Showing posts with label Oscar Peterson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oscar Peterson. Show all posts

Friday, May 3, 2013

Music Makes Us

David Byrne made a profound observation in his recently published How Music Works: "We don't make music; it makes us."  So naturally we are partially defined by the music we listen to. For myself, it is the Great American Songbook, music we sometimes refer to as "The Standards," many coming from the theatre and films or just pieces performed by some of our favorite recording artists.

I've made two CDs in the past several years and for the complete list of the songs see the end of this entry on the Great American Songbook.

Since I made those CDs I've taken some piano lessons, pretty much my first block of lessons since grade school years. Those lessons were abruptly brought to an end by my open heart surgery and although I would have liked to resume them, it is a huge commitment of time. Sigh, if I was only younger! Still, the interim lessons have helped my skills, and I decided to test them with a new CD, and selected some more challenging pieces, diverse ones, from "The Songbook." Appropriately, this album is named Music Makes Us.

Some of the songs in this album are close to my heart for mostly idiosyncratic reasons, which I will explain. But first here is the complete list:

My Man's Gone Now, Bess You Is My Woman Now,  I Loves You Porgy (from Porgy and Bess, music by George Gershwin);  The Rainbow Connection (from the Muppet Movie by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher); Never Never Land (from Peter Pan, music by Jule Styne); Alice in Wonderland (from the Disney animated film, music by Sammy Fain); Over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz, music by Harold Arlen); Johanna, Pretty Women (from Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim); No One is Alone (from Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim), Till There Was You (from The Music Man by Meredith Willson); Getting Tall (from Nine by Maury Yeston); Why God Why (from Miss Saigon music by Claude-Michel Schönberg); If We Only Have Love (from Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris by Jacques Brel); It's Love - It's Christmas, Letter to Evan (by Bill Evans); Seems Like Old Times (by Carmen Lombardo); Laura (by David Raksin); Here's to My Lady (by Rube Bloom; lyrics by Johnny Mercer); Two Sleepy People (by Hoagy Carmichael; lyrics by Frank Loesser); What is There to Say (by Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg); I See Your Face Before Me (by Arthur Schwartz; lyrics by Howard Dietz); Time To Say Goodbye (or "Con te partirò" by Francesco Sartori)

The first three are from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin. There are many other Gershwin pieces I love to play but Porgy and Bess stands alone as a folk opera.  What can one say about such a consummate musical genius other than he was a prodigy who died too early but nonetheless flourished in all musical genres, from popular songs, to Broadway, to opera, to the concert halls.

Then I play four songs that are whimsically fairy-tale focused -- think rainbows and wonderlands.

From there, I move towards Broadway, the first three pieces by the reigning king of the Broadway Musical, Stephen Sondheim, all favorites of mine, two from Sweeney Todd and the breathtakingly haunting No One is Alone from Into the Woods.

A few months ago we saw an inspired revival of The Music Man at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. I had forgotten that the beautiful ballad Till There Was You was from that show, and I couldn't get it out of my head until I decided to include it here.  We've haven't seen Nine, based on Federico Fellini's film 8½, but I found Getting Tall in my Broadway Fake Book and found myself playing it over and over again.  Very poignant and so included here.  On the other hand, we saw Miss Saigon in London, and thought Why God Why was a show stopper -- certainly as moving as some of Claude-Michel Schönberg's other pieces in his more famous Les Misérables.

That section concludes with If We Only Have Love from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris which is the first Broadway (actually off Broadway) show that Ann and I saw together when we were first dating -- in 1969. As such, it has special meaning to me. That song is the concluding piece from the revue.

A brief shift, then, to two pieces by Bill Evans, his one and only (to my knowledge) "Christmas piece" -- It's Love - It's Christmas -- and the other a musical "letter" to his only son, Evan, soon after he was born. If I could be reincarnated as a professional pianist, it would be in the Bill Evans mold, but he was truly one of a kind.

Then a group of songs, classic standards, such as Two Sleepy People by Hoagy Carmichael, which is my little hat tip to the late and great Oscar Peterson whose rendition of this song is the best I've ever heard.

