New Single "Wheeler's Waltz" by Jason Keiser feat. John Stowell set for release Friday April 1st, 2022!
John and I between takes at Tone Freq. Recording Studios! Talking about something interesting here, I believe it was about John subbing for Mike Stern and playing and meeting Kenny Wheeler in Canada, in this candid shot by Richard Le!
Superb up-close shot of John in his element! Photo by © Richard Le.
One amazing shot of me playing the 77 Ovation legend with my spaced pair Neumann KM-184 & Royer Lab R10 Ribbon mic set up! Great shot by © Richard Le.
How John and I met!
You know how they say that the music community and scene can be somewhat small, and everyone knows somebody, well that idea definitely applies here! John and I met through my dear friend and mentor; professional jazz guitarist Rick Vandivier during my Masters studies at SJSU. John had came to visit SJSU, give a masterclass, teach, and do some playing and we hit it off then! I remember specifically showing him my first composition and we discussed chordal theory, as well as improvising and more, it was a blast and a dear memory!
Well, when I was recording with Rick back in January he had mentioned that John was coming into town in February to give another set of masterclasses and teaching sessions at SJSU, and I thought, how cool would it be to reconnect and maybe do some playing with John!?
I pretty much immediately went into my email and wanted to send John the recordings Rick and I did of "Gentle Piece" and "Stella by Starlight"; I knew he would appreciate what Rick and I were playing, and he was kind enough to send me a press quote for our upcoming single release of "Gentle Piece". Well, I thought and asked "Hey John, if you have time, what do you think about you and I also doing some playing and you being a special guest on my upcoming album as well?" John was so kind and was interested so we found a time to meet and have our first session on Thursday February 10th at Tone Freq. Studios in San Jose!
Well, the playing that day was pretty superb, and we had such a blast! John was so kind to take the time to record 3 tunes with me; one of which will be the upcoming new single towards my solo record "The Axe Axis" release. This tune is a special one, as I composed it in tribute to Kenny Wheeler and the prolific writing and he did on his 1990 seminal ECM recording "Music for Small & Large Ensembles". I call the tune "Wheeler's Waltz". I knew that I wanted to try and include this tune on the upcoming record somehow, and with John being available to play guitar on it as a special guest, I thought he would be perfect for this tune!
More info on "Wheeler's Waltz" below:
As you may see from this lead sheet, there are a few parts and inspirational ideas from Kenny's music used here. One of which is the very melodic and singable melody. Norma Winstone; Kenny's colleague had told me that "Kenny just loved writing melodies, he loved melodies", so when I was writing this tune, the first thing I strived to achieve was a memorable and singable line throughout the tune!
In addition to what I hope is a melodic line with nice contour, was trying to make use of some of Kenny's non-functional chordal movement. In most of Kenny's music, he made use of beautiful, lush harmonies with harmony that did not always move functionally; like traditional jazz making use of a common ii V I pattern, Kenny would utilize and make chordal movement more complex, yet beautiful sounding! Here in "Wheeler's Waltz"; harmony does not move as functional as a jazz standard, but there are some areas where harmony moves more traditionally such as in the 2nd ending Esus to a G/A; alluding to that ii-V sound that can be heard in so many traditional, and bebop tunes!
As far as the harmony and chords themselves go, I made a few subtle changes when considering to have John on the tune, and I think he made it sound superb! Take a look at the B section area, these chords and inversions were considered with John's unique and artistically modern approach to voicing chords and harmony and I can't wait for everyone to hear the final rendition of "Wheeler's Waltz"!
It was and is truly an honor to be able to collaborate, work with, and learn from John in this hands on studio setting. I continue to be inspired and challenged as a musician when I work with John, and I couldn't be more thankful for his time, giving me the chance to work with him, as well as Rick and his connection to John and giving me the amazing opportunity to meet him all those years ago!
