I HAVE MEASURED OUT MY LIFE WITH
B A R R Y L A N D .

 

 

daily

 

 

 

 

 

yeah

 

duaneco
duane cottrell

fullerland
tom fuller

thebigthink
jason young

mcmains
sean mcmains

soupablog
paul soupiset

bradford ohana
jason bradford

 

 

  T U E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   2 4 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 50: The Sound of Music

This is the song I often end gigs with. It's a tradition in jazz clubs for the pianist and the singer to linger over a few slow songs after the gig is officially over while the band is packing up. It dates back to the days when the singer and the pianist didn't have anything to pack up; in this age of electronic keyboards and portable sound systems, that tradition is pretty much gone. But I still do it at gigs where they have a piano. It's a nice way to ease the goodbye for the audience as well as the musicians.

As for the song itself, it's part of another long-standing tradition among jazz musicians: taking a song previously thought of as dorky and presenting it as a serious work of art, reworking the audience's mental associations with it. Miles Davis did this with "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" and "Someday My Prince Will Come." Composers like Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter didn't like what jazz musicians did to their work — Porter famously couldn't think of a nice thing to say about Ella Fitzgerald's immortal recordings of his oeuvre, finally settling on "at least she's in tune" — but it's because of jazz musicians that songs previously considered frivolous, like Porter's "Embraceable You," were framed as 20th century masterpieces.

No doubt Rodgers and Hammerstein would complain about what I've done to their gorgeous melody (which is the picture of complex simplicity, going stepwise up and down for almost a third of the song before there's a single melodic leap), not to mention their favorite chord, the diminished major-seven. (Sing "Bali-HAI," or "If I LOVED YOU.") I replaced it with a jazzclubbier sharp 11, and taken other liberties too, as I always do with a tune. But one thing I have left unchanged: a beautiful celebration of the power of music — the ear that perceives in Nature not just birds and brooks and stones and larks but their distinctive sounds, and the human heart that eternally yearns to transform those impressions into its own song.

So it was entirely fitting that, right as I got to the final note, a bird chirped outside. You can hear it if you listen closely.

And the song is a fitting way to end this particular gig, this fifty-day feast, nearly four hours of recorded and produced music from beginning to end, surrounded as always by a great cloud of musical minds and hearts.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   2 3 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 49: Chim Chim Cheree

When I make an unusual song choice and interpret it freshly for people, my second favorite thing to hear is, "Man, I love what you did with that!"

My favorite is, "Man, that's a great song."

This one has had a place in my canon for a long time. Besides the fact that it has charming lyrics and a beautiful melody, and hits so many satisfying emotional tones, I think I'm gravitated to it because it's the closest thing I can possibly get to explaining to you what it feels like to be a jazz musician.

For this performance, I decided to use a saloon piano and record it with enough room ambience that you can hear the shuffling around and breathing that you don't normally hear in studio recordings.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   2 2 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 48: This Love Affair Has Just Begun

I write a song for Catherine every year for her birthday. So far, the six songs I've written for her have been a couple of slow bossas, a riffy piano thing with minimal lyrics, a pop ballad, a Chinese flute melody, and this one, her 2007 birthday gift.

It starts off with the story of how we met, edited for song as always. (I'd rather lie than tell a truth that doesn't fit the tune.) But it speaks the truth of how I feel about her, and, as I told her just today, it doesn't just speak the truth, it sings it.

The pictures are from some of our travels, which is the only time we ever think to take pictures.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   2 1 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 47: Green-Eyed Boy

Composers often like musical puzzles. Sometimes they even insert coded messages into their music. Bach has a piece that's exactly the same played forward and backward. But the problem is that when lesser artists do that kind of thing it can end up sounding pleasing *only* to the intellect, and doesn't touch the heart at all.

Douglas Hofstadter wrote an amazing book called "Gödel Escher Bach," a tribute to these three great thinkers (the mathematician, the artist, and the composer). It's huge, serious, funny, and a celebration of intellectual pleasure. I wrote a couple of songs (the other one is called "Evergreen Blues") as a tribute to Hofstadter.

The A section contains references to the book; the B section contains a tribute to JS Bach, who actually did the same tribute to himself. It was fun putting the whole thing in a slightly chicken-fried jazz style.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   2 0 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 46: Awake, My Soul

One of my favorite hymns from the Sacred Harp is a simple minor-key song that uses a call-and-answer pattern: each phrase is answered by "Halle, Hallelujah." I suspect that, in its original version, one leader sang the lyric and the congregation sang the hallelujahs.

My church does this in a contemporary worship style. (The fact that a "traditional" style, with organ and piano and common-practice harmony, is nearly impossible with this hymn is a condemnation of our traditions.) But it doesn't take a huge leap to arrange it for jazz trio.

Herewith, the Jazz Protagonists. I'm especially pleased by Greg Norris's dang-cool bass solo, and by Darren Kuper's syncopated turn with brushes that follows. And there's a great part during my solo where Greg does something I've never heard a bassist do: he actually dips into playing the melody while I'm soloing. Always an adventure.

The image here is an ancient fresco that depicts people sailing to a Greek festival. Selah.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 9 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 45: Girl Changes

For some time I've thought I should write a new head to the changes of "The Girl From Ipanema," that would make you totally forget about the original. Definitely a tall order: those changes are so distinctive it would be hard to rid your brain of the original song.

