Mysterious Lee

This one’s a keeper. I’ve used it on a number of gigs since I wrote it back in October and each time it casts a special spell.

Indeed, that’s the magical thing about jazz: a perfectly good song may never catch fire and a simple song like this one might become more than the sum or its parts–a vehicle for the musicians to go to a place they haven’t been before.

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Hotel Husband

This happy-go-lucky tune positively sparkles under Steve Talaga’s fingers.

Listening to this after a while away reminds of of something one of my composition teachers used to tell me, “When you’re young you have lots of ideas; when you’re old you know what to do with them.” Indeed, this song is almost entirely spun from the opening two-bar melodic motif. How’s that for economy of expression?!

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A Beautiful Delusion

I’ve written about this song previously, so I’ll let this newer, cleaner recording speak for itself.

For the record, I’m not entirely sold on my own voice. However, it is what I had available at the time.

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8 Lives

It is unfortunate that we couldn’t record “8 Lives” with a full band. It is a jazz fusion tune that would really have benefited from drums. Indeed, we were prepared to play it with full band at an Outside Pocket concert in October, but we ran out of time.

The song doesn’t break new ground, but it unfolds in a way that offers new twists at a satisfying pace. For example, in the B section the chords move up to Eb and then down to C. This is not new musical territory, but it provides just the right amount of lift to sustain interest.

Why the name “8 Lives”? The angular melody is built on a series of fourths. 4+4=8. This not only gives the tune a bright, open, airy feel, but it suggested a pretty good song title.

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“Slowly” (the song) has slowly (the adverb) been making its way into Outside Pocket gigs. I thought it was time I made a clean recording of it–though this is by no means anything fancy.

This is a love song, but a cautious one. We all know the hesitancy to jump back into a relationship after being hurt by a previous one.

Some things I like about this song musically: The bold leaps down a 6th are striking and give the song a unique musical fingerprint. Those leaps are answered by quick runs that, I can say firsthand, are quite difficult to sing. Finally, the shift back and forth between the Ebmaj7 (sweet) and Abm/maj7 (spicy) sets up a nice tension that keeps things from getting too syrupy.

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Mode Blue

“Mode Blue” was one of a few songs in which I played with the minor blues form. A minor jazz blues tune invariably moves from the minor i chord to the minor iv chord, i.e. Am to Dm. (Read more here.) I started to wonder, “Would it still feel like a minor blues if it moved from Am to Gm?” I know, I’m a pretty interesting guy with a riveting thought life.

The answer, of course, is, I’ll let you decide.

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Before 2023 ends, I wanted to return to the recordings I made with Steve Talaga. As you may remember, these were a dozen or so jazz tunes that he and I recorded one afternoon in September. Nothing fancy, just playing through the tunes and recording them in one or two takes.

Americana was written in a hotel room in Detroit, where I played bass during the day while my wife trained for a new job. I thought it would be fun to have a song intended specifically for the bass. True, there are iconic bass lines like “So What” and “All Blues,” but I was thinking something that allowed the bass to come to the foreground.

What I came up with is “Americana.” It is a simple tune that uses the open strings of the bass to create a sweeping melody. It has overtones of pentatonic melodies like “Shenandoah,” hence the title, “Americana.”

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Interesting Thing

I have been a member of the Rascals, Rogues, and Rapscallions since its inception in 1989, though less active in recent years. In those early years, I designed the Rascal flag, created a documentary about Burgettstown, PA, and have even been known to smoke a ceremonial Rascal cigar.

One of my other roles was that of “maestro,” leading the singing of “My Last Cigar,” assembling male quartets and brass bands for various occasions, and most notably, composing the fraternal order’s theme song.

Greg, back when he had hair and smoked cigars.

“Interesting Thing” captures in song the group’s quest for knowledge, love of adventure, and fascination with the obscure, mundane, and offbeat. I was recently asked to record the song for posterity. The chorus is a rousing march that can be sung again and again with gusto. The verses…not so much. I originally envisioned writing a new verse for each meeting’s presentation. For example, one of the verses in this recording commemorates Dennis Looney’s presentation on the persistence of Dante in popular culture.

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Hark the Herald, strings

This December, I wrote four string arrangements of Christmas carols for Wendell Kimbrough and Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. I was simultaneously planning a service of carols for Rosewood Church in Jenison, so I decided to get double duty out of one of the arrangements. This version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has a funky backbeat that gives a fresh new twist on the classic.

You can hear it at 13:27 in the video below.

If you’re interested in the music for these four Wendellified arrangements, you can find them here:

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Refugee King, string arrangement live at Rosewood

A few years ago, I helped write a song called “Refugee King (Away from the Manger).” This year, I used it in a service accompanied by The All Saints Orchestra (St. Sinner’s holier half), so I decided to write a string arrangement for the ensemble. It’s very difficult to avoid gilding the lily on a song like this, but I think this arrangement strikes a good balance of background “string halo” and foreground string writing. I was especially pleased with the “running” figure in the instrumental verse.

Enjoy the dulcet tones of Lindsey Burkey singing with the All Saints Orchestra at Rosewood Church, Jension, MI.

Edit: I cannot for the life of me figure out how to make the video play from a particular spot, so if you’re interested in hearing “Refugee King,” go to 30:30 in the video below.

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