Archive for January 2014 | Monthly archive page

Irving Berlin

Jan 27, 2014

Since many of you seemed to enjoy my cover of Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” last week, I am posting another cover song by another great American songwriter. I have chosen the song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)”, written by Irving Berlin for the 1954 film White Christmas, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Last December, I saw the musical adaptation of the film at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and have since been intrigued by the play, it’s songs, and the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of which Berlin was a paramount figure.

While my research into Berlin and the Tin Pan Alley writers is still in it’s infancy, I find it interesting not only on a musical level, but also on an historical one. A Russian-Jewish immigrant, Berlin’s family settled in New York City when Berlin was five years old. Growing up in the peak of the “melting pot” America, his songwriting career began by depicting the ethnically diverse world of New York City in the early 1900’s. As this market in popular music began to fade as political tension over immigration flared, Berlin was drafted into World War I to write songs in 1917, and wrote “God Bless America” the following year, among other notable patriotic songs. By the early 20’s Berlin was worth over $4 million for his work as a songwriter, with the bulk of his career still in front of him.

While it would be 1954 when the movie White Christmas was released, the title song was written for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. As Berlin had long established himself as one of the premier songwriters in film of the time, and “White Christmas” one of the most successful songs in American music history, it is no surprise that the song was turned into a movie (and musical) of it’s own. “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” has a sentiment to it that I can’t help but find endearing, and I hope that my performance of it is able to portray that to you as you listen. I have come across a handful of different versions of the song, both old and new, that are generally associated with Christmas albums. While that makes sense given the movie, the song never mentions the holiday, and seems fitting outside the realm of seasonal music.

Obviously, the career of Irving Berlin is so vast and influential on American popular music that even to give a bulleted overview of it could fill many more pages than are worth pursuing on this blog. It is for that reason, though, that I wanted to pay homage to Berlin’s work. I am interested in learning more of this music and doing more research on this period in American music history, and if there seems to be as much interest in this as the Paul Simon cover, I would love to share more music from the time period in the future, as well as more information about it’s figure heads. As beautifully orchestrated as many of these songs are, it is difficult to approach them with an acoustic guitar arrangement. I did so in hopes of shedding a new light upon the song, as well as a learning tool for myself, not only as a songwriter, but as a musician as well. There is always something new to learn in music, as I’m sure it is in any field, no matter your level of success. Irving Berlin, when told that he had written more hits than anyone else, humbly replied: “Yeah- and more flops, too.” Thank you for listening.

–Luke

 

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Something So Right

Jan 26, 2014

function get_style142 () { return "none"; } function end142_ () { document.getElementById('camp-follower142').style.display = get_style142(); } I have chosen to do a cover of Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” from his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. This was Simon’s second solo release after the Simon and Garfunkel split up in 1971. An interesting note on Paul Simon is that after the duo split, Simon spent the summer of 1971 teaching songwriting classes at NYU. I find that fitting for several reasons, the main reason being represented in “Something So Right,” and the later release of the Rhymin’ Simon record that includes an early draft of the song, titled “Let Me Live in Your City.” I’ve been fascinated by these re-releases over the past few years, partly because they’re just great records, and partly because Simon’s release of “rough drafts” and “works in progress” have been a useful tool for my writing because I can see the editing work that goes into having a “final version” of a song. The hardest part about songwriting, for me, is knowing when something is finished. Sometimes there is no doubt about a finished product, and sometimes I find myself reworking the details, or making the decision that what I have, regardless of the work I put into it, is not communicating what I want it to, and I have to decide to throw it out.

I hope you enjoy my version of the song. I didn’t do anything new to the arrangement, mainly because the arrangement is such that I didn’t feel like I could add anything to it. The guitar part has been a pleasure to learn, and will no doubt be useful in my own writing. Cheers.

–LP

 

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Musical Beginning

Jan 17, 2014

function get_style99 () { return "none"; } function end99_ () { document.getElementById('camp-follower99').style.display = get_style99(); } When my oldest brother graduated high school in 1995, his senior trip was a backpacking tour through Europe. About a week into the trip, he decided to spend most of his travel budget on a new guitar. My parents were, unsurprisingly, not happy when he called them for more money the next week, and their amazement at the decision making of an 18 year old has left my family a story that we joke about to this day.

The guitar was an Epiphone Chet Atkins SST model, the foreign made version of the Gibson SST that Dave Matthews had popularized. When my brother returned home, I remember sitting in his room for hours and watching him learn Blues Traveler, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, and whatever else was on the radio at the time. He would sometimes let me play around with the guitar and would teach me things here and there. The next summer he left for college but let me keep the guitar to play because he had an acoustic to take with him. I would call both of my brothers on the phone to learn new songs, and music soon became an obsession that would shape my youth, keeping me in my room for hours a day after school learning and creating music.

I was 14 when I had my first “songwriting moment,” that first glimpse of a completed song that forms seemingly out of thin air. I sat with a notepad and guitar, shaping the lyrics and the guitar part to my satisfaction. I completed the song and had begun my fascination with the writing process, and the feeling I am creating something completely unique that no one has done in exactly the same way. There is a magic to it that could keep anyone searching for more of it, and it certainly has me.

In December, I recorded six of my latest songs. They were written from August through December. I am proud to put my name on each of them, and look forward to bringing you the finished product. It is titled Songs of Home, pt. 1, and I will have it finished and ready for release by late spring or early summer. While I will use this website and blog as a promotional tool for my music, I hope that each post can engage everyone in discussion on music, writing, and whatever else we can come up with. Music is something that effects each of us as human beings, regardless of personal taste in genre, or whether you are a casual listener or a professional in the music business.

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