Nonetheless, I occasionally fool around with the changes, seeing what I can come up with. Today I sat down and blammed out a take or three on piano and a single take on melodica. I like the energy of this one: putting it into 3/4 gives it a nice lift. And by now I've scooted the harmonies around so much that, when a good melody comes to me, the thing'll be almost unrecognizable. That's what I'm always shooting for.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 8 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 44: Redeemed

I love it when the Jazz Protagonists explore unusual territory. Case in point: Gospel Night, when we played an hour's worth of church music for our radio show.

This one is called "Redeemed, How I Love To Proclaim It," a lively old American hymn whose melody and lyrics call for a spirited performance. Darren got hold of a tambourine and started messing around with it in one hand and a drum stick in the other. He started dancing around in a sprightly 3/4 time and we went from there.

The show airs this next Tuesday at 9pm central, on KRTU 91.7 in San Antonio, or krtu.org, where it'll be archived for a week following.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 7 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 43: Sandy Feet

I've always kept guitars around, but I've never had the desire to do much with them beyond the couple of pieces I've mentioned. Here's the other one. I came up with it when fooling around on a friend's twelve-string. I still think it sounds best on one. The basic idea is simple: you put two fingers on the fretboard and move them around in a little square. (That's at least the A section.) It still sounds pleasing to me.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 6 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 42: Good-night

It was always difficult parting with Catherine before we were married. We'd say good-night, and then after ten minutes of embracing, say good-night again, and then after twenty minutes say OK-this-is-really-goodnight. Then, after another fifteen or so, reluctantly part. It always reminded me of that great line, rarely remembered but so touchingly observant, from "Romeo and Juliet:" "Good-night... good-night... parting is such sweet sorrow, that we shall say good-night till it be morrow."

Just at that time, the fabulous singer Maggie Worsdale was putting together an album that I was arranging and producing. She asked me to write an original song. What an honor! Quite rare these days among vocalists, who'd often rather do songs seventy years old.

I wrote three or four songs for her, but there was only one that touched the heart, and it was this one, in which I took a page from Shakespeare and wedded it to my own experiences. I'm proud of this song: the haunting, odd melody, the interesting changes (that my bandmates pointed out were Bacharach-like), the lyrics that transform the question of whether we'll kiss good-night (will there be a kiss) into whether we'll kiss good-night (will we ever stop).

(I did another treatment of this song on day 3.)

In recording this today, I took advantage of my situation here at Baylor University, where my host for the week is the trumpeter/arranger/bandleader Tim Cates. I set up a mike, threw a chart at him, started the song rolling, and said, "Go." His beautiful solo plangently testifies to his artistry as a soloist.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 5 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 41: Stairway to Nowhere

We're rehearsing for a huge show at Baylor University. I forget what prompted it but I made a smart-aleck aside to the brass section: "Now that's what I call a stairway to nowhere." (It's a reference to "The Seven-Year Itch.")

Guitarist Pat said, "That's a great name for a song." We then joked about what the riff would be: of course, a neverending loop based on truncating one of the most iconic guitar riffs of the late 20th century. Keyboardist Jason made a crack about Philip Glass. I promised I'd write that piece for the guys.

I did, and for good measure worked in a tribute to Glass as well as to Beethoven, who wrote an iconic riff of his own in the same key that's the grandfather of this one.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 4 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 40: Fast Hannah

This is a fast version of my first real jazz tune. I'd written others before, but they don't count. This one was when I'd graduated from college and we'd formed the Jazz Protagonists.

We were getting ready for our first public performance, trying to decide what to play. I suggested a blues. Our bass player at the time, Kenny Bullock, said, ""One blues right after the other?" To which I replied, "Well, it doesn't have to be a traditional blues." I was just delving into the richness of the blues form at the time, just as Wynton Marsalis's three-volume blues cycle was coming out, and thought I'd try my hand at it.

So, I came up with a few basic ideas: first of all, a gentle tempo, with a riff borrowed from the latin-influenced light pop rock of the sixties; second, put it in a major key with the basic chord a major seven instead of a dominant seven; third, go to a minor four instead of a four dominant seven. Thus, a tune that I eventually titled "Baby Talk," which went onto our album "Blizz Blazz."

This recording is from another session, when we were getting ready to record another album and needed a reliable sound check. We needed something we were all familiar with, and it needed to be peppy. So I just started playing "Baby Talk" (which we also call "Hannah's Tune" because the baby in question was the newborn Hannah Brake, now in college), but played the riff extra fast rather than the usual gentle way. Thus, Fast Hannah.

The pictures (that's me with blond hair. Hm.) are by the bassist/photographer Chuck Moses, taken at San Antonio's jazz festival two years ago.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 3 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 39: Luminaria

One of the nice things about being an artist is that you get to be around artists. I'm fortunate to count among my friends people who regularly create, who regularly indulge in the most delightfully recursive aspect of the Imago Dei: that we are created in the image of a creator.

Recently, I've been collaborating with MoDaCoLab (the modern dancers co-laboratory), which will be performing on March 14, at San Antonio's Convention Center, at an event called Luminaria, a giant celebration of the arts, free to the public. (You can go to http://www.luminariasa.org to find out more.)

Possibly in honor of the event's name, the dancers decided to do something with light. They are putting together an innovative, humorous, challenging dance sequence that involves light sources emanating from the dancers themselves. They commissioned me to compose a score for the thing.

Often, when dancers dance to music, the way it works is the opposite of a film score: the composer just writes a piece of music, with or without the input of some dance person for plot or ideas, and then the choreographer creates a dance that works with that finished product. But in this case, I actually saw the dance, which they danced in silence, before I wrote any of the music. Since I'm used to doing film scores, and cuing musical ideas to emotions and movement, I was very comfortable with that, and the result has been good.

