Archive for Composition

Nothing to Hide Liner Notes

Posted in Improvisation, jazz trumpet music, Musical Influences, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2010 by pogo56

Hello all,

Since many folks that I know are checking out Nothing to Hide in the digital only format, I thought that I’d copy a sketch of the liner notes that I wrote for the album here. Digital formats have a big drawback where you only get the music, not the story behind the concept and the players. It’s sad to see. Most of the history I obtained about this music came from liner notes and books. This will probably assist in informing you on where each song’s concept came from as well as information about the player’s on the record. Here are the notes:

The concept for Nothing to Hide stems from the idea that I am an open book when it comes to paying homage to the trumpeters and musicians that influenced my styles of playing, composing, and arranging.

Fly Little Bird Fly: I developed a love for this Donald Byrd composition after hearing Darren Barrett, one of my musical mentors, perform it with his band on several occasions. Donald takes this tune at a breakneck tempo on the original Blue Note recording. I decided to arrange it in 5/4 time and play at slower pace. The staggered entrances and exits for this track was an idea of mine that was inspired by Wayne Shorter’s composition entitled Unity. I like to call this method the “Unity” method.

Nothing to Hide: I drew inspiration in composing this tune from a Kurt Rosenwinkel composition entitled Undercover. In 2008 I became the first trumpet player to be hired by the iconic guitarist. When performed live, Nothing to Hide, played in 13/4 time, features everyone in the band. It’s an epic tune that tends to cover many moods throughout the course of the performance. We usually open or close a set by playing this tune.

LaRue: My intention for this arrangement was to showcase one of my favorite Clifford Brown compositions (LaRue) and add a dash of another (Delilah), which occurs at the end of this track. The original recording of LaRue featured Kenny Dorham’s great hornwork, so I wanted to pay homage to him on this recording as well by documenting this tune. In arranging this song I decided to speed the tempo a bit and incorporate the bass figure from one of my original compositions entitled Laid Up, which appears on my previous release Songbook.

The Gigolo: This is one the more risky arrangements that I chose to present on this recording. I arranged this Lee Morgan original in 9/4 time using a bass line from an excerpt from my Sudoku Suite entitled Guidance that has a coda section which features Lee Fish. This rendition of The Gigolo is taken at a brisker pace as compared to the original version recording on Morgan’s record of the same name.

Strength and Sanity: Booker Little is one of the most underrated, unrecognized trumpeters in the history of this music. His untimely death in 1961 at the age of 23 was a huge blow to the continuum of jazz trumpeters, especially considering the death of Clifford Brown 5 years earlier. The first time I heard this composition, I was instantly wrapped up in its serenity. Booker’s body of compositions taught me not only to disregard my fear of dissonance, but to actually embrace it in my style of writing and arranging. I didn’t stray too far away from the properties of the original recording on the track.

Here and Now: The complete working title for this tune is: Where is the Place and Time for Everything that Everyone’s Been Talking About? Here and Now. It’s enlightening to perform this waltz because I enjoy the exchange with Michael Thomas, while at the same time we also share the responsibility of playing the 4 bars of the melody while the other improvises. To me, it’s a fun, simple, musical challenge. This particular version also features Greg’s great guitar work.

Luana: This tune and the original record that it’s on have a special place in my heart. Freddie Hubbard’s Hub Cap was one of the first albums that I owned of Freddie as a leader. The first time I heard Luana I knew I had to transcribe it and perform it with my band at the time. I then had the great fortune of meeting Freddie Hubbard in Boston and was fortunate enough to talk shop and have his signature on the cover of Hub Cap. For the version on this album I reigned in the tempo a bit and combined Freddie’s melody and harmonic progression with a tune of mine entitled Preservation of the Lower 9th Ward (aka Lower 9th Ward). Maybe you’ll hear that tune on a later release or at a live performance because we perform it quite often.

Half Nelson: This Miles Davis original was arranged in 9/4 time by Lee Fish. Lee brought in this arrangement around the time when we started rehearsing these songs. As soon as we played it, I thought that it would be a great fit to the set. The intro to this song also serves as the outro, where Lee is featured.

I’m extremely excited to present to you the members of my working band. We perform weekly (Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as Sunday afternoon) at Wally’s Café in Boston’s historic South End. I’ve been presenting quintets and trios there every weekend since 2000. I may be the only musician of my generation that’s held a residency at the same club for this amount of time. This is something that I’m proud of because I enjoy bringing the music to the people in such an intimate setting as Wally’s Café. Over the course of my residency there, I’ve had the great fortune of having some of the most creative, young minds in this music on the stage and this is the latest batch:

Michael Thomas: Michael joined the working band in 2009. Hearing him in his element always makes me wonder if there’s anything that he can hear that he can’t play. He is one of those players that give you the impression that nothing comes between what he hears in his musical imagination and his instrument. If I played alto, I know that I would be checking out Michael’s style for reference. A recent graduate of Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, Michael’s talents have already taken him to stages big and small in the U.S. and abroad to countries such as Latvia and Panama.

Greg Duncan: I have had the distinct pleasure of having Greg in the band for the past four years. His instrumental versatility and instincts go far beyond what he plays in his own solos. I’ve found him to be one of the more inventive accompanists that I’ve gotten to play with thus far. One word that comes to mind when I hear Greg improvise in this particular context is fluid. When he plays, the thoughtful ear is informed of how much extensive homework Greg has done on his instrument to get to where he is now.

Lim Yang: Lim’s a solid bassist who joined the outfit almost two years ago. Originally from South Korea, Lim made the move to Boston to study music. I was very lucky to become acquainted with Lim’s playing when I did because it happened to be around the time when the bassist in my band was making the move to NYC. Lim stepped in and made an immediate positive impression which led me to believe that her contribution to the band would be invaluable. She’s proven me right.

