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Shooting In A Pandemic? No Problem! 

 

Thinking on our feet. Thanks the key to the whole “End Of A Love Affair” video.  Let me explain. 

It was our most complicated shoot, and expectations were high being the 4th Video from the chart topping “Vegas Breeze” album and after such acclaim for the When In Rome video, (which we shot in Rome itself), we knew we had to get it just right! 

And all this in the middle of a pandemic? Luckily we had already shot extensive footage at the legendary Toronto after hours Club 120  in Feb just before the first shut down… It was an extravagant affair, featuring my band onstage (Michael Shand, Russ Boswell & William Sperandei) and an invited “audience” of 11 friends and family to be create at the sophisticated atmosphere where our leading lady arrives at a Jazz Club and we begin the “Affair” in question! :)

A moment to introduce the singular powerhouse Laura Desiree. An internationally beloved Burlesque entertainer who day job is anchoring “The Naked News”, you may recall Laura as one of the classic showgirls from our “Thats Life” video! Laura and I have been kindred spirits for a while but during the rehearsals and shooting of this video we really found our groove as creative soul mates!  I cannot thank her enough for how much she has contributed to this “Love Affair”! 

 

The next member of the creative team you should meet is the wonderful Choreographer/Director Dayna Tekatch who is the resident Director of  “Come From Away”. Dayna choreographed the latin dance sequence in the video, rehearsing Laura and myself as we sweated to get it just right upstairs in the Mirvish Studio’s on King Street in downtown Toronto. Dayna understood exactly what was needed to tell the emotional story and just how to teach the details to Laura and took time away from her busy schedule to coach us on our 2nd night of shooting at the Club 120.  My Co-Producer Leonardo Dell’Anno and our director Carlos Coronado strung the pretty lights and manned the fog machine while Laura and I worked hard to bring the choreography to life and not slip on the wet floor! 

 All told we had two nights of filming  in the can when the 1st lockdown ground us to a halt! But it gave us time to sit and think. When all was said and done we had some hard decisions to make. The Dance sequence looked & felt great. Dayna’s choreography really told the story of the “Love Affair”.  However the performance footage from the “Jazz Club” sequence had turned out just “ok” and we knew that the visual images had to match the lush musical arrangement of the track.

Over the long pandemic summer I kept trying to solve the problem in my head, eventually landing on a change in narrative direction and creating a whole new shoot to capture the performance sequence you now see (in the white jacket and bow tie). We dropped most of the “Jazz Club” sequence and planned to have me performing in a giant imaginary Vegas Showroom filled with the disappointment of an affair gone wrong… tortured by images of Laura floating in my head. How romantic ..and how the hell to pull that off?

 

Come the opening of restrictions in the fall, we were able to bring in award-winning Theatre, Film and Concert Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell to help create the imaginary Vegas Showroom for the new performance footage.   Of course we had to wait until the first “lockdown” was over before gathering cast and crew but with no live theatre it meant the legendary alternative theatre venue The Theatre Centre would be available for us to shoot in!  I started my career acting and writing music for many of the companies  at The Theatre Centre  right after graduating high school so it was especially sweet to be able to shoot there! And as soon as magic makeup lady Lorna Thibodeau and hair wizard William Hume came on board I knew we were ready to make some real magic happen! 

For our final shots we used the stage door of the legendary Elgin/ Wintergarden Theatre with Dundas Square standing in for the lights of Sin City as our singer walks away haunted by his romantic memories. 

Im proud to have co-produced our most intricate and complicated video shoot to date, (…with 6 locations & over 7 shooting days!) and must thank each of my team and everyone of you from the bottom of my heart for having supported this video. We're feeling deeply blessed and very grateful for the response!

Shooting in a Pandemic? No Problem! :)

 

The End Of A Love Affair 

 

A few words about The End Of A Love Affair. 

What attracts a singer to a song? Is it the melody, the lyric, the overall mood, or perhaps the emotional resonance of another artists performance?   With "The End Of A love Affair" it is for all of those reasons  that I was interested in working on my own version for the Vegas Breeze album. 

Certainly this little known standard written by Edward Redding lands firmly in our #BeyondTheRatPack concept of avoiding the regular Vegas playlist.  Many fine versions exist including by Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra but its actually Johnny Hartman’s 1956 Bolero version (which switches to a waltz on the bridge!)  that made me excited to try it myself. 

