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Gary Keller - Blues For An Old New Age


Gary Keller - Soprano/Tenor Sax,
John Fedchock - Trombone, Scott Wendholt - Trumpet, Kenny Werner - Piano, Drew Gress - Bass, Billy Hart - Drums

1. Blues for an Old New Age  7’17
2. Babes of Cancun  5’58
3. Soul Bod  9’06
4. Small Feats  7’35
5. J.C. on the Land  11’03
6. Monk Strut  8’38
7. Peacock Park  6’34
8. Sweet Illusions  8’27
9. Last Illusion  5’49
Total Time  70:38

Listen to CD Tracks

  Gary is long overdue to be properly recorded and especially doing the tunes of his long time compatriot, Ron Miller. These are intricate and well thought out compositions played impeccably and with inspiration by Gary and the stellar group he assembled. You will enjoy this artistic recording.
Dave Liebman  March '99

     I have known Gary Keller for twenty-five years, first as a student and later as a colleague and friend.  He and I have been at the core of a number of outstanding bands that have performed and recorded some great jazz, including many performances of my own music.
 Gary is a consummate professional, both as an instrumentalist and teacher. His skills transcend a wide variety of styles, from classical to commercial, but his ability to interpret and improvise jazz is showcased here.  As his performance on this CD reveals, he has an uncanny ability to extract improvisational materials that best represent the core of a composition, weaving them into a variety of shapes and melodies based on the communication and feeling of the moment.

 Enjoy his performance on this recording - his interpretations of my compositions are “state of the art.”  His interplay with the marvelous musicians on this CD demonstrates the ultimate in musical maturity, and the music just plainly swings!

Ron Miller,  1999
note: all compositions on this CD (p) RonJam Music, BMI,  © Ron Miller,

Blues For An Old New Age
 Also known as Blues For ONA, it was composed with the intention of being realized on synths with the extensive use of “new age” sounding pads.  But as this performance clarifies, it is really a hard bop tune with a covert reference to the blues.

Babes Of Cancun
 Although this tune is not a product of a reharmonization process, it is similar to Small Feats in its harmonic style and its endearing diatonic melody.  Meant to portray the light-hearted tone of a “sun and fun” beach holiday, there is a subtle Brazilian influence and shades of Metheny in its melodic construction.  This is an advanced composition in the sense that is quite difficult to negotiate the changes while maintaining the forward motion
that the melody suggests.

Soul Bod
 As the title implies, this is a reharmonization of the standard: Body and Soul.  There is a subtle influence of Monk and Mingus with the chromaticism of the chord-root bass melody and the general intervalic shape of the top melody.  In addition, the low tessitura and slight “blues” quality of the melody add to the effect.  Using one of John Coltrane’s compositional techniques, the bridge is left open for improvisation.

Small Feats
 This tune is the first of a number of compositions using the reharmonization technique of diatonic substitutions at cadences. Like Peacock Park, it was composed to illustrate the technique for the Jazz Composition class at the University of Miami and is loosely based on the Coltrane composition Giant Steps.  In addition to this version, this popular tune has also been recorded by Barry Ries (featuring Joe Lovano) and by Hal Galper.

JC On The Land
 One in a series of tunes written in homage to good friend and saxophonist/educator Jerry Coker, this composition is meant to convey his mellow side and actually refers to the jazz camp setting he had in the mountains of North Carolina, or “the land” as he called it.

Monk Strut
 The title refers to the quirky phrasing of the harmonic rhythm typical of a Monk composition, and (as those who are lucky enough to have attended a Monk concert may have witnessed) the little dances Thelonius did around the piano during sax solos.  The tune has a subtle bop quality with its AABA form and “straight ahead” broken-swing time feel.  Its melody can be related to Nefertiti by Wayne Shorter, with its harmony being from the Herbie Hancock “school.”

Peacock Park
 An exercise in unembarrassed romanticism, Peacock Park is actually the result of devising another example of the use of the diatonic cadence substitution as taught in my Jazz Composition class.  The technique was first implemented on the tune Small Feats which is found earlier on this CD.  As an example, the usual cadence Amin7 to D13 to Gmaj7 is substituted with a D13sus4 to a Cmin maj7 to a Bmin9.  For this particular tune, the original source model is Coltrane’s Central Park West.  The melody, like that of Small Feats was composed after the reharmonization process purely by intuition.

Sweet Illusions
 The second in a suite of compositions with a reference to illusions in the title and programmatic theme.  This one means to convey the sweetness and comfort of cloaking one’s self in a romantic illusion. The harmonic rhythm and modal voice-leading make this a rather difficult tune.

Last Illusion
 Last illusion is the third in the trilogy of compositions having a reference to illusions in the title.  The main interest of this tune is the combination of the modern A section with its unusual modality of Ionian #2, b6, and the bop-oriented ii-V swing B section.  The bridge also shows a slight influence of the way Thelonius Monk organized key centers.