Finally, and appropriately, I conclude with the now well known (thanks to Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli) Time to Say Goodbye, which is also the last piece I recorded at my session at Echo Beach Studios in Jupiter, Florida, a recording studio that is mostly frequented by professional musicians -- which brings up the difficulty of the process itself.

I had one three-hour block to get everything recorded, to get it right as best I could.  Three hours to make a 45 plus minute CD. Not only is it imposing, sitting alone in the recording studio before a concert grand piano with microphones all around, with the control room behind a glass in which my technician (the very competent and understanding Ray) is monitoring events, but it is exhausting as well. The fatigue factor took its toll, especially with the longer, more complicated pieces, when I had to flip pages of music quickly while also trying to avoid that sound being recorded.

The other difficult issue is simply being able to translate what I "feel" when playing the pieces and the recording studio is not the most conducive place for that. It becomes a technical performance which if one is a professional, perhaps that is good enough, but for me, I need that feeling factor. It is sort of like having to make love in a public place. Nonetheless, I had established big goals for this CD, worked towards them, and I'm happy I did it, even if those results may not be the same as in the privacy of my living room playing my own piano.

I'm not sure whether I'll do another CD again.  Between my three, I've recorded about 75 songs.  I'm somewhat content with that. The piano has been and will continue to be a big part of my life. I've been lucky enough to have a little talent, and a big love for the Great American Songbook genre, and the time to play for pure enjoyment.  But never say never again! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

PAC Politics

"Stay tuned, but now a word from the sponsor" --- the despicable political advertising condoned by the Supreme Court. The Founding Fathers obviously anticipated ungodly sums of money being raised by corporations and unions for political PACs so elections can be bought and sold by these "people" whose first amendment rights would otherwise be violated. Or at least I guess that is the Court's interpretation.

And to think we are just seeing the tip of the Super PAC iceberg in this Presidential election cycle. The Republican primaries are appalling enough (both in terms of content and political advertising). Just wait until the REAL election gets underway.

The American electorate is electronic media addicted; broadcast emails, streaming video, Tweets, YouTube, network and cable TV. Outside sleep and work, "video consumption" is the #1 activity, or, if written, preferably 140 characters or less please. Robocalls are part of the political media bombardment. Sound bites over substance.

When motivational research was being pioneered by the likes of Ernest Dichter and James Vicary in the 1950s and popularized by Vance Packard in his Hidden Persuaders, little did they know that some of those principles would become part of a giant advertising machine aimed at buying elections. Advertising 101: sell the emotion, not the pragmatic benefit of the product.

And, so in this political season, we're selling religion, and all the emotions that are attached to the same (and in a negative way, not the way it was used in WW II advertising to spur solidarity and sacrifice):

But the real selling job is just getting underway. Sell fear. Just wait until the Super P's roll out their shadowy images of their opponent bathed in a light to look like Jack the Ripper.

The firestorm unleashed by the misogynist "entertainer" Rush Limbaugh regarding Sandra Fluke's testimony to Congress fits the bill as well. Talk show radio is just another media circus of highly charged emotional invectives. This elaborate infomercial is then recycled on the Internet, passing for fact. No sense commenting on vile Limbaugh as the definitive word was posted by Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station in his recent The Absurdity of Rush Limbaugh. But while Limbaugh's blather has led to some lost advertisers (probably temporarily), the Gingrich "Winning our Future" Super PAC signed on for more advertising! Way to go to win our future!

It is no wonder that a society that consumes movies that are more computer animated than acted, and cannot live without 24/7 video is a perfect target for Super PAC persuasion. Just fork over the bucks and try to buy an election! Sanctioned by the Supreme Court, the same folks who "sponsored" the results of the 2000 presidential election.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Copeland Davis

Remember that name, Copeland Davis.

Earlier in the year I was inspired to write about the Florida Sunshine Pops orchestra. And, I’ve written before about jazz performers who are in a class by themselves, both those who are well known and those who work mostly in local venues, performing mainly for the love of the Great American Songbook.

