Photos taken at the Brunswick gig in November 2010 and in April 2011 by Patrick Billingham. If you want to see and hear video clips from various gigs, you can access them by clicking on the titles on the previous page or look for Paul Busby's channel on youtube.
July 29th 2010
After the performance of the Watermill Jazz Suite it took a few weeks of tying up the loose ends, ie. putting the arrangements on this website with the recordings done on the night, doing a hospital radio broadcast about the project, etc.
I then did some research into the history and present state of Brighton and took some photos which you can see on the previous page. This enabled me to select topics to which I could put music. I wanted things which could suggest different things which jazz doesn't usually cover and which will enable me to make use of a variety of different styles and genres.
I then set about writing some tunes to fit. Having done that, I put them to one side and got on with doing other things, like my tax return, painting a bit of the garage, starting a new regular bi-weekly jazz gig and finding some interesting websites, amongst other things. I've also been very lazy. And I mean VERY.
I have done some writing though. The hotel I work in employs some very nice young waitresses from different countries and, as I've done before, I wrote some pieces for them which you can hear on the Solo Piano page. Some advice for others who feel inclined to do a similar sort of thing. Don't. No-one ever likes music you write for them (unless you write absolute crap, I mean the worst possible pop tunes.) However there is a good side to it - musicians often do like the tunes (not all) and it's a good exercise to do. Just don't be disappointed if the person you wrote the tune for fails to show any interest at all.
The other bit of writing was a piece for the Brighton Jazz Suite. In 1514, the town was razed to the ground by the French navy and only the church remained unscathed. So there are various elements in this: the time before the incident (starting with it would be too soon a climax and leave no room for building up to one.) Then there is the onslaught itself, and then the after-effects.
What I latched on to from the start was the church. I imagined a sort of hymn tune which continues throughout. At first (before things happen) I have harmonised the melody in block chords with just major triads, but making use of some which are not in the key. These are not modulations but chords used just to give added colour. The second phrase, for instance, is this (all major triads): C Bb (on D) C (on E) Gb Ab (on Eb) Bb C .
After repeating the tune an octave higher (adding trumpet) the final chord unexpectedly ends on an A minor chord and the slow 4/4 tempo turns into a fast 3/4. From here on till the ending the chords are all minor triads with lots of space between the phrases for the soloist and the rhythm section to splash out. This section finishes with the soloist left alone to wind down. The arrangement then finishes in slow 4/4 again with the return of the first phrase in major chords. Why major? Because major triads don't necessarily represent happiness - they can portray strength or matter-of-factness. (Actually I just wanted to contrast the minor triad section with a different sound.)
Here is the beginning part of the tune. .
Terry, the bass player from my big band came around today and we went through the 9 tunes I've written. Fortunately, the draft bass parts are playable and he gave me several useful suggestions which I have taken on board.
Why is it that (like certain other arrangers) I put off getting started even though I love writing the charts? Strange! Perhaps it is that when I have not written an arrangement for a while, I begin to doubt whether I can actually do it. But I can't put it off any longer as I am now "writing an arrangement" in my head at night when I should be sleeping. I'm also getting pretty irritable, which is always a telling sign. However, I do think that it is helpful to leave some time after writing the tune to let the subconcious get to work on things before getting stuck into writing the arrangement. People who do not make up the tunes they arrange don't have this situation.
Wrote the intro and 1st chorus of Vied Ac yesterday. I would like to have some Neolithic sound effects to start with but will come back to that later if I decide to include them. The trouble at the moment is that the arrangement (the first piece of this suite) starts with soft solo piano. From a practical point of view that is disastrous in a live situation because of all the chatter.
Footnote (February 2012). Wrote a short piece called Introductionswhich can be used to announce the fact that we are ready to start. It gives everyone a few bars to solo on, hence the title. A shortened version of this can be used to start off the second set. Problem solved - I hope.
One of the things I despise is "nice" music, whether this is middle-of-the-road stuff, formula-written pop music, polite jazz or respectable classical music. I would also include a lot of blues music. I get so fed up with hearing the blues scale endlessly being repeated with clichés being regurgitated ad nauseum. There is more to music than this. Give me some music with balls, some hooliganism. Give me some Charles Ives - the towering genius of the 19th/20th century. If you think jazz is progressive, go and listen to some Ives - there's plenty on youtube. Try this for a sample - part of the 4th Symphony, written between 1910 and 1916 and not performed in its entirety until 1965, 11 years after his death. Now I must get back to the manuscript paper.
I seem to have finished Vied Ac. I didn't intend to end it after just 2 full choruses but that's what happened. Sometimes it feels like something is guiding me (I'm an atheist so I don't mean anything supernatural). Does this happen to other people (arrangers, authors, painters...) Let me know if you have had a similar experience. Just as aninimists believe that trees and other things have spirits, I wonder if music has a spirit within it. If so, it must be a tone-deaf spirit in some of the awful music I've heard!
To get back to the music, I think I have partially solved the problem or starting off a concert with a soft passage. In the opening bit I have the horn players playing into their instruments without actually producing any notes. This collectively can sound like the wind. Wiggling the fingers on the trumpet valves or sax keys can sound like rain. So both of these things match the bleak weather conditions that can occur here in the winter. This is done over a soft piano intro. OK, it's not neolithic, but it's atmospheric.
