Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Little Things are Pretty Big

Back at home, contemplating my “near death” experience, or my “nearly missing Monteton due to entrapment in a train bathroom” experience, I am wondering – since I was meant to be there, I hope that I did what I was supposed to do, and learned what I was supposed to learn, and exactly, what was it, and why was it worth kicking and screaming and fighting for? I’ve been trying to come up with a big profound answer, but instead, I just come up with little things.

Maybe I was there simply to have tea time with Big Dave

And a simple French dinner with Claude

Maybe I was there to be reminded of the beauty of silence

Maybe I was there to give pats on the back and to notice how other students have grown in their knowledge and playing ability.

Maybe I was there to laugh

and to dance

and to remind myself to always enjoy the music-making.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Messiaen Around in Monteton

On Thursday night the DJSS tutors joined me to perform a set of my newest tunes. It’s always a great thrill to be on stage with Quentin and Ian and Mark and Jonathan and Dorian, and of course, my best pal, Guy, on drums.

Messiaen Around is based on a 9-note scale that the French composer Olivier Messiaen created called the Third Mode of limited transposition. It’s weirdly fascinating, consisting of the first 3 notes of 3 sets of minor scales, each one a half step apart. (In this case, it’s C D E flat, E F sharp G, A flat, B flat B.) I studied it for hours and felt compelled to make a tune out of it. The hardest note to fit it was the B, but I managed it in measure 16 (whew!)

Because… was written for my friend Jim Farrelly, the wonderful sax player from Indianapolis who co-produced my Midnight at Monteton CD. Mark Lockheart joined us on this one and made it his own, he was amazing. The piece is slow and full of long notes that I love hearing on the sax. (Not that I don’t like fast notes, it’s just nice to sometimes just enjoy one beautiful tone for a long time.)

Sub Zero is a bouncy tune written to cheer myself up during the horrible winter (written January 22 and 23.) I'm pretty sure I was working on a chord voicing when this tune emerged. I always pay attention to pauses and rests when I replay the digital recorder during my improvs, becuase often that is the key to solving the piece. Jack Yardley and Michael Wright joined us on drums and bass to bring down the house (and the average age.)

Messiaen Around -
Sub Zero -

Tattletale in France

The first of my tunes was performed on Tuesday night with a great group of friends... Tanguy Pellen on his new trumpet, sax tutor Ian Bumstead, Olivier Coppi on guitar, Guy Clapham on drums, and Michael Wright on bass. The guys were fantastic, we had a blast!

In the sketches for the piece, I see that I spent a lot of time considering the rests - lots of shifting and scratching out went on. I struggled with ms. 8 because I didn't want to land on an A on beat 1 - too obvious of an answer. On the tape, I hear myself pausing to hunt for a better note. I finally realized that the key was in the pausing. So I wait until I'm almost at beat 3 before I hit the A, and then it works.

I've heard Tattletale described as "Perry Mason meets Dave Matthews" but I'm not really sure what that means. It does have kind of a noir sound which would be perfect for a theme song for a detective show, so if you are looking for music for a detective show, please be in touch...

View on youtube -

I am Brecky, Hear Me Roar (Please!!)

When you are traveling alone and find yourself locked in the bathroom on a train in France, there's not alot you can do except pound and scream and send a text with no time for spellchecking:

"I am brecky. Bathroom door on train wointy oppen About to arriove in marmande. Help. Car 16 class 2 seat 1"

The text didn't work, but the pounding and screaming finally did, with just one minute to spare. A new tune may come of this...I already have a title in mind...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Let's Try it a Second Time

Last summer at DJSS, a mysterious gentleman handed me this mysterious note:

He asked me to write a piece for him, using that sentence as the title. I slipped the tiny slip of paper into my tiny camera bag, where it remained for a few months. I hadn’t forgotten about it, I just forgot what it said and where I had put it.

When I did find it, I considered what to do with it. I pondered its meaning. I wondered about the word “second.” Use of repeats? Length of notes? The interval of a second, as in, a series of either whole or half steps? I came close to asking the author of the note (Michael Howard) about what he was implying, but decided I should just let it remain a mystery.