The other night we attended the first of the Florida Sunshine Pops concerts for the season, which was a tribute to Richard Hayman and the Boston Pops. Hayman was the principal arranger for the Boston Pops for some 30 years, and today at the age of 89 is still active as the conductor of the Florida Sunshine Pops. Also, as one of the original members of the Harmonica Rascals he can still play a mean harmonica! His arrangements of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film scores are legendary.

This first concert of the season had a special guest performer, someone we’ve seen before, Copeland Davis, whose prodigious talents as a pianist inspired a standing ovation at the end of his first piece with the orchestra, Didn’t We? He brings a rare mix of gifts to the keyboard – first abounding warmth that shines through his presence on the stage, but, foremost, his ability to fuse blues, jazz, pop, and classical in one piece. I have seen some great jazz pianists and the only ones I remember having this ability are the late Oscar Peterson and Claude Bolling. At one point in his performance, in the middle of an arpeggio, Davis turned to the audience, slyly smiling, as if to say, “look, Ma, no hands!” I will go out on a limb and predict that Copeland Davis is destined to go way beyond the Florida market. Although his You Tube performances were not recorded under the best conditions, depriving him of the showcase he deserves, here is one I loved:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Great American Songbook

Kate (the vocalist who I accompany on the piano) and I are preparing our next concert program, which will be devoted to Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin, indisputably the artists at the heart of the Great American Songbook (GAS).

We have worked together for the past three years giving benefit concerts, paying tribute to the music of that tradition. I met Kate by answering her ad in the Palm Beach Post for a piano accompanist who is familiar with Broadway and cabaret style music. She has used her soprano voice and clear phrasing to entertain audiences for more than twenty years, performing in a variety of community affairs. I feel honored to work with someone with such experience and have learned much about the art of being an accompanist from this collaboration. It’s about listening while one is playing, trying to stay out of the singer’s way on the one hand, and filling in while she is not singing.

While I am not a naturally gifted pianist or have I had much formal training, I continue to try to improve my skills by listening to a number of pianists I greatly admire such as the late Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans.

It was perplexing to read some obituaries of Oscar Peterson who died just last month. A few critics said Peterson’s work was derivative or unemotional. While I was in college I had the privilege of seeing him at Birdland and ever since I have been in awe of his incredible keyboard abilities and followed his recordings. More than forty years later in 2006 he made his final appearance at Birdland to celebrate his 81st birthday. This is after he had had a stroke in 1993, underwent extensive rehabilitation, and learned to play again with his left hand partially impaired.

All artists build upon the base of the past and if Peterson “sounded like” other jazz pianists at times, he also advanced the art to another level. I think he could play more notes within a measure than any other pianist, classical or jazz. And his light touch never strayed too far from the melody and the intention of the composer, perhaps a shortcoming of some later avant-garde jazz styles. Goodbye Oscar Peterson….

Like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans had extensive classical training and that was certainly evident in his interpretations and compositions. At times one can hear the spare, minimalist approach of an Erik Satie in his music, such as his rendition of My Foolish Heart:

Evans is the consummate introspective artist, hunched over the piano as if he and it are one. His phrasing and chord voicing were innovative and unique. His numerous recordings, in my favorite jazz form, the trio, preserve his genius.

It was mindful of these two artists that I made two CDs at a professional studio last year. Not that my skills can be compared in any way to theirs. If you think of music as a language, they speak at a level I can only fleetingly understand, but I chose some of the pieces they’ve recorded and a few that they wrote. This was intended as an archival effort for private distribution to friends and relatives. The first album, Smile, was followed a few months later by Sentimental Mood.

The recording studio experience was intimidating, having about two hours to record the songs I selected for each CD and then an hour with the sound technician deciding what cuts to use and in some cases rerecording a song. I was given the option of wearing a headset to listen to what I recorded, and then merging different sections by picking up the song at a certain point. As I read chords and melody lines, and then improvise everything else, I rarely play a composition exactly the same way. Therefore, I opted to play each piece entirely through and then redoing it if I was not happy with the results. The six total hours in the studio were finally winnowed to two forty-five minute CDs. One of the pieces was an original composition I wrote to my wife, Ann:

Rather than giving my own interpretation of the GAS, I reference the excellent article from Wikipedia: My CD selections are simply my favorites, an eclectic group as evidenced by the list at the end of this entry.

