This Fall my employer Sandra Clay (owner of A-muse music) told Eitan and I that Paul Smith was playing a concert in November at his home and asked us if she’d like her to buy tickets for us all. Two months later I found myself seated in a room he clearly used for performance and practice, with probably 80 chairs setup facing two pianos on a makeshift bandstand. The crowd was mostly Palos Verdes silver tops, and at 28, I was the second youngest person in the house. Annette Smith announced the band, and brought them up one by one: Alex Smith, Paul’s grandson and a classmate of mine from High School on drums; the bass player who was older and who’s name escapes me, and finally Paul Smith, about 6’4″, who lumbered up to the smaller of the two pianos with a bandage on his head and pretty much instantly began the first tune.
I immediately noticed that he didn’t dominate the instrument like he once did from a purely technical side, but all his musical instincts and abilities were still there. This was Ella Fitzgerald’s piano player for about 25 years. Reading more about him afterward, I found out that he was born in 1922, which makes him 87! In light of that, this man performed incredibly. He had a feathery touch wherever he wanted to. He played epic intros on lots of the songs, including 2 choruses of ‘Over the Rainbow’ brilliantly reharmonized, and he accompanied his daughter on a couple songs and he shined in what he chose to play behind her. Accompanying is after all how he put food on his table.
So it was a good night of music, despite the fact that his guest artists detracted from the main performance. Alex introduced me to him afterward, and I got to shake that huge mitt of his. Check out this video of him accompanying Ella. Go straight to minute 2:40 to hear him unload. 87 years young! And I was in his house drinking his punch.
Here’s the rough Demo I threw together yesterday morning before work. I emailed this out to Paul and Anna so they’d have something to chew on before coming in last night.
The session went smoothly once we got started. I edited it a little bit this morning, but I have to run off to play some music for a big time company luncheon down in Westwood.
Paul and I were both stoked.
I spent 10 hours at work today. I don’t hate working retail, but it does tend to numb the musical mind and soul. Students hammer on drums on the retail floor; high school shredders ditch class and come unleash bad speed metal on our guitars and ears; and kids get loose with Heart and Soul on the grand pianos while the demo blares on some abandoned keyboard in the corner. Not to mention the painful sounds of saxophone being learned but not yet mastered. The sum total of this is an assault on the ears that by the end of the day can harden a person to shut out anything musical. Even Marty’s sick chord voicings contribute no more than another strand to the cacophony, just heaping sound upon loud intrusive sound despite their beauty.
So after a long day of work followed by a meeting, I wasn’t optimistic when I went over to my mom’s where my piano sits, and at 8:45 PM set about the task of trying to write some smooth jazz. I had Paul and Anna coming to record drums and bass tomorrow on some smooth jazz that had yet to be written, so if I didn’t do something then, I wasn’t sure when I would get it done. Furthermore I hadn’t spent much time with the piano at all, especially in a Smooth Jazz vein.
So I started to mess around with voicings and grooves. Some stuff sounded cool, but it was too hip for smooth jazz. Those voicings were too dense and angular. The melodies weren’t simple enough. So I concentrated on just imagining a bouncy groove, and a simple pentatonic thing dancing on top of it, and soon enough I fell into something real nice. The essence of Smooth jazz, its validity as a genre, and whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music is a subject for another blog, but at least I’ll say here that good Smooth jazz is all about that balance between sophistication and simplicity. It was coming really nicely.
So I came up with 2 concepts, and because I was stupidly without manuscript paper, I hurried back home to write/record my concepts. Except that I’m posting a blog about it instead of writing it down, so hopefully it’s still there when I’m done!
Looking forward to tomorrow though.