About the Title

What makes music sound ‘blue’? What makes a note a blue note? For years, musicologists have striven to identify the musical traits that produce the idiomatic color of blues. We know that blues musicians alter specific notes by singing or playing them slightly off-key. But there is no clear sys- tem to mathematically define which notes are to be bent or how much they should differ from the standard tone. I think the only way to make a note sound blue is to play it extremely personally. B.B. King said, “I think in terms of not just playing a note, but making sure that every note I play means something.” In each performance, a musician feels different, so every fluctuation is unique. Therefore, one should not listen to blues with the intention of cracking a code. Rather, it is more illuminating to just listen and experience the music to find out which sounds make you feel blue. As Haruki Murakami wrote, “If you can't understand it without an explanation, you can't understand it with an explanation.” Therefore, I don’t like to define the music on this cd. All I can say is: it paints me blue. 

About the tracks

Today, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is one of his most popular orchestral works. The piece was commissioned by Paul Whiteman as a jazz concerto for a concert that exclusively featured American composers. But Gershwin wrote this Rhapsody in Blue as a genre on its own, inspired by the rhythmic sounds he heard on a train ride. Originally, Gershwin chose the name American Rhapsody. His brother Ira, however, suggested changing it after visiting a gallery exhibition with paintings by J.M. Whistler, who used titles such as Nocturne in blue and gold and Symphony in white. 

Jacques Brel is undoubtedly one of the greatest masters of the modern chanson, due in part to the authenticity of his music. Almost all of his characteristic songs tell a deeply personal story, like Ne me quitte pas (Don’t leave me). Because this song’s marvelous lyrics are so poetic, many consider it to be a love song. Brel, however, wrote the song after he broke up with his mistress Suzanne Gabriello and declared that it was not a love song, but rather “a hymn to the cowardice of men”. In my opinion, he wanted to express that the breakup was due to his mistakes. As Brel said, “Singing is telling the stories of your failure, and by that way you can compensate for that shortcoming.” 

Cuban guitarist and composer, Leo Brouwer, contributed significantly to the modern classical guitar repertoire. He went through various compositional periods, aggregating Cuban rhythms with both tonality and atonality, minimalism, programmatic imagery, and traditional idioms. Brouwer’s 1984 composition, Variations on a theme of Django Reinhardt, is so far his only solo guitar piece to use a variation form.

The theme is a jazz composition by the Belgian Gypsy guitar virtuoso D. Reinhardt, called Nuages. Brouwer employs it to create a seemingly baroque suite, complete with introduction, theme, bourrée, sarabande, gigue, a variation called improvisazione, an interlude and a toccata to finish.

American composer and songwriter Cole Porter had some of his greatest successes on Broadway, topping the charts with hit songs from his musicals. Songs like I’ve Got You Under My Skin, I Get a Kick Out of You and many more have been interpreted by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and became jazz standards. So did Night and Day, which became the first track on jazz guitarist Joe Pass’ first solo album, Virtuoso. That might sound like a pompous title, but the guitar playing of Pass is virtually unmatched. By playing chord and melody in tandem, he succeeds in matching the harmonic, technical and musical standards of the greatest solo jazz pianists, achieving the same on merely 6 strings. 

 

Jean “Toots” Thielemans turned the search for blue tones into the main object of his life. His Bluesette ̧ performed either on harmonica or whistled with guitar-accompaniment, became a sensational hit. Over one hundred artists have since covered this masterpiece. Thielemans said, “If there’s a piece of music that describes me, it’s that song.”

The ability to improvise is a prerequisite for every jazz musician. But some artists, like Keith Jarrett, exceed normal standards: he was known for improvising entire concerts. This ad-lib expertise is one of the many extraordinary traits that allowed Jarrett to prosper as a jazz pianist. The recording of The Köln Concert (1975), one of these instantly composed performances, came to be the best-selling solo album in jazz history, selling more than 3 million copies. Jarrett recalled feeling an exceptional interaction with the audience that evening, one which he only experienced again in Carnegie Hall in 2005. From these two concerts, I chose to arrange three encores for guitar. 

The Köln Concert Part IIc was the last piece in that 1975 recital and was probably improvised on one of Jarrett’s earlier compositions, called Memories of Tomorrow. Among the five encores in his 2005 Carnegie Hall performance, Jarrett revisited two of his classic 1970s compositions, Paint My Heart Red and My Song.