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Descriptions of Original Jazz Tunes

tunes by Michael Arnowitt

Over the last couple of years, I have been very active composing new jazz tunes. I think many of them have come out well, and I am currently working on preparations for a whole recording of my originals. Plans for this site include mp3 sound samples of excerpts of these tunes and a page where you will be able to purchase by download the sheet music to any of these songs, either in standard jazz lead sheet format (melody and chords only) for musicians, or piano transcription versions for amateurs to enjoy. Below are short descriptions of many of these compositions for those of you interested to know what my own thoughts were while writing the music.

The Crossing
A slow ballad with descending lines falling from different melody notes. Each line’s initial note has a captivating lift, followed by a gentle fall onto a syncopation. The bridge does not contrast with the opening section but rather continues the same idea underpinned by a long descending bass line and rich harmonies. This atmospheric composition’s title is based on a possibly autobiographical poem by Langston Hughes of the same name. “The Crossing” is probably my deepest tune emotionally.

Clear Sailing
A strong tune perfect for tenor saxophone with a call-and-response opening featuring the piano, bass, and drums playing ascending chords answering the saxophone’s sturdy melodic fragments that neither rise nor fall. The entirety of these call-and-response sections alternate with swing sections with walking bass lines under modern, progressive jazz harmonies; each swing section begins with a surprise first chord. The ending has the saxophone finally playing a line with more direction, rising in a long phrase starting from the lowest region of the instrument to its topmost notes.

Floating is a bossa nova tune in the rich key of F-sharp major, with accompanimental chords of stacked fourths. The middle section is somewhat reminiscent of the style of Stevie Wonder. This tune has been well-received by audiences. I suppose you could say it’s “comfort food.”

A medium-slow 3/4 tune for flute, with an interesting bass line that begins each phrase on a high C and gradually descends stepwise almost to, but not quite, to a low C—at the last possible moment, it suddenly bends back upwards to the high C and starts another descent. The middle section features smooth modulations to other keys and then back to the home key. The descending bass line finally resolves to the low C only at the final phrase of the final chorus.

At Sea
A stylish swinging tune in C minor (the title is a pun), somewhat in the style of Benny Golson tunes such as “Whisper Not.” The middle section voyages harmonically away from the home key a little, but the waves never get very high. The final section has some nice syncopated hits and quiet surprises in the harmonic rhythm.

Burana Bop
Balkan rhythms are featured in this tune based partially on several phrases from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” This is a good tune for soloists to “stretch out” on with extended, climactic choruses. To enrich the arrangement, I wrote an episode with some modern harmonic changes and unison hits for the band.

Samba Switch
An intriguing tune in which succeeding sections switch from a walking bass line in 3/4 time to a samba in 4/4 time. The charm of the song is in the moments where each new bass groove is established—the switches of the title are interesting sensations.

Street Strut
A jazz-funk number based on a twenty-year old memory of African-American life on the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. The melody sounds good with either tenor saxophone or trombone. It’s in the dark key of E-flat minor (six flats), which helps give the tune its stylish attitude.

Sky And Earth
A recent tune with a lyrical melody (perhaps my finest) with a lot of stepwise motion, which contrasts with a middle section in bossa nova style with interesting melodic leaps and bittersweet, expressive notes. The melody could be done by chromatic harmonica or could be turned into a vocal number with a singer with a large range.

Bela’s Bounce
An uptempo tune influenced by Hungarian and folk musics from that region of the world, with a first section in 5/8 and 6/8 time signatures and a second section in 2/4 time. I hear a string sound, with fast plucking string instruments such as mandolin, guitar, and bass.