What happens when we are suddenly alone at end of a love affair? We may drink to much, we may drive too fast, we may talk too loud. But hopefully were still in the game-hoping to love again.   There’s such a perfect beauty to this classic saloon song, the listener never drowns in the emotion but stay buoyed up in its mood of sophistication and intelligence. The rhyming scheme alone makes the singer of this song sound “world weary and wise” rather than broken & desolate. How grown up and true to life experience.

Like all the tracks on Vegas Breeze the arrangement for this song started life with the band in our weekly creative sessions long before we hit the studio.  When we landed on the slow sensuous Bossa feel the vocal seemed to land for me. Once pianist/arranger Michael Shand worked his magic re-harmonizing the verses I felt we’d deepened the languorous mood and really put our own stamp on the song. 

After laying the bed track with the trio (including Russ Boswell on Bass & Al Cross on Drums) and getting that  classic Bossa Nova feel on guitar with Rob Piltch the next move was to bring in master trumpet man William Sperandei who’s soulful playing makes this essentially a duet between two heart broken guys, all surrounded by Don Breithaupt's deliciously silky & smooth string arrangement.

The final results perfectly expresses the kind of mid century torchy “cool” that I was hoping to create on the Vegas Breeze album. 

Have a listen here folks: Spotify:track:7EqZm9hnuIHWL73unAsRI9 

 

 

Album Cover Shoot! 

  

Looking for the way to express the dynamic power of the Vegas Breeze album visually would have been a daunting task if I didn’t have such a top notch team!  

Creative director Leonardo Del’Anno and I worked hard in advance to find clothes that packed a punch and expressed the nature of the music on “Vegas Breeze” -and I am especially grateful to the good folks at Got Style in Toronto who know men's wear so well & helped supply key pieces! 

At first we thought we’d actually be shooting in Vegas, but as you can imagine locking down a location in that 24/7 town can be challenging. So we decided we would shoot in Montreal, a city with a wealth of interesting locations and where our incredible photographer Juan Palacio lives and works.  

Experience told me to do a lot of personal prep to get ready, so I dug in with trainer Adrian at the Westend YMCA, did  facial treatments with our favourite magician Crystal Rose & made sure to get my hair cut by magician William Humerick (at Qi Salon) before boarding the train to Montreal one fine Friday in June.  

 We were lucky enough to find Chanelle Bohemier for makeup and hair which was no small feat as all the makeup folks in Montreal were crazy busy that weekend!  And so with my partner Thom Allison on hand to help (in a million amazing ways) our team assembled in a downtown studio to get me ready for camera!  


 

The photo we used for the Thats Life & When In Rome singles were shot at Bord-Elle (https://bordelle.ca) which has an awesome interior, designed to look like a sophisticated gentleman’s club of the roaring 20’s. Perfect for our purposes….  ...However when we were trying to make our way to the venue in the business district of downtown Montreal we found that due to a Triathlon the entire area had been blocked off ...and getting our car full of photography equipment etc proved more than a little challenging.. I dropped my credit card while paying for parking luckily a kind parking attendant found and returned it.. I almost sweated my make-up off worrying about losing valuable shoot time at the location-However once we hit the venue and made the decisions about where to shoot we got down to the session and came away with gold in record time..  


w. the A Team- Chanelle, Leonardo & Juan  

The folks at the Board-Elle location were really helpful & Juan had already shot the photos for New York Stories so we found working together faster and easier this time because of the rapport we already have, Leonardo knew exactly what we needed to express the power and energy of this music.. and I have learned to trust my team and just relax into the experience of creating that perfect shot -thats why I hired them in the first place after all-and so the family of photo's we got that day in the various locations worked like a dream! Wait until we can show you the album cover and the rest of the shots that we did in "The White Room" !! :) 

Sometimes when its that easy you don’t trust that you could possibly have gotten what you needed!  

But thanks to attention to detail in the preparation- the results proved to be way beyond any of our expectations….  

and Hey, Sometimes……. THATS LIFE!! :)

When In Rome (I Do As The Romans Do)  

 

Finding the songs for the Vegas Breeze album has been a gas. Searching meticulously through the canon of late 50’s early 60’s Pop has meant hours and hours of enjoyment, discovering lesser known material of the classic showroom era.

It was an interesting time for song craft in that most of the hit parade was generated from Broadway and Hollywood, where songs from musical scores made up the mainstay of the pop charts. Its not a generalization to say that meant a more sophisticated sense of lyric and melodic structure in that pre-rock n roll period. (No wonder so many of the Jazz standards have their genesis in the Musical Theatre tradition!) 

