Simple Gifts Liner Notes

I arranged Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the style of a Bill Evans waltz, with the A section over a C pedal and the B section over a G pedal.  It starts quietly with each solo increasing in intensity, culminating in the Chaz’s drum solo, and then back to the B section.

“Tuscarora” was the title track to my previous CD, “Tuscarora: Short Stories for Jazz Piano.” I wrote it, thinking about a favorite Boundary Waters lake, with the Miles Davis and Bill Evans piece “Blue in Green” in mind, and the head alternating between Craig’s bass and Richard’s tenor sax.

My friend Sarita Born told me of “Dame la Mano,”  an Argentinian children’s song, based on the same melody as “Red River Valley.”  I gave it new harmonies and a new meter, 7/4 time, broken into 4 and 3.  Changing harmony and meter freshens up a piece, requiring the players to completely rethink rhythm and soloing.

“They Can’t Take That Away from Me” is the first vocal on the CD, starting rubato with piano and voice on the introduction.  Many of the old show tunes are known by their choruses, but often the pieces lose their context when the introduction and verses are left out.  The introduction underscores the fear and sadness of the tune, prompting me to set it as a waltz with minor harmonies, rather than the traditional perkier major harmonies.

Steely Dan was one of my favorite jazz influenced pop/rock/funk groups, and “Aja” was my favorite album and tune.  I put it in 5/4 to give it a more Latin feel.  We decided to try in on Rhodes in the studio, and liked the sound.

We also decided in the studio to record “Lady Day” as a vocal/piano and tenor sax duo, as Richard and I play many duo performances.  My friend Frank Reed wrote the poem about Billie Holiday thinking back over her career.  I left the poem on my piano for several months, and then wrote a melody and harmony to the poem, attempting to match the melancholy of the beginning, the hopefulness of the middle, and the uncertainty of the ending.

“Simple Gifts” is the last vocal on the CD.  Richard’s wife Linda commented to me once how she very much liked the song.  As a gift to her, I wrote this arrangement, giving it minor harmonies and 7/4 time.

“Elie’s Theme” is an original piece from the Fingersteps Program (http://www.fingersteps.org), in which children with disabilities write melodies and perform music using adaptive computer hardware and software developed by Dan Moffatt.  It allows persons with disabilities to actively participate in music, even if they cannot play traditional instruments.  Several children, including my daughter Rosie, and Dan’s children Patrick and Jennifer, have written melodies through Fingersteps.  I have written several jazz pieces based on their melodies.  Elie Gorman wrote a four note phrase.  I took the four notes and made revolving five note phrases out of it (12341, 23412, 34123, 41234, etc.).  I envisioned it as a brushes ballad, but the soloing took it to a gospel grove.

“My Favorite Things” is the most avant garde arrangement of the CD.  It is based on the Coltrane version, but in 5/4 time and a bass line emphasizing a tritone (E and Bb) to add to the dissonance.  The structure goes through the piece only once, with solos in between the verses, ending with Chaz’s explosive drum solo. 

Thanks to Richard, Craig, and Chaz, Frank Reed, Matthew Zimmerman, and Dan Moffatt, for their simple gifts, and to all of our families for their support, and thanks to you for listening.

Larry McDonough
mcdon056@umn.edu