Chet Baker lived a hard life. But he was without peer as a singer and trumpet player. There are two recorded versions of him singing “My Funny Valentine”; one when he was very young, and one when he was at an age late in his life. What the latter lacks in freshness is compensated by the life-experiences of an older person. That is, it seems to have a deeper level of profundity than the former.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) is one of the most important figures (if not the most important and influential figures, in all of Western Music. Yet, as often can be the case, by the end of his career, many considered him “old hat”. At the end of the Baroque period, the Classical style. Haydn was nearly an adult, and Mozart and Beethoven would be dominating the 2nd half of the 18th century.
(He) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. – Donald Grout, (1980), A History of Western Music.
ffAlexandre Lagoya (1929 – 1999) and Ida Presti (1924 – 1967)
Lagoya was already established as an A-list classical guitarist when he met and subsequently married Ida Presti. They became one of the most remarkable duos ever. The English critic and musicologist Tony Cornwall gives some insight into their particular magic in following quote:
In these tawdry times where great emphasis is given by the media to celebration of the purely physical side of humanity—sport, models, etc.—questions of the mind and heart are often given short shrift. At a time when intimacy between adults is most often identified with the sexual act, it is refreshing and invigorating to hear proof of the narrowness of this view and the possibilities that exist. If you listen to any of Lagoya-Presti’s playing—not just hearing, but actively engaging with the music—you will hear conversations of such intimacy that one at first feels embarrassed at being privy to them. It is hard at times to believe that two people could communicate so intricately. Given that both are playing classical guitars makes it all the more extraordinary– Tony Cornwall
Cicking the mp3 link below, you’ll haer their own arrangement for two guitars of Debussy’s Clair De Lune. The original piano piece is in Db Major. However, they have moved it up to D Major. One guitar is tuned to D (or Drop-D); the other in standard tuning. This allows a rich bass for the home key, when the ‘D’ guiter plays its lowest note. One of the signature parts of the song is a ii minor (here it is an ‘E’) that occurs early on, when the melody moves from a minor 9th, then root, then minor-major 7th, a minor 7th,all the while over a sustained E note. On a piano, the low note is sounded using the sostenuto pedal; on the guitar, the bass note is allowed to sustain. Here the note is played as low E on the standard tuned guitar. You will hear this at 1:10 (open E); then at 2:03. An open D (D also played in many other places in the song). Also notice the creative use of harmonics from 3:00-3:24. This technique effectively extends the sustainable range of the guitar.
Renee Fleming (1959 – ) is primarily a classical musician, although her interests in music and singing span a wide field. Her resume of opera appearances and roles is exhausting, reflecting a busy career of many years.
Her musical pedigree is stellar. Both of her parents were music teachers. She studied at both the Eastman School of Music and at Julliard. It is no wonder that a talented and dedicated singer such as her got to be an A-List opera singer.
However, unlike most of the “old-school” classical musicians, she has always applied her musical interests towards the performance of all kinds of music. While at the Eastman School of Music, she sang in a jazz trio, and later, at Julliard, played gigs to help pay for her schooling. It is not surprising that she has expressed an increasing desire and preference for performing concerts, rather than operas. From a recent Wall Street Journal interview, she said
It’s unlikely I will learn any more operas than I already do”.f
Commenting on the classical music “traditionalists” vs. those who reinterpret the opera standards. “I’m not a reactionary. I’ve loved some of [these productions] when they’ve been well thought out. I have no problem with edgy, as long as it’s not vulgar or disrespectful of the piece.
In addition to numerous Classical and Operatic recording, she has also recorded with many well-know popular and jazz artists including Elton John, John Bolton, lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and others. In the movie, “Lord of the Rings” she sang a song in an imaginary language. She has recorded albums in her name covering songs by Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, and others. She sings on Yo Yo Ma’s CD/DVD on 2009. (Yo Yo Ma is another classical musician unafraid to venture into other genres). On this album, she sang “Touch the Hand of Lover”, written by jazz singer, pianist and composer Blossom Dearie.
On that particular DVD, Yo Yo Ma also collaborated with Diana Krall on one song, James Taylor on another, and so on. In 2009, Renee sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”, at the Presidential Inauguration, where Yo Yo Ma and many other popular and classical musicians also played.
One of the top swing-based pianists of the past 25 years
Dave McKenna (1930 – 2008) is the undisputed master of left hand bass for jazz pianists. What he did with his left hand was much deeper than just that. He changed the function of the left hand often in his playing. His right hand was also exceptionally fluid and had a beautiful tone as if he were playing Chopin.
In the following video clip, he plays “Lulu’s Back in Town”. You can observe how he changes the function of his left hand. Towards the end of the clip, he modulates six times through increasingly ascending keys.
Here he plays “Serenade in Blue”. The camera is always on his hands. You’ll see that he has incredible economy of motion. He plays block chords, left hand bass, left hand “strumming” chords and so on. The secret to his “feel” is when he phrases the melody behind the beat, as singers often do, and plays bass on the beat and chords slightly ahead of the beat.
