JT: The other factor here is Brazilian music. What is the relationship between Chopin and Brazil? Can you point out a couple of examples on the recording where the Brazilian influence shows up?
DW: The most obvious example is in track #3, with the pairing of the Prelude in E minor and Jobim’s “Insensatez.” Jobim based his piece, both in terms of the chromaticism in the harmony and in the melody (which is almost like an upper pedal point that slowly moves down in whole steps) on this particular Chopin prelude.
In track #5, I noticed the similar melodic opening material (a minor sixth) and the first several chords in Manhã de Carnaval and the Nocturne in E minor. As in the arrangement of “Insensatez,” I began by keeping the Chopin left hand figure (his Nocturnes usually have broken chords in the left hand that are played as steady triplets, eighth notes, etc) and weaving the melody of the Brazilian piece on top.
Track #4 (Prelude in E-flat minor) is played as a baião: the original Chopin consists solely of fast moving triplets. By elongating the second note of each triplet, I was able to play a rhythm that is typical in a lot of Brazilian music: the “fork” rhythm (it looks like a fork in musical notation- one sixteenth, one eighth, one sixteenth all barred together). I altered the left hand rhythm as well, and it easily became a baião.
JT: What were some of the challenges in creating the arrangements and the recording itself?
DW: The arranging comes fairly quickly to me- I think that the real challenge is that in recording, solo piano is so exposed. Every note, chord, pause, pedal change—it’s just much easier to hear all of these elements in a solo recording (as opposed to a band recording). It can also be challenging to think about how to put a whole album together that has enough variety and flow when there is only one instrument. The short improvisations that I played (mainly interspersed between the Chopin arrangements) weren’t something I’d planned to do in advance- I decided while in the studio that having shorter improvisations would help to break up the longer arrangements and would also unify the album.
JT: How does this album differ from your previous releases?
DW: All of my earlier recordings are focused on trio or quartet (with additional vocalists on my 2009 liturgical jazz release, From This Place). My other releases reflect the wide range of music that my current trio plays (jazz, Brazilian, Latin jazz). I think that the overriding factor in everything is my vision as a composer/arranger and as a pianist. That vision includes rich, unexpected harmonies, a deep sense of listening, a willingness to go anywhere that the music leads, and fluency on my instrument.
JT: You also have a background in liturgical music. Does that find its way into Raindrop?
DW: I would turn this around and say that it’s my background as a musician with fluency in different styles of music that influences all of my work, whether it is my work in composing music for the church, playing solo piano, or playing with my band.
I’d also add that it is the element of being attentive to word and sound that shapes a lot of what and how I compose, arrange, and improvise.