Songs for Petra

Producer Jesse Harris
Executive Producer John Zorn
Associate Producer Kazunori Sugiyama
All music by John Zorn (Musical Optics, ASCAP)
All lyrics by Jesse Harris (Beanly Songs, BMI; Sony; ATV Tunes LLC)
Recording and mixing by Vira Byramji at Secret Sun West, NYC
Mastering by Scott Hull
Petra Haden photos
Steven Perilloux Band photo Vira Byramji
Design Chippy (Heung-Heung Chin)

Songs for Petra

1. Easy Time
2. Lost in the Rain
3. Nothing
4. The Wind in the Clouds
5. It Was Innocent
6. Kafiristan
7. Waiting for Christmas
8. All This Time
9. Listen
10. Taking My Time
11. My Forbidden Tears
12. I Never Thought
13. Over Your Head

Petra Haden

Julian Lage

Jorge Roeder

Kenny Wollesen
drums, percussion

Jesse Harris
acoustic guitar, keys, background vocals

John Zorn-Jesse Harris
Songs for Petra
featuring the Julian Lage Trio

About Songs for Petra

Singer Petra Haden excels in this beautiful and unique program of songs penned by the songwriting team of John Zorn and Jesse Harris. Friends for many years, they began working together on “The Song Project” in 2012, and eight years later this CD presents the full fruits of their collaboration: thirteen Zorn compositions with original lyrics by Jesse Harris. Including selections from a wide variety of Zorn CDs (and one original that has never appeared on CD before), the melodies are catchy, the lyrics heartfelt, the grooves deep and the solos profound and exhilarating. Backed by the amazing Julian Lage, Jorge Roeder and Kenny Wollesen and produced by Jesse Harris, this is a CD that you will listen to again and again.

SONGS FOR PETRA had its nascence in 2012 when John Zorn created The Song Project, a group dedicated to transforming his compositions into songs with lyrics. That group, however, did not include Petra Haden, and its roots went back even further — or I should say deeper.

Though I had released an instrumental album, Cosmo, on Tzadik Records in 2010 and written a piece for one of the Arcana books, Zorn and I were already several years into a friendship that has since amounted to countless meals all over New York and the Tri-State Area, conversations, sharing of books and films, music tours and wanderings through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Frick, Cloisters, Botanical Gardens and Bronx Zoo.

But back to 2012. To celebrate his 60th birthday Zorn organized a series of marathon concerts that would occur internationally throughout 2013, featuring all of his musical manifestations, from classical to metal to Masada.

The Song Project would be unique in that it alone cherry-picked pieces from all these genres, with lyrics added by Mike Patton, Sofía Rei, Sean Lennon and myself. Patton, Rei and I were the singers, backed by a band that included Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Joey Baron, and Kenny Wollesen (on vibraphone at that point, not drums). One moment Patton, sounding as though a distortion pedal had been surgically implanted in his throat, would scream something from Naked City; the next Rei would croon a bolero in Spanish; and then I would sing a soft confessional taken from Zorn’s Alhambra Trio. We performed all over Europe, in Australia and, finally, in New York, where we recorded an album. During this period I wrote the lyrics for Waiting for Christmas (aka Mountain View), The Wind in the Clouds (aka Tamalpais), Kafiristan (aka Towards Kafiristan) and a version of My Forbidden Tears (aka Forbidden Tears), later to be rewritten.

That same year the guitarist (and my old friend), Anthony Wilson, invited me to perform with his collective, The Curators, at Blue Whale, a club in Los Angeles. He also asked whether I would pick up the other singer performing that night, Petra Haden, because she didn’t drive. After the show she and I decided to make an album together and soon began developing a repertoire. The result was Seemed Like a Good Idea — Petra Haden Sings Jesse Harris. A footnote might have added *and Zorn/Harris, because we recorded It Was Innocent, a new song based on John’s composition, Song of Innocence. When he heard Petra’s version, as well as her dazzling acappella albums, he was, to say the least, bowled over.

Petra and I went on to tour the US, Japan and the UK, both at the London Jazz Festival and the Meltdown Festival, the year David Byrne was “guest curator.”

In 2014 Zorn and I presented a private house concert of The Song Project at my apartment in New York, premiering two new pieces, Taking My Time (aka Song of Experience) and the aforementioned It Was Innocent, both inspired by William Blake (Song of Innocence and Song of Experience) and both of which I sang, accompanied by Julian Lage on acoustic guitar. Sofía Rei followed, with JC Maillard on guitar and Jorge Roeder upright bass.