Of course, this is just the first draft. The dancers will continue refining their work, and I'll refine mine. So what you'll see on March 14th may be radically different. It'll be fun to see where it all goes.

The images are from a friend and neighbor, Mike Brannon, another one of those artists I was talking about. He's a guitarist/composer/recording artist who also creates fantastic artworks in the form of light fixtures. His works have won numerous awards, and are displayed not only in homes and businesses but in modern art museums around the country. I'm always struck by the combination of "useless" art and "useful" craft that's embodied in these.

Enjoy this sneak peek, and see you at Luminaria.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 2,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 38: faomg

If you've ever been my roommate, you've heard this piece of music. I always had a guitar around, and there were only three pieces of music I played on it. One was a groove in F-sharp minor from a song my friend Darren wrote; one was a major-seveny thing that sounds rich on a 12-string; and then there was this one, untitled until today, when I figured that there's no other title for a piece that features me farting around on my guitar.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 1 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 37: Veni Veni Emmanuel

Veni Veni Emmanuel is one of my favorite pieces of music. I've given it an array of treatments: jazz, modern classical, and, once, a seemingly straight-up arrangement that contained an encoded theological statement: the two people who were paying attention and heard it were floored; I'll tell you about that sometime.

This version is based on an arrangement I did for my father to sing a few years ago. I'm really pleased with the combination of synthscape and voice. The arrangement, which pays tribute to Kraftwerk and other electronic musicians I dug in the 80s, needed to have a richly human touch to balance it out.

For the images, I deliberately chose these scenes of Ankgor Wat rather than, say, a skyline of Jerusalem. "Veni" may be an Advent song, but this is, after all, Epiphany: I truly believe that the men and women of that time and place, as all times and places, cried out for the Emmanuel, the God With Us, whether or not they knew his name. This song is dedicated to the Wise ones, the ones who went outside and looked up.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 0 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 36: Sondidda Bosoya

Here's another song I wrote in China. I'd gone through it all entirely in my head as I walked through the streets and rode the subways, and had come up with a bridge that just spiraled upward and sounded very cool in my head -- a nice contrast to the static A section. Unfortunately, it sounded cliche. So right on the spot, sitting at Billy's grand piano, I scribbled out a bridge that had a more downward motion, and whatayaknow, it worked.

The accordionlike instrument you hear isn't an accordion at all but a melodica, so called because it has the reeds of a harmonica but the keys of a piano so you can play it melodically. You blow into it through a tube that looks like you're taking a breathalyzer test. So, it's a wind instrument that can express the same way a sax or trumpet can because you're blowing into it. (Thus, you're forced to play more cantabile, a nice discipline for a keyboardist.) Whenever I take it to a gig it adds a distinctive spice.

I'm really proud of this recording. It makes me do the Snoopy Dance.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   9 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 35: For the Beauty of the Earth

I find myself returning to a piece of music not to retread familiar ground but rather to explore new ground. There's a handful of songs that I keep coming back to, with radically different results every time.

One of those is "For the Beauty of the Earth." Whenever I do an arrangement of a song that someone else has written, and especially one that's familiar, I try to capitalize on the genius of the original melodist as he or she took a set of words and made them sing. Just as the melody can shine a flashlight onto an aspect of a lyric, my arrangement can hold a mirror to that shining and bring it out, hopefully with some unexpected reflections.

The lyrics are a sort of scrubbed-up Whitman job, a sundry cataloging of all the things in life worth noticing and having, with the running punchline "Lord of all, to Thee we raise This, our hymn of grateful praise." The melody there ("to THEEEEEE we raise") rises gratifyingly, and if you sing it right you end up lifting your head high. It somehow captures just the right balance between the satisfying orderliness of God's creation and its exuberance.

Folliott Pierpoint's lyrics, this time around, jumped out at me in all their cosmicness: I found myself leaving the earth of the title and contemplating a vastness in which we're only a dot a vastness that, far from being bleak, is pictured as a fulsome embrace:

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies; For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies ... For the wonder of each hour, Of the day and of the night ... Sun and moon, and stars of light ... Friends on Earth and friends above ...

So. A musical setting that somehow communicates these ideas in a fresh way, that forces the ear to see, in cinemascope, the tingling, burbling muchness of things.

That all came together pretty well, and reminded me of something I hadn't thought to be thankful for, till Pierpoint phrased it so perfectly:

For the joy of ear and eye, For the heart and mind's delight; For the mystic harmony Linking sense to sound and sight.

Yes. Thanks.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and to hear all those glittering stereophonic sounds. (I also hope you have a good system that will reproduce the massive bass sounds.)

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   8 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 34: Every Breath You Take

You've noticed that I'm enthusiastic about the jazz possibilities of recent music. There's a lot of great material out there, and, as always, most of it isn't composed by jazz musicians themselves (who are better interpreters and arrangers than inventors of catchy melody), but rather by pop musicians.

One fine day, the Jazz Protagonists did a radio show dedicated to the music of The Police. Take note: these were not straight-through pop instrumentals like what Miles Davis was doing in the 80s; instead, these were jazz journeys, in the jazz idiom, more like what Miles was doing in the 50s.

