Sweet Spontaneous
Release Date: July 13, 2018
Catalog #: BR8952
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century

Sweet Spontaneous

Michael Arnowitt composer, piano
ImproVisions Jazz ensemble

Concert pianist and composer Michael Arnowitt, assisted by ImproVisions Jazz, makes his Big Round Records debut with SWEET SPONTANEOUS, the title drawn from a poem by e.e.cummings. This two-disc jazz album features 14 of Arnowitt’s own compositions with the composer himself at the piano, joined by a dozen jazz notables including Yosvany Terry on alto sax, Lucas Pino on tenor sax, Dave Smith on trumpet, and Colin Stranahan on drums.

Against the Wind, featuring vocalist Shirley Crabbe, tells the story of a woman summoning the strength to persist in the face of powerful forces. In The Crossing, bassist Rick Rosato’s accompaniment to the spoken words of a Langston Hughes poem evolves into a slow groove of brushes, keys, bass, and sax, rendering the listener completely spellbound.

Syria-us is the creative culmination of a deep study Arnowitt made of Syrian literature and music in preparation for benefit concerts he organized in 2016 to support humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees. The composer’s love of Bulgarian music is shown in Bulgarian Hoedown’s wild, exuberant fiddling and Shapka Swing, which opens with a triumphant fanfare that transitions to klezmer before emerging as the energetic gem of the album. Ascent features a reading of Maya Angelou’s celebrated poem Still I Rise combined with a flirtatious melody and syncopated accompaniment reflecting the spunkiness of both poet and poem.

With SWEET SPONTANEOUS, Michael Arnowitt encapsulates the journey of world music into jazz with dignity, class, and just the right amount of swing. The Washington Post wrote of an Arnowitt concert: “He played with an exquisite sense of touch, color and musical imagination.” Come join Michael Arnowitt as he takes us on voyages into these highly absorbing musical landscapes.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Against the Wind Michael Arnowitt Shirley Crabbe, vocals; Lucas Pino, tenor sax; Dan Silverman, trombone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Nick Grinder, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 9:22
02 Bulgarian Hoedown Michael Arnowitt Al Roman, violin; Dave Smith, trumpet; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Nick Grinder, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 11:18
03 The Crossing Michael Arnowitt Therisa Rogers, spoken word; Yosvany Terry, alto sax; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 11:40
04 Migratory Mood Michael Arnowitt Lucas Pino, tenor sax; Dave Smith, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 8:57
05 Syria-us Michael Arnowitt Yosvany Terry, alto sax; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet; Dave Smith, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Al Roman, violin; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 9:47
06 Pirouette Michael Arnowitt Randall Wolfgang, oboe; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 6:29
07 The Crying Candle Michael Arnowitt Shirley Crabbe, vocals; Al Roman, violin; Dave Smith, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Nick Grinder, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 7:35
01 Third Shift Michael Arnowitt Dave Smith, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 11:41
02 Shapka Swing Michael Arnowitt Dave Smith, trumpet; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet; Nick Grinder, trombone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Al Roman, violin; Lucas Pino, clarinet; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 6:05
03 Elegy for Richard Michael Arnowitt Lucas Pino, tenor sax; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 11:22
04 Medium Message Michael Arnowitt Yosvany Terry, alto sax; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 9:36
05 Ascent Michael Arnowitt Therisa Rogers, spoken word; Lucas Pino, tenor sax; Dave Smith, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 8:07
06 Midnight Forest Michael Arnowitt Dave Smith, flugelhorn; Tatum Greenblatt, flugelhorn; Dan Silverman, trombone; Matt Haviland, trombone; Nick Grinder, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, piano; Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums 13:08
07 Street Strut Michael Arnowitt Shirley Crabbe, vocals; Lucas Pino, tenor sax; Dave Smith, trumpet; Dan Silverman, trombone; Michael Arnowitt, hammond organ; Colin Stranahan, drums 5:39

All compositions by Michael Arnowitt © 2017 Therisa Music (ASCAP) except musical setting to Ascent © 2017 Therisa Music (ASCAP) and Caged Bird Legacy (ASCAP)

All lyrics by Michael Arnowitt except The Crossing words by Langston Hughes,

Ascent words by Maya Angelou

All tracks recorded at Sear Sound, New York City January 10-12, 2017

Produced by Michael Arnowitt
Assistant Producers Leon Gruenbaum, Therisa Rogers
Recording Engineer Chris Allen
Assistant Engineer Owen Mulholland
Mixing/Editing Engineer Dave Darlington
Mastering Engineer Toby Mountain

Cover painting Water Music Maggie Neale
Photo Ethan Hubbard

Special thanks Jake Whitesell, Shawn White, Brad Kukenberger, Jim McMartin, Ike Mulqueen-Duquette, Liz Benjamin, Sue Bettmann, Terri Kneen, Arthur Savard, Eliza Thomas, Therisa Rogers, Leon Gruenbaum, Bodey Baker, Emily Kalina, Rich Davidian

Thanks to Harold Ober Associates for arranging permission to use the Langston Hughes poem and CMG Worldwide for arranging permission to use the Maya Angelou poem.