So I just started humming the sentence, to understand the rhythm of it. I noticed that “try” and “sec” had the most stress, so those syllables ended up landing on strong beats. The A section practically wrote itself, as they say. The piece begged for a B section, so I wondered what key it would move to. Up a second? Down a second? Neither worked, because the next section didn’t need to move anywhere. The feeling changed, but the key remained in A minor.

When I write with someone in mind, it gives me so much more material to work with, than to just write for an instrument or group of instruments. I know Michael’s sense of humor, I know how he plays the drums, and yet, this piece seemed to be revealing another side to him, the quiet tenderness that we only witness after he has had several glasses of champagne and has just about nodded off in his chair.

I pulled together a beautiful and sensitive band for the world premiere, featuring Dieuwke van Strein on flute, Irene Stroeer on alto sax, myself on piano, Martin Young on bass and of course, Michael Howard, stirring and brushing his drums.

Now that we’ve tried it, I look forward to playing it a second time, because Once is simply Not Enough.

View video of our performance at

Countdown to Monteton - 5/4/3/2/1!

Probably the piece I was looking forward to playing at DJSS the most this year was a new one called “5/4/3/2/1,” written just after Dave Brubeck passed away. At that time, I was obsessed with his “Take Five,” and wondered if I could write something in 5/4 time that would sound as natural as his piece.

I came up with a seemingly simple and repetitive motive that worked itself around a 12-bar blues form, with one small twist in the harmony at measure 10. I instantly thought of Sandy Williams (Sandy is the exceptional guitarist on my new CD who is very open to experimentation) so I dedicated it to him, and was very proud when he said he loved it (esp. measure 10!) It’s hard to describe the feel with words, but to me, it has a hip vibe, like something from the 60’s. The word “beatnik” comes to mind. (I guess we should all wear berets when we play it. . . I wonder if Sandy ever wears a beret??) So it should be perfect for a concert in France!

I gathered a group of students and teachers to rehearse the piece. Afterwards, Ian, one of the great sax teachers, said to me, “It’s so hard – why did you write it in 5/4 time?” After my initial worry that no one will ever, ever want to play it, I remembered a discussion we had in the class that I lead at Anderson University for my composition students. Difficulty seems to raise the bar in our creativity. When we can’t solve something quickly, our minds actually get excited about the challenge. If it’s easy, I might be too bored with it and never finish, but if I’m puzzled and confused, I will probably keep going back to it.

The Monteton performance on July 22 was phenomenal, featuring Ian Bumstead and Tanguy Pellen on saxes, Jonathan Bratoeff on guitar, myself on piano, Ferg Ireland on bass and Guy Clapham on drums. Afterwards, I said to Ian, “That’s why I wrote it.” And he agreed that it was for a good reason.

Look how happy Ian Bumstead was!

Friday, August 10, 2012

You Say Nice and I Say Nice

There is nothing quite like having a little girl run to meet you when she sees you coming off the train. Aimee and her family took me to the quaint villages in Antibes and the hills above, and then back to their beautiful home in Valbonne. To get to the village, you can take a 30-minute walk through the forest. Sound dreamy? Yes, it was.

The first thing Aimee wanted to do was to play a game in their swimming pool with marbles, and see who could find the most. Being the competitive person that I am, I realized that I was losing skin on my knuckles because I’m scraping the bottom of the pool every time I make a grab. So the next time I played, I prissily plucked. (She beat me every time, by the way.)

After a wonderful dinner in the village, and a wonderful night’s sleep, and a wonderful French breakfast on their patio, we drove to Nice to visit a couple of my Monteton friends who teach at a Yamaha studio. Nice has the glorious coast on my right and many, many hotels on my left. It was refreshing (although hot) to walk through the old town, where you hear almost as much Italian as you do French, and see more Italian architecture.

It’s so great to see David and Johan at the studio. Seeing Monteton friends outside of Monteton helps Monteton feel more real, I guess. They were busy painting and prepping for fall, but David took a little time to play some blues with me.