Viewing: creative culture - View all posts

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!

Get the Picture!  

 

Looking for the way to express the dynamic power of the first single 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 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! 

w. the A Team- Chanelle, Leonardo & Juan 

The photo that we ended up using for the Thats Life single was 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.. OK 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.. 

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!

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!! 

:)

 

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!