Monday, July 20, 2015

This Masquerade

I'm continuing on this little theme of choosing numbers that were made famous as guitar numbers.  For my last post,  I covered Cavatina which was made famous as a classical guitar number.   For this entry,  I've created an arrangement of This Masquerade.

"This Masquerade" is a song written by Leon Russell. The song appeared on the B-side of the single for Russell's 1972 hit "Tight Rope" and on his Carney album. The song has also been recorded by many other artists including Helen Reddy, The Carpenters, Shirley Bassey and Willie Nelson.  

But it is most well known as the top-ten pop and R&B hit by the great jazz guitarist/vocalist George Benson.   Benson recorded this in 1976 for his Breezin' album.   He also won a well-deserved Grammy for Record of the year  with this song. 

Earlier in the summer,  my piano teacher Ed and I played this as a four-hands piano number  for his adult piano recital.  We've started a little tradition of picking an unexpected up-tempo number  to arrange as a duet to end the recital with.  We usually have a minuscule time budget,  so we'll settle on an arrangement  and try to run through it once or twice before the recital.   This year  I came to him  with This Masquerade  because I thought we could have some fun with it.    The arrangement we decided on was Latin,  going into a fast swing,  then back to Latin.  It was fun!

For my blog arrangement,  I went in a somewhat different direction.  Unfortunately,  since this is most often covered as a guitar number or as a vocal,  there are not many good examples of jazz piano covers to listen to.  I found versions by Bobby Durham, Johnny Varro, Patrick Peronne, and Arnie Abrams that were somewhat helpful. I'm playing this as a Latin bossa throughout,  but with some of the following features:  

-  fast bossa.  I'm playing this at 138bpm,  
 - bass solo.  I have a bass solo in the first A section of the 2nd improv verse
 - I have extra congas and a synth layer during my improv solo  to add some sound differentiation between the verses 
 - alternate the ii-V harmonies a minor third down,  then back while playing over the same Eb scale during the vamp parts seems to give a nice Latin sound.
 -  extended out the measures between verses (from 2 to 4)  to give more room at this speed 138BPM  for transitions between parts.    

George Benson

Leon Russell

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cavatina (From the Deer Hunter)

Cavatina is one of those magical instrumental pieces that can make a movie climb from just "very good" to "classic".   The emotional heft that this theme gave to "The Deer Hunter" made all the difference in the greatness of this picture  IMHO.

"Cavatina" is a 1970 classical guitar piece by Stanley Myers and best remembered as the theme from The Deer Hunter.

The piece had been recorded by classical guitarist John Williams, long before the film that made it famous. It had originally been written for piano but at Williams' invitation, Myers re-wrote it for guitar and expanded it. After this transformation, it was first used for the film The Walking Stick (1970). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded the song as "He Was Beautiful", accompanied by Williams.

When I was was playing guitar,  this was a number that I always wanted to get around to.   Unfortunately,  I never did.   I have now taken the opportunity to attempt a nice arrangement for piano.   Since Cavatina is most famous as an acoustic guitar piece,  it is not often covered as a piano song.    So there were not that many versions for me to listen to  for good ideas.  I really have enjoyed listening to the solo arrangement by Monty Alexander,   and the group arrangement by Kent Wehman.   Really nice jobs.

I think the trick with doing a jazz arrangement of this song is that you don't want to completely kill   the emotional qualities of the song.    I heard a couple of treatments  that made this sound like just any other jazz tune,  and I don't like that at all.

The song is in 3/4 time, and my arrangement is a jazz waltz.   The first intro verse is rubato.    There is no repeat of the A section, however.    Just one A and one B section are played.   I thought it would be a little too boring to repeat the A section in the intro. On Monty Alexander's solo effort,   he skips the repeat of the A section,  but actually plays the B section twice.   Very interesting.

I then have the trio come in for a full second verse,   then repeat the A melody section twice before ending.    It is a pretty short song overall.

I try to use some jazz-ier substitutions without hurting the beautiful character of the song.

- E7#9  instead of Em7 when it follows the Cmaj7
- C7b9  instead of just C7 when it is in a ii-V going to Fmaj7
- In the B section,  instead of the plain Am7-D7 Gmaj7 change,  I use Am7/Cm7/F7/Gmaj7
- tritone substitution of Db7 for the G7
- I have an ending that uses a Fm7/Bb7/C69/Ab13 set of changes

There are a couple of other ones in there too.

The Deer Hunter

John Williams

Monty Alexander

Kent Wehman