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MP3 Rex Cadwallader - Simple Gifts

SIMPLE GIFTS, the new solo CD by jazz pianist Rex Cadwallader, is a collection of jazz improvisations on Anglican (Episcopalian) hymns. Each track is a unique version of a familiar hymn, with reharmonizations and stylistic treatments.

12 MP3 Songs
NEW AGE: Meditation, JAZZ: World Fusion

You would think, wouldn’t you, that choosing which of the seven hundred or so songs contained in the Episcopal
Hymnbook 1982 would be an impossible task? Nearly every hymn is a favorite of someone’s, or has deep
meaning through associations both happy and sad. Which to choose? The perfect solution was, fortunately,
close by. I asked my wife Nancy to be the producer of the cd, and to choose her favorite hymns. She seems
to know nearly every one by heart, and I knew that her choices would reflect both her own deep commitment to
the music and a sense of how I, as the performer, would approach this familiar repertoire.

It was, for me, a process filled with some uncertainty and some fearfulness. As a jazz pianist and composer,
it’s a relatively easy thing to improvise over blues changes and jazz “standards,” but even in that repertoire I’ve
always tried to follow the path of finding the composer’s original intent and maintaining a faithfulness to the spirit
of the music. The question, in approaching music from the Anglican tradition, was whether I could retain both
the spirit of the music and the spirituality of the text in a way that would allow me to improvise in the jazz
tradition and reflect my own spirituality. I adopted the precept that I would - admittedly based on my own
experience and taste - let the simple beauty of the music shine through, and allow my performances to
discover improvisations that seemed to flow naturally from that beginning.

Simple Gifts, when it appeared on Nancy’s list, seemed a natural choice not only for improvisation on it’s lovely
melody and harmony, but as the title of the cd. This gentle Shaker melody captures a purity of belief and
simplicity of faith, and the approach to improvisation on this track reflects that in a simple, repeating chord
progression which is more modal than tonal.

Lully, Lullay, a Coventry carol from the 15th century, received a gentle jazz waltz treatment reminiscent, I
think, of Toots Thielmann’s Bluesette. I’ve always loved this at Christmas, though it’s not heard with the
frequency of other carols. Actually, one of my favorite recordings of this was done by The Kingston Trio
(remember them?) in the early 60’s.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is Nancy’s favorite hymn, and I tried to give this a particularly tender and
loving interpretation. I’d like to think that in listening to the recording I also hear something of my deep
admiration for the music of the Romantic pianist composers Chopin and Liszt - maybe you will, too. The melody
is a 17th century French carol, but the harmonization is my own.

Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming is my own favorite Christmas carol. I don’t remember when I first heard or
sang it, but I have a particular fondness for a version we sang in the Varsity Men’s Glee Club at the University
of Nebraska (a few years ago), and it might be true that I first truly understood poetry in the simple imagery of
the words to this beautiful melody.

I’m very sure that this is my first acquaintance with this lovely hymn, Breathe On Me, Breath Of God, and
I’m grateful to Nancy for putting it on her list. It’s a very short-form melody in comparison with other tracks on
the cd, but in it’s simplicity lies its charm, I think. It’s remarkable how many hymns are in triple meter (3/4
time), and how comfortable they seem in the context of worship.

Hail Thee, Festival Day (Salve Festa Dies) by Ralph Vaughn Williams receives a lively treatment here. I was
inspired to create a Latin American/Salsa feel, because it somehow seemed appropriate. I admit to having had
a great time recording this, and hope that you’ll hear it in the uplifting spirit in which it was intended.

For All The Saints (Sine Nomine), another of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ compositions, is usually heard and
performed as a powerful and rousing celebratory hymn. Here, though, I’ve given it a more tender, even
sentimental, touch, and a gentle reharmonization that reflects the more pensive mood.

In The Bleak Midwinter by Gustav Holst, is another beautifully simple melody in the Anglican tradition. I’ve
approached it in a slightly different manner, smoothing the strict 4/4 meter with a triplet-based 12/8 feeling,
which allowed me to play the music in a gentler, more linear fashion. The character of the original is very
march-like, yet the melody and the sentiment of the text seems to suggest a more peaceful, spiritual intent
which I’ve tried to capture.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is offered here as a more rhythmic variation of the more chant-like traditional
version. Of all the tracks on the recording, this is the one that is perhaps farthest musically from the original.
The slow salsa rhythm underpinning the 15th century chant is certainly a fusing of very different
traditions. Yet, perhaps it suggests in a broad way the diversity of the contemporary Church more
poignantly in this juxtaposition of the ancient and the contemporary.

At The Name Of Jesus (King’s Weston) is the third composition of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ on the cd, and
perhaps here I should just make the, by now, obvious point that his music has, for me, a power and majesty
that seems to reflect a strength of faith coupled with a unique musical dialect which is entirely linked in my mind
to the traditions of the Anglican Church. I think that this particular rendition represents the directness and
strength of his music in the simplest way possible.

Amazing Grace is possibly the most popular, certainly the most well-known, of hymns. In this performance I
tried to capture many of the traditions associated with the cross-denominational and multicultural nature of this
simple statement of faith, from Scottish bagpipes to gospel, without losing it’s fundamental beauty.

Were You There? / Simple Gifts begins with a traditional playing of this hymn from the African American
spiritual tradition, embodying elements of the blues tradition so vital to jazz and modern popular music. This
again recognizes the broad diversity of the Church, and the merging of many musical and cultural traditions
through their coming together in faith. Finally, though, the opening theme of Simple Gifts returns, which for me
symbolizes the circular, eternal nature of our lives, our loves and our faith.

Thanks to Oxford University Press for their generous permission to use the Ralph Vaughn Williams selections
mentioned above.

Rex Cadwallader
September 2005

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