John Nazarenko was my son Jonah’s music teacher for, oh, so many years — I’ll always remember those drives out to John’s rambling house that seemed to hug pecariously the shore of Fish Creek a couple of miles from where it emerged from Saratoga Lake, heading toward the Hudson, open fields and flood plain on the opposite shore, the long driveway pocked with icy fissures and potholes in the winter. I was always a little surprised he didn’t float away in the spring floods. John was/is artist in residence in the Music Department at Skidmore College (also on the jazz piano faculty at Williams College), but he has spent an immense amount of time nurturing local kids, teaching them their chops, producing their band CDs (including two for Jonah). I used to enjoy stopping sometimes in his studio (console like a space station bridge, banks of speakers and hard drives) and talking about his personal music projects.
So it’s a pleasure now to be able to present on Numéro Cinq John Nazarenko in performance. John is a big man with a drooping mustache, and, to me, the dark, churning rhythms of Greg Allman’s 1969 hit “Whipping Post” seem to fit the personality. But the light, lovely lilting melodic line of “Behind Blue Eyes” (Pete Townsend, 1971) is a complete and delightful surprise, a beautiful reinterpretation of the somewhat droning, despairing original — oh, what you can do with a piano (to me, always the instrument of clarity). The two together are gorgeous, classics of rock translated into jazz. Both performances are from John Nazarenko’s 2011 CD Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
As an instructive comparison, I placed youtube videos of the originals at the very bottom of the post. It’s fascinating to hear the variations, also the similarity in the differences, and the pull of two quite disparate musical traditions.
Behind Blue Eyes
John Nazarenko is an Artist-In-Residence at Skidmore College Music Department and is an Artist Associate in Jazz Piano at Williams College. He teaches jazz piano, jazz ensembles, and electronic music. He performs in concerts and clubs and has released several CDs. He has written two textbooks in jazz studies: Jazz Piano: Technique and Improvisation and Jazz Standards, a book and CD set. Additionally, he is an audio producer and studio owner and has produced broadcasts for NPR and CDs in jazz, classical, folk and rock music.