Some of that Jazz

March 22, 2015

 

I'm writing a piece for the Anaïs show that takes place at the Folies Bergère in 1924. She was a young newlywed and had recently moved back to Paris from New York with her husband Hugh. He took her out to experience the Paris nightlife. She was, apparently, shocked. Anaïs Nin. Shocked. By dancing that she saw at the Folies Bergère. Nin. Let that sink in for a moment... 

 

So -- we decided that I should write a piece that apes the style of the period, with Anaïs singing about how innocent she is, and how she's never seen anything like this etc. 

 

How many times in my life have I heard that jazz combo sound?? So many times the song was writing itself in my head faster than I could get it into my iPhone Voice Memos. And then -- dun dun DUN -- THE COMPOSING BRICK WALL. Um... I DON'T KNOW how to write jazz horns!!! What was I thinking?? I have ZERO instrument fear. I mean, I'll pick up anything and try to play it. But everytime I go near a brass or wind instrument and I start to blow into it I get dizzy, then see stars, then fall down etc. Honestly, I wasn't even sure I knew what instruments were supposed to be there. And then, I wasn't sure that if I figured that out, if I would be able to figure out how to write reasonable arrangements for those instruments. 

 

So. I felt SUPER STUCK. I did craploads of research. I listened to a LOT of stuff from the period. I downloaded books on small jazz ensemble orchestration. I read that and tried to make sense of jazz music theory. YOU JAZZ GUYS ARE KIND OF NUTS. [Aside -- why does a 9 chord have a root on the 2, and NO 9 IN THE CHORD?? Explain me that, please... I mean, I KNOW 9 and 2 are the same, but it's written as 2 and not 9 and there was no 9 in the chord, no root in the chord, so, like, how do you know that the 2 isn't the root, or that the chord isn't some weird inversion of another chord. WHY IS IT A 9 CHORD?]

 

Anyway, I settled on piano, string bass, acoustic guitar, drums, trombone, tenor sax, clarinet and trumpet. I set up my Logic file and stared at the tracks with the correct instruments in them in the correct order with NOTHING on the tracks. Just tracks like the clarinet one mocking me with, "Nyah, nyah! You have no idea what to do with me! Ha friggin ha..." No! Please don't hurt me Mr. Clarinet Track!! I will be nice to you. I swear... You'll love me in the end...

 

And then, like any other time in my creative life, I held my nose and dove in. I set up a chord progression on piano and then I started to pull out parts from that and assign them to the instruments. Pulled in some great drums from Stylus. Started singing. Melodies revealed themselves. Lyrics started to flow.

 

It was so JOYFUL!! I discovered that I love writing for these instruments. They sound, I dunno -- right to my ears. Right for the period.

 

That kind of music sounds so innocent now. Just kind of a dead music played by long dead people. Listening to musty recordings of this stuff you can almost hear the dust settling into the rooms and feel the current lack of life of the people who so lustfully played the music back then.

 

But digging into it when writing, I really felt how effervescent it is, and how odd and incredibly new it must have seemed. Everything was on the ups. Super fast shuffle feels. That stuff must have sounded earth shatteringly different. So much so that people just took off their clothes and danced around in public, apparently -- shocking the proper young Catholic wife who had wandered into the scene.

 

How little she knew about how far she would go...

 

Writing this show is a lot of fun. Challenging. Interesting. I'm always learning.

 

I like it.

 

All for now!

 

Cindy 

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