In addition to "Wheeler's Waltz" that John and I had the pleasure of recording, we also recorded "Picadilly Lilly" by John's colleague and friend; professional jazz saxophonist Dave Liebman, and one impromptu improvised tune that we had a ton of fun with called "Parrot On My Shoulder". When I realized that I had the chance to work with John, I knew that he had worked closely with Dave on two records together, and I really wanted to try and include something of Dave's original in the music, honoring their connection together in the jazz world, as well as honoring Dave's beautiful and swingin' tune; "Picadilly Lilly".
I have heard many versions of "Picadilly" but for inspiration, I always go back to Dave's live rendition from the Village Vanguard featuring Al Foster (drums), Dave Liebman (sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Richie Beirach, and Frank Tusa. I love the tempo, it swings beyond on control, and Dave's interpretation of the melody and improvising is out of this world. If I can bring in that energy and vibe 1/4 of how Dave played on our modern duo guitar version, I will be proud!!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the trailer for "Wheeler's Waltz" featuring special guest John Stowell, out on all platforms and my Bandcamp on Friday, April 1st, 2022 and stay tuned for the rest of the record release coming out at the beginning of May!
New Single "Gentle Piece" by Jason Keiser feat. Rick Vandivier set for release Tuesday February 22nd, 2022!
Rick and I outside Tone Freq. Recording Studios, San Jose, CA 1/14/22. Photography by: © Richard Le
Hello everyone! I am so excited to let you know about the new single release; "Gentle Piece" out on all digital platforms and streaming services Tuesday February 22nd, 2022. This release will culminate with my solo record release; "The Axe Axis" out towards the end of Spring in 2022.
The new single "Gentle Piece" features a very special guest, someone who I have known and been making music with, and learning immense tools of the trade from for over 10 years! I am so proud and honored to feature my mentor and dear friend; Professional Jazz Guitarist and Bay Area legend; Rick Vandivier!
Story Time below....!:
As I mentioned above, Rick and I go back 10 years now. We met funnily enough "on a gig" so to speak! I was 17 years old, in high school at the time, and just barely understanding what jazz even was, let alone trying to really play and speak the language on the guitar. Anyway, my high school jazz band director had recommended me for a gig where the big band in Evergreen CA needed a guitar sub for a select few rehearsal dates before the concert. Similarly for so many people in this business, it was a sort-of "sink or swim moment" for me; so to speak. "OK! I'll do it, lets go for it" I said, and the rest is history. The tune was a hip and extended arrangement of the popular Great American Songbook Standard; "Stella by Starlight" by Victor Young, and after the rehearsals when I finally had a chance to meet Rick officially, I remember telling him "Hi Rick, I'm Jason, I want to study with you!"
By the way, we had a chance to also record a special duet version of "Stella by Starlight" which will be included on the upcoming record, and wow it swings! Stay tuned for that...
Anyway, I got very lucky, when I began my jazz studies at West Valley College in 2013 under the direction of another great mentor and colleague of mine; Gus Kambeitz, I had the chance to study with Rick through the music program, 1 hour private lessons a week, and I took full advantage of it!
Now... fast forward 5 years, I have just graduated from East Tennessee State University, and wanted to pursue my Masters of Music in Jazz Studies. I knew I wanted to come back to the Bay Area, and guess what; I was able to study and reconnect with my mentor and friend Rick at the superb San Jose State University jazz program from 2018-2020 till I graduated with my M.M. in Jazz Studies. Time flies when your having fun and swingin'!
Well, long story short, I am immensely proud of this recording, and honored to be able to work with Rick, along side him, "on the gig"! "Gentle Piece" features a unique guitar duo setting between my acoustic flatpicking on the 77 Ovation and Rick's wonderful Ibanez archtop. Rick shows superb artistry, tone, lyricism, ideas, subtle improvisation, and lays beautiful harmonies in the tune after a culmination of 10 years of music in the making!