Against the Wind
Shirley Crabbe, Lucas Pino, Colin Stranahan

Bulgarian Hoedown
Al Roman, Tatum Greenblatt, Matt Haviland, Michael Arnowitt

The Crossing
(with reading of Langston Hughes’ poem Crossing)
Therisa Rogers, Rick Rosato

Migratory Mood
Yosvany Terry, Lucas; Dave Smith, Dan Silverman

Randall Wolfgang, Dan Silverman, Michael Arnowitt

The Crying Candle
Shirley Crabbe, Al Roman, Michael Arnowitt

Third Shift
Dave Smith, Dan Silverman, Michael Arnowitt

Shapka Swing
Dave Smith, Nick Grinder, Al Roman, Lucas Pino

Elegy for Richard
Lucas Pino

Medium Message
Yosvany Terry, Dan Silverman, Michael Arnowitt

(with reading of Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise)
Therisa Rogers, Lucas Pino, Dave Smith, Dan Silverman

Midnight Forest
Dave Smith, Matt Haviland, Michael Arnowitt, Rick Rosato

Street Strut
Shirley Crabbe, Lucas Pino

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Marina Altschiller

Audio Director Jeff LeRoy
Engineering Manager Lucas Paquette

Design & Marketing Director Brett Picknell
Design Ryan Harrison

Artist Information

Michael Arnowitt

Michael Arnowitt

Composer, Pianist

Michael Arnowitt is one of the most creative and imaginative musicians of today. He is best known for his beautiful and sensitive touch at the keyboard, for the clarity and elegance of his musical ideas, for his abilities to find new articulations and colors from the piano, for his innovative and thought-provoking concert programs, and for his natural and warm on-stage manner with audiences of all ages.


Michael Arnowitt & Sweet Spontaneous

Come join pianist Michael Arnowitt and ImproVisions Jazz for a colorful journey into his unique musical landscapes. Sweet Spontaneous is a recording of 14 of Arnowitt’s jazz compositions, a major effort to present the music of this engaging new talent on the jazz scene.

Michael Arnowitt says, “We tend to listen to music in a seated, stationary position, but in reality music is all about motion and journey. To me, listening to a piece of music is like travelling through a varied landscape of rolling hills. We go up and down and round corners to see constantly changing vistas of different colors and textures.”

Take a listen to Sweet Spontaneous and enjoy a deep dive into the creative world of one of the most imaginative musicians of today.

Written in the summer of 2016, Against the Wind features a novel musical idea where a melody line is split up with some of its measures sung by a vocalist, some played by a tenor saxophone. Put together, the phrases interweave to create a melody I conceived of as like a multi-colored strand of yarn.

The initial impulse to write this song came from an image in a dream of the powerful gusts of a storm pushing a woman’s dress against her body as she continues to will her way forward. The three trombones form a Greek chorus, depicting waves and winds and commenting on the actions and emotions of the music. At the end, the dissonance between the singer holding a C and the saxophone holding a D-flat expresses a feeling of inner tension, of summoning the strength to persist despite the forces arrayed against you.

— Michael Arnowitt

My favorite type of world music is Bulgarian, and this tune explores on a large canvas the evocative music, sometimes lonely, sometimes lively, of that country. Bulgarian Hoedown mixes together Bulgarian rhythm and harmony ideas with the language of jazz and a taste of the wild fiddling of the American hoedown. I was first inspired to write this song while observing on a trip to eastern Europe a husband-and-wife street musician couple playing on a bridge. The husband played violin with the four strings in the nonstandard tuning G-D-G-D which as in Cajun fiddling made it easier to play harmonized melodies similar to the main theme of this tune.

— Michael Arnowitt

Langston Hughes had a deep love of jazz and the blues, and a number of his poems reflect on the experience of music. Hughes’ poetry has always appealed to me, and I’ve enjoyed going to schools and having students read his poems out loud while I improvise piano accompaniments. His poem Crossing, with its broad images of a mountain, a stream, and the prairie has always moved me with what I imagine to be an autobiographical depiction of the shallowness of social support accorded him due to his race. In his 1926 essay, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, he speaks of the top of the mountain, perhaps not reached in this poem, as the place of true freedom and independence.

