Birder started as a piece of music written for solo tenor banjo as a study of the music of Charlie Parker, ‘Bird.’ It was composed by applying various tedious musical operations – affecting tessitura, duration, key, etc. – to material from the Omnibook, a well known collection of transcriptions of Parker solos published by the American kingpin of jazz education, Jamey Aebersold. Whenever I hear Charlie Parker music (rarely and usually by chance) I am reminded that he is still a miracle. It's nice to know that I have at least that in common with Professor Aebersold, whose work I am clearly indebted to here.
This part of the piece, the melody I guess you would call it, took an eternity to create as I had made a pact with myself to obey certain constraints. These constraints were ridiculous and I have since made a pact with myself never to do such a thing again. To give you an example, I started by taking the first bar from the first solo then the second bar of the second solo and so on. When I got to the end of the book I simply went to the second bar of the first solo and so on. I entered all of this stuff into my computer in this painstaking manner and then went about fiddling with it in ways that I mention above.
Why I did this to myself I can't say for sure and if listeners deciphers anything ‘Charlie Parker’ about this music I will eat my shoe. I simply wanted to write a long melody that didn't repeat and that took place all within the first position of the banjo. Why it didn't occur to me to just improvise one is a mystery. All I can say is that the meditative quality of composing seems to help me get through the day and at the time of writing the thing my wife was expecting a baby, I was working construction, and I was in a state of denial, panic and fear which I have since learned is the hallmark of most first-time expecting fathers… with good reason.
This music was recorded in one take by me and Jean Martin who decided (I think because of the name of the piece) that he would simultaneously record sounds immediately outside of his studio in Toronto's west end. If you listen carefully – and really there is no need to; please just relax and enjoy it – you will hear pages being turned and sighs of exhaustion. The thing was just too long to take a second crack at it – “only so many hours in the day,” “time is money,” and so on.
When we were playing with the mix between the environmental sounds and the banjo, I think we found the piece’s completion as well as an unexpected link with the fine art of birding.
Roger Tory Peterson lived what I think was an ideal life that was rich with art, science, love, family, career, and total commitment to his work. Birds are in rough shape these days in North America and they are unquestionably the best singer-songwriters we have. I think very highly of the late Mr. Peterson and feel honored to have been in touch with his family around the release of this record. It seems appropriate to dedicate this record to him as well as to Charlie Parker who, sadly, seemed to have had a much harder time of things than Mr. Peterson. I can't possibly know this but I think they would have liked each other.
There is a little something that we cooked up at the end of Birder that is meant as a treat for the listener who gets through the thing. Of particular note are Christine Duncan's trombone and theremin contributions that are really worth the wait. The recording, mixing, mastering, cover photo and layout were all completed in one lovely day while I was living on a couch.
Now, as I hear it, this CD is the piece Birder. The little black notes on the page, as usual, were just the first part of its construction. The mix, artwork and the dedication are every bit important as the music. God bless America.