Sunday, November 11, 2018

22.) Star Eyes

One of my main objectives in this project has been to be true to the melody and the lyrics of the songs I've chosen.  That means that I learn the words even though I'm not singing, and I try to phrase the melody in a way that makes sense with the lyrics.  However, with Star Eyes by Gene de Paul and Don Raye, I don't think I held up that objective so much.  The reason for this is that I had a preconceived idea of the rhythmic feel and tempo I wanted to use, which I thought would fit well into the whole project, but didn't fit so well with the lyrics.  Namely, I wanted to do this tune in a straight eighth feel, like it has often been done by many instrumentalists over the hears.  We used to call it a Latin feel.  I don't know, do we still call it that?  I hadn't done anything with this rhythm feel yet in the project, so I thought it would be a nice change.  And it would provide a little contrast in the body of the recordings, should you decide to listen to them all as a set.  (I've created a 24 Standards YouTube playlist so you can do just that if you want to.)   In fact, most people go to a swing feel on the bridge and the last four bars of the tune, but I felt like keeping the Latin feel throughout the tune so as to maximize the contrast.   There are vocal recordings of the tune that have nice and natural phrasing, but they are slower.  If I had mimicked them, I would have missed out on what drew me to the song to begin with - the contrasting rhythmic feel and tempo.

As you may have noticed, this project has been very ballad heavy.  While I didn't set out to do a project of mostly ballads, I've found them quite a bit nicer to work with - I've got a lot more time in each measure to put it counter melodies and other arrangement ideas.  A challenge when doing faster tunes is hearing what I'm writing at the faster tempo.  I have to simplify.  I think the faster the tempo, the simpler one must be.  Having attempted to keep that in mind for Star Eyes, I still think it sounds a little busy.  Keeping it much simpler would seem a little pointless.  I might as well just improvise an arrangement instead.  This is a big reason for the project being dominated by slow and medium songs.  That and the fact that I just don't like playing fast tunes, especially solo piano.

I had fun working on this one.  Only two more to go!

Technical note:  There is a weird humming feedback on the recording when certain notes and chords are played.  I think it might have had to do with the mic placement.  It sucks, but I didn't want to throw the take out for that reason.  Besides most of you will probably listen to it through your super high fidelity* smart telephone speakers and not notice it.  I tried EQing it out, but I don't know too much of what I'm doing there.  Apologies for the dumb feedback.  


Sunday, September 30, 2018

21.) I Should Care

Wooowhee has it been a long time since I posted an arrangment!  Thanks for your patience.  I felt like I had a good productive run on the project last winter.  And then something happened called The Growing Season.  April came and it was just time to get out there and plant, and then tend to those plantings, and then and then.   I had a nice summer in the garden and at Common Ground Farm, where I worked part time for my second season.

This arrangement actually came in a spurt right in the middle of the season, back in July.  I had had the hankering to compose some original music, but I felt like I needed to finish this project.  So I went to work.  I actually learned it too, but then August happened, some traveling, some day trips (epic swim holes!), and anyway, here we are.  Purtnear October and I'm just finishing it.  I'm not upset that it took this long.  I've come to accept that my life is pretty broadly focused these days, and I know I can get this project done eventually.

The song here is I Should Care by Alex Stordahl, Paul Weston, and Sammy Cahn.  I have three favorite recordings of this tune.  Thelonious Monk did a solo version that was slow and rubato, from the album Thelonious Himself.  I listened to it regularly back in college, and I decided to mimic his rubato feel.  Another favorite is by the Bill Evans Trio on the album How My Heart Sings.  I really love the phrasing in Bill's solo on that record.  I can only hope that it had some impact on my improvisation here.  I also love the early Sinatra recording - no surprise there!

Anyway, welcome back to 24 Standards.  Things should get more regular now that it's Autumn.  Thanks for listening.  Onto the next one....

Monday, April 9, 2018

20.) Sweet Lorraine

Song number twenty is Sweet Lorraine by Cliff Burwell and Mitchell Parish.  This is a song I've always liked, but never played.  I was most familiar with the Hank Jones recording, from his record Tip Toe Tap Dance.   That record was recommended to me years ago when I took a lesson with Geoffrey Keezer.  This was back when I was in Eau Claire, WI.  Geoffrey is from Eau Claire and his dad was my percussion teacher.  Tip Toe Tap Dance is great.  Actually I transcribed It's Me Oh Lord from that album and recorded it for one my 12 Films.

Sweet Lorraine is an old sounding song - it reminds me of Fats Waller.  My goal in arranging was to honor that sound, but be myself too, and to keep the melody lyrical.