Musically, this slow ballad consists of descending lines falling from different melody notes, tumbling down like cascades. The bridge does not contrast with the opening section but rather continues the same idea underpinned by a long descending bass line and rich harmonies. Though the stream may have been crossed, we keep falling and returning to where we were.

— Michael Arnowitt

In writing this song, I was certainly thinking literally of the migration of birds, with the soaring feeling of the melody, the sounds of bird calls, and the final gentle syncopated bass riff a likeness of the birds settling down back on the earth at the end of their flight. I was also thinking of migration figuratively, that is, if you wanted to make a major change in your life, you might say you were in a migratory mood.

— Michael Arnowitt

My composition Syria-us emerged from a six month study I made of Syrian music and literature in 2016, when I organized a special benefit concert program entirely of Syrian music, writing, drama, and art to raise funds for humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees. In making my selection decisions for the program, I truly enjoyed researching the sacred and secular music, short stories, and poetry of this multicultural nation. My song combines Syrian rhythms and scales with the harmonies and proportions of a minor blues.

— Michael Arnowitt

The first idea that came to me for Pirouette was not its melody, but its bass line. Remember the Greek myth of Sisyphus, fated to continually push a boulder up a hill only to find, when he was nearly at the top, it roll back down to the bottom? Pirouette’s bass line is like an upside down version of this. Each bass phrase begins on a high C and gradually descends stepwise almost, but not quite, to a low C; at the last possible moment, it suddenly bends back upwards to the high C and starts another descent. That’s the spiraling, circular pirouette motion. The descending bass line doesn’t resolve to the low C until the final note of the very last phrase of the song.

I thought the plaintive, rocking melody I composed above this bass line would be perfect for an oboe. Near the end of Pirouette the band cuts out and the oboe plays by itself a semi-classical, semi-jazz cadenza.

Finally, the pirouetting is done, gravity has its way and the descending line touches firm ground on a low C as the oboe rises up to its final, open-ended high note in response.

— Michael Arnowitt

The Crying Candle is a reaction against the pessimism of the many dystopias popular today. The lyrics imagine a future where people have indeed learned how to live together without conflict. The narrator looks back in time to our strange and painful present. The song’s lyrics flips the script on all the old jazz standards where the singer in the present is sad over a love affair that has fallen apart but looks back fondly on the past when the relationship had been going well; here it’s the future where all is rosy, and the narrator looks back into their past (our present) where everything is going terribly wrong. The song is set so far in the future that I thought it possible society might have forgotten about the sad history of long ago generations, except the candle’s tears remember. After writing this song, it occurred to me that perhaps the words “ember” and “remember” might be linked.

— Michael Arnowitt

There’s something about odd numbers that I’ve always preferred. How wonderful it is that the piano’s 12 notes are divided into 7 white and 5 black keys, and how duller music would be if it had been designed with 6 white and 6 black. Even numbers are just too square and symmetrical, and you could even say jazz developed swing in order to get away from all those even divisions. Rather than the usual 4-measure long phrases, this song is based on 3-measure phrases which give the tune a circular lilt. Third Shift also refers to the bass line’s descending by leaps in thirds, as well as the song’s late-night ambiance, the time of third shift workers.

— Michael Arnowitt

Shapkas are hats, which in Bulgaria can be colorful and have interesting geometric patterns. The tune features different duos: two trumpets, two trombones, and a third duo of a klezmer-like violin and clarinet. High energy, lively Bulgarian folk rhythms fuel this number, their crisscrossing patterns not unlike the hat.

— Michael Arnowitt

Elegy for Richard is a memorial composition I wrote for my father Richard Arnowitt, who was a theoretical physicist who in his lifetime had over 300 scientific papers published. I began to compose this tune just a couple of days after he died, as I was keeping my mother company. Many people have noted the similarities between what scientists and musicians do, although in my experience nearly all scientists love music, but not necessarily the other way around. At a few points in this song there are episodes of cosmic, starry music meant to depict my father’s lifelong journeying to understand the universe, from large objects down to subatomic particles. About a week before he died, after a stroke, he had a couple of days where he didn’t speak English words, but only mumbled physics phrases. I can only wonder what discoveries he was trying to make in these final thoughts.