My favorite tune of the evening turned out to be our meditation on "Every Breath You Take," a song that I think most folks took as a standard romantic love song but was actually full of dark obsessive overtones. Both Greg and Darren shone, and I enjoyed exploring the avenues.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   7 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 33: I Got A Right To Sing The Blues

I'm fortunate to be gifted with so many musical colleagues. I get to work with people who are supreme artists, though they may never reach national recognition.

Recently, I found myself in the company of singer George Staley, saxophonist Rich Oppenheim, 7-string guitarist Polly Harrison, and drummer Kyle Keener. That combination of people had never played together before, and we haven't since, but that night we threw down some nice jazz for a rabidly appreciative audience.

During just about every new moment in this piece, I was thinking, "Yeaahhhhhh."

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   6 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 32: Satieling

Several years ago, a therapist hired me to do the music for an unusual project: she was doing voiceover for a guided meditation and prayer CD, with the background music to be filtered in such a way as to have an effect on the brain while the meditation is going on.

So, the soundtrack writer's dilemma: how to write something that's musically compelling and interesting, but isn't so interesting that it takes away from the main event? (A dilemma that's perfectly cast by the Harry Potter movies: John Williams's beautiful scores are a bit too attention-getting in the first few; in later pictures, Patrick Doyle uses some of those same themes but in a more organic way.)

The first name that came to my mind was Erik Satie, who wrote what he called "furniture music:" music that was to be played not in a concert hall but in a home as background, and was to have standards of beauty and craftsmanship that are appropriate to furniture rather than concert art. As such, he's the grandfather of ambient music. (I'm figuring Brian Eno is the father.)

I wrote two pieces for the CD. This one, I thought, was fairly Satielike.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   5 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 31: Party Music

I've been humming a single bass riff for about a month now. I guess I pictured it in an Art Blakey context, but it works with this beat as well. I got the riff going and then sat down and extemporized a take on the piano. It was fun to place harmonies and melodies around this same riff that would bring out its different qualities.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   4 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 30: Comal River

The other day at church I started off on a hymn before the service and something struck me about my accompaniment. I began to hang around on the same progression: Eb-G-Eb-C. And I'd shifted around to 7/4 time. I started in with an arpeggiating figure, and the result was interesting enough that the band's singer, David, said, "What is that?" I responded that I was just fooling around. He said, "You should call that 'Comal River.' "

OK.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   3 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 29: Tom Sawyer

We were at a party asking, "Who would play what on a Rush tribute album?" I love assigning people to things like this: if you were to remake "The Wizard Of Oz," who would you cast? (You might think Jack Black for the Cowardly Lion, but no, Black is actually the swooningly romantic Tin Man; perfect for the Lion is the blustery/vulnerable Owen Wilson.) What fraternities and sororities would the "Lost" characters be in? Who should play Supergirl?

Anyway, back to Rush. "Limelight" simply begs for Dave Matthews; "Spirit of Radio," Van Halen?; but what about "Tom Sawyer?" My suggestion was Cake. Their signature sound works well with the song's weirdly propulsive drive.

I was met with scorn. So, in the absence of actual proof, I devised proof of my own. Somewhere in the process, though, I began adding in un-Cake-ish elements and wound up with something that sounds less like them and more like me. It was fun to figure out what to jettison (the 7/8 time signature in the solo part) and what to keep (those showoffy drum fills) and what to add (trumpet, 90s dance synth).

Just today, though, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to hear John Malkovich doing the spoken word parts?" Just go through it doing your best Malkovich impression: compelling, isn't it?

Now go through it as Christopher Walken. Yes!

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   2 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 28: Jubilee

One of Catherine's favorites from the Sacred Harp Suite, this one is about the end of time, pictured as a time of celebration and joy.

The thing that catches me about it is the way it so perfectly captures serenity and peace along with the joy of redemption. It's quietly sunny, and as such is a unique vision of the new earth.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   F E B R U A R Y   1 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 27: He

This is an old Righteous Brothers song that got popular in the 60s. I never encountered it, though, till I was flipping through a book that had it, so I actually played it before I heard anyone else do it. I settled on this style, the way I'd do it at a jazz club after hours; when I heard the Righteous Brothers version, I didn't like it as much.

I recorded the voice and the piano in one take. I was a little under the weather and my voice got really scratchy, but I ended up liking the intimate, rough effect.

As for the song itself, I think I've developed a false memory that George Beverly Shea sang it. He certainly could have: its melody and harmonies and lyrics are lobbed right into his territory. No matter what, it's certainly a goopy song, but sometimes you just have to enjoy the goop and explore it.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   3 1 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 26: The Moon And A Cup Of Hot Coffee

A long-term benefit of being married to me — perhaps the only one — is that you get a strange sort of music education along the way. I always encourage Catherine, who is quite musically talented, to explore more, including composing music and coming up with ideas.

She wrote this song for me a couple of years ago. She's sung it three or four times for me, and once in front of several hundred Chinese businessmen. (I'll tell you that story later.)

Meanwhile, today, I sat down and strolled through the song again, enjoying the satisfying changes.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   3 0 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 25: My Daddy Sang To Me

Art is a lie that tells the truth.

Case in point: this song is absolutely not autobiographical, though it speaks a great truth about my own father and mother.

I have no memory of either of them singing me to sleep, nor do I have any memory of Dad singing many of the songs mentioned here. Nor is he dead or even sick; nor do I have a child.

But, a couple of years ago when I was writing a few country songs, I came up with the title phrase, and the rest just flowed. I did a decent demo of it back then, but this one has the country twang toned down a bit.

