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 the innkeepers insisting that they have 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 writing 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. 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 small hands. During those days, he was competing in national and international piano-competitions. He 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 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. However, as a result, for years I’ve tried to disallow such “sloppiness” in my recordings. Because the music I now create/perform/render/record is more like sculpture than my college-studio-performances, it is easier to avoid that dreaded descent into the 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.