Words to Live By

            Words to Live By

 

My dad and I have made a ritual out of watching the KFMB local news personalities from 5:00 to 6:00 PM every weekday.  Their voices have a pleasantly musical quality to them, even when delivering the most heartbreaking stories.

In the midst of all the unpleasantness, at 5:40, comes cool and casual Jeff Zevely, with his human interest stories focusing on everyday people doing extraordinary things, a segment he calls “The Zevely Zone”.  I love the name!  Recent stories have included a tribute to San Diego’s oldest high school, and two adult friends restarting their initial music-making aspirations.

My dad made a flier promoting my talents and services, which pretty much contains the info from this web site.  On a whim, he emailed Jeff, and attached the flier and this web site’s main address.  Within a few hours, I got a call from none other than Jeff Zevely, asking me when he could interview me.  Ultimately, I decided to be interviewed during the last class for the academic year for the Continuing Education Center at Rancho Bernardo, who have been holding their classes at Seacrest Village in Poway since September 2017.

All the interviewing took place during my “Hooray for Hollywood” program focusing on timeless songs and scores from the movies, the first half of which was filmed by the CBS 8 news crew.  The show contained music by Mancini, Williams, and others, with Kern being my favorite, and the lyrics of Dorothy Fields summarizing my personal keys to success.  My rendition of the Kern and Fields tune “Pick Yourself Up” (from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film “Swing Time”) is a tip of the hat to Mel Torme and George Shearing’s benchmark interpretation.  I performed the end of this number as one of the promos, which was the best choice to use leading up to the story.

Four days after the success of “Hooray for Hollywood”, at 5:40, this was the result, repeated at 10:40 on the CW San Diego.  Here’s the link – check it out!

http://www.cbs8.com/story/38188492/zevely-zone-despite-blindness-he-saw-his-future-in-music

I’ve Gotta Be Me

This is the most personal narrative I’ve ever written. I’ll still write my comic opera and release my Sullivan and Glenn Miller albums, and do other wonderful things, but from time to time, I must take the following piece of writing into consideration. Every word is true. March 14, 2018, 9:52 AM.

I’m never angry “with” anybody, but “at” situations. These “allusions of grandeur” – that is, classical music as a mental pacifier from anger – begin for me in early morning (if I should rise early enough), and ideally, should only return to conclude each night. Since 2012, I’ve had to retreat mentally into classical music, just to keep from lashing out. As a listener, it’s wonderful, great when I’m not performing or rehearsing. Most of us watch movies, read or listen to great stories; my natural language is pure sound: symphonies, concertos, background scores (“incidental music” for spoken stage plays), instrumental dance tunes (waltzes, marches, and the rest).

This morning, I decided to figure out what started my recent anger in the first place. It then dawned on me: 9/11. Never mind being angry at rejection or cynicism in general – I’m angriest at the very idea that something like this would happen in the first place…aren’t we all? When 9/11 happened, my teachers transformed from polite, encouraging optimists to dramatic, somber, cynical pessimists. On the surface, their outlook eventually returned to normal, but in reality, of course, was never quite the same. After that fateful day, the one thing I’ve wanted to do more frequently, that is, travel, became an unpleasant, nightmarish chore, and we’re still trying to fathom why it happened in the first place.

I was 10 years old. All my teachers sat in a circle on the floor of the classroom, with all 25 students surrounding them, myself included (obviously). I had absolutely nothing original to say, and if I could live that moment all over again, I would simply say, “I have nothing original to add…I just love hearing your voices…they sooth my soul.” My visual impairment teacher, Paula Charnesky, tried to set me down and explain to me the somber nature of that day, but I was so speechless that my mind retreated to “paradise” (Music Land, my private world), and has been there ever since, unwilling to confront the “bad” side of humanity. Ever since that day, I’ve tried to live every day like it was my last, to no avail, and this has made me the angriest of all.

If each day was my last day, I would spend it doing quiet things, which shows you what kind of a person I really am: despite my love of grand orchestral utterances, I’m certainly not a loud rock star, and I’m okay with that. I’m a loving, caring individual, and I’d like to thank my mother for raising me that way. I’d probably just want to spend my last afternoon doing things I used to do with my dad in Arizona. I enjoyed throwing rocks in the river and hearing them splash, or feeling a pinecone for a while and then dropping it on the ground – you know, those simple things. I’m not a “nature” person, but it’s those simple moments that say much more than any rousing British march or inspirational hymn or up-tempo dance tune ever could. Thank you, Dad.