Lee Fish: Of all the members of the band, Lee’s been a member the longest. Lee’s got big ears, great instincts, and has an extremely balanced sound on the drum set, which is paramount in a recording situation. Lee’s also a talented composer and arranger.



Posted in Composition, Improvisation, Musical Influences, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2010 by pogo56

This blog is in response to the questions I have received in the past about learning tunes. Throughout my time in college I was encouraged by my mentors (especially trumpeters Jeremy Pelt and Darren Barrett) to learn as many tunes as possible. They both possessed huge repertoires which really gave them the luxury to play really diverse sets whenever I had the priviledge to hear them live in Boston. I was also inspired to learn as many tunes as I could in order to combat the monotness of hearing and playing the same tunes at jam sessions around town. That’s still prevalent but I always do my best to encourage young cats that come down to my session at Wally’s on Sunday afternoons to learn as many tunes and not to come down week after week to call and play the same tune. When I started to go down to the jam sessions at Wally’s when I moved to Boston, I was advised to learn the tunes that were called that I didn’t know. So I learned those tunes and called them the next week or the week after (especially if they weren’t played when they were called initially). So to learn these tunes I either had to go out and buy the record or check it out of the library at NEC. I was fortunate to live in Boston where there were a handful of great record stores at the time (Tower Records in Boston and Cambridge, Looney Tunes in Boston and Cambridge, Newbury Comics, Mojo Records, Planet Records, and my favorite Stereo Jacks in Porter Square!).

When I got into the habit of checking out records in order to learn tunes, naturally my record collection grew. I developed this habit of buying a record in order to learn a tune but in the end I learned all of the tunes on the record. Imagine wanting to learn 10 tunes in a month, going out to get the records, and learning all the tunes on the record! That’s easily 100 or so tunes in that period. I am a pretty fast transcriber (because I have absolute pitch) and it was fun for me at the time still is. I always made sure to learn tunes that I really dug so there are obviously tunes that really didn’t touch me and I never got around to learning them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve committed thousands of songs to memory that I’ll never get to play outside of my practice room, but there are hundreds of thousands of tunes that I don’t know that I should know. I consider myself to be a constant work in progress in that respect.

In my opinion, there are several useful ways to learn tunes, but I don’t think that there’s a magic bullet that will get anyone from start to finish any faster than the next person. Everyone has to put the time in to really hone their ear skills and once our hearing becomes more acute, learning tunes becomes much easier and fun.

Here’s one method that’s geared towards memorizing chord changes that was given to me by trumpeter John McNeil. This involves playing the piano.

1. Play the first chord to the song on the piano in time (maybe using a metronome or tapping your foot).
2. While playing the first chord of the song, say the 2nd chord out loud.
3. Play the 2nd chord in time.
4. Say the 3rd chord out loud, etc.

I’m sure that you all see the pattern that’s taking place now. This exercise is designed to allow you to “think ahead” when improvising. This way you are more equipped to anticipate the chord changes instead of playing in a reactionary mode (not saying that that is bad, you just add another asset to your playing with this).

When I begin transcribing a song, I start by lifting the melody. I try my best to absorb all of the inflections that the player on the record displays. I try to inhale when they inhale, exhale when they do, etc. Once I’m done transcribing the melody I move on to the bass line/part. Depending on the fidelity of the recording and the playing of the bassist on the record, this process can be daunting at times. I’ve found that there are times when the bass is either drowned out in the mix or the bass is out of tune or being played poorly. One thing that I do to remedy this is to listen to what’s happening at the same part of the form throughout the duration of the tune because what the bassist plays in the 2nd chorus may be a clearer than what is played in the 1st chorus.

In many cases once you have the melody(s) and the bass line transcribed, the harmony of the song becomes more obvious. If it’s not apparent then you can transcribe the playing of the chordal instrument on the record. If it’s tough to play back what’s being played at the time, then try singing the notes in question. In most if not all cases, if it sounds right to your ears then you are probably correct. You can also transcribe the solos to figure out the correct progression to the tune. If there’s a G chord in a particular tune and you’re having trouble figuring out if the chord is major, minor, or suspended, then check out the solos. If a B is played most of the time during in that measure during the solos then it’s probably going to be G major.

More to come!!

Jason Palmer

Stories Behind the Song

Posted in Composition with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2009 by pogo56

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 requesting the sound files and I’ll gladly send you some live tracks.

Keep swingin,

Jason Palmer

A New Standard?

Posted in Composition with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2009 by pogo56

I implore you all to come up with a list of compositions by musicians that are under the age of 40 that you could see/hear as a future “standard” or “jazz classic” in the jazz canon. Here’s my list of tunes. I am basing this on these criteria:
1. Song has been recorded by an artist/s other than the composer and the composer doesn’t perform on the record.
2. Song is frequently performed by bands without the composer present.

Song #1-Benny’s Tune by Lionel Loueke
Song #2-Zhviago by Kurt Rosenwinkel

As you can see my list is pretty short. I wish I could make it longer but I just can’t think of anything right now if I abide by these two guidelines.

Back in the day, musicians would play each other’s tunes more often. I hear it every once in a while (most recent at a Terence Blanchard show, where they played a few tunes by their bassist Derrick Hodge, although he was out on the road with Maxwell). In my band we’ve had a long-standing tradition of performing originals and tunes written by composers who are still alive, preferably under the age of 50. So we play a lot of tunes by Kurt, Myron Walden, Mark Turner, E.J. Strickland, Nicholas Payton, etc.

So if you all have any recommendations, let me have them because I’m always in the business of learning new tunes.