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Saturday, September 8, 2012

My New CD - Renaissance Man

The photo on the cover of my new CD 'Renaissance Man' is of my father Brendan, taken in about 1950, it shows him in a very relaxed moment, complete with cigarette and cup of tea, and is one of my favourite photographs of him

Renaissance Man is written in memory of my father and its genesis goes back a long way in that if it hadn’t been for my father it’s doubtful if I, or my brother Conor, who plays drums on this recording, would be involved with music in the way that we are today.

My father passed away at the age of forty eight, when I was seventeen, and he was an extraordinary character. He wasn’t a musician but he was an absolute devotee of music, with very specific tastes – classical music from 1880 onwards, and jazz from 1945 onwards. So we were raised with the music of Bartok, Stravinsky, Ravel, Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, and the music of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Errol Garner. As children, (there were eight of us!), he would play games with us where we would have to identify the instruments of the orchestra, or identify a particular soloist in a jazz piece. We didn’t realize it, but he was giving us a fantastic aural musical education, and for some of us he was setting the course of our future careers in music.

This was 1960s Ireland, a conservative, culturally isolated place, so our experience of all this great modern music was pretty unique for a child of those times. And when you’re a child, the music you hear is the music you hear – nobody told us that ‘The Rite of Spring’ was ‘difficult’ music, or the music of Bartok or Miles – to us it was just our everyday music.  And it wasn’t just in music that my father played the role of cultural evangelist, he was also interested in literature, film and the theatre and introduced us to everything from the Marx Brothers to Lewis Carroll, from ’Twelve Angry Men’, to ‘Three Men in A Boat’. Thanks to him we had a thorough cultural education at a time, and place when something like that was very hard to come by.

I wrote this piece on the 30th anniversary of his passing and I decided to write a piece for jazz guitar trio and string quartet – two classic ensembles of their respective genres that would be the perfect vehicle for what I wanted to express. In choosing the musicians to play the piece it was a foregone conclusion that my brother Conor would play drums on the project, for obvious familial reasons as well as the fact that we'd played together for over 20 years.

(John, Conor and I at the rehearsal for the 1st performance of the music)

In choosing the guitarist for the piece, I wanted someone who could not just play the instrument well, but play in many different emotional climates - which is not a common quality in many players, and certainly is rare in young players. So I asked John Abercrombie to do it - we'd worked together several times previously and I had studied with him in Banff in the mid-80s, so we knew each other on both a personal and musical level. John is of course one of the great contemporary guitarists with a unique approach that is much more multi-faceted than most guitarists, or indeed musicians. John has the ability to play completely sparsely and quietly, or to completely burn. he also has a unique harmonic approach and sound and is a true improvisor. His sensitivity to the music and what I was trying to do with it was perfect for this project and he played the music beautifully.

In choosing the string quartet, I knew I needed really good players - in writing the piece I wanted to represent my father's love of modern classical music and I definitely didn't want a typical jazz 'string pad' effect. The writing for the quartet is very involved and very challenging at times, and Ioana, Cliodhna, Cian and Kate really did an amazing job on the music, I couldn't have asked for more.

(Rehearsing the piece at the 1st performance in 2005)

The piece itself is in six movements, each one inspired by some memory of my father: some are inspired by quotes from his favourite books, some by music he loved, and some by general memories I have of him.

1) Stillness/Movement

A recollection of my father taking me cycling up to Killiney Hill, a local beauty spot, at dawn on a summer morning around 1970 when I was about 12. There were few cars in those days, and even fewer at 5am, and there was this feeling of being the only two people in the world -  utter silence. Then the birdsong began, and got louder and louder till it reached a cacophony......

2) Mr. BP

Brendan Patrick Guilfoyle, was my father's name and this is a lyrical tune dedicated to him

3) George's Hat

This refers to a line from 'Three Men in a Boat' - 'It was George's hat that saved his life that day' - that my father found hilarious  - and it is hilarious! If you know the book you'll know why, and if you don't then check it out!

4) This Was Very Odd Because

This refers to another line from classic literature, this time 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' from Alice in Wonderland', which my father would read to us and we would be expected to know the last line of every stanza.

5) It Was The Middle Of The Night

Although my father was a wonderful man with so many great qualities, he also had his dark side for sure, and could be pretty scary at times. This movement reflects that aspect of his personality

6) 2 Degrees East

The only explicitly musical reference, to John Lewis' blues 'Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West'  from 'Grand Encounter'. My father loved this piece and played it incessantly. The theme is referred to here, but the treatment is completely different to the original.

Here are excerpts from each movement in order

  Excerpts from 'Renaissance Man' by RonanG

And here is a little film about the making of Renaissance Man

My father passed away before any of us began playing seriously, and I’ve always felt that it was so unfair that he never got to hear the results of the groundwork he laid for us. But I also feel very fortunate to have been able to write this piece, and to have such great musicians perform it. Renaissance Man is written in recognition of the great gifts he gave to us, and the debt we owe to him.

As a little bonus - here's some footage of myself, John, Joey Baron and Michael Buckley playing a quartet arrangement of the 2nd movement, 'George's Hat'

Whenever you release a new recording it's an exciting and special moment, but for me, this release is particularly special and personal. In this case the importance to me of the music being widely heard outweighs any other consideration and so I'm selling the physical CD for a very low price. If you're interested in purchasing a CD you can click on the Paypal button at the top of this page. If you want to buy it in downloadable format you can do it here


  1. Congrats Ronan, it's been a long time coming!

  2. Ronan, I enjoy your blog. The recording sounds like a lovely tribute to your dad. I'll bet it's wonderful and am looking forward to hearing it. Congrats!

  3. Wonderful, Ronan. Just bought the physical disk. Can't wait to hear it...

  4. Wonderful music! Featured it on my program (Katchie's Planet Jazz).

  5. Thanks very much for the music.

  6. Thank you Katchie, I'm glad you enjoyed it!