The beauty of France. The traditions of Italy. The glorious breezes of the Mediterranean. The vibrant energies of Monte Carlo and Monaco. On his Angel Records debut, Europa, pianist/composer, John Gentry Tennyson, weaves together an eclectic collection of musical vignettes, sonic postcards which convey the story of a three month stay in Monte Carlo and the way the journey led to his own spiritual transformation. Combining his lifelong affinities for jazz and classical music with authentic European touches and a wide range of moods and rhythms, Europa plays like a travelogue which draws upon the language, religion, music and art that has inspired countless generations of creative endeavors.
While his own self-marketed debut, Real World Trio, which he performed with jazz greats, Randy Brecker and Dewey Redman, strictly explored his rich jazz improvisational skills, Tennyson chose for his current project to complement that by reaching back to his early days as a classical piano prodigy in Houston, Texas. "I was touring with a road show of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and became friends with two of my fellow orchestra players, both of whom were also classically trained," he recalls. "Because my resume has so much jazz and pop, they couldn't believe it when I told them I loved classical music and grew up on it. I told them I hadn't had the opportunity to play classical music for years, and they urged me to pursue something with it."
While Tennyson's amazing diversity has led to performing with everyone from fusion jazz guitar legend, Al Di Meola, to divas, Sophie B. Hawkins and Sarah Brightman, his notion was that beginning his next project from a solo piano standpoint would make for the purest, simplest statement he could make. "When I got to Europe, I didn't set out to compose any one specific thing," he says. "Instead, I fancied myself like Bartok, who gained inspiration from traveling from place to place, kind of a musical impressionism. Rather than just sit in a room and come up with things off the top of my head, I immersed myself in the things I was writing about. I had a vague idea in mind about chronicling my stay, and then I simply began responding to the amazing cultures of France and Italy and the whole region."
The places he experienced and the unique people he encountered and befriended were true contributors to Tennyson's current philosophy of life, which he sums up in the simple phrase, "learning to live, not just survive." He explains: "There is a rich beauty there that comes from the depth of their history, of overcoming the struggles of life. They embrace life very passionately and really live in the moment rather than worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Their great enjoyment of life is something that reflects the way I always felt music should be-earthy, rich, robust and colorful."
"It's interesting how my life has evolved, and what I have learned over the years," reflects Tennyson. "When I was young, all I wanted to do was be a concert pianist, and now, so many years and experiences later, I want nothing more than to focus full time on playing my own music for audiences throughout the world. My deal with Angel Records gives me the freedom to express the ideas I want to express, and a platform to begin sharing my music with the world."
If it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then the rich musical landscapes of John Gentry Tennyson's Europa work wonders in conveying the essence of his sensory and emotional experiences. Each from the waltz-like, "Preludio" and the graceful, "Città Vecchia", through the percussive, hypnotic, "Fortunato", and the Latin and straight-ahead jazz textures of the title track, "Europa"-tells an amazing story with a vision all its own. Seen through Tennyson's eyes, the world can look nothing but spiritual and beautiful.
"Truth, Beauty, and Love (yes, all with capitalization) find a mesmerizing Mediterranean motif on this unusual, appealing outing that draws major influences from Parisian 'cafe' society and Italian arias. Better known for back-up band status with guitar legend Al Di Meola and divas Sophie B. Hawkins and Sarah Brightman, piano-man Tennyson weaves together an electric, if eclectic, amalgam of musical vignettes that veer from jazz to classical to 19th century pop and back again. What unites these disparate elements is an unfettered sense of 'joie de vivre', an eagerness to embrace life to the fullest. Even the cool, Bartok-meets-the-Beatniks groove of "Fortunato" cannot resist a passionate middle section before easing into an admittedly intellectual ending. But it is the ear candy, accordion-like accents on "Città Vecchia" and the gloriously swank "Milonga Sinistra" that appeal to the senses most; the latter's heady blend of cheap whiskey, talcummed flesh, and Gauloise smoke is the best invitation to walk on the wild side since Lou Reed's seminal statement."
-PJ Birosik/All About Jazz
"The finest of the best - Tennyson is incomparable in his delicate sense of melody and dynamics - a powerhouse of an intuitive musical language. Rhythms intoxicate and John's technical runs amass awe in the experience. A tonal treat and undeniable mastery in composition. Europa soars!"
"Imagine Chopin and Chick Corea by way of a melange of French, Spanish, and Italian influences, all played by a Texas jazzman and recorded in Monte Carlo. It could have been a mess - it's anything but..."
-Daedalus Books Online
"...plays like a lush foreign film score, complete with sweeping romantic scenes, and elegant reflective solo piano moments, and a few dashing rhythmic surprises along the way."
-All Music Guide
"...Vivid small-ensemble orchestrations. The results are diverse, dramatic and evocative..."
-Chuck Berg/Jazz Times
"A most excellent album to have in your 'romantic'music collection. The music will have you hypnotized with its' continuous elegance. The perfect selection for unforgettable memories!"
"...if when listening to this disc the name Armando or Anthony pops into your head, it's not necessarily your imagination. In addition, the title cut, Europa, proves to be an excellent vehicle for Tennyson to really stretch, and sounds quite inspired on this piece. To sum up, this CD is like pizza; it does an excellent job in combining old world Italian customs with new world American ideas..."
-Flibbert J. Gootsy/All About Jazz
"...Tennyson - a pianist with a severe case of wanderlust - creates quite a beautiful recording. Europa, the title track, which begins with Tennyson showing off his incredible classical chops before jumping head first into a playful Latin-jazz romp-that tune captures Tennyson's complete European journey in a matter of minutes."
"When listening to this CD, I've actually gotten up and danced around my living room. But don't tell anyone. I've bought tapes for all my family and closest friends."
-A Music Fan from Westchester, NY
"...this music is classical, jazz and tango. Europa is universally beautiful and inspiring music."
JOHN GENTRY TENNYSON
John Gentry Tennyson made his professional debut at age 11 with the University of Houston Symphony and started doing regular gigs at fourteen. Seeing Oscar Peterson perform helped Tennyson realize the wonders of traditional jazz as well, and he majored in Jazz Studies and Piano Performance at North Texas State University. During these developmental years, Tennyson also played in Pop/R&B bands and played in house bands behind many performers who were passing through the Houston/Dallas area. His career took off after moving to Manhattan, where he began playing live or studio gigs with jazz greats, Eddie Gomez, John Patitucci, JJ Johnson, Danny Gottlieb, Mel Lewis, Joe Morello, Diane Reeves, Hiram Bullock, Will Lee, Rodney Jones, Terri Lyne Carrington, Tom Harrell, Chuck Loeb, Bucky Pizarelli, Mark O'Connor and Monty Alexander. He has also recently spent time on the island of Ibiza, off the coast of Spain, composing material for his next album featuring more of a Spanish flamenco flavor.
Piano-John Gentry Tennyson
Violin Solists-Joyce Hammann (track 6), Todd Reynolds (track 8)
Europa String Quartet:
Violin 1-Joyce Hamman
Violin 2-Dana Ianculovici
Recorded on September 20 & 21, 1997 and May 28, 1998 at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn, NY by Michael Brorby.
Recording/Mixing Engineer-Michael Brorby
Mastered by Kurt Lundvall at Lundvall Audiophile Recording & Mastering, Ltd.
Produced by John Gentry Tennyson and Barry Salmon.
All compositions written and orchestrated by John Gentry Tennyson.