Stella By Starlight
Victor Young’s Versatile Vehicle for Variation

As time has gone on, my blog “series” featuring composer Victor Young has continued to expand. In past years, I had selected one composer, looked at many of his songs, explored some biographical information and then created a series of posts with accompanying recordings meant to be enjoyable and educational.

Somehow, when it came to the masterful songwriter Victor Young, this never happened. For some reason, it didn’t seem like there would be enough compositions to create a series. Boy was I wrong. Fortunately, both the Always Learning and Revisiting My Favorite Tunes blogs allowed the music of Victor Young to surface a little at a time.

As my knowledge of this composer’s body of work has increased, so has my admiration for it. Ironically, in addition to When I Fall in Love, today’s featured selection, Stella By Starlight, was the standard with which I was most familiar.

Back in 1988 when I had first begun my graduate studies at New England Conservatory of Music, my composition teacher and mentor, William Thomas McKinley, recommended that I start listening to pianist Keith Jarrett. As a result, I went out right away and bought the Keith Jarrett Trio’s 1985 recording called Standards Live. (It was the cassette tape version of the album to play in my car).

The first track on the recording was the 11 minute 15 second cut entitled none other than Stella by Starlight. This rendition featured a very long solo piano introduction followed by a medium swing-a common approach for jazz ballads taken by many performers. Though the tempo definitely starts swinging as the improvised choruses unfold, the overall orientation is that of a ballad.

As time went on, I always thought of and played Stella as a ballad with the Jarrett recording firmly implanted in my musical memory. Even more than 25 years later, the Diana Mascari Jazz Trio was still performing Stella as a ballad on our gigs in the Hudson, MA area. That is until I happened to hear a local group at the Marlboro Fish Restaurant playing Stella as a swing.

And that’s when it happened. I began hearing lots of swing renditions of Stella – including Keith Jarrett’s version on the 2001 Tokyo performance CD called Yesterdays. By the time I decided to try out some swing interpretations, however, our trio was no longer performing regularly. Since I had my “revisiting” series, this wasn’t really a problem.

It took a quite while for Stella to get its turn on my list of tunes though. In fact it wasn’t until early in 2017 that it was time to give this great standard a go. What happened surprised me though. Not only did I not play Stella as a swing tune, I started giving it a Latin rhythm accompaniment.

If that were not enough, I decided to experiment with some of the settings on my Yamaha P 105 digital piano.

As many of you may remember, a couple of years ago I did quite a few blog recordings using Band-in-a Box music software. BIAB has developed a way for using recordings of actual jazz instrumentalists to create backing tracks for performing musicians.

My piano student Ken Taylor has used BIAB extensively to accompany his own blog recordings for several years. My brother Charles Mascari uses BIAB very successfully to create tracks for his solo guitar performances.

At this point though, BIAB wasn’t going to satisfy my musical requirements. I needed both the freedom that playing solo piano gives me as well as the sounds of drums and bass. Despite the fact that I had experimented with the capabilities of my Yamaha P 105 digital piano in the past, I hadn’t seriously tried to create a blog recording.

As a result, I did three things with the settings on my digital piano:

  1. Selected the Latin rhythm accompaniment that worked best for Stella.
  2. Split the keyboard so that the left hand notes would have the sound of a bass guitar
    (Even though I prefer upright bass, the setting for bass guitar has better sustain and evenness).
  3. Used the Electronic Piano sound rather than the acoustic piano sound. The quality of this setting works better in the “ensemble” setting that I had created.

The great thing about playing Stella this way is that it:

  1. Allowed my left hand bass lines to sound more like an actual bass guitar
  2. Let my listeners actually hear the rhythmic accompaniment that is usually only going on in my head
  3. Gave me another keyboard color to inspire improvisation.

Now that you’ve read my description of what I did and why I did it, I hope you really enjoy my rendition of Stella By Starlight. I had a blast playing it. Listening back to it was fun tooJ

How about you?

Do you have a digital piano that has potential sounds that you might like to explore?

Regardless of your type of piano keyboard, wouldn’t you like to feel free enough to play a song in the musical style that speaks to you?

Wondering where to start?

That’s where the Mascari Piano Studios come in!

Just ask any of our Adult Piano Students. They’ll tell you about all of the enjoyment they are getting from learning to play the music they love!

When you take piano lessons from one of our patient, knowledgeable and encouraging piano teachers, you’ll get the help you need to learn to play the piano if you are a beginner, refresh your skills if you took lessons in the past or take your playing to the next level if you are more advanced. Whatever your skill level, you can learn to play or return to your favorite piano pieces in the style that suits you.

You can even take piano lessons during the summer months. Our unique Flexible Schedule Summer Lesson Program allows you learn to play the piano and still have plenty of time for family outings and vacations.

To find out is taking piano lessons is right for you or your son or daughter, you can schedule a free interview /consultation with me. I will be delighted to meet with you at either our Natick MA piano studio or Hudson MA piano studio locations.

All you need to do to get started is to take 20 seconds to contact us today.

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