I want to be remembered as a kind human being (music is simply my way of conquering the world with kindness), and I want to share these simple moments with the world. Is that too much to ask? More than ever before, especially now, they make me appreciate the time we’re given. I want to hold onto these moments when life seems chaotic. Taken in sequence, these would probably be my final moments in life, not so much in importance, but the agenda of my last day: first would be an Uncle Pat jam, or at least listening to that kind of music, and others, from late morning to about 3:00 or 4:00 PM; second would be the short outdoor moments described above, from about 4:00 to 6:00 PM; and third, after a feast of a dinner and dessert (leaving room to sing, of course), a few moments with each of my muses (they know who they are), or, again, at least listening to music associated with each of them; These are my three Disney wishes: a jam session, short outdoor moments, and moments with muses, bookended by my civilized classical music escape. Those very titles make up an album each devoted to that particular piece. “Jam Session” will be an attempt to integrate jazz fusion into the symphonic repertoire, as George Gershwin did with “Rhapsody in Blue” (there might already be a piece like this – if so, I just want to add to the mix). “Moments with Muses” will be my impressions of all the important people in my life as a collection of chamber music pieces evoking each person through appropriate style and instrumentation. Finally, “Outdoor Suite” will attempt to summarize those short outdoor moments with accessible instrumental pieces – no intellectual depth here, just timeless, accessible, pleasant orchestral music that will work in any context. If I’m going to be remembered for anything, these are the albums for which I’d like to be remembered most, and the original compositions I’d feel most comfortable sharing with the world. They would be my lasting tribute to the goodness in the world that I’ve always believed would, to quote Gilbert’s words in The Mikado, “rise triumphant over all … We do not heed your dismal sound / For joy reigns everywhere around” – I want these to be my last words, and I want them to be on my grave, as I believe in them now more than ever before, and I strive to live them out every day, starting today. For all of Gilbert’s unpleasantness, he managed to write many wonderful lines worth taking to heart. From now on, joy reigns supreme for me – not 24/7, of course, and not always in a loud, brassy way: I realize joy can also be quiet, as when I first heard my Arizona neighbor Carrie Reay, truly a ray of light, sing and play piano so beautifully. Hearing Maureen McGovern’s voice brought the sensation of Carrie’s versatile, extraordinary voice and beautiful, collaborative soul right back, specifically her guest contributions on the CDs “Take My Hand: Songs from the Hundred Acre Wood” and Erich Kunzel’s “Amen! A Gospel Celebration” – a truly inspirational sound. Much later, when a lovely singer named Pam sang hymns as I accompanied on piano for a friend’s celebration of life, I was brought back to the pleasing vocal aesthetics of Carrie Reay and Maureen McGovern for the first time since childhood; those moments with Pam turned my life around in the best way. I realized within myself for the first time that though I enjoy applause, that’s not why I enjoy performing. Performing is a deeply personal, contemplative, private thing for me, not a rousing, public display (though those are awesome). I’d never felt as secure, safe, quietly joyful, as when Pam said so reassuringly, in response as to how I should play “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll go where you go” – yes, she’s that beautiful: she sings like I play, and those memories and impressions of her quiet joy continuously sooth and uplift my soul. Ah – “quiet joy” – now there’s a thought…are you listening, Carrie? Maureen? Pam? I’m writing a ballad with all three of you in mind.

I’ve always had this idea, but was never able to articulate it until now: while music can be a daunting art form, I’ve always used it as a medicine. Here’s my tip: study music as an art form, but for practical use in life, it should be thought of as a medicine. This isn’t actually my idea. It comes from a book by Norman Cousins I used as my book report for Health 165 (nutrition) at Palomar College, one of the last classes I took. In classical music written for orchestras, listeners are commanded to react whenever the brass and percussion issue their proclamation, or whenever strings and woodwinds soar, or whenever the whole orchestra dances its way into the listeners’ collective hearts. This sound has nothing on solo or chamber music, which is best used as background for quiet contemplation, also valid. As for jazz, pop, musical theater, country, reggae, world music, R&B, hip-hop, Gospel etc?Let them exist. Change may be the only thing that’s constant, but I’ve always thought there’s a place in the world for everything. If that’s true, why can’t we enjoy all things equally? Shouldn’t we all be well-rounded? I suppose, amending what Gilbert said in Patience, “[well-rounded] for breakfast, [well-rounded] for dinner, [well-rounded] for tea?  Under those circumstances, even [being well-rounded] would become monotonous.” Let the specialists live out their passion: I’m an eclectic, and proud of it.

Concert Review: Hollywood Bowl 08/15/2015

Hello, music lovers!

I’m still hard at work on my two Sullivanesque projects. When I’m not performing live, joyful music listening and informative Internet surfing both occupy my time. As I mentioned before, a few posts back, the Glenn Miller album has been postponed indefinitely due to frequent live work and my brain’s exhaustion over the monotony of studio work. It’ll eventually get finished, once my brain recovers. To top it off, I dearly miss listening to classical music. I’ve been away from it for too long. It puts me at peace and gives me a feeling of immense pleasure,, a British sense of nobility, and Is the best example of the good in humanity (chaotic sounding pieces accepted). The part of me that wanted to be a concert pianist as a child has now blossomed into a writer, thanks to Anne Hohman, one of my English teachers at Palomar College who has since retired. This segues nicely into another concert review. Here goes…

Ah, yes. The Hollywood Bowl. I was here two summers ago for the incredible Tony Bennett concert, which Is still playing in my head. Of course, the Hollywood Bowl is one of the great summer homes for music lovers of all kinds. Just as in my world, all types of music co-exist equally at this legendary establishment. With all due respect, the Bowl will always belong to fans of classical music, whether they’re serious connoisseurs or casual listeners. Many of us received our first exposure to this music through the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1940s and ‘50s. Think of all those wonderful moments that used classical music as the basis for an entire story. Sometimes, the music itself actually was the subject of the story. I’ve always admired the way the writers and animators treated the music with such reverence, and yet inserted their own comic additions in the form of visual gags. These visual gags would also be punctuated musically, by way of either Carl Stalling or Milt Franklyn (great composers, arrangers and conductors) and also the expertly timed sound effects.

It’s been 25 years since conductor George Daugherty helped create “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”, a symphonic concert featuring those beloved cartoon scores played live as the cartoons themselves were shown on a large screen. In 2010, Daugherty revised “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” into “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony”. He added moments that weren’t featured in “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”, including additional cartoons, and notably, two famous light orchestral pieces were used to open each act. The first act opener was Bedrich Smetana’s Dance of the Comedians, a famous selection from his opera, The Bartered Bride. This piece was used frequently in Road Runner cartoons. The Act Two Entr’acte in 1990 was originally a shortened version of Franz von Suppe’s famous overture to his first successful operetta, The Beautiful Galatea. In 2010’s “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony”, the entire overture opened the second act. This was used in the cartoon “Long-Haired Hare” as Bugs Bunny made his entrance into the Hollywood Bowl dressed up as famous classical music conductor Leopold Stokowski. Listeners now heard a classic lighthearted piece in its complete form, as with the Smetana. Having purchased the original Bugs Bunny on Broadway recording about 13 years ago, I was excited to get the 2010 live CD recording of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing beautifully under Daugherty’s direction. Daugherty conducted both recordings, but his Sydmey Symphony renditions are so much livelier than the Warner Bros. Symphony renditions from 1990. The new renditions are played much more energetically, perhaps because they were recorded live. The chance finally came for me on Saturday, August 15, 2015, to hear Daugherty conduct this material, live, at the Hollywood Bowl!

