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Liner Notes to The Concert: 12 Musings for Isabella

Posted in Composition, Improvisation, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2020 by pogo56

Dear listener,

Firstly, many thanks to you for your support of this project, a project that is near and dear to me.  I moved to Boston from North Carolina in 1997 to attend New England Conservatory to major in Jazz Trumpet Performance. At the time, the Thelonious Monk Institute was integrated with the Jazz Studies program at NEC.  They gave concerts on campus as well as off. One of those concerts took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I attended on the of the concerts there once and noticed that there were empty frames on display in the museum. I didn’t understand the meaning at the time, but fast forward 20 or so years, I came to find out about the heist and the ensuing investigations that have taken place via Last Seen, a podcast produced by a local public radio station and newspaper. After taking in the beauty of the works I decided to commission myself to write a piece inspired by each of those works.

The Songs:

Disc 1:

A Lady and Gentleman in Black (Rembrandt) – The lady and gentleman in this work are indeed dressed in all black, looking to me like they are ready for an evening in the town (or village)! The melody of my composition strictly uses the black notes on the piano. This was the first song I completed of this set of music and I intended it to be the funkiest, blues-infused piece on the recording!

Cortege aux Environs (Degas) – In this scene by Degas, we see a multi-layered, almost translucent, snapshot of a party of folks traveling along a path with an incline. They seem to be in conversation as they travel along, and it’s not clear which direction they are traveling in this painting. I took a personal approach to composing a song for this piece by connecting the color scheme employed by Degas with my experience living with synesthesia.

La Sortie de Pesage (Degas) – Degas portrayed a scene which looks to be from a horse race in this painting.  There are folks filing in line to either buy tickets or place bets and the rest are going to their seats. Amongst the crowd are two jockeys, assumingly making their way to the track. In assuming that this is what’s going on in the painting and also realizing that I could be totally wrong with all of those assumptions, I compelled myself to write a piece that would feature several series of deceptive harmonic cadences (within 3 main sections), a sing-songy vertical melody supported by a “gallopy”, sneaky rhythm in 6/4 time.

Christ in a Storm on the Lake of Galilee (Rembrandt) – This historical depiction by Rembrandt is epic and vivid in its’ visual capture of a tumultuous situation. In this work, I spotted 15 th individuals battling the storm on this lake, so I decided to compose a piece in 15/8 time. Kendrick sets up the rollicking, shuffle groove which introduces a rangy, turbulent theme, followed by intense trading of choruses by Mark, Joel, and me.

A French Imperial Eagle Finial – This song is the second song that was written for a piece in this set that was not a piece of visual art. Seeing this eagle finial for the first time immediately moved me to write and brisk piece with a flighty melody for the band.

Chez Tortoni (Manet) – The gaze within the gentleman’s eyes in this painting as he’s sitting at Café Tortoni in Paris is one of urgency and mystique. This gave me mixed emotions so I wrote a mixed-meter song where the harmonic landing spots were bandied between major and minor as a nod to the color scheme of the portrait.

Disc 2

Program for an Artistic Soiree (Degas)– This simple, elegant work by Degas appears to me like a sketch several ideas that happen to be a part of the same canvas. There’s an air of smokin’ song and dance in this sketch that I find to be quite sneaky for some odd reason. This work really makes me wonder what was going on inside the imagination of Degas. This drove me to write a danceable, “sleuthy” song for this piece, drawing from my 3rd stream influences. The solo sections of this song, which feature myself, Joel, and Edward, alternate between major and minor for the entire chorus.

An Ancient Chinese Gnu – This song was written for one of the two pieces of art that were stolen that actually was not a piece of visual art. This piece resembles a sort of vase with a porous base and a body that flares out exactly like the bell of a trumpet. I wanted to give this piece a song that primarily stuck in the folksy, pentatonic-ish, rangy, melody in the trumpet to give the song an Asian melodic bend.

The Concert (Vermeer) – In this visually stunning piece by Vermeer, you see a trio of musicians performing together and they appear to be deeply involved in the moment of the music. My goal for writing a song for this painting was to have it be the one of the more lyrical pieces of this set of music, in an attempt to capture the essence of what could have been heard during the occasion that was depicted in the work. When I was in the middle of finalizing the arrangement of this piece, I played it for my 5-year-old daughter and she found it to be interesting enough that she continued to ask me to play it again. I was impressed to later find out that she had committed parts of the song to memory.

