Showing posts with label Piano Playing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Piano Playing. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

If Only In My Dreams


And so the classic song "I'll Be Home For Christmas" ends with that memorable line “if only in my dreams.”

And that is sort of the way I feel at this stage of my life.  Christmases are now dreams of the past, anticipating the holiday as a child and then the pleasures Ann and I had in creating memorable holiday moments for our children as they grew up.  The classic song itself is particularly evocative of the distant past popularized by Bing Crosby and so many others, first recorded at the peak of WW II. 

Undoubtedly it was played frequently by my mother and my grandparents with whom we lived while my father was in Germany at the conclusion of the War, wanting to get home, but he was part of the occupying force and didn’t make it home until right after Christmas 1945.  "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is probably implanted in the recesses in my mind as every time I hear it I feel a sudden melancholy. 

When my father came home he brought a wooden replica of the Jeep he drove in Germany for me.  I don’t remember his return, or getting the Jeep, but somehow that 70 year old Jeep has accompanied me to wherever I lived.  Sometimes when I look at it, I can hear "I'll Be Home For Christmas."


In some past blog entries I’ve posted videos of other Christmas songs I like to play, in particular the following:  “It's Love -- It's Christmas,”  a seldom performed Christmas song, written by none other than the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. And, then, “Christmas Time Is Here” is by Vince Guaraldi, a great jazz musician too but his music will always be associated with the Peanuts Christmas specials.
Finally, there is “Christmas Lullaby,” probably the most unknown Christmas song. It was written for Cary Grant by none other than Peggy Lee (Lyrics) and Cy Coleman (Music). It is the simplest of tunes and lyrics but therein is its beauty.

So, on the eve of this Christmas I post my piano rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with fond memories of my Dad and Christmases past.




"I'll Be Home For Christmas"

I'll be home for Christmas;
You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mis-tle-toe
And presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

I'll be home for Christmas;
You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mis-tle-toe
And presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Musical Notations


My former self speaks to me…….

It sometimes laments not committing more effort into improving my piano skills over the years.  Not that I am gifted, but I am teachable.  Not that I even had the time to pursue more intense lessons being involved my entire adult life in a publishing career that was all consuming.  But I still have regrets about not developing what talent I do have into a higher degree of proficiency at the piano.

I am most envious of those gifted musicians, who can hear a song and then play it, improvise it, embellish it, all without reading a musical score.  It is an extraordinary gift and most of the prominent musicians have that ability. 

Irving Berlin’s story is intriguing.  He couldn’t write or read music.  He never had a lesson although Victor Herbert briefly instructed Berlin, who was already established as a major composer of popular songs.  In fact, he abandoned the effort knowing he didn’t really need those lessons to further his career.

As a youngster Berlin taught himself to play the tunes he heard in his head using the F# scale, thus playing mostly on the black keys.  He found it simpler to just learn them to express his musical ideas (why bother with the white keys : - ).  Remarkable.  As any musician will tell you, it’s a heck of lot easier to compose and play in C Major. 

As he never studied music, and wasn’t a great pianist, he couldn’t transpose.  Most gifted musicians can transpose to another key “on the fly.”  I can’t.  I have to work it out.  Berlin couldn’t so when he wanted to change keys in a song he relied on a mechanical instrument that changed keys for him.  He would write that section of the song in F# and the mechanical transposer changed it to whatever key he wanted.  He also asked musicians to transcribe his music.

Even professional musicians are confounded by Berlin’s abilities and lack of ability.  But the point is he could play without music, music he couldn’t read.  In that regard, he played strictly by ear.

Classical performance completely relies on the ability to read musical notation.  Of course there is still room for a performer’s interpretation of the composer’s score.  Many concert performances by pianists, with or without the orchestra will be performed without the pianist consulting the musical notation, or just having it there for a passing glance to be in synch with the orchestra.  These are remarkable pianists being able to internally assimilate large and complicated works.  It’s really the ability to “see” the score or to sight-read “silently.”  They simply hear it in their heads.

