Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Elton John and David Bowie put aside differences and share a couple happy moments

April 19, 1992: Musicians rehearse for the April 20 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert to take place at Wembly Stadium in London. The rehearsals took place at Bray Studios in Windsor, England. The band Queen rehearsed with many artists for the emotional tribute concert for their fallen lead singer Freddie Mercury who passed away from Aids in November 1991.

The following pictures highlight David Bowie sharing a couple rare moments of personable interaction with Elton John. These photos are especially poignant because the two rock stars famously fell out with each other early on in their subsequent early 70's rise to superstardom. As rehearsals took part throughout the week prior, the actual photo dates are assumed to be the 19th, but may possibly be earlier in the week.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Flying over Gunnison County, Colorado

July 2019, we had the opportunity to fly round trip with good friends to Santa Fe, NM from Rifle, CO. This section catches us flying south over Gunnison County between Lake City and Powderhorn, Colorado heading toward the San Juan mountain range.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Grey Havens From Home Base - Jeff Van Devender

Grey Havens
From Home Base

My NEWEST composition. The night before the last day of recording, Brett Wilson said to me "Your cd is going to be titled Grey Havens, yet you have no song by that title. It would be cool if you could come up with something!" So, the next morning, Brett told me he needed to run some errands, giving me time to try to put something together. Sure enough, it came to me quickly. I quick recorded some audio files on the phone as it was coming, bc I couldn't afford to lose it. By the end of the day, we had it! This is Grey Havens from our 2019 release "Grey Havens." Thank you for listening!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Rocky Mountain Rag - LIVE from our home

Rocky Mountain Rag
Originally recorded in 2009 for our Don't Ever Forget album. Recorded in Oskaloosa, Iowa at the George Daily Auditorium. This performance here takes place in my living room on our Yamaha G1 piano. Please give a listen and SUBSCRIBE while you are there. 
Hope you enjoy and thanks for checking it out!

Friday, May 08, 2020

Lost Minuet by Jeff Van Devender

Lost Minuet: Jeff Van Devender aka Jeffrey van D
Originally recorded 2009 for the "Don't Ever Forget" album.
I recorded this video at home, as the original recording has somehow recently sprouted a life of it's own, far and away becoming my most played original composition - on YouTube, Spotify, etc.
Please give a listen & give a SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel while you're there. Thank you. via @YouTube

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Behind the MusiK...
Post #5 - Spirit of the Heartland

Behind the MusiK...
Post #5 - Spirit of the Heartland

This is post number 5 in a weekly series dedicated to examining the background behind songs recorded, written and/or arranged by Jeff Van Devender, aka Jeffrey van D, for The JavaMusiK Label. Beginning in 1998, Jeff set out to record and lay down for posterity songs he had written over the course of the previous 17 years. Now, 22 years later, the stories are beginning to be told before they are forgotten. More behind the genesis of that idea can be found on Post #1.

Spirit of the Heartland was the first song to be written following the release of Don't Ever Forget in early fall 2009. As the sessions were wrapping up for Don't Ever Forget, a few small promotional gigs were played in and around the town where the recording had taken place - Oskaloosa, Iowa - where Jeff had spent his childhood. One of the gigs was a one-off at a popular coffeehouse in town, known as Smokey Row.

During this gig, music was primarily chosen from Jeff's first three cd's of material - Ascend, Bending Chords, and the newly recorded Don't Ever Forget - along with the occasional cover song. Several of the songs Jeff has written, recorded and played live possess a theme inspired by or named after something to do with mountains. Long story short, having lived most of his early life and grown up in the midwest, Jeff high-tailed it for the mountains once that became an option.

After naming off and playing a couple of those songs during the appearance, a rather observant and not too shy farmer who was nice enough to attend shouted out, "Where is your song about Iowa??" Insert long pause here.. No answer was available for him, honestly. None.

