Monday, December 27, 2010

In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning

Here I am, snowed in during the Northeastern U.S. Christmas Blizzard of 2010. Most of my family is snowed in at a different location.  So I picked out a great ballad that I would like to learn.  Nobody had to be tortured hearing me practice it either!
The song In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning was made famous by Frank Sinatra, but was composed by Bob Hilliard and David Mann.  The way that I hear it in my head,  it starts out with a solo piano verse, and then the band kicks in for a few improv verses.  It then goes back to the melody and finishes up the last few bars as solo piano again.  This is not easy to do when your bandmates are digital!

Normally,  I would not put one of these practice recordings out on the blog without having gone over it with my piano teacher, Ed.  Ed will help me with figuring out better chord substitutions, and new ways of thinking about what would sound OK in the tune.  But I'm posting this one sans any voice of musical reason.  Maybe I'll re-post it when I get some good feedback about what to do differently.

I have two vocal versions of this song on my iPOD from Jamie Cullum and Kevin Mahogany.  It is just a beautiful melody.

This time the band is P.J. Perry on Tenor,  Neil Swainson on bass, Terry Clark on Drums, and Ron King on Trumpet.

Trumpeter, composer, band leader, and Grammy nominee Ron King is one of L.A.'s top studio players, as evidenced by awards from the IAJE, NAJE, ASCAP, and the RMA.  He has been heard on gold record performances by George Benson, Ricki Lee Jones, and Marvin Gaye with other credits including Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Keely Smith, Jeremy Lubbock, David Foster, Jeff Lorber, Michael Bolton, Queen Latifah, Brian Simpson, and Michael Paulo.  

Ron has played for countless movie, television, and commercial soundtracks, including "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, "The Jimmy Kimmel Live" television show, ABC's "The Next Best Thing", and the movies "Children of a Lesser God", and "Ocean's 11."  Onstage, he has performed with The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Bill Holman, Clayton Hamilton, and Don Menza big bands while also leading his own big band and quartet.

A California native, he graduated from California State University Los Angeles with a Major in Music and a Minor in Musicology.  For more about Ron King, please visit his web site at

Kevin Mahogany's excellent CD......

Kevin Mahogany Another Time Another Place CD

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Favorite Things

When did My Favorite Things become a Christmas song?  When Celia heard me practicing this song, she said "I thought your were going to do a Christmas song".  I said, "This IS a Christmas song!".   I thought it was obvious, but come to think of it, why do we associate this with the Holiday season at all?  We all know that it comes from The Sound of Music.   According to Wikipedia,  the wintertime imagery of some of the lyrics made it popular during the Holiday season. 

It took off as a Holiday classic after being recorded for a Christmas album by the Supremes in 1965, and then by Tony Bennett and Barbara Streisand in 1969.  It has been thought of as a Christmas song ever since then.

In Jazz circles, this was recorded famously in 1961 by John Coltrane.  I've always wanted to be able to play this,  but with the non-standard keys (Em and E) and the fast tempos that good players use (often north of 200 bpm), it has always been way out of my league.

In this version of My Favorite Things,  I am playing piano with Neil Swainson on bass, and P.J. Perry adding a very bluesy verse on alto sax.  The song is played at 140 which is really stretching the limit for me at this point.

Merry Christmas everyone!

A little note about the musicians:

P.J. Perry has become recognized by critics, colleagues and listeners as one of North America's premier saxophonists.  He has shared the stage with countless Jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Michel LeGrand, Pepper Adams, Kenny Wheeler, Tom Harrell, and The Boss Brass among others.

In 2007 P.J. was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Alberta.

Winner of a 1993 Juno Award for Best Jazz Recording for his album "My Ideal," P.J. received Jazz Report magazine's Critic's Choice Award for Best Alto Sax for seven years from 1993 to 1999.

In autumn of 1999 Justin Time Records released a Juno nominated recording of P.J. and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

P.J. has recently been performing his own show "The Joy of Sax" with orchestras across Canada. He has also performed with the Edmonton Symphony, Winnipeg Symphony, Saskatoon Symphony, Kamloops Symphony, Hamilton Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Kitchener-Waterloo, and the Vancouver Island Symphony.

P.J. Perry's web site is

Born in Nanaimo, B.C., bassist Neil Swainson worked for two years in Victoria with Jazz-New Age flautist Paul Horn.  Relocating to Toronto, he played with Woody Shaw frequently in the 1980s and also gigged with James Moody, George Coleman, and Zoot Sims. A member of Moe Koffman's quintet during 1978-1982, Swainson went on to gain his greatest fame when he started working with George Shearing in 1988, an association that continued into the late '90s.

