Sunday, April 1, 2012

Speak Low

My approach to learning jazz piano has been to continually try new songs that I've always wanted to learn, new ideas,  different styles, etc.  Before I'm finished with the experience, I'll record the song for posterity and move on.  I virtually never revisit a song I've spent time on.  There are too many other songs to learn!  

The reality is that I'm never going to be playing any type of live music, so developing a "set" of tunes to play or the techniques to quickly play any song in any key on a moment's notice has always seemed to be one of those profound wastes of time that would make me quit playing.   That is a lot of work for something that I'll never use.

But every once in a blue moon,  the occasion will present itself where I might be asked to play someone's piano.  And you know what - there is not a single song that I can just sit down and play.  Not.  One.  Single. Song.  Not even Happy Birthday.  Even if I had the music to a song I know, it would take me at least 20 minutes to practice it before I could get through it I'll bet.  Best case. So I've decided that I need to pick one song that can be the song that I can just sit down and play.  

But how to choose such a song?  Here were my criteria:

1)  It had to be easy.  Especially the melody.  Lots of chords and a complicated melody are not going to make for easy remembering
2)  It can't be TOO identifiable.  If I picked a melody as familiar as say "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", every six-year-old and above would know that I was making a massive number of mistakes.
3)  I should be able to throw everything but the kitchen sink at it.  As I get better,  I should be able to do it slow, fast, swing, latin,  bass lines, whatever I've learned
4)  If there is another musician present, they would probably know this song too.

I cranked the songs that I like through this algorithm, and the one that spit out was Speak Low  by Kurt Weill.
In the inaugural sit-down with Speak Low for this blog post,  we start out with a rubato verse,  then an improv verse mostly characterized by root-up-to-9th voicings,  then some walking bass with the melody followed by a final verse with a quote of Gentle Rain by Louis Bonfa.   Oh yes,  and plenty of banging refrigerator noises at the very end.

There are plenty of mistakes in this,  but that is what you should expect if I play this at your house :-)   I'm  REALLY hoping that I can commit this to memory and continue to play it and add new learning to it.  I also now have this index card in my wallet.

I have a ridiculous number takes on this song.  I have versions by Andy Bey, Bill Evans, Brian Bromberg, Donald Vega, Eddie Higgins, Ella/Joe Pass and Hank Jones.  I just love the Andy Bey vocal version and tried to steal a couple of simplified lines from him.

"Speak Low" (1943) is a popular song composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Ogden Nash. It was introduced by Mary Martin and Kenny Baker in the Broadway musical One Touch of Venus (1943).

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Ken!

    You did it!
    Excellent contrast of texture going from the rubato into into the a tempo section. This transition is EXCELLENT!

    Now you can find as many pianos/keyboards as possible to play Speak Low "live" and you'll be REALLY READY for the comment, "Ken, you play the piano, why don't you sit down and play something?"