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Steve Khan's acoustic guitar not on:

"Nightwings"(Claus Ogerman)

    At this latter stage of life, of one's musical life, and perhaps especially since the onset of COVID-19 and all of its necessary societal restrictions, more than usual I have had to call upon my own creative resources because inspiration was not likely to be coming from the outside. By that I mean that, when one is younger, considerably younger, projects of different kinds might be coming one's way via a phone call, or later in our developing world, by e-mail. For me, those two options of value stopped happening in profusion as much as 25 years ago. So, imagine that today! As I must reach inside, deep inside myself to find what might be a next project to challenge my own sense of creativity and hard work, it is not as if these ideas and concepts just flow out of the ending of one project and drift seamlessly into the next. In the case of adding my acoustic steel-string guitar, a Martin MC-28, to the Claus Ogerman-Michael Brecker collaboration on "Nightwings" as part of their 1982 "CITYSCAPE"(Warner Bros.) album, an idea was born through an electronic conversation with good friends and colleagues from Argentina. I had been told they were planning to record, music & video, a version of "Nightwings" for piano and violin - a duet - with a decidedly more classical orientation than prior versions that included a Jazz or Jazz/Fusion oriented rhythm section. This discussion brought back many memories and recollections of that period of my own life, 1982, and the intersection of many events - related and unrelated. I remembered that, after the release of "CITYSCAPE," I went running out to Tower Records and buying the LP, bringing it home and immediately putting it on the turntable, and listening and being overwhelmed with emotion at hearing Michael playing in such a lush and expansive context with a rhythm section that featured: Warren Bernhardt (Ac. Piano); Eddie Gómez (Ac. Bass) and Steve Gadd (Drums). I phoned him not long afterwards and we had quite a frank conversation about that album, now almost 40 years ago, and he shared with me many personal thoughts and feelings about it. Principal amongst them was that this recording was the first musical thing that he had done after getting out of a rehab program. Perhaps, as his longtime friend, and just a listener, I had felt those things while listening but not knowing any of the story? He also told me that he had played everywhere on the album, throughout the 6 pieces of music and that, for some reason, when the album was released, many things that he had played had disappeared. I suppose that we can assume that these were artistic choices of the composer/arranger, Claus Ogerman? Very hard to say now as Claus, Michael, Tommy LiPuma, and most recently, Al Schmitt have all passed away. So, who is there to recount what the 'real' story actually was and is? My memories of conversations with Mike could have easily been clouded by the years. Those were pretty wild years the '80s with Randy & Michael Brecker being part-owners of the club 7th Avenue South, where many of us were privileged to have played, and often - and I am not including all of the hanging out - especially downstairs at the bar area during those years. So, storytelling becomes rampant and who is to say whose memories and recollections are the most accurate?

    As it turned out, I had completely forgotten that "Nightwings" had been recorded twice before the Ogerman-Brecker version. First, I believe, it was recorded by one of Mike's saxophone heroes, Stanley Turrentine on hism1977 album of the same name for Fantasy Records. The tempo for this version was the brightest of the three renditions at roughly Q=89, and it begins at tempo with the piano quarter notes. Then, shortly thereafter, Claus recorded it again with Dutch virtuoso guitarist Jan Akkerman on his 1978 album "ARANJUEZ"(CBS Records). Played by Jan on electric guitar, the arrangement of the latter featured a string orchestra introduction or prelude of about 38-seconds, having more of a fantasy-like quality, than either of the versions to feature saxophone. Both the Turrentine and Akkerman versions were played in D minor - if one determines a key signature by the first and last chords. But, for me, not having listened to either of these versions in decades, I was completely stunned when, after having been sent the violin melody part for the piece, I went to play along with Michael's version, and suddenly I realized that it was in another key!!! Mike's version had been moved to A minor. Even though Mike's tenor saxophone register extends into the stratosphere, a version in D minor places the tenor sax into an area that could easily border on being perceived as screechy. So perhaps it came down a 4th to accommodate the register, and to make it warmer sounding? Ironically, of course, Mike never plays the melody with the violins - he is, in the end, just a soloist. And so, that was the moment when the inspiration arrived for me, and an idea was born. It was to challenge my abilities as a guitarist, but also as an amateur Pro Tools digital audio practitioner.

