Chris Biesterfeldt


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Phineas Album Notes

The Story:

I first heard of Phineas Newborn, Jr. through my teachers, guitarist Mark Boling and pianist Donald Brown, while in school at The University of Tennessee. At that time, I just listened to them playing different songs or arrangements on their gigs and some of the piano students would play some of Phineas’ tunes as well. In particular, I remember Matt Fries playing Phineas’ music on his gigs in Knoxville. I started buying Phineas’ records and listening a lot. I might have learned a tune or solo or two but didn’t take it much further than that.

When I first came to New York, I had jam sessions at my apartment a couple of times a week – thanks to an understanding wife and neighbors. There were a lot of musicians that I played with during that time but drummer Rodney Howard and bassist Matt Weiner were there more often than anyone else. It was with them that I first started trying to play some of this music along with other jazz standards. We played more than half of the music on this CD some 15 years ago at occasional gigs but mostly in the apartment.

I remember those times fondly, as we had a great time playing these tunes and arrangements by Newborn. Those sessions set the foundation for making this album possible. Matt, Rodney and I were always playing a lot of other music in addition to our jazz guitar trio. Matt was playing in different swing and jump blues bands and eventually moved to Seattle. Rodney was playing a lot of funk, pop and rock music and went on to play with Gavin Degraw and Avril Lavigne among others. I wound up staying in New York playing Broadway shows, doing recording sessions and playing a lot of different music to make a living. So while I was still practicing and occasionally playing jazz I was mostly playing pop, R&B, rock, etc. while jazz was put on the back burner. In fact, a lot of people that I was working with didn’t even know that I also played jazz.

Toward the end of 2012, I could see that I wasn’t going to be as busy at the beginning of 2013 and I wanted to use the opportunity to record this music for a few reasons: first and foremost, I really loved Phineas Newborn’s music and his playing; second, it’s a repertoire that I haven’t heard played by guitar players and third, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play this stuff and wanted to share it with other people. Since Rodney and Matt weren’t around anymore I needed to find a drummer and a bass player.

I had first met drummer Jared Schonig playing Broadway shows but knew he was also a great jazz player. While we were doing a gig in South Korea in 2011, I told him that at some point I was going to do a jazz record and that I was thinking of doing a trio record of all Phineas Newborn Jr. piano stuff done with a guitar trio instead of piano. He may have thought I was crazy at the time but he told me about how he had learned all the music on the album We Three with Roy Haynes.

Bassist Matt Rybicki and I met while playing at Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Spectacular. I was practicing this Phineas music between shows and sometimes Matt would play through a tune or two with me. He sounded really strong and also knew a lot of the tunes. He and Jared were also good friends who had played a lot together, so I knew that Matt would be a great choice for this recording.

The next task was getting a couple of rehearsals and a couple of 6-7 hour sessions scheduled to record – not easy with everyone’s busy schedules!  However, we managed to get a couple of sessions booked in March of 2013. In a rare New York miracle all three of us got parking spots next to each other across the street from the studio! Finally things fell into place.

The Tunes:

“Harlem Blues” is a gospel song by Phineas Newborn Jr. from the album of the same title. This starts with and features the guitar. We played this faster than we had rehearsed it and certainly faster than the original version. The guitar playing has more country influence than many straight ahead jazz players might play with but this seemed to fit they way Phineas approached playing this song.

“Sugar Ray” is another Phineas original song from the album We Three which included drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Paul Chambers. We do the same arrangement as the original and it features the whole trio. 

“Cookin’ At The Continental” is a Horace Silver blues that Jared opens with 12 bars out front. Even though we play it pretty fast, there is nice communication with the trio. The guitar solo has a few Newborn ideas thrown in and Matt plays a nice bass solo.

“The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” is a Quincy Jones/Henri Gabriel Salvador song that Phineas originally recorded on an album called I Love A Piano and is now included on the Piano Portraits CD. There is also a solo piano version on the aptly titled album, Solo Piano. It was already in the key of D, a good guitar key, which enabled using open strings to create a more pianistic sound. 

“Caravan” is basically done like Phineas did it on Piano Portraits. We do the A sections as a funk groove with the same bass line and hits at the end of each 8 bar phrase and we swing the B sections. What we do differently is play it with a more modern funk feel and the swing sections are broken up a little more. Matt does this brilliantly! In the A sections the guitar voices the melody like the Freddie Hubbard arrangement on Art Blakey’s version of “Caravan.” The end opens up for a great drum solo by Jared!

“Reflection” is also from the album We Three and our arrangement is true to the original recording starting out with Jared doing a Roy Haynes’ like drum intro. I tried to play the melody much like the original, but played a more guitar-like solo. Jared plays another great drum solo in which his personality comes through. 

“Juicy Lucy” is another Horace Silver tune. It’s a bluesy melody written over the chord changes of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” The guitar plays the intro and melody as close as possible to the way Phineas does on A World Of Piano. Matt plays a beautiful melodic solo on this.

“Domingo” is a great Benny Golson tune that doesn’t get played often enough. Though recorded earlier on Lee Morgan, Vol.3, I first heard it on The Great Jazz Piano Of Phineas Newborn Jr. and loved the tune and arrangement. We do a faithful arrangement to this version with Matt doubling the melody in the A sections. Matt plays another melodic bass solo.

“Phineas” is a song by Donald Brown that I first heard on his album Sources Of Inspiration. It’s the only song included here that isn’t directly influenced by one of Phineas’ recordings. But Donald is from Memphis and was friends with Phineas and certainly influenced by him. This song retains a bluesy feel throughout but has a more modern chord structure than many songs on Phineas’ recordings.

