Thursday, March 7, 2019

Final Reflections

Well here we are.  Another home recording internet sharing project completed.  Usually the end of a project is bittersweet, and sure there is some bittersweetness this time too, but largely I feel relieved that it’s over, even though I loved the music throughout the project. 

This was a challenging project for me.  It was challenging in task, but also in regard to the rest of life.  I’ve written a lot about that on this blog during the course of the project and I won’t elaborate too much on it here.   But there were long stretches of time in which I didn’t work on the project.  It took nearly three years to finish.  The parameters I set allowed for such lapses in work, since there wasn’t a time requirement (no weekly, or monthly publishing goal), the rules were just simply for me to do 24 of these things.   

Was this good or bad?  Sometimes the forcing nature of previous projects was good.  Those forced deadlines probably pushed me into new territory.   Being forced to carry on when I was sick of the subject probably led me to some unusual creative choices in the work.   That didn’t happen so much this time.  This time if I was sick of it, I was able to take time off.  I dedicated a lot of time to gardening, farming, and other homesteading activities, time that likely would have been spent on the project if I were still living in NYC.  But just so you know, I really love my life with all these extra musical endeavors.   It’s really made a difference in my happiness.  

Task-wise, this project was also more demanding.  I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted these arrangements to sound like, and they were fairly elaborate.   Whereas the content of previous projects featuring original compositions, or improvisations could often be minimal and done quickly if needed.   Learning these arrangements well took some time, but I felt it was necessary to do that and memorize them, if they were going to benefit me the most.   

Getting a satisfactory recording was also challenging.  Ah the mental games...the feeling when you played the arrangement correctly on the way in, played a tolerable solo, then have to play the arrangement well again on the way out, so as to not ruin the take.  That was fun.   

I happy to say that I think the process of the 24 Standards project benefited my playing a lot.   When I sit down and improvise an arrangement, there’s a lot more ideas for me to draw upon.  It was nice to operate in the world of carefully-worked-out jazz piano arrangements, a world that I hadn’t really spent much time in at all.  

Also, I feel quite proud of physical end product of this project.   When I listen back to these arrangements I think they make up a solid body of work.  I like what I came up for them.  I would like to concertize these arrangements sometime.  But that would be difficult, like doing a full-length classical program.   Perhaps if I had had steady solo piano gigs during the project, I would have been able to keep them all under my fingers.  But now it would be a pretty monumental task to prepare them all.  Maybe someday.  I also think it would be fun to somehow publish the written sheet music.  Maybe someday. 

Generally speaking I’m not crazy about my improvised solos on these recordings.  It’s really challenging for me to play nice, honest lines when covering all the bases (basses!).   I’m much better at playing what I hear in my head when playing with a band, at least on standards.  I’m not sure how much you’ll hear of that struggle in the recordings.  Actually the sound of the struggle fades as I listen to each recording more - the notes I played become the “right” ones over time as I get used to hearing them.  

Overall I think the project led to a nice a nice body of work and I think I learned a lot doing it.   If you’d like to enjoy it in its entirety, the blog will remain, and there is also a YouTube playlist of all the recordings.  

Some favorite songs of mine from the project are Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye, If I Loved You, and The Boy Next Door.   I like them all, but those are standout songs to me.  All of those were tunes I hadn’t played before.  

I’d like to thank all of you who listened, read, watched, and offered feedback.  And I’m thankful for the platforms and technology that make it possible for me to so easily document and share another project like this.  

At this time I will not be announcing another project.  I have some ideas, but I also have some other life projects in the works.  I would like to get back to composing some more original music.  We’ll see what happens there.  This time of year, particularly in 2019, it seems kind of inconceivable to start a new project, or even sit down at the piano for a considerable length of time.  Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most I guess. 

With gratitude,


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

24.) I Get Along Without You Very Well

This is it!  The final arrangement for the 24 Standards project is of the song I Get Along Without You Very Well by none other than Hoagy Carmichael.   I first got to know this song from the recording by vocalist Kurt Elling.  This song wasn't on my list, but while I was away in Switzerland it suddenly popped into my head.  I wrote the arrangement in Switzerland - it seemed to fit well, being 4000 away from my wife.  If you don't know the lyrics of this song, the gist is, "I get along without you very well, except when 'this' and 'that'...."   Basically the narrator doesn't get along without her very well at all.  So it was fitting.

I really love the song.  The harmony of the A sections was a little challenging, because it was so simple and repetitive.  It was somewhat difficult to find creative things to for the arrangement, and also challenging during the solo for the same reason.  But I think it came out well.  I hope you enjoy it.  I will follow this post with a post of final reflections, probably in a few days.  Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

23.) Moon River

Hello there.   The penultimate recording for the 24 Standards project is of the song Moon River by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.  I've always liked this song, but never really learned it before now.

I had this arrangement finished for awhile, had it learned, but got really busy and had to set it aside for awhile.  Ah, life.  But I am fresh back from two weeks of a residency in the Swiss Alps.  I had plenty of time to practice it, and I was performing for three hours every evening.  It really makes a difference.  Despite its flaws (I'll probably never reach my ideal standard of a performance/recording), this recording was far easier to finish after playing that much for a couple weeks.  My ear to hand connection is much better when I've been playing a lot.

One thing I was thinking about as I edited the video is the display of emotion that a performer does or does not show.   As you'll see, my big balding head moves around a lot when I play, and is only exacerbated by my camera angle.  I'm almost completely unaware of these movements when I play.   Some performers, such as Keith Jarrett, show a lot of emotion through movements, facial expressions, and vocalizations.  Others are dead still, and show only complete relaxation of the face - classical pianist Frederic Chiu has many moments of stillness.  And I think both are very effective.  I'd love to be still sometimes, but, at least nowadays, I'm a bobbler and a scowler, and a sometimes sing-along-er.  Somehow I think these idiosyncrasies help me get out what I'm trying to get out.  I remember seeing one or two videos by Hal Galper (pianist and jazz educator) who is insistent that students show no emotional reactions, in the form of movements, facial expressions, and vocalizations, to their playing.   I think that my own emotional responses cause me to flub notes sometimes.  There are some moments where I hit the cracks in the solo on Moon River, which probably could be avoided with some checks on my emotional response.  But it would be a real challenge for me to be still - as I mentioned above, I'm only mildly aware of my movements while playing.  And I'm not sure it's worth it.  I tend to like seeing emotional reactions, especially in improvisors.

This arrangement makes some significant nods to one of the primary influences of this project, pianist Bill Carrothers.  You could say my introduction, filled with augmented and diminished chords, is directly influenced by Bill's treatment of In The Wee Small Hours, from his After Hours record.  Augmented and diminished chords are rather moon-like aren't they?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Moon River and are not too distracted by my big dumb head.

One more to go!!!