    As this adventure in inserting my voice into a place where it had never been called upon to be, it began when I asked one of my friends, the violinist, to please send me the violin part. And so, when she did, I thought that it would be easy enough to print it out, small though it might have been - for the present state of my eyesight, reading glasses included - I could put it up on the music stand and play along and see how it felt to imagine myself in the middle of that Ogerman orchestra. After Warren Bernhardt's acoustic piano begins to beat out time in quarter notes, the melody enters, and on the paper, the opening phrase begins with an 8th-note triplet figure of a quarter-note to an 8th-note inside the triplet grouping. But every time I went to play it like that, I felt that I was either rushing it or the strings were really laid back. It seemed like it took me forever to realize that Claus had changed the rhythm to a quarter-note to a dotted half-note - the melody was on the beat. But before I even got there, I realized that the written melody for violin was in another key. Those notes were 'A' to 'C' but on the Ogerman-Brecker version, there was no question that those notes had become 'E' to 'G'! So, I decided to transpose the entire section down a 4th, and rewrite the part on proper (9-1/2" x 12-1/2") music size paper. The entire violin part spans some 75-bars. But, on the "CITYSCAPE" version, the strings only play their melodic responsibilities through roughly 44 bars. When the melodic material returns after Mikes' long solo and Warren Bernhardt's brief piano solo, it is basically 21 bars and revisits previously revealed parts of the melody.
    Performed at a tempo that was slower than the other two versions, this one at roughly Q=78, I began to immerse myself in trying to feel as though I had actually been there, while reading along, in addition to the very first phrase, I realized that Claus had changed the phrasing for parts of other passages as well, now I count that this occurred in 5 other places. Most of these changes were to make what was once a dotted quarter-note to an 8th-note become 2 quarter notes. Or, what was once a half-note and 3 quarter-note triplets would become 4 quarter notes. It was all fascinating to me - and once I had notated all of these various little changes, it became much easier to then try to personalize the phrasing of the piece as a whole. There also seemed to be some notes that he had changed. It was a most fascinating process for me - and, in the end, very enjoyable. So now, let's take a look at how I went about treating this performance to then see if I could create the illusion that I had been there with my Martin MC-28 steel-string acoustic. Armed with my one and only microphone, an Audio-Technica AT-2050, the most difficult part of recording myself at home, in a New York City/Manhattan apartment, apart from the occasional police cars or ambulances, or cars honking, people talking loudly on the street below, has been trying to find a way to get a good headphone level so that I can feel as though I am playing inside the music. That has become an ongoing process/battle for me. This time, I think that I found something, and it was a little less difficult playing. Generally speaking, I use one of my two simple reverb presets - in this case it was a Plate Reverb to approximate the always beautiful sounding EMT 140 Plate. I go for something warm sounding and, in no way, drenched in reverb. This certainly helps with the coldness of not playing in a real studio with some wood surrounding me. The big question was going to be, after recording about 12-bars - Could I then hear it balanced in context, as if within the orchestra - sitting lightly on top of the violins? After recording those 12 bars, I went to the Pro Tools mix window, turned on my real speakers (no headphones), and tried to make a 'mix' of what I had done. I couldn't believe it but, to these ears, it actually sounded as though I had been playing with the orchestra live. And so, I then decided that it was going to be worth the effort to complete this project.

    So that you know, the soundclip that I created for this presentation fades in as Warren Bernhardt begins his quarter notes on the acoustic piano, and after Claus' newly written "Prelude" has concluded. You do not hear that here. From there we move along following the written example and shortly after Michael Brecker's tenor sax solo begins, I then fade that out. Just as quickly as that fades out, I faded into the last few phrases of Warren's piano solo, which leads us into the finale to the piece which all appears on Pg. 2 of the lead sheet if you're watching the music go by as you're listening. I hope that this helps those of you who do such things.