The arrangement was done for awhile, however I had a little life detour when it came to getting the recording done.  My grandpa Charlie passed away on Thursday March 29.   He was in hospice care from about March 23 I think.  Since it was my Spring break, I decided to go to MN for the week.  I was able to see grandpa while he was still alive, although he was zonked out on morphine.  Still it was nice to be with family for that week.  My grandpa and grandma had five kids, my dad being the oldest, and the family is really close.  In fact I'm the only one of all the cousins that isn't still living in MN.  It's difficult to live far away from them.  It's great to see everyone when I go back, but I always feel like I've missed out on what's happening.  I feel like an appendage, if that makes sense.  We had a nice family reunion at my brother-in-laws micro brewery Back Channel Brewing Co, the day after grandpa passed.  I was also able to spend a lot of quality time with my immediate family, including a stay at down at Dream Acres, the off-grid homestead of my brother, sister-in-law, and niece and nephew.  We made maple syrup!   We boiled 150 gallons of sap, which yielded just over 4 gallons of finished maple syrup.  It was so cool to experience that and just hang out with them.  They're special people.

I tried and tried, but I just couldn't get a decent take recorded of Sweet Lorraine before I left for that trip.   So I had to keep it under my fingers while I was in MN, and I played it at least once a day there.  So my family is primed for this recording I guess.  When I returned home I had a sudden shitstorm of gardening to do, I guess since I missed Spring break time at home.  Mainly it was that I had a shipment of bareroot fruit shrubs, asparagus crowns, and rhubarb root that arrived and they had to be put into the ground as soon as possible.  Let me tell you, planting asparagus ain't a walk in the park - good thing it will produce for twenty years to more!

Finally after I got those plants in on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was ready to get back on the recording horse, so to speak.  This recording was a struggle.  I was doing takes for several days.  There were a lot of mind games going on - a little "red light syndrome".   I think though, that the struggle is mainly due to the fact that my standards have gone up.  I'm not content with any significant "clams" in my performance, or any really off-sounding phrases in my improvised solo.  It's improv, so I shouldn't really care too much.  But again, I'm looking to satisfy the grandmothers with my playing of the melodies of these tunes, and I don't want them to suffer through any weird improvisation.  I want the solos to fit the vibe and be just as lyrical as the song itself if possible.  And I don't have the ability to edit these recordings - to take a solo from one take and melody from another, for example.  So I've got to get a good take all the way through.  I tend to freak out a bit when I've played a good clean melody and solo, then I've got to play my arrangement again for the out head without messing up too badly.  It is very good practice.  As long as I keep that perspective, it's all good.  This performance isn't perfect, but I thought it had some nice things going on, it is.   Four more to go!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

19.) But Beautiful

Song number 19 is But Beautiful by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke.  I knew this song from the Tony Bennett / Bill Evans duo album and as the title track of a great Nancy Wilson album.  I like the tune because of the thematic nature of the melody - the same phrase repeated three times at higher pitch levels.  And there are also these nice pauses in the song..."but beautiful...".

One of my previous projects was The Messiaen Project, in which I composed, recorded, and posted one song a week using the techniques of the French composer Olivier Messiaen.  This arrangment of But Beautiful became a little Messiaen/Standards mashup.  It started out with a desire to create some beautiful dissonance on the second half of the tune - the thematic part I was describing above.  Each time the melody reaches the repeated high note of the phrase, I was hearing some kind of increasingly dissonant sound.  I realized it was a diminished sound I was looking for.  So the first one is a diminished major seventh chord.  The second one is a double diminished chord - two diminished seventh chords stacked on top of each other.  The third one is a...wait for it... a triple diminished!  Whooooo!  I can hear your minds exploding.  When you stack three diminished seventh chords on top of one another, you end up with all twelve tones of the chromatic scale.  The way I did it was to play a double diminished on beat one, and then add the 3rd diminished chord on beat two.  It's dense and dissonant, but it quickly resolves to a chunky major seventh chord, hopefully providing you with some relief.

Messiaen made extensive use of the diminished scale, also known as the octatonic scale, and what he called "the second mode of limited transposition".  After making use of these diminished chords on the second half of the arrangement, as I described above, I thought it would be fun to try to incorporate diminished harmony elsewhere into the arrangement.  I used it in the introduction, at the end, and mainly in the long pauses of the melody, which happen after the lyric "but beautiful".

[I realize this post is getting pretty heady.  Especially if you're not familiar with the song.  Help me out and have a listen to the Tony Bennett / Bill Evans recording.  And for a Messiaen reference I'd recommend the Vignt Regards sur l'Enfant-J├ęsus]

To my ears Messiaen's music, particularly his use of the diminished scale, is full of really bright, beautiful, shimmering, dissonance.  In context that dissonance is not abrasive at all.  He was somehow able to take us along and make us believe.  However, interspersing the diminished harmony with regular major harmony, may or may not be a little weird.  It's difficult when I'm working on these to keep a sense of objectivity.  The objectivity is there the first couple times I try something.  After that it slowly dissipates.  By the time I'm getting some decent takes recorded it's completely gone.  It's really fun to come back and listen to these recordings a month later - the objectivity returns by then.  For now, you can be my objective listener and decide for yourself if it works or not.  In the meantime, I'll start arranging the next one.  Five more to go!  Thanks for listening!

