I've just recently broadcast a wonderful program on the incredible career of composer, bandleader, inventor, and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott. I had some fascinating conversations on music and technology with Jeff Winner and Irwin Chusid of the Raymond Scott Archives, composer/author Tom Rhea, composer DJ Spooky, violinist David Harrington of Kronos, composer J.G. Thirlwell, composer/artist Brian Dewan, and writers Will Friedwald and Daniel Goldmark. You can listen to all six episodes of the program here.
I've just launched a Kickstarter campaign for a very exciting new project called "Book of Rhapsodies". Get in on some of the incredible limited rewards HERE
On the surface, this project is about rescuing some long forgotten compositions from the late 1930s on 78s and rearranging them for performance and recording in the present. But it goes beyond that into interpretation and improvisation and in some cases, radical re-imagining. The whole project started when I came across the surreal and beautiful late 1930s chamber jazz of Alec Wilder. I started collecting the original 78s and became a Wilder evangelist, telling everyone I knew about him. From there I found four other bandleaders active during that time who were working in a similar vein (unusual instrumentation, hybrid between jazz and classical.)
The music is a real adventure! We have performed these new arrangements live in NYC on occasional shows for the last year and have just begun recording. I've kicked in quite a bit of cash myself to prime the pump so we could record the fundamentals, but we are still a very, very long way off from being able to finish this massive undertaking.
Please help us by sharing the above link with friends. Thank you for your continued curiosity and support!
The animation was
created and directed by
my friends Maricar and Maricor Manalo,
designers based in
Australia. I've been
working with them for
years on different
projects. This is the
first time we've
collaborated on an
animation with music.
The story of the
"Blind" video is based
on the lyrics and a
treatment I developed
with them specifically
for the video. The song
was recorded by our
man Rafi Sofer
at Q Division here in
Somerville and mixed in
Tucson by me and Craig Schumacher
(best known for his
work with Neko Case,
Devotchka.) "Blind" is
the first single from
our forthcoming album
"The Far End Of The
World" and features
special guest Carla Kihlstedt,
(who plays violin and
sings on this track.)
In two weeks, on Friday October 19th,
we'll be releasing our
single on a show at
the Lizard Lounge in
Cambridge with an
incredible lineup of
some of my favorite
composers in New
Micka's solo project),
Alec K. Redfearn &
The Eyesores (from
their 7th CD), and The
Wrong Shapes (Bo
Barringer and Rachel
Arnold). Don't miss
Friday October 19 Lizard Lounge 1667 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge MA 8pm doors / 9pm show
BRIAN CARPENTER &
(Single release) ANIMAL HOSPITAL
ALEC K. REDFEARN &
THE EYESORES (LP
release) THE WRONG SHAPES
I just saw Einstein on the Beach last night at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House and wanted to write some of my thoughts on it while it's fresh in my mind. It's very dreamlike so I somehow imagine if I don't write it down this very morning, it's going to float away. This work is a revival of a 1976 piece by theater director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass with choreography by Lucinda Childs. All three have reunited to stage this work on in 2012 all around the world. The work is a 4 1/2 hour opera. It is mesmerizing, dreamlike, nightmarish, puzzling, mathematic, virtuosic, at turns riveting and maddeningly slow, but at its core, is it an emotional work.
This is the first work of Wilson's I have seen staged. I can't think of another contemporary theater director who has actively sought out such a wide range of artists as collaborators. They include Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Allen Ginsberg, David Byrne, Heiner Muller. He's collaborated with William Burroughs and Tom Waits on The Black
Rider in Hamburg and directed a version of Brecht/Weill's Three Penny
Opera. Einstein is one of his earliest pieces, his first work which many consider a masterpiece. Wilson is a painter and an architect of the stage. He is a master of light and color. He casts cold blues and whites in Einstein. When Tomas Cruz appears in red in the first act, it's startling. And when the final Spaceship scene arrives in the last hour with a stage lit by several bright warm orange bulbs in stacked squares, it's shocking. During the spectacular dance sequences, Wilson floods the stage with light. He seems to insist the actors use angular motions and striking, angular shapes with their hands. It's German Expressionism funneled through an American lens. From the first to the last scene, what you're seeing is instantly recognizable as Robert Wilson. How many theater directors working today can you say that about?