The bass then plays the tune, at first by himself and then in unison with the 1st tenor, joined later by the second tenor and baritone. A solitary tenor will allow the bass to be heard without drowning it, but when more volume is needed to counteract the growing brass, the others are added. The rest of the first chorus is split between the different sections. The second chorus starts with a trumpet solo in a harmon mute with just the bass backing him. Later the rhythm section join in and then the trombones, trumpets and saxes to build up to a climax. It ends with the trumpet and bass again before the trumpet dies away and the bass quotes from the first phrase of the tune, which is all the recapitulation I think the piece needs. Footnote: Here is the tune played at the Watermill Jazz Club in 2013.
Finished another chart - Illusions which should really be called Shattered Illusions. There's no intro and I start off with a solo tenor playing the tune with very sparse backing (long notes on the piano and bass with the cymbals). The tune is then taken up by a trombone, then alto, then trumpet and then tenor again as it's a longish tune and spans two octaves. (I like writing tunes with huge ranges so that vocalists are not tempted to sing them! OK, good vocalist can do it, but not mediocre ones.)
Gradually the other horns are added as backing - mainly long notes. The first solo is by the first trombone. He is a player who uses sparse but well-chosen notes in his solos, so I've kept the accompaniment to the minimum. Useful to know who you are writing for to know how to handle it. Then comes the gutsy second tenor solo and the broken-up feel is replaced by a swinging 4. The backing for this is louder and slightly busier.
This leads into an 8 bar bit of 3-part written counterpoint between the different sections, followed by communal solos from an alto, trumpet and trombone as if mimicking the earlier bit with reduced numbers. As a sudden contrast, the bass player takes a solo which provides the calm before the storm - a whole chorus of ensemble block chords which gives the drummer something to get stuck into.
This calms down with a few held chords and a bit of diminuendo-ing so I can reinstate the tune (or at least the last section of it) played by a solo tenor then trombone and then alto with just rhythm section backing apart from the final couple of bars.
From a symbolic point of view, the emptiness at the beginning of the arrangement represents the title, the upbeat bit shows the bright lights and what might have been, and the final bit again brings back the air of despondency. Thereagain, you might call this a load of symbollocks! I resisted the temptation to make it all bleak as the audience and the band might jump off the pier in a mood of depression. A bit of contrast is always a useful trick to have. This is an excerpt from the piece
Finished off copying out the parts at the weekend. Now planning another arrangement. I go on holiday next week for a week, after which I start teaching jazz piano at Lancing College, but it should still leave me plenty of time to write arrangements.
It's been a time since I did any writing for this suite. I've had several distractions. Going on holiday was great, but it's hard to get back into writing afterwards. Starting teaching has taken up more time than I thought and will do until I settle into a routine.
Started work on the arrangement of Martha Gunn yesterday. She was the dipper, the "queen of dippers" who had to dip people into the water from bathing machines. What I want to portray then is water that is not too shallow, but not too deep. I've done this by devising a swirling bass line in the high register. It will have to be played whilst standing in 5 foot of water (only joking, I mean beer). Later on it goes into a floaty feeling - well, of course. He will be relieved at that, if not in that!
Now finished Martha Gunn, except for crossing the Ts and dotting the Is so should have it ready in time for the first rehearsal next Monday. It turned out differently from what I'd anticipated. Sometimes you have a clear vision of what you will do, other times you sort of improvise your way through at slow speed. I've told relatives of Martha Gunn that I would be playing a piece named after her, so felt it better to avoid anything too outrageous. Hope it's still interesting to listen to and to play.
Finished copying out Martha Gunn ready for the rehearsal tomorrow. Here is part of it
Great rehearsal last night. Everyone sightread all the new charts and by the second run-through they were coming together very nicely. Needless to say, I was very pleased. And the musicians seemed to like the pieces. What a fabulour bunch they are! I think I have enough stuff for the next gig now. It'll be a mixture of some of the Dorking tunes and the new ones about Brighton. Next year (2011) I'll do a concert of just Brighton tunes.
Something I forgot to add - a few months ago I learned that my good friend, Robert Whittle who had recorded all the rehearsals as well as several of the Sussex Jazz Orchestra gigs had died of a brain haemmorhage. This was an extremely sudden development as I had recorded a hospital radio broadcast with him only 2 weeks or so before that. We will all miss the invaluable help that Robert gave us, as well as his tremendous enthusiasm for the band.
Earlier this week I realised that most of the new tunes were at the same tempo and several of them were a bit reflective. What I need for the gig is a bit more contrast so I wrote another arrangement - B...right-on which is more up-front and bluesy and hip enough to merit the title, I hope. It's a 12-bar but the sequence is not exactly a blues:
F7sus4 for 4 bars| Eb7sus4 |Db7sus4 |F7sus4 for 2 bars| Ab7sus4|Db7sus4|F7sus4|Gb13-5 |
This is part of the tune
It provides a good opportunity for some long solos for the bass, alto, and trombone plus some ensemble passages. The chords and the use of soprano throughout gives it a quite modern sound.
