Usually if I am playing in public, I’m playing jazz on the piano, guitar, or accordion. I hardly ever have to play the exact notes of a piece—especially since there often aren’t exact notes to play, only chord changes. But on April 2, I will be performing a piece of mine called Four Cities with the wonderful violinist Teri Lazar. It is a four-movement suite for violin and piano that I wrote in 1997. It’s about 40 minutes long—and it is hard! I’ve been shedding for this concert for weeks already. I find it somewhat unnerving that Teri, because she is an excellent musician, will be expecting me to play precisely the notes I wrote. It is a reasonable expectation, to be sure. And if I were sitting in the audience, as I usually am when one of my pieces gets played, I would have the same expectation. But the prospect of sitting on the business side of the stage, playing a difficult piano part, and having the soloist fully prepared for me to nail it, is a little frightening. The movements are all named after cities: Fredericksburg, Virginia, where I spent my early years; Hollywood, California, where I’ve worked off and on for decades; Damariscotta, Maine, where my mom’s people are; and Memphis, Tennessee, the throbbing heart of American blues music…and a place I have never been. In some oblique way, this grouping makes perfect sense to me. Each of these places inspired a kind of sonic dreamscape—especially the one I’ve only dreamt about.
Last month, my jazz band, Chaise Lounge, celebrated the release of our eighth album: The Lock & the Key. There are eleven cuts on it: nine originals and two covers. It took just about a year to make, and we are quite proud of it. I’m not sure it is appropriate to pick out favorite tracks, but so what? I have them. One is “The Sweet Ride Home,” for which our singer, Marilyn Older, wrote a gorgeous lyric about the moments just after a wonderful date. It’s driven by the perfect groove from drummer Tommy Barrick. The melody is ghosted a fourth down by Joe Jackson’s trombone. And the tutti ensemble section in the middle is the perfect, full-on Chaise Lounge statement. Another fave: “The Earl.” Our sax player, Gary Gregg, routinely stuns our live audiences with his ultra-melodic solos, and we captured a hot one on this track, named for one of Gary’s saxophone heroes, Earl Bostic. And I especially love the last song on the record, “I Grew a Rose,” because we tried to get a very retro Harry Belafonte sound, and I think we hit the nail on the head. In concert, we sometimes use male backing vocals as comic relief, but on this cut we are nothing but sincere. The artwork for the album is by Adriana Cordero.