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** Songwriter **


Artists grow, artists change: that's been the hallmark of Norman Salant's career and life. During his period as saxophonist and new music composer, it was easy to map as he moved from project to project, staking out new territory, exploring it, and moving on. In that light, songwriting is just one more stage in the path of an evolving artist. But seen in another light, songwriting has always been there, even before the saxophone.

Throughout his saxophone career, he would periodically go on hiatus, take stock, then venture out again. During those gaps, he would always turn to songwriting. In San Francisco in the late 1970s he spent time with the Mission District poets that gathered at Kush's legendary Cloud House on 16th Street, absorbing the influence of the writers there: Steve Abbott (the subject of daughter Alicia Abbott's impactful memoir Fairyland), Dennis Dunn, Anthony Vaughan, Jack Micheline, and Kush himself. He joined songwriter Andy Shulman's Berkeley band Deakin and contributed a couple of songs. But when he founded his signature band in San Francisco immediately after, the Norman Salant Group, it was an entirely instrumental effort.

By the end of that band's run, a couple of vocal songs had found their way into the repertoire. This was followed by a short-lived collaboration with a pair of producers and Cal Arts graduates, electronic music artists Roy Sablosky and Gregory Jones, in a project called Invisible Man, which merged electronic music, dance grooves and pop structures with vocals and lyrics. This was followed by a more committed move in that direction -- a partnership with former Parliament-Funkadelic/Bride of Funkenstein singer Lynn Mabry, who was just finishing a stint with Talking Heads on the Stop Making Sense tour, producing along with New York impressario Joel Weber and P-Funk's Bernie Worrell nearly an album's worth of intelligent, joyful, slightly subversive dance pop, a marriage of saxophone orchestra studio effects, electronic grooves and r&b soul.

After which, he returned to serious sax art for a long stretch and relocated to NYC.

In 1998, needing a break, he picked up songwriting again. But something had changed. After years of working in a nonverbal form, and with a trove of ups and downs to draw upon, putting that experience into words proved seductive. As it went on, the writing went further and the songs got more involved, reflecting his sense that there was much more that needed to be said and so many ways to say it. The songs came faster and he fell into the scene, first in workshops sponsored by nonprofit arts organizations like The Field, later at the East Houston Street apartment of stalwart Jack Hardy and his weekly NY Songwriter's Exchange. There he encountered the vociferous and cantankerous views of Jack, David Massengill, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Balmer, John Hodel, Frank Tedesso, Tim Robinson, Dawn Landes, Noelle Jones...everybody came through the Exchange at one time or another. 

The new songs were an attempt to put a face on the elements of life that moved him most.  They're songs for today, melodious, intricate and subtle, with lyrical wordplay and large themes, poetic and honest; deceptively simple songs that often don't reveal their complexity unless you try to play them yourself. In a way, they're the sum of all the music he's gathered from there to here. Pop songwriting, yes, but radically different than one is likely to have heard before.

When he turned his back on the music industry in 1998 and began  to seriously write songs, he didn't expect to return. He'd discovered that the creative process was his prime motivation, and so he turned away from the public arena. But as he continued to write,  he built up a large body of work that went pretty much unheard.

So he began testing the waters at some of his early Salons and the occasional public performance, such as an independently produced concert with friend and mentor Frank Tedesso at a small midtown theater, a solo loft concert -- advertised by word of mouth, staying under the radar. And then nothing for long stretches, interrupted by a few random show-ups at various acoustic events around the city (the Living Room, Mickey's Blue Room, and the like), several showcases sponsored by The Field (Here Arts Center, Dance Theater Workshop), and a handful of full-length shows (C-Note, Banjo Jim's, Nightingale, Christopher Street Coffeehouse). There's been the occasional show in Vermont (a random meeting in a Middlebury diner led to a longstanding friendship with Anais Mitchell), a drop-in at the Cafe Improv's cable simulcast in Princeton, but that's been about it.

Meanwhile, choreographer Laura Schandelmeier (DanceNow) used some of his songs (July, Riding Horses On The Moon) in her work, and a few other singers have begun to record and perform them.

[artwork by Kristen Copham]

Recordings

In June 2011 he began two independent recording projects, one at GaluminumFoil Studio in Williamsburg with Mya Byrne producing and Jeff Berner at the console, and the other with producer/guitarist JP Bowersock (The Strokes, Ryan Adams) and engineer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Dann, working at Dann's Tribeca studio -- those three would continue recording together for more than three years. Only one track from the Galuminum sessions was used, "At The End Of The World," which was brought over to Mark Dann's for final overdubs and mixing. The first group of 12 songs went out on a series of 4-song EPs. Those were Postcards From The Hanging, Tag and Wong Gar-Ku.

Yodeling Goodbye

After a short break at the end of 2012, they resumed work. Over the next two years 20 more songs were recorded for a project called Yodeling Goodbye. The phrase came from the libretto of Escalator Over The Hill, Carla Bley and Paul Haines' avant garde masterpiece about life, death, and in-between, which seemed appropriate given the theme of the writing. The first two songs were released as singles: "Grace," followed by "Nebraska." "Nebraska" was inspired by Fairyland, Alysia Abbott's popular memoir about her father, Steve Abbott. Steve had been a friend of Norman's during their Cloud House/San Francisco days in the late 1970s. At the time, he'd set one of their favorite of Steve's poems to music, "Walking This Abandoned Field." After reading the book, he revived the song and did an arrangement, calling it "Nebraska" after one of the lines in the poem ("like rain in Nebraska, after a field was plowed"). The rest of the songs followed and, as before, were released as a series of 4-song EPs.

In 2017 he decided to release Yodeling Goodbye as a full-length album. He chose eight songs to be edited, remastered and resequenced. The release was originally scheduled for that summer, but when the manufacturers noticed that one of the songs contained the f-word (twice!), they refused to do the job, and things came to a standstill. It's taken nearly another year to get the record out. A second collection of songs from the Yodeling Goodbye sessions is being prepared for a late 2018 release.


-- Mick Wade (revised 2018)


 



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