Next week I must copy it out and do some serious practice, particularly finding out where I can leave the piano and direct the band where it's necessary. I've been watching some videos of Maria Schneider's Orchestra. Now she is a wonderful conductor, but I do wonder how the alto sax player can concentrate on blowing a solo with the lovely Maria standing right in front of him, smiling. I asked my own alto player about this and he told me to wear a dress at the gig so he could find out - not something which I intend to do.
The gig is tomorrow. Last minute things to do - surprising lot of them which people don't often think about. Putting the pads in order, sorting out complimentary tickets for the partner's of band members, checking over the parts yet again and replacing pages which have got smudged, working out a running-order which contrasts one tune with another in tempo and mood and soloists - will all the tunes fit into the alloted time slot and if not, what do I have to do about it so that everyone still gets a chance to solo. That last point is a unique criteria for my band which is made up of excellent soloists, unlike a lot of big bands where the lead alto, 1st tenor, 2nd trumpet and 1st trombone players are the only ones expected to take solos.
The gig on the 7th was fantastic! The place was packed out and people really seemed to enjoy it. The band played wonderfully with some great solos and the accoustics, and balancing done by the sound man were excellent. A 17-piece band in a small room could have been over-powering but the band followed all the dynamics and so it wasn't a constant barrage on the ear drums. Having a story behind each tune is useful. I was amazed that there was absolute silence while I announced the tunes and told people about them. So we were all happy.
I now have to plan the full Brighton Jazz Suite. If I can manage to do 2 a month, it should be possible to do it in April sometime somewhere in Brighton. May is a dead loss as the Brighton Festival takes over the town. Rehearsals will start again in January. In the meantime, if anyone has any ideas about it or would like something to be explained in more detail, let me know.
Making slow process in Churchill Square-Dance. It's not typical square dance music with violins and banjos but I understand that you can dance a square dance to all kinds of music as long as it's 4-square, and that's what it is - a 32 bar sequence. Who knows, I might throw in a 3/4 bar somewhere just to upset the apple-cart...I once accidently put an extra beat into a dance-routine I was accompanying. It really threw the dancers, I can tell you! If looks could kill...
The tune is a bit Monk-ish so I'll have to stick to that throughout. The saxes I've split into 1 Alto, 2 Tenors, Clarinet (1st alto player) and flute (the baritone player.) In effect then, this gives me 4 horn sections to play with, individually or combined with others - trumpets, trombones, saxes and woodwind. It takes a bit more effort to think in 4 parts than in 3, but will see how I get on (so far, not very well, I must admit.) It's a bit like juggling 4 balls in the air, or having a wife and three mistresses (I'm only guessing about that, but I guess it would involve some fast juggling with balls in the air!)
Well I finished off the arrangement of Churchill Square-Dance on Saturday. Not sure if it will work. It's more of a harmonic sequence than a melody as such. You know the effect you get by putting your foot on the pedal on a piano and all the notes stay sounding - I've done that here. That bit's easy to do, you just have to divide the horns up so that in a phrase, each of them finishes at a different time and then holds onto the note they are playing. I've found with that that you do need at least one instrument to play the whole phrase to link it all together.
The melody (so to speak) is also one that doesn't really finish, so that was a problem in knowing what to follow it with. I decided to use the different sections to play very short phrases. The trumpets are in cup mutes throughout, the flute doubles the trumpet an octave higher a lot of the time, while the clarinet doubles the second trumpet an octave up. But there are times when the flute and clarinet are treated as separate entities. The trombones are also in cups, or perhaps bucket mutes - it depends on how high the lead player can get with the mute on.
After an open trombone solo, there is a clarinet solo - both with quite busy backing. (I can get away with that because of the brass mutes, otherwise it could be drowned out). The clarinet solo ends with a few bars with just clarinet and drums and then there is a quasi Dixieland section but with some more modern chords from the rest of the horns every now and again and then an angular sax line during the Dixieland (clarinet/trumpet/trombone) solo. I like a bit of incongruous mixing. To give the horns a brief rest, I then have a short piano solo before the tune again, treated slightly differently. It's always fun writing these things. Not as much fun when you hear them and things don't work. I will cross my fingers.
I had intended to get stuck into the next piece, The Omnibus Edition this week and have it finished by now. But the cold virus struck. It seems to go on and on. For several nights running I've woken up in the early hours feeling my head is going to explode and my throat has been so raw that it's been painful to swallow. This is the worst I've felt for years and I've even put in deps for a couple of gigs this week. Needless to say then that I've not done a lot of music writing. I have managed to do some today, but I expect it will be rubbish when I look at it in the cold light of (healthy) day. In the meantime, my commissorations with other cold-sufferers.
I've been able to get stuck into writing today. The tune The Omnibus Edition is my tribute to the Brighton and Hove Bus Company whose drivers are always patient and polite and often drive under a lot of stress. I salute you. In the piece I've tried to think of the way buses stop and start, and the traffic jams and minor hold-ups they encounter so much of the time. The music reflects this by rits and musical pile-ups. I've chosen a Latin (salsa) background as it lends itself to a lot of jostling by the different sections.
There's a saying that when you wait a long time for a bus, two of them suddenly turn up, so I have 2 trombones "turning up" and swapping phrases (with their hands firmly on the wheel at all times). Another soloist, the second tenor, is a bit of a maverik - a night-bus, perhaps. Maybe I'm stretching the analogy a bit far. Anyway, it's an interesting ride.
