Among the dream- like images that swirl and mingle in my mind is an early childhood
memory of a moonlit drive with my family around Rainbow Pier in Long Beach, California,
the city of my birth. I remember poking my head out the window of our ’43 Chevy to have a
look. The air against my face was cool and misty. The water below rippled with the colors of
the rainbow. Ah.. the sound of the surf whispered so soothingly in my ears, while the thought
of a wild and mysterious sea beyond lit my imagination.
I also recall sitting at my Grandmother’s piano on a mellow afternoon
with the scent of magnolia blossoms in the air, wanting to capture with
music the sensation of that moonlit drive. With two fingers I began
teasing out a pentatonic melody on the black keys. Alas,I was only four
and had neither the ability nor the attention span to complete it.
Over a half century later I was to sit at the piano once again to attempt
to paint a musicalpicture of that magical memory. This time, with a bit
of inspiration and whole lot of craft.I was able to pull it off.
‘Rainbow Pier’ is a very Impressionistic instrumental piece.
Inspired by the likes of Duke Ellington, Claude Debussey, and
Stevie Wonder,it is more a composition than a song. Not jazz,
not classical , not pop; it falls somewhere in-between. The intro features duel trombones that
sound like French Horns playing a luring call, first in a lower and then an upper octave, over
a droning fifth interval on piano and chromatic harmonica . It then moves into the first theme,
which is played on the piano. With its dreamy jazz feel, it reflects the peaceful water below the pier.
This A section is repeated with flute, trombone, clarinet, and harmonica joining in. It then moves
into a B theme played on the chromatic harmonica in which the sea begins to stir, as the music
modulates upward until it crescendos into theme C in which the harmonica is joined by Sirene
voices descending in parallel harmony. This is followed by a ritardando and a final seductive call
before picking up with the duel horns to repeat the cycle. This time the call after section C is followed
by everything seemingly falling in whole tones down a watery hole and emerging into the A section
once more.The piece then settles into a sparse hypnotic groove which features wind chimes and
piano playing wistful pentatonic lines and represents the imagination of the little boy at the piano.
With the exception of the midi piano and bass, and the use of a click track, ‘Rainbow Pier’ was
recorded using the following acoustic instruments: flute, chromatic harmonica, trombone,
clarinet, drums, and wind chimes.The voicing of the wind ensemble in the A section is unusual.
From top down I place the flute, trombone ,clarinet, and chromatic harmonica. This gives the
sound a free and airy sound on the top and a dark, reedy timbre below. It all worked surprisingly
well. My inspiration was Ellington’s singular voicing on ‘Mood Indigo’ in which he had the clarinet
pitched below the trombone.
I had initially sung the Sirene parts myself (not bad, either) but, desiring a true female sound, I
brought in three singers who got what I was going for and nailed the parts. The use of the wind
chimes was a lucky lark. I happened to be playing the piano when I heard the chimes tinkling
outside in the breeze. They were tuned to produce a Bb major pentatonic scale. It struck me that
in the key Eb, the chimes would give me a major 7th with a 9th chord. It worked like a charm.
‘Rainbow Pier’ was engineered and mastered by Bryan Faragher. Using a time map to achieve
the ritard was tricky but Bryan pulled it off. The singers were Karen Whipple Schnurr, soprano,
Donna Deussen, alto, and Jody Mortara, low alto. Chris Blondal provided the fine brush work on
the drums. All other instruments were played by yours truly.
About Rainbow Pier
The horseshoe shaped Rainbow Pier was built in 1932 to protect the newly constructed Long Beach
Municipal Auditorium. Its practical function was to serve as a breakwater. At night, though, with
its multi-colored lights reflecting in the water, the Pier offered an aesthetically pleasing diversion.
The Municipal Auditorium stood where American Boulevard (now renamed Long Beach Blvd.) hit
the beach. The Americana- themed mural on its face could be seen blocks away.I remember as a child
being awe struck every time I saw it. With 8000 seats, it was the city’s main concert venue. Elvis Presley appeared there in 1956. In 1959. as a member of the grade school all city youth orchestra I was thrilled to
be asked to play there. In 1972 my rock band, Bones, performed a sold out concert at the auditorium, sharing the bill with the San Francisco band, Cold Blood. I was ecstatic to be playing once again at the
dear old Municipal. To shake a tail feather on the same stage that Elvis had was a childhood dream come
true. Long since torn down, both Rainbow Pier and the Municipal Auditorium exist only in memory.
I hope the Rainbow Pier experience comes alive through the music.
Love and Harmony,