Some thoughts and inspiration behind the music of "Hip Sway"


So I had this idea recently. Many folks have commented, throughout my career, on the titles of my songs. Well, I have to say that song titles, to me, are quite an important part of the end process. I always think that most jazz writers put little or no thought into them, simply justifying them as "instrumental compositions". I think that that is a little bit of a cop out personally. Indeed, we need to make a little extra effort, because it is instrumental music. It takes more to communicate this music, as there is essentially no singer to knock you over the head with lyrics!

I like to try to create a mood or vibe with the title that will set a scene, at least somewhat visually in the listener's head. Do I succeed? Not always. Sometimes. But I have learned that if you can keep a listener guessing, then the artist's job is half done. So with this in mind, I thought I might try to explain why these titles of mine eventually got the job and while I'm at it, tell you a little about how each song eventually came to be. Ok so here goes.


Hip Sway


Hip Sway
I'm going to be really honest here. This song nearly didn't make it on the CD at all! I had turned in the album to my record label and I sat back and thought, "Do I have a hit single?" Honestly, my answer was no. I called my record label and said, "I don't think I'm there yet. I want to go away and write a hit!" Well this is usually the kiss of death for a writer, you know, having to sit down and actually compose a hit. This is when writer's block cements itself deeply.

Anyway, for some odd reason I came up with this melody. However, the track nearly didn't get recorded at all. I took it over to Rodney Lee's studio (my longtime co-producer), eager to play him this verse and bridge I had come up with (didn't have a chorus yet). He was clearly not excited at first. "Sounds like something you've already written Chris", he said.

He convinced me not to record it. So we started to co-write something from scratch. We came up with absolutely nothing! I mean ziltch. Usually we are very productive as writers but not this time. After 2 hours of frustration I said, "Rodney, I am sure I have something, can we go back to the song I brought in, I just know it can be good". So he agreed. We got going and magic happened. A funky little toe-tapper. Anyway, I wanted to call it "Funky Is As Funky Does". Sort of a Forest Gump play on words. I liked the title a lot. When the label heard it they wanted the title changed as they perceived it as a possible single. So, being the amenable chap I am, not wanting to rock too many boats, I said ok. When I decided to call the album "Hip Sway", the single felt like it wanted to be called that too. Dancable, a little to the left, somewhat hip for the smooth jazz format, and so it came to be. Some songs find their way. This was a little fish who swam upstream for a while. Kinda glad it did too.

Glamour Girls
I tend to write music in two ways. I'm extremely old school in my approach. That is, I don't have any recording equipment here at my house, just a pad of manuscript paper, plently of pencils (and erasers!). The first way I write is by picking up my acoustic guitar and singing a melody while thinking up a cool groove or chord changes. I figure if I can sing the melody then anyone, absolutely anyone, will be able to remember my hooks. 'Cos damnit, I REALLY can't sing! The second way is by taking over a germ of an idea to Rodney Lee to work on together, and record it at the same time.

So this song, Glamour Girls, was written the first way, acoustic guitar and bad voice. (I should apologise to my neighbors for years of suffering by the way!)

I love sixties music. It's that black and white TV thing! My favorite music is from generations way gone by. It's fascinating and mysterious to me, and way cool! The groove on this song was inspired by those early funky jazz grooves. I love lots of chord changes too, although I often need to behave in this area as things can get out of hand if I let them. This song just happened as soon as I started playing the opening vamp on my guitar. Probably took an hour to write the basic song. Later I had to fill in the blanks (sax arrangement and so on). While I was writing, I visualized 3 scantily clad female dancers dancing in full retro style to this song. Well let's be honest, visualising semi-naked women has never really been tricky for me but in this instance, they would hardly go away. One day I'm going to find those 3 and have them dance to this song when we play it live. I know, I know, I'm just like all other men, I'm sorry, wuddaryagunnadoo!

How Deep Is Your Love
Well of course this is a Bee Gees song and not one of my titles, but perhaps worth mentioning here. I have always loved this song. Don't know why. Ever since I went to see Saturday Night Fever dressed in loon pants and high heeled boots aged 16 I have had a soft spot for this song. (Ok so I was a very late developer and desperately wanted to go and see X rated movies and drink in pubs. I know, it's sad but kids will be kids).

I think the melody is amazing. Of course the original song may have been recorded and heard one too many times for me to justify recording my own version but nonetheless, the melody lends itself to wonderful expression and oddly enough sits with my style perfectly. I have had mixed reaction to this song. Actually it was not recorded originally for the Hip Sway album but for a compilation CD that Instinct Records released. When it was finished I thought it might be nice to include and so we did.

Big Feet...Big Shoes
Another title that was written toward the latter part of recording this album. One of my early writing influences has been Steely Dan. I make no apologies for it. They are and will always be a timeless duo with artistic genius many of us crave to have. If some of my music is somewhat derivative then so be it.