The seemingly random inquiry that day compelled some drawn-out thought and reflection. 30 songs recorded over the course of 12 years, 2 of the albums recorded in the midwest, one of them in Iowa and the best that could be offered as having relevance to that question was New World Symphony - Largo, on the Bending Chords album. The official story of New World Symphony indicates that Antonín Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville, Iowa - bringing his newly composed New World Symphony with him. His summer in Iowa inspired much of his writing, including putting final touches on the New World and developing other projects as well, following a year directing the National Conservatory of Music in New York City.

Aside from New World Symphony - Largo, there was nothing musically to represent a part of Jeff and where he came from. Sure, pieces of music had been written in Iowa. But nothing was really inspired or written specifically about that life. Returning to Colorado, following the completion of recording, a theme began to emerge over time. As pianist for a couple churches, these themes often began to appear in Jeff's service playing. During church services, Jeff will often balance his service music between prepared selections and service music mood "improvisation" depending on where it fits in the service. 

Over the next few weeks, and without putting much conscious thought into it, Spirit of the Heartland began to take shape. Occasionally, the theme would present itself during the church service improvs, then at home it got pieced together with a little more conscious attention being paid to the direction and form of the piece. The mood felt right. The name came next and it just seemed to fit hand in glove. The opening verse sections indicate a pastoral feel representing the calm and vast countryside. But the mid-section reveals a little more grit and drive, representing rugged determination, individualism and resolve of the American rural farmer/resident. This was the life embedded into the DNA and essence of where Jeff was raised. When being played, it just feels like home.

Composed fall of 2009, the song was too late to be included on Don't Ever Forget. It would have to wait another ten years before finally being recorded for Grey Havens - In the Journey. The recording sessions for Grey Havens took place at SkyDance Mountain Studio in Berthoud, CO. Having recorded a couple cd's over the pervious year, the studio director Brett Wilson brought an ease to the process that enhanced the creative spirit of the process. 

Listening back now to songs like Spirit of the Heartland following the completion of the project, it feels very reassuring to have found the right studio and producer-director and make the 3 or 4 hour drive to Brett's studio for each session. Brett set the tone that helped make a song about "home" feel like home when it was being recorded. Here's hoping you can feel that rural spirit in Spirit of the Heartland.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Behind the MusiK...
Post #4 - Final Farewell

Behind the MusiK...
Post #4 - Final Farewell

This post is being composed on the night of the 12th anniversary of my father's passing. It also happens to be the eve of Easter. For this post, I have chosen to take a deeper look at a song that is near and dear, in that it reflects on a year when a lot of change was happening in my world.

Final Farewell actually began to take shape late 2006, evolving with it's final form being solidified through 2007. The melody to this piece, once again, just came from nowhere. I don't know how it happens, but when some of these melodies arrive, it is almost like they are already written before I start playing them. I cannot say this is the way my songwriting always takes place, but as I sit here and look back, I cannot immediately recall a time or song where that wasn't the case. Final Farewell most definitely does fall into that category of arrival before I got there.

For lack of a better term, let's call it mid-life crisis. By the time I reached my late 20's, I was not thrilled to be getting older. My 30th birthday felt like more of a wake than a celebration. My youth had slipped through my fingers and there was no looking back.

Fast forward 14-15 years. I was now 45. My beautiful twin daughters were now teenagers. I was nearly 20 years into a career with spotty success at best. My passion and love for my chosen profession was waning. On the other hand, I did begin working toward my masters degree in music education. I also ran for, and was awarded, a seat on the state board of music educators - eventually achieving state chair years later.

During this same year, I put myself through a year of facial reconstruction. Within a years' time, I had my nose fixed from a pounding it took 25 years earlier - septoplasty. I also had surgery that involved taking bone from my jawline and moving to my upper front dental gum-line, as the bone holding my front false teeth had rotted away from a ski injury that knocked out my original front teeth 18 years previous. Once the bone began to take root, new teeth could eventually be installed. The previous year also saw me receiving lasik surgery so I could finally see without glasses.

