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