Some ideas just come out when one writes, and who am I to stop them when they seem to sound quite good at the time. This was one of those songs. I started writing the song by playing (what eventually became) the keyboard vamp, and much like "Glamour Girls", the song poured out and was written almost as fast as the song itself lasts (about 4 1/2 minutes). When the compositional antenna is up, and a little inspiration hovers, I am happy to grab it and run with it. Some things make sense immediately, some things take a little longer. Of late, as I am grabbing the ideas, my question seems to be "What is this supposed to be?" or "Is this right yet?" When I have no more questions I know I have the final answer, and that answer is a completed song, panned out the way it was originally intended. All I am doing is putting it in the oven so to speak. Weird wild and wonderful. And painfully frustrating when inspiration does not appear when you could do with some I might add. The title? remember "Notting Hill" with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant? Julia Roberts commented in the movie, "Well you know what they say, Big feet..........Big shoes". There's a title for me I thought!

What Is Is
I always like to include a couple of tracks on a CD that tend to be a little deeper artistically, and a little more experimental. I like to do this because I feel as an artist I have the platform to do so, but more importantly, the obligation if I want to make a difference in the jazz world. On my first CD the two experimental tracks were "Velvet" and "The Beautiful Woman Of Scant Virtue" (now there's a title!) This album contains 2 tracks in this vein. "What Is Is" being one, "Ultra Violet" being the other.

I really am proud of this song. It was mostly Rodney's baby, the changes and groove coming mostly from him. Yes, it actually is me speaking at the front of the song! When Bill Clinton was in court, over the Monica Lewinsky thing, he was asked, "So Mr. Clinton, what IS your response to this aligation? He replied, "Well it really all depends on what your definition of IS IS". A wonderful, wonderful moment in the history of televsion. And so a song was born.

Pins & Needles
This song was written quite soon after "Velvet" was released and we started playing it live soon after that. The song is a no-nonsense-get-down-and-groove-hard tune! There's nothing remoteley deep or meaningful about it. Just makes you feel good. So good it gives you Pins & Needles!


Good Medicine
This song was written with Rodney in his studio. It is essentially a heavy funk groove with an extremely happy melody. Kind of a juxstaposition in fact. These kind of opposites don't always work together. In this case they did. Ingredients for medicine that is indeed good!

I'm Not In Love
Again, a cover and one I'm sure you know from a great English band named 10CC. I always loved this song. Don't know why. Something extremely sensual about it. That string thing. Ooh, always gets to me!

I recorded this song for the Velvet record and I liked it a lot back then but for some strange reason didn't think it should be on the album. In fact my record label never even heard the song until after Velvet came out. When they eventually heard my demo they called me up and said "We love this!". So we decided to put it on the Hip Sway record despite the fact that it was recorded some years before.

Big Pant People
Another funky ditty that we have been performing live for some time. I got a hold of a talk box to play the solo on this song, as we thought we would get into that 70's funky guitar thing. The song has a hard funky back beat that I visualized young kids wearing baggy pants might groove to. So why the singular pant and not pants? Just an English thing I guess. Easier to say maybe, sillier perhaps. Yes, the last thing I think!

Smile
Another song that almost didn't make it to the record. I wrote this song quite some time ago and I thought it had a lot of potential. However, my record label saw things very differently. (When label executives step in and start telling an artist how to write and produce, believe me there's trouble on the horizon!) We ended up doing 3 remixes of this song and by the time we finished the last, WE were finished! I wrote the song with a good time feel, hence the title "Smile" and by the end of our final mix we were doing anything but smiling! However, we ended up with the best mix despite the torment we were put through.

Ultraviolet
This song was written around the beginning of 1999. Originally we called the song "Beat '99" as it has a strong jungle/drum'n bass feel and a groove that was all the rage in Europe at the time. Club music fascinates me and I get a lot of inspiration from listening to imports with the latest hip groove. It's nice to somehow use that as a backbone for a guitar based composition. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This song, as busy as the groove is against the guitar parts, does work I feel. It's bloody fast though! Blowing on those changes was no picnic. We changed the title as we did not want to date the piece. "Ultra Violet" seemed a descriptive name, especially for that genre. A friend of mind commented when he heard the song, "Wow, there's a song to clean out your sinuses!". Very funny I thought.

Small Talk
There's something about this song. It's a hopeful thing. I don't know. I always think that (provided your antenna's up) a song will write itself. It's like having a baby. The mother cannot make the child be what it is not, as it has a life and soul of it's own. She is just the house! Well, we as artists are just the house! The song IS already. "Small Talk" is an example of a song that was already written before I grabbed a little piece of dust from the air. I wish I could think of a really good explanation for the title but I can't. Having said that, small talk is something I don't do well for the most part. I notice when others are participating however. The song is a throw away pop song which is quite possibly why I named it as I did. It's not deep, it's not meaningful. Just perhaps something to talk over...

Georgina
Possibly my favorite song on the album. I am a sucker for ballads. Believe me, as I get older I will be playing more and more of them. There's something that makes me vulnerable when playing a ballad. It can sometimes bring me close to tears, I have no idea why. Perhaps I need therapy! But as I want to be as sincere as I can when playing a ballad, it is very rare that you will hear me play one live. Ballads, unless they are in the right setting, do not always translate with an audience. I will pick my moments however, and with a captive concert audience, will occasionally take the plunge.

Georgina I think is possibly one of the strongest melodies I have ever written. I am quite proud of it, and don't actually understand how I could have penned it. I know that sounds a little boastful and I don't mean to sound so, but I think once in a while it's ok to acknowledge when you have given your best.

I have a Himalayan cat called George (yes a female!). She is a very good friend of mine, and deserving of a song quite frankly. She just happened to get a really good one!