As Lage and Zorn were becoming fast friends and collaborators, Julian and I were also working on projects, with him asking me to produce his two trio albums, Arclight and Modern Lore, both of which included Kenny Wollesen on drums.

By degrees these musical spheres were moving ever closer together.

The final spark igniting the Petra/Zorn connection occurred in late 2017, during the final months of the The Stone’s location on Avenue B, when Zorn offered me a week-long residency. I dedicated one night to all of our songs. John suggested we invite Petra to sing most of them and Julian’s trio with Jorge and Kenny to be the band, along with me on acoustic guitar and some vocals. Petra also played violin. I wrote new lyrics to fill out the set: Easy Time (aka Once Upon a Time), Lost in the Rain (aka Gormenghast) and a reworked My Forbidden Tears, though the words for the bridge remained unfinished.

Inspired by Petra’s performance, Zorn feverishly composed a body of six numbered pieces, to be sung with words, written by me, titled Songs for Petra. Not only were the melodies difficult for lyric writing, but it seemed impossible to transform them into songs for a vocalist. Zorn disagreed. He insisted lyrics could be written to the melodies and encouraged me to try. To assist me — as well as to learn them himself — Julian recorded acoustic guitar demos of each one.

I started with the easy ones, which became All This Time and Listen, and then procrastinated until finally using a kind of word game to tackle the others.

From this process came I Never Thought, Over Your Head and Nothing. The only composition I was never able to give lyrics was what we called #5 at the shows (Petra would scat sing the melody in unison with Julian), later titled Rififi by Zorn. One day maybe I’ll get that one.

John had also prodded me to finish the bridge of Forbidden Tears, which we finally began to perform.

Our New York show at Rockwood Music Hall in the spring of 2018 was
pivotal, because Zorn made two decisions: Petra should stop playing violin to focus on singing, giving more room to Julian as the featured soloist; and I should stop singing lead vocals, allowing Petra to be the featured singer.

After a short European tour in the fall of 2018 and another in the US in early 2019 the band was eager to record. Two factors delayed this plan: not only were everyone’s dates impossible to coordinate, but Zorn felt that we should wait to let the music germinate and develop more naturally. With time, he said, we could get deeper into, and more comfortable with, the material.

And so we waited…a year.
In February 2020, a five-day session was scheduled to record and mix the entire album — thirteen songs — at my apartment, using my home “studio.” Quotation marks are used here because the studio consists only of one short rack of gear, microphones, headphones and Pro Tools. Kenny and his drums set up in my bedroom; Jorge and his upright bass in the living room; Julian with his guitar next to Jorge (wired to his amp in the second bedroom); Petra in my office behind Vira, our engineer. I was set up with my guitar by the front door. We recorded live. Julian didn’t overdub a single solo. Petra’s vocals are either from the live takes or from the third day of recording, which we dedicated to her adding harmonies and picking her favorite performances from overdubs she had done immediately following the band’s recording of each song. Finishing thirteen vocals in one eight-hour day is an impressive feat; moreover — for those who might wonder — not one single note was tuned artificially. Listen to the album’s difficult melodies and that last detail becomes particularly impressive.

So here you have it, Songs For Petra, the official document of the songs of Zorn and Harris, eight years in the making. It could not have happened without the skill and dedication of Petra Haden, Julian Lage, Jorge Roeder and Kenny Wollesen, nor without the generous support, not to mention compositions, of John Zorn.
– Jesse Harris, NYC, February 2020

I’ve been leaning out of my window
I keep looking out for a sign
I’ve been holding out through the autumn
I’ve been waiting for Christmas time
There’s a perfect view of the mountain
Rising up above all the pines
You said you’d be back when the frost comes
So I’m waiting for Christmas time
I keep looking up at that mountain
Wondering where you been all this time
Will you really come back for certain?
I’ll keep waiting for Christmas time
I’ll keep waiting for Christmas time

Tamalpais, Tamalpais
I can see you now
Rising high to the clouds
I’m driving down and out
And I’ll never see this again
Not the way it’s been
Cause something changed on Tamalpais
Something brought the rain
And I’ll never see this again
Not the way it’s been
Tamalpais, Tamalpais
Can you tell me how
People change like the wind
Blowing through the clouds

One day you’ll meet a man
And he’ll be going to Kafiristan
I think that you should wait
And listen to his plan
To meet the ancients in Kafiristan
Though you may say it’s a lie
Look into his eyes
No fear he’s just a man
And you can join him to Kafiristan

