Wednesday, November 23, 2016

8.) Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Hello!  I'm pleased to share with you the 8th recording of the 24 Standards project.  The song is Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered by the classic American songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.  It's from a musical called Pal Joey, which I haven't seen I'm sorry to say.  My favorite recordings of this song are those by Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.  There's also one I found by Bill Snyder & His Orchestra.  I hadn't heard of Bill Snyder before, but I enjoyed his version.

This song presented a challenge in my desire to effectively represent the lyrics in my arrangement simply because there are a lot of lyrics - three full verses and choruses.  So I decided to focus on my favorite verse and chorus which happen to be the ones that Sinatra sings.

As I proceeded to arrange the song, an opportunity presented itself for a "Chopinesque" treatment of the bridge.  I few months ago I became obsessed with a video of Martha Argerich performing Chopin's Scherzo No. 3 at the Chopin International Piano Competition in 1965.  Her winning of this competition brought her international fame.  I encourage you to check out the video - her playing is stunning and effortless.   What I love about the Scherzo No. 3 is the very simple melody alternating with the "rainfall" phrases in the upper register.

When I first saw this video I was inspired to pull out the score and see what was happening, and perhaps learn to play the piece.  What I discovered was that the rainfall had a very different sound at the very slow tempo that I was able to do.  The questions that arose were "Was Chopin able to sit down and improvise the rainfall phrases?  If so, did he need to play them slow in order to write them down on the page?  OR, was he able to sit away from the piano and write these phrases note for note on paper and know exactly how they would sound at a faster tempo?"  My theory is that there was both happening, but moreso it was the latter.  I think that what separates a "heavy" classical composer and a guy like me is the ability to do this.  While I might attempt it, and yes, have a rough idea of what I write will sound like,  I really don't know until I sit down at the piano to play it.  And most often I'm composing at the piano anyway - figuring out what notes I want by playing them, then writing them down.   But if you look at the output of the great composers it seems there simply isn't time for this checking everything at the piano, and my guess is that Chopin often worked that way.  The only evidence of otherwise is that Chopin's music is often eerily well suited to the hand - the flashy phrases are usually easy to play and make the pianist sound impressive.   He obviously was a pianist.  Another theory is that some other genius transcribed his improvisations and then Chopin later organized it.  His music often does sound improvisational.  Maybe you know how he worked, and maybe it's been researched at written about.  I'm just speculating, but if you know, please share....

Anyway, after spending a couple weeks with the Chopin score it was obvious that I would need a lot more patience and time and miracles to sound like Argerich!  I gave up, but it left an impression, and I remembered the concept when I arrived at the bridge of Bewitched.  What's so interesting is how different it sounds when played slow.  In my emulation of the idea, there was a definite leap of faith.  I only hoped that the phrases would sound how I wanted them to at a faster tempo.  I think it worked.  But to be sure I'll have to forget about it for a while and come back in a month and see how they sound.  Right now it's all too fresh.

I guess all that we know is that the artistic process is very personal and very different from individual to individual.  And that's a lovely thing.  I really love hearing about how others do their work and I hope you enjoy reading about my process a bit.  One thing for sure is that we need to be making and appreciating honest art more than ever.

Apologies for the mic distortion at the end of the bridge.  I got a little louder than expected there.  

Thanks for reading!  I hope you enjoy Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

7.) Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye

For the seventh song of the project, I chose Cole Porter's Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye.  It was first performed in 1944 by a singer named Nann Wynn in a musical revue show called Seven Lively Arts. I did some hunting for it, but was unable to find a recording of that show, or any version by Wynn, unfortunately.  But this is a very popular tune and there are many great recordings to hear.  I am fond of the Chet Baker / Paul Bley duo on the record called Diane, and also Ella Fitzgerald's recording from the Norman Granz Songbooks series that she did.  Ella hasn't had a mention yet in this project, but my wife recently got me hooked on her and she's sure to get more mentions here in the future.

