Views From a Distance

Here is a blogpost written by Diego Olivas about Views from a Distance, my first CD created with Ted Greenwald in 1988.

Ted and I wanted to create a recording that was substantive and subtle (in a “new age” genre that didn’t necessarily value those qualities.) Upon reading this blog 31 years later it was heartening to see that the author called our work a “masterpiece”. You can read an interview with us and listen at:

https://bit.ly/2HdIPqi

Miki Coltrane – “I Think of You” Twentieth Anniversary Release

Miki Coltrane I think of YouStarting in the fall of 1993 Michael Cormier and I were on a songwriting streak. When Michelle (“Miki”) Coltrane and I met the following year we were looking for a singer to present our material and for someone who had the ability to express the emotional depth of the songs. I had heard Miki sing at a club and I liked the unique quality of her voice, which was a natural blend of jazz and R & B, yet with a lightness and openness. Miki was looking for original material, different from the familiar standards, to put out on a recording, so the timing was perfect.

By this point Michael and I had quite a large catalog of songs and it took a little while to hone in on what was most appropriate for Miki. Additionally we wrote new songs that we wanted to include, such as a bebop song called Found My Groove and a blues called Call It Blue. We wanted to include a deeper look at heartbreak, and have a song that possessed a vulnerability that we heard in Miki’s voice so we wrote Lessons. At the time Miki didn’t think it would be right, but when we ran the song for the first time and she got to the bridge, singing “I’d swore I’d love you till the end, though this wound may never mend. But I’ve got to face this fact: I’m better off if you don’t come back”. it affected her very deeply and after she composed herself, she laughed and said “Yes, we should do it”. Your Magic Eyes was the first song Michael and I wrote and we were happy that Miki loved it.

Michael’s lyrics tell stories, very much like what you’d find in musical theater. The Great American Songbook and many jazz standards draw upon songs from the great theater writers like Rodgers & Hart, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, etc…, so the storytelling aspect of the songs we chose were in the tradition of what jazz singers perform. Most of the songs were about relationships, love and loss, so we all thought, I Think of You, the title of one the songs, would be a good album title.

Michael and I put together a showcase of our songs called Wails and Whispers: Songs of Hiltzik & Cormier at the Jazz Bakery in March of 1995. It also featured Miki Coltrane and Tierney Sutton, a wonderful singer who has gone on to a critically-acclaimed career and has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards. That performance was an opportunity for Miki to get more familiar with the songs we would record. The concert was a great success, with great reviews, an overflowing audience and standing ovations. We included the musicians who played for Wails and Whispers on the recording. The personnel on the CD was a combination of great players that we both knew and worked with and we were delighted they all contributed. The credits read: Miki Coltrane (vocals); Ronnie Laws (soprano saxophone); Gene Burkert (alto saxophone, flute); Ralph Moore, Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone); Clay Jenkins (trumpet); Bruce Otto (trombone); Christian Jacob, Scott Hiltzik (acoustic & electric pianos); Alice Coltrane (piano); George Stone (keyboards); Jim Hershman (guitar); Trey Henry (acoustic & fretless basses); Robert Hurst, Darek Oles (bass); Dave Tull, Ralph Penland (drums); Munyungo Jackson (percussion).

We included a wide variety of arrangement styles to enhance both Miki’s voice and the qualities of the songs.

We also included a special family recording of John Coltrane’s Lazybird, featuring Miki’s lyrics, mother Alice Coltrane on piano, and brother Ravi Coltrane on tenor saxophone.

In the time since I Think of You Miki has been raising her children. Last year she released another CD called Michelle Coltrane: Awakening. We are now working on some new music for a future recording.

I Think of You has it’s own niche. When it was released twenty years ago some of the feedback received was that it didn’t fit cleanly into the music industry boxes of the time. It may have been too accessible for straight ahead jazz radio stations and too subtle and sophisticated for others. Now there’s a whole separate genre of “genre-less” music. 2018 seems like a great time to digitally share this music. Enjoy! 