What I experienced last night was not only the 25th anniversary of this whole concept, but it was “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II”, revised even further from the 2010 version. Luckily all the mandatory classics were kept intact – “The Rabbit of Seville” (Stalling’s tribute to Rossini), “Zoom and Bored” (with its zippy music and crazy sound effects), and, of course, “What’s Opera, Doc?” Milt Franklyn and Michael Maltese took the entire Wagner Ring Cycle, which usually lasts a day, and turned it into 7 minutes of brilliance! I enjoyed what was here immensely. It brought me joy that can’t really be put into words effectively. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra never sounded better. They played this music with respect and obvious admiration for the genius of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, and of course the classical masters as well. Having watched many of these cartoons as a kid, with my mother describing every gag to me, I knew what was coming. This enabled me to focus on the evening from a musical standpoint. I had never heard the orchestration in the end of “Long-Haired Hare” in great detail because the large crash sound covered it up. Last night, the entire cartoon score was performed live for the first time. Wow!

That’s not all, folks. Among other surprises were two new cartoon short subjects, “Rabid Rider” and “Coyote Falls”, a tribute to Mel Blanc by WB’s current voiceover artist Bob Bergen, and a balletic tribute set to the music of Camile Saint-Saens and performed by a member of the all-male troupe, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Additionally, I’d like to add my reverent tribute to the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. As Daugherty informed us, the Bowl is featured in five of the program’s cartoons, and the history of the orchestra’s musicians goes right back to the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the major Hollywood studios had their own, large orchestras that played for all the big films as well as countless animated cartoons. The LA Phil relived, and breathed new life into, all that history last night! What a thrill it was to hear them play the score to “Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl”, with Scott Bradley’s heartfelt tribute to Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture. Next time I listen to the operetta itself, the overture will immediately bring to mind another unforgettable night at the Hollywood Bowl, not to mention Bradley’s comic musical additions which punctuate the visual gags.

My final word: I give the performance 5 stars for the orchestra and conductor, and 5 stars for content. Before the concert started, I took three stars back. The program looked good, but there was no Dance of the Comedians to open the first act, no Beautiful Galatea Overture to open the second act, and “A Corny Concerto” was a no-show as well. I knew it would be an enjoyable evening anyway, despite these omissions. However, I’ll now add four stars back onto my rating. These substitutions completely made up for the loss of my initial favorite pieces. Wagner’s Lohengrin Act Three Prelude turned out to be a joyful evening opener that even managed to calm down the children in the crowd! Saint-Saens’ Swan from Carnival of the Animals opened the second act, accompanied by the funny ballet visuals. The second act’s new cartoons, Rabid Rider and Coyote Falls, were both hysterical world premieres, with new scores composed in the Stalling style. My mother’s description of the visuals enhanced my enjoyment of these selections. An 11 out of 10 rating might be a bit much, but there you go. The Bartered Bride and Galatea references in “Zoom and Bored” and “Long-Haired Hare” made up for not hearing the entire pieces played independently of the cartoons. I’ll now add one more star: there were my favorite scenes from “Robin Hood Daffy”, which is one of my favorite non-music-related cartoons in the series. I love it when Mel Blanc sings as Daffy Duck in that glorious spoof of Medieval songs that opens the cartoon. This particular Looney Tunes moment brings me continued pleasure! From an orchestral standpoint, hearing the LA Phil play this jaunty score, live, touched my heart in the best way – it’s my favorite piece of WB cartoon music not based on an existing classical piece! My new rating is 12 out of 10 stars! That’s two thumbs up and two gigantic carrots! Bravo!

Oh, and did I mention those zany sound effects? Mostly they’re the work of the equally zany Treg Brown. His work for many of the classic cartoons was heard digitally, which was really something! Meep meep!

Alright, LA Phil! Cue the Merrie Melodies Theme! That’s all, folks!

Sullibration! (A Salute to Sir Arthur Sullivan)

Here’s my tribute to a composer whose work I’ve been into since I was four years old. He’s the English classical music composer, Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan. Most people only know of his partnership with the dramatist William Schwenck Gilbert (think “The Pirates of Penzance”, “H.M.S. Pinafore”, and “The Mikado”). His compositional versatility has only been re-evaluated since the mid-20th century. This aspect of his career continually astounds me. How could the guy who wrote the music for “The Pirates of Penzance” also write “The Lost Chord”, “Onward Christian Soldiers”, the operas “Ivanhoe” and “The Beauty Stone”, the “Irish” Symphony, and “Overture di Ballo”? Some of these are still performed occasionally, though the two serious operas are rarities that have only recently been given their due, with important professional recordings. Sullivan wrote his best work for musicians like himself, but he wrote his lighthearted theater pieces for money, which I continually forget. There are beautiful moments in both types of pieces, music lovers, so open your hearts and listen joyfully. I present a sampling of Gilbert and Sullivan plus some delightful moments from his serious pieces. Here’s a toast to the versatile career of this musical knight. May his versatility be remembered and Sullibrated throughout the world! May we sing and play his praises loudly so all may hear! Three cheers for Sir Arthur! Hip, hip, hurrah!

I’d like to share with you some music from the last two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Many people think that in terms of his output of light music, these are some of Sullivan’s most tuneful pieces. Such a shame that they are rarely performed, due to their large casts and excessive lengths, but on the positive side, these works have many delightful musical moments!