Forget about the length of the play. Don't let that scare you off. It is an experience. It has to be that long. It has to be that long to experience the world, and to take in the language, especially for those not familiar with the music or Wilson's work. I came to Einstein with a kinship to the piece already established. I had read about Wilson. Our backgrounds are similar. He grew up in Waco to Christian parents and eventually moved to New York. His parents slowly grew to appreciate his work in the arts. I grew up in Florida to Christian parents who (I felt) were reticent about my "music hobby" for many years. (Now they are my biggest fans.)
Having a speech impediment as a child, Wilson had a passion for children with autism. His friend and poet Christopher Knowles, who has autism, wrote much of the text in Einstein. As a parent of a child with autism, when I first read that Wilson was using Knowles's text, I was horrified. How could he take advantage of this person with a developmental disability? Then I heard the piece. It's brilliant. Wilson is fascinated by language and rhythm. And he uses what is often referred to as echolalia (something my son had at an early age) to great effect. It's used in a very beautiful and rhythmic way. The innocence of Knowles comes through. Sitting in the theater, about 30 minutes into Act 1, I found myself suddenly weeping. Seeing Wilson's imagery on stage and hearing Knowles's text and Glass's choir was just too overwhelming for me. I've never been so struck emotionally by a work of theater. But I couldn't help thinking of my son.
The repetitive speech, of course, mirrors the score, which is one of
Philip Glass's monumental works of repetition and mathematics. Glass
once said in an interview he could never write anything as ambitious as
Einstein again. I'm not sure if that's true considering he's in the
process of writing his 8 or 9th symphony. In 1976, Glass was working as a cab driver during the day. Glass and Wilson were both downtown auteurs before they developed Einstein. Glass had formed the Philip Glass Ensemble to perform Music in Twelve Parts years earlier. It was Glass who approached Wilson about a collaboration; it was Wilson who had the idea of using a historical figure to create the piece around. Wilson produced the work at the Met Opera, but the opera house didn't believe a "downtown work" could sell uptown. So they forced Wilson to rent the house on triple-time wages on a Sunday. Wilson was left $150k in debt. Glass went back to driving a taxi. The work put them in debt but it made their careers.
The musicians performing the 2012 run of Einstein are phenomenal. This is a very very difficult work to perform, and this is a very very special choir. I imagine this takes an incredible amount of focus, stamina, and precision. I went into Einstein having heard the Philip Glass score countless times. It's one of my favorite works of classical music and to watch it performed is fascinating. Most impressive are the choir's performances during the "knee plays". The knee plays are works for choir composed by Glass which connect the four acts, or "body" of the work. The choir's performance of the knee plays as conducted by Michael Riesman is completely riveting. The star here, though, was violinist Jennifer Koh, with a wild white wig made up like Einstein, seated in a chair front stage right. For about ten seconds during one of the knee plays, she and Riesman's choir struggled to lock in and Riesman eventually wrestled the choir into Koh's tempo. Everything was so effortless up that point it immediately made you aware how difficult the piece was. The difficulty in performance, as Glass himself once said, is not that
the music repeats all the time. It's that it almost never repeats! And
that's where the complexity lies. It's no small feat to sing eighth note triplets continually while knowing precisely where all the time signature changes are so quickly and make it look effortless. And try singing "123123123123" very quickly and see how long you last before taking a breath. It's a tongue twister! All of this complexity is in aid of the work's beauty, however. One point to note, in the rare chance anyone in the production is reading this, I want to hear more of the text in the mix. Why have text at all if it can't be heard? At Saturday night's BAM performance, it was very difficult to hear the text in the first act. It was all but drowned out by organ in the mix; subsequent acts were much easier to hear.
The playbook comes with some of Wilson's opening storyboards for the four acts (and five knee plays.). This turned out to be beneficial because it gave you some visual cues for where you were in the work. There are several recurring motifs: a train, a trial, and a spaceship. All revolve around the life and work of Albert Einstein. I read an interview with Wilson where he described the act sequences as either close portrait (the knee plays), still-life (courtroom and train scenes), and landscapes (the dance sections). For me the close portraits and landscapes were most effective. In an interview with the New Yorker, Wilson said the way he was taught to recover from stuttering was to slow down his speech to a crawl. And one of the amazing things about watching Wilson's stage direction is things move so slowly that you don't notice an action until very far into the movement. Someone said it's like watching clouds. You may not even be aware something is moving until it is already in the middle of the stage. Walking out of Einstein is really like walking out of a dream. There are shades of Kubrick's film 2001 throughout. A monolith/bed hurtling up to space, very slow and monotonous sequences with haunting choir. The final Spaceship scene is nothing short of spectacular.
