Except that I’ve never had a ‘spective’, this music might represent a retrospective: over forty years of jazz tunes making a belated debut. Two or three titles have borne the light at different times: a novelty between standards on a club date, a concert encore, a quartet recording in the distant past. New tunes infrequently sprouted, the result of some need/whim/heated inspiration; one shot and then into the drawer with the others they would go. They puttered around their file folder year after year, wistful sighs increasingly muted by the lively sounds of choral music, band music, vocal music and hymn tunes moving into neighboring folders. And then one day the Composer took out one of the jazz tunes and played it, and then took out another—he played them in a recital! Much excited talk ensued among the jazz tunes, with even more speculation – Would they all be heard again? Would they?? Nope. At least, not yet. But a bunch of them would. Are. Here. Now! And they do marvelously, I must say. Each presents its point of view with attitude and style, well-poised, expressive—they make me proud. Sniff!
“Mutual Admiration: Philip Orr plays Philip Orr” (2013)
Here are some things about them you might find interesting:
No Blues Today was composed on the first day of recording to celebrate this new venture. My friend Jenny came to assist production, bringing sunny possibilities and endless potential, so this one’s for her! Not intended as irony but rather as a witness to ‘mind over matter’, the form of this piece is a double-length, 24-bar blues. • Water Song is one of the older pieces presented here; it had a previous outing on a recording by Arn Evans and Tradewinds in 1980. When I wrote it in 1978 the melody struck me as something I had been carrying around a very long time, maybe since boyhood, long known, well-loved. But then, shaping the melody with harmony into a form—that was hard! It came to be something like ‘Chick Corea meets Franz Schubert’—perhaps with apologies to both. • The title for Ewing, the Night and the Music preceded the actual composition by a few years, the third in a planned trilogy of concert band pieces based on places in Mercer County, N.J. (There are many worthwhile places in Mercer County, let me say, though not all inspire music. Ewing might surprise some as being exceptional, but it provided a heck of a title.) My 2001 discovery of Piazzolla combined with the sizzly, slithery attributes of Branislaw Kaper’s Invitation, and voilà, there was Ewing… Sean Dixon’s body ‘patsching’ inspires me— the man can make music out of dust. • Rodi Memories is the ballad from a 1974 jazz suite written for a heart-friend, who is neither sad nor dead, in case you wondered from the music! Just an interesting mood and compositional approach, where the dominant chords lead nowhere near the tonic resolution you might expect—like 2 + 2 = Grapes. And it’s pretty besides. • 2006 was not a good year in my life. While the music was written to fill the void for a club temporarily without its ASCAP license, the titles for This Had Better Be Good, Now and Sometimes I Do Things Right are reflections on that period of general unpleasantness. I doubt you could tell from the tunes, though. • Vocalise, written on a glorious, sublime October day in 2004, may seem suffused with those qualities to some and strongly contrasted to them by others. Your experience is the correct one! I’ve performed this with and without improvisation, and think I like to hear the original melody best—today. This piece now also exists as a solo for voice with piano. • Ewing… aside, titles for textless pieces usually come to me long after their composing; Aftermath is a case in point. Written as an exercise on the model of Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio,” with the added challenge of mode mixture (in rough terms, minor versions of ordinarily major chords and vice versa), this was totally new territory for me in 1973. For most of 30 years it lived with “Lament” penciled on the header; at its 2002 premiere it received its current inked title. Aftermath keeps its melody intact through multiple repetitions; the ‘development’ comes via building comment and complexity around and beneath it. • Bobby Leonard (a first-rate drummer known to few) challenged me early in our 20 year association that I could not write a gospel tune. Phht, blub, say what?! Her Hymn was my response to his challenge, and has the kind of elliptical melody found in many of the Keith Jarrett tunes I was listening to at the time, with a little of the Crusaders thrown in for good measure. From 1977 to July 2013 it was performed unwaveringly in common meter, four beats to the bar. Why the sudden switch to three? Bold times require bold vision, I guess. • ’Fess Up is a 2008 salute to that icon of New Orleans funkified pianism, Henry “Roy” Byrd, a.k.a. Professor Longhair, a.k.a. ’Fess. Just saying ‘Thank You’. • Another tune that languished without a proper name, Something You Once Said was composed in 1971 and wasn’t given its ‘confirmation name’ until 2012 by bassist Norman Edge. I’m sure aficionados can tell I was working on Woody’n You at the time, but the actual impetus for composition was memorializing the death of the family dog. Apart from one or two blues heads and some chordal meanderings, Something… represents my very first jazz composition, an interesting beginning to a long though intermittent practice, and an equally interesting conclusion to this ‘neospective’.
–Philip Orr www.philiporrmusician.com
Special Thanks to Sean, Jenny, Dennis, Eva, Bill, Susan, Dave, Jan, Andy, Fritz, and Tom for their ideas, inspiration, encouragement, hopefulness, editorializing and passion; to Francene for welcoming me into her home and heart; to Sandy C. for blazing the trail; to Nassau Presbyterian Church for rehearsal space; to Hans & Anneliese for their gracious accommodation; and to Barbara for our continuing Adventure—you’ll hear this better by and by.
[© Philip Orr, 2013, 2023]