In the fall of ‘86 I was struck with the idea of orchestrating Elvin’s drums, so we two went to a NYC studio for two days, back-to-back, with me playing Fender-Rhodes and ending up with totally isolated drums. Listening to just those drum tracks is a marvel in itself. Soon after, Don Alias overdubbed on the two Latin tunes. Over the years I’ve heard many descriptions of Elvin’s singular talent, but for me Don nailed it: “The world’s greatest jazz drummer.”
The original concept was to use MIDI and play everything myself paying attention to Elvin’s special attacks. Twenty years later, during a July ‘06 Flims, Switzerland gig, alongside drummer Danny Gottlieb, I played him some of the rough tracks that I had finally started working on earlier in the year. Danny excitedly told me that the NDR Big Band from Hamburg, Germany would probably be open to playing along with the Elvin tracks. A deal was struck. I then went to Paris for the month of May ‘07 to arrange and orchestrate the tunes, and in July to Hamburg to conduct the band. One tune was given to Bill Warfield for his special treatment.
I had prepared the project by adding basic bass parts and click tracks to help in synchronizing some of the material. The band took enthusiastically to the work, and five days later I walked away with a Firewire hard drive loaded with Protools files. Back in the States, with my engineer Nick, we began the process of re-doing bass parts, editing and mixing. What with other responsibilities, it was finally finished in July of this year.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have shed tears listening to Elvin and thinking how he probably would be happy to hear himself in this project. To play with a big band was a desire that I heard him express more than once. Dear Elvin, here you go, baby! Hopefully, I’ve done you justice.