The Contemporary Dynamic
One of the most important experiences that I’ve had in the last 5 years has been getting to play with this band on a regular basis. Sean’s Pittsburgh band became known as “Mission Statement,” and their writing and playing definitely led to this composition: uptempo, aggressive, with interesting chord changes and many meter shifts. The title fits this, yes?
Tonald the Destroyer
Mike Murray’s first instrument was the accordion, and since he arrived in Pittsburgh a few years back, everyone has gotten into the idea of having it on their project. At some point, me, Mike and Colter Harper hatched the notion of trying to play some tango music. Colter found some piano reductions, we hastily scratched some chord changes in, found a violin player at Pitt named Joe Arnold, and were off and running. Playing this music for background music, and more importantly, for live dancers has given us all a huge respect for this style. This song came about from a show we had that was being taped for a local show—hence we needed music without copyright conflicts. Glamorous beginnings, I know. “Tonald” is contraction of my first and middle names, courtesy of Erin Bush, official hair stylist of the under-35 Pittsburgh jazz scene. Colter named this tune as a joke, but much to his amusement, I liked it. And of course, none of it would exist without Astor Piazzola.
Bahia de todas as contas
When I moved back home from Baltimore, I had virtually no direction whatsoever. That summer, I hit up jam sessions and wrote out tunes. One tune I had become enamored with was this song by Gilberto Gil. As much as I dug the tune, I wasn’t totally into the 2 recordings that I’d found by Gal Costa and The Manhattan Transfer (the 80s were heavy on the Linn Drum, baby). At any rate, I wrote it out and forgot about it until Colter Harper found it in a stack of music at a rehearsal. It quickly became our theme song—we’ve played it on just about every conceivable type of gig, from church lunch hours to haunted hotel burlesque shows.
This was the first session I booked with a record in mind. I’ve had the honor of playing with Jimmy Ponder since 2005. Of course, his reputation preceded him, and I was probably as nervous as I’ve ever been before my first gig with him. Luckily, we hit it off. When I was thinking of fantasy groups that I could put together, this one: my dad on piano, Jimmy, and Roger Humphries—was one of the first that came to mind. I also knew that it would a blast or a complete disaster—that’s a lot of personality to get in one studio. All 3 of these elders were amazingly gracious to me, and have continued to be when we’ve played gigs as my personal “Heroes Quartet.” (Although I still have to spend most of the day psyching myself up to be the leader of these masters.) We cut a bunch of things at that session, but this was a highlight. I had heard my dad play this reharmonization one night at my parents’ house when he didn’t think anyone was listening. I scratched it out, we picked a key and a tempo, and rolled. One take and out!
One of the first projects I was really proud of was a band that went through many configurations and ill-conceived names before releasing a record as Gemini. The cd featured Chris Parker, Kenny Peagler, Jevon Rushton, Jacob Yoffee and Carolyn Perteete. That cd is a whole other rollercoaster tale for another time—let’s just say despite everything, I’m still very proud of what we were able to accomplish. I wanted to do something new that reflected the development we’ve all made since disbanding. One by one, through the course of 5 months and 2 studios, I was able to assemble us, with the great Daru Jones on drums. Carolyn got the track last and wrote her chorus and verses to the recording—everything you hear her do on this took an hour flat in the studio. Carolyn is very much like a sister to me, and in my opinion, in what she does best, she is the best I’ve worked with. Keep an eye out for her first solo record in 2010.
Baby you got me
Wrapped around your finger like a willow tree
I could say that’s ok
But that would make me a liar
Won’t you cut me down
Cause I’m so tightly wound
Untangle me already
‘Cause you know it’s time
You could let me go with the knife
Or you could just break my heart
Both would feel the same to me
Both would feel the same
Now I’m falling fast
From your branches vast
So say your last goodbye
Say your last goodbye
You and me and I
Couldn’t figure when
The tangled web we wove first decided to
See the human eye….
That Which Is Coming
I wish I could be more of a melodic composer, but I always gravitate to harmonic form first. Most of my writing begins with harmonic free association. The pretty 1927 Steinway at George Heid’s studio in Aspinwall was so inspiring that I booked a solo piano session there. No lights, no second takes—and a frightening absence of piano technique! Hopefully you won’t mind, and I’ll try not to be too embarrassed. The title’s from the Koran, which I was reading at the time.
