Photo by Myfanwy Callahan
Thanks to the Drake Hotel


Photo by Myfanwy Callahan
Thanks to the Drake Hotel


Photo by Daniel Smith

Q: What was the inspiration for "It's Just the Rain "?

I started work on this project because of a theory I have about jazz. I have often wondered why the music I love is not as popular as other forms, and why some of the people I know say the don't "get" jazz. I think the answer lies in the differing appeals of rhythm, melody, and harmony. These three elements are most easily appreciated in that order; everyone hears rhythm, many people hear melody, but not as many really hear harmony. Jazz is a very harmonically oriented musical style, and I think it sometimes leaves out important elements of rhythm and melody.

So as I was performing and arranging jazz standards, I was listening carefully to other musical forms that I love (from acoustic pop to funk to Brazilian and other world music). You will notice that many songs on "It's Just the Rain" include melodic basslines or other melodic elements, while remaining true to the jazz style.

Q: "It's Just the Rain" includes two arrangements by other arrangers....

A. Yes, although most of the arrangements are mine, I am happy to include arrangements by two wonderful musicians from Los Angeles. Greg Gordon, who also helped produce the album, arranges September in the Rain as well as two of the originals: It's Just the Rain and Tomorrow. Greg is probably the most versatile and true-to-form arrangers I know. He has a unique ability to play a song in any genre while remaining true to both the song and its new musical setting.

Tamir Hendelman is one of Los Angeles' top piano players, performing regularly with John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, as well as many others. Trained in both classical and jazz, his playing and arranging are exquisitely beautiful and filled with emotional fire. I am pleased to include his arrangement of "Let's Get Lost" on this CD.

Q: Who is Timothy Callahan?

A. Tim is my brother, and a mathematics professor at Arizona State University. In addition to being a brilliant mathematician, Tim turns out to be a great lyric-writer. He wrote the lyrics to "So Long Ago" on my first album, and to "It's Just the Rain", the title track on my second album. He has written dozens of other lyrics, most in the style of Cole Porter; I hope to record an entire album of Tim's lyrics set to my music.

Tim offered to write this for the liner notes on "My Ideal":
"If you have to have a sister, I guess Anna's not so bad."
(You'll notice that My Ideal has no liner notes....)

Q: What was the inspiration for "My Ideal"?

A: This album is really about my love affair with old-style jazz standards. I remember listening to Diana Krall before I had begun my own performing and appreciating the fact that she often lets standards speak for themselves: simple vocal interpretation and arrangements that bring out the lyrics.

As I was choosing songs for my first performances, I got a CD that was a compilation of Irving Berlin songs because I wanted to hear "How Deep Is The Ocean," and I was lying in bed listening to it. Billie Holiday's version of "Say It Isn't So" started playing and I was mesmerized. After the first line I started crying, and I kept crying through the end of the song. Then I hit the repeat button and cried through it again. I was really struck by the perfection of those lyrics, and of the jazz form for conveying that type of lyrics.

Q: But many of the songs on the album are originals...

A: Yes, that's part of my love affair too. At that time I was really taken with certain sets of lyrics like "Days of Wine and Roses" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily," and I thought it would be great to write songs in the same lyric style as the old standards. I've never written lyrics before, though, so I didn't think I could do it. So I emailed my family asking if they could write any that I could write the music to. My brother Tim, who is a math professor, started writing lyrics and soon he was emailing me twice a day with new lyrics! One of them was just stunning, and it appears on this album as "So Long Ago."

But I was so inspired by my brother's outpouring of lyrics that I started writing my own. I studied the lyrics I liked for their form, rhyme scheme, meter, substance -- I really immersed myself. I wrote the lyrics for "I Knew" on a plane on the way to a family reunion, and the rest within a few weeks of that.

Q: What about the music?

A: I find the music much easier. I wrote my first composition for big band when I was in high school, and I've done a lot of arranging since then as well as some composing. The music for "So Long Ago" really wrote itself. For "I Knew" I took a more intellectual approach. The lyrics are in ABAB form, and go from optimisitc to pessimistic back to optimistic. So I countered that with the music, writing minor chord changes under the optimistic lyrics and major chords under the pessimistic ones.

Q: Do you find it hard to balance singing, playing trumpet, arranging, composing, and lyric writing? Which is your strong point?

A: I don't find it difficult -- I think it would be harder for me to suppress some of them and be more single-minded. I'm much more creative when I have multiple projects going on, so they feed one another. As I'm studying lyrics I might come across a solo that I want to learn, or an arranging technique that inspires me.

People are often surprised to hear that I consider myself more of an arranger than anything else. I started arranging at an early age and have done more of that than of improvising or singing. And something about arranging really satisfies my creative drive: when I compose I strive to build a skeleton that can be played many different ways; when I improvise it is creative but fleeting; but when I arrange I really set the details of what will be played, every nuance is exactly as I envision it.

Q: Where did you learn to arrange and what is your approach?

A: Unfortunately, I never went to music school (I was a math major at Michigan). But I had the great fortune of joining a contemporary a cappella group my freshman year that was peer-led, and I became the musical director. We had no music to speak of, so I started arranging. My learning was pretty much trial and error, with a good dose of listening and being inspired by what I heard. After college I worked for an arranging service, doing arrangements for hire for groups around the country.

My approach takes two paths: inspiration and study. Sometimes I just hear something happening in my head -- that's what happened with the arrangement for "My Ideal". But I also study music: arrangements, lyrics, compositions, improvisation. I find something that moves me and then I study it to figure out why.

Q: What about the title track, "My Ideal"? It's an unusual arrangement.

A: Yes, I'm playing with time in that one. It's in 4/4 time (with a straight eighth feel), but I divide the first three beats of each two-bars into four parts, then leave the last five beats very sparse. It gives it a feeling of floating, of relaxed hesitation, of shy hopefulness, which I think reflects the lyrics.