Interview with Morrie Louden
Jazz Police, Joe Montague
Sunday, 08 July 2007

“To me the most amazing thing as a writer is to get a concept in your mind, have it come out through your fingers, find it on the piano, write it down, play it, have someone else hear the melody and get that same thought and same feeling that I had originally. That is the ultimate reward as a writer,” says the personable upright bassist and composer Morrie Louden.

Louden who is the proud owner of an almost three hundred year old Pietro Rogeri upright acoustic bass describes how songs often come to him, “Sometimes I will grab a piece of paper and write down notes, or I will create a manuscript piece of paper and write out the notes so I won’t forget what is in my mind. It is amazing, I don’t know where they come from, it must be God because I can be doing just about anything, and a melody will come to me. I will run to a piano to try and find it. When I do (find the melody), oh man that is just the most wonderful thing in the world, to take a sound that is in my mind, find it musically and then put it across.”

It was with this same enthusiasm and flair for the creative that Louden approached his current CD Time Piece. Reflecting upon the title track he says, “That piece got its name because it literally represents pieces of time. I was very careful in writing that piece. I wrote sections in different periods of time because I did not want to rush it or force it. I had a vision of how I wanted this whole song to lay. It tells a story and there are many stories within that piece. The whole thing is an odyssey. It wasn’t the type of piece that I sat down and wrote in a day or week. It has definitive directions and sounds. If I knew it wasn’t a good direction, or it wasn’t everything that I wanted out of the sound, I would stop, and let it sit until the right sound came to me. I just wanted it to flow.”

“I had a vision when I started Time Piece (the album) and I decided to play out that vision from start to finish, exactly 100 % the way that I wanted to do it, without outside influence. I had the music that I wanted to record, and I had a vision of how I wanted the record to sound. It took a couple of months to put together the right musicians for the record. I was very careful in selecting the right players for the right songs. It was a long process and very expensive, but I did it the way that I wanted to do it,” says Louden.

One of the people that Louden selected to help him create this beautiful CD was renowned vocalist Gretchen Parlato, whose gorgeous ethereal vocals grace the songs “Insensatez,” “A Rosa,” and “Majique.” Louden talks about Parlato’s contribution to the project, “She is a very special, I will say musician, she’s a singer, but she is also a musician. She is very well studied and knows music very well. A lot of singers don’t know much about the theoretical part of music, they just sing, which is a great thing too, but Gretchen is also a musician. She understands everything that she is singing. Beyond that, she has the most amazing angelic voice. She sang everything straight down on the recording. There are no overdubs.”

Although it is often necessary for a composer or arranger to communicate to a vocalist how he wants a particular piece to be sung Louden says, “With a singer like Gretchen you don’t have to tell her too much. I gave her the instrumental music first, and she learned the music from the (perspective) of an instrumentalist playing the melody. She owned it from that point on, and I didn’t have to tell her a thing.”

“The nuances in her (Parlato’s) voice are always a pleasant surprise. You will hear things in her voice that you didn’t expect, such as the way that she will sing certain notes, the way she attacks key notes, what we refer to as the money notes or critical notes in the tune. Sometimes those are the high notes. (For example) I might have expected when I wrote the music that a singer might leave out certain notes but she would attack those in a whole different way. It is beautiful and amazing when a singer interprets a melody and those are the things that you didn’t know were going to come out of the song,” says Louden.

The song “Insensatez” was also heavily influenced by one of Louden’s favorite composers Carlos Antonio Jobim. “I have had people tell me that “Insensatez” sounds like Chopin meets Jobim. I love the way that the song came out because it tells a story that starts in a dark sort of way, but ends up happy. It goes to a real happy place musically,” says the bassist.

In a contrast of styles, the CD Time Piece also boasts “624 Main Street” a piece that Louden describes as a progressive, fusion, Latin type song. “It was extremely challenging physically. That piece is more of an improvisational vehicle and lets the musicians shine more. It is not the kind of tune that you would be humming while you are walking down the street,” he says.

The lyrics to “Insensatez” and “A Rosa” were composed in Portuguese and, like the language, the songs are filled with romantic colors. Not being fluent in Portuguese, Louden had to trust that the lyricists Nanny Assis (“Insensatez”), who also plays percussion on the record, and Magali (“A Rosa”) would capture the essence of his music. Like the weight and texture of a brush stroke from a painter upon a canvas, Louden’s approach to lyrics is precise and detailed. “I am particular about the vowel sounds in the melody. There are times when you have an open vowel sound and a closed vowel sound. They have to work right with the melodies and a good lyricist can do that. If you are holding one note (it must reflect correctly) in the vowel sound of the word. That is very important,” he says.

Most of Louden’s music however comes to us without lyrics and novices to jazz or those less skilled in the nuances of musical composition might ask how a song’s message is to be interpreted without the aid of words. For a musical connoisseur like Louden that is never an issue. “Music is like a fine wine. If you don’t know anything about wine, you might not know the difference between a ten-dollar bottle and a one hundred dollar bottle. The more you know about music, the more you don’t need lyrics to carry you through the song; the melody and the harmony pull you through the song.”

The romance of Louden’s music is further enhanced as the notes resonate throughout his three hundred year-old bass. “It was made by Rogeri who went to school with Stradivarius. This bass was built in 1713. Back then, they would go find a spruce tree in Italy, cut it down and drag it home using a horse. They would then age the wood for one hundred years before even building the instrument. They would keep the wood in the family. We are talking four hundred years ago that the tree was cut down. That is pretty amazing. It (the bass) has a sound that you just can’t get out of the newer instruments,” he says as he goes on to describe the wide grain of the wood, the thin wood that forms the ribs of the instrument and the thicker spruce that shapes the back and top of his prized bass.

Morrie Louden is just a down-to-earth guy when you talk to him, but his music is heavenly and romantic.

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