After the show I spoke with Tomas Cruz, one of the choir members, who I met coincidentally through a project I am working on with the Ghost Train Orchestra. He said the choir rehearsed almost the entire month of last December and have been touring the world. What an exciting work to be a part of! I was relating to Tomas how the two people next to me seemed to be laughing at the beginning....laughing in shock. Is this really what it is? It became clear to me they had no preconceived notion about the work, which could be a great thing. Maybe they were expecting a plot, maybe they were expecting realism. They certainly didn't get either of those. Eventually the laughter stopped and there was a sort of mesmerized reverence. Once they got the language, they could see the beauty of the work and appreciate it. It's a work you can enjoy both on an emotional level and on a technical level.
Albert Einstein said "the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science." When the curtain dropped, they got a standing ovation many times over. Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, and Lucinda Childs (who was earlier watching the piece from the audience, sitting behind us two rows back) came out and took a bow. This is a work everyone should see. I'm very inspired today.
We've been working with JJ Golden in California mastering the new Confessions single Blind. Our tentative release date is Friday October 19th at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. We'll also be performing two shows leading up to that one, on August 16 at the Lizard Lounge and September 12 at Middle East. More information on the EVENTS page.
The Ghost Train Orchestra will be returning to Boston on Wednesday July 18th at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Tickets are on sale now HERE. This show is part of the fantastic Concerts in the Courtyard series the MFA holds every summer. It's a beautiful setting but courtyard seating is limited so get tickets fast.
I'm excited to announce a special radio program I will be hosting
this Friday on the work and career of
composer/bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, who passed
away last December at the age of 88. The show will air this
Friday, March 2nd at 7-10PM EST on WZBC 90.3FM Boston College. You
can listen online via streams provided at the link below.
Sam Rivers was a huge inspiration to me during my time in Florida.
His career covered many areas of music over the course of several
decades. And over the course of several interviews, this program
has evolved into an exciting oral history of the music, a
conversation on improvisation, composition, and community. For
those who have to miss the program on Friday, it will be archived
for two weeks afterward and I'll send a link (when I have one) for
those who would like one. I hope you'll tune in Friday night for
Rivers and Rhythms: A Sam Rivers Retrospective
Friday March 2, 2012
7-10 PM EST
WZBC 90.3 FM
Boston College Listen to the live broadcast
online at http://wzbc.org/listen.html
via RealPlayer or other media players
AOL Instant Messenger: wzbcdj
Hosted and Produced by Brian Carpenter
Co-hosted by Allan Chase and Russ Gershon
Special Guest Interviews:
A three-hour retrospective on the incredible career of composer,
bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, who passed
away last December at the age of 88. The first half of the
program will cover his time in Boston, his work in the 1960s on
seminal Blue Note recordings, and his trio recordings as an
integral part of the New York loft scene of the 1970s. The
second half of the program will establish Rivers as a major jazz
composer, focusing on his compositional work for the Winds of
Manhattan and the Rivbea Orchestra.
Co-hosted by saxophonist, composer, and educator Allan Chase
(Berklee, New England Conservatory), and saxophonist Russ
Gershon, composer and founder of the Either/Orchestra in
Hosted by Brian Carpenter, a songwriter, composer, and producer
based in Boston. He has produced several radio programs,
including The Sound of Horror: Sound Design in Science-Fiction
and Horror Films, featuring special guest film sound designers
Walter Murch, Craig Henighan, Stephen Barden, and Ren Klyce.
After a year-long effort of developing new arrangements, the Ghost Train
Orchestra will be heading back into the studio in April to record their
follow-up to last year's acclaimed Hothouse Stomp. The album
will move ahead 10 years from the first album, featuring all new
arrangements of strange and adventurous chamber jazz from the late
1930s, featuring the full orchestra plus guitarist Avi Bortnick, bassist
Michael Bates, and a small choir. Grammy award winning producer Danny
Blume will once again be collaborating with Brian Carpenter on the
In preparation for the recording, GTO will be performing this
material on three special shows in NYC leading up to the recording:
Saturday February 18th at Barbes, Saturday March 10th at Shanghai
Mermaid, and Saturday March 31st at Jalopy in Brooklyn. See the EVENTS
page for more details. If you're in the NY area during that time, don't
I'll be traveling to Tucson, Arizona in a couple weeks to mix The Confessions debut record The Far End of the World with the great Craig Schumacher. Craig is probably best known for his work with Calexico and Neko Case over the last couple decades.