There's something to be said for a cold. You know the feeling when you're all bunged up and feel isolated from the outside world. Well it can really help you concentrate without being distracted. I've now finished The Ominibus Edition. I've had a lot of fun doing it, with car horns (whole-tone clusters) and lots of stop-starts. I think people will enjoy playing it. Here is the whole piece recorded during a rehearsal.
Cold and snowy outside and my cold is still lingering on. I've been deaf in one ear for several days now, so copying out parts is something useful to do when I'm under the weather.
The next piece to do is Volk's Song, another one for flute and soprano and maybe clarinet too. The tune is dedicated to Magnus Volk who devised the Volk's electric railway in Brighton, but because of the title it is a sort of folk song. Here is an excerpt from the tune
If the arrangement turns out to be rather sad, it's because my cat, Sophie who will be 20 years old in a few weeks, is very ill and we may have to ask the vet to put her to sleep tomorrow - a thought that I dread. An animal is part of the family and after 20 years, we can't imagine life without her.
Woke up at 4am, thinking about my cat and didn't get to sleep again. Sophie was in a bad way - her back legs would not support her (a sign of kidney failure, I'm told), she was listless, feverish and did not utter a sound, which is quite unlike her.
In spite of the heavy snowfall, the lady vet cycled here and gave her the injection to put her to sleep. I could not watch, but my wife says that Sophie just turned on her side and passed away peacefully. All day long I've been overcome with grief. The death of an pet can be a traumatic event. Anyone who has experienced it will tell you that. But now she's gone and her suffering is over.
Will continue with reports about the music soon.
I have been working on Volk's Song. Although it is named after Magnus Volk who designed the electric railway in Brighton, I am taking the title for what it sounds like - folk song. The tune is a very folksy one in a minor mode (it could be Aeolian or Dorian as the note which makes the difference between the two is missing.) I will make it Aeolian with the middle section being various Dorian modes for the soloists.
I have planned it with a folk song in my mind, like a folk song which someone starts and then others pick up. The plan for the solo section is this: soloist 1 for one section; soloist 1 plus another (soloist 2) for the next section; soloist 2 for the following section, soloist 2 plus soloist 3 for the next section and so on. This gives a lot of people a chance to solo and also will show how a person's style can vary according to whom he is playing with or if he is the only soloist. There will not be a shout chorus - you don't have to have one! It's not a series of climaxes in this one but subtleties of colour and blending.
Finished writing Volk's Song. Had some problems with sorting out the flute (which will need a mic), clarinet and soprano with regard to relative strength, and which one would be best taking the lead at different pointsl My plan for the whole arrangement concerning the soloists is as follows. There are 4 sections in each chorus (A-D).
1.A soprano B. soprano + 2nd trumpet C. 2nd trumpet D.2nd trumpet + 3rd trombone
2.A. 3rd trombone B. 3rd trombone + tenor C. tenor D. tenor + 4th trumpet
3.A. 4th trumpet B. 4th trumpet + alto C. alto. D. tune again.
The whole thing starts with unaccompanied flute and ends with flute with just soft rhythm section backing.
Finished copying out Volk's Song. I intended to start work on 1703, but then had an idea for another tune The Royal Escape. Background info - Charles 2 forces were defeated at the battle of Worcester, and the king then fled, hiding in an oak tree at one location and disguising himself he eventually made his way to Shoreham near Brighton where he was taken on board a coal-boat and taken over to France.
For an intro I start out with a bit of a fanfare (a symbol of Royalty). But the simple triads soon turn into more dissonant chords by using an unrelated descending bass line. To add to this, I have 4 horns (added one by one) ad libbing freely over this and gradually building into a fracas (the battle) This dies down and the bass sets up a 5/4 rhythm soon joined by drums and piano. The tune (in 5/4) which is a rhythmic variation on the fanfare then is played. This is the disguise. Will hope to have the arrangement finished by the end of December, but what with other things going on it may not be. Anyway, here is the start of the tune as outlined above . And here is a video of the piece played at All Saints Church in Hove. Pity that the trumpets were not picked up by the microphone very well, but stay with it and hear the trombone solo by Barnaby Dickenson. 5/4 didn't phase him or my drummer, Dave Trigwell, at all as you can hear.
Now all the Christmas festivities are over I must get down to work again. But I've not been totally unproductive. A few days ago I wrote a piece for the trombone band (5 trombones plus rhythm section) in honour of Robert Whittle. Robert came to a lot of the rehearsals and gigs of the Sussex Jazz Orchestra, Bill's Bones and my own big band and recorded them. These recordings were invaluable for members of the band to practice along with and helped me trace down any wrong notes. A few months ago, he died of a brain haemorrhage. On the 8th January there is to be a celebration of his life and Bill's Bones has been asked to play. So I thought it would be nice to write something. He was always amazed that a band could sight-read music, so I shall hand out the arrangement on the day itself. (It's very easy to play.) He would have liked that aspect.
My cold has come back. These days when I am not well, I have tunes (not particularly my own ones) going round in my head and repeating ad nauseum. This is really annoying when I can't sleep at night.