Our first single having been the Frank Sinatra classic “Thats Life”,  I knew it was important to look beyond the Rat Pack tunes (which are sung so often and by so many) on the rest of the collection. So I went deep diving into the repertoire of other Las Vegas entertainers such as Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett and Ms Peggy Lee.  In fact our 2nd single “When In Rome”, written by Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh (Witchcraft, The Best Is Yet To Come etc) was first recorded by Peggy Lee in 1964, although it is the Barbra Streisand version (released the same year) that I was most familiar with from my families record collection at home. A fresh “self-empowered” approach from both ladies suited the song well, however When In Rome didn’t officially enter the “jazz” canon until the Tony Bennett included the song in his collaboration with Bill Evans in 1975. 

Arranged in collaboration with my stellar band Michael Shand, Russ Boswell & Al Cross, with the notable addition of Rob Piltch on guitar, we settled on a breezy Bossa Nova arrangement with strings (with a beautiful arrangement by Don Breithaupt!), for that “international playboy” approach, after all When In Rome is essentially a very smart and sophisticated “cheating song”. 

I believe the NY Times said it best ; “When in Rome” has lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Coleman’s greatest collaborator and the only major American lyricist whose bon mots consistently match Cole Porter’s in capturing an attitude of jaded sophistication fraught with heartbreak. The more pain is exposed, the sharper the wit that covers it up”.

Ah yes that mid-century American attitude- Jet setting to the tune of international infidelity! LOL

Sinatra & The Song 

 

I've always had a love/hate relationship with Frank. Although his phrasing, choice of material and superb arrangements are impeccable, the standard bearer of mid century pop artistry, his macho swagger and tuff guy personality has always turned me off the music. 

His whole “Rat Pack” act may have defined a kind of “screw the establishment” hipster attitude at the time but Frank’s definition of “masculine cool” seemed   hopelessly dated & old school by the time I started listening. Even his softer more vulnerable love ballads suffered from our knowledge of his treatment of the opposite sex. 

When looking at material for the upcoming album “Vegas Breeze” It was pretty deep in the process before I realized that we needed to include at least one well known Sinatra tune in tribute to the great contribution he made to the American songbook. 

“Thats Life” was the first Sinatra tunes we tried and ended up being one of the last tunes recorded for the album.  A late 60’s hit for Frank that I had previously only known through Aretha Franklin’s 1967 incendiary version. Apparently Frank hated singing the song ( because of it’s “loser” narrative) but because audiences always requested it he was forced to keep the song in his live sets. 

Looking to create our own “Micah” version of the song, the band (Michael Shand, Russ Boswell and Al Cross) and I experimented with playing the song at breakneck speed and that “go for broke” tempo seemed to express the songs hopeful spirit the best! 

Im really happy with the power and punch that our arrangement delivers! LOVE what having the full horn section and the back up ladies does for the whole vibe-like you’ve just stepped into a classic era Vegas showroom in full swing!

Vegas Breeze: First Video! 

Genie, Laura and Carlos on the "Thats Life" Shoot!

When I started talking to award winning director Carlos Coronado about our collaborating on a video I knew I wanted to do something fun and wild.  The video's for"New York Stories" were mostly serious in nature and that "Vegas entertainer" vibe is a component of this new album that I wanted to make sure we communicated with our first video release!

 The song I chose, "Thats Life", is a classic Sinatra tune, but the band and I had recorded our own sped up "Micah Barnes" version that seemed like the perfect way to introduce this new album.   So over the course of a number of enjoyable visits to Carlos favourite watering hole in the Parkdale area of Toronto our plans were set in place.

  I knew we could ask horn players James Rhodes and Nebhu Yohannes (pictured) to come by since I'd worked with them on the "Micah At The Sands" show....But we needed two statuesque performers  to play the "Vegas Showgirls" which seemed like it would be biggest challenge, until I thought of talking to my pal Laura Desiree who just happens to be one of North America's premiere burlesque artists! It took a while to coordinate schedules but once Laura came on board the shoot landed quickly, she suggested her sister in arms Genie Emerald as the 2nd Showgirl and I knew we had landed our perfect cast!  

Little did we know that still shots from the day would end up being the image for the #VegasBreeze  crowdfunding Campaign!  But with all that glamour it seemed like the perfect way to introduce this music to the world! 

The shoot actually went very quick and was a whole lot of fun! We can't wait for you to see the results!