We've setup a tumblr page to document the making of this record here. We'll be playing shows on Friday January 20 in Maine and Saturday March 3 in Boston. You can find more information on the tumblr site.
Sam Rivers was a musical hero to me. He was an important part of my life and I wanted to share some of his history and my memories of him.
For those not familiar with him, Sam Rivers was one of the most important musicians in jazz and led one of the most remarkable careers in all of jazz history. A master saxophonist, flautist, and pianist, and composer for small ensembles and jazz orchestras, he was born in 1923, joined the Navy in the 1940s, and shortly thereafter studied at the Boston Conservatory. He was of a musical family. There is gospel in Sam's family and you hear that in his voice, his playing. He has a particular cry on the saxophone that is unlike any other and you can hear that in his singing as well. A true original, he created an entirely unique language on the saxophone, which, by the way, is completely consistent with his vocabulary on the piano. This style of improvising is also mirrored in his writing for jazz orchestra.
It was in Boston where he met Tony Williams, the 13-year old drummer who would bring him into the Miles Davis Quintet in 1964. Sam was clearly not a great fit for the quintet, however, and the stint did not last long. As Sam once told me, lamenting about having to play "shit like My Funny Valentine" in Tokyo, "I was beyond what they were doing." Sam is probably the only musician in history who played with Miles to say something like that (and it was very true).
In the mid-60s Sam led a series of incredible free-bop Blue Note recordings with Williams, Jaki Byard (another Boston cohort) and Ron Carter, starting with "Fuchsia Swing Song". "Beatrice" is the composition Sam Rivers is most known for, named after his wife of 50 years.
In the '70s, Sam and Bea led and maintained perhaps the most central loft space for creative music in New York City, Studio RivBea. Studio RivBea was located on Bond Street in lower Manhattan. Bassist William Parker described the scene to me in 2002: "In the early 70s, you had a lot of musicians coming to New York. New York has got a particular energy already, because you have so much happening. But around that time, you had musicians coming in from Chicago, St Louis, Los Angeles, and they were all coming to New York ready and wanting to play. So people were finding storefronts, lofts, and creating and producing their own concerts because the established clubs were not that receptive to hiring them. So you had all of these musicians who instead of staying at home, came out and created work for themselves, performing and recording their music. So it was very lively at that time. And there was a lot of energy in the air...it was a nice fever-pitch happening...and a lot of it was because of RivBea and places like it."
In the '80s Dizzy Gillespie hired Sam to play in his quintet. On a tour in Florida, Sam and Bea enjoyed the warm weather so much they decided to move there. And having met several musicians based in Orlando who were very interested in developing his jazz orchestra pieces, they made the move later in the decade. Sam quickly formed a trio with bassist Doug Mathews and drummer Anthony Cole.
I met Sam in 1995. I was studying engineering at University of Florida and playing in bands at night. The trombonist in one of my bands, Jerry Edwards, also played in Sam's orchestra in Orlando. It was through Jerry that I met Sam and saw the RivBea Orchestra for the first time. Seeing the RivBea Orchestra for the first time is one of those things you would never forget. I was stunned. It was out, it was funky, it was jagged, it was edgy, it was all sorts of crazy time-signatures, all coming at you from 16 musicians. As strange as it first seemed, it had all of jazz history in there too, with Sam fronting the band like some kind of rock star, dancing and screaming vocalizations out front. God, I felt like I was on another planet. I immediately started to work with Bea to help book shows for Sam in the Southeast. This went on for about four years, prior to my leaving for Boston in 2000. The first show was at a jazz festival I produced for five years in Gainesville called the Gainesville Jazz/Pop Festival. Through that festival Sam would meet many future collaborators, including trumpeter Steven Bernstein, who I met in 1996 and invited to open for Sam in 1998.
Sam had a great sense of humor and a very generous spirit.
His wife Bea (of over 50 years) was a sweetheart and his biggest supporter. They were always together. If you went to a Sam Rivers concert, you'd always hear this woman yelling "WHOOOOOOA!" That was Bea. Bea would also play the bad guy and front all the business decisions so Sam could focus on his music. God, if we were all so lucky to have a Bea. I heard her yell just as loudly as she did in concert when she was on the phone with bookers. Hell, she even yelled at me once. Sam called me up to apologize later. "You know, take it to heart. But don't take it personally. She's yelling at you because you're part of the family." Some of the things he would say, you'd be scratching your head about later.