One real truth: the dizzying variety of the music my parents had in their collections and made available to us. No style was off limits or unrepresented.

What a legacy! One of the many for which I'm grateful to both my parents.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 9 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 24: Summer Stars

I asked myself, What would happen if I just gave myself some space? Yesterday I was playing music with Mike Brannon, a longtime musical partner in crime, and was struck by the way he writes, leaving lots and lots of wide-open space to play in. One of the nice things about working with someone else is that you can listen to the ideas they come up with that are different from your own, and expand your boundaries a bit.

So I thought I'd do something based on a lick or two that I've been throwing around for a couple of years now. A simple guitar loop, a little percussion, and a single take of piano: the result is something I'm really pleased with, an evocative meditation.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 8 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 23: B-wire Blues

By the way, I usually don't store things up in advance for this series: I pretty much do one each day. Today, I started playing this blues, based on a simple original riff, and noticed right as the solo section began that a recording cable had migrated down to rest on the wires around the B above middle C. I noticed because they made a buzzing sound.

I liked it enough to keep it in, but not quite enough to not reach up and swipe it out of the way.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 7 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 22: I Adore You

Our last big thing in China was to travel down south to Dali, where our dear friends Cathryn and Shizhou live. They showed us a side of that great country we hadn't seen; their small mountain town was a restful pleasure, made more so by their company.

They taught us this song there. It's popular among Chinese congregations, and written up in a couple of songbooks, from which I transcribed the Chinese number notation into Western music notation and gave it a Western chord progression; Cathryn and Shizhou translated the lyrics themselves.

The Texas congregation where I lead music has enjoyed learning it too. It strikes me deeply for some reason. There's a hint of Chinese traditional music in there, and every time we do it it reminds me that we're not singing alone, but with all the nations, hands held across borders and languages.

The pictures are mostly taken by Shizhou (whom some of you know as Nicholas) during our stay. He and Cathryn are pictured toward the end.

Worship leaders, if you'd like to do this song, just get in touch and I'll zap you a chart.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 6 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 21: The First Taste

One of the Jazz Protagonists' distinguishing features is the desire to play unusual material for a jazz group, especially songs from recent years.

The big set of standards that every jazz musician is expected to know mainly comes from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. (There's a misconception that rock killed golden-age pop music, but that's not borne out by the facts: by 1950, it was becoming recognized that an era was coming to an end, and people just didn't know what would come next.) Meanwhile, great pop songs continued to be written, and still are.

The 90s in particular saw a flowering of pop composition, especially the late 90s spilling into the new century.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday the 27th, 9pm) on the Protagonists Jazz Party on KRTU.org, 91.7 in San Antonio, we'll be playing a special tribute to the music of that decade, including stuff made popular by Nirvana, N'Sync, Britney Spears, and Fiona Apple.

Here's a sneak preview: "The First Taste," a smoky Latin tune from Fiona Apple's seminal album "Tidal." It turned out to be a revelation for us. This performance, with an urgent 6/8 feel, was our very first time through the piece. None of us, including me, had ever played it before, separately or together. That's what jazz is all about: spontaneity, reinvention, pouring old songs into new wineskins.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 5 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 20: Montana Sky

Janet, the wife of the pastor at the church I do music for on Sundays, mentioned to me that they'd lived in Montana for years. My mind leapt to a song I only think about once a decade. The first time I heard it was right when it had come out; the second was when I thought of it again and suggested that Duane Cottrell sing it; the third was when Janet was talking about the place.

It's a haunting and quite beautiful song, especially when liberated from its original orchestration, now dated. This performance is simply voice and piano, a taiko drum, and a great big spacious bass sound.

About half the pictures here are taken by Eric and Janet's daughter Charissa, who is (besides being a superb Sunday morning Powerpoint minister) quite a good photographer. She took them on their latest trip there.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to see the pictures in all their glory — and hear that massive bass.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 4 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 19: Slack Guitar

Cate said, "You should do something totally different. Something that you would never have thought to do."

Well I'm all on board with that, except what? Speed metal? Done it. Hip-hop? Country? Done 'em. Classical, jazz, rock, pop? Hmmmm.

Then I thought, how about an instrument I've never recorded? I've played guitar off and on through the years, but never recorded myself playing. (Why would I when I've got Bobby Flores?)

I got out a guitar and started messing around with a piece of music I wrote for a Hawaiian political campaign several years ago. This person was running for Senate or House or something, and wanted Hawaiian slack guitar music in his ads. So, who better to get than some composer from San Antonio, right? (There's an old saying about a prophet and his home country; I've been on both sides of that equation.)

I wrote a little ditty for him, that included guitar tracks and also drums, a glockenspiel, synth pad, and various other slick stuff. But I was always proud that my ditty captured the slack guitar style pretty well. Today, I played it myself. Nothing but guitar, even those percussive knocks.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 3 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 18: Corde Natus

I believe in making things new. And the older the better. These words were written by Aurelius Prudentius sometime in the late 300s. That's three-hundreds. The melody, on the other hand, is sparkling fresh, having been written quite recently in the 13th century.

In doing this, I reveled in the century-hopping: I used an instrument that's a modern marvel (a grand piano), the oldest instrument on earth (my voice), and editing software whose latest update is only a few weeks old.

That's why these images seemed to go perfectly. Look closely: the stained-glass windows were made in the 20th century from shards of previous windows that had been destroyed in wars and disasters.

What a symbol of our faith, constantly shattered and remade, and made again, to the glory of one who said, "Behold, I make all things new."

