Best Birthday Present

Matthew Guerrieri wrote three piano pieces for me!

Standard, Chorale, and Badinerie references my great love of crime fiction, with epigraphs from Boileau-Narcejac, Chandler, and Hammett.

I played through them on the backstage piano in Santa Fe yesterday.

Standard (A coeur perdu) — A coeur perdu (translation: With a Lost Heart) is a novel by Boileau-Narcejac, the French authors best known in America for writing the novel Hitchcock used as the source for Vertigo.

Guerrieri explains the basic plot: “A singer and her accompanist/lover cover up the latter’s murder of the singer’s husband, a composer, but the victim has left his own weapon: one last song that becomes a posthumous hit, tormenting the guilty couple on radios and jukeboxes wherever they go.”

A few lines of the book are at the top of the score, “Mais vous, c’est la vérité qui vous détruit. Vous voulez que l’amour soit une belle histoire.” (Translation: “But you, it is the truth that destroys you. You want love to be a beautiful story.”)

The piece is lovely and very much like an American songbook “standard” as Guerrieri suggests.

Chorale (A Soft Grey Smoke Ring) offers a collection of vertical sonorities. Indeed, I laughed out loud when reading though this one, because Matthew has been to many of my gigs and has heard me use many chords just like this. The last chord of bar 2 is definitely “Iversonian.” Towards the end, he uses a bit of addition: in bars 10 and 11 the articulations come at 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 beats. Do the math?

I play this on the fast side because the green room piano had little to offer in terms of a rich sustain. Next time I’ll aim for a more resonant concert grand and enjoy the “fog.”

More of the Chandler quote from The Big Sleep:

I couldn’t see the woman, then I could see her indistinctly. The arrogant carriage of her head seemed familiar. The man stepped out very quickly. The two figures blended in the fog, seemed to be part of the fog. There was dead silence for a moment. Then the man said: “This is a gun, lady. Gentle now. Sound carries in the fog. Just hand me the bag.” The girl didn’t make a sound. I moved forward a step.

Badinerie (Homage to Levi Oscant) — “Badinerie” means “banter,” and wow, a lot going on here.

  1. The bass line is an amplification of Vince Guaraldi
  2. the opening stanza is like a 12-bar blues
  3. the triadic chords over the bass line are essentially 12-tone
  4. the diminished chords are from Barry Harris (and other places, but I wrote about Barry)
  5. the B section is something like Lennie Tristano
  6. there’s a few snippets of walking bass boogie-woogie
  7. “Levi Oscant” appears as a party pianist in The Thin Man. Hammett is obviously paying tribute to Oscar Levant, a shared interest of Guerrieri and myself…the opening gesture of A coeur perdu above is in the Levant lineage.

In other words, PERFECT. Perfect for me! A mélange of many of my interests in one étude. “That makes it your party.” Damn right it’s my party. Unbelievable. I’m honored and thank my friend Matthew Guerrieri from the bottom of my heart.

Also on DTM: “James P. Johnson Gets Dressed” (by Matthew Guerrieri)

I tracked these pieces right after having lunch with Richard Scheinin, the estimable critic who (among many other things) recently covered Billy Harper’s 80’s birthday in the New York Times. Selfie of Rich and I below…

I wouldn’t know Matthew or Richard if it weren’t for the internet, so that’s one up to the power of digital connection!