"Intimate Notebooks" - 2023 album by Steve DeDoes (click here for the “Overview” post – also includes helpful links to the music of “Intimate Notebooks” on YouTube, Spotify, other major digital platforms)

(click here to access the 1st part of this article)

After transposing the key of “A World Unknown” in order to fit the melody within April’s current, “more mature” vocal range, DeDoes worked hard to develop a successful arrangement of the piece.  “When I first composed the song itself, I certainly had Burt Bacharach in mind,” he says, referring to the unusual twists and turns in the construction of so many Bacharach songs.  However, Steve also saw the opportunity – given the nature of “AWU”, along with its lyrics and subject – to develop an overall composition that helped to communicate and expand the layers of the song’s meaning.  As a result, “A World Unknown” doesn’t just open up a “solo section” taken from the form of the tune, as with so many jazz-type songs.  And, while it utilizes the sensibilities of many pop-type tunes (ala Bacharach), it also employs a sophisticated arc of thematic development – and subtle surprise as well – over the course of the piece.

A key element of this sophisticated arrangement is DeDoes’ piano style.  And across the entirety of “Intimate Notebooks”, he sought to explore a range of his approaches to the instrument, along with its role and utility within a number of musical combinations.

The intimate ingredients of solo piano get revealed further through Steve’s recordings of “Nobody Does It Better” (a tender, lullabye-like approach to the well-known “James Bond” theme) along with a brief original composition, “Moments for Reflection.”  Both of these solo numbers present dramatic and emotional moments by focusing upon the “inner lines” of harmonic and melodic progression, and delicate phrasing.

soloist Mattie DeDoes

More collaborators, however – along with more diverse musical styles – join in to help out with the range of recordings across this album.  Saxophone soloist Mattie DeDoes “announces his presence with authority” (a baseball reference that befits the former collegiate pitcher) when his alto sound leaps into the mix of a catchy jazz-funk track entitled, “Hopped Up & Distracted.”  For lovers of pop-jazz, DeDoes wrote this ditty based upon the blues-based changes of a memorable song recorded years ago by Al Jarreau (“Distracted”).  On “Intimate Notebooks,” this instrumental creates a “change-of-pace” of intensity level, while still keeping the piano front-and-center as the central player in the equation.

vocalist Emma Aboukasm

Another vocal stylist of distinction enters the room – when Motor City-based Emma Aboukasm sings the lead on Steve’s compelling and unusual ballad, “Frozen In Ice.”  “Emma’s ability to so easily achieve a detached, but captivating, ‘cool’ was very important to the success of this recording !” enthuses the composer. “I think she nailed it.” The lyric employs a strong sense of allegory; while clearly a commentary on a relationship, speaking to a second party who is (frustratingly) “frozen in time”, this song also becomes a broader metaphorical statement. It is, ultimately, a lament about how so many larger issues cannot, or do not, advance – because people are so often chained to the past. The arrangement of the song, while starting off with the sophisticated invitation of the piano accompaniment, also employs a sparsely-scored string quartet – along with other unique textures – in order to create a sense of opaqueness and vulnerability. Another transcendent Mattie DeDoes sax solo helps to elevate the tension, and the longing, in this poignant number.

The final three selections on this album – while they present some of the greatest, most intimate songs of all-time – are certainly NOT afterthoughts, and also are each products of a great deal of contemplation, design, and craft. Mattie’s lead alto artistry comes full circle, along with Steve’s inventiveness, in the unusual journey presented as “Jazz Fantasy on ‘What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life‘.”

Steve elaborates upon the thought that went into this piece: “I wanted to create a sense of timelessness – while also expanding on the true dimensions of what one’s remaining lifetime might really mean,” he says. “Our lives do, of course, take so many turns. When we actually take the time to think about our futures, from any given point, there really are so many avenues of possibility. This song (of course, a Michel Legrand classic) certainly speaks to those aspects – but I wanted to explore that, and take it further.” The end result is a threading of the song through a composition that is over 7 1/2 minutes long. It winds through new, complementary motifs; changes in style (including latin and swing grooves); improvisational conversations; and ultimately arrives at a questioning ending that does not totally resolve. A steady, possibly conclusive solo piano statement proceeds to grow into a repeating, inviting, and somewhat restful “vamp” that just sort of travels off into the sunset…

And finally, a quick look at two other jazz combo pieces that round out the concert that is “Intimate Notebooks.” The jazz standard “The Shadow of Your Smile” indeed starts off the whole trip.  Always one of Steve DeDoes’ favorite songs, he borrows heavily here from an arrangement that was recorded in the 80’s by Pieces of a Dream and the group’s signature keyboardist James K. Lloyd.  “This is a jazz style that I’ve always enjoyed, and I always found that this sort of smooth, ‘funk-jazz’ approach seems to appeal to just about everybody,” Steve says.

DeDoes takes that style one step further with his trio arrangement of “There Will Never Be Another You.” “Another favorite song,” he says, succinctly. “I wanted to have it ‘swing’ in that jazz-funk style, but I also sought to build a satisfying statement with it.”

Throughout his years of study with Matt Michaels (see the earlier section of this article), Steve DeDoes always appreciated how Matt would constantly introduce a new layer, a new dimension, or a new twist to any given musical concept. “Whenever I would show him an idea, or demonstrate a capability…Matt would always respond by asking, ‘yeah – but have you thought about THIS ?’ He would then proceed to play a passage in a different style, or he’d light up as he described musical options that could be explored. I like to think that I’ve incorporated a lot of that thought into the music I have made, and in the work that I represent.”

“I hope that Matt is somehow able, whereever he might be now, to listen in to my ‘Intimate Notebooks‘. Perhaps one of these streaming platforms has connections to the hereafter. And if he can indeed check it out — I sincerely hope that would be proud of this music, of me, and of all of us.”