Since starting the project there has, for the most part, been a trend toward simplicity.  The older arrangements are a little busier and have more going on than the new ones.  Maybe you don't hear it so much, but it's there at least in my head.  Some of these songs just don't want to be messed with too much.  Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye is one of those.  The melody has a kind of purity and suspense to it that I didn't want to detract from with a bunch of extra ideas.  I play it slow.  It's just a touching sad and beautiful song to me.  I don't think there's much else to say.  But before I move onto the next piece, I'd like to recite the lyrics to you.  Interesting to note is that Cole Porter was one of the few composers who wrote his own lyrics.  Perhaps that's why I find this song to be so pure.  And I'm a sucker for the "from major to minor" lyric and harmonic alignment.

Ev'rytime we say goodbye 
I die a little
Ev'rytime we say goodbye 
I wonder why a little
Why the gods above me 
Who must be in the know
Think so little of me 
And allow you to go

When you're near there's such an ere 
Of Spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere 
Begin to sing about it
There's no love song finer 
But how strange the change
From major to minor
Ev'rytime we say goodbye

Monday, September 12, 2016

6.) Stars Fell On Alabama

Hello!  Remember me?  Remember this project?  It's been way too long since I've posted.  Needless to say, I'm way behind and I'm definitely leaving behind the idea that this will be done in a year.  August was difficult for this project.  I spent a week at the Kushi Institute playing music with bassist Thomas Morgan.  It was great.  When I returned home, my parents were visiting, and we painted our kitchen cabinets and did some hiking, swimming, and eating out.  After they left we continued to do some painting.  Then it was time to get our teaching schedules worked out.  So it's been busy.

I actually had this arrangement completed before I went to the Kushi Institute, but I didn't begin learning it and memorizing it until after my parents left.  And that's the most difficult part, as I've mentioned before.  Plus I've been soaking up all the end of summer in the Hudson Valley as I can.  It's been great.  I didn't rush to learn this one, and I didn't rush to get the recorder out.  It actually made it much easier when I started recording today.  I just knew the arrangement better.  

I've always been a fairly disciplined person.  I like routines.  I like to set myself up on a schedule of activities or courses of study and stick to them.  I did that for my piano practice in college, for yoga practice, meditation practice, as well as all these internet projects.  New York City helps with that sort of thing.  There's not much nature to get you out of the house, going places is mostly a pain in the ass, and there are amazing musicians doing amazing things all around you.  Well, now living upstate, things are a little different.  Many of my other interests are demanding my time.  Although I'm still close to NYC and still involved in playing there, I'm not immediately surrounded by musicians who's successes make me feel like a failure if I take a day off.  I'm quite happy about this actually, but it's just interesting to note the effects of this change.  

When I was in college, it was about learning jazz vocabulary and learning to physically play piano.  It was the building materials.  Of course that never stops completely.  But post school has been much more about getting inspired to use those building materials in a personal way.  And often the inspiration is coming from sources outside of music.  If you think about it, music would be pretty dull if it existed in its own bubble separate from the other arts, nature, and the rest of life.  I'm feeling super inspired by my surroundings now, but there isn't as much of a feeling of urgency with the work.  I'm okay with that, as long as you are.  What's the rush?  I'm a fourth done with this project now.  There's a long way to go.  But I'm excited about it.  And I'm starting to feel the desire for creative expansion.  There's plenty to expand upon within the parameters of "straight ahead" solo piano arrangements and I plan to stick to the format.  As my ideas are "used up" a contraction occurs and new things are squeezed out.  

The sixth song is Stars Fell On Alabama, music by Frank Perkins, lyrics by Mitchell Parish.  I learned this song years ago from the album Cannonball and Coltrane.  I love the way Cannonball Adderly plays this tune on that record.  I checked out the first recording version by Guy Lombardo, as well as several others, including Sinatra again.   They're all good.  This tune is pretty hard to screw up.  (Let me try though!)  It's just a good melody.  About 15 years ago I made a little home recording at school of a few tunes that I gave my relatives for Christmas.  Stars Fell on Alabama was on it, and it was my grandma's favorite.  A couple of older friends of mine have heard me practicing this arrangement and they all know the tune well.  It's just a classic.  

