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.