Neil has written and recorded original music with a co-operative band called JMOG.  The album "49th Parallel" was first released in 1989.  It is mostly Swainson compositions, with Woody Shaw & Joe Henderson up front.

Now one of Canada's most respected Jazz greats, Neil's recording and performing associations also include Ernestine Anderson, Ed Bickert, Pat Coleman, Herb Ellis, Joe Farrell, Oliver Gannon, Slide Hampton, Pat LaBarbera, Rob McConnell, Ian McDougall, Jay McShann, PJ Perry, Zoot Sims, and Sonny Stitt among others.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In working on my next Christmas jazz piano tune,  I'm running in to all sorts of problems.  The song is in a couple of sharp keys that I never play, so getting chords and improv to work half-way decently is not happening quickly.  The song is fast and very unforgiving as Ed would say.  There are a couple of "avoid" notes where if you play them as anything but the fastest of passing tones the whole song is a train wreck.  My fingers are drawn to these avoid notes like a moth to a flame.  Sigh.  It will take a while...

To kind of cleanse my mental palate, I decided to pull out the the old jazz guitar and play something that is much more forgiving.  Here I'm playing a version of Misty by Errol Garner.  This is a lot of fun to play.  I'm playing this with an organ trio lead by Mike Ledonne on the Hammond B3.  Jack Stafford is featured on tenor sax.   I arranged this to be a double-time version, in the style of Richard "Groove" Holmes. 

I'm playing a D'Angelico jazz guitar that I haven't taken out of the case in a long...... time.  I really like the way this guitar sounds with an organ trio.   When I say that this song is much more forgiving, I mean that you could essentially be banging garbage cans together to this groove set down by Mike Ledonne and it would be worth listening to!

Here is a little background info on the musicians:

LeDonne, Mike - On Fire CD Cover Art

Child prodigy Mike LeDonne was already a seasoned musician when he arrived in New York upon his graduation from the New England Conservatory. Over the next ten years, he travelled back and forth to Europe, spent two years as the house pianist at Jimmy Ryan′s, toured for two years with the Benny Goodman sextet, and played with many of the biggest names in Jazz including Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans, Roy Eldridge, Papa Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Buddy Tate, Al Grey, Ruby Braff, the Art Farmer-Clifford Jordan Quintet, Grady Tate, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Turrentine, Charles McPherson, Sonny Rollins, Ernestine Anderson, Annie Ross, Etta Jones, and Benny Golson.

Jazz musician Jack Stafford has long been a fixture of the Vancouver music scene on alto saxophone, flute, and clarinet – and soprano, tenor, and baritone saxes as the occasion demands. He is a versatile player who can cover multiple styles including Dixieland, Swing, Bop, and West Coast ⁄ Cool. As a first-call player, Jack has played in every setting from clubs to concert halls with studio and recording work for major broadcast networks and record labels.
Jack has played for a who′s who of international music and entertainment greats, and regularly with his own band and top local groups like the all-star Jazz ensemble Pacific Salt, the Ian McDougall Big Band, the Jill Townsend Big Band, Dal Richards and Friends, Donnie Clark Quintet, SwingStreet, and even the nostalgic dance band led by Canada′s late "King of Swing," Mart Kenney and The New Ballroom Orchestra.
Jack Stafford plays great Tenor Sax solos in a mainstream Jazz style, not unlike Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, or Sonny Rollins. This laid-back, spacey style is typical of the 50s and 60s. He is also known as a fan and interpreter of Cannonball Adderley.

A picture of my guitar from the D'Angelico web site
The great Richard Groove Holmes

Monday, November 29, 2010

Greensleeves (What Child Is This)

12/20/2011 Update:

Since it is Christmas time,  I seem to get a number of hits on this posting, as people look on the internet for how to play jazz renditions of Greensleeves/What Child Is This.  I originally recorded this with using accompaniment provided by band-in-a-box that only could have real players on the drums.  The only options were MIDI for everything else.  So I used a midi bass, recorded myself on guitar for a few accent points, and had no other instruments other than piano.  I also let the song go on for too long :-).  So using a more modern version of band-in-a box with all real players, a slightly different bossa feel, and cutting out a verse, here is a Remix of What Child Is This.    

Original Post

It's Christmas time!  I don't know about anyone else, but my favorite part of Christmas is the free part.   I've come to terms with the "presents" thing and the crass consumerism of the holiday.  But being with family, and reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas is really where its at.   (Celia, I think I need the "it's" and "its" lesson.  I will use them at random to cover all of the bases :-)).  And the music....mmmm.  I know a lot of people hate Christmas music because you start hearing it before Thankgiving is over.  Some of my favorite jazz tunes to play are Christmas songs, though.  Many of the best ones are wicked hard too, as we say in Boston.