I tried incorporating the lyrics, or at least the title, into my arrangment with some possibly corny "falling" motifs.  The intro has some improvised "stars falling", and there is a continual descending theme happening, first in the bassline, then in a middle voice.  I reversed the direction of it in the last A section with a sequence of ascending harmonic seconds.  I think I've heard this sort of thing called word painting.  It's fun, and hopefully not too obvious.  Another fun thing about the lyrics that you won't get from my arrangement - you'll have to check out some vocal versions - is the necessity of some sort of east coast or old fashioned accent in order to make the lyrics rhyme with Alabama.  

We lived our little drama (dräma)
We kissed in a field of white
And stars fell on Alabama last night
I can't forget the glamour (glamah)
Your eyes held a tender light
And stars fell on Alabama last night
I never planned in my imagination
A situation so heavenly
A fairy land where no one else could enter
And in the center just you and me, dear
My heart beat like a hammer (hammah)
My arms wound around you tight
And stars fell on Alabama last night

Saturday, July 23, 2016

5.) Say It (Over And Over Again)

Hello great people of Earth.  The fifth tune of the 24 Standards project is Say It (Over And Over Again) by Frank Loesser.  Many of you might know this tune because of John Coltrane's very popular recording of it on his album Ballads.  I listened to that recording many many times years ago.  Once again, the song came up as an idea for this project because of the Sinatra / Dorsey recording.  You must be getting tired of hearing that, but the truth is that those recordings have inspired the heck out of me.  This is not a very widely recorded tune.  There are quite a few recordings by newer musicians, but (perhaps unfairly) I assumed they were going to be reflections of Coltrane's recording.  Kurt Elling's recording is on a record for Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, for example.    I was more interested in finding stuff from before Coltrane, of which there isn't much.  I found out the tune was from a film called Buck Benny Rides Again, starring Jack Benny, who was primarily a radio star.  I managed to find the film online and watched it.  Say It is featured twice in the movie and hints of it become the love theme.  The tempo is quite fast in the film - I wouldn't call it a ballad.  My recording here is very slow, which just felt right for me this time.   I love the melody, and the use of repetition in correlation with the lyrics is quite nifty.  For all of these songs, I've tried to make sure that my phrasing of the melody works with the lyrics both syllabically and emotionally.

My arrangement incorporates a progression from a composition of mine from way back in my Manhattan School of Music days called Saved For The End.  It seemed to fit on the bridge of the song, which was somewhat vague and quite varied from recording to recording, giving me some freedom.  After I found my progression to fit in the bridge, I used it for the intro, some of the first A section, and the ending, to try to create some cohesion.

There is a great pianist in the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN named Bryan Nichols.  He's been a supporter of my internet projects, offering encouragement on several occasions.  Thanks Bryan.  I've been listening to his new solo piano record called Looking North.  It's really great work and I encourage you to check it out.  On his website, Bryan explains that the music on Looking North is more reflective of the wide open spaces of where he lives and less reflective of a place like New York City.   He writes, "It's easy to frame all jazz music as a product of or reaction to the classic jazz of New York.  But there was a time when regional music was the most important thing in improvised music; people came from Kansas City, or New Orleans, or Chicago, and they all sounded different.  To make a personal musical statement, I think that has to take my surroundings into account.  I'm a product of sounds and geography that is unique, and I hope this album sounds like me, but also sounds like a place that has trees and lakes and wide-open spaces.  This isn't people-stacked-on-people music."

