This project began when Chuck Hedges asked me to arrange one or two tunes for his Milwaukee Connection jazz band and string orchestra for the possible inclusion on an upcoming CD. Chuck is a dear friend and one of my favorite musicians of all time! Of course, I was honored to be asked by Chuck to work with him in this capacity. Over the years, Chuck and I have played many gigs together at jazz festivals and jazz clubs all over the world (Chuck on clarinet and me on string bass). We've also recorded several CDs with either Chuck or Tom Saunders as the leader. This would be the first time I would be able to actually write music for Chuck and a larger ensemble. This was an exciting prospect! So, with Chuck's instructions to me regarding his vision for these charts, I jumped right into it and wrote new string arrangements for Triste and Prelude To A Kiss in less than a week. After I completed the first two arrangements, I called Chuck and said, "Give me two more tunes to arrange for your jazz band and strings. I'm on a roll and I want to keep writing while I'm hot!"
This process went on for several weeks until, with Chuck's guidance, I had completed ten new original arrangements for Chuck Hedges' Milwaukee Connection and string orchestra. Chuck's original intent was just to have a few string arrangements to record with his sextet. But the project had grown beyond what he had envisioned in the beginning. Now we had enough material for an entire CD! Chuck was thrilled. So was I!
The producers of this CD, Denny, Marilyn and Brett Boneck then invited me to come to Milwaukee and participate in the recording sessions for this new CD. My role now shifted from arranger to conductor and musical director. The Bonecks are fantastic people. They are incredibly supportive, gracious and generous. The Bonecks have been close friends with Chuck Hedges for many years and they relished the opportunity to help produce this CD.
It was my great pleasure to become friends with the Bonecks during the creation of the CD. Along with the invaluable assistance of Executive Producer Harry Abramowitz, Chuck, the Bonecks, The Milwaukee Connection, the string players, the recording engineer Ric Probst and I buckled down for two very intense days of recording at The Exchange Recording Complex studios in Milwaukee, WI.
What came out of these sessions was a great masterwork of art spawned from the collective efforts of many. Our team consisted of seventeen talented, dedicated, motivated, focused and cheerful people who worked diligently and beyond Chuck's and my expectations to accomplish this difficult goal in a short amount of time. We are all pleased with the outcome of this CD and hope that you enjoy the final product as much as we enjoyed creating it. I want to express my deepest thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of this recording.
I am proud to be associated with these great musicians and music lovers: Denny, Marilyn and Brett Boneck, Cheryl Miller, Harry Abramowitz, engineer Ric Probst, violinists Jerry Loughney and Therese Ritchie, violist Katrin Talbot, cellist Scott Cook, pianist Gary Meisner, string bassist George Welland, drummer Andy LoDuca, guitarists Dave Sullivan and John Parrott, and vibraphonist Bob Maynard. Most importantly, I am extremely grateful to Chuck Hedges for this wonderful opportunity which became one of the greatest musical experiences of my life and I've had A LOT of great musical experiences!). Thank you, Chuck, for your faith in me and for the chance to help you create something really special with lasting value!
1. This version of Gus Arnheim's Sweet And Lovely is a re-orchestration of a three-horn arrangement that I wrote in 1995 for my jazz sextet The Paul Keller Ensemble. (The PKE plays every Wednesday night our home jazz club in Ann Arbor, MI The Firefly Club.) This was one of our very first arrangements for our steady gig. I have always loved Sweet And Lovely. So has Chuck. We both agreed that it is one of our all-time favorite tunes to play. This arrangement works well for both The PKE with horns and The Milwaukee Connection with strings.
2. Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim's masterpiece Triste speaks softly,
"Sad is to live in solitude." The intro and coda refer (instrumentally) to those sorrowful lyrics. This arrangement was conceived with inspiration from and respect to Johnny Mandel, Claus Ogerman, Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle. Their respective arrangements for string orchestras have enhanced the voices and instrumental recordings of hundreds of artists including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, The Andrews Sisters, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstein, Linda Ronstadt, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Barbara Streisand, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Hodges, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, and the master himself Antonio Carlos Jobim. These arrangers and these artists have provided a large portion of the sound tracks to our lives as lovers of Great American Songs.
