Every Song Has a Story
While the music speaks for itself, this page provides background information about the songs on the Audio page
Many of the songs go back a long time. Some have evolved in various ways since first composed.
Nite Work (summer)
Es Verdad (fall)
Montana Dream (fall)
Blue Two (June)
El Tonto (June)
Monktuno (Dec 13, 1976)
late 1970’s/early 1980’s:
Dance of the Unemployed
6 Circle 3
Blues All Wrong (WITH LYRICS)
Sleep On It
Mr & Mrs Bley
Qbop! (April 6, 1997)
Solstice (December 1997)
J-Song (May 2, 2007)
Two Night Amnesia
Twelve Twenty One
Here is an alphabetic listing of the tunes with musical details.
In the days of the vinyl LP, these would have been the liner notes.
6 Circle 3
First worked out at the piano early 1990’s, but not notated or titled until late 90’s.
Inspired by the Tony Williams tune ‘Pee Wee’ (also a moody waltz) and his use of the maj7#5 chord.
The song has a chord sequence that is 6 bars long. The melody cuts across the 6 bar phrase so it takes 3 repetitions of the sequence to complete. Hence the title ‘6 Circle 3’. This song has not been performed live in public (yet).
Composed June 1975. Inspired by John Coltrane blues ‘Equinox’ and ‘Cousin Mary’, but set in Phrygian mode (minor with flatted second scale degree). The flatted third is the common ‘blue’ note, but here flat two is the ‘blue’ note. The original lead sheet had the title as ‘Blwo Tue’ but the wordplay on ‘Blue Two’ was overly strained. This song went unplayed until finding its groove with Tribu.
Blues All Wrong
First worked out at the piano mid-1990’s WITH LYRICS as a swing groove, but later shoehorned into the latin arrangement for Primavera.
Inspired by Don Grolnick’s song ‘Nothing Personal’ on Michael Brecker’s first solo album (angular/dissonant melody over a vamp).
The lyrics are included with my lead sheet posted on this site, but not sung by anyone (yet).
Listen to the original version recorded by the Eagle Street Jazztet in 2004.
Dance of the Unemployed
Worked out at the piano early 1980’s, an attempt at ‘smooth jazz’ in the mood of Dave Grusin’s ‘Modaji’. The snarky title has nothing to do with the music, just something I had filed away when I couldn’t think of anything better.
I composed the 8 bar melody with chord progression in 1975, added the intro and outro in to play with Tribu.
Not intentionally inspired by another tune, just exploring the difference between maj7 and maj6/9 chord.
First titled ‘The Fool is Cool’ for my mood when I wrote the song. My intention for ‘fool’ was easy-going like ‘jester’, but after playing it retitled in Spanish I found out the implication of ‘tonto’ is closer to ‘idiot’. So the Lone Ranger really is a kemosabe (‘soggy shrub’ in Navajo).
Untitled ballad composed fall 1974 after returning from summer gig in Montana. My attempt to create a mood like John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’. Given a title en Espanol (“It’s True”) for Tribu but was never played by them.
Originally in the key of Eb, I notated the first chord as ‘maj6/9’ even though the melody does not use the third. Discovered 1-5-9-13 arpeggiated nicely as stacked fifths, so changed the notation to ‘no third’ and transposed to the key of Ab to put the arpeggios in a better range on vibraphone.
Composed late 1970’s. Inspired by the mood of Benny Maupin’s album ‘Jewel In The Lotus’, my original title was ’Stolen Jewels’.
Originally conceived to be played played once through, as written without improvisation. It was never played with anyone until I retitled as GEM in 2018.
The major triad with flat seventh in the bass is commonly used as a passing chord in music theory (from Bach or Haydn), but I liked the sound of sitting on it for a while. This song has not been performed live in public (yet)
Composed 2004 or 2005. After reading through the untitled song, drummer Ben Randall told me ‘you should just title it the first thing that comes to your head, like ….” and then he said some word. We laughed but I soon forgot what the word was. Ben passed away in 2006, so I dedicated the song to Ben with gratitude for his generous spirit.