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/mikicoltrane2

Jimmy Wyble

Jimmy Wyble was a musician’s musician, a true American master and a unique voice in the world of guitar music. I am grateful and honored to have been a friend and collaborator with such a unique talent and special human being. Jimmy passed away in January, 2010 just days shy of his 88th birthday. 

Having performed and recorded with Barney Kessel, Red Norvo, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra, Jimmy came off the road and began delving deeper into his understanding of the guitar. He explored the use of two-line improvisation creating a fresh sound that combined his various influences of jazz, western swing, cajun and contemporary classical music. This led to a recording of “Études” that was released in the 1970’s. Guitarists such as Joe Pass, Mundell Lowe, Laurindo Almeido, Larry Koonse, Sid Jacobs, Ron Escheté have all sung his praises. He taught and influenced countless guitar players over decades.

In 2008 Jimmy and I began a collaboration focused on exploring our common musical language and interests. As Jimmy and I got to know each other we realized that we shared a musical sensibility and he asked me to expand and add material to his Etudes. He had always wanted to have someone bring them to a wider audience. I, in turn, was blown away with his music, particularly with his gentle use of dissonance, and space, and was thrilled at the opportunity. 

Over the course of the last two years of his life we collaborated on a recording that will soon be released. It contains these expanded Etudes for piano, as well as Jimmy’s last recorded guitar solos, and piano and guitar duets featuring both of our compositions. It also includes free improvisations, and actual spoken conversations we recorded. It will be called simply “CONVERSATIONS WITH JIMMY”.

About Clarence & Me

BACKSTORY:

About Clarence and MeThe idea for About Clarence and Me was born during Walter Jones’ and Scott Hiltzik’s chance meeting on a bus. Sitting next to each other on the five-hour ride from New York City to Boston in July, 2003, the two writers recognized their shared interests. As New England scenery passed by, Coltrane, classical piano music and theater were discussed, ideas were thrown back and forth, personal stories shared, and by the time the Greyhound arrived at South Station the story was set and their collaboration underway. 

Drawing inspiration from Scott’s experiences as a piano teacher and Walter’s childhood in the South, About Clarence and Me portrays the relationship between an older African-American beginning piano student and his younger Caucasian piano teacher. Through a poignant story and a rich assortment of original piano music, About Clarence and Me expresses the commonality of the human experience. 

PRESS RELEASE:

Even as the world becomes more globalized, there will always be generational boundaries that set young apart from old. “About Clarence and Me,” a new play written by Walter Jones and Scott Hiltzik, explores this divide (and others) through an unlikely relationship between a retired African-American man, Clarence, and his young white piano tutor, Sam. From rocky beginnings, Clarence and Sam soon form a mutual bond that challenges the traditional ideas of the mentor-student relationship. Intersectional themes of race and love come to life as their business arrangement blossoms into a lifelong friendship, with both Clarence and Sam learning from one another in ways they could never have foreseen.

About Clarence and Me had a critically acclaimed premiere at The Theater for The New City’s Dream Up Festival in September 2016. Below are some REVIEWS:

“a touching tribute to the power of both art and friendship across generations and cultural boundaries.”

“with a sensitive script by director Walter Jones and composer Scott Hiltzik, whose own piano compositions stand in for Sam’s, the actors stay true to the melody.”

“Whether it’s L.A. in the ’90s or Baltimore, Cleveland, or New York City in 2016, it sure is still going on. Fortunately, we have stories like About Clarence & Me to remind us, through the lens of art, of the universality of the human experience and the power of friendship and love.”
www.blogcritics.org

…”About Clarence and Me” is an impressive and creative outing from Hiltzik and Jones that should certainly make its way back to New York City following the conclusion of the Dream Up Festival.
www.theaterscene.net

“About Clarence & Me is a feast for piano music lovers.”
www.whatsonoffbroadway.com

The Story of Alice

The Story of AliceAfter a wonderfully successful six-week run at The Matrix Theater in Hollywood The Story of Alice closed on May 29th. Here is a photo of the happy writers, my collaborator Michael Cormier and I, at the opening night reception, and below are some of the glowing reviews we received. Congratulations and thanks to an amazing cast and creative team! Stay tuned for possible future productions.

