Almost exactly a year ago I started recording some song ideas for an album that would showcase the ukulele that I received as a gift from my mother-in-law Suzan. I had never played an ukulele before last Christmas, but she thought that I would be able to make some decent sounds with it since I’m fairly musically inclined. This album wouldn’t have been possible without Suzan and her generous gift of the ukulele.
I thank my dad for the name “Tropical Jazz”. Thank you to Brianna for pushing me to finish this album. Thank you, Alayne, for always encouraging and being honest. Thank you, Pam, for supporting my music these many years.
I wanted to give a quick word about each of the songs on the album.
1. Drinking at the Stream – I knew right away that I wanted to write songs using only two instruments, the guitar and the uke. I decided to make all of the songs use only one instance of each instrument. This meant I couldn’t use multiple layers of guitar or uke to “thicken” the sound. It was going to be fairly raw and simple. This song is the first that came to me out of this vision. I imagine a deer stopping by a section of a cool running stream on a spring day.
2. Sand in your Shoes – This is possibly the most “Hawaiian” that I get on this album. After a brief foray into country music with the opening lick, the song establishes itself firmly as island music with the ukulele playing each string open and in succession (my dog has fleas) to establish the hook. If there is a song for walking out on to the beach on a hot day and kicking off your shoes, this is it.
3. Beautiful Ambiguity – I discovered Leonard Bernstein this year. He did a series of lectures on music. One of the things that he put into words that I sort of latched onto was the concept of ambiguity in art. Leaving things open to the person experiencing the piece. The piece doesn’t need to carry a meaning from the author of the piece to the audience. Words, phrases, images; all these and more can have a beauty when the meaning is unclear. The uncertainty of the intent can then possess a poetic quality.
The main riff of this song starts off in a strong minor chord/key. But as the riff plays out, the key becomes unclear, due to the chromatic movement that takes place within this minor chord. It create an allure that is difficult to explain. It’s musically wrong, but pleasant to the ear, if a little sorrowful. Thank you, Leonard Bernstein for helping me understand music just a little bit better.
4. One Good Reason – Sometimes all we need is one good reason to smile, or one good reason to move forward. Look for the one good reason.
5. Thank You, John – Early in 2014, I started making appearances at a local gospel music group’s practices. I didn’t pretend to be able to play gospel music, I just showed up and hoped to be able to glean something from the amazing talent in the group. The group’s leader is a man named John Nash. Were it not for the opportunity he afforded me to sit in and learn a little bit of gospel music, I wouldn’t have been able to write this song. Mind you, the song isn’t a gospel song, but the chords and musical phrases used in it (and much of the rest of the album) are a direct result of my experience with the gospel choir and band. Thank you, John.
6. Two Provinces – This song was nearly scrapped. I didn’t much care for it in the scheme of the rest of the songs on the album. The title of the song comes from the disparate motifs that occur inside. They have different cultures, different backgrounds, but share a common border.
7. On My Way – One of my favorite chord progressions on the album. It just has such a movin’ vibe to it. No wonder that it’s only 2 and a half minutes long. I’m on my way to you, and I’m in a hurry!
8. Rock, Branch, Anchor – My sister, Brianna, gave me a poster that has all of the names of God as they appear in the Bible. Most of the names are ‘titles’ like “Redeemer”, “Prince of Peace”, “Good Shepherd”. I was looking at it and found three names that were also objects. These objects are metaphorical names. Rock, describing God’s faithfulness; he is solid and unwavering. Branch, He extends life to us; as a tree extends nutrients and water to the leaves. And Anchor, we place our hope in him and he keeps us firmly in place, protecting us from the wind and waves that would carry us to all sorts of places that would be our destruction.
9. Suzsan – I am blessed with the rare privilege of having a mother and a mother-in-law with the phonetic name “Susan”. My mother-in-law’s name is spelled “Suzan”. My mom let me borrow her ukulele for safe keeping. I played it on this tune. I combined their names as a tribute to the two women that played the biggest roles in my creation of this album’s music.
10 Extravagant Mercy (Instrumental) – Some years ago, I wrote a Christian worship song called Extravagant Mercy. It has lyrics and they can be found on this site. But for this album of instrumental music, I thought it would be fun to play around with the melody using the ukulele. And that’s what I did.
“Tropical Jazz” can be purchased on iTunes
and Google Play