Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Time Is Here

Christmas Time Is Here  is one of the favorite holiday songs for piano players.  There are many great Holiday tunes that make for good jazz covers,  but Christmas Time Is Here has got to be the only famous Christmas song that was actually written and made famous as a piano jazz trio recording.     Hearing Vince Guaraldi play this is still awe inspiring.  In particular, whatever it is that he is doing on the intro and ending to make that trill sound is spectacular.  You've got to love it! 

A Charlie Brown Christmas is an album by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, released in 1965 as the soundtrack to the CBS Christmas television special of the same name. It is among the most popular Christmas music albums of all time. There was also a book-and-record set featuring music, dialogue and stills from the Christmas special released in 1977 on a 33 RPM vinyl record by CBS Records.  Christmas Time Is Here was released as a track on this album.

The song also brings back lots of personal memories for me, as I'm sure it does for everyone of a certain age in the US (among those who celebrate Christmas).  Watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special,  listening to Vince Guaraldi, and then coming down the stairs on Christmas morning - these are indelible memories....

Here is a picture of my sisters and me coming down the stairs expectantly on Christmas morning.

Updated to a recent century,  here were my kids performing the same routine in 2003.

Which also happened to be the same Christmas that a piano first came into our home.....

Vince Guaraldi

Geek Alert

This is a difficult song for crafting a decent solo.  It is a jazz waltz that has long duration altered (b5) chords that seem to call for whole tone scales in the improvisation. This is OK,  but I found it difficult to make the solo sound like a good alternate melodic line rather than just some notes.  I'm not sure that my guitar soloist came up with the best linear solo on this material either :-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Waltz For Debby

One of my all time favorite jazz piano songs is "Waltz for Debby" by Bill Evans.  It was first recorded on Evans's 1956 album New Jazz Conceptions and, perhaps more famously, on his 1961 live album Waltz For Debby. It has been recorded by many artists, both as an instrumental and as a vocal piece. The song's lyrics were written by Gene Lees. "Debby" in the song title refers to Evans' niece, Debby Evans. This song, and the Evan's trio performance of it has always defined for me the essence of what it means for a piano trio to swing hard - real hard.

But done as a ballad, it is also a beautiful tune.  The duet that Evans and Tony Bennett perform is magical.  It was listening to this duet that I first became familar with the lyrics.   I misunderstood one of the lyrics (purposefully?) for years.  The second stanza starts:  "Lives my favorite girl".  I always thought that Tony was saying "Liv's my favorite girl".  I figured that he was personalizing the song in some way.  Since my daughter's name is Liv,  the lyrics had that extra personal meaning to me.  You know what?  I'm keeping the lyrics the way that my mind heard them!

In her own sweet world
Populated by dolls and clowns
and a prince and a big purple bear.

Liv's my favorite girl,
unaware of the worried frowns
that we weary grown ups all wear.

In the sun she dances to silent music,
songs that are spun of gold
somewhere in her own little head.

One day all too soon
she'll grow up and she'll leave her dolls
and her prince and her silly old bear.

When she goes they will cry
as she whispers "Good-bye."
They will miss her I fear
but then so will I.

Geek Alert

This is quite a difficult song to play and to make good arrangement for as an amateur.  It starts out as a waltz in 3/4 time, but then turns into a 4/4 swing tempo.  During the waltz section, you are playing the "slash" chords and several different voicings.  I am also making use of George Shearing chords, which are bracketed by an octave and have the chord tensions in the middle.  During the 4/4 swing section there are different chords which are centered around the cycle of fifths.  I'm making some substitutions so that I can make the chord shells go down chromatically in most cases.  This way I can keep up at the fast speeds while trying to solo. 

I wanted to put another soloist in here, but after adding an intro, and elongating the ending, there just wasn't enough time where it wouldn't be obnoxious.  Next time....