Though you may say it’s a lie
Look into his eyes
No fear he’s just a man
And you can join him to Kafiristan
Yes you can join him to Kafiristan
Yes you can join him to Kafiristan

You say the bird has flown away
And every time it does you know that
I would never stand in the way
Then my forbidden fears begin
When every time I tell myself
That one day it will come back again
Still I dream that somehow
We could be together here forever
Like two planets floating in an orbit round the sun
Now I only see our eternity undone
I’ll try to wait and not to cry
But my forbidden tears are falling
My forbidden tears from my eyes
My forbidden tears are falling
My forbidden tears from my eyes
My forbidden tears are falling
My forbidden tears from my eyes

I passed the time
Somehow it was spent
As for what I did
It was innocent
The summer’s gone
Who knows where it went
As for what I said
It was innocent
It’s hard to see into the future
When the light’s in your eyes
And the waves are so pure
It moves so fast that it can’t last
You have to know
That I never meant
To be unkind
It was innocent
It was innocent

Taking my time
I can’t be happy till you’re off my mind
Taking my time — my my
Hoping to see
Somewhere you and I can both be free
Hoping to see you fly
Over all the walls that keep you inside
Over all the seas of tears that you’ve cried
If that’s when this thread of love unwinds
Till then I’m taking my time

When you’re there
All alone feeling sad
Keep this in mind
You never know
Nothing lasts
Good or bad
Let it pass
Falling behind
I was there
At your side
You recall
Keep me in mind
You never know
Followed me
Walking down

On the sand
Falling behind
Losing your way
Blind in the sun
Lost in the rain
Ever wonder
Nothing to say
What can be done
Kill all the pain
Stop the thunder

If I took your picture down
Or turned it to the wall
Wonder if I’d see the image anyway
Or nothing at all
If I met you face to face
I don’t know what I’d say
Every time I think I’ll call I never do
And waste the whole day
Once upon a time
Once upon a time
Time was easy time
Once upon a time
If I ever think of nevermore

It’s more than I can bear
So I try to stop the voices in my head
From going nowhere

I always thought that one day we’d be friends
The road was long but straight
I knew we had to meet somehow but then
I had to wait and wait
I’d like to go somewhere I’ve never been
I’ve got a list so long
I always thought that one day we’d be friends
Maybe you’ll come along
All this time
You’ve been on my mind
All this time
Will I ever find you?
I always thought that one day we’d be friends
I hope I wasn’t wrong
But if we’re never face to face
At least I hope you hear this song

How can I explain
When your eyes are teary and red?
Over your head
It’s not over your head
I would love to show you
The way if you could be led
Over your head
It’s not over your head
Seems that we’ve taken
The wrong road again
Seems we’ve mistaken
The children for the men
Look at the sun
Dive in the sea
Float on the waves
You can swim beside me
How can I explain
That my love will never be dead?
Over your head
It’s not over your head

Listen to the rain
Falling on the street
Listen to the thunder crashing
Through the summer heat
Listen to my voice
Can you hear me speak?
Can you see the tears upon my cheek?
Now it’s been so long
Time keeps moving on
Since the day you came
And said you were staying
Since the day you came
And then you were gone
I keep wondering
I keep wondering
I keep wondering
I keep wondering
As I hear the rain
Falling in a stream
Were you ever really here
Or was it just a dream?
Were you ever really here
Or was it just a dream?

All these years I never thought
I would be going home
On my own I never thought
I would never kiss you again
But I’ll never kiss you again
Or at least till the end
Oh my I never thought
You would fall like a star
Oh my love I never thought
I would never hold you again
But I’ll never hold you again
Or at least till the end
Oh my I never thought
Did I or did you or did we?
Who really knows
Every memory flying by
Like a fighter jet in the sky
Like a fighter jet in the sky
In the sky flying
Like a fighter jet in the sky
All these years I never thought
I would be going home
On my own I never thought
I would never see you again
But I’ll never see you again
Or at least till the end
Oh my I never thought
You would fall like a star

Oh my love I never thought
I would never hold you again
But I’ll never hold you again
Or at least till the end
Oh my I never thought
Did I or did you or did we?
Who really knows

Look inside and all you see is nothing
You got nothing
But don’t worry cause that’s a lot
But never mind who’s got the time
Who even wants to find out
Why not just give up now
Why not live it up now
Look outside and all you see is nothing to do
Nothing keeps on staring right back at you
But never mind who really cares
Who even dares to climb out
Why not just give up now
Gotta go
Sorry no
I should go
A million things to do you know