The A section of the tune is an 8 bar chord sequence that move by major thirds (a nod to John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’). Common practice is to repeat the A section ‘as-is’, but here each A section is moved up (a nod to Clifford Brown’s ‘Joy Spring’), in this case by major thirds. To provide a contrast to the chordal motion in the A sections, the bridge uses a pedal point, with an inner voice moving 5 to #5 to 6 and back (a nod to Carla Bley’s ‘Ida Lupino’).
At the piano in 1974, I worked out the 8 bar A section as just angular melody against chromatic bass line. Two years later filled in the chords, and realized I could move each A section rather just repeat ‘as-is’ (a nod to Clifford Brown’s ‘Joy Spring’). Here I move each A section by a minor third, and added a bridge that fit the motion.
At one point I accidentally played #5 on the maj7 chord in the fourth bar of the A section and decided to keep it.
Thanks to Clark Suprynowicz for suggesting the last chord of section A3 (D7) wanted to go to G rather than back to Cmaj7, the first chord of A1. Even with the added 8 bars of G Phrygian to mark the end of each chorus, players still found the constant chromatic motion needed to be broken up, so I added 4 bars of E Phrygian between A1 and A2.
The song had been untitled all along, but I read a comment about the emotional effect of large interval leaps in a melody being ‘poignant angularity’. I was more interested in the angular than the poignant, so substituted the synonym ‘jagged’. The optional slash between the two words is a visual cue. This song has not been performed live in public (yet)
Saxophonist Jason Davis introduced me to the crowd of jazz players in Alameda, many of whom remain my friends.
I wrote this song specifically for him (May 2, 2007) when he went in the hospital for cancer treatments. The title is word play on his first name. I was able to show Jason the lead sheet but was not able to get a performance or recording for him to hear before he died.
Use of major third on sus chord inspired by Stanley Clarke’s ‘Why Wait’, which I had transcribed and played with Jason.
Composed for Tribu but not played by them. An intentionally dissonant melody over a cha-cha groove. Included the pedal point interlude as part of each chorus to mark each restart of the AABA form. I would think through the arrangement and try to come up with a title while walking in the woods where I saw a lot of newts and doves. The Spanish word for doves sounded better than newt.
12 bar blues in C, originally titled ‘Behind the Times’. Never played with anyone until 2018.
Sliding chromatic root motion inspired by Thelonious Monk, also the melody using a short phrase rhythmically displaced. The descent in whole steps from the V chord from Joe Henderson’s blues ‘If’. I extended the descent so the first chord of the tune is half-step below the key of C.
I shoehorned it into a latin groove and added the interlude/shout chorus (a series of Monk quotes) after first read through with Primavera.
Composed fall 1974 after returning from summer gig in Montana. First title was ‘Theme for a Dream’.
A nod to Erik Satie Gymnopodie, using arpeggiated major 7 chords. First written as a ballad, with the melody mostly as quarter note triplets. Converted a waltz and added the intro as part of the form, then converted to 4/4 bossa groove for Primavera.
Mr & Mrs Bley
Inspired by the compositions of Carla Bley and the playing of Paul Bley.
Worked out at the piano early 90’s. First attempts to play in a group were not successful.
Originally just gave players a series of dissonant notes to play over the A section C/G drone (C#-D-Eb-F#-G-Ab) and notes from B major scale over the B section. Later I used the notes to write melody over the drone sections as an example of what was intended, so could be played just as written or with improvisation.
This song has not been performed live in public (yet)
Originally titled ‘Song of the Night Workers’. Composed summer of 1974 in Montana, at the piano in basement of Glacier Park Lodge. I would use that piano in the middle of the night after my gig playing drums in the lounge combo. We played it on the gig that summer, but the song was not played again until Tribu.
I was just exploring how Wayne Shorter could use a pentatonic scale against two chords. Also how the same two chords (Db Maj7 and C minor 7) changed color by putting them over the Bb pedal. That was about all I could handle on piano at then, but I did manage to get a ii-V at the end of the bridge.
