Monday, May 22, 2017

Reinventing Rogers

This feature fits very succinctly into our recent conversations about the Great American Songbook, and how we use it as a Ground Zero for our cabaret sets and stories. As we debate about TCCAN on how to frame who and what we are, we have been focusing on how to retain whatever cabaret heritage there is, but also embrace a new and younger generation.

It involves Billy Porter, who is certainly both an old soul as well as a rising force in the world of New York theater and cabaret work. I first recollected him as a protege of the former Rosie O'Donnell show. She was notable for shining a light on the Broadway stage and always supporting raw talent there. Billy was a frequent guest and started showing up on holiday albums and such. But even with that - it was a long road to steady roles and acclaim. With his star turn in Kinky Boots a few years back, it seemed his time to bloom finally arrived. Right place, right time after years of sweat, labor and talent.

Now he is collaborating with his huge network of New York talent; this includes recording musicians, stage stars AND cabaret artists. Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Ledisi, Pentatonix. His new CD project is the Soul of Richard Rodgers. This "making of" video totally hits the point that we have all been struggling to articulate. He talks about how these classic tunes were indeed the pop songs of those decades. And then uses the word "treatment" for his reinvention of the songs. Now, they will certainly not meet approval with all our members or audiences; they are definitely R&B/ Soul arrangements - sometimes to the point of being barely recognizable. BUT, and importantly BUT, they are unique, personal and authentic versions of those songs that you can easily see resonate with the performers. Is this not indeed the cabaret we are seeking to participate in ourselves? Interesting revelation. Profound - He Gets It.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Behind the Scenes; Arranging a Chart

I decided that I will seek out similar videos or articles that speak to the educational side of our craft. I can't promise how often; but if you see something that sparks an interest - forward it on to me and I am glad to share it via the blog to a wider audience.
Image result for patrick williams

This one is a video from film composer Williams. And by this, it is Patrick who is lesser known than John. But I am still very familiar with his work and I am guessing you will know it as well. He notes over 65 film scores from Swing Shift, to Cry-Baby, and an Oscar for Breaking Away. Also TV theme songs for the Mary Tyler Moore show, Columbo and the Bob Newhart show to name a few more. He has a brand new collaboration out called Home Suite Home with great vocalists like Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton and Dave Grusin. He is apparently taking his background as an educator at the University of Utah and Colorado and sharing it as a regular feature on Facebook. So if you like what you see here, bookmark it for future episodes.

He talks about the process he uses in detailed terms. He uses holiday tunes as a template since they are familiar to us all in terms of which direction you can take them. It starts with finding the right song that resonates and then making sure it is in the right key. If your lead sheet is in the wrong key, it makes the entire process more difficult. He talks with broad brush strokes about both direction, intent and then finding just the right tempo which sets a ground plan. Then he talks about find the correct or substitute chord changes that brighten it without re-writing it. He references the concept of "harmonizing the melody vs. melodizing the harmony." Then move on to the bass line which anchors the chart. And finally coloring the arrangement with accents or embellishment. Lastly deciding on to an intro or outro that makes the entire song cohesive. All good things to know.

Since the platform originates on Facebook, the only link available is the link to his page. So here it is. And again throw things my way if you have an angle on a feature.
Patrick Williams: Thoughts On Arranging