Patrick Moraz, keyboardist with Yes and the Moody Blues: Something Else! Interview

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Patrick Moraz, who’s just been added to the bill for the second Cruise to the Edge prog rock event, stops in to discuss his endlessly varied career with Yes, the Moody Blues and as a solo artist.

The Swiss-born keyboardist was a member of Yes from 1974-76, making important contributions to the gold-selling studio effort Relayer. He joined the Moody Blues in 1978, just in time to retool their sound for Long Distance Voyager, and remained in the band through 1991. Moraz started a concurrent solo career in 1976, when each of the members of Yes issued separate individual albums.

Moraz joins a Cruise to the Edge bill that, of course, includes his former band, as Yes also plays host to Marillion, UK, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited, Tangerine Dream, Todd La Torre’s Queensryche, Renaissance and others aboard a ship that departs Miami on April 7, 2014 and visits Honduras and Mexico over a five-day trip …

NICK DERISO: You brought no small amount of jazz-rock influences to bear on Relayer. Although it ultimately became a guitar-oriented album, I could still hear those influences at play on tracks like “To Be Over.” Were you disappointed that the group didn’t pursue that jazzier feel?
PATRICK MORAZ: We had decided to do some writing — starting in 1975, when I was also helping (bassist) Chris (Squire) and (guitarist) Steve (Howe) to record some music. We had started to compose and to co-compose and to gather material for what was going to be the album Going for the One, and I was very much involved in the composing of “Awaken” at the time. I even recorded one or two tracks in the very, very beginning — in the early stages of sessions in 1976. I recorded some basic tracks for what was going to become “Awaken” and other tracks for Going for the One. Unfortunately, those were taken out, to allow (keyboardist) Rick (Wakeman) to come back to the band. But I couldn’t be disappointed with Yes. Disappointment is a negative. I’ve always made sure I was adding as much of the positive to any band as I could. Of course, you’re talking about “To Be Over,” and that’s a very interesting question. Not many journalists are asking me about “To Be Over,” and I have to tell you that the ending solo, I remember having written it down that very night. Suddenly, they wanted to change the key. I had to rewrite the entire thing. So, on one night, I did two different versions of that — and all written on paper. That’s how it came about. We had been jamming quite a bit, especially with Chris and (drummer) Alan (White), from the time I joined the band. We had many, many jam sessions and co-compositions, those kind of things. On some of those things, we very close to the edge of jazz rock, and over time it might have taken us maybe much further.

NICK DERISO: You were able to repurpose the work you had done on “Awaken” into a song for a 1977 solo album, right?
PATRICK MORAZ: When I had to exit Yes at the end of ’76, I started a new album of mine — and I decided call the album Out in the Sun. Maybe I should have called it Time for a Change. It’s a long track, it’s the last track. There were three or three movements that were part of “Time for a Change.” The very beginning of it, the first minute and half or so, reflect what I had actually co-composed for the song “Awaken” itself. It’s a very beautiful kind of piece, which I used as an introduction. What ended up on the record, which is being played by Rick, is completely different than what I would have wrote. But music is music, right? (Laughs.)

NICK DERISO: Your solo piano albums have tended to show a more personal side to fans of your work with Yes and the Moody Blues. Will there be a follow up to ESP? Is that something you’ll return to?
PATRICK MORAZ: Oh, yes. I’ve released three piano albums. The first was released in 1994, called Windows of Time. Then I followed up with (2000’s) Resonance and then with (2003’s) ESP. They are, of course, completely different from the electronic material that I’ve recorded with either the Moodies or with Yes. I have written many more pieces, and recorded many more pieces as well. So, I’m intending to release more piano music at some point. The latest one was a compilation of those three piano albums. I called it PianissiMoraz. The first piece, I recorded it one take. I called it “Pure Love,” and it was completely improvisational. Those kind of instant compositions are something I improvise, and then it crystallizes throughout the day — whether that be in one take or more. That was the case of Future Memories, which I recorded in that fashion in 1979.

NICK DERISO: A few years before, every one in Yes did a solo album. Take us back to Brazil, where you recorded the rhythm tracks for your debut, Story of I.
PATRICK MORAZ: In 1972, before even forming Refugee, before even writing the music and orchestrating the chamber orchestra for the movie called “The Invitation” — which actually won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Festival — before that, a very good friend and colleague had actually convinced me to become the musical director for a ballet company from Brazil, with the help of 16 or 18 dancers and six percussionists. I became interested in the percussion, and having been down so many, many times to Africa in the 1960s, and having played with African musicians, I was always addicted to rhythm. I had the idea of using the rhythms of Brazil, and playing those percussion elements in a more symphonic way. I decided after the second tour of Yes, in 1975, to go down to South America — Columbia, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina — and ended up in Brazil for two days. I was lucky enough to be able to gather a very, very strong unit of 16 percussionists — they were some of the very best in Rio de Janeiro. I recorded many, many tracks, in real time. I would have been able to use those for the next two or maybe three albums. So, I recorded the basics down in Brazil. Having done that, I brought the eight-track tapes — the basics of my playing, with the percussionists — and transposed them to the 24-track technology of the time. That’s what became I, during that time. That was really enlightening, to be able to do that.

