Neal Miner (bass), Chris Byars (tenor sax), Richie Vitale (trumpet), John Mosca (trombone), Steve Ash (piano), Tom Melito (drums); recorded 12/9/02, 12/10/02 at Sean Swinney Recording
All compositions by Neal Miner
Cover painting by Michael Marisi Ornstein
Engineering: Sean Swinney
Rear Photo: Luke Kaven
One of the most in-demand bassists on the Smalls scene for the last decade has been the New York-bred Neal Miner. Miner, along with like-minded associates known elsewhere on this label, also plumbed the New York scene as a teenager and quickly developed into one of the steadiest sidemen on the scene. For ten years, heâ€™s been the exclusive accompanist to jazz legends Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross. Heâ€™s actually been a choice of most of todayâ€™s vocal stars. Itâ€™s easy to see why they like him. Heâ€™s sought out the elder masters on the NY scene and absorbed their lessons. His warm, full tone and keen timing lend a solid foundation to any jazz ensemble. The appealing and refined original repertoire presented here now gives us the portrait of a complete artist.
Aside from considering Neal's estimable talents as a musician, we owe Neal a debt of gratitude for bringing many of New York's greatest older musicians into Smalls, such as Bubba Brooks, Herman Foster, Dick Katz, and Eddie Locke, and for working hard to expose us to new composers and new ideas through his "Jazz Composer's Forum" features on Sunday nights, which featured artists such as Larry Goldings, Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Mark Turner, Omer Avital, Joel Frahm, Bill McHenry, Sam Yahel, Dwayne Burno, Ben Wolfe, Ned Goold, Jason Lindner, and Avishai Cohen among others. This work helped to establish a distinct identity for Smalls, and sparked a number of new musical endeavors.
Neal Miner's musical contributions to Smalls are well represented in this disk. The compositions presented here have been performed at Smalls many times and in many different group settings. The musicians convened for this recording knew the tunes and each other well. All present, with the exception of Steve Ash and Tom Melito, are members of the Chris Byars Octet, in whose book these tunes have also found an eight-part home (documented on Night Owls / Smalls SRCD-13). Mosca and Vitale are both veterans of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra. Byars and Mosca are both longtime front line mates from Across 7 Street, and their creative work together over the last decade qualifies them as among the smartest horn pairings in the history of the music (witness, for example, Made In New York / Smalls SRCD-2). This session has an extraordinary warmth and ease about it. By the time I got through John Mosca's solo on the opening track ("A Clever Air"), I was hooked on it. Breezy brilliance.
As a teenager, I began composing music. It started out as an occasional activity, but soon grew into a favorite past time. My inspiration mostly came from listening to master composers such as Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Tadd Dameron, and Jerome Kern. Contemporary fellow composers Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Johnny Ellis, Spike Wilner, and Joe Magnarelli have also influenced my writing.
A bass player is primarily an accompanist whose job is to follow others in the group, add support, rhythm, and a harmonic foundation. When composing, arranging, and leading my own band, I find it most satisfying to have the chance to shift my position in the group and be able to shape the music just the way I want it to sound and feel.
Writing just a melody and a chord progression is only half the fun for me. I like to embellish my tunes with compositional devices such as writing an introduction, sendoffs signifying the different soloists, background figures behind the soloists, and shout choruses for the drums to play off of.
The tunes on this recording, I believe, are my strongest works to date. In deciding how I wanted the music to be presented, I asked Chris Byars, a long-standing colleague, to orchestrate my compositions for a sextet. Chris is not only a brilliant saxophonist, but also a gifted composer, arranger, and all around musician. After years of playing in his groups and his playing in mine, I feel no one really knows my playing and writing quite so well as Chris does. Without changing a note of any of the melodies, chords and arrangements that I wrote, Chris cleverly voiced the three horns in a way that really brought my tunes to life.
The musicians on this recording are players that I have respected my whole career as a bassist. They are some of New York City's finest sidemen on the jazz scene. Not only did I choose these gentlemen for their supreme musicianship, but also for their ability to play with one another. They all have a knack for making a band sound and feel great, but most importantly, they know how to swing.