I'm hoping to post a couple of Christmas songs.  First up is a 4/4 latin bossa version of  What Child Is This.  My band and I pushed this out with one take, so that we could move on to get another blog post out before Christmas, so please forgive the mistakes.  I'm playing acoustic guitar on this also and I'm trying to assess if it creates too much conflict with the piano or not.  (Music note: the guitar voicings for the 5 chords on a bossa often have a #5 substitute, like an A7#5 in this song.  I'm not doing that on the piano, so I'm not sure if it is clashing or sounds good.)

Update:  I did get input that the guitar was too clashy.  I remixed this to make the guitar more tasteful.  Hopefully the new version sounds better

My favorite version of this song has to be by guitar play Larry Carleton on his Christmas At My House CD.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hymne a L'Amour (If You Love Me)

So here I was on yet another business trip.  I was in Washington D.C. staying at the Gaylord National hotel for a few nights.  Each night they had a piano player in the cocktail lounge.  Mostly the players were just OK, but one guy was incredible.  Naturally, I was the only one listening in the entire lounge - such is the life of a jazz piano player I guess.  But this player was so creative with rhythms, voicings, and melodies that I could not concentrate on anything else, including my work colleagues.  His name was Fred Hughes.  I knew each of the tunes Fred was playing, except for one.  The melody of this tune was so beautiful that I had to find out what it was.  Fred told me that it was a French song by Edith Piaf named Hymne a  L'Amour.  I resolved that I had to find music for this and take a crack at playing it for the blog. 

Well, I rooted it out, and found some great versions on iTunes. But what is really interesting is that I actually had an opportunity to play and record this live!  On my subsequent business trip to San Francisco, there was an open piano at a restaurant where we were waiting to be seated.  Here is one of my travel companion's recording of my quick take on Hymne a l'amour.

(Music note.  Apparently I've stumbled on something called a plagal cadence that I use in the ending of this tune.)

Here is a link to Fred's web site and a little postscript in French.

J'ai joué un tour sur vous!   Le bruit de la foule et des applaudissements a été créé par voie électronique.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nature Boy

The main reason that I am doing this blog is to leave some memories behind for the kids.  When I was a teenager, I remember how my parents (especially my Dad) loved Nat King Cole.  In particular, I remember all of the songs from the Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer Album.  It was played over and over again in our house.  It was so square that it got really annoying to hear after a while - especially for kids getting into the Beatles and other much cooler stuff.

Now though, since Nat King Cole reminds me so much of them, I believe that I have every song he ever recorded on my IPOD.  One of my favorites from the Lazy-Hazy-Crazy album is That Sunday, That Summer.  (I can't seem to find the music for it, so if anyone has it, please send it my way.) 

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer

The song Nature Boy  is another Nat Cole one that brings back vivid memories of them, so I love to play it.  Here is a picture of me and my Mom.  Her name was Dorothy.   Believe it or not,  this stained snapshot is the only picture that I have of them in the house.  I know that my sisters have many pictures, and there are ones that I know are hidden somewhere in this house,  but this is the only one that can be found.  None of my Dad.  How sad is that! 

Some day my kids will be saying, "Remember when Dad tortured us with those hideous attempts to play jazz piano and guitar?  We had to hide in all corners of the house to avoid listening.  Boy, I would give anything to be able to hear that again".  Celia can't bring herself to delete any of the answering machine messages from her parents.  She knows that day is coming when she will give anything to hear those again. 

Well, here it is kids.   Posterity in a blog.  As I am remembering Mom and Dad with this song, maybe someday you will remember me with this one as well.

(Music Note:  I'm trying harder things on each song that I'm trying, making it almost impossible to come up with a clean version of anything.  Does this ever get better? :-)

P.S  Look at this - courtesy of Ginny and Todd!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

No One But You

The song No One But You is an original tune by my mother-in-law, Celia Pierro Meloni.  It was written for my father-in-law Anthony Meloni in either 1942 or 1946 when Mom was either 15 or 19.  She gets a little younger each time the story is told.   It is said that Mozart wrote his first symphony at age 5,8, or 9.  In reality, he was probably a 40 year old bald guy, but in iterations of telling the story his age was racheted all the way down to 5.  Just kidding....

I've heard several excellent versions of this song.  If you are a facebook friend to one of the Melonis, you can hear/see Mom playing playing this in her wonderful flowing style on the home Steinway.  You can also see a snippet of her playing it on a $1.1 million  Opus 500,000.