“Utopia, Limited” Medley (9:23)

The selections are as follows:
1. “Drawing Room Music”
2. “Society Has Quite Forsaken All Her Wicked Courses” (Minstrel Song)
3. “First You’re Born”
4. “Henceforward of a Verity” (from the Act I Finale)
5. “It’s Understood, I Think”
6. “A King of Autocratic Power We”
7. “Oh, Maiden Rich”
8. “Oh Make Way for the Wise Men!” / “In Every Mental Lore”
9. “There’s a Little Group of Isles Beyond the Wave” (Act II Finale)

Here are the bits of material from this operetta that I was able to learn so far. I arranged this as an improvised four-hand piano medley: two tracks, each with two hands worth of my piano playing. The sound I used is “Natural Grand,” which is the piano sound I’ve been using on my Yamaha Motif 6 since earlier this year. The first track consists primarily of bass lines and chords, while the second track features mostly melody lines and my own harmonic ideas on the higher notes. Gilbert’s libretto is very weak, and Sullivan’s music is reminiscent rather than fresh, but it has its charms. Enjoy this sampling from a Gilbert and Sullivan rarity!

“The Grand Duke” Medley (9:28)

The selections are as follows:
1. Overture (includes references to “The Good Grand Duke”, “Why, who is this approaching?”, “My Lord Grand Duke, Farewell” (from the Act I Finale), “Your Highness, There’s a Party at the Door”, and “Well, You’re a Pretty Kind of Fellow”)
2. “The Prince of Monte Carlo” (The Herald’s Song)
3. “Oh, a Monarch Who Boasts Intellectual Graces” (from Act I Finale)
4. Dance (Act II)
5. “By the Mystic Regulation”
6. “Come, Bumpers – Aye, Ever-So-Many” (The Baroness’s Song)
7. “For This Will Be a Jolly Court” (from Act I Finale)

Here’s what I’ve memorized thus far, from the last Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration. Just as in “Utopia, Limited”, Gilbert’s libretto is flawed in many ways, but Sullivan’s score is another praiseworthy effort. It’s another improvised four-hand piano joy-fest!

That’s all I have so far, but keep checking back! There might be something new!

The Music of “Forever Joyful: An Operatic Musical Comedy”

This project is a tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan’s individual influences on me as an artist. Gilbert taught me everything I know about words, and a lesson in great diction is to hear the experts deliver his lines as only they could. Sullivan taught me everything I know about music, and there is still much to learn. His satires of serious composers served as my introduction to a serious appreciation of classical music. Together with the best shows of Broadway from throughout the decades, the “music” of musical theater has played an important part in my life. I acknowledge my appreciation for this music, as well as a love for my values and sense of optimism, in a story which I’m currently writing. The words have been taking shape since late September or early October of 2013, inspired initially by a health/nutrition class I took at Palomar College. In the interest of focusing only on my music, I will not include the words of the story here, which are lengthy, operatic, self-indulgent, and about as arrogant as anything I’ve ever composed. The musical ideas for the show will combine a wide range of musical influences, including classical music, jazz, Broadway musicals, hymns, rap songs, and others. This is not the first time this has been done, but my treatment of this idea will hopefully be different enough, and full enough of just the right amount of funkiness, to distinguish it from other attempts at musical genre-bending. These three improvisations attempt to illustrate the old-fashioned joy and lightheartedness of the story, whose characters are inspired by people I’ve gotten to know throughout my life, most notably my neighbor, Anne, who inspired most of this story’s content. So sit back and enjoy yourself, as I give you these improvisations inspired by this quirky story of optimism kicking cynicism’s butt!

Lady Anne (8:24)

I made this on Christmas morning, 2013, inspired initially by Sir Arthur Sullivan and Kate Smith. This improvisation takes place during the winter, and tells of how Anne Trustworthy (“Lady Anne” as she’s affectionately known) got the whole cast together to make the holidays happen for her friends. The community’s tight budget allowed them to stage a small-scale revue to raise money. The music is dedicated to my neighbor Anne, and is a mixture of her favorite music styles and ideas, from the hymn-like organ section, to the formality of the harpsichord section, and finally, to the frivolity of the many informal dances done by the cast, as expressed in a series of short musical sections influenced by Broadway shows, cowboy songs, and of course, Gilbert and Sullivan.

Hail to Thee, Fruit and Yogurt (4:44)

I made this on February 13, 2014. Here’s a solo piano improvisation in three sections, inspired by Sullivan and by boogie woogie, honoring one of my recent favorite meals. This piece will also be used in “Forever Joyful” in keeping with the show’s themes of joy and health.

Behold the Grape Tomato (5:42)

This was made July 19, 2014. Here’s a Sullivanesque improvisation, reminiscent of his spoofs of classical composers of the Baroque era, namely ideas of Handel found in “Trial by Jury” (“All hail, great Judge”) and “Princess Ida” (“This helmet, I suppose”). My neighbor Anne brought over some tomatoes from her garden to give to my mother; this piece was inspired by my reaction to the flavor of one of them. It tastes just like this music sounds! The sound I used is “Movie Ensemble”, made up of strings, brass, cymbals and tympani. I recorded this on one track, but I adjusted the volume on each of my keyboard’s four sliders accordingly throughout this improvisation. Enjoy!

Till next time, everybody … It’s been fun!

Concert Review: Bennett at the Bowl! (08/02/2013)

It’s my Dad’s birthday weekend. We hadn’t been to the Hollywood Bowl yet this summer. Who better to go see at this iconic venue than Tony Bennett? The man is still performing at the top of his game!

Me, my parents and my little sister had a great time. We stopped at Oinker’s for some food, then raced through Amoeba Music to stock up on more CDs to add to my growing collection: Stephen Sondheim, Oscar Peterson, Joey DeFrancesco, Charles Gounod, John Pizzarelli, and, of course, the man of the hour, plus too many others.

