A Compendium of Cowboy Jazz Goodness
All composers have their own unique history, style, and voice. This is certainly true of Dr. Arthur Houle, composer, pianist, and founder of the Festival for Creative Pianists over 2 decades ago. One of Dr. Houle's passions is combining jazz piano with a cowboy attitude. With two collections to choose from and a third in the works, these pieces are a joy for both intermediate and advanced pianists. Houle encourages pianists to take liberties with these pieces, improvise, and have a rootin', tootin' good time!
Original "Cowboy Karen" depiction (1977, prior to publication) by Marie [Houle] Gerstman:
RECORDINGS OF COWBOY JAZZ
Dr. Arthur Houle, composer and pianist:
BOOK 1 (Hal Leonard):
Sally Saddle: https://www.pianofestival.org/files/1-Sally_Saddle_2-11-09_performance.mp3
Prairie Gary: https://www.pianofestival.org/files/2-Prairie_Gary_2-11-09_performance.mp3
Cowboy Karen: https://www.pianofestival.org/files/4-Cowboy_Karen_2-11-09_performance.mp3
Fancy Footwork: https://www.pianofestival.org/files/6-Fancy_Footwork_2-11-09_performance.mp3
Melody for Dennis:
Solo piano (as published): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ij9GsG7FBw
With added cello: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0FlO8qpu0M
BOOK II (Abundant Silence):
Tommy Tumbleweeds: https://www.pianofestival.org/files/Tommy_Tumbleweeds_(from_Cowboy_Jazz_II)_3-15-09.mp3
Bright-Eyed & Bushy-Tailed: https://www.pianofestival.org/files/ArthurHouleBright.mp3
Under the Stars (A Cowboy’s Dream): https://www.pianofestival.org/files/ArthurHouleStars.mp3
Solo piano (as published): https://www.pianofestival.org/files/13-Buckaroo_Blues_3-15-09_recording_session.mp3
YouTube two-piano jam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Lk6CCbVX24
MUSIC FOR SALE:
Complete Cowboy Jazz Book I:
- Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 343-4320
Complete Cowboy Jazz Book II
• Tommy Tumbleweeds
• Buckaroo Blues
• Saloon Tune
• Under the Stars (optional flute/violin part available)
• Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed (early intermediate and late intermediate versions)
Descriptions of Cowboy Jazz tunes:
There was no particular Sally who inspired this one, which is the easiest in the set. But we can pretend that Sally is a happy-go-lucky close cousin of Cowboy Karen (see below) who also likes to ride horses and wear cowboy hats. It was penned on September 21, 1977. It was featured in the Summer 2003 issue of Piano Today, along with tips on performance. Its editor, Stuart Isacoff, wryly suggested that the piece sounds like "Schubert getting waylaid somewhere outside of Santa Fe." For a copy of the Piano Today article, contact me at email@example.com.
Dedicated to a former student, Gary Field, this tune was first played by Gary in a National Guild of Piano Teachers Audition. The guild judge lauded both the performance and the composition. In 1991, I performed Prairie Gary as a sax/bass/piano arrangement live on NPR's KUT-Austin radio. The left hand part in Prairie Gary imitates a jazz bassist (don't forget to play it an octave lower than written!). This catchy ditty shows the influence of Vince Guaraldi, the great jazz pianist who wrote and played the music for many "Peanuts" films.
This fun selection was the first Cowboy Jazz composition, written on September 23, 1976. It took only 90 minutes to compose and was inspired by Karen Wells, a young lady who liked to wear cowboy hats. A big part of its appeal comes from the many unexpected harmonies. When it was written, however, one humor-impaired music teacher scolded me for ending this G Major piece in the "wrong" key (E-flat major) and using more keys than a locksmith! So, on March 31, 1978, I wrote an alternative ending that dutifully ended in G Major. That version, however, has (blessedly) never been performed or published.
Fancy Footwork has a slight thematic similarity to Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed. It is also reminiscent of one of my earliest compositions, To the Country, written at age 11. It was originally titled Frolicking Freazies and later dubbed Frolicking Fancies. The final title was conceived by Peggy Otwell, editor of the Hal Leonard Cowboy Jazz publication. She did so with no consultation with or permission from me. However, I prefer her title!
