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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