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.