“…takes the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland in a completely new…and twisted direction…comically talented cast…
you will definitely be singing … as you drive home.”

-Discover Hollywood
https://www.discoverhollywood.com/Discover-Hollywood-Blog/2016/April/The-Story-of-Alice-Theatre-Review.aspx

Wonderland Never Looked So Good
“Casting is cleverly done to enhance the whimsical quality of the characters; and the talented actor’s voices soar in happy song as they dance with abandon.”

– LA Splash
https://www.lasplash.com/publish/Los_Angeles_Entertainment_109/the-story-of-alice-review.php

“Strong vocals, sharp comedic timing and stunning visuals…”

– Broadway World
https://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/BWW-Review-THE-STORY-OF-ALICE–An-Entertaining-Fall-Down-the-Rabbit-Hole-20160425#

“…an appealing musical retelling of a story that becomes just as ageless as it is up to date.
The selections of original tunes is vast and rich…”

-Accessibly Live
https://accessiblyliveoffline.wordpress.com/

“There is exceptional talent in The Story of Alice! … Run, Run!
And take someone who loves Alice. In face, dress up and Go!”

-Joe Straw

Q&A: Lullabies

Q: What Drew You to Composing Lullabies?

A: I wanted to give a special gift in celebration of my friend’s daughter’s birth in 1995. I came upon the idea of composing a lullaby, with the hope that one day the child would grow up and be able to play their own piece. After I wrote “Kimberly Rose” I continued this musical gifting so when close friends or family members have children I write a lullaby for them. I’ve composed about 40 lullabies to date. A couple of these children have already played their own pieces and perhaps their kids or grandchildren will play them one day and say ‘hey, I have this cool piece some guy wrote for my grandma way back in 1998!’

I’ve always been drawn to the serenity and simplicity of lullabies. Lullabies don’t have a specific form, though they are often in triple meter or 6/8 time and have lulling or rocking motion. There are two main theories on where the word “lullaby comes from: the first is that two earlier English words used to soothe children — “lulla” and “bye” were combined in the late 1500’s to refer specifically to a song used to calm children or put them to sleep. It’s also been proposed that the name comes from the Hebrew phrase, “Lilith-Abi” meaning “Lilith begone.” (Lilith is a folkloric character who was believed to steal children in the night and these incantations were sounded to keep her away.)

Lullabies are in every culture. in creating All The World Is Sleeping, my first lullaby CD, I included 10 lullabies from around the world, including South America, Asia, Africa and Europe as well as 11 original compositions. I had recently completed ‘Celtic Nocturnes’ and had enjoyed the process of arranging melodies from other countries in a style that was reflective of the culture they came from. For example, in the Chinese lullaby Purple Bamboo Flute, I incorporated pentatonic runs, and other characteristic sounds.

For the original lullabies I usually start composing when I get the celebratory announcement with the child’s name, date of birth and photos. Sometimes it can be the rhythm of the name (especially if it has a flowing quality) or just a feeling I get that inspires me. The only commonality is that these pieces are soothing, lyrical and simple. I love working on pieces that help counter the frantic and hectic pace of our daily lives and they provide a nice balance to some of my other work.

One of my favorite All The World Is Sleeping stories involves our furry friends. When this CD first came out in 2001 my Dad sent a copy to one of his friends who sent me a pretty unbelievable testimonial:

“My welsh terrier and wired hair fox terrier enjoyed Scott’s music so much that they would stop playing and go lie down on their beds and sleep during the lullaby.”

Perhaps I’ll call my next lullaby CD, which I look forward to recording as duets, “Cat Naps and Doggie Dreams”.
Here are two pieces from All The World Is Sleeping. Sweet Dreams.

All the World is Sleeping
Nicholas
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