I suppose every older generation has a level of intolerance of the music of the younger generation. My parents did not understand the Rock & Roll music of my youth, which we now refer to as the “oldies.” I am now guilty of not understanding today’s music ranging from rap to the fare served on American Idol. At least the oldies are memorable and singable. Will that apply to today’s popular music forty years from now?

A GAS melody is but one of the elements that makes the genre so timeless. Ultimately it is the perfect marriage of the melody and the lyrics, songs that carry meaning and drama, and can be interpreted by the performing artist. Thanks to the pioneers of the genre and their successors and performers, it will endure as long as people listen to music.

From Smile
Annie’s Waltz Music by Robert Hagelstein; Once Upon a Summertime Lyric by Johnny Mercer, Music by Eddie Barclay and Michel Legrand; A Day in the Life of a Fool Words by Carol Sigman, Music by Luiz Bonfa; Dindi Music by Antonio Carlos Jobim; How Insensitive Music by Antonio Carlos Jobim; Waltz for Debby Music by Bill Evans; Quiet Now Music by Denny Zeitlin; Someone to Watch Over Me Music by George Gershwin, Lyrics by Ira Gershwin; Love is Here to Stay Music by George Gershwin, Lyrics by Ira Gershwin; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man Music by Jerome Kern, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Ol’ Man River Music by Jerome Kern, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face Words by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe; Losing My Mind Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Anyone Can Whistle Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim; Not While I’m Around Lyric and Music by Stephen Sondheim; I Won’t Send Roses Music & Lyric by Jerry Herman; Look for Small Pleasures Music by Mark Sandrich, Jr., Lyrics by Sidney Michaels; Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; That’s All Words and Music by Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes; Blame it On My Youth Words by Edward Heyman, Music by Oscar Levant; Love Changes Everything Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart; Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Charles Hart; The Point of No Return Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Charles Hart; Memory Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Text by Trevor Nunn after T.S. Eliot; Someone Like You and This Is The Moment Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, Music by Frank Wildhorn; Smile Words by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, Music by Charlie Chaplin

From Sentimental Mood
In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington, Irving Mills and Manny Kurtz; Time After Time Lyric by Sammy Cahn; Music by Jule Styne; Moon River Words by Johnny Mercer; Music by Henry Mancini; How My Heart Sings by Earl Zindars; Once I Loved Music by Antonio Carlos Jobim; English Lyrics by Ray Gilbert; Nobody’s Heart Words by Lorenz Hart; Music by Richard Rodgers; Old Cape Cod by Claire Rothrock, Milt Yakus and Allan Jeffrey; Charlie Brown Christmas by Lee Medelson and Vince Guaraldi; Take Five by Paul Desmond; Fortuitous by Bill Oliver; Laurentide Waltz by Oscar Peterson; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most Lyric by Fran Landesman; Music by Tommy Wolf; A Cottage for Sale Words by Larry Conley; Music by Willard Robison; Bewitched Words by Lorenz Hart, Music by Richard Rodgers; Where Your Lover Has Gone by E.A. Swan; Mona Lisa by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans; Isn't It a Pity? Lyrics by Ira Gershwin, Music by George Gershwin; What's the Use of Wond'rin' Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Music by Richard Rodgers; Another Suitcase in Another Hall and Don't Cry for Me Argentina Words by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Tell Me On a Sunday Lyrics by Don Black, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Not a Day Goes By Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim; They Say It's Wonderful by Irving Berlin; Like Someone in Love By Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen; My One and Only Love Words by Robert Mellin, Music by Guy Wood; Solitude by Duke Ellington, Eddie DeLange, and Irving Mills; Look for the Silver Lining Words by Buddy DeSylva, Music by Jerome Kern