McKenna knew by heart something like a kabillion songs, and he could play them in any key. He often played medleys, with song-to-song connections ranging from the obvious to the somewhat obscure, but based around a theme. Here he is playing a Rodgers and Hart medley.
I was fortunate to be able to share a house for several months with Jackie and his family in San Francisco. I had known him previously from his San Antonio days. There were a lot of Texan musicians who were in San Francisco or Hollywood at that time, and we all tried to stick together. Many of them breezed in and out of Jackie’s house for impromptu jams, where I watched with dropped jaw.
One of Jackie’s gigs I went to was with legendary blues artist “Lightnin’ Hopkins”. Doug Sahm, another San Antonio man, also dropped by that night. Through my association with Jackie, he introduced me to a lot of great musicians. This gig was right at the time when Governor Reagan called out the natural guard because of the so-called “student unrest”.
Jackie is a left-handed guitarist virtuoso. I think that part of why he is so good is that he can take a “normal” right-handed guitar, turn it upside down and play just fine. Also, he got put on the spot (gigs) at an early age.
Country music was and is a big part of the San Antonio culture. He was enlisted at a very early age to do gigs, often with people associated with the older legends of the time, such as Bob Wills. On these “Country” gigs, a jazz feel and jazz playing was welcomed. This continues today, as many Nashville studio musicians and players are very accomplished with jazz. When George Strait is not on tour, some of his group play a regular jazz gig in Austin, TX.
Jackie has also played with Tony Bennett, The Boston Pops, Ray Charles, Bill Evans, Jerry Garcia, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, and many others.
Having known Jackie for many years, I know first hand that Jackie is unpretentious, humble, and always pleasant. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile on his face. When playing, he often bursts out laughing, looking at the other players, when a song ends, as if an obscure inside-joke just occurred. In his own words:
The first (thing to know) is to always try to be around at least one person who is either a better musician than you or at least as good. The second is to remember you can always learn something from everyone, regardless of how well or poorly you think they play. Through the years I have found this to be consistently true…Somebody will say or play something that you think he or she really should not be able to say or do according to the level of player you think he or she is. Wow! I have learned a lot of licks, etcetera, that way…Control of energy is absolutely necessary to a great technique.
He once had a guitar school in San Antonio located in the historic Majestic Theatre building. In more recent times, he is or has been based in the San Francisco/Mill Valley area for years, but still does tour some, and makes it back to the San Antonio Jazz Festival most every year. He did have some instructional videos, but now, I think they are out of print. He has CD’s that are available on the Books & Media page on this website.
In the following clip, he plays solo, then with the band, his rendition of the song, “If”. Later in the clip, they play “There Will Never Be Another You” with Willie singing.
Jackie King and Legendary Sax Player Richie Cole
Here he plays some Charlie Parker tunes.
Willie and Jackie have an album of standards named “Angel Eyes” only available on Vinyl or cassette. Here is a video clip with Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Jackie King. I believe this is from the DVD of their HBO special, which is available for purchase on Amazon. They do a blues, then the song “Angel Eyes”.
Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Jackie King
In this clip they play Bach and Improvise over it. I saw this concert at the La Villita church in San Antonio sometime in the ’80’s.
Jackie King and Classical Guitarist David Underwood
This next clip was filmed at the Travis County Exposition Center in in Austin, TX. Jackie played a solid year of concerts (300+) with Willie that year. Here he holds back and lets Willie shine. After the concert, my family and I got to go backstage and then get on Willie’s bus and meet him–a very sweet man.
Willie Nelson, with Jackie King – On The Road Again (2000)
“The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations.The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” – Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould (1932 – 1982) Genius, articulate, reclusive, asperger’s syndrome/OCD, 4-time Grammy winner, writer, documentarian, iconoclast, alchemist, and revolutionary. He is, or has been called all of those things. He used to stay up all night and play piano and then call friends on the phone. He enthusiastically embraced recording technology. Continue reading »
What makes a melody beautiful, interesting or memorable?
I wish I knew the formula to make that happen. Of course, there is no “formula” (fortunately). But we can all look back at songs we know of and make these sorts of assertions.Here we will look at examples of melodies and deconstruct them for the purpose of shedding light on the craft of songwriting.
On a big poster you could write the names of all 600+ songs Franz Schubert wrote in his 31 years on the planet, throw a dart and hit a gem. Let’s look at his song An Die Musik. The song was once sung (really well) by Garret Morris on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (The gag was joke text scrolling by as he sang).
The song is an homage to music, as you can see in the english translation (it doesn’t translate very well from the original German):
Oh lovely Art, in how many gloomy hours,
When life’s fierce orbit entangled me,
Have you kindled my heart to warmer love,
have you carried me away into a better world!
