Monday, April 27, 2015

Alice In Wonderland - Five Years Later

This is one of my all-time favorite jazz tunes, and hearing Bill Evans play this was definitely one of the songs that influenced me to try to pick up piano at such an advanced age.  I last attempted Alice in Wonderland back in 2010. The attempt in 2010 was actually my second attempt.  I believe that this was the first song that I asked my piano teacher Ed to teach me - before  I even knew the basic jazz chords on piano!

Here is the link to the second attempt from 2010.

Alice in Wonderland is the theme song composed by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the Walt Disney 1951 animated film Alice in Wonderland. The song plays during the opening and end credits.
It has become a jazz standard that has been performed by Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and others. In his book The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia cites "Alice in Wonderland" as one of Evans's most beautiful performances, likening its "pristine beauty" to his "Waltz for Debby". Evans recorded it at the Village Vanguard which featured on his 1961 album Sunday at the Village Vanguard

There are a number of new techniques in this 2015 run at Alice.  As with the 2010 version,  I like some of the sound that Ben Paterson gets by using altered Ab chords over the ii-V's in C.   I also like the way that he uses modern drum  sounds  over the waltz mode.   I tried to use  both of those ideas here.   I'm also applying what are known as Red Garland block chords  to the Paterson harmonic idea. Red Garland block chords are RH octaves  with perfect fifths in between.

You should be able to hear liberal usage of Shearing chords  in the first and last verse.  This is where the  LH doubles the highest RH notes.  These are also known as "close position chords".   You will also hear various other harmonic substitutions throughout the song.

Fans of the incredible Bill Evans rendition of Alice are blown away by what he does on his second take at the Village Vanguard session recordings from 1961.    On this take (not on the first one),  he plays a flurry of high-speed four-note clusters where the improvised melody  is the highest note of the cluster,  and the rest flow down from there.  He plays it so crisply in time that it sounds like the height of jazz piano playing.  I attempt to throw some of the Evans clusters in  here too.

I hope you enjoy this 2015 upgrade! link to Alice in Wonderland

Bill Evans

Ben Paterson

I also used a new recording technique for this song.   My recording method has always been to simply plop a little Zoom H2 recorder on the top of my upright piano  with the lid closed,  and press record.   That's it.   I'm sure this is an affront to anyone trying to make decent-sounding amateur piano recordings.   The H2 is nice  however,  because it will record  four channels  at the same time:  two stereo channels from the front mic,  and two channels from the mic back.  

For my most recent birthday, I received the  newer Zoom H4n  and a boom microphone stand.   The H4n has much more functionality than the H2,  and would allow me to connect in external microphones  and use those instead of the built-in mics that come with the unit.    The built-in mics  only record  one stereo channel,  so by themselves  they don't really sound as good as the H2  in my opinion.  

So  the experiment for Alice in Wonderland was to see if I could record with both devices simultaneously and mix them together.   In this way,  I be getting three stereo channels recorded with mics spaced apart over the open lid of the piano.  I also increased the recording audio quality to highest settings,  which results in the largest WAV files being produced.

Needless to say,  the mixing job took me at least twice as long as it normally does.   The resultant MP3 file is slightly larger too,  due to the recording quality.   I'm not sure that I like the result yet.   I think I need to experiment on a ballad that has more dynamic range to figure out the best way to do this - or if it is even a good idea in the first place. 

Zoom H4n

Zoom H2

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Ken.
    Your really keep outdoing yourself!
    The piano sound is prominent and the Band in a Box backing tracks sound very realistic in this context. As you mentioned, you may do more experimenting with recording devices, mikes and mixing.
    Playing is more lyrical than ever and CLEAN too.
    Keep up your terrific work.