”Bad” Bascomb, Jr. – the crack rhythm section and beating heart of MacDermot’s New Pulse Jazz Band.

The well-known quote, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” has been attributed to sources as disparate as Martin Mull, Miles Davis and Frank Zappa. Whoever it was that said it first could have been talking about the grooves of Galt MacDermot. All of the interviews in the world can only begin to tell the story. A deep understanding of the importance of this American original can come from only one place: the music itself. That is why director Marciano has chosen to build the films of Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of HAIR and Galt MacDermot on live performances by Galt MacDermot and his New Pulse Jazz Band. Two concerts, a 2007 performance at the NYC music venue The West Bank, and a 2010 concert at the legendary Public Theater (Home of the original Off Broadway production of HAIR), were filmed and recorded in their entirety by the Shapes of Rhythm team. These amazing performances will be the centerpieces of the project. Despite the scribe’s best effort, words are pale and pathetic in describing the interplay between MacDermot, Purdy, Bascomb and the other master jazz and pop musicians on stage, and the joy shared between the musicians and the audience. Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of HAIR and Galt MacDermot - the rhythm is real. It is palpable and visceral and emotionally moving. The groove is here and the groove is now.


“It’s not just theater music… its real music. Galt is bigger than theater. He’s part of the culture, part of music history.”
– Diane Paulus, Director of Hair (2009 Tony-winning revival)


By James P. Wark

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Film Details and Credits


Eric Marciano
Jeff Lunger

Eric Marciano

Jeff Lunger
Meredith Jacobson Marciano
Eric Marciano

Film Editing
Eric Marciano

Galt MacDermot

Camera and Electrical Department
Max Demetrio                                  camera operator
Alain Furcajg                                     camera operator
Fred Hatt                                          camera operator
Meredith Jacobson Marciano         camera operator
Eric Marciano                                   camera operator
Richard Mark                                    camera operator
Billy Miller                                         camera operator
Joseph Piazzo                                  camera operator
Nora Szylagni                                   camera operator

 Sound Department
Ignacio Valero
Production Assistant
Jill Feyer

Performers and Interviewees
Sasha Allen
Eothen Alapatt
Julie Arenal
Wilbur Bascomb
Michael Butler
Luther Creek
Gavin Creel
Rusty Curcio
Tim Curry
Danielle Dallacco
Billy Davis Jr.
Alix Elias
Oskar Eustis
Milos Forman
Leata Galloway
Annie Golden
Suzanne Griffin
John Guare
Catrice Joseph-Hart
Caissie Levy
Larry Marshall
Norman Matlock
Galt MacDermot
Vince MacDermot
Marilyn McCoo
Melba Moore
Natalie Mosco
Chuck Negron
Oh No
Tom O'Horgan
Kenny Ortega
Diane Paulus
Melanie May Po
Bernard Pretty Purdie
James Rado
Raymond Leon Roker
Bryce Ryness
Matty Selman
Kacie Sheik
Rashad Smith
Will Swenson
Derek Walcott
Matt Sydney
Dale Soules
Peanut Butter Wolf
Elizabeth L. Wollman
Allen Won

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