Later this week, I have the exciting prospect of flying to Colorado to hang, play and record with one of my best friends, and favorite musicians: Ben Markley. Ben and I got our undergrads at Fort Hays State, which is a pretty small school in Western Kansas. We’ve stayed in touch as best as we can, and try to get together to play, when we can. Ben is one of those guys who not only has musical talent, but works his tail off to make the most of it. He’s also an incredibly compassionate guy who’s probably a better human than he is a musician (of which he’s quite formidable). So, this week we’re going to get together and make some stuff happen.
When we started talking about this session, we divvied up the writing. I’d do four, Ben would do four. The compositional approach would need to be rooted in the tradition, and anything up would need to be swinging – because that’s what Markley does as good as anyone I know. However, while I try to swing in everything I play, much of what I’ve been writing lately isn’t based in bebop, so I wanted to try and capture whatever my current sound is AND cater to the session. The most interesting song (of my four) will not be discussed here – you’ll have to check out the recording for that! Instead, I’m going to briefly discuss the simplest of my tunes, a ballad entitled “Tomorrow.”
(Normally I’d post my manuscript, but I can’t find it)
A few months ago, I was part of a collective tribute to Kind of Blue, the Miles Davis masterpiece. I had of course listened to it thousands of times and transcribed all the Miles solos, but after spending hours of dedicated, deep listening again, I ended up with a new favorite tune on the album – Flamenco Sketches, and that was the vibe I was hearing in my head for Tomorrow.
Nearly all of my tunes have a title first; nearly all of my tunes have some sort of meaning before I sketch sounds or rhythms. Not all, but close to it. Jazz is storytelling, and that’s what I always try to accomplish (even if the story is “Look How Many Words!”). Tomorrow is about hope, even through uncertainty. Tomorrow can be full of promise, yet also not. But for the most part, this tune focuses on hope.
In this case, I wanted the simplest of harmonic motion, because I knew for this recording there would be a lot of chords and probably some modal exploration. I also tend to write really dark, brooding chords, and for this tune, I wanted bright, hopeful, which is the starting point – the 8 bar A section that alternates between majors (and really, the same scale if you look at it modally since the non-tonic Eb is perceived as lydian and just isn’t marked in the first 8. Lazy.). It’s repeated up a half step, which of course signifies that things are looking up (and is all Wayne Shorter-y), and when it relaxes back down to the original tonality, I was hoping it’d seem like the tune was, well, complacent. However, like I said, Tomorrow is by its very nature uncertain. So we drop into emo-mode with a couple of aeolian pedals, which are both to create tension as well as reference Flamenco Sketches.
At any rate, that’s about 500 words on a very simple tune. I’m hoping it’ll be a good counterpoint to the other things we’re recording, and I’m hoping that it can capture this idea, this feeling of hope even through uncertainty. Because, that’s what we’re all going for, yeah?
From a quartet rehearsal – I’ll let you know when the new recording drops! Cheers.