As you may have figured out by this recent barrage of posts, I have strong, unchecked urges to tell you all about the Southside Aces new release, Second Thursday. I remember back on a cold night in December of 2013, when the Aces had just finished our Christmas Pageant at the Eagles. I had an impromptu band meeting regarding our upcoming February nights in the studio. I said, “Guys, I have a goal of having at least three original tunes on the new record.”
There is debate in the early jazz world, or maybe mostly in my own early jazz head, about whether or not a person should bother writing new material. The question revolves around the fact that despite diligent effort on the part of any musician, there is very little chance said musician has enough time to get around to playing all the great tunes that were written in the way back. So why throw new ones up on the heap? Even if I confined myself to three of my favorite guys, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and Duke Ellington, after all the tunes I’ve already learned I still have about 29,000 to go. I may be hyperbolic, but you get the idea.
One of the 29,000.
by Duke Ellington and Harry Carney.
I mean, just listen to that! For a long time, I kept myself safely entrenched in that school of thought. But then, coinciding with my decision to become a full-time musician at the end of 2012, I had an epiphany. I can break it down into a drama in two parts:
Part One: Artistic Man
(classic orator pose—standing center stage, one arm extended with palm facing up)
“The Great American Invention called Jazz is a living, breathing organism! I shall compose original music inspired by the masters as well as my 21st Century life. This shall invigorate Old Jazz, like a puppy to an old hound!”
The dog analogy wasn’t actually a part of my original epiphany. I have to tell you, though, the next time I bring a dog into my life, I have to strongly consider naming it “Old Jazz.”
Part Two: Pragmatic Man
(classic problem-solving pose—sitting at breakfast table, staring off and to the right, twisting the lips to the left, furrowing the brow, and slowly nodding head)
“Hmm. The more originals I put on my next album, the less I have to pay in royalties. Take that, Sonny Bono!”
My seemingly random pot shot at Congressman Sonny is a subject for a whole other post. Depending on your perspective, he did a good thing or a frustrating thing, or both. No matter what, though, its fun to say, “Take that, Sonny Bono.” Try it.
The truth of my philosophy combines elements of all the above. I do believe that the music of the ‘20s through the ‘40s would be more than enough for any musician to be getting on with. I also believe that fresh composition injects new life into the art form. I also like saving money when I record an album. Dead horse, high horse, pack mule. At that time in 2012, I surprised myself with a creative need to resume composing, something I hadn’t done in years. I sat down at my piano in January of 2013, and out flowed “Little Duke.”
Do you hear how that Ellington recording above behaves? “Demi-tasse” features tight, swinging harmonies, with all the solos backed up by underlying riffs. It and its ilk really is some of the happiest music ever, and will put all kinds of bounce in your step. It's on the modern end of my jazz-listening spectrum (true modern jazzers will laugh), but is some of my favorite music of all time. Though there isn’t a particular song to which I can point, that famous Washingtonian’s small group stuff was definitely a guide in my composing.
Inspiration comes in many forms, however, and sometimes in small packages. I am the jazz uncle to a little man name of Edward. Just a few years ago, not long after Edward came into the world, his father asked me which famous jazz guys were named Edward. I told him Duke Ellington seemed kind of famous. So the youngster wasn’t yet out of infancy and he had already earned a righteous jazz nickname. "Duke!" Incidentally, in case you historians were thinking of writing in, don’t imagine I didn’t think of Kid Ory. But I’ll go on record right now: “Duke” is a much better nickname for a child than “Ory.” Edward loves music SO MUCH. To watch his deep connection and response to it reminds me every time I see him of how miraculous it is that I get to be a musician. True inspiration for the song came from him. He is “Little Duke.”
So there you have it. New Old Jazz. Ellington gave me the form, and my jazz nephew filled it in with the wonder and joy of it all. A combination of a jazz master and my 21st Century life made me write a song, and now you can hear it: