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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: 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! :)