There are also jazz pianists who can not only play by ear, but have been trained classically, and can thus sight read such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson.  They were double threats at the keyboard, using their incredible knowledge of musical theory, voicing, and virtuoso technical training to interpret a song.  Both Evans and Peterson were comfortable playing solo or with a jazz group, without having to read music for any performance.  To them, playing was like speaking a language they were born with and then studied to know the entire vocabulary and usage.  A gift few have.

Hearing it in one’s head is the most salient characteristic of a jazz performer, particularly one performing in a “jazz jam” with other jazz performers without any rehearsal, maybe never having played with the other.  Jazz performers who are playing a piece they are not familiar with use a lead sheet and/or a chord chart.  Lead sheets consist of the melody line in the treble clef and the accompanying chord for the bass and for “filling in.”  I can read a lead sheet or “fake book” music, they’re usually synonymous. 

I have “fake books” for most of the Great American Songbook, a favorite repository from which jazz artists take their pieces.  But just having the melody line and the chords does not make one “jazz jam worthy.”  Jazz artists can take a chord chart which corresponds to the lead sheet and improvise using the song structure, usually returning to the melody itself at the end of the jam. 

In order to do so, the jazz artist must be able to follow the melody in his or her head, as well as follow the rhythm.  Jazz jam artists “hand off” solos to one another.  The music can become very abstract, but all participants in a jam are speaking the same language.

I have put to rest the fantasy of jamming, although I could do some.  It would just be too anxiety producing for me.  I now accept the fact that I’m an inveterate soloist; just enjoy playing as I do, not at a professional level, but simply for the joy of revisiting the classics of the Great American songbook and play them for myself or for others as part of a structured program.  My playing adheres mostly to the melody, improvising mostly for the bass based on the chords. 

I started this entry about my distant self talking to me in the present.  Rick Moore, the very gifted jazz keyboardist who is the founder of the Jupiter Jazz Society (an “organization committed to presenting ’live’ improvised music and promoting Jazz education throughout the Palm Beaches”), wrote a piece he calls “Song for Cherie,”  a song for his wife.  She is really the organizer of the Jupiter Jazz Society.  I was struck by the piece as it reminded me in some ways of Bill Evans’ original work, my favorite jazz artist.  Rick’s work has clockwork simplicity to it, and although a waltz (Evans wrote many), a beautiful jazz feel to it, particularly the B section.

I asked him whether he would share the lead sheet with me which he was kind enough to do, so I could have the enjoyment of playing it.  You can hear the composer himself play the piece at this link. 

He’s composed many pieces over the years and will be issuing a CD of them in the future.  It is something to look forward to.

It made me think of my nascent songwriting efforts from decades before.  They are mostly uncompleted pieces, simply because I’ve never had any training either in theory or in composition.  Also, there was the time factor.

One of my finished pieces was called Annie’s Waltz.  Ironically, both Rick and I wrote songs to the women in our lives in 3 / 4 time.  I wrote a brief blog entry about my piece ten years ago but Google Pages pulled the link to my recorded version.  That entry makes reference to it being written the year we were married, 1970.  But I’ve found the original and it was written in Jan. 1969, just about the time we started dating seriously.  In a few months, that piece will be 50 years old.  50 years!!!  Here is a photo of what I wrote, warts and all given the passage of time and the worn edges of the music.  It’s a simple piece, but heartfelt for this mere amateur.

As I’ve had difficulty posting what I recorded, I have simply posted a You Tube version.  I’ve learned to accept less than perfection with my little digital camera and even reluctantly and nostalgically to accept the fact that I’m a soloist, not destined to be a jazz performer and I’m ok with that.  I just enjoy playing.  All the videos I’ve posted can be found here.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

I Didn’t Know About You



The longer I live the more I’m astounded by the beautiful music of the Great American Songbook.  You think you’ve heard all those classic songs, ones which will endure and transcend what passes as popular music today, and suddenly you hear a “new” one (at least to me), either at a jazz jam or even on the old fashioned radio. 