Bumpy Road
This tune depicts the experience of a country bicycle ride. Unusual, changing time signatures and jazzy syncopated accents represent both the unevenness of the road itself and the gently jerky feeling as the cyclist shifts gears up or down. The music develops in a story-telling fashion, with interesting episodes here and there indicating novel sights that appear suddenly after a bend in the road. Somewhere in the middle of the journey the road gets decidedly rougher, the pavement a bit iffier, as the rider gets further out into the country. The return of the opening musical material at the close of the tune is meant to portray the end of the trip, the sensation of the cyclist gradually returning to familiar roads and eventually back home; in the final measures the bicycle gracefully decelerates and the rider dismounts.

Medium Message
The main section of this tune has a relaxed, contemporary jazz sound featuring a loping bass line and a cyclic pattern that adds up to 11 beats. The middle section picks up the tempo slightly and has more harmonic motion and flow to contrast with the suspended feel of the opening. The word “medium” in the title was intended to convey both the meaning of a mystical séance event as well as a neutrality that is beyond good or bad.

Migratory Mood
There is an element of bird flight here; the melody aims to have a soaring, weightless feeling and the gentle syncopated bass riff becomes at the end of the tune a likeness of the birds settling down back on the earth. Naturally, the title can also be thought of figuratively, that is, of an urge to migrate or make a change in your life.

jazz arrangements by Michael Arnowitt of classical compositions and folk songs

Beauty and the Beast
Based on Waltz from Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel, the “beauty” opening section is a graceful jazz waltz, contrasting with a spikier, more piquant middle section with a low solo for the “beast.” Ravel’s conception features a pleasing melody in Lydian mode, a scale favored by jazz musicians (a major scale with a sharpened fourth degree).

Boppi’n’ With Brahms
A multi-section arrangement based on the passacaglia theme from the finale to Symphony no. 4 by Johannes Brahms. The arrangement features several key sections of the symphony movement, including a flute solo transformed into a Bach-like fugue, played in the style of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Call It Macaroni
A modernistic hip take on the old song “Yankee Doodle.” The different phrases of the melody are given a bebop home by being separated into 2-bar fragments, treated with light syncopations, and separated by bass fills of unusual lengths. The final phrase “and called it macaroni” is shifted to the bass and provides the launching point for some 3 and 4-bar vamps.

No More Songs
A slow ballad based on a song by the famous folksinger Phil Ochs, who committed suicide in the 1970’s. One feature of the arrangement are vamps consisting of alternations of two advanced and unusual jazz chords; these vamps enter on the next-to-last measure of the form and add exotic, other-worldly colors to the feel of the tune. A different vamp was written by me for each solo chorus, creating a sense of journey as a performance of the tune progresses.

Rhapsody in Blues
A three-part suite: Blues on a Train, Romance, and Calypso, based on melodies from George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. For rhythm section plus saxophone and trombone.

Birthday Samba
A humorous take on the Happy Birthday song, with the “happy birthday” and “to you” parts of the main line separated into two instruments doing a call-and-response. The principal section creates humor through chopping off the final bars of the standard eight-bar phrases. The bridge is a jubilant interlude of pure samba leading up to the high note of the happy birthday theme reprised in the final section.

tunes by John McKenna
(a tenor saxophonist who frequently appears with Michael Arnowitt in concert)

The Solar Side
A propulsive, energetic tune with a spiraling, twisting melodic idea. The main interval of the opening melody, a fourth, is imaginatively transformed in the bridge section to create a quieter moment of calm before the whirlwind begins again.

A swinging tune with a wonderful driving bass feel and flowing harmonies that move effortlessly from key to key, gently pushing the music forward.

Lake Morey Roundabout
A tune with two very original sections that alternate. The first is in 4/4 (but in 3-bar phrases rather than the usual 4-bar ones), while the second section is in a 3/4 jazz waltz style. The two halves of the tune perfectly complement each other; they are completely different yet fit well together. The origin of the title is a place in Vermont where children play.

Northern Portrait
A medium-slow Latin tune in minor, with a gently rocking, caressing beat and a well-crafted, Coltrane-like ending.

Bck to Europe 2008 Tour Page

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