Liner Notes

This n That Cover

My friend, the wonderful singer Judi K., posted a comment on Facebook recently about the importance of having liner notes in a CD package.  She pointed out, and I agree, that liner notes often provide valuable information about the recording, the artists, and the performance.  Why did the artist select those particular tunes?  Who solos when?  Why were certain decisions made?  Unfortunately, few CD packages include full liner notes these days, and it's largely a decision driven by economics.  I know that's true of my CD: including the kind of liner notes I would have liked to have written would have been too expensive.  So I limited myself to acknowledging the musicians and those involved in the production of the project.  But I agree with Judi, so here are some liner notes for my 2014 CD, “This 'n' That”:

My wife and kids had been after me for years to do a CD.  My resistance came from the conviction that I'm pretty much a journeyman player, a sideman, and, in fact, something of an amateur, when you consider that I frittered away large portions of my life doing French studies and librarianship when I should have been practicing.  But the wife and the kids – especially the wife – can be relentless, and I finally gave in.  Part of the reason for my capitulation was that I suddenly found myself in a vibrant jazz scene here in Kansas City.  Thanks to the good offices of the late Tommy Ruskin (whom I met because of the generosity of Chicago drummer Rusty Jones), I was now playing regularly with some of the finest musicians I had ever heard.  And these wonderful gentlemen seemed delighted to be a part of my project.  When I started working on selecting tunes, I'll admit that my main motivation was to express my love for that relentless wife, Alice, so that's certainly a theme here.  But there are number of choices that are also tributes to musicians and friends.  Here are the tunes:

“Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” is, I suppose, a no brainer for a clarinetist who has played a lot of Dixieland.  It's a tune that I do frequently with Bram Wijnands and Phil Wakefield at The Majestic Steakhouse in KC, MO, where Bram has held forth on weekends for over twenty years.  So it seemed like a good way to start. 

“This Can't Be Love,” a Rogers and Hart classic, has long been a favorite of mine.  I love the lyrics, though, of course, you won't hear them here. I don't sing as a public service.  But this tune, too, is a kind of introduction to the other side of the project, the “That” opposed to the “This,” the second basic group, a quartet with Mike Pagán, Bob Bowman, and Phil Wakefield providing the rhythm.  It's a more modern feel, a groove that I enjoy as much as the traditional one.  I love Mike's crisp inventiveness, and there's nobody quite like Bob Bowman on bass.  Bob has played with everyone, and he was so gracious to join me here.  And Phil shows that he can shift gears and produce a completely different framework.

“Nuages” is the Majestic trio again, with Django Reinhardt's anthem.  I have loved this tune for a long time and first played it – in the wrong key – at a concert at the Glenview Public Library in suburban Chicago in the mid '90's.  I called the tune in F, and guitarist Frank Portolese, the quintessential pro, just went right into it, not even blinking.  I've since learned to play it in G, like everybody else.  I particularly like Bram's solo here.

“Triste” is a favorite Jobim tune, and you'll notice now that I'm alternating the two groups, the “This” and the “That.”  I learned this tune on the job from the great Wisconsin guitarist Dave Sullivan.  Like many Jobim tunes, this one has gorgeous changes that unlock the imagination beautifully.

“Up Jumped You with Love,” which I do on soprano, is a fine old Fats Waller tune that is seldom played.  I first heard it on a live recording of Edmund Hall and Ralph Sutton recorded at the Club Hangover in San Francisco in the early 50's.  Hall was one of my very favorite clarinetists, having such a great sense of swing and such joyfulness in his playing.  This tune has a tricky bridge that has tripped me up many a time.

“If We Never Meet Again,” a Louis Armstrong tune, is one of the tributes on the CD, this time to the late clarinetist Harold Smith.  Harold lived in Beloit, WI, and played in Chicago and Milwaukee.  He also played very fine piano, and we worked together a number of times and became friends.  On one memorable occasion, Alice and I invited him down to Evanston to attend a performance of the Brahms clarinet quintet, one of his favorite compositions, by Steve Cohen at Northwestern University.  It was a delightful evening with a warm, urbane, creative man whom I miss very much.  “If We Never Meet Again” was one of Harold's very favorite tunes and the title tune of his CD.

“Everybody Loves My Baby.”  Bram tears this one up with great gusto, and Phil drives us wonderfully.  This is one of our secret weapons when the noise level at the Majestic begins to rise.

“Hard Times” is a tribute to a radio station and a couple of jazz disc jockeys who brought this music into my youth, and it's also, of course, a tip of the hat to the great David Fathead Newman and Ray Charles who did the original recording.  When I was a teen in Philadelphia, the jazz station was WHAT-FM, and Joel Dorn, who later became Rahsaan Roland Kirk's producer, used that recording as his theme music.  I'm on alto here, of course, and there are fine solos by Bob and Mike. 

“Si Tu Vois Ma Mère” means “If you see my mother,”  and I selected this lovely Sidney Bechet tune as a way to thank my Mom, Thelma Berge Blegen, who passed away in December of 2013 at the age of 103.  She is the one who gave me the gorgeous gift of music, making me practice my violin (when I switched to clarinet, I no longer need to be told), and keeping music near all through my childhood. 

“Mr. C.H.” is dedicated to the memory of the great clarinetist Chuck Hedges, who became my mentor and my friend.  This is one of two original compositions on the CD, and I wrote it shortly after Chuck passed away in 2010, when I was playing with the group that had been his Milwaukee band, the Milwaukee Connection.  I had the great pleasure of performing it with the Connection for an audience in Madison when Chuck's wife, Carole, was present.  Here it's a duet with the ebullient Mike Pagán on piano.

“Kansas City Man Blues,” an old Clarence Williams tune was recorded by Sydney Bechet, and that means that I just had to do it on soprano.  Of course, the only real Kansas City man on this performance is Phil, since Bram is from Holland and I'm from Chicago.  But I'm certainly getting to like the place.

“Skylark” is perhaps one of Hoagy Carmichael's most beautiful tunes, and having lyrics by Johnny Mercer doesn't hurt.  I've loved this tune for a long time, though I confess that it took me a while to get comfortable with the bridge, one of the great bridges in American popular song, along with those in “Body and Soul” and “Sophisticated Lady.”  Mike and Bob play beautifully here. 

“She Found Me” is the other original composition, and I wrote it for Alice.  Someday I'll have to write some lyrics for it.  She certainly did find me, and I owe so much to her, not the least of which is her help in bringing this project to life.  The tune is a simple little waltz, and I do it on alto as a duet with Mike.

“What a Little Moonlight Can Do” was recorded by Billie Holiday in the mid 1930's with a marvelous studio band that included Teddy Wilson on piano and Benny Goodman on clarinet.  Bram, Phil, and I like to take it at a good clip, as we do here, and it's always an adventure.

“My Romance,”  another genial standard by Rogers and Hart, has been a favorite of mine for many years, and it was such a treat to do it here with Bob Bowman's inventive and sensitive bass and Phil Wakefield's tasteful brushes.  Like many of the tunes I selected here, my message was for Alice.  “My romance doesn't need a thing but you.”

[Personnel: John Blegen - clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones; Bob Bowman -  bass (2,4,6,8,12,15); Michael Pagán - piano (2,4,6,8,10,12,13); Philip Wakefield - drums (all tracks except 10 and 13); Bram Wijnands - piano (1,3,5,7,9,11,14).  Produced by John and Alice Blegen.  Recorded and mixed by Michael Moreland at Hammerhead Audio, Kansas City, MO.  Mastered by the SoundLab at Disc Makers.]

© John C Blegen 2019