Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”

This Sousa composition, named Stars And Stripes Forever  is sometimes incorrectly called The Stars and Strips Forever.”  I played this piece on trombone and Sousaphone (same Sousa) in various combinations of junior-high band, senior-high band, Alabama All-State Band, and now, once again on piano.

I first heard this “notable” (pun, intended) arrangement of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars And Stripes Forever,” arranged by the revered, Ukraine-born, classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz when I was a freshman at Birmingham-Southern College (Birmingham, AL, USA — 1969-1970). This piece, thought to be Sousa’s most famous and well-known composition, was composed in 1896 — the year my Grandfather, Jesse Owen was born. I read that Horowitz arranged this piece in commemoration of obtaining his American citizenship.

Other students of my Birmingham-Southern piano professor Mr. Sager and I had a periodic and seemingly-long-standing invitation to the (Birmingham, AL) Mountain-Brook home of Stuart Mims to listen to his vinyl recordings on his audiophile sound-system. Mr. Mims was a long-time, local Birmingham arts-patron who was significantly associated with the Birmingham Music Club, which remains active in the ongoing Birmingham music culture.

You can read about Sousa’s composition here

On hearing Horowitz’s performance of his own arrangement, I was in disbelief that one person playing piano could make so much sound/racket! During my research for this post, I read that Horowitz criticized players of this piece who play it too fast. He said that one must remember that this is a “military march.” After reading that, I reviewed the tempos of all sections of one of his recorded performances and slowed mine to more nearly correspond to his tempos. Thanks, Vladimir!

An Edison recording of Sousa’s band performing “Stars And Stripes Forever” is here.

Horowitz’s recording is here.

Because you can “find almost anything on the Internet,” I searched and found two different transcriptions of Horowitz’s arrangement. Both of the arrangements failed to identify their creator. The transcriptions were nearly identical, except for one section. I combined the elements of the two sections and made a few subtle changes of my own to produce the version I recorded.

As usual, I created this animation to accompany the music. This production used MacOS PowerPoint-like software, FotoMagico. All 31 flags of the United States are featured. I debated including designs for future flags with 51 and 52 stars, but decided against including them. Partly because Horiwitz was a Steinway Artist™, the piano-instrument that I chose to record is/was my Synthogy Ivory American Steinway D.

I hope that you enjoy my performance and production of the Sousa-Horowitz arrangement of “Stars And Stripes Forever” with US flags as my 4th of July offering for 2017.

Six Weeks On The Road – Several Space City Band Spiels

Space City Band In Space

Click on the mp3 player to play
Title mp3 Audio Soloist
Steel-Guitar Rag mp3 Dave Holland
Goin’ Back To Lousianna mp3 Dave Holland
Child’s Anthem mp3 Space City Band
Pornographic Queen mp3 Danny Wilder
Sent For You Yesterday, And Here You Come Today mp3 Dave Holland
Six Days On The Road (And I’m Going to Make It Home Tonight) mp3 Dave Holland
Can’t Win For Losin’ mp3 Danny Wilder
A Tune I Just Can’t Change mp3 Phillip Howell
Shame On The Moon mp3 Phillip Howell
Take Me Back mp3 Phillip Howell
Big Band Medley mp3 Space City Band
Dirty Laundry mp3 Bobby Shepard
I Found Somebody mp3 Bobby Shepard

I joined the Space City Band to play keyboards with them at the FogCutter (Restaurant) in Huntsville, AL, USA, sometime in 1982. I had worked there for a number of months before my 30th birthday, which usually falls in December. It was a great period — great crowds, great and supportive management, and great band members as colleagues (Roberta Silva, Danny Wilder, Phillip Howell, Bobby Shepard, and Dave Holland) who were all accomplished musicians and were great to work with. Things continued well there until we had an offer that interested us — to move to another of the city’s upscale venues, for a sizable raise. All was set until one of the band-members decided to make a deal on their own to stay. By the time that everything finally hit the fan, the job we had been offered was no longer available to us without the holdout. And, we no longer had our job at the Fogcutter…

This was when the band retreated to a small, unnamed Huntsville club for two weeks and never received our pay. We didn’t continue to work there.

