Keep it Simple, Sarah

Posted by on Oct 09 2017 | Audio, Songtaneous

Early in my songwriting process, I was struggling because I felt like I was coming up with ideas for songs that didn’t have a lot of harmonic movement. Apparently, one of the beliefs (myths?) I was holding about jazz songs is that they need to have sophisticated harmonic movement (and probably 32 bars of it *smile*). Perhaps I subconsciously absorbed this idea from the legacy of songs from the Great American Songbook. These songs were written by some of our greatest jazz composers — Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, etc. – and I had heard and learned a lot of them. (So, no pressure.)

Also, the first jazz tunes that I wrote had a lot of  harmonic movement, in some cases two or even three chord changes per measure.

Needless to say I was feeling stuck (and that perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew *rueful grin*) when some jazz instrumentalists — John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, etc. — came to my rescue.

In the instrumental world, the jazz song seemed to have a whole different function and personality. In some cases, the chord progressions were simpler (in others, they were decidedly NOT), but I noticed that often the melody and chords of the song (aka the head) were just the jumping off point. (Listen to Coltrane’s Giant Steps or Davis’ So What for two iconic examples of what I’m talking about.)

These songs allowed the players to expand and explore the core song idea. They didn’t necessarily need to be complex, just musical. With this observation, I was able to exhale and get moving. I returned to song ideas I had abandoned as too simple or not “jazzy” enough.

Awake is one of those tunes. It was quirky little bird story and melody that came to me during my February of 3-minute solos. But the chord progression was a mere three chords so I had moved on looking for something more complicated. (Silly me, I know from improvising that complicated doesn’t always make the best music.)

Awake was initially a swing song in my mind, but the tune came alive when I changed to a Latin feel (and added some very fine instrumentalists! *smile*).

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Awake live at Jazz Central Studios. Featuring Nathan J. Greer (drums), Steven Hobert (keys), Solomon Parham (trumpet) and Ian Young (bass).

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