 

Vegas Breeze: The Band 

The Band upstairs at The Jazz Bistro in Toronto

I knew the new album was going to consist mainly of existing songs that I have long wanted to sing but when we first started working cover tunes into the live shows I still wasn't sure which direction the album was taking. It was Russ Boswell who called it one day in rehearsal, remarking that all the material I was bringing in felt old school Vegas showroom tunes!

That was an important moment in helping me focus the song selection! Russ (bass) and Michael Shand (piano) and I dug in on the arrangements around my piano for a few months before taking them to Al Cross (drums) over at the Cherry Jam rehearsal studios (Room #4!) and locking in the grooves. We took the time to dig and pull apart the arrangements many times, making sure we had tried all of the material out live, so that when we hit the recording studio, this music was already deep in our bones.

Recording session at Union Studio in Toronto

Recording "live off the floor" with engineer John Beetle Bailey at the helm, we cut bed tracks at Union & Revolution Studios in Toronto, setting the instruments up so that we could all see each other and play together as a band. Thats long been the traditional way to record Jazz and I've always appreciated the extra prep time that it takes to make the tracks feel "alive" and "in the moment"

 My deepest and ever-lasting thanks to Michael, Russ and Al for their musical contribution. The musical personalities of each of these players is embedded deep inside of every track on this album. Thats the delicious result of having a consistent band of top level musicians to work with....  

 The results speak for themselves. Cant wait for you to hear this music!

 

Vegas Breeze: The Song! 

 

 Daniel and I grew up playing music together, formed a trio while in high school and hit the club circuit while still teenagers, so when I returned from LA it was exciting to rekindle our musical collaboration. I trust Daniel's ears as an arranger and composer implicitly, after all he co-produced the "New York Stories" (eOne Music) with me and had a large hand in shaping the musical arrangements as well as drumming and singing BG's on the album.

Micah and Daniel during "New York Stories" recording sessions at Drive Shed Studio

On the way to New York Stories Dan and I had been co-writing tunes in his Liberty Village studio. There was one swing tune in particular that eluded our grasp, the lyric just never felt right to me. With it's original lyric it was called " Lets Get Our Heaven Started" and was a kind of ode to the classic swing standards.

It was only once the new album was settling into it's classic Vegas sound and I was looking for a possible title tune to coalesce the vibe that I remembered Daniel's original melody and decided to have another crack at the lyric....

Micah and Daniel during "New York Stories" recording sessions at Drive Shed Studio

Bringing the new "Vegas" lyric to the band, we tried playing it a whole bunch of ways, landing on a kind of  "Bossa a la Bacharach" approach (thanks to the creative input of Michael Shand and Russ Boswell and Al Cross)..suddenly "Vegas Breeze" become an audience favourite in the live shows!  

Adding a killer BG's arrangement from Rique Franks and horns by Don Breithaupt in later studio sessions, the recording of "Vegas Breeze" has become the catchy title tune that will help announce the the new album to a global audience!

Gee, thanks Dan! Guess we did it again! :)

 

Vegas Breeze: The Horns! 

    Its really exciting when you meet a new musical soul mateIt has long been my dream to work with horns and thanks to Master Arranger Don Breithaupt (and his awesome taste!)- Vegas Breeze now features an all star horn section!

Have a peek at the video about and you'll see Don conducting the horn section through a tune. It was magic to hear his charts unfold with such incredible attention to detail and such deep musicality!

 

 

 Pictured are Don and myself with Jason Logue(Trumpet), John Johnson (Tenor),Vern Dorge (alto) & William Carn (tromboneTalk about your All Star Horn Section!  Cannot wait for you to hear this music!

 

 

 

 

Vegas Breeze: The Ladies! 

 

I have a very special and deep relationship with "The Ladies" who sing with me on the Vegas Breeze album.

I met and vibed with both Miku Graham and Rique Franks long before actually singing with them and envisioned them as the perfect voices& performers to help bring the New York Stories to life in concert. The footage here tells the story! .....

Moving from the "late night jazz club" of New York Stories to the "classic Vegas showroom" meant the sex and sizzle of "girls girls girls" and so  it was essential to me that we cut their vocals for the Vegas Breeze album BUT we were working against busy schedules with Miku about to head off on a long tour.

Rique did up the awesome arrangements in what seemed like a few days (she's incredibly fast) and we cut them really quick too, in a session at Revolution and one at Noble Street Studios. But the results are simply spectacular and I can't wait for you to hear how much they add to the feel and sound of overall album!

Knishes & Grits 

 

 

Of course its all about the food! 