So it was when we went to the Ramada Inn in Attalla and recorded the songs published here. Attalla, AL is a small town close to Gadsden, AL that just happens to be the hometown of my ex-wife. But, I digress… On a humorous note, the Wikipedia article for Attalla, AL formerly described its geography as being, “located south of hell and the farthest possible place away from anywhere civilized…” This has been edited to list a number of other rather obscure places that are proximal.

We hired a replacement for the departed band member. But, unfortunately this person does not appear on any of these Attalla recordings. I am not certain why. I have published all of these tunes on facebook, one-by-one. And, I still have several to post. However, I decided to collect them here – into a single location for anyone inclined to listen.

Our last Attalla performance was my last one with the Space City Band. I have presented these songs in the order that I originally posted them.

The first song, “Steel Guitar Rag,” and all the others featured here, were originally recorded by me, onto (TDK-SA) cassette tape in Attalla, AL around 1982. David Holland is featured on steel-guitar. Danny Wilder is playing guitar. Phillip Howell is walking the bass. Bobby Shepard is playing drums. And, yours truly, Stan Owen Jr. was playing piano. The piano style is my equivalent of a guitar style that I have always jokingly called chickin’ pickin.’

On our version of Delbert McClinton’s song: “Going Back To Louisiana,” David Holland is featured on vocal and guitar. Phillip Howell is playing bass-guitar and introduces the song. Danny Wilder plays Yamaha electric-grand-piano. Bobby Shepard plays drums. And, Stan Owen Jr. is playing synthesizer (Yamaha CS-80).

On our version of the band, Toto’s song: “Child’s Anthem,” David Holland plays guitar. Phillip Howell is playing bass guitar. Danny Wilder plays piano. Bobby Shepard plays drums. And, Stan Owen Jr. is playing synthesizer (CS-80).

Pornographic Queen” features Danny Wilder singing one of his original songs that the Space City Band performed. This is a humorous retelling of his relationship with a pinup centerfold. Hopefully, no one will be offended by the song’s slightly “adult” content. The recording had a tragic audio dropout (such as caused by a magnet) at 3:00 minutes. I was forced to remove a small section where the singer remembers the day, but not year and then can’t remember what day of the week it was. At that point, I was able to re-splice the audio. Danny Wilder is featured on vocals and acoustic guitar (hard to hear the guitar). Phillip Howell plays bass-guitar and banters with Danny during the intro and song. Bobby Shepard plays drums. David Holland is featured on steel-guitar. Stan Owen Jr. plays piano and synthesizer.

Our recording of Jimmy Rushing’s song, “I Sent For You Yesterday, But, Here You Come Today” features David Holland on vocals, harmonica, and guitar. Danny Wilder plays organ, synthesizer (Prophet-5), and introduces the song. Phillip Howell plays bass. Bobby Shepard plays drums. Stan Owen Jr. plays piano and synthesizer (CS-80).

The recording of Dave Dudley’s hit, “Six Days On The Road (and, I’m goin’ to make it home tonight)” features David Holland on vocals and guitar. Danny Wilder plays piano and introduces the song. Phillip Howell plays bass. Bobby Shepard plays drums. Stan Owen Jr. plays synthesizer (CS-80). As you can hear in the final lyrics, we were finishing up a six-week booking at the Holiday Inn in Attalla, AL and were more than looking forward to the “comforts of home…”

This is Danny Wilder’s original song, “Can’t Win For Losin’.” Danny is featured on lead vocal. David Holland mans the steel-guitar. Phillip Howell plays bass and sings harmony vocals. Bobby Shepard plays drums and also sings harmony vocals. Stan Owen Jr. alternates between synthesizer and chicken-pickin’ piano. On a humorous note, the Wikipedia article for Attalla, AL describes its geography as being, “located south of hell and the farthest possible place away from anywhere civilized…”

Golden-voiced Phillip Howell sings and plays bass on one of his original songs, “A Tune I Just Can’t Change.” Danny Wilder plays acoustic guitar and sings backing vocals. David Holland plays steel-guitar to cry-for. Bobby Shepard plays drums and sings backing vocals. Stan Owen Jr. plays piano and synthesizer. Phillip and Danny, we miss you more than we have words to say.