Bryan hit on something there that I've been thinking about a lot since moving to Beacon, which is a feeling that jazz is an urban music.  Many people have a romanticized vision of sweaty guys in dirty suits playing in a smokey basement club in New York City until sunrise, sleeping all day...and it just gets more and more unhealthy from there.  That was certainly my idea of what was happening in NYC before I moved there.  That vision is not completely unfounded.  It happened, and it still happens except for the smoke, and it's more often blue jeans now I think.  I never really participated in that while I was in NYC.  I spent plenty of time in clubs, but I was always pretty into being active during the day, so I wasn't one of these all nighter guys.  And by the time I arrived in NYC, rent prices were pretty high, and almost nobody supported themselves by just playing gigs, so working during the day teaching lessons was important, and challenging, and required a good night sleep.  However there is a lot of good jazz happening in big, dense cities.   And it seems like there's less jazz the further out in the country you go.  There is music happening in the country, but not much of what we call jazz, and you have to admit that the smokey all night jazz club doesn't fit in that picture.  And why is that?

Beacon is an interesting spot for jazz.  What I've noticed is that it is well within the jazz magnetic force of NYC.   There is a high rate of good musicians here, but their jazz activity is mostly happening in the city, or is based out of there if they're touring.  There are some people in town booking some good jazz shows which is great.  There is a whole lot folk music going on here, in part because Pete Seeger lived here.

For the past year or two I've been checking out a lot of Appalachian old time banjo music.  I first got into it by hearing Sam Amidon's records.  That led me to Doc Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb, and others.  Last summer while I was staying with my friends Justin and Sara, I started learning some clawhammer banjo on Justin's banjo.  Just a few weeks ago I finally bought a banjo for my birthday, and man has it been fun.   And it fits into the vibe of Beacon too.  It just feels natural to be sitting in my yard gazing at Mount Beacon playing banjo.

I don't think I've come to any conclusions here about what makes a particular style of music urban or rural.  But I'm thinking about this.  Some people have a strong vision for themselves that they pursue and it doesn't really matter where they are.  I, on the other hand, have always been very strongly influenced by my environment and my peers.

This recording was a bit of a challenge to get done.  I thought that this summer would be a time for me to get ahead on this project.  I wouldn't say my interest in it is waning, but there are many summertime activities that I'm so happy to participate in.  I'm doing a lot of gardening, swimming in amazing local swim holes, chicken keeping / watching, studying permaculture, and sitting in a homemade adirondack chair gazing at Mount Beacon while stumbling through some clawhammer banjo songs.  The studio is hot - it's not an easy place to be this time of year.  So it's been tough to get the practice time in.  Writing the arrangements has been coming quickly - memorizing them and getting them good enough to record is the hard part.  So I will keep working, but it's not looking like this project will be completed within a year.  

On another note, a couple weeks ago I went out to the Lyra Music Festival to hear pianist Frederic Chiu's concert and masterclass.  It was really inspiring.  In his masterclass he taught students to categorize a mistake into one (or more) of three categories, physical, mental, or emotional.  This was very helpful for me.  I was able to focus much better by doing that.   For reasons I do not yet know, Chiu sits in a regular chair with a back when he plays, often leaning against the back of the chair.  Bill Carothers sits like this too.  Speaking of Bill Carothers - he lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, miles from any urban center, and plays jazz....  After being inspired by Chiu's concert I decided to try it at home and that's how I've been practicing for the past couple weeks.  I played a big band gig in a chair last week.  I don't know if I'll continue to do it, but surprisingly it seems easier to play with good arm weight.  It's also easier for me to be emotionally relaxed, and I may tend to overdo emotion in my playing.  Frederic Chiu showed very little emotion in his face or body when he played.  But the sound was very emotional.  He seemed to be very efficient in his emotional expression.  The other thing I noticed about sitting in the chair, is I am more comfortable and tend to stay at the piano longer and get more accomplished (unless it's a 90 degree day, which we've had plenty of lately).

That reminds me, there is some wind noise on this recording.  I had the windows open and there was a gust toward the beginning.   Sorry.

Well, I wrote a lot there.  But summertime is a time for sitting in a chair, or a on a rock at a waterfall, and thinking about stuff.  And I like to let you know some of what I'm thinking sometimes. I hope you enjoy a slow summery version of Say It (Over and Over Again).