3. Duke Ellington's Prelude To A Kiss is next. The arrangement for this tender Ellington tone poem includes a brief visit to "The Land Of The George Shearing Sound" (with added clarinet on top). The special harmony for bar eight of the last bridge was "borrowed" from our friend and magnificent pianist Eddie Higgins. (We only steal from the best: Ellington, Shearing, Higgins!) This features Chuck at his romantic finest. Chuck is such a great ballad player!
4. The song I Got Rhythm came from the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy which also includes another hit song, Embraceable You. It was originally written as a slow song for Treasure Girl (1928) and found another, faster setting in Girl Crazy. Ethel Merman sang the song in the original Broadway production and Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin, after seeing her opening reviews, warned her never to take a singing lesson.
This original arrangement for I Got Rhythm features the jazz band in their native setting: the jam session. Here The Milwaukee Connection plays I Got Rhythm just as they would in a relaxed jazz club scenario, with wild, care-free abandon. They tear up "Rhythm Changes" for seven choruses until the strings enter for the rousing last three choruses. The arrangement gives a respectful tip of the hat to many of the great musicians of the past on the second to last chorus. Wow! What an ending! What a band!!!
5. The Very Thought Of You is a popular standard composed in 1934 by Ray Noble. We've included the verse in this arrangement. I'm a nut for the verses of these old standards. The verses of these great standards are all but forgotten these days. So often they are an important way to communicate a deeper meaning of the song than simply just the chorus, which we all know and love. Regarding the unfamiliarity of the verses, I call the playing of the verse: 'Bringing out the puppy'. I use this metaphor to illustrate the scenario of performing an unfamiliar (but wonderful) verse and then experiencing the "Ooohs and Ahhhs" of delight and surprise from the audience when they finally recognize the melody of the chorus. Collectively they exclaim, "Awwwww! We know that song after all! Isn't that a cute puppy!!!" Chuck Hedges' dark, warm tone and delicate phrasing are on display here as well as the lush accompaniment of the string section. The Very Thought Of You closes with a brief recap of the verse and a dramatic and climatic ending from the ensemble
7. Exactly Like You exploits the use of pizzicato strings imitating the quarter note strumming of a rhythm guitar. The "road map" goes like this: An 8 measure pizzicato intro is followed by the melody stated by Chuck and "pizz" strings. The second chorus sports 32 bars of brilliant jazz clarinet from Hedges with "pizz" strings. Chorus #3 (Shout chorus #1) is next: 16 bars of arco strings with vibes, guitar and piano then 16 bars of delicious vibes solo from Bob Maynard. Chorus #4 (Shout #2) is 32 bars of very swinging pizzicato strings. Pianist Gary Meisner takes the first 16 bars of chorus #5. Chuck takes it out from the last bridge with the strings plucking all the way through the cute, little tag ending. Exactly Like You is good clean fun from beginning to end. The string players have never "pizzed" so many notes in their lives! I admire their pluckiness!
8. A Kiss To Build A Dream On recalls, of course, the great Louis Armstrong. Chuck says, "Just about every great jazz musician that I admire has been influenced, in some way, by Louis Armstrong. Louis was such an incredible force in music. We are happy to remember him fondly on this CD."
9. Oh, Lady Be Good!" is another George and Ira Gershwin song. It was introduced by Walter Catlett in the 1924 Broadway show Lady Be Good starring Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire. This rendition of Oh, Lady Be Good uses a similar strategy to that of I Got Rhythm. The jazz band plays Oh Lady Be Good in jam session style; later, the strings enter to propel the arrangement through the last three choruses to its triumphant climax.
10. Mood Indigo uses Duke Ellington's original harmonic ideas rearranged for our ensemble. Whereas Ellington used trumpet with cup mute in the middle register as voice #1 playing the melody, trombone with straight mute in the high register as voice #2 and clarinet in the low register as voice #3, here we use clarinet in the middle register playing the melody, Scott Cook on cello (in the role of the trombone) playing in the high register as voice #2 and Katrin Talbot on viola in the role of clarinet (the original Barney Bigard's clarinet part) playing voice #3 in the low register. Thank you Duke for the gorgeous melody and stunning original orchestration of Mood Indigo. Thank you Chuck and ensemble for this poignant and melancholy sound portrait in shades of deep blue.