Monthly Archives: February 2011

Standard Repertoire

Over the past six months I have been engaged with studying and performing the music of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. My studies have renewed my longtime interest in the canon of great American standards. I have decided to write a little bit about a few of the songs that I have been exploring most recently.

These songs (and more) will be performed by my Quintet this Sunday February 27th at the Actual Cafe. For more info go here.

My friend Jesse Rimler of Kapowski recently turned me on to the book American Popular Song by Alec Wilder. I don’t know how I’ve gone so long without reading this book. It’s an amazing resource for anyone interested in songs from the first half of the 20th century.

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Laura (1945)

Composed by David Raskin for the film of the same title. The movie, directed by Otto Preminger, is classic noir and totally worth watching.

The melody is hauntingly beautiful and complex, using lots of rich upper chord tones in the first 8 bars. According to Alec Wilder, before the lyrics had been added the publishers of the song unanimously agreed that such a complex melody could not be published. It wasn’t until they heard Johnny Mercer’s beautiful lyrics that they changed their mind. Interestingly Preminger has apparently gone on record saying he dislikes Mercer’s lyrics, which don’t have any strict correlation with the film itself.

I first learned the song out of a fake book when I was in junior high. My inspiration to play the tune came from a girl I had a huge crush on named Laura. Check out Ella Fitzgerald’s version.

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My Shining Hour (1943)

Composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer for the Fred Astaire film “The Sky’s the Limit.” Alec Wilder describes the song as representing “…sexless innocence and distilled simplicity.” Your life will not be complete until you’ve seen this clip from the movie. The magic of neon lights! The harmony around 0:35″ gives me goosebumps every time.

Guitarist John Klopotowski wrote a great line on this tune entitled “A Worthwhile Hour.” It’s our newest addition to the Quintet repertoire.

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I’ll Remember April (1941)

Composed by Gene de Paul, the author of Star Eyes and You Don’t Know What Love Is. The song was originally sung by Dick Foran in the Abbot & Costello film “Ride ‘Em Cowboy.” I haven’t seen this film, but apparently it features the screen debut of Ella Fitzgerald.

The tune is unique in virtually every respect: the harmony rotates around G Major, modulating to the flat mediant major (Bb) and submediant major (E) during the bridge. This is especially wild in relation to the harmonic stasis of the A sections which start with an 8 bar pedal over G (4 bars of G Major, 4 bars of G minor). Alec Wilder considers the form to be A-B-C-D-A-B, though I would reduce that simply to A-B-A (I can’t think of another widely played standard with this same structure). What really seals the deal is the beautiful step-wise melody in the first 8 bars.

Lennie Tristano used the harmony as the basis for one of his most intricate lines entitled “April.” I’m particularly fond of this version from the complete Half Note recordings of Lee & Warne. Lee’s opening phrases are so good.

Theo Padouvas and I spent the last couple weeks learning this line by ear off the record. We’re totally pumped to perform it for the first time this Sunday.

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New Monthly Jazz Series in North Oakland!

This is an especially exciting month because I have been given the opportunity to begin booking a monthly jazz series at the Actual Cafe. The first event will take place Sunday February 27th from 5-7:30pm. Check out the flier for details.

The premise of this series is to provide an all-ages music venue that is collectively produced and supported by the local Bay Area jazz community. My hope is to provide a much needed opportunity for young student musicians to experience and become a more active part of the local scene.

HOWEVER, the number of people that attend the first show will entirely determine whether this series exists at all. If (and only if) the first show goes well then the cafe will commit to a series most likely taking place on the 3rd Sunday of each month from 7-10pm.

SO, please mark your calendars, spread the word, and help us get this series off the ground!

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Below is a more detailed description of my two primary goals for the series if it continues:

1) To create a situation where a community of local creative musicians (i.e you) makes a commitment to attend and support this series every month. Specifically I intend to have each month’s event curated by a different person. That person will be responsible for planning an entire evening of music however they see fit. As you probably know this is a model in use by The Stone in NYC, as well as a highly successful series in Seattle: http://racersessions.com/ (the racer sessions received a big write up in the New York Times last summer, and recordings from each week are now being officially archived at the University of Washington). I think the curator structure is an effective way to broaden the scope of activities and make this series more relevant for more people.

I should say that I do not by any means wish for this series to strictly adhere to presenting “jazz” performances. This is merely a starting point as a way to sell the series to the management and general public. My impression is that as long as there is an established audience, it will be fairly easy to transition to more diverse programming.

2) To create an all-ages music series that seeks to connect with and involve high school/college age musicians. I rarely perform in venues that are accessible for anyone under 21. This is problematic because there are a lot of talented young people who could benefit from being exposed to music happening in the area. It would also be great if young musicians could have the opportunity to perform for an audience of older musicians. For those of you that are teachers, and are connected with the schools; you would be an excellent resource for achieving this goal.

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Please leave comments and/or feel free to contact me directly if you are interested in helping. As always, thanks for reading!

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