P.S.  Here's the youtube playlist for all the Standards I've uploaded to YouTube!

Friday, February 9, 2018

18.) Blame It On My Youth

Number 18 is Blame It On My Youth by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman.  This one really goes back to the origin of the project in a couple ways.

This recording is the project's tribute to Keith Jarrett.  It didn't start out that way however.  I was familiar with many of Keith's recordings of the song, but I went about my usual business of finding some vocal recordings to check out.  The one I latched onto most was Frank Sinatra from the album Close To You.  That album and Bill Carrothers' album After Hours where kind of the inspiration for the whole 24 Standards Project.  I was listening to them a lot when I came with the idea.  Ironically, Bill is one of the pianists who improvises arrangements.  But the stuff he was doing was so inspiring.  I knew I wouldn't be able to improvise arrangements on that level, so I began working on writing some out, which is how it all began.

The other way that it goes back to the origin is with Keith Jarrett.  Plainly stated, he is my favorite musician.  He's one of the first jazz pianist I got into.  And it was his Standards Trio records that I heard first and grew to love.  A little side story:  I remember buying the Keith Jarrett Trio Complete Live at the Blue Note 6 CD box set at Best Buy.  I think I was senior in high school.  I brought home and began listening, only to find that one of the discs was missing!  How tragic.  My girlfriend at the time convinced Best Buy to let me return it.  Eventually I picked it up again at the Electric Fetus - a cool independent record store in Minneapolis.  I loved buying CDs there because of how they smelled.  They packed them with incense sticks or something.  And their box sets contain all the discs!

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, Keith Jarrett is also one of those pianists that improvises his arrangements - pulling them out of the air.   You can hear it, and I've also read several interviews of him explaining it.  I was influenced by that early on, and was trying to do that same whenever I played standards.  And it hadn't really occurred to me early on how arranging was such an important part of the jazz piano tradition.  So in a way, this project is a response to my trying to imitate Keith for so many years.  So here we are.  

This arrangement started as the others.  I was thinking vocally when I figured out how I'd do the melody.  But a couple of melodic embellishments popped into my head as I got to the second half of the tune.  I didn't think anything of them at first, but after a while they started sounding a lot like Keith.  So I went and listened to his recording of the tune on the album The Melody at Night With You, and sure enough one of my embellishements was almost an exact copy of what Keith played.  At first I thought shouldn't do it.  But then I thought, eh, why not - this is an educational project.  No harm in quoting my favorite pianist.

Jazz is basically imitation.  You copy your heroes.  Usually though you want to combine enough of your jazz heroes together, plus the other styles of music you like, and your own life experience, so that any one influence is somewhat hidden, or at least the lines are blurred.  I don't want to remake a Keith record.  We already have his.

But this was just one phrase.   So I went ahead and left it in.  However, listening to The Melody At Night With You recording infected me with a vamp ending.  When I started practicing my arrangement, I just had to go to that vamp.  At that point it became some pretty straight up Keith imitation.  A little more than I really feel comfortable putting out in the world.  But at the same time, I'm really interested in honesty, and I'm interested in sharing the "alone in the practice room" version of my music.  Not that I want to share my practicing, but rather I want to share how, when the feeling is right, I really let myself go when I'm alone.  And how yes, sometimes at home I'll play a vamps just like Keith's for a long time.  And damn it feels good - serious nourishment!

Nourishment from playing music is something I believe in.  Sometimes it feels nourishing to play a concert.  But my most nourishing musical moments have happened at home by myself.  And those moments are the best.  The ability to have such moments is what I hope to pass on to all my piano students.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

17.) Long Ago and Far Away

Song number 17 is Long Ago and Far Away by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin.  It is as far back as I go with Standards, as it is the first one I ever learned to play when I switched to a jazz piano teacher.  It was the beginning, learning what an F major seventh chord is for example, and at that time it was difficult to learn how to voice enough chords to play a song.  So once I got this one, I played it every day for probably at least 6 months.  I wonder if my parents remember it.  At the time I think they questioned my progress because of how long I played this song.  Fortunately I've learned a lot since then, so hopefully they will like this current version.  

There is no shortage of recordings of Long Ago and Far Away.  For some reason I was drawn to the Teddy Wilson recording when I began my arrangement.  I think people like to play the tune because of the sudden shift from F major to Ab major.  At least that's why I like it.  Tonal shifts like this might be characteristic of Jerome Kern.  I'd have to know why more tunes to say this with accuracy, but both his The Song Is You (recorded earlier in this project), and All The Things You Are (an extremely popular song for jazz musicians to play) contain modulations like this.  After I finished my arrangement and began practicing it, it occurred to me to play around with this tonal shift up a minor third in the solo section.  So every 16 measure I modulate up a minor third without preparing the modulation, meaning I don't play a ii-V or something similar to prepare the new key, I just go there.  (Sorry non-musicians, I realize this post has gotten a little heady.)  It was fun to play, but it also kept me on my toes.