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Where The Notes Land...

Updated: 4 days ago



French author Albert Lamorisse wrote a wonderful short story called “The Red Balloon.”  It’s about Pascal, an only child in Paris who becomes friends with a magic balloon (you guessed it, a “red” one).  Well, the balloon follows him everywhere --- to the bus (they get kicked off), to school (the balloon gets expelled), and back home again (Pascal’s mom is not amused).  I won’t tell you the ending, but rest assured that the seemingly simple red balloon takes on a life of its own, transporting Pascal from a bleak existence of loneliness and despair to one of wonder and amazement. 


Thinking about this simple, beautiful story has caused me to wonder about the life of a single recorded musical note.  The musicians labor in the studio, usually following a chart for the general structure of the tune.  But within that structure, at least with the jazz musicians who record for our label, they are somewhat free to explore a range of appropriate musical figures.  They occasionally and spontaneously play a line made famous as part of some other tune, out of respect for its composer and/or other musicians who have brought the tune to the public’s attention.  A “nod” they call it.  But experienced jazz musicians also give “nods” to each other.  Listen carefully to Richie Fudoli’s saxophone solo on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” (cut no. 8 on Don Stiernberg’s “About Time”).  He gives musical nods to the mandolin solo that has just ended.


So besides playing the tune itself, jazz musicians engage in a good deal of improvisational interplay.  Much like the red balloon, the notes that result could go anywhere.  But there’s so much more.  Once the tunes are recorded, mixed and mastered, once the licensing agreements have been obtained and executed, once the art work has been completed, and once the disc has been manufactured, we distribute it to the public.  Man, there’s no tellin’ where those notes are going to land.


One of the musicians who played on “About Time” told us that “But Beautiful” (cut no. 13) has, well, “spiced up” more than a few of his evenings at home with his wife.  A lawyer from Dallas wrote a three-page letter to Don Stiernberg about the day he got his copy and brought it home.  The letter told of dancing around his office, and of playing it for his 15-year old daughter --- who, by the way, said it was “cool.”  There must be thousands of additional stories about where the notes landed.


On behalf of all the “cats” who played on “About Time,” and who are playing on Don’s soon-to-be released new CD, we hope you enjoy the notes.  We hope they land in places and contexts that are or become special to you.  Let us know, won’t you?


Steven Briggs

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