Monday, July 4, 2016

4.) It's Easy To Remember

Hello.  For the fourth recording of this project, recorded on the 4th of July, the song is It's Easy to Remember by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.  The classic Rodgers and Hart.  There are many great recordings of this song.  Notable for me are John Coltrane's recording from his record Ballads, and Sinatra's recording on his album Close To You.  I also checked out the original Bing Crosby performance in the film Mississippi.  And, there's quite and influential YouTube video of Mulgrew Miller playing this tune.  It's one of the things that sparked my interest in these kind of arrangements.

This has been a difficult week to get on the piano.  I spent a week in Minnesota visiting family, which was wonderful.  My parents, brother, and sister are prolific gardeners, all of them.  Now that I have a house and yard of my own, I've been trying to be a gardener too.  I gardened in Brooklyn, but this is a whole new level.  So I was working pretty hard at it and studying.  I was pretty inspired by my family's gardens, so when I got back to Beacon, I spent most of the days working outside.  It was great.  Plus, we got chickens!  Our friends Sara and Justin bought a house in Beacon in December, which had a coop.  They didn't want chickens, so they offered us the coop.  After some property designing and placement consideration, I finally erected that coop and last Thursday we bought some Speckled Sussex hens.  So I've been busy making modifications to the coop, building a run, moving perennials out of said run, and just watching the hens.  They are fascinating.  I could sit in a homemade adirondack chair and watch them all day.

So this post is overdue, although I'm trying not to think of this project on a strict schedule.  But it's really only been piano time after the sun goes down.  A little of that is good in the summertime, right?  I'll let the music do the talking this time.  I hope you enjoy It's Easy To Remember.  Thanks for listening.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

3.) The Boy Next Door

Welcome to the third of 24 recordings for this project.  I've recorded The Boy Next Door by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.  It's from Meet Me In St. Louis, originally performed by Judy Garland.  The first recording I heard of it was on the Bill Evans album called Explorations.  Later I heard versions on the Bill Evans record Live at Shelly's Manne-Hole, and on Ahmad Jamal's Ahmad's Blues.  The recording that got me thinking of this song for this project is on Frank Sinatra's Songs for Young Lovers.  For me, it is the standout song on that album.  Note that on the Ahmad and Sinatra recordings, the song is titled The Girl Next Door.  I was unsure of which title to use.  I am a heterosexual.  I wasn't singing but I was hearing the "girl" lyrics in my head.   Finally I just went with The Boy Next Door since that was the original and I was doing an instrumental version.

I am really having a ball doing this project and I'm learning a lot.  My ears are opening quite a bit and when I sit down and play an "unarranged" standard many new things are coming out.  (Unarranged as opposed to heavily worked out, as all of these have been).   Interestingly, I really haven't done much arranging of this sort in my musical life thus far.  And it seems like for many, this is a major part of being a jazz pianists.  There is a spectrum.  On one side you have pianists who most often arrange things and stick to that arrangement.  Bill Evans, Hank Jones, Mulgrew Miller, or the pianists in the various versions of the Ray Brown Trio, and more.  (Note that I only suspect this is true because of hearing these pianists play the same arrangements on multiple recordings, or perhaps hearing the same A section every time it's played.)  On the other end of the spectrum are pianists who mostly never work anything out.  Instead they hear and play arrangements spontaneously - at least that's what they'd have us believe.  These pianists include Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Bill Carrothers, and others.   Most pianists probably lie somewhere in between, but the more I listen these days, the more I'm discovering how so many of the great jazz pianists lean to the arranged side.