He would bring people into his band based on connections, he would try people out, give them little bits of advice. "Develop your own exercises." "Find your voice." "You gotta work on that part, you know?" I was never good enough to play in the RivBea Orchestra, but because I was helping him out with shows, Sam allowed my band Beat Science to rehearse in the Musicians Union space prior to RivBea Orchestra rehearsals. One evening trumpeter John Castleman was out and since I was the lucky dope who happened to be there, he let me sit in on a rehearsal. I'll never forget that. It was a thrill. The music was very difficult reading. It's hard to describe in writing except to say you have to hear it to believe it. Here's a video of Sam singing the parts in rehearsal prior to a show in New York shot by Alan Roth:
I learned a great work ethic from three people in my life, all who worked hard in different ways: my mother, whose work as a teacher redefined "above and beyond", my father, who rose out of near poverty as a farmer by hard work and determination, and Sam Rivers, whose musical output is staggering. Sam was writing music all the way into his 80s; he never stopped writing. For Sam, there was no such thing as retirement. "Retire? I don't even know why we have that word." Sam wrote hundreds of compositions for jazz orchestra. Every week at rehearsal he'd have two or three new pieces. In an interview with NPR a few years ago, he contemplated on the fact that he'd never have enough time to finish all of the ideas he had. "There's never enough time."
In 2000, I asked Sam to play my wedding in Gainesville. Over the years, Sam got to know both Caroline and I well. I told Sam he could play anything he wanted. He generously accepted and even asked us to make a request toward the end. I didn't need to make requests. He could make it work for people, his own version of dance music. Just seeing him adapt to a situation like that was incredible. The generosity of this man continued to astound me. Bea passed away in 2005. He was a remarkable human being and left a great legacy for all musicians.
Here are some of my favorite recordings Sam led or was a part of:
"Fuchsia Swing Song" Sam Rivers (1964) "Conference of the Birds" Dave Holland (1972) "Crystals" Sam Rivers (1974) "Sizzle" Sam Rivers (1975) "Black Africa" Sam Rivers (1976) "Contrasts" Sam Rivers (1979) "Inspiration" Sam Rivers & the RivBea Orchestra (1998) "Culmination" Sam Rivers & the RivBea Orchestra (1998)
A full discography was compiled by Rick Lopez here.
The Ghost Train Orchestra played a show last weekend performing all new arrangements of the music
of Alec Wilder, among others. The band sounded incredible on some very
difficult and adventurous arrangements. I'm very excited about the new
direction in which the band is headed.
discovered Alec Wilder's music after stumbling across a footnote in
Gunther Schuller's massive jazz history book The Swing Era. Largely
self-taught, he studied briefly at the Eastman School of Music but left
without completing a degree. By all accounts Alec Wilder was a real
character. As a teenager, he split from his family and lived in and out
of the Algonquin Hotel throughout most of his adult life. He loved to
laugh, loved his friends, and loved alcohol, which he struggled with. He
was known to run in large circles -- he had friends in the jazz,
classical, and popular music worlds and was clearly at ease composing in
all these genres.
1937 Wilder, with the help and organization of Eastman classmate and
oboist Mitch Miller (who later became head of A[&]R for Columbia
Records), recorded several strange and beautiful sides in New York City.
Wilder imagined an octet with unusual instrumentation: oboe, flute,
bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet, harpsichord, bass, and drums. The
octet recordings ("Octets") preceded by decades the Third Stream
movement of the 1950s that Schuller spearheaded by combining jazz and
classical concert music.
music is not easily classifiable. The Octets are essentially chamber
miniatures performed by musicians adept at swing. His music fell through
the cracks and as a result his work is not as well-known as his
contemporaries. In the 1930s, however, word soon got around to musicians
in New York that Wilder was a composer to watch out for. It wasn't long
before Frank Sinatra heard one of Wilder's classical pieces and
approached Coumbia Records on Wilder's behalf to get him recorded.