Proletarian Chicks in Bondage
I sounded Daru Jones about recording for the record almost a year before we did. By the time I needed him, he had already moved on to New York and touring with Talib Kweli. Luckily, he came back to record at the end of January of ’09. We cut the tune that ended up being Willow Tree, and three freestyle tracks in the spirit of the regular Tuesday Open Mic Hip Hop night at Shadow Lounge where we had met. Again, all off the top of the head, no retakes. These tracks were actually cut as the Super Bowl was starting—I was watching the first quarter on the tv in the control room as we played. To me, this track feels like the Meters meeting the Headhunters with a modern recording engineer. It was a perfect feature for Chris Parker on guitar. No I know could’ve played that key part like Howie Alexander, an old friend who I’ve known for a while. Featured on congas is another friend, Miguel “Cha” Sague, a colleague and running buddy in many instances of debauchery in conjunction with what was Pittsburgh’s No.1 Parting-est band, The Hood Gang. Here’s the origin of the title:
(check it at 0:23)
Whims of James
This again features the Mission Statement reunion group, and was named in tribute to drummer James Johnson III. He’s just whimsical from time to time, what can I say? Features Chris Hemingway on alto.
I’ve played with Alex Peck ever since I moved back home. This song was written in his house in Weirton. I had crashed overnight, as we had a rehearsal scheduled early the next day, and wrote this while I waited for him to wake up. I was in a very odd mood that day—this was written with my parents in mind (of course, we know that all parents ever want are free-jazz ballads written in their honor…). Also in my mind was the title track of Coltrane’s last album Expression, and the tone my friend Jacob Yoffee gets from the upper range of the tenor saxophone. I wanted to work with purposefully harsh intervals and try to make them work in a melodic context. Soon after, Alex woke up, Jacob and guitarist Ben Karp arrived for the rehearsal, and we played this absurd tune. There was something in the air that day, I guess. At any rate, this version comes from a session we did as Alex’s project Black Ireland. The record never came out, I remembered this version, and Alex let me have it for my record. Again, one take—you can’t go back and keep the freshness when you’re playing stuff like this…
Talkin In My Ear Now
This features a good friend and all-about-town Renaissance man who goes by the moniker of Dr. Strange K. We have a hip hop project called People in the Red Balloon, and if fate smiles you’ll see a debut release in 2010. Again, this was all created live in the studio with Daru. Howie added his keyboard parts later on—he was so taken with the track that this is what it looked like. (Video courtesy Emmai Alaquiva and Ya Momz House)
Caruso’s Favorite Bars In Rome
Another short solo piano vignette. Harmless. Little Richard says he likes it. Again, on the title:
(check it at 1:58)
East Side of Heaven
Joe Negri is one of the happiest people I know in the world—I met him early on when my dad played some gigs here and there with him, and it’s been a blast playing all the old tunes with him. I do love the Great American Songbook, and have been lucky to investigate it with musicians who really know it well. One of these is Paul Cosentino, the leader of the Boilermaker Jazz Band here in Pittsburgh. I’ve always enjoyed subbing for their great bassist, Ernest McCarty. I discovered this tune in an ancient fake book (the only way to learn lyrics and verses as well as the tunes)—our first version was strictly instrumental. I found that a lot of the song’s charm was lost without the lyric, so I dusted off my best Chet Baker imitation and there we were. On this as well is Daniel May, who helped to midwife this project—the least I could do was invite him to be the “36th Man” on the project, on the last tune recorded. I’ve dedicated it to Sandy Staley, a wonderful woman of song who I was privileged to play with before her passing this past year.
I know an angel on the east side of heaven
Who lives in a third story room
We meet on a rooftop and we dream in the dark
While the lights of New York are in bloom
All through the daytime it’s the same old Manhattan
But evening again sets me free
Then I turn off Broadway to the east side of heaven
Where an angel waits for me
When I wrote this song, I originally wanted the melody to be played once, and then just having soloing over the repeated vamp. It made referencing the riddle of the Sphinx (what has four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening) make sense. We play a more conventional form here, but the title has stuck. Another favorite quartet to play with (Colter, Mike and Tom Wendt) is augmented here by the great and royal George Jones on congas.
Ponder’s Xmas Rap
This was recorded at the beginning of a live performance with Jimmy Ponder on December 17, 2008—a real instance of catching lightening in a bottle. All of us on the scene can recall moments like these—I’m happy to share this one that was preserved. It speaks for itself.