Melody for Dennis
This piece is dedicated to cellist Dennis Parker (faculty, Louisiana State University). Dennis and I met at Tanglewood, where we were roommates and became lifelong friends. It's the most rhythmically and harmonically sophisticated in the Book I set. Melody for Dennis won Second Prize in the Music Umbrella of Austin Original Instrumental Composition Competition in 1991. In that same year, I played it live (along with Prairie Gary) as a sax/bass/piano arrangement on NPR's KUT-Austin radio. I've also played and recorded cello/piano and violin/piano arrangements.
This is the easiest and most accessible tune in Cowboy Jazz II, yet has a cool sophistication that will appeal to both children and adults. It's a bluesy, laid back fun piece dedicated to my good friend and former student, Tom Booth of Caldwell, Idaho. (Anyone who lives on a street named "Chicken Dinner Road" – as Tom does – just has to have a cowboy melody in his honor!)
(Artwork by Roland [Houle] Mansfield)
You'll soon swoon for this rootin'-tootin high noon Saloon Tune! It's one part rowdy cowboy, one part honky-tonk piano, and a passel of Old West free flights of fancy finger work. Students will have wagonloads of fun playing Saloon Tune at recitals, rodeos, and ....railroad crossings! Suitable for all "young at heart" ages (cowboy hats, batteries, and other accessories not included).
(Artwork by Marie [Houle] Gerstman)
My original version of this – scored for piano, fender bass and drums with a different bass line – was performed when I was an undergraduate student. This newer version, written in 2004, is fondly dedicated to a former student, Jason Buckalew, whose last name conjured up the image of a buckaroo, or cowboy, who embraces the cowboy life with a carefree nonchalance borne of experience, contentment and unassuming confidence.
From 2016 to 2020, Buckaroo Blues was listed in the National Federation of Music Clubs Festival Bulletin as one of fourteen "Moderately Difficult Class 2" pieces that the federation's 117,000 students could choose to perform in festivals throughout the country (press release: www.abundantsilence.org/uploads/5/9/1/4/59149543/buckaroo_blues_pr_-_inside_cmu_7-1-16.png).
(Artwork by Roland [Houle] Mansfield)
Under the Stars (A Cowboy's Dream)
The longest piece of all the Cowboy Jazz tunes, Under the Stars is a highly lyrical and sentimental "tone poem" suggestive of long wistful nights sleeping under the stars.*
*Caution: the beautiful melodies and delicious twists of romantic harmonies in this piece can cause excessive elevation of the soul, which may require a long and sturdy lasso to bring it back to earth.
(Artwork by Marie [Houle] Gerstman)
Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed
This one, written in 2004, is another fun jazzy piece inspired by the late great Vince Guaraldi. There are two published versions of this piece – one early intermediate level and the other late intermediate (or early advanced level, if one improvises).
(Artwork by Roland [Houle] Mansfield)
Facetious write-up in the inside back cover of Cowboy Jazz II (hard copy edition):
SOMEDAY I HOPE TO RUSTLE UP SOME MORE COWBOY JAZZ TUNES FOR AN UPCOMING BOOK III.
HERE ARE SOME POSSIBLE TITLES.
(PLEASE EMAIL ME AT firstname.lastname@example.org AND LET ME KNOW YOUR FAVORITES.)
