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. 

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.”

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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