We were looking for a title for the new show that Thom Allison and I are writing and performing that celebrates  the coming together of Black and Jewish cultures musically -and when Thom hit on that title we knew we had our show! 

Two cultures familiar with the pain of discrimination & displacement. Yes. Two cultures whose coming together created Jazz, Musical Theatre and most of the Hit Parade. Yes.

But also two cultures that love to celebrate the good things in life-Family, Laughter, Love, Music ………and Great Food! 

I’m sitting here buried under a pile of historical reference books, with songs from every imaginable place and time- digging in to collaborate with a GREAT team- hoping to take the audience on a ride that is as informative, surprising and entertaining as this music can be! 

Of course now we spend a lot of time answering the culinary question of how to describe what both dishes actually are made of! :) 

May 21st to June 2nd @ Toronto Centre For The Arts!  Direction by Avery Saltzman, Musical Direction Mark Camilleri, produced by Toronto Jewish Theatre  starring Jackie Richardson, Kelly Hollif,  Micah Barnes and Thom Allison. 

Book your tickets early folks!  https://www.secureboxoffice.com/Search?query=knishes+and+grits

The Vegas Showroom Is Forever!  

 

Why have the entertainers that worked the strip during the classic Vegas era held our attention all these years? While working on my new album and creating the new concert evening “Micah Barnes At The Sands” I have been thinking about that question a whole bunch.  

 It feels like the answer lies in what Vegas has represented in our collective memories all these years. 

 It’s certainly fun to imagine Vegas crawling with swingers out for a good time, theres an argument to be made that Vegas was where the American personality and culture found its greatest expression! In fact the romance of that bygone era with its atmosphere of sin and smoke and sex seems like the last time we were classy and lowdown at the same time, especially as we look back through the prism of decades of loosened morality, shorter hem lines and a much more casual approach to night life.  Now “dressing up to get down” is a quaint look back at another era. Back then it was an expression of sophistication! 

 For many decades we looked back at that “Mad Men” moment in the 50’s and early 60’s as last gasp of the old guard before a younger generation toppled the establishment and took over the pop cultural landscape.  The teenage revolution that gave us Elvis, The Beatles and The Supremes seemed to suddenly make Frank Sinatra your father’s music, but in fact there was a time when The Rat Packers were the hip new thing!  

 Frankie, Dean and Sammy encapsulated a fascinating moment of masculine cool and non conformity that expressed a new kind of new swagger that poked fun at the rules of the old establishment. But back when Broadway shows and Hollywood movies still gave us our hit songs the heppest cool cats and chicks of the day like Judy Garland, Lena Horn, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and  Mel Torme played the Vegas showrooms on a regular basis. 

 It’s been an awesome adventure uncovering some of the lesser known songs from these great entertainers and finding my own way to express that exciting moment in time when the biggest names lit up the big showrooms of Las Vegas!

 

 New Recording Adventure!  



 

Nothing compares to the thrill and creative energy when an artist is taking new music to the recording studio.  

My band, Micheal Shand, Russ Boswell and Al Cross and I have been developing arrangements for a new batch of songs which we will be testing with live audiences throughout the recording process. Thats what worked so well for me while writing, arranging and recording “New York Stories” and I wanted to follow the same approach with this new batch of tunes. The major difference is that whereas New York Stories was made up of original songs paying tribute to romance and The Big Apple, this new batch is mostly comprised of cover tunes. 

Touring across Canada with NY Stories I’ve had a chance to “road test” a whole lot of the new material. However last spring when I was still struggling to figure out the “spine” of the new recording I had a revelatory moment while thinking about the “stories” these new songs seemed to be telling.  More about that later down the road but suffice to say once the new album had landed in a focused direction making decisions about which songs to try and include started to become easier and thats when I knew it was time to begin the process of readying the music for the studio.  Starting over the summer the band and I got together for arrangement sessions and this fall we’ve begun cutting tracks “live of the floor” at Union Sound Company downtown Toronto. 

We’re also doing a series of Ontario shows to put this new music on it’s feet in front of the public. Check the website for dates and venues!  Its the audiences  who told me which songs belonged on New York Stories and this time around it’s no different! 


 

New York City Jazz: Lullaby Of Birdland 

 


 

Birdland is a famous jazz club in New York City located at 1678 Broadway at 44th Street. Owner Morris Levy rnamed the club Birdland in honor of Charlie “Bird” Parker and it is that club after which this classic Jazz standard of the Bebop era was named.  The legendary venue continues to book the top Jazz acts today, and with it's lushly appointed booths and classic look serves as throw back to a time when nightclubs were  where you found the sophisticated elite of society.