Early on in my studies, I became a Keith Jarrett fan.  I think Live at the Deerhead Inn was the first record that I listened to.  Pretty early on I bought the Keith Jarrett Trio Live at the Blue Note boxed set.  That kept my ears busy for many years.  There was an expressiveness in Keith's playing that I didn't hear in many other pianists.  Naturally I read interviews of him and learned about his philosophy - essentially that he was just channeling music that was already in the air.  Many of my favorite pianists, including Bley and Carrothers were/are to the best of my knowledge of this school of thought.  I think you hear the freshness in their playing.  They are the non-practicers.  Practicing only interferes with that freshness which is the most important thing.

So this is how I attempted to play standards too.  My favorite pianists did it that way, so that's what I emulated.  All well and good, but then there is the question of ability.  Keith and Carrothers have incredible ears.  Whether they always had those ears or developed them is beside the point.   But the fact is that they're hearing a much wider range of harmonic ideas than I am, and for sure they are much better at executing those ideas than I am.  I'm not saying this out of self pity.  I'm just stating the facts.  Actually I am excited to admit this reality, because admitting it means I can address it.  Working out these arrangements out is adding a ton of harmonic and pianistic vocabulary to my playing, which in due time I can use in my spontaneous arrangements.   Let me also say that while Keith's improvised arrangements are amazing and fresh sounding, there are things that Hank Jones got to that Keith probably won't ever find "in the moment", for better or for worse.

Amazingly this kind of arranging wasn't really on my radar.  I knew it existed.  I heard it.  But for some reason I never had the mind to try it.  I overlooked it somehow, or else I was busy emulating the spontaneous guys I mentioned earlier.   I remember my teacher at Manhattan School of Music Garry Dial asking me to do a solo piano arrangement of a standard.  He even said, "You know how Bill [Evans] would play a tune the same way every time...."  But I don't remember getting anywhere with that.  What I was into at that time was heavily reharmonizing standards - I did The Man I Love and I'm Old Fashioned with a whole bunch of parallel major seventh chords.  That was fun. Yay for being 25 years old!  But those arrangements were for groups to play, and there was no worked out piano counterpoint or even many specific chord voicings that I would play.  It's crazy that I'm only now getting into this!  For many of my colleagues, this sort of work IS jazz piano.

I'm enjoying it.  After twenty four of these I expect to have a lot more harmonic vocabulary and pianistic ideas.  After another 100 (songs or years) perhaps I'll be able to spontaneously arrange tunes  better than I'm able to carefully work them out.

Friday, June 3, 2016

2.) Oh! Look At Me Now

First of all, thank you for the overwhelming support following the Everything Happens To Me post.  I really appreciate it.  As much as I like to bitch and moan about social media, I think I've hit on a good use of it with these projects.  It allows me to reach listeners with minimal effort, and it's nice to interact regarding the material. 

For number two of the 24, I've recorded Oh! Look At Me Now by Joe Bushkin (music) and John DeVries (lyrics).  I first heard of Joe Bushkin in Dick Katz's jazz piano class at Manhattan School of Music - a great class and not many of the jazz majors in my year took it. (What the hell kids?)

I had heard Oh! Look At Me Now a few times over the years, but again it was the Frank Sinatra Tommy Dorsey recording that refueled my interest in it.  But after checking out more recordings I've actually come to prefer Sinatra's later recording of it, on A Swingin' Affair!, mainly because I prefer hearing him sing all the lyrics in the first person, uninterrupted by the trio of lady singers on the Dorsey recording.  Plus I love Nelson Riddle's arrangements. 

Hank Jones played the crap out of this song with a Count Basie figure incorporated into his arrangement.  It's on his Live At Maybeck record.  And it's in a YouTube video of an Artist House / NYU concert he did.  Check it out.  What a kind and humble soul he was.  You hear how much he loves playing piano.  And he wrote some completely badass inspiring arrangements throughout his career.   I had a lesson with Geoffrey Keezer when I was a student at UWEC and he suggested I get real with Hank Jones, especially the Tip Toe Tap Dance record.  I'm only now really getting it.  There's so much there!  