Any of the above items listed separately would be construed as nothing much. However, coming at me in such quick succession, made riding this wave less surf and more Baywatch. I use this term only because I happened onto my own California Baywatch moment this same year when the Pacific undertow had pulled me quite off course, causing me to become face-to face with a Baywatch-type beach lifeguard who felt the need to rescue me.

Beneath all the undertow of this ocean wave called life, a song was brewing. By the time I had the time and ability to sit down and steal a private moment at a piano, a sobering melody rolled out. I played it for several weeks before finding a name for this melody.

As I began to reflect on how the melody made me feel, I realized a recurring sensation of melancholy. Personal change was arriving in the form of greater perceived responsibility replacing a carefree lifestyle with little consequence. Change was in the air, and it wasn't always painless. Loss was soon to follow, along with even more change.

As the song was taking final form, my father passed away. I had already recently lost the last of my grandparents. Soon after losing my father, I changed jobs. Within a couple months, I changed churches I was playing piano/organ for. Amidst all that, we moved from our house we had occupied for 10 years to another community. Change was most definitely in the air. Thus the title of the song.. Final Farewell.

For myself, the song resembled all I was saying goodbye to. Losing my father was chief among them. My first-ever public unveiling of Final Farewell came at my father's funeral when I played it for his wake. Saying goodbye to a man whose influence is with me everyday, who I fought with and against more than I ever should have, who I watched battle more health issues than one person deserves, who was deeply devoted to God along with his wife and family, who loved and lived his chosen profession like I never could, and yet, who I struggle to know and understand as I now reflect on his life 12 years beyond his passing.

Final Farewell was recorded at a location my father recommended to me, a new auditorium with complete studio for recording and a beautiful nine-foot Yamaha piano on the stage. This was a facility he was proud of as it was constructed his final year of teaching, so he got to finish his distinguished career on that stage. When showing off the facility to me, he said, "you should record your next cd here."

Oddly enough, conversations regarding that very topic began to take place at his funeral reception. Morbid sounding? Yes. But, his life revolved around music and the local people involved with it and I have no doubt he was guiding those conversations somehow.

In the end, Final Farewell is about celebrating the past and moving forward. I recorded it July 2009 in my hometown where I had grown up and graduated high school - Oskaloosa, Iowa. It is a song that seems appropriate for certain occasions, conjuring up many feelings when played. I hope you enjoy..

Friday, April 03, 2020

Behind the MusiK...
Post #3 - Synyrgyze!

Behind the MusiK... 
Post #3 - Synyrgyze!

The audio files and graphics for my debut cd Ascend had just been sent off to the manufacturer. Excitement was in the air anticipating the official release of this first cd.

Wait time between the actual submission and shipment arrival is roughly about 3 weeks to a month. During the wait, release concerts were being planned, our new company JavaMusiK was undergoing it's genesis and pre-orders for cd's were being taken. Needless to say, we were anxious for the proverbial wheels to hit the ground.

In addition, during that time, a new song arrived.. We were still living in Swea City, a small town in northern Iowa. I had recently accepted a job offer to return to teaching in Colorado, so we knew we'd be packing up and moving in short order. First, there would be the release of Ascend with 2 cd release concerts - one in the community we had been living (Swea City, IA), and the other in the community where I was raised (Oskaloosa, IA).

The arrival of this new song came about as a theme that became an earworm in my mind. It wouldn't stop. During some down time, I sequestered myself on a Saturday afternoon to the sanctuary piano in the church we had been attending. Sitting alone at that piano, I began to play the theme I had been hearing for some time. It is the main verse theme that takes place immediately following the intro.

As I began to proceed during this session, the melodies seemed to just flow out. It was as if the song was already composed and I was just learning what comes next, section by section. Within the hour, the song was complete.

