It’s amazing what you find in the dressing rooms of venues! At London’s Vortex the other week I saw (half hidden), the programme for their monthly gigs from 23 years ago, and guess who was on the front? Check it out!
It wasn’t that the youthful sax player happened to be me, but also in the company of the two specific jazz greats that join me 23 years on for a really special date this coming January; such a rare and special occurrence that I’m composing something especially for that concert. Here is the reminder of where it all began, and yes we ALL look younger I know what you’re thinking!
In this two part blog post I’ll share my thoughts about writing “A Prayer For Winter” to be played at the candlelit St. Martin-In-The-Fields where Jason and I launched our “Life To Life“ album a year before. It is a magical place.
The one thing I knew I wanted in this new piece was melody: substantial, wrought from a good place within me, and perfect for myself and my dear friends to perform.
“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind” - J Brahms
Here’s someone who knew how to find a melody! …and this is a great quote for song-writers who find a beautiful first line, and spend the rest of the day making tea and coffee unable to take it further! (like….ALL of us?!).
For "A Prayer For Winter" my aim is to keep the focus upon a long, developing melody, budding composers, take note:
While it is true that one mark of a good melody is its irreducibility and an ability to stand naked in the air, what harmonies you choose with which to clothe it, will have the power to paint the entire emotional landscape that the melody sits within. If the naked melody stood like a new film script, then the movie director could create either a comedy or a tragedy, depending upon the harmonic direction chosen. Such is the power of harmony - and we’re not even onto rhythm yet!
So as I sit at my piano and wrestle with infinite variations of melody, for the time being it might be useful to disengage from harmonising it with endless left hand chords, in an attempt to chisel something linear, a quality I find in many great folk tunes (hey like Brahms!).
What else makes us return to certain melodies? (In this instance I’m only thinking of instrumental ones, working with lyrics is different yet again).
Employing a mixture of wider and closer intervals so that the melody has little steps and big leaps, I love melodies that do this.
Another point: when you know your own instrument really well, it is almost as if it has "lyrics" of its own, that it is trying to will into being through your hands! It can do this through all of the colours of its tone, and the tiny expressive opportunities different intervals afford the performer. Think of the “Some-where” in Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Think also (getting Christmassy again) of White Christmas, if you ever wanted an example of half the world singing a nice chunk of a chromatic scale look no further!
For me, knowing the players and their sound, plus the occasion that the piece is being written for, provides a solid and meaningful way forward.
On the 19th January you can hear the winter-fruits of my labours. Joe Locke has to be the most exciting vibes player ANYWHERE, but he also has a passionate touch with ballads and melody.
Together with my long-established soul-mate Jason Rebello we hope to bring you light and joy at a dark time, in more ways than one. In part 2, I’ll go into a little more depth, and find some examples of my favourite melodies.