There is a Nancy Wilson recording of this song on her record But Beautiful, which I've had in my collection for at least 15 years I think.  It's Hank's arrangement with the same Count Basie figure, and he's on piano.  The lyrics are quite a bit different because she is female.   But holy smokes, I don't know if I've ever heard anything more swinging.  If you haven't heard that recording, I highly recommend it.  I tried to imitate her interpretation of the melody a bit on my third A section.  

It took my awhile to get comfortable with improvising on this tune.  After putting so much thought into the arrangement of the melody, nothing in the improv was living up to it.  I felt the same way with Everything Happens to Me.  I see it as being one of the challenges of the project.  I think I'll have to start budgeting more time to improvising on these tunes.  Playing solo is challenging in itself.  My tendency is to fill every second with notes.  

Ok, now breathe a little, and forget I said all that before you press play.  Thanks for reading and listening.  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

1.) Everything Happens To Me

Hello!  I'm very excited to share the first post of the 24 Standards project!  The song is Everything Happens To Me by Matt Dennis (music) and Tom Adair (lyrics).  I chose to begin with this one because the investigation of it led me to discover the collected recordings of Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.  I was checking it out last summer while teaching at the New York Summer Music Festival.  The collection is full of great songs, some of which you'll hear during the course of this project.  And...early Frank!  He was great throughout his career, but the early recordings have a tenderness to them.  I really love it.  I think the collection is an important influence on this project, and Sinatra in general has been a great source for discovering songs that I like.

I was first interested in this tune because of the repeated-note nature of the melody.  You can get pretty imaginative with movement under a repeated-note melody.  It's a concept that I first noticed in Radiohead actually - the track Everything In It's Right Place off of Kid A.  I guess I've been mildy fascinated with the concept ever since hearing that song.  Many of my own original compositions explore the idea, especially the ones written closely after Kid A was released.  When I first began fooling around with some standards last summer, I had Everything Happens To Me in mind because of the repeated notes that the melody features.  

This is a commonly recorded song with plenty of solo piano versions.  Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans immediately come to mind.  I listened to both of those quite a lot years ago, especially the Monk.  I listened again to the Bill Evans recording last summer, but quickly decided that I should avoid it because it could become too direct of an influence for my arrangement of this tune.  

I learned via Wikipedia that the song was composed for Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, which is how I discovered the Frank/Tommy collection I mentioned above.   I listened to that recording quite a bit.  I also recently looked up a recording of the song's composer Matt Dennis playing and singing.  It's worth checking out.  He adds a comical second chorus.  It's on YouTube. 

I'm happy to get this inaugural recording posted because it sets the tone for what you can expect.  Of course there's no telling where the project will go, but at least we have a start.  For those of you who have followed my career, you haven't heard much of this side of me, and in reflecting on it I think there are two reasons why that's the case.  First, as I studied jazz, I was continually led to the next expansion of the music.  My interests and studies naturally took more toward avant-garde music, and so did the friends I was playing with.  Second, after graduating from Manhattan School of Music, and entering the real world as a musician, the talent of the straight ahead jazz players around me seemed impossible to compete with.  I decided to present myself more as an experimental musician.  Now it wasn't all as calculated as that sounds.  I was and still am genuinely interested in playing that way.  There were times when I really rejected straight ahead jazz - wasn't interested in it, felt it all had been done before, etc.  But there now seems to be a challenge of honesty.  Can I let you see this side of my musical identity?  A side that has been incubating, but hasn't seen much light of day outside of my home.  You might say, "Of course you can," but that's not as easy for me to say.  I'm sure I'll be discussing this more in future posts, but I can say happily that I'm pretty confident in this recording.  I'm working with ideas that have been done before.  But we're all individuals with different experiences.  Maybe finding one's voice, and finding the meaning in classic forms, is easier as one ages.  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Introducing 24 Standards

Hello readers and welcome to my latest home recording internet sharing project.  This is the next in a series of similar projects that have transpired:

May 2010 through April 2011:  The Daily Improvisation Project
May 2011 through April 2012:  The Weekly Extended Improvisation Project
May 2012 through April 2013:  The Weekly Composition Project
May 2013 through April 2014:  The Messiaen Project
May 2014 through April 2015:  12 Films With Music
May 2015 through April 2016:  Hiatus...

