In the studio on Fifth Avenue

DistlerFri 16th April 2010

Making music - and having fun!

I've had to take a blogging breather this month, because I've been putting together a solo piano CD, actually my first. I've recorded a lot in the past, of course, but never a complete start-to-finish unaccompanied acoustic piano release. Baby's First Christmas, my all-synthesizer Laserlight CD doesn't count, although it's garnered rave customer reviews on Amazon, where you can snap up used copies for a penny and postage.

A few years ago I decided to take familiar themes from popular classics and transform them into simple, extremely accesible, tuneful and lyrically soothing piano arrangements. A euphemism for New Age, perhaps, and not the most original idea in the world. Still, I had lots of fun when I started the project, and I thought I could toss it off in a couple of days. Yet once I began to sketch out the music (along with more than a few improvised flourishes), I found myself going back to refine a phrase, weigh proportions, rethink registers and textures, and so forth. I tried to catch myself when the left hand loped about in hackneyed slow-moving arpeggiated fifths. In October 2006 I showed a few of these to Philip Glass, and he made an interesting comment. "You probably learned something about your compositional process." He was absolutely right.

April 6th through 9th were blocked out during the day for recording at the Yamaha Artist Salon at 689 Fifth Avenue on an exquisite, deep toned instrument, thanks to Magdalena Baczewska and James Steeber. My old friend and collaborator David Merrill (who hired me to do Baby's First Christmas, by the way) had set his recording equipment up in a back stage area, and off we went.

Much of the time we were able to complete a master in one continuous take, although these were preceded by false starts, or else an otherwise spotless take suddenly detouring right before the end into an exposed wrong note. Yet even when a take went well, David always told me to do at least one more. More often than not, an aborted take might have a more inspired introduction than what you get in the perfect complete take, and why not intercut? Amazingly, my tempos were consistent, which made for easy editing trickery. We completed acceptable takes for thirteen pieces in less than two days, and used the remaining time to re-record alternate versions, just in case.

I took a few days off, then listened with sort-of fresh ears to all of the takes, taking notes. About two-thirds of our original take choices and on-the-spot edited composite versions passed muster. We still need to refine three or four first-choice takes by replacing small sections with their superior counterparts within rejected takes, either for musical reasons or for extra-musical noises that cannot otherwise be edited.

Certainly I'll share the music with you when it's ready.

Distler

Composer, pianist, concert presenter and Gramophone contributor Jed Distler looks back, present and forward about the piano in our lives, and the lives of the piano.

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