Week 12 – Always April

The composition this week was originally arranged for solo piano – that is every note written out as in most classical music. Rearranging it, and adapting to a lead sheet form went pretty smoothly and I’m happy with this recorded version. It is more open, breathes, and has a greater range of dynamics. Stylistically, the inspiration comes more from Brahms than Bebop. More theme and variations than free form improvising. Harmonically was trying to achieve a balance between consonance and dissonance. Even a Major 7th chord (usually consonant sound arranged in 3rds) can be rearranged so the interval structure creates more dissonant sound (minor 2nds, 5ths.) After all, intervals are the building blocks of chords. Maybe these are subtle harmonic changes but one that can quite effective I think.

I have named various compositions for months of the year. For me April represents the change that occurs from winter to spring. The change that is always constant.

Week 11 – Postmodern?

Postmodern? is a tune written in the 32 bar AABA song form. The chord changes are loosely based on Charlie Parker’s, “Little Suede Shoes” (A section) and “Confirmation” (B section). A common approach in the bebop era was to write new melodies on existing chord changes of popular songs of the day. These new tunes were referred to as a contra-fact. One example of this is Parker’s “Donna Lee”, which uses the chord changes to “Back Home in Indiana”. To me, Parker and bebop are as important to jazz vernacular as JS Bach is to Western classical music. My students probably get tired of me talking about the Omnibook (transcriptions of Charlie Parker) and Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier or Inventions. Both innovators, their music remains fresh to this day and beyond.  I tried  to employ a more angular sound in the melody (use of 4ths for example) and harmony (melodic minor modes) over this tried-and-true song form.

Week 8 – Leaving AC

No, the title of this weeks song is not a reference to air conditioning. I suppose it is more of a reference to change, which in itself  can be a constant paradoxically. In this case, change of location and period of time. Fall is also a season of change, some things gained, some things lost. I think of this song as more or less a template. That is the harmonic rhythm changes pretty consistently, which allows for the improviser to create and experiment with different textures throughout the solo form. In fact in practicing, sometimes I have just played over the chord changes, for me that has just as much weight as the melody. So it seemed natural to start the recording by just improvising on the chords. When John comes in, then we hear the melody.

Normally I would play this on acoustic piano, but my piano was really out of tune, so I turned my keyboards and layered a pad sound behind the Rhodes sound to give it overall more texture and depth. John plays tenor which matches well with the vibe of the tune. He plays a solo in a different key before we modulate back to the original key for the last melody section. Somehow I always seem to get myself into a corner in composing, so instead of transitioning from the end of a song back to the top, just modulate to a new key. That’s change, right?

Week 5 – D Tune

This weeks song, “D Tune” is a composition from a few years back. Ironically the song is in the key of Db, not D which is one clue that the D in the title doesn’t refer to the musical note D. Anyways, I also recorded this tune years ago but was never released. For me the composition process never seems to be a straightforward one. That is, initial ideas are easy to come by, but editing them into a cohesive musical thought always seems to be more challenging. I guess this tune is one of those exceptions. By that I mean it came into my head more or less as the complete composition and all I had to do was remember it and write it down. Which was a challenge in itself because I was half asleep when I had the idea and tried to tell myself to remember it so when I was awake I could write it down. This approach has failed me many times and not just with musical ideas. Which is why having methods of capture (recorders, paper and pencil etc…) is definitely a good thing in this modern age. Plus sometimes we remember something as being good idea when in reality, when a little time has passed, well maybe not much so.

This performance is pretty straightforward, playing the melody, each taking a chorus, melody out, then a bit of trading at the end, but it seems to suit this Latin-ish tune.

Week 2 – Haystack

This is a straight 8th, gospel influenced tune written recently for this project. Was thinking of something that would work with just piano and saxophone and keeping John’s sound and approach on his instrument in mind as well. His sound on this tune reminds me a little of Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet saxophonist, Jan Garbarek whom I have listened to quite a bit throughout the years.

It often seems that I often spend as much time thinking about song titles as the music itself. For me a good song title gives the listener clues to the songs intention or meaning, but leaves room for the listener to formulate their own ideas as well. For this tune I was thinking of the phrase, “like looking for a needle in a haystack.” I relate this to the big picture/small picture idea. It is completely natural to get caught up in the details of the “needle” while losing sight of the big picture, or “haystack” in this particular analogy. Also, was recently on the the Oregon coast and the  sight of Haystack Rock always provides a reorientation, a fountainhead of sorts.

I was thinking of the main melodic figure that appears throughout the tune as the “hook.”   There is a fine line when repeating a musical idea, to give it weight but not make it too predictable. Mozart’s general rule of repeating an idea three times came to mind here in this case.

Here we go…

Looking forward to this project because it combines music and technology which are two interests of mine. John and I have talked about bringing in special guest musicians from the Portland area too, so look for that. Have plans to start recording the audio in higher fidelity. Although because a lot of  audio/video is listened/watched online these days people are getting used to content being just “good enough”. For now though, the goal: one song a week, for a year, the Duo Chronicles.