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Songwriter


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

Throughout his saxophone career, he would periodically go on hiatus, pull back, recharge, take stock, then venture out again. Each time he would turn to songwriting to fill in those gaps. In San Francisco he spent time with the disenfranchised Mission-based poets that gathered around Kush's Cloud House on 16th Street, soaking up the influence of the writers there: Kush himself, Dennis Dunn, Steve Abbott, Anthony Vaughan, Jack Micheline. Becoming a member of Andrew Shulman's Berkeley band Deakin and contributing songs to that effort was another step. But when he founded his first signature band in San Francisco, 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 that merged electronic music, dance grooves and pop structures with vocals and lyrics. This was followed by a further move in that direction -- a collaboration with former Parliament-Funkadelic/Bride of Funkenstein singer Lynn Mabry, who had recently finished 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 bright, intelligent, joyful and slightly subversive dance pop, a marriage of saxophone orchestra studio effects, electronic grooves and r&b soul.

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

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 lifetime's worth of ups and downs to draw upon, the opportunity to put 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. As the songs began to come faster, he surrounded himself with other songwriters, immersing himself in the culture, first in workshops sponsored by the nonprofit arts organization The Field, later at the East Houston Street apartment of stalwart Jack Hardy with his weekly NY Songwriter's Exchange, where he could absorb vociferous and often cantankerous points of view on the nature of songwriting from Jack, David Massengill, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Balmer, John Hodel, Frank Tedesso, Tim Robinson, Dawn Landes, Noelle Jones...

The songs were an attempt to give face to the elements of life that moved him most, the good, the bad, the sweet, the painful, the real, the unreal, truth, illusion, beginnings, ends, the insight that we can live better and be better as we achieve a greater understanding of things. As it goes, the songs are still coming and the saxes are still waiting for his return.

[artwork by Kristen Copham] The songs are for today, melodious, beautiful, intricate and subtle, with lyrical wordplay, large themes, honest, exacting, abstract and poetic all at once; deceptively simple songs that often don't reveal their complexity until you've played them yourself. Songs that read differently than they sound, containing all of the music he has gathered, heard, created, played, absorbed along the way from there to here. Pop songwriting, yes, and a radically different kind of songwriting than one is likely to have heard today or yesterday.

When Norman Salant left the music business in 1998, he admits that he did not expect to return to public view. Realizing that it was the creation process that was his prime motivation, and with no desire to deal with the culture of the industry or any of what it entailed, he turned away from the public arena. But he has continued to write, and there is now a large body of work that has gone pretty much unheard by anyone, well more than a hundred songs making up a substantial catalog.

After testing the waters at some of his early Salons he gave a first public performance as songwriter/singer at an independently co-produced concert with friend and mentor, fellow songwriter Frank Tedesso at a small midtown theater. Accompanied by guitarist Bruce Balmer, that performance was followed by a solo loft concert two months later -- again, advertised by word of mouth, staying under the radar. And then nothing ... just 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) ... those have been the only public showings in New York thus far. In summer there have been occasional shows in home-away-from-home Vermont (where a random meeting in a Middlebury diner led to a longstanding friendship with fellow traveler Anais Mitchell), and there was a drop-in at the Cafe Improv cable simulcast in Princeton, New Jersey in the fall of 2008, but aside from avid participation in New York's vibrant open mic scene, which has yielded a surprising number of performance videos, that's been about it.

Meanwhile, choreographer Laura Schandelmeier (DanceNow) has set several pieces to songs of his (July, Riding Horses On The Moon), and a few music artists have begun to record and perform some of the songs as well.

Getting the songs recorded began in 2005 with a series of song demos, but stopped, then began again at the end of 2008, but stopped again.

Postcards From The Hanging (December 2011)

In June 2011, in a sudden flurry of activity, he began a partnership with producer/guitarist JP Bowersock (Ryan Adams, The Strokes) and engineer/multi-instrumentalist Marc Dann. By August the team had finished four songs at Mark Dann's Tribeca studio for a cd, Postcards From The Hanging. At the same time, he was working in parallel with another team in a different studio (producer Jeremiah Birnbaum, engineer Jeff Berner at GaluminumFoil Studio in Williamsburg) in a series of sessions that produced one finished track, At The End Of The World. The JP team mixed it down and it was added to the Postcards cd. In December 2011, Postcards From The Hanging was released.

Postcards From The Hanging
1. Feels Like Rain
2. At The End Of The World
3. Pray For Rain
4. Heaven




Tag (August 2012)

After Postcards came Tag, another four-song CD produced by Bowersock and recorded at Mark Dann's studio. It was released in early August 2012.

Tag
1. Canes Of Fire (Love Song 50)
2. Let It Shine
3. The Stranger
4. Virgin Highway










Wong Gar-Ku (January 2013)

Tag was immediately followed by Wong Gar_Ku. Continuing to work with JP Bowersock and Mark Dann, Wong's four songs revealed a broadening of scope, with more acoustic emphasis and a lush sound. The vocal arrangements were more complex and there was additional instrumentation; Glory features a trumpet and Old Timers Day a french horn. The songs have political undertones combined with poetic philosophical musings. It was released in early January 2013.

Wong Gar-Ku
1. Arrivederci
2. The Whole Wide World
3. Glory
4. Old Timers Day







Grace (Single, July 2013) / Nebraska (Single, September 2013)



Nebraska (Album, November 2013) / Yodeling Goodbye (December 2013)

Beginning in 2013, a more ambitious project was set: 20 songs to be recorded by year end. During the summer, two songs were released as singles: Grace, followed by Nebraska. Nebraska was inspired by Alysia Abbott's recent memoir "Fairyland," about her father Steve Abbott, a contemporary of Norman Salant during his San Francisco days. The lyrics to Nebraska consist of a poem written by Steve, "Walking This Abandoned Field." Both songs could be progressive folk, with french horns, clarinet, violin and viola rounding out the basic guitar/voice-oriented sound. In November, the 4-song Nebraska album was released, followed quickly by Yodeling Goodbye in December.










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