“Manteca” is a Gil Fuller/Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo song that Dizzy first recorded with a big band in 1947. Newborn’s take of it on A World Of Piano incorporates many elements of Dizzy’s big band arrangement. This guitar trio tries to do the same with Phineas Newborn’s arrangement and there are solos by everyone.

“Sweet And Lovely” is a Gus Arnheim/Jules LeMare/Harry Tobias standard also from the album Harlem Blues. We do this same arrangement which starts with a 12/8 vamp that continues under the melody at the beginning of the A sections. This is a little tricky to play on guitar. Matt keeps it swinging while playing interesting fills throughout. During the solos the A sections alternate between 4 bars of hits for a drum solo then 4 bars of guitar solo. 

“Theme For Basie” is another Phineas Newborn Jr. original from The Great Jazz Piano of Phineas Newborn Jr. This arrangement swings throughout and features the whole trio.

“Blues From Phineas” is taken from part of Phineas’ solo on “Cheryl,” a Charlie Parkers blues that is the first cut on A World Of Piano. Here it is a minor blues with a few kicks added. The guitar solo retains some of Newborns’ bluesy influence and is followed by another swinging drum solo by Jared.

It’s been a great joy as well as a challenge and education to spend time with this music over the years. I hope above all this joy comes across in these recordings. If you haven’t listened to Phineas Newborn Jr. here is a list of the recordings that were a direct influence on this CD: Harlem Blues, We Three, I Love A Piano, Piano Portraits, The Great Jazz Piano of Phineas Newborn Jr., and A World Of Piano.

Thanks for listening!

Chris Biesterfeldt


Chris Biesterfeldt – guitar

Matthew Rybicki – bass

Jared Schonig – drums

Producer – Chris Biesterfeldt

Associate Producer – Michael Croiter

Recorded by Matthias Winter at Yellow Sound Lab in New York City in 2013

Mixed by Matthias Winter, Chris Biesterfeldt & Michael Croiter

Mastered by Michael Fossenkemper at TurtleTone Studio in New York City

Art Direction – Aldo Sampieri

Photography – John Mazlish

Photography Assistants – Silvana Jakich and Jaimie Lilly

Overall description:

On his new CD Phineas, guitarist Chris Biesterfeldt explores the artistry of legendary jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. One of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in all of jazz Phineas Newborn Jr. spent much of his career in Memphis, TN where he played in R&B bands along side his brother the guitarist Calvin Newborn. His studio recordings for RCA Victor, Atlantic and the Contemporary labels established his reputation and influenced many jazz pianists like Harold Mabern, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Donald Brown and Geoff Keezer to name a few.

This album consists of an untapped repertoire for guitar trio. “Harlem Blues,” “Sugar Ray,” and “Theme For Basie” are three great songs written by Phineas Newborn, Jr. which are rarely played (and maybe never by a guitar trio). “Harlem Blues” is a gospel influenced song with some burning jazz as well as country influenced guitar playing while “Sugar Ray” and “Theme For Basie” are straight ahead jazz tunes with crisp arrangements featuring the whole trio. “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” is a Quincy Jones/Henri Gabriel Salvador song in which the guitar uses open strings to help create a more pianistic sound. “Reflection” is a Ray Bryant song covered brilliantly by this trio much like Newborn’s trio performed it on the great album We Three. “Domingo” is an uptempo Benny Golson tune where the bass effortlessly doubles the melody with guitar.

Two songs on this CD that were never played by Phineas Newborn Jr. “Phineas” is a ballad with a modern chord structure and a bluesy melody composed by pianist Donald Brown who was friends with Phineas. Donald was also one of Chris’s teachers and greatly influenced him. Part of “Blues From Phineas” was taken from Newborn’s solo on the Charlie Parker blues, “Cheryl,” but it is played on this album as a minor blues.

The other songs on this CD are played fairly often – the Horace Silver tunes “Cookin’ At The Continental” and “Juicy Lucy” and the standards “Caravan,” “Manteca,” and “Sweet And Lovely.” However, this finely tuned guitar trio, heavily influenced by Phineas Newborn Jr., brings a new and original voice to these great tunes. 


"Not one to take the easy way out Chris Biesterfeldt follows up his jazz mandolin recording by adapting the great Phineas Newborn Jr. on the guitar.  It's nice to hear a fresh take on Phineas's music through Chris's guitar."  – Dave Stryker

“The new Chris Biesterfeldt CD Phineas is a work of art! Chris is one of the new guitarists starting to gain recognition for his playing and composing. His new CD is a tribute to the great piano genius from Memphis, Phineas Newborn. To take Phineas's piano arrangements and adapt them to guitar is a big challenge. Chris and his smokin' trio not only make it sound easy but they add their own touch to the music as well. Classics such as “Harlem Blues,” “Sugar Ray,” “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set,” “Caravan” and Chris's own “Blues From Phineas” all reflect the soulfulness, swinging, and creativity we associate with Phineas. Having played with Chris for many years I've been a fan and I hope this CD win him many new fans!” – Donald Brown

1. Harlem Blues

2. Sugar Ray

3. Cookin' At the Continental

4. The Midnight Sun Will Never Set

5. Caravan

6. Reflection

7. Juicy Lucy

8. Domingo

9. Phineas

10. Manteca

11. Sweet and Lovely

12. Theme for Basie

13. Blues from Phineas

Review in Downbeat Magazine April 2015 CBDownbeat.html
Chris Biesterfeldt
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Review in Downbeat Magazine April 2015.