One would think radio is a thing of the past, all the FM stations mostly devoted to contemporary “music” until Legends Radio 100.3 FM was founded in the Palm Beaches by professional broadcaster Dick Robinson, who is also the founder of the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook.  Even though local, it’s available world-wide at LegendsRadio.com.

I remember pulling out of our driveway one day, listening to 100.3 and hearing I Didn’t Know About You.  I said to Ann that song sounds like one by Duke Ellington.  His In a Sentimental Mood is one of my favorites. I made a mental note of the song and looked it up in one of my Jazz fake books when we returned home and sure enough, it’s by Duke Ellington, with beautiful lyrics written by Bob Russell. 

The version we heard on the radio was performed by one of a jazz favorites, Jane Monheit who we saw a couple of years ago at the Colony on Palm Beach.


I’ve incorporated I Didn’t Know About You in my own piano repertoire, and since I haven’t posted anything on YouTube in some time, I offer it here, so there is some documentation of my love of this music.  It is with profound gratitude to the great musical artists who created this body of music, loosely referred to as The Great American Songbook.  It enriches our lives. May it endure!

Monday, July 3, 2017

I Could Have Told You



One of the great joys of music is meeting different musicians and then hearing them play or sing pieces I’m not familiar with.  Wikipedia says The Great American Songbook, also known as 'American Standards', is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century.  That’s enormous territory and although I’ve been playing songs from that genre for more than fifty years, I still come across new ones (to me).  Most are fun to play and some are very moving.  Such is the case with the song “I Could Have Told You” The haunting melody was written by the great James Van Heusen, a friend of Sinatra’s, and the melancholic lyrics were penned by the prolific lyricist Carl Sigman. 

The  recording became a Frank Sinatra “signature song.” The Nelson Riddle arrangement was recorded as a single on December 9, 1953 just days after Sinatra reportedly attempted suicide over his broken marriage to Ava Gardner.  No wonder it is so mournful and heartfelt and supposedly he never performed it in his endless appearances on stage. Obviously, the song conjured painful memories. It later appeared on his 1959 compilation album Look to Your Heart and another one that same year, made up of mostly sorrowful songs, No One Cares.   

It was also recorded by Bob Dylan (surprisingly to me) so if one likes his voice and style you can also find it on YouTube.  It can’t compare to Sinatra’s smooth tonality and phrasing. 

Although I probably heard the song in my years of listening to Sinatra, I didn’t have the sheet music or take note of it.  I was “introduced” to it by a singer we came across in our many visits to the Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter.  The Jupiter Jazz Society headed up by Rich and Cherie Moore has a Jazz Jam there on Sunday nights.  Rich is a very talented pianist and can play almost any style. We’re supporters of the Society and try not to miss a performance.  We learned about the Society and Double Roads from our good friend (and my bass accompanist from time to time) David Einhorn who occasionally plays there.   So one connection leads to another in the small music world and there we saw a performance by an upcoming interpreter of the Great American Songbook, Lisa Remick.

A prediction: we’ll hear a lot more from her in the future.  She’s a perfectionist, the kind of singer we really appreciate, trying to go to the heart of a song, and singing it while conveying the emotional foundation of the lyrics and the melody.  Such is her interpretation of “I Could Have Told You” on her CD, Close Enough for Love.   

Thus, I was captivated by that song on her CD. I found a lead sheet for the piano and after playing it over and over again for myself, decided to record it and upload it to YouTube trying to allow the melody to speak for itself, with my usual disclaimer that it was recorded under less than ideal conditions in my living room and using a digital camera.  I played it just one time through and one can follow the lyrics which are below. It’s a gem of a song.

 
I could have told you
She'd hurt you
She'd love you a while
Then desert you
If only you'd asked
I could have told you so
I could have saved you
Some crying
Yes, I could have told you she's lying
But you were in love
And didn't want to know
I hear her now
As I toss and turn and try to sleep
I hear her now
Making promises she'll never keep
And soon, it's over and done with
She'll find someone new to have fun with
Through all of my tears
I could have told you so