    Recording to a pre-existing 2-trk. mix, in this case a finished master, can be tricky and difficult because the 'mix' is set in stone. In this case, where the main melody is concerned, this is, to me this was an "arranger's mix"! By that I mean that the rhythm section, especially Steve Gadd's drums are practically buried. You can barely hear Steve's foot closed hi-hat hitting on beats 2 & 4, which would have been nice to zero-in on for the time feel while playing. Arrangers often tend to be so concerned about every little detail of their arrangement - the movement of all of the inner voices, etc. - that they forget where the propulsion and energy for the piece is coming from. So, this was difficult for me - and the more quarter-note triplets that were omnipresent in this melodic passages - it was even trickier. I should also say at this point that it is possible that Claus did not actually change some of the notes - perhaps the violin part that I received had some copying errors? For example, in bar 6, you see that the melody goes down an octave from a G# - the violin part would have had me playing an A# or a Bb - that just had to have been a copying error. One of the other difficult elements for an acoustic guitar, as opposed to a violin or a saxophone is dealing with some of the long-note lengths. For example, in bars 1, 4 and especially bar 10. Even with my own personal vibrato, there is only so much length that one can get out certain notes. So that became a challenge as the piece went on. In bar 10, I simply used the space and improvised a fill. As the chords were moving from a Gmaj7#11 sound to F#m7, I played something out of an F# minor pentatonic [F#, A, B, C#, E] which fits over both chords. On the A-natural on beat 4 of bar 11, here I began to personalize the phrasing using a rather traditional Jazz-oriented ornament before ascending to the high F on my E-string. As we come to rest on an A-natural in bars 13-14, we are on an Am7b5/Eb sonority, and so the improvised fill is coming from C melodic minor [C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B] with liberal vibrato usage on the last Eb. Then, once again, on quarter-note B-natural on beat 4 of bar 14, I am using the same ornamentation on that note before ascending to A-natural. In bars 16-17 while the strings are sustaining that G-natural, I am, in essence, repeating that note with its chromatic lower neighbor F# to give it a more bluesy feeling. Then, in the 2nd half of bar 17, the register for this performance on acoustic guitar begins to transform. Here it would be of some value to remember that the guitar is a transposing instrument - it is written one octave above where it actually sounds. So, when written, it might appear that I'm playing many of these notes where they had been written for the violin, but in fact, my guitar is sounding an octave below them. Even so, the blend is, in my view, really nice and romantic sounding. Back to bar 17, this is where I began to play the part up an octave from where I had written out my own violin transposition. When I now hit that D-natural in bar 18, I am mirroring the blues phrasing that had occurred 2 bars before by repeating that note with its chromatic lower neighbor. In bar 20 as Claus' melody goes up to my highest of high A's, at the 17th fret, I begin to sustain these notes by using the romantic and very Spanish sounding tremolo effect. This continues throughout this phrase on all of the long notes: the D-natural in bar 22, and the C-natural in bar 24. But my favorite moment is, while still tremoloing, I am glissandoing up from that D-natural to F-natural on my high E-string. I really like how this sounds because it is imprecise as the note slides upwards.
    At bar 25, the melody enters a moment of quarter note rhythms - but, within this passage, in bar 25 on the 2nd beat, I add another phrasing ornament to give it more flow, so that when we eventually land on the A-natural in bar 27, just before moving to a G# on beat 3, I use yet another Jazzy phrasing ornament to continue to add to the sense of motion. In bar 28, as we have arrived at a Cm7/Eb, when I played that C-natural, it felt right to give a bit of blues phrasing à la Albert King. From bars 29-30, as we ascend in quarter-note triplets up to a high G-natural, the tremolo effect is again employed. When I finally land on the lower G-natural in bar 34 over the Abmaj7 chord - to revisit older phrasing material from the piece, I used the blues to repeat that note with the help of its chromatic lower neighbor. From the high D-natural in bar 35, the tremolo effect will now bring this melody to its emotional heights. En route to the tremolo on the highest of high-Bb's, way up on the 18th fret, it was preceded by a B-natural - and THAT is about as high as I can go on this instrument! As you can see, if I had attempted to stay in that register, I would have run out of room, and so to solve that issue, I had to return to the written register in the 2nd half of bar 37. All of this rises to a tremolo on a high F-natural in the 2nd-half of bar 39. Just before the final cadence to the Am7(9sus) chord, the melody drops down to a G# for the chord change of E7b9/G# - and on that note, my last little phrasing ornament appears between beats 3 & 4. If you're not looking for it, you might not even notice that it is there. Perhaps that is the beauty of these things? They are never intended to be noticeable. The final resolution is to a tremolo on a higher D-natural, holding that tremolo until I could hear Michael's entrance to his solo. When trying to make a 'final' mix of this effort, I used a bit of simple Pro Tools magic and created a slow fade on my last note to make it dovetail under Mike's entrance. And so ended the first part of this experiment, or so I thought.

