Folk Songs for Jazzers / Frank Macchia
Folk Songs for Jazzers . . . and Everyone Else!
Grammy nominated composer/arranger Frank Macchia has reinterpreted traditional American folk songs and used his crazed imagination to create Folk Songs for Jazzers. The CD features a top-notch cast of Los Angeles best musicians, including Peter Erskine, Grant Geissman, Bob Sheppard, Wayne Bergeron, Bill Reichenbach, Tom Ranier, Trey Henry, Sal Lozano, Jay Mason, Alex Iles, Kevin Porter, Valarie King, Ray Frisby and also features Grammy nominated vocalists Tierney Sutton and Ellis Hall. Macchia arranged and produced the CD, an eclectic mix of varied genres such as New Orleans second line, samba, funk, swing and ballads.
Says Jazziz Magazine of Macchia, “an inventive composer and arranger who deserves comparisons to Gil Evans and Pat Metheny.”Macchia has worked with Van Dyke Parks, Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Wilson, Clare Fisher, Yes, the Tonight Show Band and composed and orchestrated on numerous films and television shows. He received Grammy nominations in 2007 and 2008 for his arrangements from his CDs Emotions and Landscapes.
I've always loved folk songs. Nothing is so simple yet so powerful. Whether evoking childhood memories or messages of hope, love or loss, they are part of our collective unconscious. They achieve this resonance through their strong melodies and simple chord progressions — perfect starting points for manic re-construction!
I rejected the traditional big band section of 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 5 saxes because I wanted a more intimate setting. Instead I chose 4 multi-woodwind players, 1 trumpet, 3 trombones (doubling on euphoniums and tubas) and the standard rhythm section, enhanced with vibes on several numbers. The band was a dream ensemble: master improvisers as well as amazing readers. You wouldn't believe how fast they nailed this material, which is the hardest stuff I've written in quite a while!
I've Been Working On the Railroad was originally published in 1894 as "Levee Song". I wanted to do a series of styles over the different sections of the tune. We start with Peter's drum-slamming intro and go into a dream sequence repleat with tuba trio melody, which segues into fast swing, a 5/4 mambo, a stripper-shuffle, and finally settles into a good old fashioned New Orleans second line groove. If you have listened to any of my other CDs, you know I'm a big fan of this groove! Bob Sheppard plays an absolutely incredible solo on the vamp, taking the melody through many contortions before we modulate into an Ellington-voiced final melody, with a "train-chugging-off-in-the-distance" ending.
Red River Valley features Tierney Sutton's hauntingly beautiful rendition of this song, which dates to the 1880's and is about the Canadian Red River Valley in Manitoba. It tells of a woman expressing her sorrow over her lover going back to Ontario. Tierney takes a great scat solo and Grant does a bluesy guitar solo. There's also a fun little woodwind and voice soli that includes flute, alto flute, clarinet, english horn and vibes.
Next comes a latin-tinged version of Skip to My Lou. This song was originally a partner-stealing dance from the American frontier period. Our version features all the woodwind players trading solos on piccolo, culminating in a piccolo soli with vibes. The piccolo solo order is Sal, Bob, me and Jay. Following that is an insane trombone/bass soli and then Wayne wails forth on trumpet.
Oh! Susanna was composed by Stephen Foster in 1848 and was associated with the California Gold Rush. This version is done as cool swing with lots of re-harmonization in an attempt to channel the voicing style of Gil Evans! Alex has the trombone solo, then a woodwind soli of soprano sax (Bob) lead with clarinet, alto clarinet and bass clarinet, which segues into a piano solo by Tom. After a two part counterline band soli we re-state the hook and take it home.
The next tune, Polly Wolly Doodle, was probably the most difficult of the day, due to my sick fascination with constantly shifting time signatures. See if you can count this one out during the melody. We start out with Ray on the spoons and a piccolo trio with Jay on bass clarinet. Then the brass get their turn, followed by a crazed and brilliant tenor sax solo by Bob, followed with a twisted plunger trombone solo by Kevin, a truly slippery sax soli and suddenly...a shift back to 1920 and a dixie version of the tune! We emerge from the 20's with an interlude back to the tune with a scream trumpet solo by Wayne, followed by a sensitive tuba ending. Sheesh!!
Did You Ever See a Lassie? was published in 1895 and seems to have Scottish origins. My jazz waltz version harkens the feel of Mingus's "Better Get It In Your Soul" and features solos from Wayne, and Sal, with trombones trading solos (Alex, Kevin and Bill, in order).