 Jazz Pianist George Shearing, composer of “Lullaby of Birdland,” first played the venue in 1949 the year that it opened.  In 1952 Levy decided to have station WJZ in New York broadcast a disc jockey program from there, and he asked Shearing to record a theme song for the show.  For weeks Shearing tried to come up with something but to no avail. Suddenly one night in the middle of dinner he jumped up, went to the piano and wrote the whole thing in about ten minutes. The pianist explains, “Actually quite a lot of my compositions have come this way--very slow going for a week or so, and the finished piece comes together very rapidly, but as I say to those who criticize this method of working, it’s not that I dash something off in ten minutes, it’s ten minutes plus umpteen years in the business.”

Somewhat later George David Weiss added lyrics to the tune, and Sarah Vaughan recorded it in December, 1954, for Mercury with trumpeter Clifford Brown. It was one of her biggest hits and became a standard in her repertoire. Being one of the first Jazz standards I attempted to learn as a young teenager, Ive always appreciated both the songs Bebop style melody which manages to nicely pay tribute to Charlie Parkers inventive playing style and to the simple poetry of the lyric, which is both imminently singable and emotionally engaging.

 I'm including Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown's classic version of "Lullaby Of Birdland" here for those who haven't heard it!

            

New York City Jazz: "Stompin' At The Savoy"  

 

 The title of the beloved swing standard “Stompin’ at the Savoy” refers to the Savoy Ballroom in the Harlem originally taking up the entire block on Lennox between West 140th and 141st Streets where the Savoy Apt. complex now stand. Incredibly that was our NYC address during the writing of "New York Stories" something I didn't realize until running for the milk one morning and spotting the plaque in front of the apartment complex!  Now maybe thats why the swing music kept infiltrating my dreams at night leading to the writing of so many "old school" style tunes on New York Stories!

The plaque reads: "Here once stood the legendary Savoy Ballroom, a hothouse for the development of jazz in the Swing era. Visually dazzling and spacious, the Savoy nightly featured the finest jazz bands in the nation, and its house bands included such famous orchestras as those of Fess Williams, Chick Webb, and Teddy Hill. The great jazz dancers who appeared on its block-long floor ranged from professionals like Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers to everyday Harlemites. During a time of racial segregation and strife, the Savoy was one of the most culturally and racially integrated of institutions, and its fame was international. It was the heartbeat of Harlem’s community and a testament to the indomitable spirit and creative impulse of African-Americans. It was a catalyst for innovation where dancers and musicians blended influences to forge new, wide-spread, and long-lasting traditions in music and dance. Whether they attended or not, all Americans knew the meaning of ”Stompin’ at the Savoy.” 

 The song itself  features a melody written by Chick Webb's saxaphonist Edgar Sampson and a lyric by Andy Razof (best known for his collaborations on Honeysuckle Rose and Ain't Misbehavin' with Fats Waller). "Stompin At The Savoy" was introduced to the public by Chick Webb's band featuring vocalist Ella Fitzgerald who gave the song it's first fame.

Here is my favourite version of the song recorded many years later in a  duet version by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald! 

 

Crowd Sourcing The Songs! 


Audiences tell you what they like. You just have to listen. 
Many years ago while living and making music in LA a friend took me to a Frank Black concert at the Troubador a legendary venue on the Sunset Strip and I learned a really valuable lesson. Frank Black (the founder and frontman of the hugely influential band The Pixies), tours new material for a year before stepping into the studio to record.  Working out the kinks in front of his die hard fans allowed him to hit the studio ready to record material that had been already lived in and worked out in front of audiences instead of second guessing brand new arrangements.   

Thats how I approached the making of New York Stories, testing each "chapter" of the story in front of live audiences at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto and at venues across the country before cutting songs live off the floor with the trio. The audiences tell you what they like if you are listening and so of course I was able to shape and reshape the album long before stepping into the studio! It worked so well that I'm planning the same approach on the next recording! 

Performing  the"New York Stories" material across the country I have been working cover songs into the set to help communicate the vast musical history of New York from Uptown Jazz and Broadway to Back Alley Blues and Doo Wop. The songs that have gotten the most response have stayed on the set list and Ive brought those tunes home to my trio in Toronto for us to work out the arrangements in advance of upcoming shows where we will test out the tunes some more! 
 Songs by Tom Waits, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Mose Allison and Laura Nyro are all getting their moment to "audition". It's surprising what material is getting the most response, the little known Marvin Gaye tune "The Bells", an old Harold Arlen tune covered by Sammy Davis Jr  from the show "St Louis Woman" called "AnyPlace I Hang My Hat Is Home" and of course "A Sunday Kind Of Love", (an old pop standard that became a Doo Wop hit before Etta James shaped it into an R&B classic)  

The music will be Crowd Sourced in that we're taking our cues from the audiences favourites,  
so come out and make your choices heard!  
The musicians are listening! :)

Charity Season Is Here Folks!  