— Michael Arnowitt

The word “medium” in the title was intended to have a double meaning, conveying both the sense of being at some mystical séance event as well as a neutrality that is beyond good or bad. The opening section of this tune has a suspended feel featuring a loping bass line in a cyclic pattern 11 beats long. The middle section picks up the tempo slightly and has more harmonic motion and flow to contrast with the floating music of the opening. The supernatural returns at the end as the musical fragments dissipate weightlessly into the atmosphere.

— Michael Arnowitt

About a month after Maya Angelou’s death in 2014, I composed this song in her honor. While inspired by her celebrated poem Still I Rise, the music is more based on the mood and tone of the words and rarely aims to set any specific phrases of the original poetry. The late David Budbill told me that he felt jazz should strive to maintain a sense of defiance, and although this poem is one of the most classic expressions of defiance I know, it is so much more. I love the quirky, jujitsu-like moves that say, you think you’ve got me down? Like dust, I’ll rise, like air, I’ll rise: the lightest elements on earth will evade your grasp.

The poem also conveys a great message of hope. Maya Angelou said this poem even helped sustain her own self in hard times, and the optimistic, strength-giving words of this poem have been known to have nourished people of all races. I was intrigued by a comment Angelou made in an interview a few months before her death: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

— Michael Arnowitt

As in Against the Wind, the origin of this song was an image from one of my dreams. Here the scene is a forest of tall trees looming above, in the middle of the night. A path curves left and right through different parts of the forest, with giant trees, perhaps redwoods, seeming to lean and arc overhead in the dim moonlight. I am fascinated by trees and science’s recent discoveries of how their ecosystems below ground interconnect.

In this composition I was exploring the concept of a melody of chords. Instead of the usual succession of individual notes played by a single musician, here each melody “note” is a rich 6-note chord played by flugelhorns and trombones. The brass chorale harmonies are based on stacks of my favorite interval, the perfect fifth. Being neither major nor minor, fifths have a more flexible, open-ended sound that appeals to me. Many tunes on Sweet Spontaneous feature fifths in the melody or harmony, such as Bulgarian Hoedown and Medium Message.

— Michael Arnowitt

A jazz-funk number based on a twenty-year old memory of African-American life on the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. Street Strut incorporates urban audio clips with Colin Stranahan’s “action groove” drumming he said he learned from his father. Is the street not an inanimate object, but alive? This song says yes.

“Sweet Spontaneous” is the first line of a poem by E.E. Cummings, one of Michael Arnowitt’s favorite poets.

— Michael Arnowitt


Lyrics by Michael Arnowitt

Here I am
against the wind
standing tall
I do not cower before the gale

Here I am
against the wind
standing tall
The gusts are strong and my body weak

Waves of wind come from the sea
strong gusts try to push me back
pressing my dress into me – I resist

I do
I do not
Here I am
against the wind
standing tall
I do not cower before the gale

against the wind
against the wind
but I’m standing strong

My heart beats

Here I am
here I am

I do

Lyrics by Michael Arnowitt

Once upon a time there was
in a world you could not imagine
Discord and darkness, fighting all the time
the candle
it cries its tears rememb’ring
all that they went through

What a time it was back then
seemed like an impossible dream unending
It seemed our fate, to hate and hate return
and darkness
fell down upon the land
the candle’s tears remember

Now we have such harmony
in those days they could not believe and love
So many battles, conflict was the rule
their sadness
we have forgotten
a trail of embers burning

Now it is a time for love
we have learned to share and to live together
How could they fight in endless war
In flick’ring flame,
drop by lighted drop,
the crying candle weeps for them a tear

Lyrics by Michael Arnowitt

walking down the street
to the constant beat
of the sway
you’ve got that struttin’ goin’ down with your feet

like the way you move
down the sidewalk groove
it’s the way
your street strut has a swag that I just approve

each morning I see you
Settin’ up your wares
talkin’ to your fares
haven’t got a care in the world

could be quite a pair
the sidewalk we would share
and each day
the two of us could join as one heart and beat
the rhythm’s under our feet
as ev’ry day we would meet
let’s feel the pulse of the street

boom box fills the air
your tunes so debonair
you got style
the cheerful sounds make people smile everywhere

heart goes to the sky
whenever you go by
it’s your way
your striding sings a song that I can’t deny

each morning I see you
Your tunes are in the air
bright horns everywhere
you even make the walkways glad

lives were meant to meet
like grid lines on the street
sidewalk grooves
the intersecting rhythms we would repeat
as ev’ry day we would meet
we’ve got the pulse of the street
let’s join as one heart and beat