record executives agreed to record the pieces but only if Sinatra
himself conducted the session. At the session, Sinatra immediately
disarmed the orchestra by telling them he knew nothing about conducting,
but that he desperately wanted this music to sound its best, and
appealed to their leadership. Sinatra had never conducted a note in his
life and here he was headlined as conductor on a 78 cover with Wilder,
the composer and bandleader, reduced to second billing. On seeing the
cover, an irate Sinatra called the heads of Columbia to insist Wilder's
name appear in the same type size as his own. The change in billing
never occurred, but the album Frank Sinatra Conducts the Music of Alec
Wilder went on to be successful both musically and commercially.
first listen, it was immediately apparent to me why a young Sinatra
would be so captivated by Alec Wilder: Wilder had an ear for melody,
beautiful song-like melodies. Like Sinatra, I too became a Wilder
evangelist, collecting as many 78s as I could find and asking nearly
every musician I knew if they had heard of him (most had not). I began
arranging the Octets for the Ghost Train Orchestra. Wilder's music is
deceptively simple -- it is dense with rapid form changes and rather
difficult to comprehend on a first reading. I heard all sorts of things
in the Octets that appealed to me. Wilder's music was so lyrical, it
felt to me that the Octets were almost gasping to be sung. It also
occurred to me that Wilder's music was very modern and should be
approached that way. I find that Wilder's music is continually rewarding
on subsequent listens. The more you listen, the more is revealed and it
is revealed very slowly over time. I hope you too will experience the
beauty and wonder of Alec Wilder's music through these new arrangements.
From November 11-26, The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. will present Swing, Swing, Swing,
a celebration of the various musical styles which grew out of the swing
rhythm. The Ghost Train Orchestra, Asleep at the Wheel, The Red Stick
Ramblers, and the Firecracker Jazz Band are all part of the event. The
Ghost Train Orchestra will perform Wednesday November 16th at 6:00pm on the Millennium Stage. A video of the concert will be streamed live here.
Tonight I am hosting a radio program called "The Sound of Horror". It will air this Friday night October 21st on WZBC 90.3 FM at 7-11PM EST. This is a 4-hour radio broadcast I produced last
year on sound design in science-fiction and horror films.
This program has been revised from the original broadcast to include sound design in films outside the horror genre, with special focus on the work of
sound designers Walter Murch (THX 1138, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now)
and Alan Splet (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet). I'm joined by
co-hosts Mike Frengel, a PhD in electroacoustic composition who teaches film
sound design at Northeastern University and filmmaker Michael Neel, the
writer/director of Drive-In Horrorshow, which Horror Hound Magazine called
"a creative spin on throw-back anthology horror".
Other interviews and special guests include sound designers Craig Henighan
(Black Swan), Ren Klyce (Seven, Fight Club), Ron Nagle (The Exorcist), Sound
Dogs supervising sound editor Stephen Barden, and Steven J. Schneider,
author of the books "Fear Without Frontiers", "1001 Films You Must See
Before You Die", and "Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic
Horror". Our bibliography for this program includes Michel Chion's "Audio
Vision" and Elizabeth Weis' "Film Sound: Theory and Practice".
You can tune in remotely via the online
streams at the link below.
The year is 1901, and guests from around the world flock to Riverside Church to see the latest opera "L'ultimo Bacio",
starring the venerable Italian opera diva Comtessa Valentina
Badalamenti. You are among the invitees to this exclusive performance,
but upon arriving, you find yourself witness to a very different show
The Ghost Train Orchestra will be performing as a part of the highly
anticipated Halloween event "Beyond the Veil", a murder mystery ball on
Saturday October 29th beneath the Neo-Gothic arches of the Riverside
Church in Manhattan. Guests are invited to take part in an interactive
murder mystery theater game. The early bird ticket is $25 and can be
purchased here through 10/9/11.
Andrew Gilbert wrote a great piece for Sunday's Boston Globe on the beginnings of the Ghost Train Orchestra. This article is in advance of our show in Cambridge on October 18th, our first show in the Boston area since the band's debut in 2006. You can read the whole article here.
Since last December I've been developing some new arrangements for the Ghost Train Orchestra based on
the work of three bands active in the late 1930s and early 1940s: the
Alec Wilder Octet, the John Kirby Sextet, and the Raymond Scott
Quintette. We'll be playing some of these arrangements with the core orchestra plus bassist Todd Sickafoose and guitarist
Avi Bortnick on Friday September 9 at Jalopy in Brooklyn and Friday October 28
at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I'm very excited about this band.