    At this point, I was pretty satisfied with the results of this experimental effort on two fronts: [1] the guitar aspects: performance and sound, and [2] had I learned enough about Pro Tools to pull-off this minor audio miracle as an amateur? In truth, I really hadn't even thought about how "Nightwings" actually ends on the Ogerman-Brecker interpretation. I had even forgotten that Warren Bernhardt had been given a brief piano solo towards the end. When I re-listened, I suddenly realized that there was a slight string melodic reprise just after Warren, Eddie and Steve Gadd tried to gracefully emerge from the double-time section, and pull themselves back into 4/4. Just as they had done that, back came Claus' strings. Right then, I knew that there was more work ahead of me. And so first, I had to transcribe this new little section, and figure out the underlying harmonies. A vital element that would make this a bit more difficult to make it sound as if I had actually been there was that Mike weaves in and out of the string melody - and that means that as the guitarist, I had to be careful not to in any way conflict with what he, the artist, had played. On Pg. 2, in bar 3, as I am playing that long A-natural over Fmaj7, Mike begins to play. 2 bars later, over the Ebmaj7, Mike plays over that held note in the strings. At bar 7, when we all arrive at the G7(9sus) with an E-natural on top, I know that it would be best to just play that single note and let it decay with Mike playing over it into the transition to G7(13b9b5) in bar 8. In bars 9 and 10, as Claus has resolved to Gm7, then moving to Gm7b5, I felt that some kind of transition from lines to chords might work best here, so I played a slow counterline in my lower register that seemed to work and sound natural under Mike. Then, in bars 11 & 12, I switched to chords as there was a nice G-pedal in the arrangement, and so I played C/G, very simply, and then G7b9. Notice how, for each chord, I delayed them by a beat-and-a-half which I think is a nice touch and allows for some space. From bar 13 through 21 and the final fermata over an Am7(9) chord, I am playing somewhere between an open Am9 sound only fingering two notes at the 5th fret - G-natural and C-natural and leaving the rest to the open strings. In bar 15, I also employed an open position power chord voicing to add some strength below without overwhelming anything - answered by some natural harmonics at the 7th fret. All the while, there is some folk-style arpeggiating going on. The final held chord is just an open position Am9 chord (w/out any C-natural) - only fingering E on the D-string and A on the G-string with a touch of the broken chord technique underneath Mike - which also makes it sound as if we had been there together.
    Of course, I listened many, many times thereafter, and with long breaks in between I did some minor editing and, at a certain point in time, I was ready to let it go. Because all of the potential problems with the various companies and people who own this track, I did not want to risk problems - even if I, in a sense, know all of them, and am friendly with many of them. It is just not worth borrowing trouble. So, this is why I am just quietly sharing here at the website, and that's it. I did, of course, share it with Randy Brecker, and his warm and wonderful reaction and response was all the encouragement that I needed that this, in the end, had been, in fact, a good idea. The great engineer, James Farber approved of the mixing blend that I had created - so those two endorsements were more than good enough and satisfying enough for me. When all is said and done, this project began on May 12th and finished on May 14th.

    It would not feel right to me to conclude this piece of writing without mentioning a few of my favorite arranging works for so many of the great Jazz artists by Claus Ogerman. My own abbreviated list would have to include: Donald Byrd "UP"(Verve)(1965); Stan Getz "VOICES"(Verve)(1966); Cal Tjader "WARM WAVE"(Verve)(1966); Wes Montgomery "TEQUILA"(Verve)(1966); Antonio Carlos Jobim "WAVE"(A&M)(1967); Frank Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim "SINATRA/JOBIM"(Reprise)(1967); Bill Evans "SYMBIOSIS"(MPS)(1974); João Gilberto "AMOROSO/BRASIL"(Warner Bros.)(1976); Michael Franks "SLEEPING GYPSY"(Warner Bros.)(1977); Antonio Carlos Jobim "TERRA BRASILIS"(Warner Bros.)(1980) and Danilo Pérez "ACROSS THE CRYSTAL SEA"(EmArcy)(2008). And, how could I leave off a couple of his own albums: "GATE OF DREAMS"(Warner Bros.)(1976) and "CLAUS OGERMAN featuring MICHAEL BRECKER"(GRP)(1991).
    Many of the albums mentioned were recorded 'live' with the great soloists and rhythm sections - but quite a few of them were assigned to Claus after the rhythm section had been recorded. So, in a sense, the arrangements were created as 'sweetening' for that which had already taken place. As always, his writing was simply gorgeous. I admired the work of Claus Ogerman greatly - what a rich and varied history he had in our music.

    As it is now June of 2021, I am finally hopeful that, perhaps, we, most of the world over, are still seeing a slow path to the return of a new form of normal! It is a bit hard to say what that's going to look like, things still don't feel exactly normal here in New York City - that's for certain. But, I do know that there is, at least for many of us, a renewed sense of general calm, and far, far less day-to-day stress from having now survived, somehow, 4 years of a government that was a whisker away from becoming an autocracy. I think that we have been warned, and now we know, "IT CAN HAPPEN HERE!" The danger of this one jackass is still with us - omnipresent! So, let's take care of one another, of our country, and once again, be a participant with the rest of the world - or most of it - in making everything a little better globally - step-by-step, and day-by-day. Wishing anyone and everyone who might be reading this continued GOOD HEALTH and SAFETY - and a sense of a beautiful inner PEACE!

[Photos: Claus Ogerman & Michael Brecker @ Power Station, New York
Photos by: Suzanne Nyerges
Photo: Claus Ogerman by Hagiwara]

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