Unfortunately, the song didn't arrive in time to make it on the first cd release, Ascend. It would have to wait four years for the second release, Bending Chords. But, I did begin to play it at concerts which helped work the bugs out and evolve into a flow.

My first two concerts took place at churches in Swea City & Oskaloosa, IA. I was honored to have my father, who had taught previously in Swea City - and used to attend this church - and was presently a member at the church in Oskaloosa, introduce me at the beginning of both these shows. He was a great speaker, knew how to really get the audience excited to welcome me. This was a memorable way for me to kick off this whole venture that has continued to the present.

So, three and a half years passed. New songs got written, the move took place and life was moving forward. The year was 2002. The time seemed ripe to get into a studio and record a follow-up to Ascend. Having played live in a few places throughout the western Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys in promotion of Ascend, one of the places I played was a B&N bookstore in Grand Junction. While I was packing up, upon finishing, someone came up who had been listening and spending some time on his cell phone (w/ a studio associate, I later learned). We talked and he shared he had a studio and production company in town. Would I be interested in visiting his studio? Absolutely! His name was John Malvey.

Two or three months later, we began our sessions and John was awesome to work with. So many great things I can say about working with him. When it came to Synyrgyze!, John's contributions were priceless. The guitar solo added so much punch to the song, along with the percussion and overall instrumentation arrangement. The whole album was like that - John had an ear and demeanor that helped take your music to the next level.

Finally, the second cd Bending Chords was recorded, graphics added and order placed. We sent my parents a copy of the pre-release. They listened. Next time I spoke with them, my father asked me to guess which song he liked best. I went through several selection titles before finally landing on Synyrgyze! He surprised me with this choice. One of the things he particularly liked about it was it was uptempo.

After releasing Ascend, it quickly became apparent that, while uplifting, the general tone of the cd was all mid to down-tempo. Nothing there that picked up the tempo any. A nice listen overall. But nothing that would wake you from your nap should you drift off. So, a conscious effort became part of the equation to pick things up a bit, at least part of the time, on the follow-up release. I don't remember Synyrgyze! being part of that conscious effort, but it definitely fit the bill. I was proud to finally have a song that could be considered more on the uptempo genre.

Any time I play Synyrgyze! in concert, I dedicate it to the memory of my father who, along with my mother, paid for and supported my piano lessons and growth as a musician. I miss him dearly.

Synyrgyze! on Spotify

Stream Synyrgyze! on ReverbNation

Synyrgyze! on Apple Music

Synyrgyze! on Amazon

Synyrgyze! on Google Play Music

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Behind the MusiK...
Post #2 - Awakenings (The Awakening)

Behind the MusiK... 
Post #2 - Awakenings (The Awakening)

The story begins January 1981. I was a college freshman. The class was Music Theory - second semester. I was about to embark on my first venture into music composition of a full piece of music. I had actually dabbled previously with a theme from a piece of music I was fascinated with. The piece opened with that theme but evolved into another direction. If you asked me to play it today, I wouldn't be able to get very far, as it has mostly faded from memory. This, however, was the song that would wind up being my first official composition. 

The challenge was laid out by our Music Theory professor. We had one week to compose a song in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach. 

The previous semester had been spent learning about unique stylings of Western music, established primarily by the compositional techniques of JS Bach. Parallel fifths are a no-no. The movement of the melody, the harmonic counterpoint and the song structure all factored in. So, the challenge was put forth as a contest. Once the Theory professor had looked them all over, an announcement of who won would take place. 

The key of G was chosen. For the first verse, I pulled together a left hand pattern, commonly known as the Alberti Bass and composed a right hand melody over that. The second time through the verse, on the repeat, the melody picks up a harmony line while the left hand moves to a more complex counterpoint relationship built on more stepwise scale patterns. Looking back, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, the chorus loosely borrowed some thematic material from at least a couple different song selections. Liberties were taken to make the melodic line uniquely mine. I was young. I needed to get the assignment finished. Musicians tend to borrow things. 

