In 2006 I recorded a bluegrass/country/folk album called “Meet Me on the Mountain.” I really wanted to get the music “out there,” and a friend suggested that I should start performing locally…at the new jazz club that was opening up: Hip Kitty. Was I deterred on pragmatic grounds by the stylistic mis-match? No, not me. Inspired, I formed a jazz quartet and started performing there.
Did my bluegrass album take off as a result? No. However this new performing opportunity was the impetus to get me to finally learn my extended jazz harmonies. I had played for my college jazz band for a semester, and loved it — my feet couldn’t stay still under the piano! But I hadn’t ever really done the homework to make my hands learn my 11th and 13th chords, to make my flat 5s and 9s “second nature” as I improvised. So, I diligently worked through standards in every key, getting my fingers used to all sorts of chord voicings and such. Along the way, I started writing jazz tunes, and discovered that I loved it; there is room for a playfulness in jazz that isn’t available in other genres, and I had a ball spinning out words and melodies.
One of the songs that grew out of this experiment was a jazz setting of the William Blake poem “On Another’s Sorrow” from his Songs of Innocence and Experience. But that poem, while deeply human, also contains a fair amount of theology. So, I transmuted it into a secular jazz song, (but those who know the Blake poem will see a gleam or two shining through):
Baby, if your sky turns gray / I will love you anyway.
If the raindrops start to fall / I will stay and dry them all.
Baby, till your sky turns blue / I’ll be here to see you through;
I’ll be here both night and day / Wiping all your tears away.
I will stay here by your side / Till your tears have all been dried,
Till the clouds clear from the sky / Till the stars begin to rise.