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