This is a great time to study music. Man, Brian came over the other day, and we just were like grooving out on a few standards, and he called Autumn in New York, the great Vernon Duke ballad.
Ouch, (sorry Bri!) I hacked my way through that one out of the real book, but damn, that’s a hard tune, and I guess I don’t really know it! I think it’s a weird tune harmonically, although the hook - you know it, it’s the lyric of the title - is so catchy, like a perfect narrative ear worm, but then old Vern modulates it quite weirdly in just the last, like, twelve bars.
I tried to play the melody and chords on the piano - and I’ll get it eventually, but the thing that’s great these days is that I was like, man, I know I’ve heard Ella singing this song before, so I went on my streaming service* and bam! there was a version with her singing it with Louis Armstrong. And Franks version, and perhaps the most appropriate voice for those minor key modulations - Billy Holiday. I absolutely love anything Ella sings, but this song - I’m understanding it better from Billy . . . the modulations are quite melancholy in how they suddenly go askew. Anyway, it’s amazing; there’s a veritable history of jazz at our fingertips.
I think this is the song that exemplifies why you should know the lyric, even if you’re just using it as a vehicle for improvisation. Ballads give us an opportunity to improvise out from the melody, rather than the usual bebop way - in from the chords (like when we’re improvising a melody inside of the harmony.) Ballads let us make a harmony out from the melody. Ella does this with masterful ghost notes and flourishes, while Billy somehow uses her tone and vibrato, and even the emotional content of the lyric, to add this richness.
Anyhow, if you get fascinated by a song take advantage of the internet age and check out all the different versions that are available . . . Oh, there’s Mel Torme with the whole introductory “Verse”, cool!
Last week the Jam of the Week was on Joao Gilberto who passed away the week prior.
We listened to Getz/Gilberto at the Album Coffee Donut Church. Man, it’s a cool vibe he brought to the great American art form, which especially for this Brazilian icon, must include South America!
His wikipedia is a good read and again, at our fingertips - this fascinating history. I guess he invented Bossa Nova!
Anyhow on JOTW everybody is doing Girl From Impanima, Desifinado - which is totally cool - he recorded these Jobim songs - had hits with them, but it took me a minute to find songs he actually composed. The most popular was Bim-Bom, you probably heard the Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 version, too cool. I listened down to ‘the Complete Joao Gilberto Songbook’ an album by Koorax & Moreira - pretty sweet, lots of Portuguese lyrics and that vibe, man I just want to grab a pina colada and head to the beach.
This music of course deserves a deep study, but sometimes I just like to listen in a non-technical way, like a civilian. And this music is great to to just float away to - even though sometimes I’m like “hey what’s that chord?” or “What is the subtle rhythmic detail that makes that groove feel so round?” But it’s amazing how much you can let this information enter you subconsciously, and if you have the primary information and technique it can come back out when you’re playing well, in one of those great moments we all live for when you’re like “I didn’t even know I could play that!”
This Saturday night, I’ll be playing with the Brian Myers Quartet at the Living Room Theater here. I think we’ll start a bit after eight and go ’till midnight. Check out this special projects release if you want to hear what we sound like. It’s a guitar quartet, with Brian’s big tenor sound, and we play standards, new and old, classic post bop, even some some originals. Lot’s to chew on, and we get deep into it, Brian will pull out his flute, clarinet and bass clarinet too, and it’s likely there will be a ‘free’ piece or two.
I’m really looking forward to it. I always have a great time playing with these guys, they’re good listeners and have a true passion for the form. Playing this music reinvigorates the soul, and the improvisation can feel and draw from the audience - it needs to be played live, so when you come out and listen, y’all are part of the groove too.
So this week I’ll be preparing by reviewing the masters and their classics, busting out some rudiments and doing Qigong to relax the mind and let the creativity flow. New information. at this point, for me, won’t be that helpful for the gig, because it takes a while for this learning to make it’s way from cognition to the fingers. Jazz needs to be learned to a reflexive level, and then ‘forgotten’ because if you’re thinking technically, it makes it difficult to listen and feel the music.
Anyhow - keep creating, as artists, it is our only recourse.
Portland, Waiting for the sun.
*Alas, streaming and the ubiquity of recordings are great for the student - for the creators, well, it has never been a great system, and somehow it’s being re-arranged even less fairly. The issues and arguments around creative property are manyfold, and form a good argument for a Basic Minimum Income. A lot of musicians I know deserve support that is not provided by the brutal capitalism we have to live under. Next post we’ll address the horrific politics that keeps impinging on my creative mind.