This reharmonization was written for the first Mission Statement Christmas show in 2005. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, and luckily the previous track helped (I hope) to justify its inclusion. Once again, one take and out—what more is there to say if you say it like that the first time. I’m privileged to play with Sean, Mike and James and to call them friends.
Bahia de todas as contas
When I transcribed this tune, I never dreamed that I’d record it at all, let alone record a version with Kenia. I’ve had a blast making music with her the past few years; she is the Brazilian “Real Deal.” On guitar is her longtime Pittsburgh collaborator Eric Susoeff, and the various percussion is by Lucas Ashby, who happens to be Kenia’s son (yes, everyone and their mother are on the record). The swing is there.
Rompeu-se a guia de todos os santos
Foi Bahia pra todos os cantos
Pra cada canto, uma conta
Pra nação de ponta a ponta
O sentimento bateu
Daquela terra provinha
Tudo que esse povo tinha
De mais puro e de mais seu
Hoje já niguém duvida
Está na alma, está na vida
Está na boca do país
É o gosto da comida
É a praça colorida
É assim porque Deus quis
Olorum se mexeu
Rompeu-se a guia de todos os santos
Foi Bahia pra todos os cantos
Pra cada canto, uma conta
Pra cada santo, uma mata
Uma estrela, um rio, um mar
E onde quer que houvesse gente
Brotavam como sementes
As contas desse colar
Hoje a raça está formada
Nossa aventura plantada
Nossa cultura é raiz
É ternura nossa folha
É doçura nossa fruta
É assim porque Deus quis
Olorum se mexeu
Not Lucid [Zele]
This quartet is definitely one of my favorite groups to play with. Jacob, Mike, James and I have seen each other through a lot of things in life, personally and professionally—I really do consider them family. This song has a somewhat interesting genesis. The girl I was dating at the time had acquired what was supposedly absinthe from somewhere upstate. It was called “Lucid,” and on a particularly notable evening we tried it out. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, absinthe is quite strong. “Lucid,” however, didn’t seem to live up to its thujone count—I didn’t see any, um, distortion, shall we say, so I helped myself to another. Needless to say, the rest of the evening wasn’t that pleasant. At any rate, after that debacle, said girlfriend acquired another brand from the Czech Republic called “Zele.” This we (meaning: I) tried a bit more cautiously; however, it was so strong that any thujone effect was lost. Before I faded into chemically-aided slumber, I wrote a series of chord changes that formed the basis of this song—they might not sound too odd to the layman, but these might be the hardest chords to improvise over that I’ve come up with. It took a while to get this together, but I love the organic way the band communicates on this. Also note the “Satin Doll” quote in the bass solo. No, I don’t know about that one either…
Tell Me Where You Goin
Another hip hop track, created fresh in the studio from the inimitable Daru Jones. Thelonious Stretch, erstwhile host of Rhyme Calisthenics (the official MC Competition) and another member of People in the Red Balloon, treated this like a Rhyme-Cal exercise, the question being: how many names of people on the record can you get into a verse? It’s the first hip hop my parents have ever enjoyed—probably ‘cause their names are in it….
Hey Tony where you walkin to?
Who you talking to?
What music nowadays are you walkin through
This is the cast of the who-is-who
Brought it together
Now let’s start it off with your dad
The Don DePaolis on them keys
Plus Howie on them keys
And Michael Murray, Lucas Ashby and
Roger and Greg Humphries get em hyper than a pot of coffee
On sax, Mr. Jacob Yoffee and Jay Willis
So many all-stars and I’m not finished
On vocals it’s the Kathy Connor, Dr. Strange K and Stovall but who’s on guitar?
The Chris Parker, Jimmy Ponder, Andy Bianco, Joe and Colter Harper
But there’s no harp
We got Joe Arnold on the violin and Daru Jones
When you gonna play them drums again?
And Sean Jones, when you gonna play that trumpet again
We got Chris Hemingway back you up on the horn, plus
Paul on clarinet, even got James Moore
Pop the dope shit
Tony please give up the cure
Tell me where you goin
On this road I see you steady rollin
(Now Tony’s steady rockin, talking through his guitar)
This is a tribute to Henry Cowell, whose music I first got into in those bitter, halcyon days of middle school. These effects are made by muting and strumming the strings inside the piano. George Heid almost had a seizure when I started doing this to his piano, but was nice enough to let the take go on before scolding me.