Another important element of this recording is the influence that Smalls Jazz Club has had on me since it opened in 1992. I am so grateful that Mitch Borden found a place for me at Smalls, and encouraged my composing and band leading. From 1997 to 2000 Mitch gave me the Sunday evening, early show, slot to do as I wished musically. Originally I ran a series called the Jazz Composers' Forum where I featured the original music of three different composers each week. Then eventually I started using the time to focus strictly on my own music.
When The Evening Sound recording project was in development, Mitch Borden graciously offered me many weekend engagements at Smalls to work on the music presented here. The band had a chance to play together and grow in front of an audience. I am very proud of the way this recording sounds. I could not have done it without the talents and dedication of my band mates. Thank you Steve Ash, Chris Byars, Tom Melito, John Mosca and Richie Vitale.
ABOUT THE MUSIC:
A CLEVER AIR is an anagram for the love of my life, Clea Rivera. Although I am not as clever as she, considering that this anagram was totally her invention. We went to Interlochen Arts Academy together for high school and reconnected after 13 years. Clea is a powerful actress and a beautiful person inside and out.
CONTEMPLATIONS, literally defined as meditation and deep thought, is without a doubt a frequent activity in the life of a jazz musician. One of my oldest tunes, I have periodically changed and added to this composition over the years. I hope you enjoy this current version adapted for this sextet.
THE EVENING SOUND, which is the title track of this CD, has a dual meaning. Most might think it is referring to a sound or music that is heard late in the day as night falls. For me, the title is actually referring to the beauty of the evening sky reflecting on the waters of the Long Island Sound, a gorgeous view I used to stare at from my grandmother's house in Connecticut. I was inspired to write this piece while sitting at her spinet piano entranced by this vista outside her window.
COFFEE SHOP is the name of a restaurant located on 16th Street and Union Square West. Up until 2002, while brunch was being served, diners could listen to some of the best Brazilian musicians living in New York City. After years of listening to and being inspired by these wonderful groups I wrote this piece in their honor.
SHADES OF BLUE is my own melody written over the chord changes of Irving Berlin's classic, "How Deep is the Ocean". This was also the name of the very first jazz group that I played with back in high school. This composition is my tribute to those fun days of exploration with band mates Bill McHenry, Kevin Cobb, Xavier Davis and Joe Smith.
NIGHT OWLS aptly refers to the schedule which most jazz musicians and their fans keep. This line for bass and trombone is written over the chord changes of Joe Young and Bernice Petkere's classic composition, "Lullaby of the Leaves". This current version of Night Owls also debuts a duet for the bass and trombone which was written by Chris Byars. Listen for it towards the end of this piece.
URBAN LIGHTS is a waltz that reflects my love for the nighttime in Manhattan. The lit windows of the buildings, the neon signs, the headlights of the traffic, and the street lamps generate a unique glow that transforms the city into a more tranquil environment.
WILLOWMERE is a beautiful little community in Connecticut, where my father, Bill Miner, grew up. This tune and this CD are a dedication to his life. An avid record collector, historian and discographer, my father taught me all about jazz. I would not be where I am today if it were not for him and his love for this music. Thank you, Dad.
BLACK BEANS accompanied by yellow rice and a side of fried plantains has always been a favorite of mine when dining at any of New York City's many Cuban restaurants. This tune expresses my deep admiration for Salsa music.
BLUES FOR RED & BROWN is a blues head that I wrote for two of my heroes/teachers on the bass, Red Mitchell and Ray Brown. Although I never actually studied with either, their recordings are an education unto themselves. On gigs, this is our theme song that we use to end each set.
-- Neal Miner 2006
I would also like to thank Mitch Borden, Sean Swinney Recording, Lofish Productions, my mother Abby Wakefield, my sister Reeve Washburn, and a special thank you to Luke Kaven, founder of Smalls Records, for making this all possible.
The producer would like to thank Tom Currier, Marcy Granata, Jeff Brown, Yutaka Matsumoto, and Debbie Millman for their gracious assistance.