I always thought that the name of the next song was “Blame It On The Night,” and didn’t learn otherwise until writing this post. It is interesting to note from Phillip’s introduction of the song that Dave’s Mother was in attendance that evening in Attalla. In this recording, Phillip Howell plays bass and is featured on vocals. Danny Wilder plays acoustic guitar and sings backing vocals (and, is the one who, during the song’s intro, invites folks to dance and “get real close”). David Holland plays steel-guitar. Bobby Shepard plays drums and sings backing vocals. Stan Owen Jr. plays piano and I believe I hear a little synthesizer in there during the first verse (if it’s not Dave’s steel-guitar making the sounds I’m hearing…). Phillip and Danny, we miss your beautiful voices.

Phillip Howell plays bass and sings another of his original songs, “Take Me Back.” Danny Wilder plays the piano part that starts the song and sings backing vocals. David Holland plays guitar and sings backing vocals. Bobby Shepard plays drums and sings backing vocals. Stan Owen Jr. plays synthesizer. This is another clear demonstration of what a great vocalist and writer Phillip was…

We called the next arrangement our “Big Band Medley.” It is interesting to note from the introduction of the second song, “String of Pearls,” that Dave’s Mother was in attendance that evening in Attalla. In this recording, Phillip Howell plays bass. Danny Wilder plays brass and solo parts on his Prophet 5 synthesizer. David Holland plays the Yamaha electric grand-piano. Bobby Shepard plays drums. Stan Owen Jr. is playing a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. Forgot to mention the approximately 2-second audio-dropout around 1:30. The tape must have come too close to something strongly magnetic. Sorry about that! I am able to fix/repair some audio problems, but not that…

The Space City Band’s version of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” is a song about cruel and uncaring news-media-producers and reporters. In this recording, Bobby Shepard plays drums and is featured on vocals. Phillip Howell plays bass. Danny Wilder plays organ. David Holland plays guitar and is featured on several solos. Even Stan Owen, Jr. is not sure what Stan Owen Jr. is playing, except certainly making the whip-like sound on his synthesizer. We have not rechecked the song’s lyrics, but are fairly confident that Don Henley’s version didn’t have an “R” rating like ours. I’m not overly sorry if anyone is offended…

Phillip Howell introduces our version of Glenn Frey’s hit, I Found Somebody This recording features Bobby Shepard on vocals and drums. Phillip Howell plays bass and sings backing-vocals. Danny Wilder plays organ and sings backing-vocals. David Holland plays guitar and also sings backing-vocals. Stan Owen Jr. plays synthesizer (sort of). A highly-regarded friend suggested that I might be selfish not to upload this because I am (still) unhappy with my performance. OK, whatever… Here ’tis.

Enjoy.

Selections from “A Dave Brubeck Christmas,” Arranged for Synthesizer

Brubeck Front CoverFor this year’s project, I have re-arranged and then performed selected Dave Brubeck Christmas piano-performances/arrangements, for synthesizer. The transcribed notation of the “A Dave Brubeck Christmas ” performances is available from Alfred Music. And, Brubeck performances of each of these pieces, some in extended form, are graciously provided by Universal Music on YouTube.

Two of these pieces may not be well known. “To Us Is Given ” is from a series of piano-variations by Dave Brubeck on the “Pange Lingua, ” which is a Gregorian chant with words by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). The second piece that I did not know is “Canto Para Pedir Posada.This site explains that this traditional Mexican Folk Song recounts the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in already-full inns. The dialog alternates between Joseph pleading for lodging and successive innkeepers insisting that they had no room. Finally, they are offered lodging and the song concludes.

All instruments are custom Kurzweil PC3 sound programs that I created for this project. I hope that you are enriched by listening.

Merry Christmas, 2016!