The folk song Tom Dooley is based on the murder of Laura Foster, Tom Dula's fiancee. Dula, a Confederate veteran, was hung for her brutal stabbing in 1868. Dula's lover, Anne Melton, was later thought to be the true murderer, especially due to Tom's enigmatic statement on the gallows that he had not killed Foster, but that he should still be punished. I've always found this song slightly disturbing, and yet I wanted to do a treatment of it that was eerie yet beautiful; a meditation on a finite future, yet not totally devoid of hope. I take the alto clarinet solo and Tom plays a poignant piano solo, then a quartet of bass flutes play with a final melodic statement by the brass (flugelhorn and 3 euphoniums).
The Arkansas Traveller was composed in the mid-1800's by Colonel Sanford Faulkner and has primarily been known as a fiddle or banjo tune. I wanted to feature Grant on this one and I changed up and chromaticized (is that a word?!) the melody and put it into a fusion jazz mold. Check out the saxes vs. the brass in the middle and then Bob's wailing tenor sax solo. Peter really kicks this one and the whole rhythm section got jiggy with it!
Amazing Grace. What can I say about this song? It's probably the most covered and recorded tune of all time. There's not enough room in the liner notes to go into the whole story of this song; suffice it to say that although I'm not a religious person, this song has a way of really moving me and I simply wanted to record a version of it with a great singer. I was fortunate to have the incredibly gifted vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ellis Hall, and his performance gives me chills every time I hear it. I used to see Ellis perform with his own band in Boston back in the early 1980's, and I always dreamed of having him sing one of my arrangements. Well, my dream came true and I hope you enjoy this version as much as I do. Bob takes a beautiful sax solo, and along with a preamble horn chorale, we end with a brass quartet with voice.
I wanted to do a feature for the big horns (tuba and bass sax) so I arranged The Erie Canal as a showcase for Bill and Jay. The song was originally known as "Low Bridge, Everybody Down" and was written in 1905 by Thomas Allen after Erie Canal barge traffic was converted from mule to engine power, which raised the speed traffic above fifteen miles per hour!
Hush, Little Baby is thought to be an old American lullaby, as mockingbirds are from the American continent. This arrangement is done as a bossa nova and features Tom on piano and Bill on baritone horn. It also features the reed section on 4 bass clarinets, as well as a four-part fugue before the last melody statement.
Here's some interesting info I got on Blue Tail Fly: it was first performed in the U.S. in the 1840's, as a minstrel song. The lyrics tell of a slave's lament over his master's death, however, there is also irony in that the slave rejoices at his master's death, which may have been caused by negligence! The blue tail fly mentioned is a horse-fly with a blue-black abdomen that feeds on the blood of horses, cattle and humans. Yummy! Our version features Trey on an electric bass solo, Sal on alto sax and Tom on piano.
Kumbaya seems to have come into being in the early 1920's. The spiritual "Come By Yuh" was sung in a creole dialect spoken by the former slaves living on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. It translates to "come by here, my lord". This song in recent years has been used in a satirical context, but I wanted to portray it as a kind of tribute to Coltrane tunes like "Alabama", which I find to be very moving. I play the tenor sax solo and the band did a great job on a very "loose" arrangement!
We end the album with a favorite of mine, On Top of Old Smoky. My research shows that this song may have originated in England in the 16th century. It was sung as a courting song in the Appalachian Mountains. After a wild plunger mute intro by Wayne, Tom takes a few choruses followed by Bob on tenor sax, which leads to the epic guitar solo by Grant that takes us on home.
If you're reading this then you should know that as an owner of the CD you have a bonus track available to you on the website. Joshua Fit the Battle of Jerico, which features Valarie King on bass flutes, myself on bass and contrabass flutes and Ray Frisby on percussion. I arranged this song for 5 bass flutes, 2 contrabass flutes and percussion, and Val and I trade solos on the big flutes!
Sal Lozano- Alto Sax, Piccolo, Flute, Bass Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Bob Sheppard- Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Piccolo, Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Frank Macchia- Tenor Sax, Piccolo, Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute, Contrabass Flute, Clarinet, Alto Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet
Jay Mason- Baritone Sax, Bass Sax, Piccolo, Flute, Bass Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, English Horn
Wayne Bergeron- Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Alex Iles- Trombone, Baritone Horn, Tuba
Kevin Porter- Trombone, Bass Trombone, Baritone Horn, Tuba
Bill Reichenbach- Trombone, Bass Trombone, Baritone Horn, Tuba
Tom Ranier- Acoustic Piano, Electric Piano
Grant Geissman- Electric Guitar, Banjo
Trey Henry- Acoustic Bass, Electric Bass
Peter Erskine- Drums, Motivation
Ray Frisby- Vibraphone, Bongos, Tambourine, Shaker, Spoons
Dave Wells- Booth Supervision
Andy Waterman- Recording Engineer
Eric Astor- Protools Engineer
Steve Hull- Photography
Doug Sax- Mastering Engineer
All About Jazz
March 6, 2010
Never the conventionalist when it comes to music, Grammy-nominated composer/arranger and saxophonist Frank Macchia develops another theme album, this time reinterpreting time-honored traditional American folk songs in another innovative frame of jazz on Folk Songs for Jazzers. With a history of releasing concept albums like the saxophone-heavy Saxolollapalooza (Cacophony, 2008), the Third Stream-tinged classical jazz Landscapes(Cacophony, 2007), the orchestral Emotions (Cacophony, 2006), and the previous Animal series recordings, Macchia once again summons his creative juices in recording some classic American folk songs, which he has always loved, casting them in an entirely new light.
