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.