Finally we arrived, a little more than an hour before the concert started. By coincidence, Tony Bennett and my Dad were both born in August. This concert took place a day before Tony Bennett’s 87th birthday today (August 3). Musically, we had Tony Bennett’s current rhythm section: Lee Musiker on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar, Harold Jones on drums, and Marshall Wood on bass. Tony Bennett’s daughter, Antonia, came to the stage for the first set, a collection of eight standards ranging from Noel Coward to Johnny Mercer to Cole Porter. Her voice was okay, if not great, and the arrangements supported her very well. She did a nice cover of nOel Coward’s “Sail Away” and Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” (written for the film version of Kiss Me Kate), as well as a few other numbers I didn’t know until now. She even acknowledged her dad’s birthday with an uptempo “You’re a Lucky Guy.”

Intermission took half an hour. Everyone was waiting anxiously for Tony Bennett’s first number. At 9:00 Tony came on, with the swinging vamp to Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens.” For 65 minutes, the performer swung through his greatest hits, from “Cold, Cold Heart” to “Just in Time” to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” There were uptempo numbers, ballads, a few mid-tempo tunes, and some surprises too. I didn’t know there was a verse to “The Shadow of Your Smile” until this concert. Harold Arlen’s “One for My Baby” received a swinging Count Basie-style treatment from the rhythm section, with Tony phrasing the tune as only he could. All of us are still impressed at his abilities to hit the notes he was able to hit that night, particularly in Gershwin’s “They All Laughed.” Hearing the sound of his high A on the line “Who’s got the last *laaaaaaaugh* now” bounce off the Bowl’s concrete was truly something memorable, one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. He did all the songs I was hoping for and more; I was especially anxious to hear Irving Berlin’s “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” a Fred Astaire favorite that has become one of Bennett’s signatures. The number was done faster than usual. The ballads were the highlight, with favorites like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Kander and Ebb’s “Maybe This Time,” Charles Strouse’s “Once Upon a Time,” and Charley Chaplin’s “Smile.” Sam Coslow’s “Sing You Sinners” and the optimistic “When You’re Smiling” allowed for some audience participation, as Tony got us all to clap on two and four while the rhythm section vamped along. Also of note was the cover of Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friend” in duet with his daughter. After “When You’re Smiling” he took a few bows, managing a jog back on stage before his last one. He then did an encore of Gershwin’s “Who Cares?” Afterwards, he brought out his daughter once again, who had the audience sing “Happy Birthday.” What an appropriate conclusion to this swingin’ evening! Now to learn some Tony Bennett songs for upcoming gigs!

Words and Music

Hi, Music Lovers…oh, and word lovers too.

This post is a tribute to my writing in general. I say this to prepare you in advance. There’ll be way more words here than music, most likely, and I admit, when I’m in “classical music” mode, my words can occasionally put people to sleep!

While I still can write the joyful and lighthearted pieces I’ve been doing for myself since I was little, I don’t do enough of them, and that’s unfortunate. I’ve become quite serious and operatic in my writing over the years, and that style of writing, as beautiful as it is artistically, seems commercially dated in the 21st century. It’s not that I don’t want to write pop songs for today’s performers and have these songs played on the radio. My problem is that my passion (or as I spelled it earlier, “pashion”) gets in the way, and the willingness to explore and be commercial often goes out the window. I just wanted to say up front that I like commercial pop music just fine, even if my passion goes towards much more “grand” ideas.

Here are a few pieces I’ve written, and I’ll also explain why I decided to write my own words and music initially in an old fashioned Frank Sinatra style. I’ll continue the old fashioned writing till I find a style of music and words that’s uniquely “Vincent Young”, something cool and commercial but also artistically satisfying. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Underwear Blues (2006)

2006 was the year the whole songwriting kick started. I rediscovered jazz, received my Mac from Uncle Pat, and using my music keyboard (in this case, a Yamaha Motif 6), I improvised, in GarageBand, the instrumental “Underwear Blues.” This is a song that’s closely based on the idea of “The Blues with Larry”, a VeggieTales song which spoofs many different styles of blues. I’m proud of “Underwear Blues” for what it is, a fun little tune, but I know in my heart that I’ve done better things since then. Just for fun, though, here it is for completeness, in two versions.

GarageBand project, 2006: piano, bass, drums, and saxophone.

Table 41, January 15, 2013.

My Stepping Stone for Songwriting: Lipton and Rosenthal’s “Sherry!” (2006)

Shortly after “Underwear Blues” was born, I received the world premiere cast recording of the 1967 musical, “Sherry!” with book and lyrics by James “Inside the Actors Studio” Lipton, and music by the composer Laurence Rosenthal, known for his film scores. The musical is based on the famous play “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” This musicalized version was a flop; in fact, the original cast of the musical never made an album, since the show didn’t even do well enough on Broadway to interest record companies into making one. The score was thought to have been lost, but some thirty-odd years later, the trunk containing the entire score was found at the Library of Congress, unused since the original run of the show. After the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra (of all orchestras) recorded the orchestrations, Lipton’s dream cast of guest stars from “Inside the Actors Studio” laid their vocal tracks over the orchestral tracks, finally resulting in a lavish studio cast album. The cast for this recording includes Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Tommy Tune, Mike Meyers and others. It’s no long-lost masterpiece, so I understand why the show probably didn’t work so well, but taken outside the theater, the score is fun, enjoyable, tuneful, and not half bad. Much of it, in fact, sparks my jazz piano sensibilities, as some of the tunes would lead brilliant lives of their own, outside the context of the show. The ballad “Maybe It’s Time for Me,” sung by Bernadette Peters on the recording, served as my inspiration to write songs. At this point, I didn’t want to write songs for any big time performers. I wanted to write songs for myself and other aspiring young instrumentalists and vocalists interested in Frank Sinatra. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t know the names Gershwin, Rodgers, Porter, Kern, Carmichael or Berlin, not to mention the thousands of other composers and lyricists (and the few who did both). These types of songs have been done countless times, whether sung in the shower or played by the Boston Pops Orchestra! Their simple structure makes them easy to remember, and often these songs were written for entertainers who could merely “carry a tune.” I wanted to write these types of songs, because I still believe there’s a market out there somewhere for old fashioned melodies with new lyric ideas. Here is the result of that dream, in words and in music, starting in 2009. (Some day you’ll hear something commercial!). First, an example of “Maybe It’s Time for Me,” by Laurence Rosenthal and James Lipton, from the musical “Sherry!”, performed during my July 7, 2012 gig at the Remington Health Club. I use the string section part of the sound “Movie Ensemble,” which is the sound I use at my gigs for my orchestral selections. The sound is made up of strings, brass, tympani, and cymbals. Enjoy this obscure show tune, which hopefully will become a hit one day…Better yet, let’s see a fully-staged production of “Sherry!” The show may not be great, but the score must be re-examined for tunefulness!