She dusted off and re-worked this song for their 60th wedding anniversay recently.  It was performed spectacularly by world-renown soprano Sharla Nafziger and Jeremy Wall on piano (yes- THAT Jeremy Wall of Spyro Gyra fame whose mother was my boss at the Smithtown HS library).  Did anyone record that?

Here, I present another version of No One But You.  Honestly, this song is so beautiful that it deserves to have a hundred different versions.  My piano teacher Ed remarked that this could easily have been a major hit in the 40's if had been sung by a star vocalist.  I take a lot of liberties with the song, and ask in advance for any purists to forgive me.

Great job Mom, creating an enduring piece of art that can be shared in many different ways.


No one but you
There is no one in the world but you
No one can ever take your place
Here in my heart

No one but you
Heaven meant for us a love that's true
Don't ever let me go
Never let us part

A love like ours is as perfect as a love can be
Wasn't I meant for you and weren't you meant for me?

To you I give
Every moment of my life
For as long as I love
There'll be no one but you

Geek Alert....

OK, here's what I did to this song:

  • Took a lot of space out of the harmony.  This is usual(?) for playing a standard as a solo jazz number.  I put in some 1-6-2-5 progressions and turned the 2-bar 2-5's into two sets of 1 bar 2-5's.
  • Made liberal use of tritone substitutions and minor line cliche to make it sound more jazzy
  • The structure of this song is AABA.  The last "A" part is reharmonized to use Gmaj9/Ebmaj9 voicings then Bmaj7/Abmaj9. 
  • Lots of altered junk  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All Blues

One of the things that a jazz piano player must be able do is play a walking bass line.  This is elementary 101 stuff.  The only problem is... I CAN'T DO IT.   Its not that I don't know the right notes to play - Ed has written these out for me on several occasions for a variety of songs.  I just don't seem to be able to get the hang of it.   I'm hoping that this is not one of those limitations of picking up piano at this age.

Rather than give up altogether, I'm trying out a new tactic.  All Blues has a very identifiable bass line.  I'm trying to nail this baseline initially and then continue returning to it throughout the song.  Maybe this is a step towards being able to do that walking bass.

It is interesting that there are virtually no solo piano versions of All Blues.  I guess it is such a famous group number that it isn't thought of for solo playing.  I only found one solo version on all of itunes.  The one version is by someone named Larry McDonough.  I've stolen some ideas from him.

Another thing that I'm trying in here is to put in a "quote".  A quote is a little snippet of another song that is inserted for effect.  I'm reasonably sure that this is the only place that you will here a Burt Bacharach song quoted in a Miles Davis tune :-)

I've run out of time on this one for now, but I'll come back to it at some point..         

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blue in Green

Ah Miles Davis, what can you say.  Has anyone ever read his autobiography?  Amazing.  If you can put up with a million printings of the "F" word and the "MF" word, then it is a memorable read.  I doubt he would have liked me much :-)

Blue in Green to me is THE song that epitomizes what you would want to be listening to in a leather chair with a snifter of Irish whiskey.   By the way, I have two nice leather chairs in the room where we have the piano - so if you want to hear me play this tune while you are drinking some Bushmill's.....

This one has the head played at the slow tempo twice, then a slightly uptempo first solo verse, three (or is it 4) much more uptempo verses, and back to the head.  I have one stolen Bill Evans lick (who is the major influence for this tune).  Ten points to anyone who knows what it is. 

Autumn in New York

Two great versions of this song:  One by Bill Charlap, and one by Tommy Flanagan where he is actually backing up guitar player Mark Whitfield.  There are a lot of changes in this tune so I've stayed away from it.  I took it out once when I was first starting lessons, and put it back very quickly.

One of Ed's adult students played a nice rendition of this at her recital, and it inspired me to give it a try.  This version of Autumn in New York was done in July 2010.

Blue Moon

I surprised Ed with this one right before the recital. We really hadn't worked on it before.  Ed helped me with something I was missing on the intro and that was it.  For some reason I like playing these 50's style pop tunes.  The influence on this is a killer version by Kenny Barron.  But you won't hear much of it in my version of Blue Moon.  You may notice as I post these practice versions of songs that you hear the same ending or phrase applied to different songs.  If you don't keep experimenting where you can use something cool that you just learned, it is going to go right out of your head - so I'm always looking for ways to cement something that I like into muscle memory.

Alice in Wonderland

Here is a solo jazz piece.  This has always been my favorite Bill Evans song, and recently I downloaded a version by the Ben Paterson trio that was just great.  I've borrowed some of the chord voicings from Ben Paterson.  Or at least I think I did.  I had help in figuring out the initial voicings from my wife's brother-in law John Ragusa, who is a fantastic professional flute player.  I can only think of a couple of people that are really untouchable on their instrument.  Joey deFranceso on B3 and John Ragusa on jazz flute come to mind.  Check it out.