Listen to the original version recorded in Montana 1974.
One of the few tunes I did not write at the piano. Composed 1996, partly on marimba. Built from an Ornette Coleman phrase (end of ‘The Turnaround’). I initially used the vamp from The Doors ‘Break On Through to the Other Side’ for intro/interlude, but eventually settled into something closer to a ‘Killer Joe’ groove.
First attempt to play was unsuccessful, as it did not work to solo over the time changes. Also tried going to ‘freebop’ for solos: retain the quarter note pulse but nebulous between 4/4 and 3/4, allow tonality to range freely but eventually return to Db vamp.
Neither approach seemed to work, so just put the solo changes in 4/4.
Originally intended to use the title Ornetteology until I found several other songs with same name. Also considered title Haden Walk (as in Charlie Haden, Ornette’s bass player who could definitely play ‘freebop’).
Modeled on fast modal tunes with time changes: Bobby Hutchinson’s ‘Herzog’ and Victor Feldman’s ‘Joshua’ among others.
Title refers to ‘overload’ of only one chord type, also frantic tempo.
Intended as a drum feature, contrasting the 3/4 measures with the accented 3 beat chord change in 4/4 at end of form.
Composed April 6, 1997. Original title was ‘Hail Bop!’, as the Hale Bopp comet was passing earth at the time.
Melody worked out at vibes and chords at piano. Form is a 12 bar blues (I-IV-V in the right spot), but also chords move by major thirds. The melody is built by arpeggiating upper extensions of the chords.
Sleep On It
Composed early 90’s, originally heard as an upbeat samba groove. Originally untitled, but considered calling it ‘Samba de Ofay’ (or ’Samba de Tomba’ for trumpeter Tom Dambly and skier Alberto Tomba). Brought the tempo down to a cha cha and retitled for Tribu.
Another song built on a pentatonic scale.
Composed in 3/4 time on winter solstice 1997 so titled ‘Wolstice’ (solstice waltz).
I was trying to work out an intro to ‘Georgia on my Mind’, going between F major and D minor. Later realized the mood resembled Vince Guaraldi’s ‘Christmas Time is Here’. Originally a waltz, but later shoehorned into a latin arrangement.
Listen to the original version recorded by the Eagle Street Jazztet in 2004, (this link temporarily down)
Composed 1976. Inspired by Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, and the spin-off ensembles led by Dr. Eddie Henderson and Julian Priester. I saw the pre-Zappa Terry Bozzio playing 4 piece kit with Eddie, so original title became ’TB for Dr H’
The three note cluster (Eb-F-Bb) can sound throughout - moving the root a half step underneath changes it from C minor to B lydian. The pad in the trio recording was created by looping the sustain portion of Mark’s piano chord (removed the attack).
This song has not been performed live in public (yet).
Composed late 70’s as just a 4/4 blues with a 3/4 turnaround (13 bars). By putting the melodic phase first in 4/4, then in 3/4, it can be used to cue the ‘pivot’ between time signatures.
This song has not been performed live in public (yet)
A blues scale fragment, playing with major 7th against the dominant chord (ala Duke Ellington after a comment by Tony Corman).
Originally a jazz waltz titled Rivers Motion for the way Sam Rivers tune ‘Cyclic Episode’ moved chords by minor thirds.
The sequence of dominant 13/b9 chords can fit one whole/half diminished scale (starting on C). Elsewhere in the tune it is possible for the improvisor to explore the closeness of the blues scale to the diminished scale.
I created the bass vamp to make an arrangement for Tribu but never played by them. The title is a play on the 3/4 groove and a salute to Tribu’s great Cuban rhythm section: bassist Marcus Lopez, timbalero Mario Salomon and especially our unjustly deported congero extraordinaire Jesus Gonzalez.
Two Night Amnesia
Composed 2016 for Tribu but not played by them. I intentionally wanted to write something based on Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia. The song follows his form - AABA with interlude - but consciously moved elements within the form: his vamp between D minor and Eb is reversed, so is the ii-V-I cycle in the bridge.
