Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin has been out for almost two weeks now, and I’m starting to receive comments from listeners. One friend emailed me and said, “What a beauty! Your playing touches my heart and calms me. The first note, even, draws me into peace…” And at a massage appointment, when I was feeling particularly stressed with knots in my back, my therapist said, “Go and listen to your album! It’s so calming.”
Some of you may be wondering why I recorded this particular project. After all, it’s pretty different from my previous releases: it’s solo piano, and its roots come from classical music. I thought that I’d answer this question by posting (in two parts) some questions and responses that were part of a recent interview I did with Jeff Tamarkin, associate editor of JazzTimes. Here is part one; I’ll post part two next week.
JT: Why a solo piano album? What led you to want to make this recording?
DW: This new solo project (that brings together works of Chopin, jazz, and Brazilian repertoire) is a way for me to focus on the beauty of the sound of the piano. I recorded this material on an instrument that allowed me to move in harmonic directions that I had not practiced in advance. In fact, the free improvisations that interweave with the Chopin arrangements were not something I’d planned to record. I often play free to get inside of the sound of whatever piano I am playing, and because my arrangements of the Chopin works are fairly intricate, playing free also reminded me of the sheer beauty in creating sound.
Some of the Chopin I’ve selected comes from my years as a classical piano student. The first track, Chopin’s well-loved Nocturne in E-flat major, is something I studied in sixth grade. Returning to this piece both as an interpreter and an improviser is the closing of a circle. I look back and see the little girl in sixth grade who was so nervous when she competed in a room full of people, that she walked up to the stage with her shoulders jammed up to her ears. As I perform, I am grateful that this little girl continued to pursue the beautiful sound of the piano, the sound that continues to sustain her as an adult, and gives pleasure to others around her.
JT: Why Chopin? How do you feel you can express his music in a jazz context?
DW: To me, this recording is not strictly jazz or classical. It involves elements from each (i.e., from jazz: improvisation and extended harmonies). I am both a classical and a jazz pianist. Much of my work is also centered around Brazilian music. I like the idea of improvising in different languages- of trying to stay true to a specific composer or idiom by improvising in that idiom, yet also adding my own mark. It’s something I think about as an arranger. Chopin has gorgeous melodies, interesting harmonies, and wrote for my instrument. That is plenty to work with. Also, the fact that so much of Chopin’s music is well-known is fun for me: it allows me to enter the music and see what I can do to play and arrange that music in a way that resonates with the rest of my work.
JT: In the liner notes, Neil Tesser comments that you originally titled this project as, “This is NOT jazzy Chopin.” Please elaborate.
DW: At times, when I’ve mentioned this project to others, I hear comments such as, “Oh, have you heard that swing arrangement of Chopin’s Funeral March?” The whole idea of this project was to have the original Chopin pieces be the grounding for the arrangements- not to just add a specific rhythm and play the piece as a swing tune. That may be fun for a minute, but as a composer myself, if someone wants to arrange my music, I would hope that they would try to bring something of the aesthetic of the original into their arrangement.
Also, this record is pretty intimate to me. It’s very vulnerable to play solo piano- and especially for a record that is an hour in length! I wanted to take all the time I needed to revel in the beauty of specific notes and chords. I think that you hear this at certain points. For instance, there are four tracks (#2, 6, 11, 14) that are all improvisations based off of the final E-flat major arpeggio in the opening Nocturne. I didn’t always know where I’d be going next in terms of anything other than the shape of the arpeggiated figure. So, I tried to let the sound of whatever I’d just played help to inform what I’d play next.
Stay tuned for part two, coming next week.