 
Being able to sing in support of a cause or a charity is something that I take very seriously these days. In fact from the very beginning of my career the charity component has been an important focus, but recently with the success of "New York Stories" there have been so many more opportunities to give back, in fact last year the holiday season was my busiest in terms of charity concerts! Yahoo! 

This year has presented an deepening of that commitment and it is with great pride that I announce having taken on the artistic directorship of the LOFT Community Services "Home For The Holidays" annual fundraising concert. LOFT is a charity that I have been involved with for a few years performing for their annual concert along with folks like Molly Johnson, Billy Newtown Davis and Jackie Richardson and I have seen first hand the incredible ways in which they house and support folks in the Toronto area who would otherwise slip  between the cracks of the health care system. From older people with mental disabilities to young folks with addiction issues and all kinds of "at risk" and vulnerable people,  LOFT is dedicated to making sure their programs give people a sense of dignity and respect and a place to call home. For more information about what they do have a peek here http://www.loftcs.org 

This year "Home for the Holidays" will be held on Monday, December 5, 2016 at the beautiful St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto and I've been lining up some top notch talent including Musical Theatre star Thom Allison http://www.thomallison.com, the delicious Jazz harmonies of The Ault Sisters http://www.aultsisters.com and the incredible Hogtown Brass Quintet http://www.hogtownbrass.com among many more.  We hope you will join us for this beautiful holiday concert to kick off the season and enter the real spirit of giving back!  

Tickets are only $40 for the general public!  Home for the Holidays 26th Annual Christmas Concert Monday, December 5, 2016 St. James Cathedral (downtown Toronto)  Ticket purchase and more info here: http://www.loftcs.org/support-loft/events/christmas-concert-2016

A Jazz Singer-Songwriter Pays tribute to Bob Dylan  

 


"Songwriter Bob Dylan wins the Nobel prize for Literature"

The thing is that Dylan's powerful determination to find "new ways to tell the old stories" began long before we ever heard of him. First he worked inside the tradition then he began to find his own voice inside of the tradition, then stretch and bend and push on the walls until he had created the kind of freedom that all songwriters who followed were able to work with! 

 In that sense our  Mister Zimmerman is the best template for any artist seeking to find their own voice.     First we imitate, then, if we are serious about finding our own voice we experiment and try and find a way to make the traditions our own.  Then if we truly seek personal expression we dig in to find the way to communicate our most authentic selves through the music.  Thats the gig of being an artist. It doesn't come easy. It doesn't come fast.  Have a read of his masterful autobiography "Chronicles Vol 1" for the whole story. 



I remember sitting down with Bob Dylan's "Greatest Hits" LP when I was just a kid and studying what it was that made him the voice of a generation of counter culture grownups. I hated the scratchy voice that I would later come to dig, (have you heard Dylan's recent recordings of standards? They are a revelation!), but understood that somewhere in his beatnik ramblings there was a kind of patchwork map that was helping lead a generation to their own sense of self hood. 

And as a budding songwriter I remember trying to find a way into Dylan's complex songwriting which explored older forms of folk and blues and a kind of rule breaking literary poetry of the street. It made me want to find a new way of expressing myself through Jazz and Blues using the traditions to communicate my contemporary experience (hence "New York Stories" etc) 

 What is it that makes a young artist determined to find one's own voice to add to the culture?
We may never know but Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature answers the questions once and for all whether what we do it simply entertainment.

The Festival Experience  

 Music fans crave discovery. 
Thats why we love the festival experience. And of course Music Festivals are all about discovery. The music lover may be there to see a favorite artist but along the way will have the opportunity to stumble on a whole bunch of other acts! Thats why artists love to play festivals too, we get to introduce ourselves to a whole army of potential fans we would never have reached otherwise!  

Coming together in a community around a shared interest is even more important to us in the digital age. Just witness the communal experience Canadians felt as the Tragically Hip played it's last shows together this summer. At a music festival everyone can feel a part of the atmosphere of the bigger event.  Its not about attending one concert,  it's about our shared love of the music which is why everybody is there in the first place!   

