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It was an early cherry blossom filled spring afternoon in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the year was 2006. The venue was The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival’s Afternoon Concert Series at the Civic Theatre. On stage sat Jimmy Cobb behind his drums, three amazing horn players; Derrick Gardner, Rob Smith and Pat Terbrack held trumpet, tenor and alto saxophones respectively in their hands. A young, fresh-out-of-Julliard, energetic upright bassist, Matt Heredia stood tall as I moved away from the Steinway concert grand piano toward the microphone.
A Tribute to Oscar Peterson
It’s when you hear piano playing miles above the ordinary,
That you can’t deny, rapid fingers flying by,
Must be Oscarniceinicity that’s making the sound,
Oscarniceinicity, when he plays He Is Gone.
Then he strikes a chord so clever, makes my head spin, mind or matter?
Harmony with soul, gets right down and makes you whole,
Gonna’ be a groovy day when you hear Oscar and Ray,
Oscarniceinicity, Oscar “The Great”.
Do you hear his grand piano?
He plays a tune with such enamor.
It must be Oscar’s Magnum Opus,
Let’s shout it out that Peterson is “King”.
Its Oscarniceinicity the jubilation of his dream,
Is playing jazz his way, on a ordinary day,
When he plays the eighty-eight in such a Kind of Blue way
Oscarniceinicity, its Oscar’s day!
A Tribute to Dave Brubeck
Blue Rondo Ala Turk, taking the riff to a rhythmic renaissance.
Brubeck found Bela Bartok, kindred In His Own Sweet Way.
Dave Digs the Disney songs, Alice in Wonderland, So this is Love,
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Upon A Star.
Take Five a charmer,
Of course that catchy tune was written by his partner, Paul Desmond.
Carnegie Hall was the concert that changed our way of hearing Jazz, Paul
cool in his frozen stance, while Morello melted the time.
Brubeck, Ambassador, carried the torch and a tune to a distant shore.
Brubeck, his Wolf Pack Band, part of Patton’s Army days.
Jazz went to Oberlin, Jazz Goes to College, ovation in Nineteen Fifty Three,
Then came a big break,
His face was on the cover of Time Magazine. Time Out.
Three to Get Ready and King for a Day,
You see Blue Shadows on the Street, Strange Meadow Lark on high.
Eugene Wright walked steadfastly,
While Desmond’s horn wisped melancholy.
Then, Everybody’s Jumpin just to beat the band,
Feel this Raggy Waltz and give yourself a dance,
Brubeck walks the sand, hearing jazz inside his head.
Notes: When I was sixteen my father took me to hear The Dave Brubeck
Quartet, Live at Carnegie Hall. I had been playing accordion for five years, but
knew I had to play jazz piano after hearing Brubeck’s incredible quartet. The
last line in the song comes from an experience I had while vacationing in
Sanibel Island. I was walking the beach one morning and in the distance,
coming towards me, was this strikingly tall figure with large head-phones over
his ears. As we passed I caught only a peripheral view of him. A few moments
later I stopped, turned and thought, “That was Dave Brubeck”! I shook my
head “no, it couldn’t be”. Later that evening I stopped in at Ellington’s, a local
jazz eatery, to listen to the music. When the band took a break I had a
conversation with the vocalist who goes on to say, “hey you should have been
here earlier, Dave Brubeck was in for dinner”.
Sonny Side Up
A Tribute to Sonny Rollins
Here’s the Man!
Who played the Guggenheim with great command.
Here’s the cat!
Who laid flat on his back and held his tenor high,
In the Five Spot Bar,
Playing like a star, Oleo and Four.
St. Thomas came as a surprise
When he waltzed off the stage and went out the door,
Stoopin’ and a turnin’, just one song per set.
Then Lucille just flew into his arms,
Whispering that she’s his lucky charm,
Sonny Side Up!
Night and Day, he walked up to the Brooklyn Bridge to play,
History was made that very day his sound
Blew from the bridge on high, Saxophone Colossus.
Doxy, in a new dimension,
Live at Village Vanguard.
Ole, Oleo, Ole, Ole, Ole, Oleo
Way out West was cool. There’s No Business like Show Business.
Sonny Rollins, Sonny Side Up.
