Carlos Alomar on Inspiring The Odyssey
If living like a rock star from the ’70s through the ’90s didn’t slow down Carlos Alomar Hon. B.A. ’11, nothing will. And doesn’t he know it: “I look damn good for 69. I’m strong and I can still take a punch,” he laughs.
The famed musician, who since 2010 has served as Distinguished Artist-In-Residence at Stevens, is still sought after the world over to carry on longtime collaborator David Bowie’s legacy and to help create the sounds of modern day recording artists, securing their legacies to come. If you’re unfamiliar with Alomar’s work, check out Bowie’s song Fame, which the pair co-wrote with John Lennon; or Alicia Keys’ album The Element of Freedom; or the multi-platinum Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars hit Uptown Funk, on which Alomar played studio guitar. Or, better yet, stop by Morton 202 and chat with him yourself.
The Sound Synthesis Research Center (SSRC), a pocket-sized studio full of flashing lights and energy, stocked with some of the latest technology for creating music, is where Alomar plays, creates and discovers. And you’re always welcome.
“The SSRC is an experimental lab whose sole mission is to incorporate sound synthesis into musical performance,” he says. “I look for an individual who can walk through that door and understand that he or she knows absolutely nothing…NOTHING. Then, as a musician, I can introduce them to their MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) counterpart. But there’s no competition here, no teachers either, just excellence.”
Excellence and, as you may expect, inspiration. With his credibility a given — 32 international gold and platinum records — it’s his positivity, love for music and uninhibited creativity that drive his spirit and his approach with students.
“One has to find out where their odyssey begins. Who are the students who are open to that?
“Who has the passion? Passion that wakes you up in the morning and won’t let you go to sleep at night. I don’t care how much homework you have, if that song is burning in your head and you want to put it down, nothing can stop you,” he says. “I’m trying to instill the love of music, so maybe they’ll play the guitar for their daughter, maybe they’ll meet their wife and serenade her or maybe they’ll become an executive and have a full collection of amazing guitars and they still can’t play.”
He laughs infectiously at that thought, presumably because he knows that person; maybe because we all know that person. His sincerity in his intention remains, though, as seen through his ever-present smile — “It’s part of my facial structure at this point” — and his focus stays on the positive. It’s not clear what came first, the music or the optimism, but it seems that the two are no longer separate entities for Alomar.
“What is it about music that everyone loves? FUN!” he answers. “Listen, life is hard. It’s an odyssey and we care about being insignificant, which leads to the question of ‘What is your self-worth? What is the value you impose on your worth?’
“Music can add so much value to your life. Oh, you’re tired? You hear the right song and all of a sudden you’re 18 years old again…[music is] the time travel you’ve been looking for, to get you away from now!”
The music hasn’t let him down yet, but instead has constantly pushed him in new directions, whether it was previously serving as the vice chairman of the Grammy’s Board of Trustees or coming to Stevens.
“All that stuff is just an example of what you can achieve when you’re ready. So what are you ready for? How the hell should I know? I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; I just had to come prepared with a sense of adventure and empowering myself to say, ‘I don’t know what you want, but I’m sure that if I put my part to the whole, all of us will get to a new place together.’”
And so Alomar’s adventure continues. He’s currently on a mission to bring to light the funk of David Bowie: “I met Bowie when I was 22 and he knew me as James Brown’s guy. When we hooked up I told him I couldn’t deal with piano players, I’m a rock ’n’ roller. I told him I wanted to hook up a trio and he said fine, but he wanted an all-black funk rhythm section. And that was that — Dennis Davis on drums, Carlos Alomar on guitar and George Murray on bass: the D.A.M. Trio.” And, of course, he’s continuing to inspire the odyssey of anyone willing to take the risk.
“I’m the oldest one here and these kids never think of me as an old man. Why? Because I’m full of curiosity and adventure and I don’t have time to relax. I’m always looking for the next thing,” he says.
“But that’s not the point. The point is, who has the courage to knock on my door?”