 Jazz festivals are no different. From the big international festivals like Montreaux to the local festival such as the Beaches Jazz Festival there are all kinds of arguments for hearing Jazz in a festival setting rather than only in a small local venue.  There are many challenges to putting on a great festival and one of them is how to attract an audience in a busy marketplace, which is why mainstream music festivals tend to invite international artists that we rarely get to see.     

 

Toronto loves it's festivals.
From the big ones like Tiff and Hot Docs to the local neighbourhood food festivals like Taste of The Danforth  there is hardly a week without a festival happening somewhere in the greater GTA.  
Our newest entry to the Festival calendar is The  Kensington Market Jazz Festival (in my old stomping ground) which has been conceived  of by musicians (our first lady of culture Ms. Molly Johnson) as a neighbourhood-oriented weekend for Toronto to discover and celebrate it's own jazz artists.  

Its happening in a batch of unusual local venues which are just waiting for discovery.   I'm particularly excited to be reunited with Sophie Milman when we share The Round stage Sept 17th. Our Ottawa gig with the National Arts Centre Orchestra singing Cole Porter duets was a pleasure indeed! 

 There is already an amazing street vibe in Kensington Market, and the weekend of Sept 16th, 17th and 18th the air will be filled with Jazz of every kind!  Come and hang out for the weekend. You'll see thrilled to see old favourites and make a few new discoveries I promise! 

 Kensington Market Jazz Video!


 

Whats Your New York Story Canada? 

 

When I brought the songs that would become New York Stories back from the Big Apple it took a lot of polishing and crafting before the material was ready to record. First I played the material for audiences across Canada and they told me which songs were landing deepest with them. Then my trio and I worked up the arrangements and tested them out on Toronto audiences during our residency at The Jazz Bistro. By the time we hit the studio we knew exactly which tunes and which arrangements were telling the stories the best! 

So it is in fact the audiences that helped create this CD from the very get go! 

When creative producer Leonardo came to me with the Indie Go Go campaign idea I scoffed and told him I would never ask for money from fans. By the time we had our campaign in full swing I was feeling the support and engagement and the sense of community that was building around this music.
Truly an incredible experience for an artist let me tell you! 

So, when Leo and I decided to use the CD launch at CBC's Glenn Gould Studio to film the audience and fans telling their own New York Stories it just made so much sense! After all the audience has been a huge part of this project from the very beginning. We enlisted filmmaker Diana Piruzevska to create a little studio set up in the lobby and filmed folks one at a time telling their favourite NYC adventures. You can hear an edited version of those stories in the new video of "Don't Take My Baby (New York New York)" (Big Thanks to all of those who came to support the music and  leant their stories to this video!)

                                                                                

AND as a way to say THANK YOU, as part of the national tour dates we're extending the conversation and inviting folks to post their favourite New York Stories on this page Facebook Fan Page  using the hashtag #WhatsYourNewYorkStory in exchange for a free digital download of the New York Stories album!  

…..Let the New York conversation continue! :)

Tour Life 


I am not one of those artists that resents going out on the road. In fact I embrace it with a passion.  

Touring is a fantastic way to see and hear the big wide world.  

When I started my career I never imagined that music would become a way to experience new places, new people and have new adventures.  

Keeping in mind that my introduction to full time touring was with the already established Nylons (flying to shows rather than touring in a van, staying in nice hotels, performing in beautiful theatres etc) so the beginning of my road life was supported in every way possible. 

 However even during my early career, which included tuff rock n roll bars and seedier lounges across Canada I was already caught up in the romance of collecting crazy stories and adventures.  

In fact the road became so romantic for me that for many years I made it a practice of driving back and forth from the east coast out to California, stopping to see friends along the way, but relishing the alone time away from the crowded cities where my head and heart could expand and explore. 

Perhaps thats the gift of being a songwriter, I see all of that road experience (or most of it) as grist for the creative mill.  Even at the start of my career I loved taking time to wander in each city  finding an old pier or a run down factory, or back alley's near downtown, looking for the lonely old guy to have a chat with etc. Writing notes in an ongoing journal through my wanderings (often turning up in lyrics for songs) I made a kind of loose map of North America in my head.   

Being able to travel and make music for audiences has almost always felt like a gift, an opportunity, a blessing. These busy days I find solace in a hotel room, a good book, a newspaper and a cafe and so often plan to arrive a day early and leave a day later than I need to.  

The road is a kind of home to me where my artist self feels most alive.