Get Up! is my 20th cd as a big band leader. Hard to believe that is 200 arrangements worth, and another 100 or so that I haven’t recorded on top of that.
I feel like I am getting better at the whole process, and also see that there is lots more to learn and incorporate into writing for this instrumentation. If you can think of a concept or an idea to underscore with music, the music follows. There is no replacement for writing a lot on the road towards developing a sound and concept.
While most of my earlier cd’s were written in a short period of time, this one was conceived over a three year period. It was nice to tinker with the arrangements in a leisurely fashion, and even write more than was needed so as to be able to pick the best 9 pieces.
All this music was written with particular musicians in mind. Before writing a note I knew who the rhythm section and horn players should be. Some of the personnel changed due to availability or lack thereof, but I got pretty close to the initial idea for a lineup. There always is a middle ground between who you are most comfortable playing with, who you can afford, and who will best serve the music. I think I did pretty well this time around.
James Brown was the ground zero as far as master of the funk. He influenced everybody. The Stax scene out of Memphis had to be included in the mix as well as the Motown sound. Mix all this up in a large bowl and you get the Oakland funk, or East Bay Grease, as it is referred to. Here then was the rhythmical foundation of the music on the cd.
The tunes I arranged were fairly simple in terms of harmony, mostly one chord vamps. Sing as Simple Song (Sly and the Family Stone), I Thanks You (Sam and Dave), It’s Your Thing (The Isley Brothers), Elegant People (Wayne Shorter/Weather Report).This was a nice scenario in terms of laying the groundwork for superimposing harmonic side trips and adding an extra ensemble section periodically. The original tunes in the program dealt specifically with some aspect of funk, be it Oakland Funk, Yellowjackets, James Brown,The organ trio shuffle, and even the evolved Weather Report take on funkiness.
Everything comes from someplace. This idea of superimposing a jazz sensibility on R and B is not new. The Bluenote “boogaloo” tracks from the 60’s headed in this direction. Of course Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters took the Oakland Funk and created something quite fresh. When I was on the Thad Jones Mel Lewis band there was a Thad arrangement of “Money Money Money” in the book. That arrangement stuck with me, and showed me how hip a simple R and B tune could become with the right treatment. Jim McNeely did an amazing thing to the Hendrix tune Up from the Skies with the Vanguard Orchestra a few years ago.
To have one short rehearsal, then do two concerts and an afternoon of recording with music like this is no easy feat. I had to get the best cats I possibly could.
They all did a great job, but everyone was sitting on the edge of their chairs. Ideally it would have been great to play this music for 6 months before recording. But this is not possible in this day and age with musicians of this calibre, and the confines of making a jazz big band recording. But after 20 cd’s, I can get the most out of the least for the most part. The main ingredient was the fact that everyone wanted to be there and help out to make the music great. For that I am truly grateful!