You’re Gone, But That’s Okay (2009)

This is based on a Gershwinesque melodic idea from a friend formerly of Poway High School, Kim Monroe. Some months after recording the instrumental version (see “Before and After Voice Lessons…”), I finally put words to the tune. The song was to be written for a piece called “Somewhere Along the Way.” In the story, it’s sung about a fictional female character leaving for Hollywood to pursue her career as a lyricist for film songs.

Lyrics:

You’re gone, but that’s okay
I thought that you would stay

While you’re up there in Hollywood
Rhyming your words
I’ll write new melodies
That nobody else has ever heard

Before you went away
Life was a cabaret
It may be hard without you here, but what the hey?
I know we’ll meet someday
We’ll make Broadway
You’re gone, but that’s okay

Here are two vocal versions of the tune.

Table 41, January 15, 2013

GarageBand project, July 23, 2013, with four tracks: piano, bass, drums, and guitar/vocals (inspired by John Pizzarelli). Admittedly, my vocals are not the best, as I was tired here, so I’ll do a re-take when time allows.

My Life, My Love (December 2011)

Scene: December 24, 2011. Cottonwood, Arizona. A holiday trip to our family friend Annette’s house. I’ve got my headphones plugged into one of the keyboards I always take on trips. I record an improvised ballad tune in tribute to my mother’s parents. After playing the recording for Annette the next day, she remarks beautifully, “That’s very singable – I can just hear the words.” In about an hour’s total time, working at various points throughout the day, Annette and I co-wrote the lyric and I finished off the melody. It’s the first slow song of mine, “My Life, My Love.” The idea of writing slow songs has haunted me ever since hearing the singing voices of many female stars, and after much listening, this is the result. It’s inspired by the mood of the Frank Wildhorn tune “Christmas Stays the Same,” even though Wildhorn’s tune is a waltz and mine isn’t.

Lyrics:

Try as I might to live,
It has no meaning
Try as I might to love,
I don’t know how
How can I begin to understand
The where, the why, the now?

Why would I care about loving?
Loving means to live
Music is the language of love
That is why I love you
It gives meaning to my life
This is so exciting knowing you

You are the one, you are the one,
You are the one for me
You put the “and” in “me and you”
The “will” in “this will be”

Isn’t it incredible
Isn’t it a miracle
That we two have met
And merged as one?
Music is the way we fell in love
Because it’s you, my life, my love

Here is a live version from the January 15, 2013 Table 41 gig.

June in October (May and June 2013)

Here are some words I wrote this year, with every intention of turning them into a musical piece. The idea had been going around for quite some time, and lyrically, this is the work of which I’m proudest! This is still awaiting a musical setting, preferably a jazz waltz, but here are the words to whet your appetite!

Dedication: To one of my middle school teachers, June Stockbridge, for kindly and patiently taking the time to understand the world from a different perspective. Thank you for allowing me to share my world with you. Most importantly, thank you for accepting the position of director at a camp for people with disabilities. I love you. Finally, to all the great Italian opera composers, to Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and to the rest of the great songwriters, composers, conductors, and performers from all genres of music, for giving me the source material to describe my world in words!

There’s a time and a land, an ideal I’ve known
Full of joyful commitment and laughter and fun
It’s the one thing I value in all my life
And it rules every day till my time on Earth is done!

June in October, when singers arrive to sing
June in October, when jazz and the waltz have their fling
When orchestras play the music that makes us march in place
When performers put a grin on everyone’s face

When each voice steps out for their solo, I’m smiling from ear to ear
Will it be the bass, the tenor, or soprano I’ll hear?

Then I sing! I laugh! I play the keyboard!
I romp with the chorus and find a new friend!
At last! It’s June in October!
May the joyful music never end!

June in October, when legends from sports astound
June in October, when dancers can dance around
Where any kind of lover is made to feel welcome
Where hearts are always warm inside
When it’s June in October, you’re proudly displayed
And you’re set for a jubilant ride!

If drama would please disappear for an evening
If this weren’t a frivolous dream
Then June in October would always be
When gentle, joyous souls run free
When hearts would sing and dance with glee
When love would be made for you and for me
Where men, women, children and all would find
Some humorous, rhythmic peace of mind
Where no one is judged in a negative way
Where good things matter all night and day
Please, bring me back, and I know it would seem
That somewhere you’ll hear your lovely theme
June in October will always be when joy reigns supreme!

There’s Laughter in Everything

Music and Lyrics by Vincent Young (June 16 – July 20, 2013)

Here’s a song I wrote for my mother’s friend, who has become an important friend to my family. It’s my theme song for her, while at the same time paying tribute to a great entertainer whose speaking voice lovingly resembles our family friend in the best way.