[ONE TRACK MIND: The Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward goes in depth with us on “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Gemini Dream,” and tracks from his 2013 solo effort ‘Spirits of the Western Sky.’]

NICK DERISO: With the Moody Blues, and (1981’s) Long Distance Voyager, you presupposed this synth-based prog-pop style that would hurtle Asia and a reshuffled Yes to the top of the charts. But you guys were doing that first. What inspired you toward that sound?
PATRICK MORAZ: When I was asked to join the Moody Blues in 1978, I came up with my own array of keyboards — and I had been, in a way, lucky enough to be able to also keep my road crew at my disposal. That’s something that normally you wouldn’t have been able to do. My motto has always been: “Have keyboards, will travel.” (Laughs.) But it had been about a year to a year and half since I left Yes when I got that call asking me if I wanted to join the Moodies, at least for a couple of tours. Having done that, and having also been able to keep the instruments I had — as we moved from Mellotron to a new array of keyboards — before touring with the Moodies and recording Long Distance Voyager, I was able to record my synthesizer sounds with all of that technology. These were the most modern instruments of the time, and the sounds which I brought could be considered ahead of their time, within the context of the Moody Blues. The first 30 seconds in the opening of “The Voice,” that was something I had composed previously. It was very orchestral, and much longer, but they only wanted about 30 seconds. So I agreed to have it cut down, and then I did my very first take on the overdubs for “The Voice” — and I did in one and only one take. After that, there were additional overdubs, but they’d probably never heard something like that being done in such a short time. And that’s what stayed on the record. I had a great time, actually, recording with the Moodies. You know, (1983’s) The Present wasn’t as successful as Long Distance Voyager, or (1986’s) The Other Side of Life, but we had a great time doing it. I was always bringing in some new equipment, and some new ideas as well — new melodic ideas, and rhythmic ideas.

NICK DERISO: Do you think having toured with the Moodies for a time before you ever recorded with them contributed to that sense of seamless collaboration? You fit in quickly, despite it having been a very well-established band.
PATRICK MORAZ: I think I did fit very well with the Moody Blues sound, and the extension of the songs. Somebody directed my attention to an argument stating that whatever I did on those tunes, especially on Long Distance Voyager, had been played by an orchestra. That’s not right at all. Only one piece had been enhanced by strings, one with my own arrangement called “Talking Out of Turn.” But all the other pieces were my own keyboard arrangements and voicings. There was no absolutely orchestra on those tunes. In a way, I’m flattered. But that’s not true.

NICK DERISO: At the same time you were recording these more electronic things with the Moodies, you were also doing things like that terrific acoustic duo album with fellow Yes alum Bill Bruford in ’83. Did that keep you grounded, working in those more jazz-inflected settings?
PATRICK MORAZ: Yes, absolutely. To me, it actually worked out in the sense of the philosophy I’ve always had about art and music in general: The epitome of creativity reflects the state of tension, and in that case it’s exactly what happened. We had a very kind of pop rock-oriented approach in the Moody Blues, and with Bill it was exactly the other side of the spectrum. When we started, it was my idea to call it Music for Piano and Drums. Our very first tour, we started in Los Angeles, and in some states that were close enough for us to travel by car, I remember having trouble with the roadie because of what he had to do for us. There were three of us traveling in a car, with the bass drum on the roof. It was really a kind of dream come true from my childhood. I always saw those jazz guys, and you’d think about how they traveled so simply. And as a duo, we were able to fill all of the venues we played, every concert was extremely well received, and we were able to express ourselves to the max. There was a freedom of expression which is really almost unheard of in a straight rock setting.

NICK DERISO: I’m still amazing that you recorded (2012’s) Live at Abbey Road in about an hour. There’s a lot going on there, as opposed to the strictly solo efforts you’ve done in the past.
PATRICK MORAZ: I was playing the material which I had recorded with computers, but I was doing it in real time. Every piece was played, of course, with sequencers but it was a completely new interpretation. I think the sound, in a way, is more urgent and more present than the carefully recorded sessions which have usually taken place.

NICK DERISO: Are there plans to release A Way to Freedom? I know that’s something that you’ve been working on as a solo project for some time.
PATRICK MORAZ: It’s still on the front burner, it’s just that I’ve got different projects and different productions that take precedence. All of the material is actually written. I’ve got several pieces that I’ve had rendered for a symphony orchestra and percussionists and a jazz brass band. All of the music is written and arranged; it’s on paper. It’s just that it takes time. I could have finished it and released it, but in some way I have been enjoying my right to be a little bit of a perfectionist. (Laughs.)

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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