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 2 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 17: Cirque

I saw an Italian print of circus figures (not the figures pictured here, which are of general revelry), and got inspired to do a jumpy little impromptu in 5.

I gave myself a rule: each track must be done in one single take, beginning to end. Piano, bass, drums, tombras, agogo. That's what I did, no going back and editing, no nothing. The whole thing took minutes (during commercials of "The Office.") I cheated, though, on the agogo track — I just couldn't leave it the way it was without adjusting a few false moves toward the end.

And that's the story of a short original piece called "Cirque." Yes, I know "cirque" is French and not Italian. So write your own piece and title it whatever you want. Meanwhile, I'm pleased with the loose rhythm and giddy energy of the thing.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 1 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 16: Loong

I wrote this song on my most recent birthday, at the apartment of a friend, Billy Chan. We'd just arrived in China, and Billy was one of our first new friends there: a superb bass player, a true Christian gentleman, and one of the best laughers in the world.

He picked up his bass and I sat at his beautiful grand piano. I scribbled out a chord structure based on something I'd heard a band do recently, compressing the entire form of Miles Davis's "So What" into four bars; Billy and I played it round and round, as I experimented with different melodies, and finally zeroed in on something haunting and, I think, quite lovely.

I've played this with a few different groups now, each time giving it a slightly different feel. Today, I decided on a simple low drone with slow explorations above it.

"Loong" is the Chinese word for dragon.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   2 0 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 15: Grace, Grace

Right across from "Amazing Grace" in the hymnal we used when I was a kid was the other song about grace, called "Grace Greater Than Our Sin." It wasn't nearly as popular as the Amazing one, but it always felt good to me. The melody seemed like a cool calm hand on a feverish brow.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 9 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 14: Chopin Waltz Op 64 No. 2

Jazzers famously dig classical music, and especially from the baroque era. You'll find tons of jazz adaptations of Bach. I think it's because those baroque flurries of notes are easily adaptible to jazz, and his tendency to write contrapuntally, with two or three or several different melodies all going together to form the piece, resembles the way jazz often fits together.

You'll also find the occasional adaptation of Chopin, but it's not nearly as common. Why? Who knows? Chopin was a master at writing really impressive-sounding stuff that fits under the hand well, and on top of that he was a brilliant improviser.

So. Here's one of my favorites of his, with a little fried chicken in the mix.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 8 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 13: Song Without Words

So much of what we hear in a church setting is tied to words. That's more true now than ever: we just don't leave tons of room for instrumentals, for whatever reason.

And it's even rarer to hear something that isn't instrumental that's not tied to words. How often do you sing (in an organized way) without any lyrics? Quakers and Jews have sects with traditions of wordless song, but even then it's not all that common.

Felix Mendelssohn landed a huge hit with his eight volumes entitled "Songs Without Words": hummable, catchy tunes that were easy for the average pianist to play. After a particularly dense friend offered to put words to them to make them literal songs, he said something compelling: "What the music I love expresses to me, is not thought too indefinite to put into words, but on the contrary, too definite."

Yes.

St Paul said that "we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

Yes.

Catherine thinks it would take a pretty special congregation to do something like this, but I'd love to give it a shot some time.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always click again anywhere on the picture to take you to the Youtube site, where you can see related videos and select watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 7 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 12: Wondrous Love

Here's another tune from the Sacred Harp Suite, my series of piano settings from that great American songbook. This one is relatively familiar, because it's been popular in classical settings and among folk enthusiasts as well.

I've always thought of it as particularly haunting, maybe because of its awkward shape. Toward the end of the form, you expect the melody to go down and finish, but instead it goes up and continues, making the phrase an irregular length.

The visual element here might not seem to match the American folk origins of the tune, but my setting of the piece felt like a nice match for these images of Andrea Pozzo's amazing artwork for the church of St. Ignatius, which creates a three-dimensional effect on a flat ceiling that's so convincing it's dizzying. The slow music made me feel like I was floating around in a space like this.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   16 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 11: Stay With Me

Several years ago, I did a CD of original music, pretty much smooth jazz in style, with a romance theme. It was called "Passion," and it followed the path of a relationship as it deepens and matures.

You can find out more about it here, and you can order it here.

Someone said the other day, "You don't really like that one, do you?" Well, smooth jazz isn't exactly my favorite style of music to begin with, but it was right for this project, and I did enjoy exploring the genre and putting my own spin on it.

This tune is what jazzers call a contrafact: you take the changes of a familiar jazz tune and write a different melody to it. Obviously a melody can be harmonized in many different ways, and conversely a set of changes can have several different heads. ("Head" meaning main melody.) Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," for instance, is based on the changes to "Indiana;" "The Flintstones" theme is based on Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." You can play the accompaniment to one song and sing the other.

So, "Stay With Me" is based on the satisfying changes to "Beautiful Love," which I treated a few days ago, on day 8.

I'm pleased by the way this turned out. So much smooth jazz is just an unintelligent groove with a solo laid over it. For this, I tried to give the different parts (all of which I played myself) the responsiveness that a good ensemble would have.

I also like that this is a happy song in a minor key, something you don't see too often.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 5 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 10: Allegretto

After a show one time, I was sitting at the piano next to Erin, the wife of the guy I sometimes call "the other me." (When I introduce myself in his circles, I say, "Hi, I'm the other Jason.") He's a composer; she's a concert pianist and teacher. I was just messing around, and she said, "What is that?," thinking it was one of Scriabin's or Ginastera's piano pieces. I said I was just messing around. She said, "You should transcribe that stuff!"