Gary Keller’s Liner Notes:

 For this record project, my first as a leader, I have chosen to feature the music of my close friend and musical colleague of twenty-five years, Ron Miller.  It has long been a desire of mine to hear a collection Ron’s compositions recorded by some of today’s preeminent jazz musicians.  Likewise, this has been an opportunity to test myself in such a setting, working with original music I know well and for which I have a deep respect.

 Ron Miller has devoted his musical career to jazz composition.  Whereas most jazz musicians are performers who also compose, Ron (a wonderfully inventive pianist) views himself primarily as a composer.  His knowledge and love of all types of music is largely from a composer’s perspective and his compositions reflect his deep understanding of the history and growth of jazz composition.

 To call Ron’s music deeply rooted in the past, yet unique and original, is cliche, but true. The influences of Horace Silver, Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and Herbie Hancock are strong.  Of course the music swings, but it is the lyrical melodies, the wide ranging harmonic textures, and the clearly conceived emotional contours that set Ron’s compositions apart.  Perhaps the best term for Ron’s writing is “jazz romanticism,” for his love of romantically oriented classical composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Respighi, and Prokofiev is also clearly reflected in his music.

 Considering the strength of his work, Ron is also relatively unknown.  Former students such as Pat Metheny, Dan Gottlieb, Mark Egan, Rick Margitza, and Gil Goldstein are long time supporters, as is Ron’s close friend Jerry Coker.  A few musicians from outside the University of Miami alumni community also have recorded several of his tunes, most recently Hal Galper and Barry Ries.  For the most part, however, Ron’s library of almost one hundred works is largely undocumented on commercially available recordings.  This is, in fact, the first such volume devoted entirely to his compositions.  Hopefully this project will bring Ron’s music to broader attention and stimulate more artists to investigate this wonderful repertoire.

 A brief background on this recording: Kenny Werner and I have been acquainted since we played together during one of his Miami visits, and I knew his eclectic, adventurous style would work well with this music.  Kenny suggested Billy Hart and Drew Gress, as well as  Mike Brorby’s studio in Brooklyn.  When I decided to add other horns I asked Scott Wendholt, who is gaining recognition as one of New York’s finest jazz trumpeters, and John Fedchock, an old friend from the Woody Herman band who now has a reputation as one of the top trombonists in jazz.

 The reputations of these fine musicians are well deserved.  In particular, the trio of Kenny, Billy and Drew is something to behold.  They demonstrate an extraordinary degree of depth and understanding in capturing the stylistic essence of each tune, coupled with a level of flexibility, creativity and interaction which makes each interpretation sound like the definitive version.

 Kenny’s amazingly wide range of expression is very much in evidence here; be it the impressionistic colorings of J.C. On the Land , the lyric simplicity of Peacock Park , or the straight ahead burn of Last Illusion .  Billy invariably finds a unique way of making each tune his own, always making his presence felt in a way that enhances the character of the composition.  Few drummers have the combination of such a marvelous beat and  the ability to provide color and shape to open space.  Drew anchors the rhythm section with his beautiful sound and solid, stay-at-home pulse; also providing gracefully melodic solos on the two ballads as well as on Ron’s “new bop” reworking of Giant Steps, Small Feats.  Scott’s exceptional tone and wonderful sense of phrasing are particularly evident on Soul Bod, and John plays a perfectly crafted be-bop solo over the oddly grouped phrases of Monk Strut..

 Everything heard on this recording was done as a group in the studio.  There was no layering of parts or overdubbed solos, and only minimal editing.  Very little was discussed, and, as it should be, everyone had carte blanche to put their personal stamp on each tune.  As usual with jazz recordings most of the selections ended up being first takes, and only two pieces required more than two takes to get what I was looking for (mostly in my own playing). This is typical when working with such high caliber players, but nonetheless amazing considering the complex, diverse nature of the music and the fact that it was being played by this group for the first time.  Everyone came ready to play, and the result speaks for itself.  My only regret is that, due lack of space and the necessity of having to choose between tunes and takes, I could not include even more great work by these fine musicians.

Gary Keller  Feb. '99

   A special thank you to the following people who provided both spiritual and logistical support for this project:

   Jamey D. and Julia Aebersold and Double Time Records, Michael Brorby, Jay Bianchi, Pilley, Rick Margitza, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Craig Bailey, Mike Gerber, Gottfried Stoger, Andrew Sterman, Jerry Coker, Whit Sidener and the University of Miami jazz faculty.

   I would also like to thank my wife, Linda; Michael Brecker, Joe Henderson, Francois Louis, Ralph Morgan, Bobby Dukoff, Bill Singer, Ed Calle, Billy Ross, Gary Campbell, Mike Brignola, Bob Mover, Pat LaBarbera, the late John Sedola, Lawrence Wyman, my students, and all the great musicians (past and present, famous and otherwise) who have aided and inspired me over the years; the list is far too long to print here.

 A very special thank you to Ron Miller for the many years of music and friendship; and to Kenny, Billy, Drew, Scott, and John for their talent and
commitment to making this project a success.
 Gary Keller