Wednesday, February 16, 2011

October's Lament

I remember some key lessons from each of the guitar teachers that I've had.  One of these excellent teachers was Jay Tyer.  Jay had a few unique approaches to teaching.  One of the lessons that really stood out to me was the importance of composing in the overall process of learning how to play jazz.  Jay's iron-clad logic was that if you can't sit down and compose two measures of something that sounds OK - with all of the time in the world - how could you expect to play something creative zooming by at 140 beats per minute?  You will wind up just playing through a list of hack phrases, or worse yet, boring scales.

Good point.  Jay would have us try to do just that:  compose two measures of something that we would then go over and work on during the lesson.   He also had a philosophy that anything you composed deserved to have a name.  So even if it was just two bars, he had us give the composition a name.   

With this strategy in mind,  I walked into my piano lesson in October 2009 carrying October's Lament.  I wanted to be working on the blues.  I have always had trouble with the blues because I never really play it.  I might try to play a jazz song in a bluesy way,  but I never just try to play the blues.  It is really not easy!  For some reason what I play just doesn't sound like the blues.  The feel,  the phrasing, and the basic licks are not quite right.  There is a also lot less melody to center a solo around, so you just really need to be channeling a blues sensibility.

Anyway,  I thought it would be a good idea to compose a relatively simple minor blues number to use as a practice vehicle.  Kill two birds with one stone.   October's Lament is not a traditional blues form,  but it is played as a minor blues throughout.  I wanted to give it a haunting quality,  so there is a major key switch in the middle that hopefully does that.  Ed helped me work this tune, and change some chord voicings to sound better.  At the end of working on it, though, I really hated how it sounded.  It still didn't sound like the blues,  it was klunky and didn't flow.  I put it away and chalked it up to a failed experiment.  Oh well.

Now more than a year later,  I thought: "Hey I have a band now, I wonder how this would sound as a group number."  As soon as I put a band with it, I could see immediately what the problem was.  It was not stretched out long enough, and it needed more space in it.  I changed it to be a 24-bar song, and now it is much more in line with what I was thinking.

(Original October's Lament before putting more space in it) 

I recorded this with a vibes sound on electric piano instead of acoustic piano.  This seems to be a more haunting sound for this kind of a minor blues, so I gave it a shot.  If this sounds like other minor blues songs that you've heard,  I'll just say that I didn't consciously rip it off from anywhere (it would have been easier if I did!).  PJ Perry is playing the Tenor solo on this track.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fly Me To The Moon

Fly Me To The Moon is one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs.   Many singers and jazz players have covered this song over the years.  It can either be great and really get you moving, or it can be super cheesy like Bill Murray singing "Star Wars".  There are plenty of cheesy versions out on Youtube if you want to amuse yourself.  I'm trying this one as a Latin tune rather than swing.  This hopefully avoids the cheesy-ness associated with singers doing swing versions  (I can hear the fingers snapping now!).

But I created another problem....

Whenever I'm playing anything Latin,  I feel like I'm channeling Danny Samoza.   Danny sang and played a barely credible electric piano to all sorts of Latin-ized songs at one of our college hangouts.  The place was Montero's Bar and Grill in Brooklyn Heights, NY.  Montero's is down at the end of Atlantic Avenue near the water.  It catered mostly to Danish Seamen (yes, I spelled that right :-)) from the shipyards, working girls and others of questionable integrity, like college frat boys.   The drinking age was 18 in those days.  We heard Danny play often enough that whenever we heard any sort of a bad  Latin number, we would say "Danny Samoza!"  and then do an imitation.   Nobody wants to be Danny Samoza, but hey, I still remember him after all of these decades.    

The real Montero's...   It is still open.....

Montero Bar and Grill, 73 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201-552, Brooklyn, New York, USA

Geek Alert

I recorded this version of Fly Me To The Moon as a bossa nova.  This should be a pretty easy song to play,  and it is a short (for jazz) 4 minute rendition.  I've tried to cram a whole bunch of new things into these  4 minutes though, so it became a very difficult one to arrange and to play.  I tried to steal some arrangement and lick ideas from Eldar.  If you listen to him play this on youtube, you will see that this was a fool's errand. This kid has both a great feel for the song and tremendous technique. There isn't much that is realistically steal-able, but there is a fast lick at the end of the first chorus that I tried to take from him.  

The end of the song is very different.  He switches the song key (fancy term is "modulates") a half step up from C to Db for the last half of a chorus and the ending.  This is a trick that is used usually with singers to add a sense of excitement to a pop song.  You don't hear it very often in an instrumental jazz song.  So I added that to the arrangement and it then became really hard to play.

With bossa novas you often hear the piano being used a horn would be.  Ed showed me that the way they do this is to play the same single note improvised melody with both the left and the right hand.  The notes are separated by 2 octaves. This is also not easy to do.   Since the piano player is not playing any chords (called comping),  the chords are provided by a guitar player.  The first part of the second chorus is done with this piano-as-horn idea, and then the last part of the chorus is a bass solo by Neil Swainson. 

For the final vamp (still modulated to Db) the guitar comes back in, and it frees me up to fade out on some spacey two-handed pentatonic stuff. 


23 year old kid originally from Kyrgyzstan. Eldar playing Fly Me To The Moon on youtube