So I did. I went home and messed around in an organized way, then transcribed what I'd played. The result was this Allegretto.

Most of the classical music I write winds up being what's called "pandiatonic." Pandiatonicism is a way of forming chords and progressions that are pleasing to the average ear, and yet don't sound old or trite. If you play "Happy Birthday" with the traditional accompaniment, that's classic tonalism. If you play it against a clashing bunch of chords, that's polytonality (Charles Ives did this: his music sounds like the Fourth of July in a blender). If you distort the melody so that it never repeats a note in the 12-note scale, and accompany it the same way, that's a kind of atonality -- that is, it's no longer "in the key of...." Most people think that sounds like crap, though it does have its uses and can be great.

But if you take the melody and harmonize it with distributed notes in a diatonic scale (like all the white notes, in the key of C), yet NOT with traditional chords like C-major or F-major or D-minor, then you've got pandiatonicism. It's a way of scattering the sense of tonality a bit without losing it. You're still playing around in the C-major sandbox; you're just building something other than the traditional sandcastle.

Anyway, for the most part I stick with a pandiatonic language here, though I spice it up with other flavors.

This is the kind of stuff I used to do endlessly in college, on my own time: unfortunately, music schools rarely teach musicians how to improv classical. But it used to be essential, especially for keyboardists. So, if you haven't done it lately, get on it. It's fun.

Click below to play it. And remember you can always watch in high quality to get better pictures and sound.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 4 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 9: Without A Song

This is one of the many songs I first heard from my dad. It's from the 1929 musical "Great Day," which also gave us "More Than You Know."

The way my dad sings it, the melody and the song's meaning come out with polished clarity. Later on, I heard Frank Sinatra's swing version, and couldn't get on board with it — it seems to rob the song of something essential. Same with Bing Crosby's hurry-up-get-this-over-with version. Great musicians, no doubt, but there's a humble grandeur to the piece that they don't explore. Mahalia Jackson does better, stretching it out into a ten-minute series of emotional bursts; but then she loses the gorgeous melody (it's her genius that one doesn't complain at all).

My dad always did the same diminution on the bridge that Sinatra did, putting it in cut time to make each note half as long. That makes the bridge ("I got my trouble and woe....") contrast against the broadly melodious A section. But I chose to keep it broad in the bridge, and discovered how taxing this song really is to sing. That soaring bridge demands a lot of breath control.

I'd done one take just to test the microphone settings and get my voice warmed up; but then when I started recording in earnest, I couldn't match that first time through. There was some quality about it that didn't come through. So, what you hear is the test vocal. Sometimes you just gotta leave it alone.

I've always thought this song says it all: music gives reason and meaning and feeling where there might be none. In school, we even used to categorize people by what music they listened to. Who is man, that this almost-nothing, this nothing-but-tones, could become one of his most significant experiences?

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 3 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 8: Beautiful Love Changes

For whatever reason, the jazz standard "Beautiful Love" has always hit me as a near-perfect set of changes.

When a jazz musician talks about "changes," what that means is the chord progression that's associated with a song. "Beautiful Love" has a set of changes that seems to work well for me: it hangs out on solid D-minor, it goes to the right places at the right times, it stays in the same place the right amount. I often end up warming up with these changes, played at about this tempo.

You may have noticed that with this and "Goodnight Piano" (day 3), I've included lots of pictures of the piano's inner workings. I always feel honored to be exploring one of the great gifts of the West to human culture: a piano is an amazing instrument, and there's nothing quite like getting near one and hearing those 7000 pieces of wood, metal, and cloth surround you with glorious sound.

 

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  M O N D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 2 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 7: Italian Beer

Along with concert works and jazz and sacred music, I also compose and record music for commercials and soundtracks. This one was for the American launch of an Italian beer company. They needed music for their website, which started with a splashy intro, then would go into a backgroundy loop that could play as you clicked around. The word was that people associate Italy with dramatic cinema and with fashion, so I was to come up with something cinematic and fashionable.

I really ended up liking the clean crisp beat with slightly complex chords laid over it. It reminds me of one of my favorite groups, The Rurals.

If you want to hear it in stereo, click on through to Youtube and select the watch in high quality feature at the lower right just below the screen.

 

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  S U N D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 1 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 6: Hedwig's Theme

During what I thought of as Harry Potter Miracle Month, when the final book and a new movie came out within days of each other, the Jazz Protagonists did a live radio show in tribute, with songs inspired by the books, including originals, standards like "Old Devil Moon" (dedicated to a certain R. Lupin), and a couple of re-imaginings of stuff from the movies.

The melody most people think of as the main Harry Potter theme is actually called "Hedwig's Theme," Hedwig being the snowy owl Harry takes care of and vice versa. Back in real life, St Hedwig is the patron saint of orphans, a nice touch from the author.

The pictures are from an outdoor jazz festival we did in San Antonio, photographed by the excellent bassist-photographer Chuck Moses.

 

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  S A T U R D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   1 0 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 5: La Marseillaise

Here, for no good reason at all, is the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," played by the Jazz Protagonists.

A filmmaker friend needed a jazz version of this for the closing credits of a movie he was directing. The only instructions were that it was to be done in a jazz style, and it had to be precisely 42 seconds. We failed at both.

 

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  F R I D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   9 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 4: The Hebrew Children

When I composed the Sacred Harp Suite -- a solo piano suite based on melodies from that influential 1844 American hymnal -- I didn't approach each piece with the same formula. I gave each one what I thought it was asking me for. Some came out pretty straight. Some are almost unrecognizable compared to the original. Some, I thought, could use a little variation section like a jazzer would give it.

