When Jamey Aebersold, Jr. approached me about recording a CD of mostly standards for his new jazz label, I thought I knew where his idea for this project came from.
Four years ago Steve Davis (the drummer on this CD) suggested to me, after one of our many drums and tenor jam sessions, that I fill in for an absent faculty member at Jamey Aebersold Sr.'s Summer Jazz Workshop outside of Chicago. Steve had worked for Jamey for a few years and coincidentally Jamey had just published a book I wrote called “Coltrane: A Player’s Guide to His Harmony.” I thought I would like to try some teaching so I let Steve recommend me to Jamey.
This past June I was back at the Jazz Workshop for my fourth summer. One afternoon when most of the participants had gone home, I was doing a little practicing when I turned around to see Jamey Aebersold sitting at the piano. I knew, even after four years, that Jamey still thought of me as kind of a rebellious musician who played and recorded only my original compositions. Well I guess he's right - I've recorded an average of just one standard tune per CD. But I grew up playing standards - and I love to play standards. That afternoon Jamey and I played tune after tune - taking a break only to find a better piano. Three hours later our session had turned into a concert. We shook hands and I knew I had convinced Jamey Aebersold, who is not an easy guy to convince, that I like playing standards.
A few months later when Jamey Aebersold Jr. called and said “I’d like you to go into the studio and record half a dozen standards;” I said to myself - I bet I know where this got started.
It’s a real challenge for a contemporary jazz musician to record standards; which is maybe why I haven’t done it before. Composition has been a vehicle for me to develop as a player and I guess I tend to depend on my original compositions alot. Only because - when you record a standard the first thing that comes to the mind of the listener is - Oh yeah that tune was recorded by so-and-so in 1965 on Prestige; or Oh yeah that’s a Bill Evans tune that he recorded on Riverside...
On this CD I have tried to bring my own voice to the tradition represented by the standards chosen for the date. Some of these tunes are more obscure, like “Moonlight on the Ganges” and some, like “You Go To My Head” have been recorded many times by various artists. Of the three originals I wrote for this CD - “Night Lights", the title tune and “Night Owl” are self-explanatory. “Herbie’s Lament” is a ballad written for the great Las Vegas jazz trumpeter Herb Phillips who passed away suddenly in September of this year.
The musicians on this recording are the best ones I know for a project like this. Maybe I’m a little biased regarding my brother Joel, but he’s the best jazz pianist I know so he was a natural choice. Bassist Drew Gress has exactly the musicality and flexibility - the blend of tradition and innovation that is perfect for this project. Drummer Steve Davis and I were neighbors in Brooklyn from the time he moved to the New York area. He is a virtuoso on his instrument - a born jazz musician and always great to play with. This recording for me has been a pleasure from start to finish. I hope you enjoy it as well.
Walt Weiskopf October 1995