Essays and Liner Notes
Charleston For You
This is a compilation album made up of tracks I recorded in the late 90’s.The Man I Love, was recorded live at Birdland. The album features someof New York’s finest musicians, inspired and seasoned pros in jazz, pop,classical, rock and theater music, with whom I have been so pleased tocollaborate, and whose paths crossed mine early on in music. The songnarratives follow the heart on its journey through a jungle of romanceand psychology in several languages, traversing the Amazon, hauntingthe streets of Pigalle, and illuminating the Berkeley sky from the SanFrancisco Bay to Riverside Drive in cinematic overlay. Phat Hat, wasimpelled, one hot summer night on Broadway, by a girl leaning against a lamp post in a large brimmedhat. I thought, “she’s grooving in a phat hat.” Weeks later for the first time, I heard the expression“phat.” Thanks to Mac Rebennack, “Dr. John”, for kindly providing the lyrics, years ago, and inspiringthe performance of Marie Laveau, the tale of a hair dresser rumored to practice spells, buried at night,and dubbed the Voodoo Queen. I am grateful to Galt MacDermot for generously collaborating on,performing, and recording six songs with me, after our run of his show, The Human Comedy, at thePublic Theater and on Broadway. Three songs are featured on this album, and three on the forthcomingsequel. The bayou fueled Blue By the River (Port of New Orleans.)Jesse, written by Janis Ian, andpermeating the air waves in the days of Be-Ins on the Cambridge Common, and my own song,Charleston For You, animated by a window view of the Hudson River and the Pallasades at dusk,are songs my parents loved. I sang them for their memorial services – Jessefor my mother, GertrudeKirchner, and Charleston For You, for my father, Leon Kirchner. With gratitude, as always, to themusicians for their imagination, sublime expertise, and a labyrinth of musical memories I maynow share with you in this eclectic brew – Lisa Kirchner 2012
Something To Sing About
This CD presents songs by some of America’s reigning composers, many known for their cross- genre writing, including jazz, pop, classi cal, folk and art songs written with distinguished authors for concert, theatre and film venues. The elements are universal—melody, groove, harmony, story and imagery–the musical passport to a chapter in The Great American Songbook.
I chose the musicians on this album from a group of New York’s world class performers in jazz and classical genres—soloists, recording artists and leaders, all well known on the international circuit. I have enjoyed an evolving musical history with them, witnessing their performances, appearing in concerts and making records with them. I invited them to do the project knowing their musical and imaginative proclivities for gorgeous harmony and poetic sensibility. I was delighted to find that everyone could make the recording dates for this exploration of repertoire that was new to many of them. The stage was set with the go ahead from composers and publishers to allow transposition of keys and improvisation. I am also fortunate in having had personal associations with almost all of the composers on the album. The common denominator among them, and the reason for these life-long connections, was my father, composer Leon Kirchner, whose music is also represented on the album. It has been thrilling to unite on this album, composers and performers who have had a profound impact on my own passage through folk, theatre, jazz, pop and classical music.
The album opens with a Charles Ives song, In Autumn, a poignant lament by a rejected lover. The lilting harmonies evoke the flight of a summer bird weaving a gilded tapestry that unravels in a sudden cadence of betrayal and world weariness. Paul Chihara’s haunting instrumental was written for Sidney Lumet’s 1980s film, Prince of the City, an urban police drama about corruption on the force. I asked Paul, a long-time colleague of my father’s, if I might write lyrics to his classic theme song, and he and Universal graciously agreed. John Corigliano kindly suggested songs that might lend themselves to this album. I chose Fort Tryon Park: September, from The Cloisters, an alluring song in mixed meter. Its melody begins with pure soprano, but moves to a dustier register as modern tragedy darkens an idyllic medieval scene. The original piano part is played note for note, while the other instruments improvise upon the harmonies. Stanley Silverman studied with my father at Mills College. Years later, l had the opportunity to create the role of Irma Vep the Vampiress, in the Stanley Silverman and Richard Foreman production of Hotel for Criminals and its sequel, The American Imagination. From Silverman’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival songs, I chose Sigh No More Ladies from Much Ado About Nothing. The song depicts men as “deceivers” with “one foot on sea and one on shore,” with a lilt as bouncy as the ocean of infidelity it evokes.