• Larry Lasso
• Tombstone Tucker
• Moonshine Sonatina
• The Wild Blue Yonder Blues
• Bessie the Coffee-Drinking Cow (De-calf Drinks Decaf)
• Bach-ing Up the Wrong Tree
• Saturday Drinking Spree in the Style of Georg Anton Benda
(or: The Benda Bender)
• Ah Done Toad You Not to Kiss That There Frog (A Toad Ode)
• Bee in Your Bonnet Sonnet
• Bringing in the Beeves (We Will Come Re-hoisting)
• Noodles and Doodles (The Kit 'n' Caboodle)
• Cattle Baron Darin
• Ain't Nuthin' But the Pound, Dog
• Chuck-Full of Chucklin' Chuck's Chitlins
• Cut and Dried, Dead or Alive, Countrified Concerto
• Dry Gulch Gavotte
• Fair to Middlin' Fiddlin' On Mah One-horse Ol' Pye-anno
• Tenderfoot Toccata
• Bamboozled Bluegrass
• Wagon My Tail Fer You (Gimme Some Ol' Time Puppy Love)
• Pistol Pete Meets Deadshot Darla
• Dunderhead Dance (For Two Left Feet)
• Catgut Mah Tongue
• Hey Dude (Don't Stake it Bad)
• The Western Adventures of Gadabout Greta, Meandering Millie & Spontaneous Sofie
• Jeanie with the Light Brown Mare
• Roamin' Railroad Ronnie, the Railyard Rascal
• Helabaloo Helen
• Jasper, the Friendly Host
• Salt Lick Sonata
• Maverick Minuet
• Muzzle Up a Little Closer
• Bill Hickok, Won't You Please Come Home
• An Arrow Escape
• Tonto Pronto's 'Toot Suite'
• A Right Smart Passel of Variations
• Rumbumptious Roundup Rondo (with Ground Bass & Ground Beef)
• The Lady is a Saddle Tramp
• Sagebrush Suzie
• Flustering Sodbuster Tone Clusters in the Key of G-Haw
• Pan[handle]diatonic Blues
• Passacaglia – Then Pass the Grits
• The Hoarse Horse Blues
• Namby-pamby Nocturne
• Showdown at O.K. Chorale (for Four Voices or Saloon Piano)
• Linda Lariat
• Handy Randy and Dandy Dan
• Galloping Gertrude
• Stagecoach Suzie
• Grazing Daisy
• Lollapalooza Lydia
• Willy's Western Whimsy
• The Ambling Rambler Gambler
• Rollicking Roundup
• Bronco Blues
• Lonesome Louis
• Sauntering Sam
• Hifalutin Lootin' Galoot Luke
• Terry Tinhorn
• Boise Boogie
• Harry's Hardy Herd
• Roger Rodeo
• Cactus Calhoun
• Rustlin' Ricky
• Badland Barry
• Four-flushing Freddy Meets Two-Timing Tina
Archival pages with Cowboy Jazz info (not active for music purchases):
Performers are encouraged to take creative liberties with all Cowboy Jazz tunes.
Here are some of my examples of possible variants:
Sally Saddle (opening, or at the repetition):
.....more variants (next page, handwritten):
COVER ART WORK:
Cover to Cowboy Jazz I as published by Hal Leonard (2008):
See also: https://www.pianofestival.org/prizes/prizecj.htm
Cover to Cowboy Jazz II as published by Abundant Silence (2015), Artwork by Marie [Houle] Gerstman:
Dr. Arthur Joseph Houle is founder and artistic director of the Festival for Creative Pianists [https://www.festivalforcreativepianists.org/about], a critically acclaimed virtuoso performer, a private teacher since the age of thirteen, and a published writer, composer, arranger, and editor. He was Director of Keyboard Studies and professor of music at Colorado Mesa University from 2006 to 2020. Prior to that, he taught at the Universities of Iowa, North Dakota and Texas-Austin, College of Idaho, the Dana Hall School of Music (Wellesley, MA), and the extension divisions of New England & Boston Conservatories. Currently he is professor emeritus and resides in Boise, Idaho.
Houle was Abundant Silence's 2015-16 Featured Composing Educator and recipient of five CMU Exemplary Faculty Awards, a 2011 MTNA Fellow Award, and, most recently, four Steinway & Sons Top Teacher Awards. His YouTube channel [https://www.youtube.com/@arthurjosephhoulepianist/videos] features over 150 posts of his stylistically varied recordings spanning a professional career of more than 4½ decades.
Click here to visit Dr. Arthur Houle's collection of works published by Abundant Silence.
"THE GOOD 'HOULE'-KEEPING SEAL – OUR HIGH QUALITY GUARANTEE!"