All posts filed under: Songwriting

Poems for Billy Strayhorn (III)

In the early morning of May 31, 1967, Billy Strayhorn made his transition to another realm. In honor of him, and his musical legacy, I would like to share “Lotus Blossom”, the third poem from my series inspired by his compositions. I was deeply moved by the recording of Duke Ellington playing this piece as an impromptu tribute to Billy. I understand that it was accidently recorded after the session for Duke’s album “And His Mother Called Him Bill” was supposed to have concluded.  In the background, you can hear the other band members talking and packing up as he begins to play this intimate solo. Oh! I listened to this recording many, many, many times while I was writing the words below. You can also listen to it here: “Lotus Blossom” on YouTube*. I wanted to compose a piece where the lotus not only described how I personally feel about Billy Strayhorn, his life, the man, the artist, and how he inspires me and countless other musicians, but one that would also describe the natural life cycle of this mystical plant. It was the juxtaposition of these two metaphors that inspired …

Trying to Get Through Spring

There are so many beautiful songs about Spring–songs that cover different aspects  of the weather, the flowers, themes of renewal, loss, and love. I think that the seasons resonate with everyone, at least everyone who lives in an area of the world where they set the schedule for planting, growing, harvest, and fallow. Anyone who has experienced these shifts in temperature, these quarterly phases and physical reminders of life, death and re-birth can appreciate the metaphors of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. The song I want to talk about today, analyze in a way, was written a few years ago. At the time, I was learning many jazz standards, all new to me, while also grieving a loss, so I happened to write a song that reflected my deep sadness, yet reminded me of all the lovely things Spring has to offer. I was especially focused on flowers I had been singing about in the other standards, or flowers that had personal meaning to me from my childhood. So, I will attempt to dissect and explain the song lyrics a little and to indicate …

Prelude to Spring – Singing & Learning

Oh man! I have been singing in Rome and having so much fun! It has been especially gratifying this month because I was able to sing a couple of original songs/lyrics that had never been performed in public before. At one of the Barry Harris Jazz Workshop jam sessions, I was asked to sing a Bossa and chose to debut the English lyrics (called “Happiness”) that I wrote for Jobim’s A Felicidade. A couple of people approached me afterwards to tell me how much they liked my English interpretation, so that made me feel really good. It was a difficult song to transform as Portugese is so light and soft, English so harsh. I am glad people still connect to the story in English. Early Thursday morning, before the piano class began, I was able to test out my new lead sheet for a totally original song called “West of the Sun“. I am very grateful to Tomasz Bialowolski on piano and Luca Peruzzi on bass for their gracious assistance. They made the song come to life for me …

Happiness

I am always pleased to help when someone asks me to create English lyrics for a new song, but when it is a song I have never heard before, a song that really speaks to me, really touches something in my heart, then I am thrilled. This happened last year when I was approached by a friend-of-a-friend, a wonderful New York City singer who wanted English lyrics for Jobim’s A Felicidade. Some of you may be aware that this is the song that opens the 1959 film, “Orfeu Negro” (Black Orpheus). So when I struggled a bit to find a suitable lyric for the last phrase, instead of interpreting the original lyrics, I took a risk and tapped into the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice instead, as the film is a modern telling of their sad love story. It is set in Rio de Janeiro during Brazilian Carnival but perfectly matches the original Greek tragedy’s plotline. I am in love with this song, so beautiful and heartbreaking when you think about the story behind it. Live in the moment! Love now! …

Let Me Sing This Dance With You

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to sing a few jazz standards accompanied by Murray Wall on double bass (contrabass); he’s a wonderful musician. It was so much fun. No microphone, no piano, no drum, and a no distractions.  We had a small audience who also seemed to be sending out the “no judgments” vibe which was very sweet. It was a showcase-style performance with four other women, and we had a ball singing in this simple rotating format. It was conceptualized by one of the performers, and dubbed “Beauties and the Bass” by another.  A lovely group dynamic. After the performance, I spent a few moments talking to another friend. She was part of the audience, but had also assisted a couple of the singers with their choreography (suggesting hand gestures, slight movements to try while singing, and other things like that.) She is a very graceful person, and we spoke about her possibly dancing to one of my original songs sometime in the near future.  As we were talking I was immediately reminded of the following song that I wrote …