I had meant to get back to The Royal Escape which I was writing and stopped when Christmas things got in the way. However, I was sitting down at the piano, playing around rather aimlessly and came up with something which kept me awake the next night, so I thought it might make a good arrangement. When other people play around they end up having sex. When I play around, I end up with a new tune. I would willingly swap this situation with anyone. Last night (another sleepless one) I planned the whole arrangement, but feel too tired to get to grips with it now so will take an afternoon nap and hope to get back to it later today.
Finished off the new arrangement A Knight at St Nicks. This refers to the legend about a knight on horseback who is said to arise from out of a concrete plynth at St Nicolas' Church in Brighton at night-time and rides around.
So a spooky, but not particularly scarey (he doesn't hurt anyone) bit of music is called for. For the intro, I use a 12-note tone row played quietly high up by the soprano to begin with, and soon aferwards by flute and clarinet and piano, but all playing at their own tempo and in their own rhythm. The bass plays arco high up spooky things (ad lib) and the drums fill in. Will it work? No idea. I'll wait and see. After that it gets a bit more conventional and modal.
The unconventional thing about the line-up for this arrangement is that is includes a bass guitar and a string bass, playing mainly arco. The situation arose that the usual bass player is going away for 3 months so I shall be rehearsing with another fine bass player, Jerry Dearden who you can hear here on bass guitar. He also plays very fine trombone and was in the band on trombone for the Watermill Jazz Suite. It was Jerry's idea to have a tune with 2 bass players playing on it. So I have made it a bass feature for them both.
After the tune, which is repeated 3 times but starting on another note of the chord, the arco bass solos. The background is kept to a minimum to allow it to be heard. Then there is a unis horn passage interspersed with bass guitar solo, followed by the bass guitar solo (open-ended). As this carried more, I have made the backing progressively busier (he is a brilliant funky player). The drums then solo and the tune is repeated (starting on yet another note) which ends with a rit as the chords get lower and lower (to symbolise the knight returning to his resting place.) This was really fun to write. I hope it is as much fun to play.
Had the first rehearsal of the new year with the band yesterday. Most of the things went OK but there are a few things I need to think about.
In most of the new stuff I have used flute and soprano and in some of them clarinet too. The textures really changed the whole sound of the band. I've always had a soft spot for flutes. Anna did a first-class job of the flute parts too.
I must now settle down to some hard work and complete 3 more arrangements before the next rehearsal on the 21st February.
Having finished The Royal Escape I am now copying out the parts. The piece has a long DS but I choose instead to copy and paste the section as players then don't have to turn over a couple of times (the music, that is - if they want to turn over physically it's up to them). It all boils down to making it as easy to play as possible. I've enjoyed writing the harmonies in this piece - a lot of clusters, which I like. If arpeggios are called broken chords, clusters should be called solidified scales are something like that. Sometimes you go for the clear-cut harmony, other times for the sound that things like clusters and special effects create.
Just finished writing out The Royal Escape - it took longer than expected as I've got some problem with the mouse on the computer. 5/4 has a great groovy feel. I don't know why it's not used more. Maybe when we try and play it I'll know why.
This afternoon we are going to visit a pet place about getting a new cat. The house doesn't seem like a home without one. We've tried for one for several weeks. Looks like we'll have to get a surrogate mother as my wife rules out invitrio fertilisation.
The next arrangement I want to start as soon as possible (ie. today) is called I'm just Wilds about Busby which is not an ego-trip but refers to the 2 architects who built much of Regency Brighton - Amon Wilds and Sir Charles Busby. I imagine a sort of Jekyll and Hyde thing. The buildings they created are very elegant and refined. So I thought it would be great fun to create something which might show the Wilds-side to them. I have really enjoyed playing over the chord sequence and will give myself a solo on this one. To match the mood, I've had to devise a different way of playing piano from usual. All will be revealed soon. It will also feature Mark Bassey on trombone and Phil Paton on alto, 2 of my favourite hooligans. Here's the tune and this is Mark Bassey playing it at the first rehearsal
Apart from tying up a few loose ends, I have finished I'm just Wilds about Busby. Some days you can't get into the mood and seem to get nowhere, Other days, like today, it just flows. Mind you, I did spend a large part of the night thinking about it in between thinking about mending the back fence which is coming apart in the windy weather.
One thing is for certain - the jazz police will not like this one. But I don't care about that. I write what I want to write. Too many people in jazz think that it is something to be put on a pedestal and worshiped. Not me. The tune is very corny, but I've made up for it by devising an interesting chord sequence, well, I think so, anyway. I've also set it up to destroy it, and the cornier it is, the more fun you can have in pulling it apart. People who think that jazz should be terribly serious all the time are missing out on a lot.
I interupt this music blog to announce the arrival of Beanie -
Since our last cat, Sophie, died in December the house has seemed very empty. We intended to have a kitten but ended up with a 6 year old tortoiseshell-and-white cat and she is adorable. So beautiful and so affectionate and very adventurous. Writing music might take a lot longer in future as I have to stroke the cat after every few notes. Nice to know that once again, I can say that I live in a cat-house.
Just finished another arrangement - 1703. This one is about a massive storm which devastated Brighton in that year. I don't know how stormy the tune will turn out to be, but at least it's fast - 200bpm. The tune is unusual insofar as it is based on 6 bar sequences
- C9+11 for 2 bars, Bb9+11 for 2 bars and Gb9+11 for 2 bars. Here is the tune .
