From ’65 to Sixty-five

Self-portraits from three different phases of my piano-playing years.

 

THE FIRST INSTRUMENT I can remember picking up was a harmonica at the age of 4 years old. But my passion for music began in earnest when I wrote my first song, in 1965. Composing has been a passion — maybe even a compulsion —  of mine ever since.

I have had prolific years and sparse years, but I have written every year since then.  This collection represents a baker’s dozen of these songs, covering every decade from the ‘60s up until the ‘20s.

Here is the playlist on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPn5IKvcr6Q

And here’s one on Spotify.

And finally, here are the individual songs. I’ve divided them into two volumes. Volume I is a bit more jazz and avant garde in style. Volume II contains more traditional or what might be considered modern “classical” music.

I hope you enjoy them. Here’s a little description of each:


VOLUME I


La Calle

Year: 2020

Key: A minor

Influence: Chick Corea

The first time I heard Corea was probably around 1973. I instantly was drawn to his fusion of traditional jazz and Latin rhythms. 

La Calle



Lost & Found

Years: 1974, 1989

Key: Eb major

Influence: Joni Mitchell, Larry Coryell

This began as a guitar riff in 1974.  I had taught it to a friend, then forgot all about it. Years later, we reunited for a jam session and he played the chord pattern. I named it “Lost and Found” on the spot and finished it up on piano that year.

Lost and Found

 

A Sample, But Not the Real McCoy

Year: 2011

Key: Db major

Influence: Joe Sample, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock

Based on the influences of these three great pianists/composers from the era of Miles Davis through jazz fusion, so you can probably guess how I arrived at this title.

A Sample, But Not the Real McCoy


 

In a Roundabout Way

Year: 1992

Key: G major

Influence: Vince Guaraldi 

Just a little ditty that I am pretty sure was inspired from the “Peanuts” TV specials when I was a kid. The piece is in 6/8 time, which has, to me, a feeling of a circular motion. Hence, the title. 

In a Roundabout Way

Monk’s Mode

Influence: Thelonius Monk, Scott Joplin, Jo Ann Castle

Year: 2019

Key: F major

An homage to the ragtime and honky tonk piano composers and players.

Monk’s Mode


If Only We Two Weren’t Lonely, Too

Key:  C major

Year: 2019

Influence: Bill Evans

This song pays tribute to the cool jazz ballads of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, in the style of tunes sung by Frank Sinatra or played by Stan Getz.

If Only We Two Weren’t Lonely, Too

VOLUME II

Angel’s Kitchen

Year: 2020

Key: B major

Influence: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Shumann, Ludwig van Beethoven

In the rural Connecticut of my youth, there was a favorite hiking trail with a cave known as “Devil’s Kitchen.” Being a good Catholic altar boy at the time, I christened a nearby rock to balance out the forces of good and evil. That memory came to me when writing this piece.

Angel’s Kitchen

Spider Dance

Year: 1974

Key: C minor

Inspirations: Keith Emerson, Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky

One of my first “serious” piano pieces. So named because the left hand pattern resembles a spider or maybe a crab in motion. 

Spider Dance

 

Ingenuous You

Year: 2019

Key: E major

Influence: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Shumann

Just a little ditty in ¾ time, reminiscent of Chopin’s etudes and Shumann’s “Kinderszenen” collection, which I studied quite thoroughly (but never truly mastered) in my youth.

Ingenuous You
 
 
 

Opposable Thumbs

Key: Ab major

Year: 2009

Influence: Beethoven, Chopin, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach

For most of this tune, the two thumbs are crossed over one another resulting in a battle of the hands audible in the countermelody. 

Opposable Thumbs

 
 

Indecision

Year: 1984

Key: D major

Influence: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel

I had always imagined this piece as a theme song for a children’s show. The title refers to constant modal changes that leave the melody unresolved.

Indecision

 

To the Top of Stony Hill Road

Year: 1966

Key: Gb major

Influence: Claude Paolini, Sr.

Reminiscent of the carefree days of my youth, walking up the hill to meet my best friend. This song is in the key that is principally played on the black keys and is derived from a little ditty my Dad taught me on the piano. The introduction is the chorus of the first song I wrote at the age of 10.

To the Top of Stony Hill Road

 

A Hymn for Her

Key: A major

Year: 2002

Influence: Stephen Foster, Paul Simon

I’ve always been fond of traditional American folk music and hymns of the 19th century. Sometime in the ’90s, I had picked up a Lutheran Hymnal in a used book store. Playing through that provided the inspiration for this piece.

 

A Hymn for Her

All proceeds from this album’s sales and streaming will be donated to the NAACP.

Thank you for reading about and listening to my music. Below are links to all the streaming and purchase platforms.

Vol. I: (jazz) https://album.link/us/i/1517347148

Vol. II (classical) https://album.link/us/i/1517343305

 


Thank you to Sherry-Lynn Lee, who spent more hours on the audio engineering — mixing and mastering — than I did composing and recording. 

Step-by-Step Guitar Lesson: Scarborough Fair

CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEVE, this classic folk song has been around a lot longer than the version credited to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. But the duo certainly created a legendary rendition.

What I am going to show you is how to play this song as an instrumental on guitar. The voicings lend themselves well to an acoustic or even a nylon string. I just happened to have done a version on my archtop jazz guitar, so bear with me.

As always, I play the parts through at regular speed and then reduce to half speed so you are able to review the changes.

I hope you find this useful.

This particular song is in the key of E minor, which is one of the easier keys to play on the guitar, since it allows for open strings most of the time. I have noted where to leave the strings open with a O in the charts, and an X for where to mute the strings.

