I’m a guitar player and had originally planned on recording a guitar album with mostly original music. I hadn’t played mandolin very much (just simple parts for shows and recording sessions) and didn’t even own a good mandolin. Since I had recently learned a few jazz tunes on mandolin I thought it would fun to record them and that it would be a good test run for making a guitar album.
Michael Croiter has a great studio (Yellow Sound Lab) where I had done session work. The friendly atmosphere and great sound made it the perfect place to record, especially since he also let me use his great sounding Collings MF5 mandolin.
Drummer Eric Halvorson and bassist Adam Armstrong are great musicians and friends with whom I had played in a variety of situations ranging from backing singer/songwriters to R&B, jazz and rock gigs. They were perfect choices because they knew my guitar playing and my sense of phrasing even though they didn’t know if I could play mandolin.
So without knowing how it might turn out we had a short rehearsal and a week later recorded Bebop, Quasimodo, Freedom Jazz Dance, I Can’t Make You Love Me, Teen Town, Back At The Chicken Shack and the Bach G Minor Presto. The recording turned out much better than any one of us expected so I decided to record more and make an album out of it. I hope you enjoy listening to “Urban Mandolin” as much as we enjoyed making it!
Bebop is a great Dizzy Gillespie tune and was one of the first tunes we recorded so it’s fitting that it’s first on the record. Even though it’s pretty fast we had a nice dialogue throughout.
Quasimodo is a Charlie Parker song written over the chord changes to Embraceable You. It’s a tricky but fun melody to play on mandolin and even more challenging on acoustic bass, which Adam handles effortlessly for the first half of the head.
Freedom Jazz Dance is an Eddie Harris tune that was recorded by Miles Davis and has been done by many great musicians since. The way we did this is influenced more by the original Eddie Harris version but also by John Tropea’s take on this.
Presto from Sonata No.1 in G Minor – I was introduced to the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin when I took a guitar lesson with Adam Rogers quite a few years ago. And though I’ve always enjoyed trying to play these on guitar, it makes more sense to play them on mandolin since it is tuned like a violin. I started practicing this while playing at Radio City for the Christmas Show. I would bug any violinist who was sitting near me about fingerings or anything else to help. I’m thankful for their suggestions.
I Can’t Make You Love Me – I think this is one of the best pop songs ever written. We tried to keep the vibe true to the original Bonnie Raitt recording.
Teen Town is a Jaco Pastorious song made famous by Weather Report. While we keep the harmony and melody the same as the original, we do it with a train beat that creates a totally different vibe – one that you might find on an old Johnny Cash tune.
Bright Size Life is the title song from one of the first Pat Metheny albums I ever owned. The original key works well with the open strings of the mandolin.
Ready And Able is a Jimmy Smith rhythm changes song that I heard on a George Benson album The George Benson Cookbook. It’s also called Bayou on another of his albums - Benson Burner.
Armando’s Rhumba is a great Chick Corea tune that I first heard played by pianist Donald Brown, whom I studied with when I lived in Knoxville. He used to play this at gigs fairly often. I wanted to learn it in case he might call it when I sat in. Though I never got to play this with Donald, I still have great memories of hearing him play it. Since the original Chick Corea recording had a violin playing the melody I thought that it would work well on mandolin and sound good with a trio.
Bye-Ya is a Thelonious Monk tune that we do with a New Orleans feel but in 7/4. Thankfully, Adam and Eric were up to the challenge and made it a lot of fun to play. There is an ascending line that I played during the first A sections that made the melody deceivingly difficult to play.
The original Wayne Shorter recording of Witch Hunt on Speak No Evil has an intro that is much faster that the rest of the song. We do the original intro, but then keep that same tempo for the rest of song with a 6/8 groove. The idea for doing this probably came from hearing Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, but was also influenced by my playing guitar with Kofo The Wonderman. Kofo is one of the greatest talking drum players in the world as well as a singer and his band plays really great 6/8 grooves among other things.
Segura Ele is a Pixinguinha (Alfredo Vianna) choro song. I teach at The Collective and one of my guitar students brought this in to play on guitar. He was learning this for a Brazilian ensemble class. I have been exposed to so much music by students and other teachers at The Collective and am very grateful. While recording this album and looking for more material and I remembered this song. I found a couple of recordings: one by Pixinguinha playing this on flute and another by Henrique Cazes & Marcello Gonçalves doing this as mandolin/guitar duo. This is the only song that I heard mandolin play before I recorded. Though I really love both of these recordings both influenced what we did I’d say this version is closer to Pixinguinha.
God Only Knows is a beautiful Brian Wilson song. It’s one of my favorites because of the Tony Asher lyrics, the harmony, the bass motion and the overall feeling of it. My original idea for this was to play it like the Ahmad Jamal trio might do it. While that was a starting point it developed into our own thing. Eric colors this beautifully.
Back At The Chicken Shack is blues in F by organist Jimmy Smith. It was fun trying to imitate an organ while playing the melody on mandolin.
Some Skunk Funk is a Randy Brecker tune made famous by the Brecker Brothers. I first heard this while in high school when a sax player friend brought over “Heavy Metal Be-Bop”. While I was thinking about songs to do for the rest of this album I saw someone post a link to a video of them doing it again in the 90’s. I started tinkering around to see if I might be able to do with the mandolin trio. I knew within an hour that it was possible but needed at least a few days to get it under my fingers. Adam also did a great job of finding a way to play it on acoustic bass and Eric plays a great drum solo.
Rollo Interior is a section of “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” which was written by Frank Zappa for Ruth Underwood to play on marimba. I felt the structure of this piece was strong enough to be a song in it’s own right so we played the melody then and as a group improvised freely over the form before playing the melody again.