Week 9 – Traveler

I wrote Traveler back when I was in New York going to the Manhattan School of Music.  When played with a full rhythm section, I usually try to go for a Kenny Garrett type of vibe with the piece; the last section of the form lends itself particularly well to that style.

When Clay and I play it as a duo, we take a little more of a subdued approach until the end when we start taking it out a bit more.

A side note: Clay’s piano was tuned just before this session and sounds amazing.

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 6 – Little Dragon

When Clay was mixing the audio from this recording session, he mentioned that he “thought it had a bit of Ralph Towner, Oregon-ish vibe to it.”  I’m sure this is true, as Ralph Towner is my biggest influence on my compositions, although the chord changes to this piece are actually based on a Charlie Mariano song (as usual, the sheet music is available).  It’s definitely not a strictly “jazz” song.  For those of you looking for that, though, don’t worry – we have some more bebop coming soon.

Regular listeners/watchers will notice a couple off differences in our setup this week.  The first is simple: we’re using an electronic keyboard for the piece instead of the acoustic piano.  It seemed to fit the vibe of the song.

The second is more significant: we are recording using microphones and ProTools rather than the built-in mics on the cameras.  Although we won’t be able to do this for all of our videos, we should be able to for most, meaning the sound quality will be much better than it was before.  Let us know what you think.

Week 4 – Legacy

Before the last days of summer escape us, Clay and I took a field trip to Laurelhurst Park for our Duo Chronicles song this week.

“Legacy” is a tune that I wrote a couple of years ago and have played in a variety of contexts, from a saxophone quartet arrangement, to an electric jazz/funk group.  This particular version (just melodica and saxophone) is the most sparse instrumentally that I’ve done, so we relied on a lot of counterpoint-style improvisation to get through.

Check out the sheet music to get an idea of what we were working with.

Week 3 – Drew’s Dues

One of the first bands that I put together myself was the Nastos/Shoals Quartet – a group that existed in and around 2005 if I remember correctly.  Drew Shoals had just graduated from Whitman College and moved back in Portland ready to jump in to the music scene here and we decided to start a band.

I was spending a lot of time sitting in with the Mel Brown Septet playing bebop and not yet expanding my horizons to the types of music that I would be learning during my time in New York.  Drew suggested that we have a band that focused on bop.  And playing fast.  Really fast.  Originally, the group was going to have two saxophones, guitar, and bass, but as things unfolded logistically, we ended up with guitar in place of one of the saxophones.  The final lineup was myself on saxophones, Drew Shoals on drums, Dan Duval on guitar, and Eric Gruber on bass.

I put together a ton of original charts for the band, including the song that Clay and I have recorded for this week.  The song is called “Drew’s Dues” and was one of the first tunes we rehearsed.  The song was meant as somewhat of a test for Drew, to see if he could swing as fast as I wanted the tune to go and if he could read the somewhat-complicated hits.  This sounds like kind of a jerk move on my part, but it is justified when you know that when Drew and I were in high school, I’m pretty sure he never called me by my name and only by “freshman” – an anecdote that has probably been brought up at almost every concert we’ve played together since then.  So, I figured he could pay his “dues” on this tune.  Since that time, of course, Drew went on to become one of the most-hired drummers in town.

For this project (sans drums and bass), Clay and I have slowed the tempo down quite a bit, but it still retains that classic bebop feel.

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.

Week 1 – Chrysalis

Today, Clay and I start the first week of our “Duo Chronicles” series – a year-long project where we present a new song every week.

The song we’re starting with is a composition of mine from 2006, when I was still in New York City.  It’s a relatively simple little tune that I used to play on piano, but could never figure out how to make it work in a group with bass and drums.  However, when I brought the tune to the first rehearsal with Clay, we found out that it works great as a duet.  I think at the time, I was studying with Bob Mintzer and looking for a Yellowjackets style vibe to the tune.  As I was writing, it drifted away from that, but the intro (the figure Clay plays at the very beginning) still reminds me of that.

For three years, the song went without a title, but as we were getting ready to launch Duo Chronicles, I decided to ask some friends for a song title that reflected new beginnings or new directions – something fitting for the launch of a new project.  The name I choose came from a great Portland drummer by the name of Ji Tanzer that suggested “Chrysalis.”

For the musicians in the audience, you can download the sheet music and follow along if you like – we made a couple of changes that aren’t reflected in the chart, but it’s pretty accurate.

Clay and I are both pretty excited about this project – a new tune a week for a year.  It may be ambitious, but it’s fun as well.  If you haven’t yet, why not head over to our subscribe page and pick a way to keep up with us (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc).  There’s nothing to lose – it’s just free music and video for a year.