Watch the Haiku online guitar lesson by John Stowell from Modern Chord Melody
My vocalist friend Cheryl Hodge has written lyrics to a number of my tunes, and in some cases supplied titles as well. The chords and ornamentations I'm using on this piece suggested an Asian sensibility of tranquility and introspection to Cheryl, hence her title "Haiku". Her lyrics are about walking in a hanging garden and being in harmony with one's natural surroundings. As I listen to the piece now, her interpretation fits the music beautifully.
In "Haiku", I'm using a combination of embellished chords such as major 9ths and melodic minor inversions, combined with major triads with flatted 9ths in the bass. The progression is a bit unorthodox; as the tune unfolded a few chords at a time (as all of my pieces do), I began to realize that I wanted to avoid traditional jazz harmonies and cadences such as II-V-Is. The piece is played rubato throughout, although some of the individual phrases have an internal pulse that exists for a few bars to move that particular section of the tune along. I like to think of rubato playing as containing spontaneous breaths or pauses which happen organically. I enjoy this approach when playing solo as I do here, but it's also rewarding in a group setting. Learning to "breathe" and feel phrases together in an ensemble without a fixed pulse or meter can be an interesting challenge. With some history together and some shared musical goals, it's possible to take more collective risks together as the level of trust and confidence in your fellow bandmates grows.