March 11, 2016

George Martin, 1926-2016

Tonight I was flipping through a sampling of Beatle LPs. George Martin received a one-line mention on every album: “Produced in England by George Martin.” What exactly does that mean? I moved on to LPs by Steely Dan, Michael MacDonald and Al Jarreau. Separate individuals were credited as producer, for rhythm section arrangements, horn arrangements, string charts, etc. A Paul Simon CD, “Rhythm of the Saints” had multiple individuals credited for “guitar arrangements.”
I’ve done enough studio work to witness producers at various levels, some of whom were not musicians at all but had developed a good ear and a perceptive sense of what was needed for a particular group of musicians. For bands fortunate enough to have a big budget contract, the average producer might say, “Hmm I think I hear string parts on this song. Let’s get someone in here to listen and arrange it.” An arranger would come in, listen to the song, write the chart and pass it off to a music copyist. Meanwhile the producer might call a contractor whose job it is to know who the proper musicians were and how to contact them. The contractor books the date, the arranger may conduct the session, or perhaps another conductor is called in to facilitate the recording of these parts.
Mr. Martin did all of these things. His classical experience enabled him to write effectively for all the strings and brass, and to know what setting would take the Beatles’ songs to a yet-unheard-of level. In addition to his skills as an arranger, Mr. Martin had the connections to know exactly who to call and how to get things done.
Most important of all, he heard in his head what would complete the potential musical gems offered by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. That’s the first step. Musicians can listen to arrangements and say “I could have written that.” They might listen to the strings that graced McCartney’s “Yesterday” and say “I could have done that.” Perhaps, but probably not. Writing the actual arrangement must be preceded by the insight that the song can benefit from it. All the skill of putting notes on paper is worthless if one does not have ability to conjure up the perfect accompaniment for the songwriters.
I would suggest you listen to the Beatles song “For No One.” How did George Martin know that a French horn solo would complete the song? How did he know that a small clarinet choir would make When I'm 64 a song that would provide the appropriate geriatric sensibility to the lyrics? The list goes on and on.
We now know that George’s name credited on the back of these LPs was pivotal to the phenomenal body of work we love from The Beatles.

March 7, 2016

A Unique Venue

Camerman Forrest Warner prepares for the streaming
I had assumed I had played every kind of gig imaginable, from ballroom dance engagements to blues gigs to jazz venues to concert halls to playing on trains and boats. But the online course that I am leading, Jazz: The Music, The Stories, The Players provided an unexpected opportunity yesterday. My musical partners and I played an hour-long gig in the Little Pub at Hamilton College. By itself, the setting was not extraordinary. What made it unusual was the fact that we were live streaming to course participants not only in America but throughout the world.
People viewing the course could write in questions and comments as we performed, and a partial list of countries we heard from included Brazil, Finland, France, Spain, Germany, Peru, Greece, Scotland and Argentina. We literally were able to address questions from other continents and respond to them in real time from the stage. 
The MOOC team fields questions during the event.
I had anticipated the hour going by in a hurry but in fact the pressure of playing for a global audience made the time pass slowly. I think I can safely say that the music came through in fine form no doubt due to the flexibility of my first call musical partners, John Hutson on guitar, Tom McGrath on drums, and Sean Peters on bass. In addition, the participation of Hamilton College students enlivened the event.

This online course seems to have struck a positive chord with many participants and it’s not too late to sign up. Although we launch the last week today, the course will remain up for some time. If it piques your curiosity give it a try at this link where you can sign up for Jazz: The Music, The Stories, The Players.