Anyway, then I stole one of the lead patterns from Bill Evans, although it would be understandable if you didn't recognize it :-)

Ed had a lot of patience with me on this one.  It is a jazz waltz, which is surprisingly difficult to play.  We had to let it go and come back to it a couple of times.  I felt bad for Ed since this is one of his favorite tunes also, and to hear me hack through it must have been torture.

 I played this version of Alice in Wonderland at Ed's recital in June 2010.

Summertime - no bass

Well,  my little experiment with playing all of the parts on Flamingo told me that I should try for a more up-tempo attempt.  So I decided that I would try Summertime, which is one of my favorite tunes.  This time I would play guitar for the lead and comping (2 parts), then piano for the middle solo, with drums throughout.  I attempted a bass part on a non-bass guitar that was sooo bad that I had to completely throw it out. 

What we've got here is 2 guitar parts, one piano and one drum that were so hard to synchronize that I've given up on attempts of this sort for a while.  Oh, yes - and you'll hear my son Cliff singing and making noise in the background.  Cliff is my frequent accompanist  :-)  I love to hear it though, because that's what gives the songs the sound of home. 

Friday, August 27, 2010


Its Christmas 2009 and Santa brought me what I was hoping for.  It was this little Zoom H3 recorder.  I had heard about from my piano teacher Ed.  I already had plans for this thing and some actual time over the Christmas holiday to figure it out.  The first things that I wanted to do is see if I could record multiple parts and making sound like an actual band.

I've got the piano, some nice jazz guitars, and my teenage son Max has a set of drums. When I was a teenager I was a percusionist and snare drum player in a drum and bugle corp.  I never had a drum set, and I haven't touched drums in decades.  But I went right out and bought some brushes at the Guitar Center, and convinced myself that this would be no problem. 

This version of Flamingo was done right after Christmas with literally with one take on piano, then one take on guitar, and then lastly one take on drums.  No click track.  I hadn't figured that one out yet.  Completely backwards.  But fun.  Oh yes, I had to download the Audacity freeware to do the mixing of tracks from the little Zoom.  It took a while to figure out, but for free- pretty good stuff.

What is this blog about?

Come along for a ride with me!  I'm going to start exploring the question of whether it is possible to pick up jazz piano -from scratch- past the age of 50. 

As background, I had taken jazz guitar lessons on and off for quite a number of years.  I had some really fun teachers that I'll tell you about some time.  But I was not really learning a completely solo style.  At the same time, being a rank amateur I had zero opportunity to ever play with others.  Not a good combination :-(

So it was getting really stale, and at the same time a piano entered our house.  I bought my wife Celia a beautiful Schimmel piano for her birthday a few years ago.  She and my daughter Olivia took piano lessons for a couple of years.  It was great to hear that sound in the house.  I noticed that I was listening to a lot more Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Keith Jarret and Bill Charlap on my IPOD than I was was listening to my guitar favorites like Wes Montgomery.  Hmmm.

And then it happened.... Everyone quit their piano lessons and stopped playing altogether.  The piano was just sitting there calling my name.  There was no way that I could let it sit there with no players.  So I took up piano lessons and only take out the guitar(s) every once in a while now.

The nice thing about playing music is that you can do it at a million o'clock at night.  Every other hobby has gone by the wayside - giving way to the demands of a high stress job, family, house - all that stuff.  Hiking, fishing, camping, softball teams, etc - are all things that waved bye-bye to me long ago.

But playing music is a real meditation.  You can do it in those times of night or morning when there is actually time.  It doesn't matter whether there is anyone listening (and EVERYONE hates jazz, so nobody is ever listening) but you can lose yourself playing a nice ballad with a glass of wine by your side.

Anyway,  I got this little plastic recorder called a Zoom H3 for Christmas 2009.  So I've been recording some practice versions of songs that I'll post and make some commentary on.  Hopefully we'll be able to see some progress.  I've never been interested in technique players.  I've always preferred beautiful and unexpected phrases.  At least that is my excuse for having zero technique on any instrument :-)

I can't let this intial post go without linking to my piano teacher Ed Mascari.  Ed has been a lot of fun to work with.  I had chosen him because I could see from his postings that he had a long history of playing and teaching jazz.  I kind of felt bad when I showed up the first day and told him that I had no intention of reading real piano music (only fake sheets), or developing a lot of technique through scale drills.   He took it right in stride and off we were.  So if anyone lives in the Natick or Hudson Mass. area and wants to learn piano, look up Ed!