My tomato plant is rocking it. Yes—I only have one. My farming goals are modest. I am an urban creature and largely dedicated to living indoors where my piano and my guitars are. I don’t think I have the patience for adult-scale gardening. And I certainly do not have the shoes for it. But I am determined to become a new man this year. I even paid my taxes on time. If I can do that, I can do almost anything. So, the tomatoes. I watch. I water. And I will harvest when the time comes. This is the year where I become the productive old hippie that I envisioned myself becoming when I was 20.
I am also starting to write a really big and ambitious four-movement orchestral piece, on the road to becoming the composer I thought I would be when I was 20. It is nice to have a job where you can tackle your most daunting projects whenever the time seems right. I hope this summer you are watering your tomatoes and facing down some big, exciting challenges of your own.
The record is finished: one of my favorite vocalists, Gia Mora, performs some of my favorite compositions on the aptly titled Gia Mora Sings Charlie Barnett. We’re having a record release party on July 10 in Los Angeles at Room 5.
Gia is a dear friend and a constant source of amazement and inspiration to me. Since she moved to the West Coast a couple of years ago, her acting career has really taken off. She appeared on Castle recently, and she’ll be on True Detective on June 21. She also has a recurring role on a very, very clever PopTV comedy series called Impress Me. With all of that going on, she still has time to record music, rehearse and perform live shows, model, and volunteer with school-aged children as the coolest tutor ever. And she has one of the purest, most expressive soprano voices around. I’m proud of this collaboration and this album.
When I was growing up, I thought Myron Floren was basically from Mars. What he was playing—and what he was playing it on—just seemed nuts to me. Now I see that he was astonishingly talented and very musical, in a crazy show-biz way. The status of the accordion has changed since then. It used to be the subject of derision. Today, it seems like any alt-rock band worth its salt has an accordion in their midst, or at least sitting in once in a while. It is a great sound, and it can do so many things (though it generally will sound like an accordion doing all of those things). Being a pretty fair pianist, it was not a big stretch for me to master the right hand of the accordion, and I did this years ago. The left hand is another matter entirely. Luckily, all of the music that I play on accordion only needs the right hand anyway. We live in a great time, my friends, when accordions have taken their rightful place on the American stage…just to the left and sort of in back of the guitarist.
I would love to know where this fake book came from. Who compiled it, and who pressed it? I distinctly remember buying my first copy of this book. It was at a music store in Easton, Pennsylvania, where I went to high school. After I had bought dozens of pieces of sheet music one by one, the store owner discreetly took me aside and said, “You might be interested in one of these.” It was the blue 1000 Standard Tunes (Chicago edition). It saved my life. And in some ways made a large part of my career as a gigging musician possible.
But it was a completely illegal book! There is no publisher listed, or any information at all, for that matter. The songs are arranged by tempo and style. There are indeed a thousand of them, and nearly every one helped me along the way. “Daddy’s Little Girl” got me through hundreds of wedding receptions. And that weird E7 chord that is so perfect in “Georgia On My Mind”—how long would I have played that wrong without this trusty book? The list of songs in the table of contents is the very definition of the Great American Songbook.
Sometime in the 1970’s, I became aware of The Real Book and its many iterations thereafter. Compiled by students at the Berklee College of Music, it was supposed to be so much hipper than the grimy fake book I schlepped from gig to gig. But the reality is that the most of the songs in The Real Book are forgettable jazz numbers, and even the standards have been re-harmonized, taking all the interesting quirky changes out of the beautifully written originals. It is a pity that so many musicians are learning these songs via “Real Book changes” rather than from the original harmonies.
As a rule, I argue for all songwriters’ rights. I hate the larcenous Spotify and rail against illegal downloading. But for some reason, this little blue bit of thievery holds a warm place in my heart. Thank you to whoever put this thing together and made a world of great music available to me.