The amazing jazzed-up orchestrations of fourteen standard folk songs, re-energized and reinterpreted like never before, are a testament to the arranging skills of this two-time Grammy nominee. In another example of his unconventional approach to music, Macchia chose to use a big band for this project but eschews the normal four trumpet, four trombone, and five sax sections in favor of several multi-woodwind players and a standard rhythm section augmented by vibes on several selections. The thirteen-piece band assembled for this disc features some of Los Angeles' best jazz musicians, among them Wayne Bergeron,Bob Sheppard, Bill Reichenbach, Peter Erskine, Grant Geissman, and Tom Rainer.
Vocalist Tierney Sutton graces the set voicing a soft, humbling rendition of "Red River Valley," while the other vocalist to appear here is Ellis Hall, singing an uplifting version of the somber "Amazing Grace" buoyed by Sheppard's tender tenor solo. With a variety of styles included in the lengthy repertoire, the ballad-like pieces are among the best, beginning with the cool swing rendition of Stephen Foster's familiar "Oh Susanna" and continuing with the spacious "Tom Dooley" with Macchia on a spirited alto clarinet solo as pianist Rainer takes a poignant piano solo. "Hush, Little Baby," an old American lullaby, is arranged here with a bossa nova tinge, featuring the trombone voice of Reichenbach and Rainer playing against the backdrop of four bass clarinets.
The vast majority of the music is presented in more of an up beat and livelier fashion beginning with the opening "I've Been Working on the Railroad" hovering in funky territory and quite electric in texture. "Skip to My Lou" is almost unrecognizable, performed with a Latin flavor and a lot of piccolo sounds while "The Arkansas Traveller" comes across as an in-your-face, boisterous, loud number where guitarist Geissman plays like he's performing in hard rock band. There are many highlights on Folk Songs for Jazzers not to be missed as Frank Macchia crafts another unique non-traditional session of interesting jazz music albeit from the foundation of American folk music.
All About Jazz
March 5, 2010
Chances are readers will have heard most if not all of the well-known (and oft-performed) themes on saxophonist Frank Macchia's latest album, Folk Songs for Jazzers. Even so, it's a sure bet no-one ever heard any of them played quite this way. Macchia, as is his custom, wrote all the charts, and each one is a paragon of iridescence and ingenuity. As icing on the cake, Macchia has assembled an all-star cast of Los Angeles-area sidemen (plus vocalists Tierney Sutton and Ellis Hall) to breathe life into his eclectic yet well-designed concepts. As a press release accompanying the album asserts, these are "innovative versions of classic folk songs," an appraisal that, even though low-key, hits the nail squarely on the head.
Surprises? Yes, in almost every stanza, and most of them eminently pleasing. Perusing some random examples: "Red River Valley" as an amorous blues (sung and scatted by Sutton); "Oh! Susanna" as a Gil Evans-tailored swinger; "Did You Ever See a Lassie?" as a Charles Mingus-inspired jazz waltz; "The Arkansas Traveler" as assertive fusion jazz; "Hush, Little Baby" as an (appropriately) laid-back samba; "Blue Tail Fly" as a barroom-seasoned flag-waver; "Kumbaya" as a snail-like dirge with an eccentric John Coltrane temper; "On Top of Old Smokey" as a down-home sermon complete with muted trumpet intro, gin mill piano and raunchy tenor and guitar solos. What's most amazing is that almost everything works, and works remarkably well. Even though the very idea may strike some as ludicrous, it's almost as if these venerable songs had been written to sound exactly like this.
A musician in the reed section for a Macchia recording date had best bring all his horns and woodwinds, as Macchia is sure to have him doubling, tripling, quadrupling or even more. Sal Lozano plays half a dozen reeds / winds on Folk Songs, Bob Sheppard and Jay Mason eight apiece. But like the intrepid leader he is, Macchia doesn't ask anyone to bear any burden he won't lay on his own shoulders. To inspire the troops, Macchia plays no less than ten instruments (tenor sax, piccolo flute, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet). There are solos along the way by piccolos, alto clarinet, tuba, bass sax and baritone horn as well as the more customary soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, trombone and guitar.