My dad’s writing has been enormously influential to me—it was hard picking which tunes of his to record. In the end, I decided to stick with things that don’t exist in any recorded form (hopefully, a near-future gig for me as a producer will be putting together a cd of his recordings from back in the day…). The old man wrote this one in 1978, and, no disrespect intended, musicians in that era just weren’t down with 25/8. The band you hear here is the first to (somewhat) master it. We added our own solo section in 7/4 based on the vibe of the head. This was an unexpected call on Mike, Jacob and James—we hadn’t played it in months (the last time was in Grand Junction, CO, but that’s another bizarre story), and were a bit anxious about cutting it. This is the first take.
God Bless the Child
The idea for recording this came late in the game. I knew I wanted to feature my mother, Kathy Connor, on a vocal tune somewhere on the record, but hadn’t picked anything out. The day after Christmas 2008, we played a gig with the family and Tom Wendt on drums. Colter came and sat in, and somebody in the audience requested the tune. We started with intro how you hear it now on the record, and by the time we got to the end of the lyric, I knew what song my mom had to sing on the record. Into the studio we went and recreated what we did that night in December.
I’ve always thought that Ornette Coleman’s music is very special, and had always really dug this tune. The two trumpet concept comes from an evening that I played with Jimmy Ponder’s trio. Sean and James Moore were both patronizing the club with their wives; the two couples shared dinner, and the two trumpeters sat in with us. James solos first, Sean follows and adds that Don Cherry trumpet-comping thing for the bass solo.
Waiting For an Answer
One day in 2005, the great bassist Jeff Grubbs called me to sub for him in the Mission Statement band. He added that they were rehearsing that evening, and that I could bring some originals if I wanted to. I didn’t have anything that really fit, so I threw this tune off as quick as I could—it’s written with these specific players in mind. The solo section is kind of unconventional—it’s a series of 3 vamps that the soloist can cue to the band—usually by holding up the corresponding number of fingers. The soloist can use as many or as few as they wish. Needless to say, everytime we’ve played this, it sounds totally different. It also ends up being epic in length—this 12 minute version is kind of a distillation of what it’s like live. The energy is matched to this band—I’ve been amazingly lucky to work with these guys. George Jones joins us on congas through the miracle of technology.
What You Feel (Willow Tree reprise)
Gene Stovall is well-known in the area as a musical chameleon of a performer. This track, which you’ll recognize as the same that backs Willow Tree, was actually developed by myself and Gene late at night at the Wednesday songwriters’ night at the Shadow Lounge. I was playing the keyboard, came up with the sequence, and Gene started free-associating lyrics and melodies over top. It went well, and we recreated it this in the srudio (it was later that I gave the raw track to Carolyn, who wrote her composition to the same rhythm track). The idea of two writers lyrics dove-tailing into a complementary statement seemed like a cool idea that we could pull off through the technology available. It’s a gamble, too—hopefully we pulled it off.
Doing what you feel
May add affection to the real
When in love you know the deal
So pay attention
Did I mention that you’re beautiful
In face, mind, body, spiritual
I could be so useful
If you hear it, listen to the music of your life and style
Talk to me, I’ll make you smile
This may take awhle
But I’m patient
This is for the lover in
You and me until the end
This is important
That we’re friends
(baby you got me – wrapped around your finger like a willow tree)
Cause I love you
The Curse, of Course
This is another of my father’s tunes. I actually wanted him to record this with us, but he wasn’t able to make the recording session scheduled for it. Mike Murray fills in ably. A beautiful melody for Jacob’s gorgeous soprano sound.
The energy music that this track harkens to has always been an important part of my musical influence—even if I rarely play like this. Jay Willis is the only player who I’ve worked with who really understands this sound—you can tell that he was there at that time of the world. No one plays like Greg Humphries, a great man who plays with power and dedication. Andy Bianco and I have known each other for close to 10 years, and I feel that this is him in his most creative light. The influences of late-Trane, Ayler, Pharoah and Sonny Sharock are evident here. Again—first take.
Lucky To Be Me
I know a lot of people probably find a track like The Ruins hard going, so I wanted to reward them and end the album with an intimate ballad. I love playing standards with a trio like this—I feel a deep connection and responsibility to this style. Again this was first and only take—don’t know how me and Mike locked up on the sustained chords at the end, because he was coming up with them on the fly! And of course, the title is very apt: I’m extremely lucky to have been in the places I’ve been, and to have worked with all the people that I have.