Bill Schimmel and I did many concertstogether that included Piaf and Poulenc. We chose Suicide in C Minor, his tongue-in-cheek ballad about an obsessed moll on the verge of suicide following abandonment by her gangster cad. The Brecht-Weill and Tsigan reference is unabashed in this multicultural expat world, where European gangsters gather in the underworld cafes of the 1940s. Ned Rorem, a long-time colleague of my father’s, was my fellow performer one night on a pop “gig” with Judy Collins at Carnegie Hall, where Judy sang one of his songs to his accompaniment on piano. I asked what song of his I might do on this album, and he suggested Early One Morning, set to a poem by Robert Hillyer and depicting a Paris morning brimming with possibilities and young love. The mellifluous tune riding a ¾ waltz with a subtle layer of dissonance evokes a sense of passage. The piano part is played as written, and the band improvises.
John Adams studied with my father at Harvard and was a welcome visitor to our house. Leila’s Song, from I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, Adams’ musical theater opera, which premiered in 1995, is an intimate confession of longing for partnership in love. With lyrics by June Jordan, the song evolves into a cathartic emotional self-realization in the aftermath of an earthquake in Los Angeles.
Crazy Love, Crazy Heart is a song that I composed by way of a harmony exercise that evolved into a folk-jazz tune over a French waltz. The lyrical excursion details an attraction that leads the protagonist reeling into crazy love in a carousel of misadventure at sixes and sevens with time. The original lyrics to the traditional song, The Little Horses, or All the Pretty Little Horses, sung by Odetta, depict the violent truth of the scene with “birds and bees pecking at his eyes,” as the baby of a slave is abandoned by his mother who must work in the fields while exposing her child to the ruthless sun. I was only eight when my parents introduced me to Aaron Copland in Aspen. Copland’s arrangement of this traditional ballad conveys sweetly the chorus of little horse hooves and the miniature coach–the toys of a baby in a protected universe. Yet the off-kilter rhythm of the verses evokes the underlying tragedy of a broken world. My father loved this song, and I sang it at his memorial ceremonies. David Del Tredici, a long-time colleague of my father’s, brightened our house from my teen years and on. We heard the New York Philharmonic premiere of his Final Alice, sung by Barbara Hendricks, which featured Acrostic Song among its musical delights. The lyrics by Lewis Carroll, spell the name of Alice Pleasance Liddell. It was the composer’s wish to express the “undercurrent of longing” evinced by the young Alice. The subliminal love story–unrealized, but relived eternally in tales to eager children–is conjured by languorous music of halcyon days that mushrooms into expanded notes fading out of sync into a hallucinatory dream.
A student of David Del Tredici and Walter Piston, Bob Telson came to Harvard after his studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Telson’s evocative nuances inflect the song Barefoot that he wrote with K.D. Lang for the Percy Adlon film, Salmonberries. The expression of extreme love in the frozen climate of Alaska, where forbidden harmonies wail in parallel with dogs and icy wind over a vast and surreal blanket of weather and longing, was compelling. When I was in high school, I asked my dad to write a jazz tune for me. In response, he wrote the song, now called Lily and added it to his opera of the same title. “My song” became the genesis many years later for this album. The opera was based upon the novel Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow. The original piano part is here played note for note by Joel Fan, while the band improvises on the harmonies. The slightly atonal tune is underscored by high-speed chromatic runs and some lush major seventh chords. The song’s ironic protagonist swings on her emotional trapeze through a nostalgic ballad of 1970’s self awareness for the entertainment of guests at a cocktail party. Looking into the art songs of John Harbison, another colleague of my father’s who was living in Boston, I discovered the jazz vignettes he wrote with Murray Horwitz for his 1999 opera The Great Gatsby, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. I was drawn to Strange from a musical pastiche of swinging tunes that evoke Fitzgerald’s “Jazz Age.” The song, with its dark edge, invited a hypnotic Bossa Nova groove. The protagonist is led to an ominous realization—on a ledge of alienation— that a “strange” world has replaced the familiar universe of stability in love. When I appeared in a Richard Foreman-Stanley Silverman review, I was introduced to The Photograph Song from Elephant Steps, a cornucopia of multi-genre songs in pop opera form, that premiered at Tanglewood in 1968. Like a lyrical magnet, the song draws one into the scene at a gathering where a photograph, the ultimate tool of self-consciousness, kicks off an episode of existential alienation. The melodious music belies an underlying eccentricity where the dark side lurks—the signature element of a Richard Foreman lyric. Arnold Weinstein, Bill Bolcom and Joan Morris were kind enough to introduce me to a host of the Bolcom-Weinstein cabaret songs. I chose the burlesque showstopper, Night Make My Day from Casino Paradise, which appears in a line-up of comedic yet darkly ironic tunes about the life of big money on the casino circuit. I heard Wynton Marsalis and his group perform his Sophie Rose-Rosalee at Versailles, outside of Paris. It occurred to me that this ethereal and elegant tune might be suited to lyrics as it already seemed to tell a story. He kindly agreed to my writing and performing lyrics for this popular instrumental. The endearing lyrics to Under the Willow Tree, from Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa are surreal, with talking doves and the green toad who, “has swallowed the key to my door.” On the waves of a lively waltz, a virtual armada of harmonic modulations showers down from heaven in the choral arrangement by Samuel Barber. Joel Fan plays Barber’s sparkling piano part, and I sing the melody and several choral parts joined by the instruments in improvised harmony. Long Time Ago, which closes the album, is impr ovised upon Aaron Copland’s arrangement of this folk song from his Old American Songs. In this enigmatic story of early love and inferred tragedy, Copland’s piano part, with its pristine arpeggios, evokes “flowing water” as the scenes unfold in cinematic detail.
This album is dedicated to my father, composer Leon Kirchner and my mother, singer Gertrude Kirchner, with lasting appreciation for the formidable composers and authors who have written these beautiful songs, and deepest thanks to the superb musicians who have interpreted them across the borders of musical genre. —LISA KIRCHNER 2011
In The Shadow Of A Crow
The Very Thought of You with its ethereal melody soaring over the long beats, like desire inching toward a pure object of love, the archaic Hollywood scenario of the modern prototype, the woman who loves too much, rendered in the melodious admission (or submission) of More Than You Know, the ingenuous trepidation embodied in Please Be Kind and the anticipation of the homeward-bound lover in You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, these are the story lines that illuminate some of my favorite ballads and swing tunes, so rich in harmony and imagery. The lazy hammock “two- feel” and the chromatic surprises in the confession of love that is altar-bound in Charles Mingus’s not-so-well-known tune, Baby Take a Chance With Me, is a find, thanks to Frank Lacy’s rendition and to Susan Mingus, who kindly gave the lead sheet to me. It was Gordon Parks, and his daughter Toni, who pointed me toward Don’t Misunderstand, a nostalgic lament about, and lyrical argument for, uncommitted love that graced the movie Shaft’s Big Score, and which is, on this album, dedicated to Gordon. In Paris I met, finally, the composer of Les Parapluis de Cherbourg, and so many film classics, Michel Legrand. Les Parapluis de Cherbourg is offered with a bossa nova spin on the legendary porcelain protagonist’s enduring song, and I hope it adds a new resonance that is pleasing to all, including the composer! Que-reste-t-il?, also a French and American classic, is an impressionistic lament on the passage of time as it dissipates into vaporous clouds, the sort I have come to know so well in Paris, and La Javanaise here bouncing like a helium ball in 3/4 time, is a veritable French anthem, at once celebrating and abnegating love tried and conveniently failed in the carousel of cynical attempts “en passage” toward the romantic ideal. Monday Morning, a traditional ballad, paints a vignette of a young girl’s innocence in conflict with rebellious sensuality and corralled within the social convention of an earlier time, all expressed in the simple minor melody, the beauty of which is never exhausted in repetition. This album presents a number of songs I wrote both on my own and in partnership with some terrific musicians, James Weidman and Ron Jackson, with whom I have performed over many years, and