Hotel Husband

Here we are, starting the year off right with a new song!

I was away in Detroit with my wife this week. She was training for a new job, so we decided it would be fun to work during the day and vacation at night. I didn’t expect to compose anything while I was away. My plan was to catch up on business and bass practice. (The hotel guests and staff were probably surprised to hear the sound of a string bass coming from one of the rooms!)

Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman’s hotel husband

The fact is, though, that when I play I usually end up writing something, too. In this case, I jotted down some ideas for a simple jazz tune. I was inspired by listening to Oscar Peterson’s Night Train. The songs are so simple but are a wonderful launching pad for the musicians to solo. I began to think of the many great jazz tunes that are short and simple–Solar, Blue Bossa, All Blues, etc–they are no more than 16 measures long but they pack perfection into such a tight frame.

While I wouldn’t call “Hotel Husband” perfection, I was pleased that it was compact, coherent, and (dare I say) quite a pleasant tune.

You may be wondering how I got the title “Hotel Husband.” You’ve heard of a “stay-at-home dad” or maybe a “house husband” of a working woman. Jen decided that coming back to me in our hotel room made me her “hotel husband.”

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Tuhan Adalah Gembalaku/You, Lord, You Are My Shepherd of Love

One final song for 2022.

An Indonesian friend introduced me to this setting of Psalm 23, which he’ll use in his ordination service. It’s simple, lovely, and has some interesting melodic twists and turns. Since I was learning it anyway, I decided to translate it into English so that those of us outside Indonesia could enjoy it. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because Indonesian uses many more syllables than English to say the same thing!

While there are many Psalm 23 songs to choose from, this one has a gentle spirit that cuts right to the heart of the Psalm. The song really helps us feel the complete trust the sheep feels for the shepherd. It makes the metaphor personal, so we can offer the words of Psalm 23 as our own prayer.

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A Quiet Conversation

I’m not a particularly legit jazz musician. Yes, yes, I gig and know more or less what I’m doing (though I don’t/can’t always do it), but I don’t have a ton of jazz street cred: I don’t have thousands of tunes memorized, blistering bebop solos, jazz degrees, or time spent on the road paying my dues.

I have no illusion that I’m a modern Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington. Instead, I see myself more in the tradition of Vince Guaraldi, Claude Bolling, or even Dave Brubeck–slightly off the beaten path, experimenting at the edges of the genre.

My latest experiment is “A Quiet Conversation.” It is a breezy little thing that starts with a simple melody. But wait! When the first melody comes around again, it is now in conversation with a second melody. Like any good counterpoint, both melodies sound complete on their own, but when combined they sound even better, commenting on each other like any good conversation.

While the composers mentioned above may only be footnotes in the history books of jazz, they all composed melodies that have been heard and loved by millions. That would be okay with me.

Note: The first recording is a demo created by Band-in-a-Box with synth flute and clarinet solos played by yours truly. If you want to hear the same piece played by two real bassists (both me) click on the second recording.

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Stollen Moments

Sometimes a great title is just too good to resist.* In this case, my wife and I drove past a billboard that mentioned Stollen, the German answer to fruitcake, and I immediately knew I was destined to compose a jazz Christmas song entitled, “Stollen Moments.”

A Moment of Stollen

This destiny was fulfilled a few days later when I produced this song. Like “Stolen Moments,” the jazz standard to which it pays tribute, my song begins with a four-chord riff. (But my song is in C major, rather than C minor–Christmas is supposed to be a happy time!)

A further confirmation that I was destined to write “Stollen Moments” was a shopping trip to Aldi on a recent vacation in Freiburg, Germany. As you can see in this picture, I encountered genuine German Stollen, sold in the days leading up to Christmas. Those luscious little loaves fairly cried out to me, “Compose us a theme song!”

Oh, the house is quiet, all the kids in bed,
wondering what the morn may bring.
So we’re cuddled here, eating Santa’s snack
in the glow of the Christmas tree.

The only gift on my Christmas list,
the only present that I need
are these times with you– they’re my wish come true
and my only Christmas dream.

All these Stollen moments with you
make my Christmas dreams come true.
Every season is grand, you and me, hand in hand.
Oh, how I love these Stollen moments with you.

*See, for example, “Night and DayQuil.”

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Once in Royal David’s City Live at Baylor University

One of the great joys of composing is when a fine musician performs one of my pieces in a way that really makes it come alive. In the case of this recording, there were three fine musicians: Hunter Morris on violin, Kathy Johnson at the piano, and Chris Martin on cello.

This was the prelude at a recent Baylor University Advent service, and I couldn’t be happier with how it sounds!