Dedication: To our family friend, Leslee, with all the joy in my heart. I love you. To Carol Burnett, for a famous quotation whose joyful ending words served as the song’s title; specifically, I wrote the lyric in response to the final words of the quote, and the tune came about as I kept in mind the jazzy arrangements she so often used and the melodic inflections that I hear in her alternately confident and gentle voice, whether speaking, singing or, yes, even laughing! I give her many musical ear tugs (cue harp glissando). This song also owes a great deal to the sense of optimism conveyed in the words and music of Jerry Herman, whose several tuneful scores (“Hello Dolly,” “Mame,” “Mack and Mabel” and others) helped me overcome some major adversity in my life. Thank you, Jerry. Finally, a tip of the hat to Frank Sinatra’s favorite songwriters, Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and a nod to Ken and Mitzie Welch, a songwriting and arranging team known for the music and lyrics behind Carol Burnett’s specialty numbers. Without the individual gifts of these talents as my guide, this song wouldn’t have been possible!

Lyrics:

Let’s make our lives a joyful song
There’s laughter in everything
We’ll make you feel that you belong here
Just by the songs we sing

If we all can smile and say
Things’ll turn out great one day
If we laugh more, come what may
We’ll make this world more livable, more forgivable

Take my hand and then
I’ll show you the joy of life
We can laugh
As we’ve not done before

When our world’s too sad and bleak
Words can fail us, laughs can speak
Hey, babe, if ya wanna live
Then humor’s the gift to give
I say life can swing
So long as there’s laughter in everything!

Here’s the GarageBand project of my latest song, with 5 tracks: piano, bass, drums, guitar, and vocals! Enjoy! Don’t forget to think of something that’s funny to you, and have a good laugh!

Before and After Voice Lessons (2009-2010) … plus some other stuff

Here are a few items spanning from early 2009 to early 2010. During this time, I had only recently begun to add singing to my repertoire. My voice was rather thin and nasal (think Jerry Lewis or SpongeBob SquarePants), and lacked resonance (think of Nat King Cole singing a slow song). What I did possess, though, was joy, and thankfully I still remain joyful when the occasion calls for it! I had so much fun “singing” that the things I learned from Kevyn Lettau’s one-on-one voice lessons were a revelation to me (and still are), namely the constant dropping of the jaw in a slow song. These entries may be somewhat frivolous and juvenile in a good way, but they at least provide the listener with what my voice sounded like before I started the lessons and recently afterwards. It never really changed that much, and it’s remarkable that it’s taking four years and counting for it to change (this even goes for my speaking voice!).

So without further ado, here’s more music!

You’re Gone, But That’s Okay

For my Poway High School senior project, I chose to learn about the recording studio environment, specifically the technical aspects of what goes into the audio portion of an album before, during and after recording. Jazz guitarist Peter Sprague, a San Diego favorite, has a neat studio which he calls Spragueland (see the picture posted on this site). I visited it in March 2009 and recorded the instrumental rendition of an original tune, “You’re Gone, But That’s Okay,” based on an idea from a friend formerly of Poway High School, Kim Monroe. The song is written for a musical theater project which is still in the works. This jazz rendering features me on Peter Sprague’s grand piano, and the bass, drums and clarinet from my Yamaha Motif 6. While the bass and drums you’re hearing are sounds that already came with the keyboard, the clarinet sound comes from a piece of additional software that Uncle Pat got for the keyboard which emulates real instrument sounds. Pay particular attention to three aspects of this song: the drum track, which had some editing work done on it using ProTools, listening especially for the cymbal crash which kicks off the piano solo; the piano solo also had some editing done because my improvisation didn’t follow the form of the tune; finally, the ending features the piano and clarinet doing a simultaneous “tweet.” This also had to be edited because originally they didn’t come in on time.

Cole Porter at Exum

While this was a fun experience, I didn’t quite learn all I wanted about what truly goes into the audio engineering aspect of recording. So, a month later, in April 2009, I visited Scott Exum Recordings in Escondido and focused on the work of composer-lyricist Cole Porter, whose life and work I studied intensely on my personal time. A warmup medley, featuring me on Scott’s Baldwin piano coupled with my vocals, consists of “I Get a Kick out of You” (from Anything Goes), “Do I Love You” (from DuBarry was a Lady), “We Open in Venice” (from Kiss Me Kate), and “Anything Goes” (from Anything Goes). (Check back for updates regarding this item; it doesn’t want to upload!). Following this, I did a fully-orchestrated, improvised, big band arrangement of “Do I Love You” featuring Baldwin piano and vocals recorded separately, and then from the Motif 6, bass, drums, saxes, trombones, trumpets and strings! Scott had to use AutoTune to adjust some of the pitches on a few spots in the vocals; this was the wake-up call that I needed singing lessons if I wanted to continue doing vocal numbers! Scott also had an applause sound handy from a sound effects disc, which we decided to tack onto the end for comic effect. While Scott Exum’s mix is nice to listen to, not every instrument can be heard. So, after Scott gave me a CD with each individual track as wav files, I imported each track into GarageBand at home and created a mix of the tune where every instrument is heard; this is the mix I used for my senior project, and it’s the one you’ll hear right now!

Me and My Shadow

I made this in January 2010. Most of my GarageBand projects take 4 to 5 hours, and are usually spread out over a few days. This one was created and finished in 67 minutes. This 1920s standard, written by Al Jolson, Billy Rose and Dave Dreyer, received a swinging update from Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. when they performed it as part of the Rat Pack’s early-‘60s nightclub shows. Specialty lyrics were added for Sinatra and Davis by Sammy Cahn, which I slightly reworked in places to make them fit my world. I had never done a re-creation of a vocal duet with myself before, so this was my first informal experience trying it out in GarageBand. A rhythm section of piano, bass, drums, guitar and vibraphone is the foundation for two separate tracks of my vocals, that of “me” and “my shadow,” so to speak. So which voice is me and which is my shadow? You decide!

Check back for updates to this post – I have a few other projects to add here!

Miller Time: Are you in the mood?