The song got completed and transcribed in basic longhand form for the assignment. Succeeding years would see it evolve into a longer form with a fanfare intro and an extended mid-section (bridge) taking form in a key change to e-minor. The outro of the bridge would lead to an eventual return to the original verse/chorus in original key of G followed by the fanfare intro for a conclusion. In live performance, the midsection often sees an extended improvisation. 

May 1988, I married my wife Amy. The song seemed to work as a possible idea for a processional. If any other musical selection was considered, I have no memory of it. The decision was made to use Awakenings for Amy to walk down the aisle to. 

Two thoughts about this: 

First: Standing at the front of the church, the view of Amy in her wedding dress looked amazing - she stood in the doorway to the sanctuary during the fanfare, then proceeded down the aisle once the original opening verse began. Seeing my bride, accompanied by my first-ever original composition at the biggest day of my life was mind-blowing. What an honor to experience this moment. 

Second: This experience was the first (and only) time I have ever heard another person play my music. To say that is a surreal experience is an understatement. Phrasing and interpretation were naturally somewhat different than how I play, which is to be expected. It is a pleasant experience to hear someone play your composition and I highly recommend it. 

The sheet music has since been transcribed on computer and uploaded and can be found here online

An annex (or coda) to this wedding story.. We had two sisters as flower girls in our wedding. One was 6 years old, the younger was 3 at the time. 22 years later, the younger sister got married. I was asked to play piano for that wedding. And the request specified the use of Awakenings as the song to be used for the processional in that wedding. So honored, once again! To be chosen as an inclusion of two people's most special day of their life is overwhelming to even comprehend. And for them to use my composition for the most amazing moment... there are no adequate words..

As for the conclusion to this story, upon review by the professor for the Music Theory challenge, this composition unfortunately did not win that particular recognition. I still remember the face of the girl who was awarded the honor - but do not remember her name or hearing her composition. This selection laid the foundation for me to have enough confidence to eventually pursue additional compositions. They say you always remember your first - in this case, I would agree. 

January 11, 1998 - My first ever recording session in Minnesota Lake, MN. Awakenings was the first song we recorded. More about these sessions will be shared in an upcoming Behind the MusiK post featuring the cd Ascend.

Meanwhile, be sure to check back next week - and each succeeding week -  for another installment of Behind the MusiK.

                                                          Awakenings - Live video 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Behind the MusiK...
Post #1 - Genesis of a Series

Behind the MusiK...
Post #1 - Genesis of a Series

Before my first recording, Ascend, was released on the JavaMusiK Label in 1998, I used to hope a major label would just somehow discover my music and sign me to a record deal thus making my dreams of being a signed musician come true. Over the course of time, my realization that that dream could easily take several lifetimes to make happen evolved into a course of action to develop my own record label and release the recordings myself.

Bending Chords
At that time, I had roughly ten compositions/arrangements in the can ready to be recorded. These songs emerged from 17 years of experimenting with composition and/or developing my own arrangements of songs I liked. I began to recognize the reality that if they were ever to see the light of day, I was the only person who could make that happen. Thus, the genesis of JavaMusiK.

Don't Ever Forget
So now, 22 years on, I have released 66 songs on 6 cd albums. 31 compositions. 35 arrangements. Each song has a story. Stories about how the song originated, how it was recorded, what inspired it, perhaps what drove the arrangement, etc..

Yuletide Reflections
Some of those stories are quickly becoming forgotten. In an effort to help myself remember and keep the stories alive, I have decided to develop a weekly series that will take a deeper look at what narrative might lurk behind each song. Some of these stories occasionally get told at my concerts. Many don't, but their stories are no less worthy of sharing.

Evensong Meditation
Each cd album also has it's own story. These stories will also be shared across the series.
Grey Havens: in the journey

This first posting is officially announcing the inception of this weekly series slated to begin next week.
Stay tuned!

Jeff Van Devender