When it comes to the solos though the first 2 bars is added at the end to make it an 8 bar sequence, each 8 bars starting on each of the 3 chords. Although jazz players can feel 6 bar sequences, 4 or 8 bars comes more naturally (except in a blues of course).
There are only 3 chords to think about and by extension of that, just 3 scales. After a while though it can get tedious, so at the end of each solo (tenor and trumpet) I've inserted some extra chords as a sort of bridge passage. The format for the solos is: rhythm section backing for the first 1 or 2 choruses; brass (or saxes) for the next; and saxes (or brass) superimposed on this for the next chorus. Tunes with limited chords lend themselves to this approach.
For the shout chorus (which actually starts of quietly) I have used clusters, based on the alternate scale. Played softly they should just tingle. When the volume increases the dissonances become more jarring. Dissonance should always be considered in relation to the volume level. Here is the start of the shout chorus. The first chord is this (from the bottom) - G Ab Bb B Db Eb F G. .
As the tune itself is very long, I had to use only part of it for the recapitulation section. Overdoing the recap bit can kill things off if too long.
Tomorrow, I will start copying it ready for the rehearsal on Monday 21st. I remember reading in one book on arranging that after writing the score you should get it copied. I wonder who has the luxury,(ie. money) to get someone else to copy things for them. Certainly not me.
Finished off copying out the parts a few days ago. There is a rehearsal tonight. How will it go?
Well the answer is very well. I was well pleased with the new arrangements. Not that I'm getting smug and complacent, but at least I'm not feeling like giving it all up - which is how I felt at times in the past. Mind you, I do have a fantastic bunch of musicians in the band who could make anything sound good. They're excellent sight-readers as well as being wonderful improvisers. For budding arrangers the experience you often get is very depressing when you present a band with your new chart, particularly when the members of the band are not very good musicians. It seems that the less proficient the musicians, the harder time they give the poor arranger. Not only do they blame the arranger for their own shortcomings ("It's not possible to play that" instead of "I can't play that"), they also tend to be much more critical of anything that isn't highly conventional. My advice to arrangers who are just starting out, is: don't let such attitudes get you down. You may not have got things 100 percent right, but you've not got things 100 percent wrong either. Be critical of yourself and try and ascertain where you went wrong and rewrite things accordingly. But don't give up.
There are certain things which can only become meaningful after a piece has been played a few times. The first few times through, everyone is so intent on reading that they don't see the bigger picture - how their own part fits in with the whole arrangement. This is especially true of rhythm section parts. After that, things get more polished, not just in tightness of playing as in ensemble or section passages, but in the minutia of things - how strong to play particular accents in relation to other accents, subtleties of rhythm which would be over fussy if notated, what sort of fills to play in certain places for the drummer/pianist, etc. It's only when the music flows naturally that it becomes meaningful.
In some of my arrangements I've added another element to this when collective improvisation has to join up with a written section so as to appear seamless. I base this on combo work where this sort of thing occurs more often. Doing it with a big band means breaking through the big band-mentality of just obeying orders. I want people to feel they have the liberty to express themselves within the structure of a big band.
I have started work on another piece: Pavilion .
Brighton Pavilion, which at night is lit-up, is built in an Indian/Islamic style. The music for it therefore has to reflect this. The tune I've written hopefully will suggest this, even though Indians will probably disagree. But as the Pavilion itself is a British representation of the Indian style, I can claim the same thing. Besides which, the music will be played to an English jazz audience so I have to make allowances. Indian readers might be interested to know that Rabindrath Tagore, the celebrated Bengali poet, artist, writer and musician went to public school in Brighton.
Now finished writing Pavilion. It starts with slow solo flute (played by the very talented Anna) with just a tonic and dominant pedal or drone played on the bass and piano before adding trombones and then trumpets. After a while I add first one and then two sopranos to the flute before it dies down again and the tune itself ends with a solo flute trill very low down. Indian flute playing is wonderful - listen to this
This is the introduction recorded on the first take at rehearsal .
There is then a bridge passage on brass in fast 3/4 to set the tone for the next part. The tune (or part of it, rather) is then re-stated but in a different rhythm, played by unison high trombones with answering phrases by the trumpets and saxes voiced together. Curiously, arranging books rarely mention this combination but it works.
This goes into a soprano solo. For this I had to create a simnple chord sequence as one chord for the whole piece could be monotonous. For the backing I use just rhythm section for the first 2 choruses (2x32 bars), then add trombones in harmony, repeated with a unison sax line, and then repeated again with shock chords from the trumpets. The way to make this work, I've discovered is to build very gradually. The quiet harmonised trombone line will not get in the way of the soprano soloist and may not even be that noticable. The unison sax line, like the trombones is no quicker than crotchets/quarter notes and should help build intensity without taking too much attention away from the soloist, and the trumpet stab chords should punctuate and add oomph rather than drowning out the soprano.