The music we're exploring from these three bandleaders is
adventurous, ambitious, strange, and beautiful. There is a lot of
commonality between these three bands but they each created their own
unique worlds. These bandleaders were unafraid to bridge jazz and
into seamless works of art. We hope you'll be able to see this band
live as we fine tune it.
an Alec Wilder Octet original from 1941 for harpsichord, flute,
clarinet, oboe, bass clarinet, bassoon, bass, and drums. (The painting
is David Hockney's "Interior with Lamp".)
We just launched the new website for the Ghost Train Orchestra. Designed and illustrated by the folks over at Maricar/Maricor. We'll be performing some shows this fall out of NYC for the first time since the inception of the band in 2006. Make sure to sign up on the mailing list -- we're adding more shows soon.
Last weekend we finally tracked basics for the new Confessions record. Really excited about this music. It's a very different direction for me and the guys sounded amazing. Andrew Stern on guitar, Gavin McCarthy on drums, Jef Charland on bass - three of the finest musicians in Boston. We recorded at Q Division Studios with Rafi Sofer. We recorded 11 songs, 9 of which I think we'll end up using on the record. Some of these songs have been around for years and it's a good feeling to get them onto tape. I'm currently arranging strings for the songs and we'll be back again next month.
"Tiny" Parham stands out as one of the most original composers for
the jazz orchestra as it was being developed in the late 1920s.
Parham was one of the four bandleader/composers I selected to cover
for the new Ghost Train Orchestra CD Hothouse Stomp. When we were putting together the CD of material, I asked
illustrator Molly Crabapple to work up some illustrations of the
bandleaders for the booklet. She provided this illustration at left and really knocked it out of the
park. Last month I spoke with
NPR's Terry Gross a bit about Tiny Parham and she played our version
of his piece "Voodoo" on NPR. You can hear it here.
Born in Canada in 1900, Hartzell, ironically nicknamed "Tiny" (one
record noted he weighed well over 300 pounds) got his start in
Kansas City as a pianist and began touring with territory bands
until making his way to Chicago in 1926, where he worked as an
arranger and recorded piano on a few blues recordings with Ma Rainey
and Hattie McDaniels. He played organ and piano in the vaudeville
houses, most notably the Savoy Ballroom.
It was during this time that he cut 38 sides for Victor with
his own orchestra under the name of Tiny Parham and His Musicians.
These recordings left quite an impression on me. His use of violin
on the melody in the high register combined with slow, lumbering low
brass lines created an atmosphere rivaled only by Ellington. His
music is at turns atmospheric, creepy, and beautiful. Most of the
musicians he recorded with are not well-known, with the exception of
banjoist Papa Charlie Jackson and the great bassist/photographer
Milt Hinton, who played tuba on at least one recording (one of his
first recordings, I think).
After the band disbanded in the late 1930s Tiny found work playing
organ in a Chicago roller-skating rink. He died in a dressing room
in Milwaukee during a show in 1943 at the age of 43, not
surprisingly, due to his weight. It's hard to believe that Tiny
Parham is not more well-known. His compositions for the jazz
orchestra were some of the most original pieces of the time; a Tiny
Parham piece is instantly recognizable.
One of the first pieces of music of Tiny's that really blew me away
was a piece from 1928 called "Voodoo". It has an exotic element to
it in the toms and the band does this unison moaning thing at the
end. It's creepy, atmospheric stuff. I remember listening to that
and immediately wanting to bring it to people's consciousness again live. My
interpretation was to underline the exotic nature of it by adding
the saw and adding more voices at the end, and it's always a real
Robert Crumb, besides being a famous cartoonist and illustrator, is
also a purveyor of old time blues, jazz and country, a musician and
a 78 collector. In 1982, he illustrated a great collection of
trading cards called "Early Jazz Greats" with Tiny Parham. The book
of cards was re-released in 2006 with a bonus cd which included
"Mojo Strut" by the Apollo Syncopaters. Below is a youtube of the original "Mojo Strut" by the Pickett-Parham Apollo Syncopators, a band led by Tiny and violinist Leroy Pickett. They recorded two sides in 1926 on Paramount. This vinyl he's making such an effort to show off is just a compilation. When you listen to this, you hear that great introduction, followed by the violin way up in the high register. When the trumpet solo begins, the rhythm section changes abruptly to offbeats. Later on the trumpet leads the whole band through a series of chromatic triplet figures, another odd move for a jazz composer during this time. With all of the 2-bar stop time interruptions on throughout, the piece has this feeling of abandonment. It's a incredible piece of music for 1926 and a signature Tiny Parham piece.