Some light piano jazz for the holidays

I have tried a different twist on some Christmas classics, looking for unique interpretations that haven’t been done before. Let me know what you think.

Set list includes:

  • The Christmas Song /
  • Silver Bells /
  • Christmas Time is Here /
  • Here Comes Santa Claus /
  • Let it Snow! /
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas
  • What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? /
  • What Child is This? /
  • Angels We Have Heard on High /
  • Silent Night /
  • Away in a Manger /
  • Carol of the Bells /

Many thanks, as always to Sherry-Lynn Lee for mixing and mastering these pieces.


Playing Octaves, Minute by Minute

It’s hard to beat the Doobie Brothers for their contribution to the California sound. Even to this day, the opening riff (in 12/8 time) by Michael McDonald for “Minute by Minute” evokes memories of moving to the Golden State when this album was first released.

I decided to have some fun recreating the title song as a quartet. But for today’s lesson, I’d like to focus on the guitar work, in which I’m playing the melody using octaves.

Octaves are an essential technique for jazz, but for some reason, this style is rarely used in rock or pop music. Oh, maybe once in awhile Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn have a little fun with them, but that’s about it.

Jazz cross-over artists such as George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and a few others really brought it to my attention.

Now, once you’ve heard the song in the context of my “quartet,” let’s break down what I’m doing to achieve the octaves.

This song is a great introduction to octaves because the riff is so simple and repetitive. Here’s a video of just the guitar part, playing the introduction, the verse and the chorus.

I play each section once, and then slow it down to half speed. And I’ve included a chart so you can find exactly where I am on the fretboard.

A couple things to note:

  1. I’m not using a pick, but instead plucking the two strings in a “pinching” style.
  2. There is, of course, a string in the middle of the two notes for the octave, and this I mute by just lightly applying pressure with my index finger.
  3. Although I don’t indicate it on the charts, I’m often “sliding” into the notes from the fret below or above. This is a classic jazz style of playing, and gives the melody a nice laid-back feel.

By the way, the overhead view of the piano should give you a good idea of how to play this riff on the keyboard if you are so inclined.

As always, I hope this lesson helps and if you have any feedback, please let me know!

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.

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:


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


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



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.



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)

Vol. II (classical)


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