Galt MacDermot, composer of the legendary musical Hair, with whom I worked on Broadway. Blue By the River was written during an idyllic stay in New Orleans, during the Jazz Festival, replete with beads on the balcony and steamboats on the Mississippi at dusk, unforgettable scenes in electric moonlight under a Prussian blue sky. Shut Down the Moon, in 3/4 and “two- feel time,” came to me in the image of an amphitheatre of disappointed love mounted on a papier-mâché set, and When The Dream Is Over, is an ironic deliberation on the high stakes of a questionable love. New songs written for this album include Manhattan Under the Paris Moon, reflections on a cross-continental journey and the surreal dislocations of time and place, and unresolved relationships, all echoed in the disparity of musical idioms and united by a French carousel theme. In the Shadow of a Crow, written in a mercurial weather pattern, and inspired by the flight of a bird past the window, is a groove tune on a romanticized image ruffled by a portentous reality; and I Don’t Believe In Romance, is a song that came to me in a moment of regret and leapt to limerick, materializing musically into an old-time radio swing tune. This album is dedicated to my listeners, to the music, and to the musicians who have interpreted it with me, in this album and over time, always the poets and the painters of the canvass we inhabit together, and to those who have supported the album, yet one more expression of the collective unconscious that resides in the universal Songbook.
—Lisa Kirchner 2008
When Lights Are Low
“When Lights Are Low” is scheduled for an October 2002 release, on Albany Records and will also be available in stores, at www.albanyrecords.com, and via mail order through Gray Bear Productions. See the Recordings main page for sound bites and song listings.
This album began with the choice of each song for it’s imagery and beauty of melody. With evolving performances and the musicians’ gorgeous and “edgy” harmonic and rhythmic illuminations, the interior worlds of the songs opened up. “Mana de Carnival” from the beautiful film “Black Orpheus” has always been a favorite as has “You’ve Changed,” which could not be done without musical deference to Billie Holiday whose vocal nuances remain emblazoned on my memory. I was attracted to the undercurrent of longing expressed in “I Concentrate on You”, the sense of the outsider as an alienated player in a dark drama of unrequited love epitomized in “Angel Eyes”, the shadow world of second chance lovers healed of broken hearts peopling the “Street of Dreams,” and the combination of cruel misfortune and touching tenderness in the haunting folk classic, “All the Pretty Little Horses”. “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, I adore for it’s chilling lyrics detailing the pain of love while the melody wanders harmonically in search of resolution. “Out of This World” welcomed me in via the route of the syncopated Latin groove, which became a wind current upon which the voice could glide evoking the theme of flying. Each song I offer as a gem, a theatre of complex emotion, a magical set illuminated by harmony and rhythm, a world into which one enters to reflect for a matter of minutes on universal themes.
Lisa Kirchner 2002
One More Rhyme
This CD is a crossover adventure- a musical cocktail of classic jazz standards with a dash of continental, a Latin twist and a splash of the pinks. This eclectic atmosphere has always been my home.
“Autumn Leaves” or “Les Feuilles Mortes”, the first song on the CD, was a natural crossover, a standard written in French and English. It set the stage for a trip to Paris in ‘Padam, Padam,’, the frenetic confession about a string of meaningless love affairs. ‘Blue By the River’, a song I wrote with Galt Mac Dermot, tells the story in a pinksy fashion, of love in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”, evoking an American demi-monde, inspired the title track, “One More Rhyme”, which I wrote with James Weidman. “All of Nothing At All’, and “But Beautiful”, are here rendered with a Latin beat. The very same dilemma of perilous love that they portray, overpowers Joana Francesa in a Brazilian waltz, who pours out her heart in French, in Portuguese and back. When the work was done and the tracks had been assembled and sequenced from the red leaves of autumn to “Red Sails in the Sunset”, I realized I had been on a voyage, a road that I always travel when I sing the songs I love. I hope you will enjoy the passage as well. The songs on this CD are gathered to celebrate the journey of the human heart in an international spirit.
Lisa Kirchner 2000