Background information about the songs I chose to be on the new CD
I have always enjoyed listening to the Les Paul & Mary Ford arrangement of this song, and then one day, I decided to try the song as an up-tempo instrumental played a little faster than usual. I added the key change to bridge to the improvisation, and experimented with the tempo and finally came up with what you hear on this CD. I used my Yamaha arranging keyboard on this song to prepare the backing tracks. I've found the instrument sounds on the Yamaha keyboard to be very lifelike and true to the original instruments. The changes are fun to play over, and I hope some of the enjoyment I feel when playing the song made it into the recording! Along the way, someone captured me playing this song at an "open mic" session and uploaded it to You Tube! I like to practice my new material in front of audiences before I record the CD, and the easiest way to accomplish this is to show up at any of the many open mic sessions with my new songs, looking to get a reaction!
Feel Like Making Love
When I first heard this song, I knew right away that it would work as a smooth jazz instrumental. I’ve been playing the song this way for many years, so when it came time to select songs for this recording, this one was a “no brainer!” C minor is one of my favorite keys to jam on, so I had a lot of fun on the improvisational section of the song. I listen to a lot of smooth jazz music on the radio, and I chose this song for this album because it seems to be a typical example of the type of music that is popular with smooth jazz radio stations. I'm hoping that I will "fit the mold" and that some of these songs will also get airplay!
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
I seem to remember first hearing this done by Willie Mitchel on the flip side of "Soul Serenade," but now I can’t find a copy of it. The Willie Mitchel version is very similar to the Cannonball Adderley version, and you will hear the similarities to both in this recording. The improvisation on this selection contain some of my most “soulful” moments on this CD! As a side note, this was the first song from this CD to be played on the radio.
"Blue Bossa" is an instrumental jazz composition by Kenny Dorham. It was introduced on Joe Henderson's 1963 album "Page One." The tune has since been recorded numerous times by different artists, making it a jazz standard. It has a quiet, relaxing feel, a memorable melody, and interesting chord changes, a perfect example of Brazillian "latin jazz." I feel that the best way to play this song is straight and simple, and that is what I tried to accomplish on this version.
My version of Europa is probably a cross between the Carlos Santana version and the Gato Barbieri version. This is one of three songs that I recorded in 2005 on a multitrack tape machine using a MIDI tone module for accompaniment. I tried it on both acoustic and electric guitars, and I liked the acoustic version better. At the time, I owned a Martin 000-28EC guitar, and that is what you hear. I first heard the song when Carlos Santana released it on his "Moonflower" CD, and it motivated me to seek out and listen to the original version by Gato Barbieri. I'm glad I did, because Barbieri's verson is full of soul and emotion, and listening to music like that encourages me to put this kind of soul and emotion into my own playing.
Fly Me To The Moon
Perhaps the most famous version of this song is the Frank Sinatra recording, but for me, it was a rare recording by one of my favorite guitar influences, Mr. Howard Roberts. I first heard this song when I was young, perhaps even as a teenager, and it has haunted me ever since. I have been playing this song for many years. If you were able to listen to the Howard Roberts version, you will hear that I didn’t stray too far from the original! I kept the backup tracks simple as I was going for the old fashioned "jazz combo" feel.
Dream On Little Dreamer
When I was first learning how to play guitar, I had a song book that contained the sheet music for this song, so I learned it from the book, not even having heard the song on the radio or on a record. As it turns out, this was a Perry Como vocal selection, but I’ve always played it the way I learned it from the book having only the sheet music to go by, and that is what you will hear on this recording. I hope you enjoy my lively arrangement. The backing tracks were generated using my Yamaha PSR-S900 arranging keyboard. When I first learned this song in the 1960's, "spy movie soundtrack" songs were popular, and you can hear the mystique of that particular era in this arrangement.
Moonlight In Vermont
I learned this song a long time ago from a column in Guitar Player magazine called “Try It This Way.” The column that month was by Johnny Smith, and he was nice enough to provide a note-for-note transcription of the way he recorded the song in the late 1950’s. Fortunately, I was able to read music and learn the song! This song was originally recorded in 2005 for my "Lucky 21" CD, and I reused it for this project because it fits so well with the overall plan for the album. The guitar that I was playing at the time was a Hofner "New President" jazz guitar, handmade in Germany. I lost this guitar in the 2007 "Harris Fire." I miss it, it was a good guitar, but I like my new Heritage Golden Eagle guitar better!
Never Can Say Goodbye
The version of this song that influenced me to learn it was the one by the late smooth jazz guitarist Zachary Breaux, and my arrangement is similar. Zachary Breaux’s album “Uptown Groove” is one of my favorite jazz guitar recordings. I recorded this song in 2005 for my “Lucky 21” CD, so the guitar on this track is the jazz guitar I owned at that time, a Hofner New President model. One of the things I think about every time I play this song is how Zachary Breaux lost his life on February 20, 1997 at the age of 36 while on holiday in Miami Beach. He was trying to save the life of another swimmer caught by a riptide. His unselfish actions makes him a hero in my eyes.
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag
When James Brown became popular in the early 1960’s, my band at the time liked his music and we played some of his songs. It is impossible to play a James Brown song and not feel the soul. I have been playing this song instrumentally off-and-on for many years, and recorded this version in 2005 for my “Lucky 21” CD. I have added it to this album as well because it has such a funky feel that sets it apart from the other tracks on this CD. While I used my Heritage Golden Eagle guitar (pictured on the album cover) to record this CD, the guitar used for this track was the one I owned in 2005, which was a Hofner New President model. Unfortunately, I lost this guitar and a lot of other music equipment in the October 2007 California wildfires.
Pick Up The Pieces
Although I recorded an Average White Band version of this song on my 2005 “Lucky 21” CD, this version is more similar to the one recorded by Jeff Golub and Avenue Blue. My arrangement copies the lead lines from the Avenue Blue version and adds the rhythm accompaniment licks from the Average White Band version, making it the best of all versions! I hope you enjoy this arrangement!
Samba Pa Ti
I always liked the Santana version of this song, and then when Carlos Santana joined Ottmar Liebert in 1992 to record a smooth jazz version of this song, I immediately took a liking to this arrangement, and have been playing it ever since. This is the version you hear on this recording. I also recorded the track using a nylon string acoustic guitar to try to achieve a sound closer to the original recording, but I decided that I liked the tone of the steel string electric guitar better.
What jazz album would be complete without a song from Antonio Carlos Jobim? There are so many good Jobim songs to choose from, but I selected “Wave.” I try to keep the song true to its roots, meaning I am attempting to play the song simply, but with feeling. Nothing special here, just a solid gold standard that I hope will appeal to everyone who hears this recording.
I wanted to include an original song on this CD, so I sat down and wrote Dulzura earlier this year (March 2011) specifically for this album. After listening to the songs on the smooth jazz radio stations, it seemed to me that the popular songs have a youthful Latin feel with a big groove and a lot of drive, and that is the feeling I was hoping to achieve with this arrangement. Dulzura is loosely the Spanish word for “sweetness,” and it seemed to fit the feeling I was going for. Dulzura is also the name of the rural backcountry community in Southern California where I have lived since 1999. It is close to the US-Mexican border, so the whole Latin theme seems to tie together around this song. I hope that this is one of the songs from this album that gets the most airplay. I also hope that another more popular jazz guitarist will hear the song and want to include it on one of their new releases!
Copyright © 2011 by Thomas M. Smerk