Click on the mp3 player to play
Title mp3 Audio Composer
“Homecoming” Jingle Bells mp3 J.S. Pierpoint
Joy to the World mp3 Lowell Mason (1836)
Away in a Manger mp3 Traditional
Winter Wonderland mp3 Felix Bernard
What Child Is This? (Greensleeves) mp3 Traditional
To Us Is Given mp3 From Dave Brubeck’s “Pange Lingua Variations”
O, Tannenbaum mp3 Traditional German Carol
Silent Night mp3 Franz Gruber
Cantos Para Pedir Los Posadas mp3 Traditional Mexican Folk Song

Sloppy Joe at the Keyboard

I have both looked forward to — and, have dreaded resurrecting this story about an incident that occurred approaching fifty years ago, during my freshman year in college (1969-1970) at Birmingham Southern College (Birmingham, AL, USA). I have challenged myself to write this and to avoid sounding angry, discouraged, defeated or vengeful. I am afraid that I have failed because I may still be angry. This has not been easy — even, after all these years… Much of my editing while preparing this post, has been to remove negative remarks about my freshman piano teacher/professor, Christopher Czaja Sager, the giver of my title, “Sloppy Joe at the Keyboard.”

I called him “Mr. Sager” then. He was and likely, still is a diminutive man who was w.r.t. candidate piano literature, limited and restricted in his choices because of his correspondingly diminuitive hands. During those days, he actively competed in various national and international piano-competitions. He had attended the esteemed Julliard school and told stories of having studied piano from/with the legendary, Russian-schooled pianist-teacher, Madam Rosina Lhévinne. I remember him telling that Madam Lhévinne addressed him as “Sasha.” While writing this post, I finally realized that “Sasha” was my interpretation of Madam Lhévinne’s pronunciation of his middle-name, “Czaja…” He was rightfully proud to have been a student of the great Madam Lhévinne.

Mr. Sager periodically arranged mini-recitals, featuring his current selection of students that were usually packed into his small (diminuitive, like his stature and hands) teaching-studio in the music building on campus. Also, “featured” at these events were post-recital comments by Mr. Sager, describing and/or criticizing the performance of each performer.

Regarding the title of this post —

At one of these recitals, I played this piece, the 2nd (Eb major) of Schubert’s “Four Impromptus, Op. 90.”  After I played, in front of this particular selected group of my “peers,” with other significant criticisms of my playing, he called me “Sloppy Joe at the Keyboard.”  That nomination stung for a too-long-time. It has now become a source of significant amusement to/for me.

As a result, for years I’ve tried to disallow such pronounced “sloppiness” in my performance. Because the music I now create/perform/render/record is more like sculpture than my more juvenile diminuitive-college-studio-performances, it is easier to avoid the dreaded descent into that particularly sloppy musical abyss, so reviled by “Mr. Sager.”

I created the Blender animation above, to accompany my recent 2016 repeat-performance of this piece. I transcribed Mr. Sager’s notes that were often difficult to read, into the screen margins of the animation. I find it amusing to strain to read the nearly illegible instruction on the first page of music: “don’t be so sloppy.” That warning evidently foreshadowed my nomination as, “Sloppy Joe at the Keyboard.”

I hope that you have enjoyed this tale from long ago and my updated performance with its accompanying animation.

The Stranger

Billy Joel Keyboard Book CoverBilly Joel is one of my keyboard heroes. He, with others — Elton John, Keith Emerson, and Herbie Hancock have done much to invite me and my fellow ticklers-of-the-ivory to the front, rather than the back of the band. His song, The Piano Man was in my repertoire during my record-setting (for its brevity) engagement at Cafe Italiano in downtown Birmingham, AL around 1974. His album The Stranger was released in 1977. Our Reflections dance-band, with Roberta, performed a really nice version of “Just The Way You Are” by 1978. Since first hearing it, I wished to eventually record the whistling parts from “The Stranger.”  I was fortunate to find the Billy Joel Keyboard Book online. The book contains a transcription of this piece that, thankfully, spared me needing to transcribe it.

My recording uses my Alesis Ion for the whistling sound. That sound is a modified version of the sound I programmed and used in my version of the Andy Griffith Show theme song. The piano in the recording is the Synthogy Ivory American Steinway Model D. The bass, ride-cymbal, and side-stick snare sounds are produced by my Kurzweil PC3K.

I hope that you enjoy my recording.