Watching for Watchung Plaza Liner Notes
Sometimes composers have a story behind the works they write. Jazz compositions often get colorful names that seem cryptic from the title, but make perfect sense when you know the whole story. What follows is the story of how these compositions got their names. Read on and you will know..."the rest of the story."
Watching for Watchung Plaza
The title track, Watching for Watchung Plaza, is a tune that was written while riding on a bus from New York City to Montclair, NJ. I was summoned to Montclair to finish some last minute changes on a book I was engraving for a music publisher and took some writing materials to the Port Authority for the bus ride. Being a bit anxious about missing the stop and since I had never taken the bus to Montclair before, I asked the driver if he would please let me know when we got there and took a seat near the front of the bus so I could hear the announcements. While riding, I wrote this tune, hearing in my mind the hard swinging feel, and finished it just as he announced the stop for Watchung Plaza, scribbling the title, Watching for Watchung Plaza.
Pocono Serenade got its name while reflecting on musical concepts during a car trip from New York City to Marquette, MI. When I drive (alone) I will often think of something to practice trumpet fingerings. I finger notes for scales or patterns in all keys. I call this practice “mental practice” because it is the process of burning brain cells just as if you had the instrument in your hands, but it is much safer than trying to play while driving. In any event, I was practicing (mentally) all the modes in all keys running through them to give my brain a workout. I decided that doing my major modes in all keys was a little easy so I decided to turn up the heat a little bit and began working on all the modes of the harmonic minor scale in every minor key. While doing this, I got to the Aeolian mode of harmonic minor, and realized that this was one cool scale! It has the root, minor third, major third, sharp four in it, and the rest, scale tones five through eight, are like a major scale. It is like thinking A harmonic minor but starting on F natural. In any event, I was so taken by the cool tones that existed in this scale, that I wrote a composition that utilized it in two aeolian (of harmonic minor) modes, F and D-flat. I named it Pocono Serenade because the idea for the composition came while I was traveling through the Pocono mountains on the way to Michigan from New York City.
Thadish is a tune I wrote for two reasons. The first reason was that I had not been doing enough playing in the key of A-flat, so I wanted to write a tune that would help me get comfortable in that key. I happen to love the music of Thad Jones and use his charts to help teach my students important concepts about how to swing. Thad had a way of making dissonance consonant by writing harmonically advanced music that swings very hard. I love his music.
I will often practice with the help of Band In A Box. It is a software program that is a pattern sequencer and generates accompaniments for users to practice jazz improvisation. (I wish I had this program when I was younger) This remarkable software will also generate an improvised solo! And it generates pretty nice ones too. One day while practicing, I let the program make a solo in the style of Freddie Hubbard and I heard this super cool lick that the computer generated. It utilized the seventh, ninth and sharp-eleventh of a dominant seventh chord in an idea. It sounded so cool and “out” to me that I decided to use this device in a composition. Thadish utilizes the resulting augmented triads in the melody of the composition, combining some dissonance in a hard swinging feel in the key of A-flat, a key that Thad liked to write in from time to time. I decided to dedicate the tune to Thad Jones by naming itThadish.
In Town Samba
In Town Samba is a composition that was written as part of an assignment for Jim McNeely when I was studying in New York. Mr. McNeely wanted me to compose a few tunes before my next lesson and I had to go to Atlantic City, NJ for the weekend. I think I wrote five or six new tunes while riding on a bus to and from Atlantic City. The last tune I wrote for the assignment (In Town Samba) wasn't finished until I was back in Manhattan. That's how the tune got its name. The tune is written in two main sections. The first section modulates to fairly distant keys every two bars. The second section of the composition features relatively static harmonic movement in the tonic key and subdominant.
After my next lesson, Mr. McNeely suggested that I develop this composition into a work for jazz orchestra. He also suggested that I make a departure from purely tonal conventional writing and incorporate some bi-tonal techniques in the assignment as well. The arrangement I wrote features this tune as well as auxiliary sections, introduction, interludes and closing material, that pit two keys against one another in a bi-tonal texture. I chose the keys of F major and A major because of the interesting clash these keys would have while happening at the same time. I kept some of these auxiliary sections in the quintet arrangement on this CD. The composition is available for jazz orchestra with full score and all the parts.
This composition was written with atonal techniques. While studying at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH, I had a class in 20th century music theory called Pitch Classification Theory. The techniques we learned for analysis were tools tailored to grouping notes into very compact cells called prime forms. I found that these techniques, or more specifically prime forms, could be used for composition as well. The composition is based on the prime form [0, 2, 5]. In jazz terms this cell features a perfect fourth with a whole step nested inside. All the melodic material was generated utilizing this three-note cell. The unusual root movement is constructed with adjacent manifestations of the cell as well. The title Matrix just seemed to be a natural choice because of the system of composition used to write the piece.
Blues for Two Thirds
For me, the most interesting thing about playing blues is the strife that exists between the major third and minor third in a major key. The tonic chords lend themselves to playing the major third while improvising and the subdominant chords lend themselves to playing flat-three melodically. While working on improvisation, I started to practice superimposing other diatonic keys over the home key of a blues. I decided to carry this idea a bit farther and compose a melody that uses pentatonic scales based in both the keys of the major third and minor third as they clash against the home key. So you get Blues for Two Thirds, the major third and the minor third.
This tune is the result of some philosophical musings. Adversity is a part of the life experience. But when it comes, there are two ways to look at bad experiences. The first is to dwell in the problems and bad feelings that come with adversity which lead to frustration, anger, and depression. The second is to look for opportunities that may exist that you would have never seen had the problem not surfaced. This is what I was thinking about while writing this tune.
Do You Know Why?
Nothing mystical about this title. The opening melodic statement sounded like it would work with those words as a vocal text. Sometimes it is as simple as that!
A Homonym for Henry
Of the compositions on my first solo release, this tune was the hardest for me to write. I normally don't edit my music very much as I compose, but I must have printed 20 revisions of this tune. I was struggling with getting just the right harmony to fit the melody in one particular spot. Henry Mancini is one of my favorite composers. His music is so beautifully melodic and richly colored with regard to harmony. Those who have been fortunate enough to play his music realize that it is so well crafted that even though it may sound very sophisticated, it lays extremely well on the instruments for which he wrote and is most often easy to play. Mancini wrote very idiomatically for the instruments. Because he is one of my favorite composers, I wanted to dedicate a composition to him. His compositions have enriched all of our lives.
As we all remember from grade school, a homonym is a word that sounds the same as another word with a different meaning. The words "there and their" are homonyms for each other. When I wrote this composition, I crafted the melody so that the first phrase is the same as the last. When you hear the first phrase, it has a sort of antecedent quality, needing other phrases to complete an entire musical thought. When you hear this melody at the end of the composition, it has the quality of a consequent phrase. It completes a musical thought. Same musical melody, two separate meanings, dedicated to Henry Mancini, and thus…A Homonym for Henry.