Archive for April, 2011

On April 28- tomorrow, that is!!!- I’m launching my second jazz CD, Two Kites. The title of the CD comes from a fabulous song written by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Fred Hersch calls Jobim one of the great composers of the 20th century, and I couldn’t agree more! It was an honour to record this tune of his.

Two Kites also features Mike Murley on sax, George Koller on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. It was produced by George Koller and recorded by Jeremy Darby at Canterbury Music in Toronto.

There are some major thematic threads that run throughout the CD. First, there is the notion of flight: the birds ‘keeping our hopes alive’ in Distance, the whimsical, flighty flirtation of Two Kites, the laughing winds and the swallow flying freely in Dona Dona, and the images of being carried off by the wind and the heart riding on wings of eagles in Yam Lid. Similarly, Yam Lid (Song of the Sea) uses the sea as a metaphor to represent abandoning oneself to the embrace of the ocean, while Grey Green is about being lost in the sea of someone’s eyes, and Basin Street Blues speaks of taking a boat to the land of dreams. We even did our photo shoot on a beach by Lake Ontario where I could dance, run with kites and feel the wind blowing crazily through my dress.

Here then is your tune by tune guide (with a few brief excerpts)

1. Distance– composed by Glauco Venier with lyrics by the wonderful Norma Winstone. It deals with alienation and the distance between people and all those places “it is best not to go. Not to know. Keep your distance…” Yet when the song starts we are gazing upward at the birds freely flying high in the distance. As we witness these “weightless wanderers” our spirits and hopes are kept alive as we are reminded to “be here now.”

distance excerpt

2. Two Kites– Jobim wrote these flirty and playful lyrics in English! They are not a translation from Portuguese. How can anyone resist a song that begins, “..and by the way have you forgotten to say where you live, what’s your name, what you do?…” It only gets sillier and more delicious!

two kites excerpt

3. Moon in the Sky/My Romance– Maybe Rodgers and Hart don’t need a moon in the sky or a blue lagoon standing by for their romance, but as far as I’m concerned, it sure wouldn’t hurt! “Moon in the Sky” is my own comment on their lyrics.

moon in the sky

don’t need a blue lagoon for my romance.

but I really wouldn’t complain

for a castle rising in Spain.

I kind of love cashmere,

candlelight, merlot and oysters- have no fear

that I’d return

some Tiffany heart, diamond ring, not that I need a thing-

for my romance

could be quite lovely in a cafe in France.

there’s a small hotel

the music is playing, I know it so well

we could be dancing on the ceiling

my valentine and me

for our romance is not some chance…

4. Dona Dona– Take a beautiful old melody, add a dash of Nicholai Medtner and a hint of Maria Schneider and let it simmer. I’ve tried to evoke some of the song’s images — “the calf on a wobbly cart” with an asymmetric 11/4 ostinato, “the swallow high in the sky” through Mike’s gorgeous, soaring soprano saxophone lines, and “the wind laughing” with a shift to 4/4.

dona dona 

5. Grey Green– For me, it all started with Bill Evans. His Portraits in Jazz is one of my favorite records. This original composition was inspired by Blue in Green. The lyrics deal with how we see reflections of ourselves in another person’s eyes. “Can we ever see beyond love and loss dappled in grey green light?”

6. All Fall Down– this is another original composition and the only instrumental on the CD.

All Fall Down excerpt

7. Basin Street Blues– a slow and sultry stroll down steamy Basin Street

8. Ate Quem Sabepronounced ah-te kay(m) sabee.  Until one day, Until Perhaps, Until who knows? I first heard this gorgeous Brazilian song on a cassette recording of Gal Costa. I still have it! Portuguese is a beautiful language to sing in.

9. Yam Lid/LustigeChasidm/Balkan Bellabusta.  Yam Lid. Song of the sea. I have forgotten my loved ones, my family. I abandon myself to the sea. And west wind carry me off to a distant land where my heart can ride on wings of eagles. And on your way back tell my loved ones how happy I am… Yam Lid is followed by the gorgeous Yiddish melody, Lustige Chasidm and wild abandon of Balkan Bellabusta.

10. If He’s Ever Near A beautiful song written by Karla Bonoff. I like the way it brings the album to a quiet close after the boisterous klezmer medley.