"Hebrew Children" is served well with what you'd call a solo section. After the theme is stated, there's a period of free melodic invention spinning off over the chord changes. Later on, I throw a bunch of sprightly zingaleebops in there that don't seem related at all. But they fit for deep reasons.

The result is a robust folk tune cooked on a jazz stove and poured into a classical vessel. And I hope it also sounds good to you.

This song always reminds me that the American settlers saw themselves as the Hebrew Children, escaping across perilous water from the Pharaonic tyranny of England. America, over and over, was called the "promised land" and compared to Israel of old, flowing with milk and honey. Abraham Lincoln, right around the time my edition of the Sacred Harp was published, referred to Americans as God's "almost Chosen People." Remarkable! The kinship that those Puritans felt with the ancient Jews is almost unknown now. But it's there, and awaits exploration.

And be sure to select the watch in high quality feature so you can see the music.

 

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  T H U R S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   8 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 3: Goodnight Piano

Sometimes I sit down at the piano and improvise with no form or direction in mind. It's where I get some of my best ideas. (It's also where I get some of my worst ideas — and discard them.)

But sometimes I start with a particular song in mind and just solo over the changes. This is exactly what you hear every jazz musician do with a classic jazz composition, except that traditionally we play through the entire melody at the beginning and end.

Today, I sat down at my in-laws' grand piano and rambled through the changes to one of my own compositions, called "Goodnight," the first song I wrote for Catherine. The gorgeous vocalist Maggie Worsdale included it in her 2002 album "Joy," accompanied by the Jazz Protagonists. Here, it's just me. Enjoy.

 

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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   7 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

EPIPHANY: 50 Days, 50 Songs
Day 2: The Guardian Angel

The story goes that, vacationing in a tiny town on Italy's east coast, Robert and Elizabeth Browning found themselves in a chapel, where they saw a remarkable painting by Guercino, a minor but brilliant painter from a time and place in which brilliant painters could be minor.

Browning was struck by this painting, which depicted a guardian angel protecting a child praying at a tomb, and wrote a poem about it. The poem later wound up in his collection Men and Women.

A couple of years ago I composed this aria for a special occasion at Baylor University's spectacular Browning Library. Earlier composers that I'm aware of solved the problem of the break in "The Guardian-Angel," five stanzas in, where the speaker turns from the painting to the audience, by simply leaving out the rest. I decided that the rest is still part of the work, and left it in as spoken word. (My ears had become attuned to the possibility of accompanied spoken word by Ben Folds's beautiful project with William Shatner, Has Been.)

I posted a version of this on my website when I wrote the thing, but today's post is a new, nice, clean remix, with added video of the actual painting as well as my score.

If you want to see that music in better detail, click on through to Youtube and select "watch in high quality."

 

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  T U E S D A Y ,   J A N U A R Y   6 ,   2 0 0 9 . 

Today is the day called Epiphany. Three Kings' Day, to some. Christmas, as you may recall, didn't begin till Christmas, despite what merchants may say, and then it went on till today, the 12th day of Christmas. Why advertisers haven't picked up on that, I'll never know. (I suspect Luce Irigaray could enlighten us.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, begins 56 days from now. Lent is a biggie, and of course Easter is a biggie. Advent is a great big biggie in North America. But those poor wise men: Epiphany, that great celebration of the overflowing universality of Truth, gets too little attention. This time around, then, I'll be posting one song every day. 50 Days, 50 Songs.

It just seems right that the series begins with a farewell. Leroy Yarbrough died on the first day of Christmas; his funeral was just the other day. The Yarbrough Diaspora all gathered in San Antonio to celebrate his life, his discipline, his achievements, his character. The near-fanatical devotion this man inspired, and still inspires!

My earliest memories of music are tied up with Leroy. (Accent on the roy, please.) He was my music minister when I was a kid. He was gone before I was six, but even at that very young age I knew something was magical about this nothing-but-tones, this invisible movement of air that could be one of our most important experiences. And I tied him to it: every single Sunday, without fail, after the service, I would march right up to the front and do whatever I had to do to shake his hand. Why? Who knows. But I had to do it.

Thirty years later, that image was how he introduced me to a colleague. Wow, he remembered that? Some remember him as a perfectionist disciplinarian. But those crinkles around his eyes didn't get there by accident. I never was in a choir of his, never attended a rehearsal he conducted. All that isn't what he was, at least to me.

So. Here's his setting of the familiar Irish Blessing. Our choir sang it every possible chance we got: at restaurants, host homes, public places, and at the end of every concert, I think. I haven't seen the score in at least 23 years. But I remember it like the back of my hand, just as so many now scattered all around the world who have made that melody a Pensieve, with memories swirling all around inside it.

After the weekend's festivities, I was gigging downtown on the Riverwalk. Some of the old crowd, members of the exquisitely named Sound Foundation, the wholesome-hip touring ensemble that he headed at our church in the Sixties and Seventies, came down to listen. As the band was packing up, I balladed as usual at the piano, and this was the last tune of the night.

The last little piano punctuation is from Leroy's original arrangement. It was so striking that even when we sang it acapella, as we often did on the run, several of us (Bryan Donowho, Michelle Smith, April Coventry, Scott Harper) would catch each other's eye and fill it in: "Tunt - tunnnnnn."

 

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M O R E