Tuesday, January 24, 2017

10.) Stardust

Number ten!  Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish was on my list from the very beginning.  I’ve loved this song for a long time.  I like songs that have a wide range and big arching melodies.  I checked out Carmichael’s original recording which interestingly was instrumental, pretty fast, and it didn’t have the verse.  The lyrics came a couple years later with Bing Crosby’s recording and that’s when the verse also appeared, at least on the recordings - maybe it had been there from the beginning.  This is interesting to me because this is a popular verse - many people know it and play it.  And as for the lyrics, I honestly thought that they were written by Hoagy Carmichael himself before I did the research.  It’s hard to imagine lyrics that fit the music better than in Stardust.  

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

You wandered down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
Of paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love's refrain

I think Stardust is a testament to the power of music.  Music can change my mood instantly.  As I’ve been doing these standards I’ve noticed how nice it is to get reminders about love.  That must be one reason why so many songs are written about it, and in this day and age we need those reminders. 

I want to bring up something called “back phrasing”.   I heard about it when I was in music school.  It refers to when a singer or instrumentalist sings or plays a melody later in time than originally written.  If a melody was written as four quarter notes in a measure, it might be sung or played as four eighth notes at the end of the measure, or even going into the next measure.   Billie Holiday is famous for doing this.  Keith Jarrett does it a lot too.  I used it a fair amount in this arrangement, but it actually has been a bit of a challenge to incorporate for me.  I’ve been starting my arrangemrnts by writing out the melody in accordance to how I think the lyrics are naturally phrased.   And for whatever reason it seems to be more centered, although often slightly different than what’s on the page.   But I managed to play around with a touch of back phrasing here and I think it worked pretty well.  

There is a recording of this song by Bill Charlap - a pianist that I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately.  Check out the youtube video of him playing All The Things You Are on an NPR radio program - so much great piano arranging stuff in just two choruses!  If I remember correctly, I originally picked up his album titled Stardust when I was in college after I read a 5-star review of it in Downbeat magazine - something I used to do - if it got 5 stars, I’d get it.   Shirley Horne sings Stardust on that record and it stuck with me and is probably the recording I emulated most with my phrasing of the melody.  
  
Now I have to mention Willie Nelson.  Many of you know that I’m a big Willie fan.  Stardust was the title track of a popular record of his, and I believe it’s one of his hits.  It’s quite nice.  And I really got a kick out of watching Willie perform it in a youtube video.  It was in an episode of the Tonight Show, when Branford Marsalis was the leader of the house band.  Willie plays it with Branford’s band backing him - Kenny Kirkland playing organ, Robert Hurst bass, Kevin Eubanks guitar, I think Marvin Smitty Smith on drums.  I used to listen to Branford a lot back in the college days, but didn’t really care at all about Willie back then - Willie came later.  So it was cool to see this.  They really emulate Willie’s studio recording, except instead of a full guitar solo, he shares the space with Branford.  Interesting to note, Willie seems to do the opposite of back phrasing.  He rushes through the phrases, finishing them early.   I’ve noticed he’s doing this more and more in live performance as he’s gotten older, and he seems to “talk” the words more.  Too much grass for Willie perhaps?  
Okay, enough is enough.  Here’s one of my favorite songs:  



Monday, January 2, 2017

9.) Time After Time

The ninth song of the 24 Standards Project is Time After Time by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.  This is one that I’ve played for a long time.  I love the Sinatra and the Chet Baker recordings.  But best of all I love the Keith Jarrett Trio Live At The Blue Note recording.  That box set is probably the most influential jazz music for me.  I know it backward and forward.  I think it was the first large collection I bought.  I remember buying it at Best Buy when I was a senior in high school - a six CD set - but one of the discs was missing!  They let me return it after some convincing by my girlfriend at the time.  But shortly after that I picked it up at the Electric Fetus record store in Minneapolis.  I loved buying CDs there because they smelled good….  They burned incense in there or something and the stuff you bought there kept that scent for years.  Maybe it was a clever marketing trick.  Anyway, that box set was my jam, and I love it more than ever.  I don’t put it on often anymore, but when I do it seems to get better and better.  It’s aged well.  


My familiarity with Time After Time actually made it more difficult to arrange.  I just wanted to play it instead of slow down and work out some stuff.  And since Keith’s recording is spontaneously arranged - so damn beautifully I might add - I just wanted to do the same.  Finally I managed to etch something out little by little.  It’s also more challenging for me to do medium or fast songs as opposed to ballads, because you have to write less - at least that’s what I think sounds best.  I ended up using a certain device quite a bit in my arrangement - something that I’ve heard Hank Jones do a lot, which is melodic fills that are played in octaves.  It seems like octaves would give it too much weight, and it seems like one could do better by harmonizing the line instead, but nevertheless I think it’s nice and adds a classic touch.  When I started doing some takes and listening back, I decided that I best enjoyed the sections of the solo for which I played a stride groove, so I decided to do that more and more - I went for the “feel” at let everything else take a back seat.  I hope you enjoy it.