Wednesday, July 18, 2018

ARRANGEMENT IN BLUE, WITH LOVE






This is a rehash of a post I wrote a few years ago. I'm presently on a hiatus from blogging......hopefully only for a short time....

As I looked back at the sprawling smog-drenched cityscape of Los Angeles on that sweltering September afternoon, I knew in my heart that I was leaving forever and would never return.

This isn't the place to dissect the reasons why I left. It's merely a channel to release a surge of nostalgic fondness and golden memories - an arrangement in blue, with love.



Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin holds a significant place in my final year in California. It was the last thing that I ever performed there at a public concert (in August). It was also the music that was playing in my mind on that day as I gazed at the L.A. skyline for the last time.

For that reason, Rhapsody in Blue, for me, is synonymous with farewells.

I wrote a solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue when I was in my mid-twenties and living in Hollywood. It has become a personal favorite of all my piano arrangements, and the one that is the most difficult to play. The pianist does all the work - there's no orchestral backup.

Initially, I was never fond of Rhapsody in Blue. It just wasn't geared to my pianistic style. As I studied the music and wrote the arrangement, however, I grew to love it - and to fully appreciate Gershwin's unique harmonic genius.

I've made several recordings of my Rhapsody in Blue arrangement. The one on my recent YouTube video (above) was made (long ago) at a friend's private music studio nestled in the Hollywood Hills. It was near midnight on a hot summer night. After ingesting a few glasses of Madeira, I recorded it in one take with no edits. No easy task, considering the length and extreme difficulty of the piece - and the detrimental influence of my semi-inebriation.

Gershwin - 1898-1937

Bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin to write a piece for piano and orchestra, which would be included in a concert at Aeolian Hall in New York. Gershwin began writing the music in January, 1924 - and the premiere took place on February 12th.

Since Gershwin wasn't completely adept at orchestration, he initially wrote the piece for two pianos. Composer Ferde Grofe (who wrote the Grand Canyon Suite) orchestrated the score for the premiere - and Gershwin improvised the piano part.

Grofe later revised his orchestration in 1926 and again in 1942. These are the arrangements that are most widely known today.

Gershwin originally called his composition American Rhapsody. It was his brother Ira who suggested the title Rhapsody in Blue. Ira was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by James Whistler - especially one entitled Arrangement in Grey and Black (better known as Whistler's Mother).


My solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue is a humble tribute to Gershwin - and one of my personal crowning musical achievements. 

Video is best viewed full-screen


Sunday, July 15, 2018

HALLELUJAH

I originally wrote this post several years ago on my old blog Lone Star Concerto. I've decided to rehash it here.



There are times when certain songs and corresponding memories evoke such overwhelming emotions that words cannot adequately describe them.

Hallelujah has that effect on me. This song unleashes a surge of conflicting feelings and multitudinous levels of meaning, which are more easily absorbed than defined. Every breath of Hallelujah assumes its own special identity: love, spirituality, loss, anguish, hope, peace, human failings, emotional fragility, resurgence. 

Hallelujah was written by Canadian musician and writer Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) and has been performed a multitude of times by a wide variety of singers/musicians. 
My two favorite renditions are by K.D. Lang and Jeff Buckley. I love both versions, so it's difficult to choose one over the other.

I always get teary-eyed when I hear K.D.Lang sing Hallelujah. She interprets it with such genuine heart-wrenching emotion that it blows me away, leaves me breathless.

Jeff Buckley (1966-1997) was an earthy performer with an incredible voice and an impressive vocal range. His rendition of Hallelujah (from the original studio cut) is superb. He sometimes had the voice of an angel and it's tragic that he didn't live long enough to fully develop it.

Buckley drowned at the age of thirty, while swimming in the Wolf River Harbor in Memphis, Tennessee. 



Hallelujah inspires me for many deeply personal reasons, too intricate to fully explain. It ignites memories of my private losses and loves, my many tribulations and occasional triumphs.

Here's Buckley's unedited studio cut version.



P.S.
As for me (in case you were wondering), I'm still in the process of dealing with problems, digging myself out of self-made holes, and hanging onto the illusion that there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

BTW
The two videos on this post aren't mine. I "lifted" them from YouTube. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

INTERLUDE


 
My recent plumbing adventure was the least of my problems (see previous posts).

I've decided to take another (brief?) hiatus from the Land of Blog, due to overwhelming circumstances. No need to elaborate - except to say that my ruthless life is never dull. 

No need to worry about me (I know that a few of you do). If I ever woke up to a day without problems and extraordinary stress I'd probably drop dead from the shock.
I was born to suffer.

In the meantime - -
I'm offering a musical interlude - a video that I've previously posted on this blog. 

One of my all-time favorite songs (especially when it's sung by Jane Olivor).
Lalena (pronounced Lalaynia). 

This song was a standard that I used to play long ago, during my late-night piano stints in smokey bars and clubs in Hollywood and around L.A.

It brings back bittersweet memories of romance and the delicious illusion of my reckless youth....

Saturday, July 7, 2018

NAKED IN THE RAIN




I thought that title would grab your attention.....

......but your interest will probably diminish when you find out that it's me who was naked in the rain. 

By the way - the photo (above) is not me. I'm better looking.

One thing I've discovered during the past two weeks (see my previous blog posts) is that I never realized how much water I used until I didn't have any. It's a necessity that is sorely taken for granted.

Before I shut off the main outside water valve (to stop the flooding and fix the pipes), I managed to fill numerous pots, pitchers, and empty plastic bottles with water. But it wasn't enough.

During the span of two long and extremely hot waterless weeks, I learned the agony of having to ration and conserve.

I couldn't wash clothes, couldn't wash dishes, couldn't even properly wash my hands. When they got dirty, I simply rinsed them with hydrogen peroxide.

I couldn't even cook properly. Pasta, soup, even hot dogs need plenty of water. I made corn on the cob in the oven (my cousin Nancy suggested that) and it was absolutely delicious.

I had a helluva time shaving, because I usually use a straight blade (opposed to a gay one).

Think about that for a few moments. It will eventually become very amusing.

Even my cats consume lots of water. They have two large water dishes, which I always rinse and refill several times a day.
Bosco is a heavy consumer of H2o. That cat gulps water like I used to chug whiskey.

Should H20 be written in all capitals, or what? I wouldn't want to offend any scientists.

Going to the bathroom (or crap house, for those of you in Barstow) was a very challenging adventure....

....but I won't elaborate because I know there are decent, demure people who read my blog. Well - - one or two of you are, anyway...

I certainly couldn't take a bath or shower. But the frequent thunderstorms and torrential rain provided an opportunity to improvise.

During one particularly violent afternoon storm I quickly stripped off my clothes, grabbed a bar of soap, and ran outside.

One of the luxuries of living in the wilderness is that clothing is optional.

There is no way to describe the exhilaration of standing buck naked in a Biblical downpour and soaping up your body - - while lightning is zapping wickedly around you and deafening claps of thunder are reverberating so furiously that you can feel the vibration going right through your ass. 

This blog post has no purpose - except for my amusement and your astonishment.