After a short bridge passage with the soloist still playing, the original tempo is restored and a fragment of the tune is played by solo trombone, echoed by the flute to create a symetrical feel to the arrangement (book-ended, I think they call it.) I don't think that adding a shout chorus after the soprano soloist would add anything and could even detract from the solo honours. I don't want to give the impression of trying to top what will undoubtedly be a fantastic solo by writing a noisy passage just because arranging books tell you to do that. There should be a chapter on humility in all such books. Without the band, the notes are worthless.
The tune is based on this scale:
D Eb F# G A Bb C C# D with occasional E naturals. The chords are drawn from this scale. Now, only one more arrangement to do for this suite before I turn my attention elsewhere.
Here are two versions, the first features Ian Price and the second Simon D'Souza, both of them sadly are now no longer with us.
Still got to copy out Pavilion, but I've had an idea for the last piece Devil's Dyke. This area to the north of Brighton is a beauty-spot. The legend, as described on the previous page, is that the Devil saw all the churches there and wanted to dig a ditch to drown them before being thwarted by an old lady.
The initial tune therefore has to be placid and a little bit churchy (but not gospel - this is England!) The slow tune I wrote this morning is a bit reminiscent of Delius, Vaughn Williams or Frank Bridge (who, incidentally, was born in Brighton). I can interupt this in some way to bring in faster moving lines to represent the Devil. As jazz was once thought to be the Devil's music that could be symbolic. Will have to ponder on this one while I copy out the previous arrangement.
While wondering what to do with this arrangement, I listened to a piece by Frank Bridge with the title There is a willow grows aslant a brook - a quotation from Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and thought to myself how crappy my little tune was. So I sat down and wrote another one... and then went on and wrote the whole arrangement. However it didn't seem to have much potential for the subject matter, so I called it Absent Friends, dedicated to various friends who have passed away, particularly Robert Whittle (see entry for 30th December) and the bass trombonist Dave O'Flynn, who was going to be in the band but died suddenly of cancer a few weeks after being diagnosed. But of course everyone can dedicate this tune to whoever they like.
It's only 1 chorus. The trombone, or unis trombones if more volume is needed, play the tune over a moving sax line in 8ths where the chord changes every half-beat. I hope the sax players can manage to breath as the lines are long without many breaks. This is the first run-through of part of it .
You can hear the tune at a rehearsal here
So back again to the original tune I'd written - a case of "better the Devil you know..." I've now finished it - the last piece for the suite.
The arrangement of Devil's Dyke starts with just tenor and piano before it modulates and the tonic becomes the major seventh of the new key which is the start of the tune. This next chorus (it's very short) is for brass ensemble (4 trombones and 4 trumpets - preferably on flugelhorns). So it's mellow rather than brassy. This goes into a bluesy section, derived from the tune but with minor chords replacing the major chords. The lead alto gets to play some blues licks with the rest of the band playing the occasional stab chords. This leads into a sort-of bridge section based on the second phrase of the tune and it becomes double-tempo. And then there's a trombone solo (muted) and a trumpet solo (also muted) and a chorus swapping phrases. I've tried hard to keep the backing simple as I have a tendency to write too busy for the backing figures.
There is then a shout chorus for a chorus, with harmonised brass alternating with harmonised saxes. The tempo rits to a slow tempo for a few bars with the alto playing the tune in a bluesy style before the brass ensemble takes over again and brings it to a finish.
This is quite a complicated scheme as I have tried to match the legend (see previous page) with the music. I have worried that this is the most clichéd arrangement in the suite. But when you introduce a bluesy element and a very conventional chord sequence, it's hard not to be sucked in by clichés. In fact it's almost impossible to avoid. But at least it should be easy to play and it should be accessible to most people who might get put off by my more adventurous efforts. Now I have to copy it out and wait until the next rehearsal on the 21st March to hear my new pieces.
Footnote: The last arrangement - Devil's Dyke - is not up to scratch. I shall scrub it. Not even offer it up to anyone else.
My assistant, Beanie - "Love on 4 legs"
The final rehearsal is on Monday evening and the gig is just over a week away. Went along to see Alex Bondonno's Straight No Chaser big band last Sunday. The band was very polished and they played really well. The guest was Mornington Lockett, who is a fantastic tenor player. It was quite a thrill for me that the band with Mornington as soloist played 4 of my charts and did a fantastic job of them.
I've been trying to do something about publicity. The reason we call it publicity is that most gigs for jazz musicians take place in pubs. I would have thought that the local media would have been interested that a jazz suite was going to be performed about a local town. When I was a campaigner for peace and world development issues I learned that to catch the attention of local newspapers/radio stations there has to be a local angle to it. However apart from one community-based radio station in Brighton, no-one seems at all interested. I keep thinking that if it was pop music or opera the story would be splashed over the front page of a paper. But it's jazz. Still, it's good to know that Radio Free Brighton has shown interest.
I'm finding it hard to fix a time and venue for an Autumn concert in a larger venue. Also my hope of recording the band is probably too premature so will put it off for a while. Not sure yet whether to think about a follow-up suite about the Sussex coastal area for next year or possibly somewhere else.
The radio recording on Tuesday was a strange affair. In the next room someone was practicing rock drumming very loudly. I was expecting a sort of question and answer format, instead of which most of it is just me talking about the pieces and playing the sound bites. If you think my musio is bad, you should hear me nattering on...
Caught a bad cold which is coming out today. Hope it improves by Sunday. All I want is to sneeze all over my parts (the music, I mean.)
