Everybody Loves My Baby

November 29, 2008

SSAA. Based very closely on the Boswell Sisters’ classic rendition. Voicings are almost identical. All instrumentation has been stripped or converted, such as the bass line combining several of the rhythm instruments from the originals ’20s-era recording. I kept the scat, but simplified it to make it humanly possible to sing.

This took Kaia about a year to nail and it’s one of the most technically challenging pieces we’ve done. You’d have no idea it was so difficult when you just listen to the Boswells doing it! Phenomenal musicians. I prostrate myself in homage.

Everybody Loves My Baby sample by Kaia

Required listening: Mahalia and Billie

November 23, 2008

Side note on my Sam Lowry post: “Sam” said he wanted to lay down a gospel choir sound at the end of the piece and have me wail like Mahalia Jackson on top of it. I’d vaguely listened to Mahalia before, but not intently, so I borrowed an album from Sam. As soon as I first caught a waft of “Trouble Of The World”, I shut off the lights, cranked up the volume, and laid down on the floor in front of the stereo with my eyes closed. I prostrated myself at the altar of greatness.

I was blown away by Mahalia’s simple yet completely authentic delivery. (“Delivery” is such a thin term, a term used by intellectuals who are unable to reach beyond the surface.) I was blown away by the greatness pouring forth from my speakers. I’ve rarely heard so much brilliance packed into such a small, un-self-conscious performance. Mahalia just sang. She sang from her heart—no, she sang from her soul. She didn’t mess about with funky ornamentation and syncopation just to “liven things up”—she was singing in praise of her Lord and she surrendered completely to it.

Before any singer believes s/he has talent, s/he should listen to Billie Holliday’s “Solitude and Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble Of The World—in the dark, with no barriers of mind or spirit.

My epiphany: Jazz

November 23, 2008

My epiphany (that I had when I was around 9 but didn’t realize until I was in my late 30s): When I was around 9, I was at a jazz concert of my brother’s. (Everyone in my large family was required to do both sports and music up to high school, and then continue with either sports or music; consequently, I come from a very musical background.)

I’d already been to a zillion shows of all kinds, mostly choral and orchestral. But here was this casual group of guys up there, with some frizzy-headed “conductor” in a sportcoat and casual shoes. And the scruffy conductor just said, “One…two…” while snapping his fingers. Then silence. Then WHAMMO—the sound kicked in. And the conductor walked off the stage!

I could see him setting in the wings, bopping his head in time to the music, but my brother’s group wailed along just fine without him. Near the end of the song, he wandered back on stage for a lackadaisical but perfectly executed cutoff, then gave the cue for the next piece and walked off again.

In that moment, I knew with all my being that I wanted to be that good. I wanted to be such an accomplished musician that I didn’t need a conductor (I’d never seen such a thing before). I wanted to perform with other top-notch musicians who would know how to perform, with room for improvisation and total creative support. I wanted to reach the level where music was not only internalized to the Nth degree in myself, but where I was able to connect with musicians just as accomplished and respond in the moment to whatever they were doing—and in so doing, create art.

While my formal training is firmly rooted in the classical tradition, jazz remains the ultimate expression of musicianship for me. Structured spontaneity, creative excellence, supportive competition, and total acceptance of any performer who’s got the chops. Music trumps all.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

November 22, 2008

SSA. Jimmy Kennedy & Nat Simon. Arrangement credit really needs to go in part to Kaia for this one. The first time through it’s sung in a slow, cool jazz style. The repeat suddenly takes a crazed turn to a Broadway-style Brooklyn. Very fun to sing and a big crowd-pleaser.

It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It

November 22, 2008

SSA with drum. Up-tempo, upbeat, fun-to-sing and fun-to-hear song from 1939. Cab Calloway made it famous. This arrangement based on a Fun Boy Three arrangement from the ’80s. Lyrics are just what the title implies. Best performed this wearing chic sunglasses.

Strange Fruit

November 22, 2008

SSA. Lyrics by Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol). Haunting arrangement based on a 1990s version by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Very different and more lyrical arrangement from Billie Holiday’s classic rendition, dispensing entirely with the original melody as written by Sonny White. It’s almost a lullabye with nightmarish bits suddenly emerging.