It was late in the morning on New Year’s Day in 2000, as I went for a walk in the short, gray Swedish day, that the first thought occurred to me. A chance at a new beginning. A phrase for the day. A phrase of melody attached itself. A second line came. A song was born, very quickly, as sometimes happens.
In the late winter of the year before I had stumbled onto an idea—or, more accurately stated, it came to me, a spark in my cortex—for a suite of 15 songs based on a unifying principle. I knew in that moment that all 15 songs were already there and just had to be dug out. Like potatoes, I want to say. It took 18 days to write the whole suite. 15,000 Days is the name of it, as I knew from that first moment. I will probably release it one day. But better even than the songs, most of which I still love, is the memory of that spark! That certainty that the work was already there. This was thrilling. I thought I’d like to do that again. In the fall a second one came: a song for each month of the year. Boom, there they were.
So when, on New Year’s Day, I found myself putting together a New Year’s song, the thought occurred, and produced that same kind of a spark, that I could write a song for EVERY holiday. Or, anyway, the ones that mean something to me. I found nine. And the songs came very nicely. It was fun and easy and I laughed a lot.
In fact I just kept writing after these were done, and it wound up being four years before I got around to recording them. At that time I had been listening a lot to Chopin, and also to Leopold Godowsky’s phenomenal—phenomonal!—studies based on Chopin’s études, and I wondered if there was anything I as a jazz guitarist could hope to play of his, perhaps with my little multi-track unit, the way I had been playing Bach for a few years.
There wasn’t much. Everything seemed so pianistic. The arpeggios, the big chords, the speed, and the complexity of some of it. Worst of all, the range! Pianos go so far outside my range on both ends.
But when I picked up his 24 Preudes, Op. 28, I could immediately see my way into some of them. So I went for it. It was a most rich and wonderful education. And they turned out to be, some of them, very accessible to a jazz improviser. The harmony made the same kind of sense to me that a Gershwin tune makes, for example. In fact I wonder if it isn’t Chopin’s influence on the Russian romantics like Tchaikovsky and Borodin, who I believe influenced the great American songwriters, that forms the basis of jazz harmony as it’s still practiced today.
I’m not equipped as a historian to support this assertion, but it was remarkable to me how much some of these resembled our jazz standards.
Another question I haven’t got the historical chops to answer is: why call these little pieces Preludes when they never serve as preludes TO anything? If he (and his emulators) were emulating the Well-Tempered Clavier (and just not getting around to writing the fugues), then that at least makes sense to me… Maybe it’s just the mood of the piece, creating an atmosphere, a mood of anticipation. Or maybe they are meant to be used as preludes to other works. Songs, perhaps.
And so the album at hand. Each of my little Holiday numbers gets its own Chopin Prelude, transformed in this way or that. The only one I try to play faithfully is the amazing No. 14, in Eb Minor. Frederic would have sounded great on a bandstand with Peter Ind and Roy Haynes, I have no doubt.
It’s just me on this album, singing and playing guitar, bass and bongos, and recorded by me in 2004. The cover painting is mine also.
Hope you enjoy. Happy New Year, Happy Valentine’s, Merry Christmas everybody!
April 28, 2012