24th April - morning
The concert is today. I am looking forward to it as it will be the end result of 9 months hard work writing it, and several rehearsals with the band. However I'm also very anxious about it. I not only have to play the piano parts right but conduct it (there are some tricky rits) and also announce everything.
I have tried to stress in the publicity I've put out that it is an original jazz suite. The websites I've found which mention the gig describe it as mainstream, and some describe it as swing. What that could mean is that people turn up expecting to hear Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey. The obstacles put in the way of jazz musicians are unbelievable. If your band has had the same problems, I sympathise. In a free market economy, the lowest common denominator always takes over and minority tastes are ignored.
Well, the gig went well. The band played absolutely fantastically with lots of precision and feeling and with some terrific solos. I felt very privileged. The audience was much less than we had wanted, but many people were away for Easter who would normally have come and somehow we didn't manage to attract any visitors to Brighton. The mix-up in publicity didn't help. Anyway, I feel confidant in organising a gig at a bigger venue for the Autumn when we can play it all again. The arrangements can be found on page 4 of the Big Band section. Watch out for any freebies. And keep an eye out for the next project, whatever it is.
The next concert at which the Brighton Jazz Suite will be performed will be on Sunday 13th May 2012 at the All Saints Church, Hove.
I am determined to tackle the problem I had in April when the media either turned a blind eye to the gig or got the details wrong. The local newspaper ignored it; the local radio station ignored it; the Guardian newspaper did not list it; the venue did not mention anything about it being a specially-written suite about Brighton; and a website described it as "mainstream" which was picked up by other websites.
What I would envisage would be a TV programme about it with shots of the band interspersed with video clips and photos about the subject matter of each tune. That isn't going to happen. For one thing there are 2 hours of music. For another thing, TV in Britain is not at all interested in anything but pop music: jazz is a no-no. I might try and see if there is a radio station that would broadcast it live. But again it is unlikely and certainly not for 2 hours. So although I will still approach TV and Radio stations with news about it, I think the solution will be to take it into my own hands and get it professionally videod. Then maybe introduce the other clips into it. Then try and get the local council or tourist board interested. I may also try and get it recorded professionally with a view to making a couple of CDs.
One thing is certain - I need help!
At last I've finished writing some piano tutorials for next term at school. I can now get back to writing music.
As already stated, I was not happy with one of the pieces I had written for the Brighton Jazz Suite, so I wrote another one - Hove, Actually which we can rehearse in a few months' time. It's a subdued piece with flute and soprano in unison for the tune and with a different chord for each note of the melody. Compared to Brighton, Hove is, or certainly used to be, a much more sober and posher area of the city. After a flute and alto solo, the tempo doubles up and there is an ensemble chorus to show that beneath the subdued surface of Hove there beats a much more vigorous heart.
15th May 2012
The big concert on the 13th May took place in All Saints Church, Hove - a lovely venue with very good accoustics. The Mayor of Brighton and her husband came, so as an encore we played a new tune I had written in her favour. I wanted something happy and tuneful to finish off the evening as well as something on which the two bass players could play. The cameraman almost lost his balance at one point (overcome by the music!) but recovers after a wee dram. It should actually be quite a bit slower but my mind was preoccupied with finishing on time. Click . to hear it.
We had Barnaby Dickinson along as a guest trombonist and he played some magnificent solos. The band played exceptionally well and I was well pleased. There were about 150 people in the audience. It could have been a lot more but circumstances prevailed against us.
Media coverage was again terrible, in spite of the fact that I spent weeks and weeks sending out press releases and doing other publicity work. The Evening Argus did not print the press release because it said "it wasn't news-worthy." The local radio turned a deaf ear to it, in spite of assurances that the compere on the jazz programme would mention it and play a track. The Guardian Newspaper did not include it in their listings even though I submitted the details eight weeks ago (I was once informed they needed the information at least 6 weeks beforehand.) So jazz is up against the mass media - it is not interested in anything to do with jazz. We must find ways of bypassing the media and its dictatorship of the mundane and force-feeding us with banal items about celebrities.
In the absence of media interest in the concert, I feel justified in printing some written comments I have received. These are in addition to favourable comments made by people at the gig itself:
"Amazing!" "What a fantastic gig", "I think it went particularly well. Barnaby was a star!" "Loved the gig", "We really enjoyed The Brighton Jazz Suite", "Once again, well done for the gig", "Thank you very much for writing such fantastic music and getting together such excellent musicians to play it. It was a very enjoyable concert", "I really enjoyed the concert on Sunday. I thought everyone was on form." "I enjoyed it very much. The band was great. Do you think you will make an album anytime soon?", "Great gig!" "Thank you so much for letting me hear the gig. I did enjoy it very much. The songs are so beautiful, especially Martha Gunn, Hove, actually, Churchill Square Dance and all. I could feel along with the music. It was such a lovely evening." "A wonderful evening." "a lovely and unique experience", "the band was superb...I can imagine and quite appreciate the hard work and worry that went into it (the concert.)"
That's all about the Brighton Jazz Suite for the moment. However I intend to write some more tunes for a follow-up suite about Brighton sometime in the future. I shall now turn my attention to the East Sussex Jazz Suite.