How oft’ has sighs, flown from your harp–
A sweet, sacred chord from you–
Unlocked for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you for this,
You lovely art, I thank youI
Looking at this song from a compositional standpoint, let’a see if there are any clues as to why the song works so well. There is just enough intro (2 bars) to establish the key and to set the singer up, that is, enable the singer to get the beginning in his/her head. The bass in the piano does that, and the pattern is echoed throughout the rest of the song. Then the intro resolves to home key in the 1st beat of the 3rd bar, Now it’s the singer’s turn. When it goes to the IV chord, the piano’s high note changes, and “clues” the singer for the chord change (bar 7). It goes the the relative minor after that, and back home, setting up the piano. The piano then does an interesting sequence to get to the I, where the singer comes back in; but that line is mostly on the V chord, and the piano is right there with it. Shortly, the piano part plays an obvious build-up to move the the IV chord, which soon becomes B minor, the climax of the song. Then the vocal line’s movement brings us to the end of the 1st verse. The piano interlude, bringing us around to the 2nd verse is memorable. It even briefly includes a lydian mode IV chord, and later, an E min/maj 9th chord.
Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927 – 1994) was an arranger, a composer, singer, pianist, and guitarist.
In 1964, the album “Getz/Gilberto” launched him into the public in the U.S., and also the world. It was wildly popular, and is definitely a desert island pick.The album includes the song, “Girl From Ipanema” which was a huge hit in the U.S. It has since been recorded hundreds of times, and is considered a Jazz Standard. In this album, the song is sung in both Portuguese and English. Joao Gilberto sings in Portuguese and his wife, Astrud Gilberto,whose native tongue is Portuguese sings in both English and Portuguese. This cut is usually considered the original. The personnel on the album are Stan Getz, saxophone, Joao Gilberto, singer and guitarist, Astrud Gilberto, singer, and Jobim, Guitar, Piano, Voice, Commposer. This album and song launched the Bossa Nova craze in the U.S., and soon, the rest of the world.
Jobim is known in Brazil by “Tom Jobim”. In 1967, he scored the music for the film Black Orpheus. This film is a love story, but it is also one to see if you need more Carnivál in your life
Marcus Roberts, Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies, Florida State University
Marcus Roberts (1963 – ) was born blind and studied music and piano at the Florida School For the Deaf and Blind, the same school Ray Charles attended. He later was discovered by Wynton Marsalis, and they went on to do a number of collaborative projects. He has recorded many albums, both solo and in other varieties of musical settings.
Most of these pay homage to the great American composers of the past such as Ellington, Gershwin, Monk, Porter, etc. [button]Read More…[button]His recording of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is unlike any other recording I’ve ever heard of the same piece.
Gershwin wrote the piece for piano and small jazz band. He enlisted Ferde Grofe to orchestrate it, and it is written for full orchestra. Of course, the piano part is fully written out, and most all performances and recordings are of this version. That is, played in the “classical” vein where you do not change the score, you only interpret it. However, Gershwin’s roots were informed by the music of jazz, pop, and stage. Gershwin’s mission was to write music that would fuze jazz and classical music together.
Unlike these other recordings, Marcus Roberts’ version takes many liberties with the score. He will include his jazz trio (with bass and drums) along with the orchestra. During piano solos, he will take extended flights of fancy, acknowledging the written themes, and extending or modifying them. He ad-libs; The version you’ll hear in the clip below is certainly not a note for note replay of the Robert’s recording. The orchestra has been silent during these interludes, and the cues for them to re-enter are both dramatic and pleasing.
In this video, the expressions you see on Seigii Ozawa’s face are well worth the price of admission.
Marcus Roberts Plays Rhapsody in Blue With Seijii Ozawa
This next part picks up where the first part left off, at the beginning of the E major “pretty part” (that’s a technical term). During his improv, you can see the members of the orchestra and band smiling, probably because it’s not known what he’s going to do next. For example, he quotes an extensive passage of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”; later, he goes into a quasi stride piano part during part of his solo. The fact that there are quotes and improvisation is not the interesting thing. It’s how well he makes it work, blending in an out of what’s written, or hinting at it.
Lang Lang (1982 – ) classical pianist, seems to have been “on a roll” since birth. He is a superstar in the world of classical music. In China, much of the youth culture really loves classical music. I have seen the video where Lang Lang returns to Beijing triumphantly from the studying and touring in the U.S. It was reminiscent of the Beatles arriving in the U.S. at the height of their popularity.
Although some critics have panned him in various ways, audiences go wild over his often sold out performance. Major conductors such as Christof Eschenbach, Daniel Barenboim, Seijii Ozawa, and Zubin Mehta have either championed him or sought him out.
In the following video clip, he plays a Chopin etude in E Major. Towards the end, he plays so quietly and delicately that it seems to transcend possibility of how this can be done. Although he is quite unlike Glenn Gould, he seems to share the tendency to rotate his body in a clockwise motion.
Founder of the "Hot Club of France" With Django Reinhardt
Stephane Grapelli (1908 – 1997), violinist extraordinaire, played with Django Reinhardt from the 1030s through the ’50’s. Over the years, he has played with a who’s who list of musicians from George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, and a lot with guitarist Martin Taylor.
In the following video clip, he plays with the great classical violinist Yehudi Menuin on a BBC broadcast.
Here he plays Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” with Martin Taylor