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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: 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 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!

 

 

 

 

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!

            

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! :)