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!