If this were an ad for beer, it might say, “Cool, clean and refreshing!” This time, it’s a tribute to one of the most popular musicians of the swing era: trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader, Glenn Miller! I recorded these using the GarageBand software on my mac. I used my keyboard/synthesizer, in this case, a Yamaha Motif 6, to play the songs, with each instrument sound recorded separately on one track in GarageBand. This long overdue project gathers together some favorite hits including “Little Brown Jug,” “American Patrol,” “Moonlight Serenade” and more. Here are the five songs I completed during the summer of 2012. Updates were made in 2013, but due to my extremely varied music interests, work on the album has now become an impossible Gilbertian battle between the size of my hands and of my orchestral mind. I can assure you, music lovers, that one of these years, the album will be completed! Here’s what I’ve done so far. Ladies and gentlemen, live from Poway, California, featuring the Yamaha Motif 6 Big Band, it’s Miller Time! Here’s hoping you’re all…

In the Mood (03:19)

Here’s my rendition of the Joe Garland/Andy Razaf tune, as made famous by Glenn Miller in 1939. Piano, bass, drums, trumpets, trombones and saxes; solos for a tenor sax, alto sax, and trumpet. Finally, you’ll be hearing two of my own ideas. First, I decided on the drum sounds to give my re-creation a rousing introduction. Then, for the call-and-response between saxes, I thought of the alto sax instead of the other tenor sax, since the alto sax would provide me the opportunity to improvise some new melodic ideas.

Little Brown Jug (03:57)

Joseph Winner originally wrote the music and lyrics for this tune in 1869. In 1939, 70 years later, Bill Finegan made his famous instrumental arrangement for Glenn Miller and his Orchestra. Here’s my version of this swing era classic! Piano, bass, drums, guitar, trombones, trumpets and saxes; solos for tenor sax, trombone, trumpet and piano (my idea; Finegan didn’t originally specify a piano solo in his arrangement).

American Patrol (03:22)

Originally a march composed by F. W. Meacham in 1885, Jerry Gray wrote this swing arrangement for Glenn Miller’s orchestra in 1941. Here’s my re-creation of Gray’s arrangement, with my own drum introduction. Piano, bass, drums, trumpets, trombones and saxes; an important part for baritone sax and a solo for trumpet round out the orchestration. Also of note is the use of mutes in the trombones for an airplane effect. I used the French horn part of a sound called “Action Flick” to re-create Jerry Gray’s idea by way of a few punch-ins on the trombone track.

A String of Pearls (03:36)

Composed by Jerry Gray in 1941, with lyrics by Eddie DeLange, Glenn Miller recorded his own instrumental arrangement of Gray’s composition in the same year. Here’s my re-creation of this popular swing tune with my own piano intro. Piano, bass, drums, trumpets, trombones and saxes, plus two tenor sax soloists and a trumpet soloist.

Moonlight Serenade (04:51)

The classic Miller sound (a clarinet lead with four saxes harmonizing underneath it) is associated not with the uptempo and mid-tempo swingers, but with the ballads. Emotionally, the ballads are the hardest for me to re-create: they take the longest because I’m thinking of phrasing and harmony that is so iconic that it must be treated with respect and love for his sound. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, and I’m proud, beyond mere words, of how this one turned out. Glenn Miller composed, arranged and recorded this song in 1939, with lyrics added later by Mitchell Parish (“Stardust” and many others). Here’s my heartfelt re-creation of Miller’s signature song, complete with the famous clarinet-led saxophone section. This will be the final song on the album. The introductory piano solo is my own idea. Piano, bass, drums, clarinet lead, two alto saxes, two tenor saxes, trombones and trumpets.

Another Little Brown Jug (03:15)

The tempo is a bit faster and it contains some sax and brass parts I missed in the version I made last year. Also I did a full track of rhythm guitar, something I hadn’t done in a GarageBand project before, save for a John Pizzarelli-inspired cover of “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.” Here it is, with 12 tracks! Piano, bass, guitar, drums, two alto saxes, three tenor saxes, trombones (with a solo on the same track), trumpets, and a trumpet solo (on a separate track). This is the version I’ll use for the album.

Tuxedo Junction (03:49)

This song was originally composed by Erskine Hawkins, Bill Johnson and Julian Dash, with lyrics by Buddy Feyne, and first introduced as an instrumental by Hawkins’ orchestra. Glenn Miller’s arrangement was written and recorded in 1939, and released the following year. This instrumental version was one of Miller’s most popular efforts, and is one of my personal favorites. Here is my rendition of this swingin’ arrangement, with my own piano and drum intro. The brief piano solos weren’t written into the music, allowing for each pianist to improvise within their short time slots before the band would re-enter. In addition to these brief spots, The piano has featured much more prominently in this arrangement since the modern Glenn Miller Orchestra’s mid-1970s incarnations, under the musical direction of Jimmy Henderson and most famously Larry O’Brien. Taking after these leaders, I decided to feature more piano ideas than in Miller’s original recording; the piano solos you’re hearing are my own ideas. 12 tracks: bass, guitar, piano, drums, three tenor saxes, two alto saxes, trombones, trumpets, and a solo trumpet.

June 18, 2013: Sammy Cahn Centennial!

You may not know his name, but his contribution is legendary. He was Frank Sinatra’s muse, and every performer wanted a lyric from him. Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics to many songs, with such composers as Jule Styne, James Van Heusen, Gene de Paul and others providing the melodies. Sinatra recorded more of his lyrics than anyone! Some of these songs include “Time After Time,” “Day By Day,” “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Be My Love,” “My Kind of Town,” “Teach Me Tonight,” “The Tender Trap,” “All the Way” … the list is endless! I will salute the work of this alternately swinging and romantic lyricist throughout my next Table 41 gig on June 18, 2013, to mark his centennial. “Ring-a-Ding Ding,” as Sinatra would say.