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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 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

 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! 

 

What I Learned from A Capella By Former Nylon Micah Barnes  

 

I was singing with my band in Canada when The Nylons came calling and I was suddenly in a three week boot camp on my way to becoming an a cappella singer!  

Having sung lead vocal all my career I was not used to holding a harmony note and blending with other singers, let alone doing so without an instrument in site!  On top of that I also needed to pull off choreography at the same time. As I entered that extremely steep learning curve I made the crucial decision to stay relaxed about getting it all perfect and to just do the best job I possibly could in the moment. The other Nylons were tremendously patient and supportive which helped a great deal and put me at ease. By the time I was singing my first concert with the guys, ( like a deer in the headlights remembering my parts just in time to sing them), I had been indoctrinated into that rare special breed of performer, the a cappella singer! 

A cappella singing asks for a strong inner sense of rhythm, a sturdy sense of pitch and a desire to create music in close harmony with others. Not just musical harmony but a kind of spiritual harmony which a cappella singing needs.  

What I learned from my years touring and recording with The Nylons was how to stay relaxed while working in a disciplined and precise art form, how to trust my instincts as we made the hundreds of decisions that affected our career, and how to take care of my Mind, Body and Spirit while in the middle of a gruelling tour schedule. But perhaps the most important thing I got to learn was how to be part of a tight brotherhood of shared musicality and to share that harmonic communication with an audience of deeply committed fans night after night.  I am so deeply thankful that the universe lead me to become a member of The Nylons!

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! :)