Notes: It was a sweltering summer evening at the Five Spot Café when Sonny
played with his trio, the year was 1961. On stage sat Bob Cranshaw on bass
and Roy McCurdy on drums. My friend, the late Lester Sachs, an astounding
bassist, and I were 15 at the time. We managed to get into the club with both
our brothers ID. At one point during the last tune of his three one-tune per-set
format, Sonny literally leaves the stage. He strolls outside and plays to the
audience through the window. Simultaneously the rhythm section is keeping
up the rapid-fire tempo never missing a beat. Sonny returns and proceeds to
lays on his back under the piano while endless waves of improvisation come
out of his tenor sax. Lester and I sit mesmerized as he jumps off the stage
and picks up his wife Lucille as if she was as light as a feather, and then they
embrace. Three years later we got to play with Sonny at the Village
Vanguard. I was also in attendance at the Guggenheim Museum in 1972.
Rollins, Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Giufree had all received fellowship grants and
this event featured their music. Taylor and Giufree were very formal and
intense in their presentations. Sonny was the last on the program when he
began you heard his horn in the distance but you couldn’t see him. Suddenly
he appeared, strolling smoothly down the ramp, alone, carefree, improvising
lines, melodies and sounds for a half an hour and we were all blown away.
A Thousand Songs
A Tribute to Shirley Horn
Music by Ron Di Salvio
Heard a thousand songs sung sweetly,
By a bird in early spring,
Oh no, that was Shirley Horn, our Queen.
Play those chords for me, magically,
Make me laugh, make me cry,
Bring a tear, bring a sigh,
Your song will never sleep, always ours to keep,
Love with tenderness,
Sweet sorrow, such soft emotion.
Where are you now?
Swinging on a star in the sky up above?
Shirley sway, Shirley play,
As night turns to day on the Earth.
Trumpet call in space,
Harmony with grace,
Lush songs, ethereal.
Is it Shirley’s own song left behind unsung?
Her words won’t gather dust or darkness.
Where are you Shirley Horn?
Please sing your song once more.
Note: It was a cold rust colored fall day in October, 2005 when I heard about
Shirley Horn’s passing. I went to bed that night and was awakened by the
sound of her voice, it was three AM. I went down to my piano and by eight AM
this was the song that I had written. Shirley was a most unique singer, with an
incredible way of phrasing, putting stress on certain words and letting others
vanish into thin air. Her chord voicing’s mesmerized, astounded and
confounded theorists. She shared her inner soul with us in songs like “Here’s
to Life and “You Won’t Forget Me.” Here’s to Shirley Horn, Our Queen!
A Tribute to Charles Mingus
When Charlie plucked the “A” string
All the room began to buzz.
His fingers up and down and sliding,
Striking stellar sounds.
The magic in the moment,
Came when Mingus played his bass so tenderly,
Listen and you’ll hear him saying,
“Keep on playing; make the music swing until the daybreak”
Morning comes and Charlie sleeps,
Beneath the Underdog
Fables of Faubus could never be told,
When Arkansas was bleak.
That didn’t stop him from telling the tale,
Back in Nineteen fifty-nine, Hora Decubitis,
Segregation doomed, Hear a Bird Call in the morning.
Peggy’s Blue Skylight, Good-bye Pork Pie Hat and love.
I X Love, I X Love.
Ah Um, Jelly Roll in red,
Agony, ecstasy, lyrical strife,
Dark death in black and blue.
Playing his bass with indelible force,
Mingustino harmonies, Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul
Pussy Cat Dues.
Pithecanthropus Erectus, Self Portrait in Three Colors,
Goodbye Porkpie Hat and love, IX Love, IX Love.
Notes: Beneath the Underdog is the title of his musical autobiography. Fables
of Faubus is a piece from the Ah Um album. Mingus wanted to record Fables
of Faubus, (Faubus Fables) which contained lyrics about the Arkansas
Governor Faubus’s segregationist views; however Columbia Records found
them to be too controversial and would only let him release the instrumental
rendition. Mingus went on to record a version on his own. ( See youTube
CHARLES MINGUS, Original Faubus Fables ) Mingus, the Latinist, created
composition titles using words like Pithecanthropus Erectus, referring to the
primitive ape like facial profile of the “Java Man”, and Hora Decubitis meaning
“at bedtime”. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is the alternative title for Theme for Lester
Young. I’ve written lyrics to this composition and it serves as the introduction
to Mingustino. Theme for Lester Young was first sketched out at the Half Note
in New York, the night Mingus learned that Lester Young had died.
