Songwriting: Jazzing It Up

Our Take On The Venerable American Art Form

In last week’s blogpost Songwriting: Bossa Nova, I talked about the thought process that we went through in composing our four Bossa Nova songs.

Every one of our songs tells a different story – and each song has a different story of how they came to be. The four songs listed below have unique styles yet all have a foundation in contemporary jazz:

3. Play Something Blue

I came up with the concept for this 50-50 collaboration with David: Amid the everyday pain and stress of life – music can be a drug that soothes your soul. I composed the melody and wrote the verse and bridge lyrics. David wrote the amazing rap lyrics. I’m constantly amazed at David’s storytelling prowess, seeing so much storyline elapsing in such a short amount of time.

David had enlisted Maya Victoria for several songs in his own D-Varg solo releases. I loved her sound and decided to reach out to her for this song.  David is the main storyteller through his compelling rap, while Maya carries the melody, chorus and harmonic background parts. Maya and David have an incredible chemistry in this song.

Tom Povse’s brilliant arrangements for flute and tenor sax give this song a lush contemporary jazz flow.  Tom also trades improvised parts with John Lewis’ tenor.  Throughout all of this we hear Tony Song bringing masterful electric guitar phrases.

Music and lyrics by John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: D-Varg (rap vocals), Maya Victoria (vocals), Tom Povse (flute), John Lewis (tenor sax)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida
(drums), Stan Muncy (percussion).

Listen to the song

7. Stormy Weather

David composed the song “Stormy Weather” and arranged all vocal parts. This is a praise song dedicated to God, with the intention to remind people that there is always One looking out for us at all times.

After David completed the composition and we laid down the rhythm tracks in our first sessions, we brought Ricki Wegner into the studio for vocals. Ricki’s soulful voice was perfect for the vocal parts arranged by David.

After that session, David still felt that something was missing. We brought Tony Song back into the studio with his electric guitar. Tony laid down superb improvised guitar runs throughout the song. As a finishing touch, David brought DJ Jay Midnight into the studio to add special coloring as only he can do.

Music and lyrics by David Vargas
Featuring: Ricki Wegner (vocals), D-Varg (rap vocals) , Tony Song (guitar)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion), Jay Midnight (DJ)

Listen to the song

11. Views From My Window

The concept that I first envisioned for this song, was a look at the dark, painful side of living in the inner city. I realized that this song would be perfect as a contemporary jazz-hip-hop crossover. David carried the concept one step further by creating the device of a window in which the main character looks out at his/her world through.

I composed the melody and wrote lyrics for the first verse. I felt that this story should be started with our rapper as the storyteller, setting the stage for the dark city landscape. David wrote a compelling 8-bars of rap which smoothly eases into my first verse.

From that point, David and I kept writing melodic and rap lyrics as the story unfolded in front of our eyes. I thought that we could simply repeat the same rap intro lyrics on the way out. Just before going into the studio, David wrote new rap lyrics for those final 8-bars.

In the studio, working with Matt Blaque on vocals was amazing. Matt’s style and tone seemed a perfect fit. As I mentioned in my blogpost about our song “Right Next To Me”, Matt always gives 150 percent: He first laid down the lead vocal parts, then he went on to response phrases that I arranged, and lastly, he gave us a full library of harmony parts. Matt Blaque is a true pro.

As Executive Producer, I see so many creative surprises along the way. One special surprise was the amazing horn arrangements from Tom Povse. Tom arranged superb parts for Trumpet and Tenor Sax which give this song a cool bebop feel reminiscent of Miles Davis. These parts were expertly performed by Gil Cohen (Trumpet) and John Lewis (Tenor Sax).

Music and lyrics by John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: D-Varg (rap vocals), Matt Blaque (vocals), John Lewis (tenor sax), Gil Cohen (flugelhorn)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy
(percussion); Horns arranged by Tom Povse

Listen to the song

15. Hortensia

This song is a tribute to the official flower of my ancestral home, Faial Island in the Azore Islands of Portugal. You’ll find tiny Faial 900-miles off the coast of Lisbon Portugal, in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean.

When you travel there, you’ll see these beautiful blue flowers everywhere. We call them Hydrangeas in California, but in Faial they are Hortensias – the official flower of “The Blue Island” – Faial.

I had the honor of introducing my wife and our three children to Faial on a family vacation in 2015. David and I were in the midst of preparing our “Bossa510” album, but we took advantage of this trip home, to write a new song dedicated to beautiful Faial and it’s famous flower. Our songwriting sessions were delightful, hanging out in our vacation rental condo, looking out at beautiful Pico Island across the channel. David came up with the concept, he composed the melody and the very complex chorus as well as one verse. I wrote lyrics for two of the verses.

Several years ago we managed to plant Hortensias in our backyard in The Bay Area, but we’ve only seen white blooms. In Faial these lovely flowers range in color from white, to pink and other shades. The most common color is the beautiful blue, that gave our island its name.

Music and lyrics by John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: Nick Neira (vocals), Stan Muncy (vibes)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion)

Listen to the song

Next Week

We’ll bring you a behind-the-scenes look at composing songs that are ballads. Visit our 510JAZZ Blog page next week to read our new blogpost.

Blessings to you all.

John Vargas

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