Gratitude, saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Dayna Stephens' eighth album as a leader, is a gift from Stephens to the world, and to himself; simply an album of beautiful music played by a group of master musicians, led by one of the scene's leading artists, that can be enjoyed by the connoisseur or the casual listener. And, on a deeper level, an expression of gratitude from the saxophonist, for the warmth, love, peace and strong connections he has shared with friends, family and fellow musicians, as he climbed his way back to health after fighting Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSG), a rare kidney disease.
Stephens elaborates, "one thing that unites every song on this record is they were all at one time or another ear worms that stuck around for a while, and often returned for lengthy stays. Another uniting factor is that they all have to my ear enchanting, beautiful singable melodies, and give me a strong sense of sentiment. When we recorded these songs I was conflictingly full of hope, peace and uncertainty. Hope that my years would be extended, peace that I was lucky to have made it that far with lots a great moments and experiences, despite the circumstances, and yet, uncertainty, because it wasn't yet clear how the journey was going to continue. Now after receiving so much love and support from so many people in my life, I am saturated with immense gratitude, perhaps completing a circle that started with those ingredients. This collection of songs serves as an expression of that deep-seated gratitude."
Gratitude, featuring Dayna Stephens (tenor & baritone saxophones, EWI, synthesizer, bass-trk 9), Brad Mehldau (piano, tack piano-trk 4), Julian Lage (guitar), Larry Grenadier (bass) and Eric Harland (drums & cymbals), will be released on April 7, 2017 on Stephens' new label, Contagious Music.
Gratitude was masterfully produced by legendary producer, Matt Pierson, and Stephens and his band were guided by music from a number of incredible composers, such as Aaron Parks, Michelle Amador, Rebecca Martin, Billy Strayhorn, Louis Cole, Massimo Biolcati, Pat Metheny, Olivier Manchon and Julian Lage.
More About The Music on Gratitude With Dayna Stephens: Emilie was introduced to me by violinist/composer Olivier Manchon. He dedicates it to his sister Emilie and its got a nice, simple melody that when combined with the pleasantly unexpected harmony creates a beautiful song to connect with.
A dear friend, pianist Aaron Parks, wrote In A Garden. I've had the pleasure of playing the composition with him on several occasions and it often paints scenes for me one would find in a fantasy movie. Some of the visuals in the Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come, come to mind.
Amber Is Falling (Red and Yellow) was written by vocalist/composer Michelle Amador, and has been on my list of favorites since the mid 2000s when we played it in San Francisco with her group, Michelle Amador and the True Believers.
The Timbre of Gratitude is the only original song of mine on Gratitude. In a loose way the happy sounding beginnings of each new section represent the many positive moments of encouragement I have received throughout my journey thus far.
Don't Mean a Thing at All is a song written by the wonderful vocalist/songwriter, Rebecca Martin. I first heard her sing it in a duo setting with our bassist, and her husband, Larry Grenadier, and immediately fell in love with its melody and lyric.
Woodside Waltz refers to a city in Northern California called Woodside, which has tons of scenic views of the SF Bay through tall redwood trees. While recording it we discovered that the recording studio (The Club House in Rhinebeck, NY) had a tack piano, which was perfect for bringing out the essence of this gem written by our guitarist, Julian Lage. The entire band was even willing to tune down our instruments, a dozen cents flat or so, to match the tuning of the piano, which hadn't been given any TLC in some time.
We Had A Sister is a hauntingly beautiful song by Pat Metheny. I first heard this tune, as a young, fledgling saxophone student, on Joshua Redman's second release, Wish. Since that time it's remained a song I've wanted to record.
Isfahan is one of many masterpieces by the great Billy Strayhorn. I'm reminded of Joe Henderson's version he recorded on his album, Lush Life-The Music of Billy Strayhorn. I really admire how personal and intimate Henderson's playing was, which is why I felt it was a good idea to do this one as a trio with Larry and Julian.
Clouds is one title for two songs written by two composers, bassist/composer Massimo Biolcati and drummer/producer/composer Louis Cole. Biolcati's melody, a tune I've played many times while we were both in the Monk Institute, is full of nice, intricate surprises. Cole's version was my introduction to his unique, magical sonic world, which I have since become a huge fan off.