A Tribute to Bud Powell
Da boo da boo, da boo da boo, da boo dee day, hear the sound of bebop,
When you hear Bud play piano, he blossoms,
Just like a thousand crocus in the spring.
Find your niche, da doe bee dee ba, da ba, da dee,
Right on pitch, the intonation can reveal, discordant sound.
Listen to the licks from the horn, beat of the drum,
Voicing of chords, fingers up on the keys.
Hear that riff? The trumpet can play melancholy,
Walk that bass, the groove that seems to mesmerize.
Its jazz you see, if you can play the changes and be free.
What a day! Blossoms bring color and joyful sweet remembrance;
Of fingers so dexterous, chords of outrageousness,
Buds Blossom, keeps blooming,
I hear him, now the bebop notes are flying off of the key.
Tonight Mood Indigo
A Tribute to Duke Ellington
The ever present elegance of Ellington,
Lies in his Mellow Tone.
A Sophisticated Lady, walking on by,
Sheds a tear from a Star Crossed Lovers quarrel.
In a Sentimental Mood he feels the Warm Valley below,
Like a Prelude to a Kiss that’s gone astray.
Please Just Squeeze him till he wakes, for he has Got It Bad,
That Mood Indigo, Don’t Mean A Thing.
Not A Mellow Tone, but harsh display,
From the Satin Doll who left him in that way.
So he walks and Takes the a Train south,
And goes to Brooklyn Heights and strolls the promenade.
There a lonely tenor plays his song,
To the wind, from the bridge, way on high.
“The melody around me, chasing music over, under.”
Must he hear that haunting song tonight?
Tonight, Mood Indigo,
Tonight, Tonight, Mood Indigo.
Notes: This song combines ten titles of Duke’s and one of Billy Strayhorn’s
into a story line lyric The lonely tenor is Sonny Rollins, whose famous album
The Bridge, is an account of his practicing on the Brooklyn Bridge near the
promenade in Brooklyn Heights. My first piano duo played in Brooklyn Heights
in the late 60’s where tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson “the Phantom” lived.
Joe surprised us one night when he brought his tenor and sat in with Lester
and I at a Chinese Restaurant located in the Hotel Bossert. It was shortly after
that he invited us to play at Small’s Jazz Club in NY with him.
A Tribute to Gerry Mulligan
When you’re in a stew,
Not sure what to do;
Need a help ‘in hand,
Try this tonic and you’ll feel just grand,
Don’t eat candy!
Feel the way his bari,
Blows away your worry,
When you hear the sound of Mulligan.
Gerry has a way to relieve all your strife,
It’s the way he plays it,
Listen to him phrase it.
Now you’re in a groove.
Please don’t lose your cool.
Hold it steady, steady Eddie.
Step right off of the blues,
Time to bend all the rules,
Jazz is where it’s at cat’s,
On a dreary day,
When you need a mind shift,
Take a taste of Mulligan Stew.
A Tribute to Miles Davis
When suddenly you hear in the night,
A muted trumpet playing soft then bright,
You will know its Miles, in his own mellifluous, mellifluous way.
The sound of silence, sound of Miles, eclectically,
As he turns his back to us all.
Music and space you find
Each time he blows bebop lines eternally.
Enharmonic allegory, anacamptic, rainbow glory light,
Radiant star, So Near, and So Far, Prince of Darkness.
Listen, hear his trumpeting call,
Nocturnal dream in a dark Bitches Brew,
Heaven and Hell in a deep Kind of Blue.
When you hear Miles Davis play sweetly, Solar
Black clouds and star-crossed
Night turns to daybreak,
Miles in his Silent Way.
A Tribute to Chick Corea
Who’s that you say?
Who plays piano in an essential way,
Straight Up and Down, his music sways
A Ritual with Inner Space and time.
Chick is hot,
Just like a Humpty Dumpty, Day Dream in Green.
Song of the Wind, fills you with Captain Marvel’s theme.
Mystic Bridge, feel the Moon Spray,
Crimson Lake, Softly as You Go astray,
Then a slide;
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,
Twing, Twang, Tweet
A Return to Forever,
Romance the day,
Again and Again.