If you need a last minute instrumental piece for your Advent or Christmas services, you can find the music at The original was written for violin. I recently completed a version for cello solo.

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Night and DayQuil

A few weeks ago I had a cold that kept me down for nearly two weeks. It was so bad that I even canceled a gig! I never cancel a gig.

I was downing DayQuil and NyQuil faster than a drunk doing shots on payday. At some point, an idea broke through the fog: “‘Night and DayQuil’ would make a great song title.” Of course, this is a play on Cole Porter’s classic song, “Night and Day.”

Once I had the title, all I had to do was write the song. So I put on my work pajamas and sat down at the piano to write. If you listen closely you will hear faint echoes of Cole Porter’s tune, but mostly it’s its own thing.

A few things I especially like: The rising fourths at the beginning of the tune are bold and create an instantly recognizable musical fingerprint, but don’t sound overly pedantic. Throughout the whole song, the melody floats above the harmony like oil on water; it makes total sense to the ear, but I would pity the freshman theory student who had to figure out how the melody relates to the harmony! Most importantly, it worked. A jazz tune can be a great and interesting tune, but just not feel natural when you improvise over the changes. When we played this Thursday night, it felt like an old friend.

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Don’t Take Me for Grant, Ed

One friend describes me thusly: “Not as funny as he thinks he is.” Perhaps. But I totally crack myself up. The latest iteration of “Greg Scheer, comedian for an audience of one,” is the name of my latest jazz tune: “Don’t Take Me for Grant, Ed.”

You see, Thursday night’s gig was with new-to-me violinist, Grant Flick. I wrote him a jaunty tune that felt like something Stéphane Grappelli would play. As I tried to come up with a title, I thought it would a nice touch to make it a word play on the name Grant. Voilá! “Don’t Take Me for Grant, Ed.”

Having told the spine tingling story of the song’s name, let me tell you the nail-biting tale the music itself. When we premiered the song Thursday night, it was clear that the song was not quite right. Yes, the bold downward movement of the first two chords (Bb, A7) quickly captures the ear. And the melody is positively fetching. (If I don’t say so myself.) But when we took turns improvising on the form it was confusing. Muddy. Indecisive.

I had another gig the next evening, so I spent some time that day streamlining the song–mercilessly hacking away anything that hindered the song’s flow. The result was the same song, but in a more nimble iteration that fairly skipped through the venue!

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Mysterious Lee

Last night’s new tune is a vibey, vampy tune that’s great for improvising.

I stole this graphic from “The Mysterious Lee Society.” I didn’t know this group existed when I named the song!

That’s the thing about jazz: it’s not just about writing a catchy tune; a jazz tune is also a launching pad for soloing. You can have a great song that just doesn’t feel right for improvisation. It needs to have enough interest to catch the listener’s attention, but be simple enough that the performers can feel comfortable soloing over the changes. But not too simple! Then it gets boring. Clearly, there’s a balance that needs to be struck.

“Mysterious Lee” is halfway between Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and ” Gershwin’s “Summertime.” It has the former’s prominent opening bass line and the latter’s mid-song lift and ii7-5 V7 turnaround. I don’t think we ever got the actual melody right in this recording, but you can hear that everyone dug into their solos with gusto.

Just for fun, I left a little of the musician’s prattle in the recording. Yes, these gigs are work, but we also have an awful lot of fun!

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Big Bottom Blues

Spinal Tap’s song “Big Bottom” is a classic. And classy. But as a bass player, I feel the world needs more songs featuring the bass, not less. Enter “Big Bottom Blues.”

Similar to Miles Davis’ iconic “So What,” the bass takes a lead role in “Big Bottom Blues.” After the bassist has had their moment to shine, the song continues as a minor jazz blues.

This was recorded at the warm-up for a gig last week. We were still working out the kinks, but it gives you an idea of what the song is about. This quick run-through captured on my iPhone will have to suffice until a later date when a definitive recording is released.

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Today’s jazz offering is “Slowly.” It is a song about approaching a new relationship cautiously after being hurt in love. Of course, what do I have to say on this subject that hasn’t been said more eloquently and succinctly by the bards of Great White?: “My, my, my, I’m once bitten twice shy baby.” (Actually, I just listened to Great White’s song again. It’s horrible.)

The recording was rendered almost unusable by background noise. For some reason, everyone in the bar came over to talk to us during the few minutes that the new song premiered. I should have discarded the recording entirely, except part of the background noise is the restaurant owner saying “This is perfection!” and comparing it to “Days of Wine and Roses.”

Some day I’ll record this song with a first-rate crooner and full orchestra. Until then, the Scheer Bliss Trio at Euro Bistro will have to suffice.

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