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.



  1. Ken,

    This is absolutely terrific! The vibes/electric piano sound sets a truly haunting atmosphere. The ensemble sounds excellent. Sax solo is definitely an added bonus.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Dear Mr. Taylor...

    Following the link on the PG Music forum page, I just finished listening to "October's Lament" and more of your music from your blog.

    I really, really like listening to minor-themed jazz works, so I enjoyed "October's Lament" very much. The changes definitely conjured up a mystic mood. Had me envisioning black cats creeping in and out of pools of misted streetlights as they crossed deserted boulevards under a heavy fog way past midnight. Whew! How's that for evocative imagery, eh?

    Also, "Rainbow Connection" was just a delight. I love, love, love jazz in 3/4 time. It captures the playful essence of jazz music. But what surprised most me pleasantly was the bell tree accents and the little banjo riff you laid in there. That's a sure sign someone was having fun writing that piece!

    Lastly, you know you swung the...hallelujah out of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I've never heard that carol performed as jazz. Cool, man, real cool!

    How come you waited until after you turned fifty to study jazz?



  3. Hi Loren,

    Thank you so much for the kind words. You really made my day!

    The piano just started calling my name and I decided that I wasn't too old to start learning to play it.

    I see you found this blog from the PG Music forum. Are you putting together some jazz with PG Music accompaniment too?