I love music because it stimulates us on so many levels. Like other art forms, it encourages us to expand beyond our mere "functional" existence and is capable of inspiring our emotions, our imaginations and our souls to fly. My favorite music, the music I listen to time and time again, does that for me. While I'm listening, and for some time after, I feel better, stronger, and more alive - which motivates me to be more creative and productive. Simply put, listening to music makes me a better human being.
However, playing music is even more powerful. That's why I have lived my life as a professional musician. I greatly value music's beneficial effects on my own life, and I believe in sharing that power with others.
Those who already know me tend to view me as an upbeat, positive person. I see the glass as half full. I learned early in life that if I project good thoughts, good comes back to me (in fact, whatever I project, good or bad, comes back). So I have consciously chosen to adopt a positive mindset and in doing so have implemented a host of specific tactics and habits to support that mindset. This choice has paid off: I am happy, healthy, strong and prosperous, and I work through life's various challenges as constructively as I can. I give thanks every single day. I feel luminous: bright, energetic, inspired…and from that feeling comes the title of this project.
The jazz music on Luminosity is intended to express my optimistic, go-out-and-get-it-done point of view and, I hope, to enhance similar feelings in the listener. I believe the power of the jazz language and style is based on the energy, intelligence, resourcefulness and soulfulness of the Africans and African-Americans who withstood American slavery and the many challenges of life after slavery. Over decades, jazz has evolved marvelously to be embraced by people of all nations and races. It embodies freedom, fosters creativity, demonstrates intellect, symbolizes democracy, and inspires motion and emotion, all while it entertains. It is a fantastic music style for conveying luminosity.
My Organix groups have been working together for over 12 years, and our synergy is runs deep. Drummer Cecil Brooks III is renowned for his high energy, dynamic grooves and attentiveness to musical detail. Kyle Koehler's harmonic prowess, melodic clarity, swinging groove and robust blues feel make him one of the leading organists on the jazz scene. The three of us have worked at many venues, but our "home" was Cecil's Jazz Club, where we worked regularly throughout its ten year history. We have a number of recordings to our credit including The New Hang (HighNote, 2004), Workin' (HighNote, 2006) and most recently, Full Circle (Creative Perspective, 2013). Full Circle features my long-time friend and colleague, the sultry and sassy vocalist Vanessa Rubin, along with big-toned and hard-swinging guitarist Dave Stryker, who also joins us on this recording.
Each tune on this CD allows me and my bandmates to express our respective and collective "luminance". My tunes and arrangements can be challenging - especially harmonically - so we're all on our toes. I enjoy pushing myself and my band as it forces us to do our homework. Subsequently, we (hopefully!) express ourselves soulfully and freely, with the goal of creating rich, substantive music. Cecil, Kyle and Dave always do an amazing job!
Naturally each song has its own individual story. The opening track "Luminosity" was inspired by John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (thus the subtitle "First Steps"). Its lively melody is similarly based on descending major seventh chords, but has more extended elements. I chose to deviate from the "Giant Steps" cyclical chord approach and wrote a through-composed chord progression to accommodate this.
I wrote "Jive Turkey" for a student band I was working with in West Orange, New Jersey, which is the reason it is subtitled "West Side". The bass line is related to the one in the classic Jaco Pastorius tune "The Chicken," and its title comes from one of the classic comedic "insults" of some of the zany 1970s African-American sitcoms I still sometimes watch.
When I worked with Roy Haynes from 1988-1998, we regularly played "Bud Powell" and since then it's been one of my favorite tunes.
I composed "Do Love Me Do" as the theme song for a Valentine's Day episode of the Bill Cosby inspired Nickelodeon TV show Fatherhood. It features alto flute.
I originally composed "The Time We Shared" for Project Poetry Live, a show produced by the same great folks who founded the Litchfield Jazz Camp, which I've had the honor to head up for many years. The song was inspired by a student's poem.
Claudio Roditi, one of our most respected trumpeters, is featured on the classic "American songbook" standard "I Could Write a Book," which I arranged with him in mind.
2015 is the 100th year since the birth of the great composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn, so I was inspired to add the lovely "Chelsea Bridge," which I perform on solo saxophone. The arrangement is based on harmonic motifs that extend from the melody with different intervals for each A-section. In the 1st A, I use seconds (major and minor); 2nd A, I use thirds (major and minor); and in the last A, I use fourths (perfect, augmented and diminished). In the final last A, I use chromatic steps.
"Walkin' the Walk" was inspired by the great leaders with whom I've worked: the powerful, confident people who do what they say, and say what they mean. They include Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Mulgrew Miller, George Coleman and others.
When my daughter was little, I watched Disney's Aladdin many times with her and was consistently moved by the beauty and optimistic tone of "A Whole New World." I knew it would be a great fit for flute, so I arranged the tune specifically for that instrument.
Herbie Hancock's classic "Driftin'" is another favorite that makes me smile every time I hear it, and that's certainly central to the intent of this project. Soulful alto sax man Sherman Irby and I clearly have a blast playing together on this one!
I sincerely hope that Luminosity is as much fun to listen to as it was to make. Onwards and upwards - I hope to see you at the next gig!
- Don Braden, June 2015
Don Braden is a world class musician who has recorded and toured with a number of jazz luminaries, and has produced 19 albums as a leader. He spent his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky where he learned saxophone and flute while playing in school bands and exploring the funk and rock music of the 1970s. He attended Harvard University as an Engineering major but decided to pursue his love of jazz, eventually being dubbed as one of the so-called "young lions" during the 1980s. Braden has written hundreds of compositions for a variety of ensembles, from duo to full symphonic orchestra, including many for TV and film. In addition he is a highly experienced jazz educator, having taught at several institutions (including Harvard University and the Litchfield Jazz Camp), and having presented numerous workshops around the world.