If He’s Ever Near 

You can find Two Kites on itunes

or at cdbaby 

Its available at HMV and at Indigo Manulife in Toronto as well as L’Atelier Grigorian.

It was a pleasure to record this CD. Please enjoy!

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In a recent blog entry by Peter Hum, Peter asks the question “Why make CDs if they’re such a tough sell?” What place do CDs have in this increasingly diminishing marketplace? Peter poses the question to some Canadian jazz musicians who responded in various ways. You can read the full article here.

I responded to the article by writing the following:

I agree that nothing forces you to grow as an artist more than recording a CD. The process of creating the repertoire, deciding how to play it and who to play it with, the countless hours of practicing, gigging, rehearsing, arranging, writing and thinking about it all come together in the sacred space of the recording studio. It challenges you to face your own musical truth and gives you a place to move from. It’s crucial for me to have the goal of recording in order to dream up a project and see it through…

I now have further thoughts:

Jazz is an art form that exists in the moment. In the space of a musician’s studio there are often no witnesses to that moment unless it’s the family pet. Or it could be that a phrase of music briefly enters someone’s ears at a noisy club. At it’s best, music is a living dialog between the players and the audience. The ears of the listener may be the intangible ingredient needed to bring the music to a higher level. Most performances exist for a moment in time and vanish into the ether. However, truly inspired performances can stay with you for a long time. Years even. They can be transformative.

Making a studio recording is an attempt to capture a body of work. It gives a musician a goal to work toward and in the end it gives them something tangible. But the result is a particular performance on a particular day. If they had gone into the studio a day before or a week later you’d likely hear something very different.

But when I think about the iconic jazz records that I own and have listened to hundreds of times, I can’t help but think that the moment they were recorded defines the music. When I later recall those records I’m hearing the voicings, comping, solos, instrument timbres, phrasings and melodies played only as they were that day in the studio. I can’t think of Kind of Blue, for example, without hearing every tune in order complete with solos. And when I play those tunes, those sounds sometimes inform what I’m playing. It may just be a phrase or a voicing, but the impact of those recordings is very powerful.

I even find that once I’ve recorded a certain tune, I’ll often recall phrases that I’ve played! I then need to choose to go with that preexisting idea or to deliberately try to find something else.

So there is an interesting problem here. Jazz is improvised and needs to exist in the moment. It’s a living art form. Recordings give a certain definitive finality to a body of work.

Is this a dichotomy? I’m curious to know what other musicians think. Do you prefer one over the other?

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this is the 3rd part to my essays on creativity. part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

Several years ago I had an epiphany:

I had been granted an extra year of life.

It was around the time of my birthday and I was assessing what I had accomplished as a musician. Although I never doubted my musicality, I was wondering if it made sense to keep pursuing music. My career just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Perhaps it was time to switch gears and put my creative skills to use elsewhere. These thoughts continued for several days as I explored more and more possibilities and became more and more depressed. Then suddenly, the day before my birthday, I realized that I was a year younger than I had thought!

I felt that the universe had been given me an extra year. This would be the year to say yes to any musical project that came my way. This would be the year to get over being fearful of playing music the way I heard it and with the people I most wanted to play with. This would be my year of grace; my own sabbatical. Most of all, this would be the year to be open to any crazy ideas I had, to learn anything I felt I needed to know, to experiment, try new things and allow myself to fail.

It may very well be that allowing the possibility of failure may be the most crucial of these realizations. Without the possibility of failure growth is almost impossible. Safety and creativity do not go hand in hand.

Once I had committed to the idea that I had an extra year of life amazing things started to happen. Doors began to open that I hadn’t even noticed before. All kinds of performing opportunities came my way, many of which I might not have pursued or followed-through in the past. Some required endless games of telephone tag with club owners, some required taking on whole new areas of studying, listening and endless hours of practicing, and some required facing the scary “truth” of the recording studio.

Let’s face it. None of us know how much time we have. The notion of an extra year is a little bizarre. But I’ve found it to be profoundly powerful. Each day is a gift. You never know what is lurking around the corner. But if you can tell yourself that this minute, this hour, this day or this year is extra time that you’ve been granted to pursue a dream, it changes everything.

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