Landscape with an Obelisk (Flinck) – There is something very serene, stoic, but at the same time very powerful about the view of the Landscape with an Obelisk by Flinck. There is a lone obelisk and what looks to be an ancient tree with a strong, gnarly trunk, each standing tall, perhaps in search of the sun on a cloudy day. At the foot of the tree there are two people, one on horseback and one standing. They seem to be in searching as well. I wrote a contrafact based on one of my favorite compositions entitled Like a Flower Seeking the Sun by reedman Myron Walden. Within this track, I bookended it with a flowy intro and outro with rubato, in an attempt to capture the quality of the water in the middle of the painting.

Self Portrait (Rembrandt) – I found a lot of beauty and symmetry in the Self Portrait by Rembrandt. He appears to have a perfectly round, strong jaw with piercing eyes and long, curly hair on set to one side. I composed a melody based on Miyako, one the most harmonically-symmetrical, gorgeous songs by one of my favorite composers, Wayne Shorter.

Three Mounted Jockeys (Degas) – This interesting work features a triple image of 3 jockeys mounted on a horse, 1 that’s right-side up, and 2 that are upside down. This song is in a brisk 6/4 tempo with the melody being split into 3-bar phrases (1 for each jockey).

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Jimmy and Dena Katz, along with all the folks at Giant Step Arts for helping me bring this project into fruition. Also hats off to Mark, Joel, Edward, and Kendrick for your supreme artistry, the people at the Intercontinental Barclay, Dave Darlington, Ann Braithwaite, and to my wonderful wife Colleen and daughter Camilla!

Latest Recording News

Posted in Musical Influences with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2015 by pogo56

Hey everybody,

Just a a heads up that my newest recording for SteepleChase Records entitled Wondaland: Jason Palmer Plays Janelle Monae is currently scheduled for an April 2015 release.  The cd will feature my re workings of music from Janelle Monae’s Archandroid and Electric Lady albums.   The recording will feature saxophonist Godwin Louis, guitarist Greg Duncan, Luke Marantz on Fender Rhodes, Dan Carpel on bass, and Lee Fish on drums.  This will be my sixth album as a leader and fifth for SteepleChase records.

Stay Tuned,

JP

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.

J.P.

Toones

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

Update

Posted in Composition, Musical Influences, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2010 by pogo56

Hello All,

I know it’s been a while since my last post. Life’s been really busy for me lately and I believe that to be a good thing. I recently played my first gig with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a program entitled Basie and the Blues. It was a blast! I’ve also been busy prepping for a short series of concerts that I’ll be giving in London at the storied Pizza Express. On March 15th and 16th I’ll be presenting some original music with a special quartet that will feature:

JP-trumpet,compositions
Julian Siegel-tenor saxophone
Michael Janisch-bass, compositions
Jeff Ballard-drums

While I’m there I’ll also be working with students at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be taking my working band into the studio for the first time this weekend. On Sunday Feb. 28 we’ll be recording at Knoop Studios in New Jersey for my debut release on Steeplechase Records. I’m really psyched and grateful to be be an artist on this label because much of my musical development is directly attributed to absorbing recordings from this label. Many of my favorite players recorded for this label, including Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, Louis Smith, Chet Baker, Nat Adderley, my teacher John McNeil, and the lists goes on and on.

The premise of the project is that I took a handful of songs composed by trumpeters who have influenced me over the years and arranged them for my working quintet. On the docket I have tunes composed and played by Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, and Donald Byrd. I wish I had time to arrange more songs by various trumpeters but you know how life is. I’ll incorporate more on a future date perhaps. There will also be a few select originals on the record and we may record a very nice arrangement of Half Nelson penned by our drummer Lee Fish. The personel on the album will be:

JP-trumpet
Michael Thomas-alto saxophone
Greg Duncan-guitar
Lim Yang-bass
Lee Fish-drums

I haven’t come up with a title for the record, liners, design, etc. but I hope to have that done by the end of March.

To keep up with where I’ll be playing (maybe I’ll be performing in a city near you!), please don’t don’t forget to check my myspace page periodically. I think I’m one of the few that’s still active on that site.

All the best,

J.P.