“I’m Joel, and these are my tunes,” is the way pianist-composer-bandleader Joel Forrester might announce himself at the start of an evening.
JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner
He isn’t pugnacious in the way some musicians are, who assertively say that they are going to play their compositions all night long. No, Joel says it quietly, mixing a wry offhandedness with just a touch of pride. “Here are my children, and I like them myself, but you needn’t. However, no substitutions are allowed, no ordering off the aesthetic menu.” His quiet statement tells us that the pianist and the composer really occupy the same space, seamlessly mingled.
I was at one of Joel’s gigs where a woman — pleasantly but forcefully — told Joel that she wanted to hear him play TAKE THE “A” TRAIN. Joel politely said no, and the woman, undeterred, pressed: didn’t he know it? Joel played the first few bars of the famous introduction to show that his was a choice, not an inadequacy, and then politely explained to the listener that one of the reasons he had this particular gig was that he wouldn’t be obligated to play “A” TRAIN. I don’t think the woman understood the distinction, but she stopped interrogating the pianist-composer.
Here are several of Joel’s “tunes” — more than that to my ears — as he performed them on August 3, 2017, at Cleopatra’s Needle, which occupies its own original space around Broadway and 95th Street. The Players are Michi Fuji, violin; Michael Irwin, trumpet; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Matt Garrity, drums. In form and in performance, Joel’s creations don’t contain cliches, nor do they inspire them.
Incidentally, a serious Joel-alert: he will be at Cleo’s on Thursday, October 19, 7-11, with bassist Hofstra and drummer Garrity, with Irwin coming by and even tenor saxophonist Vito Dieterle. I will be sans camera for once, I think, so you will have to make the scene on your own.
But back to the August revelry and reverie, with three selections: KIRSTEN’S NEW MAMBO, YOUR MOVE, and a melding of FLIP FLOP and a very slow NO QUESTION. This is music you could pensively, happily get lost in. I’ve retained Joel’s banter with the audience because it is part of the presentation, verbal preludes to the music.
A mambo (when was the last time you heard one) for the mysteriously inspiring Kirsten. Explication du texte from Joel:
K’S NEW MAMBO, written for the Chicago wedding of my son’s best friend, caused Henny Youngman to exclaim, “Forrester, you got a hit on yer hands!” forgetting that he’d said that about an earlier tune of mine.
and a tune featuring Michi Fuji, YOUR MOVE. Of this performance, Joel says, “Michi Fuji really hears it!”
A set-closing combination, FLIP FLOP, featuring Dave Hofstra, and Joel’s “break tune,” performed with new slowness, NO QUESTION.
FLIP FLOP arose out of a high school desire to pen a tune like OLEO or BILLIE’S BOUNCE: i.e., one that bites its own tail. NO QUESTION has long been my break tune. It was dedicated to David Sutter of the band Fish ‘n’ Roses (and Creed Taylor’s biographer). Denis Charles used to tell people, “It’s a riff on Monk’s ‘Rhythm-changes.” As indeed it is:
Not the usual, and I am among others who celebrate that. And I hope to see the Faithful at Cleopatra’s Needle on the 19th.
May your happiness increase!