The tune itself, its framework and history!:
If you have read this far, you may be wondering about the tune selection... "Gentle Piece" was composed by the late-great Canadian born boundary pushing composer, band leader, trumpet and flugelhorn extraordinaire; Kenny Wheeler. Truthfully, I was not aware of Kenny's music, or compositions and huge discography of music before my Masters studies at SJSU. I have my mentor and dear friend Dr. Aaron Lington to thank for introducing me to his superb work; "Gentle Piece" while I was playing guitar in the SJSU Jazz Big Band. Aaron not only gave me the opportunity to play the guitar part in this piece; famously held by the late-great John Abercombie, but also gave me the unique opportunity to conduct the big band over the piece, similarly in the chair of where Kenny was, when the band recorded the seminal 1990 ECM release; "Music for Large and Small Ensembles".
To be able to take in the big band guitar part, and then conduct the band over the entirety of the tune gave me the opportunity to hear, learn, and better understand "Gentle Piece" from multiple in depth musical angles and perspectives.
At the time, and till my Masters studies were done, I would say I was utterly obsessed with the tune and the rest of that record. I listened to it on repeat, non-stop, all the time! I began to find ways to navigate experimenting on the tune itself with solo guitar, and reworked the voicing's and accompaniment parts that can be heard between Dave Holland's bass lines and John Taylors piano lines, working in perfect sync; all on the guitar!
If this wasn't nerdy enough, when I had to choose the music excerpt I was going to analyze and write my paper on in my last music seminar masters theory class, I knew it had to be "Gentle Piece". This gave me a new opportunity to now look at it from an educational and theoretical aspect, rather than just playing the tune itself. I ended up writing a 30+ page paper on the subject, deconstructing and trying my best to understand as Dr. Belet would put it; "what the glue was that held this piece/work together".
When writing this paper analysis on Kenny's "Gentle Piece", I knew I wanted to get some secondary resource material that didn't just have to do with the theory behind the tune. I figured, "why not cold email some of Kenny's colleagues and try to interview them to better understand their experience learning and recording the tune we hear on Music for Large and Small Ensembles". I was fortunate to connect with one of Kenny's closest colleagues and collaborators, virtuoso jazz vocalist Norma Winstone, and despite the time zone difference between the U.K. and CA, we made a time to connect and discuss "Gentle Piece"; discussing her experiences having to learn wordless vocal parts and difficult pitch passages for the melody and countermelodies that can be heard in the tune. What an experience and blast that was! I was able to understand more of who Kenny was, as a unique, funny, and relatable human being during that time too... It made me connect with the piece more as well.
For more info on this specific paper, and the wonderful interview I had with Norma, feel free to visit my "Writings & Research Tab" here at my website, and you can check out the paper and info at your leisure while listening to "Gentle Piece"!
As far as this blog post goes, its quite a long story but basically, now being a sort-of expert on this piece; it really showcases and in my opinion encapsulates everything Kenny would push boundaries and strive to make use of, communicate, and implement from a compositional standpoint. He loved making use of rubato/free time sections to in-time sections/interludes in his original compositions, which can be heard in his rendition, as well as my and Rick's. He was enamored and inspired by Hindemith and his use of counterpoint. If you listen to the last melody, there are two melodies being played simultaneously, in counterpoint! Kenny also loved making use of non-functional harmony, albeit the use of harmony that moved in thirds B-G-Eb-D; Bb-F#-D etc... Most of all, as Norma told me over and over "Kenny loved and loved writing melodies".
As an improviser, I found this harmony wonderfully pleasing to blow over. There were and are so many options, and modal jazz and non-functional harmony has always spoken to me, more so as I have sat and studied and really listened to it as well.
Suggested versions of "Gentle Piece" for listening:
Below are my suggested alternate versions that you should check out, if you want to enter the rabbit hole that is Kenny Wheeler's amazing music!
Anyway, thanks for reading!
I hope you enjoy our little "preview" above; of what's to come, and stay tuned for my official release of
"Gentle Piece" feat. special guest Rick Vandivier, on all digital platforms and streaming services Tuesday February 22nd, 2022