I originally was going to call it ‘A Tune in Nightesia’, but thanks to Preston Carter for the more memorable version.
This song has also been arranged by Geoff Roach for the Octobop book
Composed while the house I grew up in was being painted before we moved out. I remember the spinet piano was pushed to the middle of the living room and removing a canvas tarp to play it. The title came because the sliding chromatic bass line was like paint sagging.
Inspired by the mood of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Fall’ and his use of the minor 6/9 chord.
The original lead sheet was 16 bars, but I liked sitting on the last chord (phrygian) for an additional bar. Originally notated with first/second ending but players would lose track of which ending so just wrote it straight thru 17 bars.
Even though the bass motion and inner lines are mostly chromatic, I managed to create a cadence: V-i from first ending back to top, and V-i to last chord.
Composed after Dr. Willam Webster (aka ‘Doc’) told me of his conversation with Benny Golson.
Doc was told that removing the first two measures of Golson's tune ’Stablemates’ (bars 3-14) reveals a 'hidden' 12 bar blues, with I-IV-V in the right place.
I wrote a melody over Golson’s chord changes and originally thought it would be a bossa nova. The groove evolved with Tribu, so I created the intro and drum break.
I want to thank all the musicians who over the years were willing to give my tunes at least one read through so I could hear them and learn what was playable.
Most importantly ‘The Unimpeachable Jazz Quartet’: Bob Applebaum, Gil Cohen and Preston Carter.
Jazz composers meeting to play each other’s music since 2017. They have played all my tunes at least once (some through several iterations), providing invaluable feedback. We even did a few gigs.
Clark Suprynowicz’ Berkeley Jazz Workshop circa 1995-2000 (pre-JazzSchool).
My first foray as a jazz mallet player. When I joined, I only had a 2.5 octave student marimba and hand written lead sheets.
Clark is a patient teacher who clarified a lot of jazz theory and encouraged my playing/writing. The workshop’s slogan ‘meet stir crazy musicians’ was so true: Peter Ild, Larry Stefl, Mike Coleman, Keith Ridenhour, Tom Dambly, Jim Mattox, John Kiskaddon, Curtis Uejo.
The most significant connection I made through Clark’s workshop was with bassist Jim Prescott (‘Jimi Jazz’) and drummer Mike Pinkham. We met weekly for a few years and did my first gigs as a leader of ‘The Casini Mission’ at Cato’s Ale House in Oakland.
The jazz combo classes at Cal State Hayward led by Dann Zinn in the early 2000’s. First with Mike Olmos, Doug Beavers and Dan Parenti, then with Marvin Ibe, Kevin Smith, Ben Doitel and Fred Johnson.
Since 2005, bassist Chris Reece and his regular Eagle Street sessions: Dr. Roy Halliday, Colin Gleason, Vince Wallace, Jeff McNish, Ben Randall, Peter Engelhart. This was a connection I made thanks to David Feld and Jason Davis who introduced me to an eager bunch of Alameda jazz players through ‘gigs’ at the Emerald Garden restaurant.
Two piano trios with me on drums in 2018:
pianist Terry Rodriguez and bassist Richard Saunders
pianist John Watson and bassist Cory Squaglia
Sept 2018 flute/vibes duet vespers concert with Laura Austin Wiley at St Mary’s Cathedral in SF.
Circa 2006, the group Fortune Smiles: Ted Nirgiotis, Gary Monheit, Dan Krimm, Matt Willis
Early 1980's session with Dave Enos on bass and Tim Landis on guitar and another session during that period with very young Dann Zinn on sax, Kirby Leong on bass, Steve Goomas on piano.
Sometime around 1979 with Jim Witzel guitar, Mike Arnold bass, Jon Eriksen vibes.
Circa 1975 trio session with pianist David Merrill and bassist Chuck Sher.
Summer 1974, ’Our Combo’ 3 month lounge gig in the main lodge at Glacier National Park, Montana:
Ed Kusby piano and guitar, Dave Schoenbrunn bass and Brian Anderson alto sax