Last night’s new tune is a vibey, vampy tune that’s great for improvising.
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!
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.
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.
It all started with a bass line played into my phone. It was a deep enough groove that it merited further attention. I began filling out those initial four bars with a bona fide melody and an ABAC form. Voila! Mr. McFunkypants was born! Mr. MFP is second cousin-in-funk to the Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces,” but he’s something of a “Chameleon” and has always dreamed of being a “Watermelon Man.”
I left a verse free for anyone who would like to add a solo on top of this demo.
In honor of my birthday*: a song about getting older and slower.
The song is something of a musical pun. One of the standard song forms in jazz is “Rhythm Changes.” This form uses the chords from Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm” as a starting point, then builds new melodies on top of this basic harmonic structure. Charlie Parker was especially famous for this form of musical contrafact, with rhythm change songs such as “Anthropology,” “Dexterity,” and “Moose the Mooche.”
As I’ve learned various rhythm changes songs, I find myself wondering, “Why are these so dang fast? I’m too old for this!” Thus was born the idea of a lethargic rhythm change song suitable for jazz musicians who are getting old and slow. Indeed, the lyrical theme is also about getting older and slower–and being content as these slow changes occur.
Now that my weekly gig at Euro Bistro is back after a summer hiatus, I’ve returned to the discipline of writing a new tune each week. Don’t worry: I won’t be so OCD about it that I ignore life’s other commitments, but I find that writing a continuous stream of new jazz tunes keeps me sharp and primes the pump for larger projects.
This week’s tune is called “Rising and Falling” for obvious reasons. The clear rise and fall of the opening melodic motif not only determined the song’s name but also obliged me to repeat the motif in various guises. But “Rising and Falling” doesn’t only describe the melody; it also describes life’s three-steps-forward-two-back movement of success and failure, growth and retreat, faith and doubt.
What really gives the song its character, though, is the striking–even jarring–movement between the first two chords, Ebmaj7 and C9. A more typical jazz harmonic progression would be something like: |Ebmaj7 |Gm7 C7 |Fm7 |, etc. But this bold little tune gets right to the point, jumping to a new tonal area with no intermediate step to cushion its landing. But for all its harmonic derring-do, it still has a light and lovely lilt.
It’s not often that I pen something happy. I mean, just happy, with no twinges of melancholy, conflict, or nostalgia. I’m a content person, generally, but enough of a realist to understand that light needs shadow to have any meaning at all. But just this once I made an exception and wrote something that is all joy, beginning to end. To all you disappointed pessimists who follow my music: I’m sorry. It just came out that way!
The song started as a little bass riff I made up while testing out some new strings. Like most of my music, it started as a seed and grew into something quite different. Not to nerd out on you, but the fundamental problem I was having was that the original melody mirrored the bass line, creating parallel octaves and a king of hokey opening melody. I woke up one day with this new opening melody in my head and all the pieces fell together. Now the song starts with a melody that takes off like a rocket, leaping an octave and a 6th in two measures.
Because the song has a jazz gospel feel, I named it “The Gospel Truth” as soon as I began working on it. It turns out there are lots and lots of “Gospel Truths” out there: songs, books, bands, CD collections, concert series, preacher podcasts, etc. Oh well, I guess if this song gets popular, they’ll have to call it “The Gospel Truth According to Greg Scheer.”
It should be noted that the violinist, Susan Mora, promised me she wouldn’t talk during the recording. And yet, a minute and mere minute and nine seconds after making that promise, she leaned over and said, “It’s very happy!” What would my Euro Bistro recordings be without Susan’s commentary?
It may seem like I haven’t been composing lately. Don’t you worry, I’ve just been composing things that are too difficult for me to record by myself. But I’ll try to scratch together a few recordings in the coming weeks.
The first is a two-part jazz tune, “Fight or Flight of the Bumblebee.” I came up with the title first and knew I had to compose song to go with it.
Of course, this is a nod to Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic “Flight of the Bumblebee.” But mine has a “Fight of the Bumblebee,” too. So it’s better.
The song starts with two trumpets locked in battle; you can almost hear the punches fly as they wrestle each other dominance. Then they buzz away in the form of a flute solo, flying away to new adventures.
A few musical notes: The trumpets sound so punchy because they’re constantly in dissonance with each other. I’ve taken the tension notes of the chords and smashed them together like a fist against nose. The flute flight part of the song is a non-stop chromatic melody that floats above the chords, but rarely touches down. My first draft had no place to breathe for 16 bars; I didn’t want any flutists dying on my watch, so I added a few places to catch a quick breath. You’re welcome.
February 2022 proved to be too short to achieve my goal of 14 Psalm collaborations. (You can hear a concert of the 12 songs I completed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBiORFbDulE) However, I’m trying to make things right by completing two more songs that I left as drafts earlier.
This one is a hymn Doug Gay wrote on Psalm 54, a prayer for salvation from enemies. It is the kind of Psalm I once dismissed as petty and paranoid. But now that I am older (or more petty and paranoid?) I see that, indeed, life is full of people who get a thrill out of bringing others down a few notches: “Arrogant foes are attacking me; ruthless people are trying to kill me–people without regard for God.” (Turn the page to Psalm 55 and you’ll see that sometimes the worst foes are former friends!) Doug has done a great job of capturing the spirit of the Psalm honestly while focusing more on God’s salvation than the malice of the attackers.
Musically, I heard it as an urgent, yet confident prayer. It needed music that is vulnerable, but strong. My original version (which is retained in the SATB version of the music) sounds like an early music consort, with modal harmonies and a hand drum. But as I developed the song, I wanted to make it accessible to those who don’t have Estampie at their church, so I wrote a simple piano accompaniment. As I recorded it, it morphed from Estampie into Malicorne or Steeleye Span. One could do worse…
1. Save me, O God, save me by your great name. Uphold my life, by your almighty power. Those who despise me, pitiless and cruel, seek to destroy me, mock me to my face. Hear me, O God, draw near to hear my prayer. Draw near to hear my prayer.
2. Still I confess my faith, that God is near. God is my helper, God is my defense. And I believe my enemies will find God will not let their callous evil stand. Come, faithful God, and bring it to an end! Come, faithful God, be near.
3. In love and freedom, I will bring my praise. I will give thanks, O Lord, for you are good. You have delivered me and saved the day. Now I can see my enemies dismayed. Danger is past, my hope has been renewed. I will give thanks, O Lord.
Charles Wesley originally titled this text simply “Morning Hymn.” Indeed, the text is filled with images of morning, light, and day. Of course, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is praised as the true source of all light.
Even though Charles Gounod wrote one of the more famous tunes for this hymn, I’ve never felt like any of the tunes do the text and theme justice. This wide-eyed, joyful text needs something that makes you feel the refreshing hope of a new sunrise.
I hope my tune captures some of that vitality. It is a simple folk song with a melody that rises and sets like the sun. Though the song itself is simple and singable, I’ve added a challenging and exciting instrumental verse that can be played by either keyboard or two solo instruments. In this recording, I used the keyboard solo as an intro and the duet as an instrumental verse between verses 2 and 3.
1 Christ, whose glory fills the skies; Christ, the true, the only light; Sun of Righteousness, arise; triumph o’er the shades of night; Dayspring from on high, be near; Daystar, in my heart appear.
2 Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by thee; joyless is the day’s return till thy mercy’s beams I see; till they inward light impart, cheer my eyes and warm my heart.
3 Visit then this soul of mine; pierce the gloom of sin and grief; fill me, radiancy divine; scatter all my unbelief; more and more thyself display, shining to the perfect day.