These projects began as self studies and that notion remains at their core.  However, they evolved to become quite fulfilling and important elements of my artistic output.  The Daily Improvisation Project and Weekly Extended Improvisation Project files have been taken down because they were taking up too much space on my web host's servers.  But the outlines of those projects remain.  The rest of the projects are fully archived and are viewable and listenable in their entirety.

This past year was a break in the internet projects.  If you've been following my stuff, you probably know that my wife and I relocated to from Brooklyn to Beacon, NY.  I've told the story before (see the 12 Films With Music blog for a post on this), so I won't go into detail here.  I'll just say that it was a major life transition - changing location, becoming a homeowner, getting to know a new community, finding work.  And most significantly, learning what it means to be an artist living in Beacon, NY.   This has been a period of gestation and re-orentation, but it wasn't void of music by any means.  I've been working on a solo piano record which you'll hear about soon enough.  It's been an incredible and challenging journey, and I've learned so much in the process.

They say you're a product of your environment.  For me this is definitely true.  My 14 years in NYC shaped me in so many ways.  And the last 9 months of life in Beacon have done the same.  Beacon is in some ways similar to Hopkins, MN, where I spent my entire childhood.  The towns are about the same size, and both have nice Main Streets, among other similarities.   Because of this and other factors, I'm feeling much closer to how I felt in Hopkins.  It's a welcomed change.  My wife Akiko and I travel to the city three times a week to teach lessons, so we still spend a good amount of time there.  But my time in Beacon has been wonderful.  I'm really enjoying a new set of environmental influences as well as some mental artistic space.

Now onto the 24 Standards Project.  This is the part of the project were I speculate as to what will happen.  I've almost always been surprised at how differently things develop in these projects.  My speculations are often pretty off, which is fun.

Last summer we spent about two months moving around the region, subletting and staying with friends, waiting to close on our house.   It was a stressful time because there were so many wildcard factors at play and because we really didn't have a home base.  But it also was a time of freedom.  Life was somewhat on hold.  During this time, for no particular reason, I began working out some stuff on some Standard American Songbook tunes.  I wrote some solo piano arrangements.  It was enjoyable, and I learned a lot by doing it.  That period was the seed for this new project.  As Spring is upon us now, it's time for that seed to germinate.  It's time to launch this project.  I am ready to find out what I've got in me within this format, and share it with you.  I missed sharing work on a regular schedule this past year.

This project will be structured somewhat differently.  Rather than follow a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule of posting, I'm am simply vowing to do 24 pieces.  That's two a month for a year, if the timing works out that way.  Maybe it will get done sooner than a year, maybe it will take longer.  But I'm interested in getting to know the songs I choose very deeply.  So I wanted to leave the timing flexible so that I can take more time if I need it.  Simply stated, I Jesse Stacken will record and share 24 Standard American Songbook Tunes on this here blog.

I've decided to manage the recordings with YouTube, embedding videos of audio recordings into the blog posts.

I will notify you of new posts via Twitter, and my Facebook Artist Page.  If you have a Blogger account, you can also follow the blog and see updates whenever you use Blogger.  But the best way to get notifications, if you should like them, is to sign up for email notifications by entering your email address in the field in the margin on the right.  This email list is separate from my newsletter email list that I use to send out concert announcements and things.  I actually have no control over the blog email list- I don't know who's signed up and I don't ever see your email addresses, so have no fear.   Note that in the emails you get, you'll be able to read my comments, but the YouTube embedded player will not be included.  You'll have to click on the post title or the blog title in the email to visit the blog itself where you'll find the player.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to sharing this experience with you.  Check back soon for the first post of 24 Standards.

Akiko, Minnie, and me at Little Stony Point in Cold Spring NY - Thanksgiving 2015