Stories Behind the Song

We all know that songs take on a deeper meaning to the listener if they know what inspired the tune to be written or just in the name of the tune itself. I’ve written a lot of tunes that have weird names and I play at a club which is frequented by rowdy patrons, so I don’t usually get a chance to talk about the tunes and what inspired me to write them. I thought that I might take this time and blogspace to clue you in to a few (I’ve to date written a little over 200 compositions that I consider complete and record-ready) of the titles and where they came from.

Velvet Hammer– Last summer I did a mini-tour of the beautiful country of Kyrgystan with bassist Curtis Lundy. We were on a 3 or 4 hour bus ride out of Bishkek to some other city to perform, when I decided to strike up a conversation with Curtis about the business side of the music. So we were talking about networking and he tells me how it should be done. He said that you have to be persistent, whether it’s by email, letter, or phone (preferably by phone). He mentioned that it’s best to let clients know who you are and let the music be the last thing that hits them. And when the music hits them, it’s like a VELVET HAMMER.

Takes Courage to be Happy– I wrote this song for the beautiful, human nightingale, Abbey Lincoln. I was a student at NEC when I heard her live for the first time. I love the albums she did with Max Roach, Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Coleman Hawkins, etc. She is also a wonderful actress, starring in Nothing but a Man and For Love of Ivy (alongside Sidney Poitier). She’s probably most known on screen for her appearance in Spike Lee’s Mo Betta Blues, where she plays Bleek Gilliam’s (Denzel Washington) mother.

After one of her Valentine’s Day concerts in Boston, I was able to meet her backstage for an autograph and to chat a little. She gave me her number and asked me to call her sometime to talk music, etc. It took me about a year to gather up the courage to call her but I finally did. In the course of this conversation, Abbey suddenly says to me, “You know Jason, It Takes Courage to be Happy”. A song was born.
Be Aware- I was inspired to write this tune after reading the liner notes of Wayne Shorter’s album Night Dreamer. In the notes when describing the song Oriental Folk Song, Nat Hentoff and Wayne explain that:

“In this, as in all the numbers, there are various repetitive devices which serve to accentuate the overall theme of the set. “There an attempt,” Wayne explains, “to keep telling the listener that ‘Judgment is Coming’. The word, however, is not ‘beware’ but rather it’s ‘Be Aware’!”

This tune was also an attempt to write in a harmonic style that mirrored Wayne’s style, but not any one of his songs in particular.

It’s a Brand New Day– I wrote this song for brother Paul Poindexter. Paul is a manager at the club I play at, Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston. At the end of most nights in an effort to clear out the place, Paul has several phrases that he likes to use. One of those is, “From the table to the bar, from the bar to the floor, from the floor to the door…it’s time to suck em down, pack it, stack it….It’s a Brand New Day in the neighborhood….

Black Beauty – This 8-bar waltz has a rubuato intro which is also used as an outro. I composed the melody and all of the ideas in the intro only using the black notes on the piano, and upon hearing it I thought that it came out quite beautifully, hence the name Black Beauty…

Crash– I wrote this tune after the melody came into my mind when I was watching the Academy Awards ceremony several years ago. It’s named after the movie that won “Best Picture”, which I didn’t think should’ve won.

3rd Shift– I wrote this tune for my mom. For over 20 years, my mom worked the 3rd Shift in the textile industry. This tune is a waltz that’s a contrafact (a tune that’s based on the chord changes of another tune) of Wayne Shorter’s tune entitled Night Dreamer. But my mom isn’t someone to be sleeping on the job!!

Blue Grotto Parts I and II– I was inspired to writes these two tunes after visiting the Blue Grottoes of Malta while I was on tour with Greg Osby’s band a while back. We were taken in small sailboat into these gorgeous caverns which I found to be stunning and serene. These tunes came pretty fast to me after this experience.

It Only Takes One– This tune in 5/4 time is a concept piece. The premise is pretty simple. I just took one note (a concert D) and changed the underlying harmony beneath to fit the note of the melody. When we perform this tune, the players playing the melody are encouraged to play the concert D in any rhythmic configuration or duration. We usually play off of each other when we play the melody. The solo sections to this tune are split into three parts, with each soloist cueing for the next soloist to begin at the next section. The complete name of this tune is It Only Takes One Note to Make a Song…

Six to Three– This ditty is also a concept piece of mine written about 3 years ago. The idea for this one is that I took two intervals, and major sixth and a minor third and used those as the distances of the notes in the melody. It gives the melodic lines a diminished quality. The song’s in a major key so when you combine the melody with the harmonic function of the piece you get a really quirky piece. This song somehow reminds me of one of my earlier compositions Hoop-ti-Du.

That’s Just Lovely– I wrote this tune while I was on my honeymoon in 2008. It’s a ballad that I composed with the help of any instrument at my disposal (I actually write tunes in this manner quite frequently). When I wrote it I had a pretty clear idea of what it would sound like when the band played it. When we played it, the song sounded just as such, and that happens half of the time. The other half of the time I have to do some tweaking of the feel from the rhythm section to get things to settle in.

Sway– I also wrote this tune on my honeymoon last year. This tune is very tricky and we’ve only played it a handful of times thus far. The tricky thing about this tune is that is in 13/8. There is a melody, a counter melody (made up of 13 eighth notes, which keep the song together because they’re played throughout the song), a bassline, and harmony. The title comes from the movement that took place in my body when I tried to feel the rhythm of what I was hearing. What’s funny about this is that when I had the rhythm in my head I thought that it was in 15/8 time, but when I wrote it out it ended up being in 13/8, which doesn’t make it any easier, but it a fun, groovy tune nonetheless.

Sudoku Suite- Now my Sudoku suite is a series of 12 songs that each have their own titles. Those titles together form this phrase: Beauty n Numbers; Obsessive, Compulsive, Disorder, Is, Now, Under, Control, Thanks, (To The), Guidance, (Of Fun and Games) .I wrote this piece at a time in my life when I was dealing with a serious OCD issue involving numbers. I was obviously obsessed with doing Sudoku games but in addition to that I had a compulsion for adding up the numbers on a license plate in my head as I walked down a street. When I would ride on the subway, I would add up number in all of the ads on the trains (usually involved phone numbers). So writing this suite out somehow caused this serious disorder to subside to the point now in my life that it’s not an issue.

If any of you readers out here would like to hear some of these tunes in their entirety send me an email to pogo56@hotmail.com requesting the sound files and I’ll gladly send you some live tracks.

Keep swingin,

Jason Palmer

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