Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Child Is Born

I usually work on one new Christmas jazz number when the season rolls around.  This year I has planned on doing Grownup Christmas List.  I have Michael Buble's arrangement with all of the vocal modulations in it,   and I was reworking it around to be an instrumental number.   It was starting to sound  just OK.

Then recently on the Pianoworld forum where many of us amateurs  will post recordings in a monthly Piano Bar for fun,  one of my online friends posted a nice track of A Child Is Born.

A Child is Born was written in 1969 by the jazz trumpeter Thad Jones and Alec Wilder.   It was famously first performed by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis.  It seems that everyone familiar with jazz has heard of this song but me!   It is a standard that is in the Real Book,  and there are countless recorded versions of it by any great master that you could mention.   I'm not sure that it is really a Christmas song,  but it has become one.   The title and the Christmas Waltz feel to it  make it truly seem like a Holiday jazz tune.

Well,  I quickly became obsessed,  enamored, and entranced by the song.    Grownup Christmas List was out the window  for this year,  and started working on this with a passion.  There were a couple of elements that I wanted to incorporate in A Child Is Born  :

-  I wanted to use my guitar  as a horn.  I really liked the simple elegance of Thad Jones coming in to play the melody on trumpet after the piano takes the first verse.  I cant play the trumpet,  but the guitar can be used in a similar fashion  if you just play the lines and avoid chords.

- The D7+ harmonies with the specific melody notes seemed to be calling out for the blues,  so I wanted to have C bluesy licks in there

-   I wanted to have the song begin similarly to the Thad Jones version where the piano starts solo,  then the bass comes in with drum embellishments,  and finally the drummer comes in tempo.

When I made a first test recording of the elements put together,  it occurred to me that the way I was playing it would sound much better on electric piano than acoustic.  I could just hear it with all of that extra sustain and then the bluesy licks that sound so unique on a fender rhodes.

This final version has electric piano, guitar played as a horn coming in twice,  and the drum embellishments that I was looking for.

Interesting Story:  My piano teacher was telling me the story of seeing the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra live at the Village Vanguard many years ago.   This was a very large band,  maybe eighteen pieces.  When it was time for them to start their set,  there were only about eight  players there!  Thad Jones started anyway, and players started to dribble in.  By the time the piece concluded,  they were all there for the big final note!  How cool is that....

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thad Jones And Mel Lewis


  1. Ken,
    You've done it again.
    Totally evolved your approach to the song in less than 2 days.
    It REALLY woks. Fender Rhodes is terrific and a real surprise.
    Keep going!

  2. I love playing jazzy versions of Christmas songs. Just add that little dissonance and you are good.