In this particular program I am using, I am not able to highlight the exact string that is playing the melody, but if you have a reasonably good ear, you will pick it out quite easily.

And here is my full version of the song:

Thanks for watching. And if you decide to learn how to play this song based on my lesson, please send me a video and perhaps I’ll feature one or two on my Facebook page.

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Do You Want to Know a Secret?

A step-by-step lesson on how to play the Beatles song

THE BEATLES blasted onto the world music scene almost 60 years ago as a rock ‘n roll band. But if you listen closely and analyze many of their songs, you’ll easily recognize the melodies and chord changes as being straight out of popular song, a derivative of the days of Tin Pan Alley.

This is why so many of their tunes lend themselves to being played as instrumentals and are even included in the “jazz standards” books.

This particular song is one my favorites. I’m including a step-by-step video tutorial here. I play the chords and the melody for each section, and then it’s repeated in slow-motion to give you extra time to learn it.

And here is the song played through just for reference:

As always, if you’d like to keep up to date on my postings, sign up for my mailing list. I’d love to hear your feedback on whether you find these lessons useful. And if you learn the song, please send me a video!

A step-by-step tutorial: “A Little Help From My Friends”

A WHILE BACK, I posted this video of a simple way to perform the Beatles classic on guitar. It involves using a capo, but only on the top 5 strings across the second fret. This provides a kind of “Drop E” or “Open E” tuning that I really like to use.

The advantage of this technique is that you don’t have to learn any new bar chords as you might have to do with most open tunings, and yet you get the benefit of allowing open strings to resonate with the chords and notes you play in this particular key. Here’s the original performance:

Well, today, I’m going to show step by step how to play this song, with a chord chart that you can use to follow along.

To receive a PDF of the chords and to get more of these instructions, you can sign up for my mailing list. I’d also love your feedback on whether you find these lessons useful.

And here is there full performance that I previously posted for reference.

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Charting out a jazz tune

Last week, I posted this video of my instrumental cover of the Bacharach-David tune, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” And I received several requests for the chart to my chord changes. So here it is, embedded in this video.

I strongly suggest slowing the video down to half speed, since some of the changes come very rapidly. And of course, you can always pause the video.

And here’s all the chords used in the piece in static view:

Hope this works for you and would appreciate hearing from you if it does. Subscribe to my blog to receive additional content and learn about new lessons as they are posted.

The Melody is in the Chords

It took me awhile as a guitarist to figure this out: If you want to play a melody look inside the chords.

I know, this sounds like a Yoda riddle, but here’s the thing: There are thousands of chords. There are only 12 notes to the scale. Every one of those notes belongs to a chord. This means that as you are playing the chords to a song, you more than likely are playing the notes contained in the melody. It is, of course, possible, that a note here and there is not part of that chord. That’s what makes it interesting.

But it means that you’re likely not more than a note or two away from a root, third, fifth, sixth, ninth, etc. of the chords that you’re playing. So as you play the chords, listen for the notes in the melody, and then work from there.

What’s more, if you learn and know your inversions for all those chords, it’s even more likely you will have the note for the melody you’re looking for as you progress through the song.

This is how you get to play the chords AND the melody simultaneously.

Here’s an example with the classic song from Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

Underlying walking bass riffs

I’ve written a lot so far about walking the bass lines in your chords. But it’s always worth repeating the value of doing so to keep the momentum moving when you are accompanying yourself on vocals.

This particular riff is what I use for an introduction to the classic “Paper Moon.”

Remember, you can slow down the speed on YouTube to watch the exact chord changes and hand movements. In the bass line, I’m walking the E bass note up to F, then to F# and then over to B.

Again, this is a way to keep the momentum going.

Harmonics and fret tapping

If you’ve been following my blog to date, you no doubt have noticed I love using harmonics and fret tapping as part of my style. Here’s an example where I combine the two techniques to produce some interesting percussive tones.

Don’t forget, if you would like to slow the video down to study the technique more, you can click on the little gear on the lower right side of the YouTube window and pick your speed.

As always, if you’re interested in learning more and staying up to date on my posts, click the FOLLOW over to the right of this blog.

Picking the blues

I’m a finger picker. Sure, I can use a plectrum or guitar pick and do so from time to time, but I prefer strumming and picking with my fingers. I find I have more control and in many instances can play faster.

Most people would assume finger picking is relegated to either classical music, blue grass, Americana or folk. But I’m going to demonstrate how it can be effectively used for blues with a little riff in A minor.

Essentially, what I am doing is using all five fingers on the right hand to voice the chords, and then arpeggiate (that is, play the chord by picking out each individual note in succession), providing what I think is a nice effect because it straddles between strumming a chord and sounding like a guitar riff.

Check out the video here on Youtube. Remember, you can slow the video down by going to settings to watch the finger style playing more closely.

Let me know what you think about this approach.

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Jazz guitar: three little lessons

You might not be interested in jazz, you might not even like it, but let me tell why you should at least pay attention to it: Much of the foundation for modern music has some roots in jazz. Learning some of the basics can go a long way in helping you perfect your guitar technique.

In this tutorial, I’m going to demonstrate three techniques that are key: 1. Walking the bass, 2. voicing a melody with chords, and 3. Putting those two together to create a walking bass as a contrapuntal tonal and rhythmic element supporting the voiced chords/melody.

One of the advantages of YouTube is you have the ability to slow the video down without change the pitch. So I suggest going to the settings and slowing it down to a speed that allows you to follow along on your guitar.

Good luck.

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