Several of the arrangements defy description, which is why they've not been summarized. These include "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Polly Wolly Doodle," "Tom Dooley," "Amazing Grace" (sung by Hall) and "The Erie Canal." Suffice to say that they too echo Macchia's whimsical approach to any task at hand. Most are rhythmically challenging, a circumstance that Macchia has surmounted by placing the peerless Peter Erskine at the drum kit to guide an agile rhythm section that includes pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist Grant Geissman, bassist Trey Henry and Ray Frisby on vibes, bongos, tambourine, shaker and spoons. Macchia, Lozano, Sheppard, Mason, Wayne Bergeron (the ensemble's lone trumpeter), trombonists Alex Iles, Kevin Porter and Bill Reichenbach (baritone horn on "Hush, Little Baby"), Ranier and Geissman make good use of their solo turns.
Listeners should decide for themselves whether Folk Songs for Jazzers is to their liking. While it may or may not be among the topmost big band albums of the year, it is clearly one of the more resourceful. And for those who have the album in hand, Macchia has one more surprise: a "bonus" track, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," featuring Macchia and Valarie King on bass flute, available for online download by typing in a code word. What'll he think of next?
All About Jazz
February 25, 2010
Frank Macchia seems to have a thing about American folk songs—a very good thing. On his Grammy-nominated Landscapes, the Los Angeles-based multi-reedist/composer/arranger teamed up with The Prague Orchestra and bookended his superb "Landscape Suite" with traditional tunes like "Shenandoah," "Down in the Valley," and "Deep River," with marvelous results.
On Folk Songs for Jazzers, Macchia and his thirteen-piece band jazzes up some seemingly unlikely traditional tunes like "Blue Tail Fly," "I've Been Working on the Railroad," Skip to My Lou," and even that old campfire sing-along "Kumbaya."
All that may sound like a surefire recipe for some serious un-hipness, but Macchia and company are inspired re-inventors, giving "Oh Susanna" a very cool Gil Evans feeling on the harmonies to go with a series of trombone and reed solos that, with improvisational élan, take the tune somewhere else altogether; the essence jazz.
"Skip to My Lou"—probably not recognizable on casual listen—is jazzed up hot with a Latin tinge featuring a bird song piccolo solo that weaves around the swirling reeds, followed by a saucy trumpet turn in front of some beefy horn accompaniment. "Kumbaya" opens with Macchia's hearty tenor solo and a loose-limbed, rumbling, brass-heavy accompaniment. It seems like an unusual choice for a jazz treatment, but Macchia and the band give it grit, and a foreboding feeling of oncoming calamity. This heard around the camp fire would conjure images of dangerous things lurking out there in the dark.
Vocalist Tierney Sutton sits in on "Red River Valley" with her clear, clean intonation and a feeling of haunted melancholy, as she scats in front of waxing/waning reeds, giving way to a bluesy guitar solo. "Amazing Grace" features Ellis Hall's soulfully uplifting vocal in front of an ethereal reed harmony and Bob Sheppard's heart-felt tenor sax solo injected with Hall's scat comping.
Once again, Frank Macchia has modernized a set of traditional tunes, jazzing them up with sass and beauty into a new millennium.
Track listing: I've Been Working on the Railroad; Red River Valley; Skip to My Lou; Oh, Susanna; Did You Ever See Lassie?; Polly Wolly Doodle; Tom Dooley; The Arkansas Traveler; Amazing Grace; The Erie Canal; Hush, Little Baby; The Bluetail Fly; Kumbaya; On Top of Old Smoky.
Personnel: Sal Lozano: alto sax; flute; bass flute; clarinet; bass clarinet; Bob Shepard: soprano sax, tenor sax, piccolo, flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Frank Macchia: tenor sax, piccolo, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Jay Mason: baritone sax, bass sax, flute, bass flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, English horn; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Iles: trombone, baritone horn, tuba; Kevin Porter: trombone, bass trombone, baritone horn, tuba; Tom Ranier: acoustic and electric piano; Grant Geissman: electric guitar, banjo;Trey Henry: bass; Ray Frisby: percussion; Tierney Sutton: vocal (2); Ellis Hall: vocal (9).
L.A. Jazz Scene – Folksongs for Jazzers
Frank Macchia Live at Vitello’s
Saxophonist, arranger, composer Frank Macchia, who plays many different woodwind instruments, performed for a one night special engagement at Vitello’s in January. The evening was designed as a release party for his newest CD Folk Songs for Jazzers.
Macchia was born and raised in San Francisco and settled in Los Angeles in 1992 to become a very busy film composer and orchestrator. He has performed, composed, and arranged for such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Rita Moreno, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, Clare Fischer, Chuck Mangione and The Temptations to name just a few. He has several CDs out. His first Introducing Frankie Maximum followed by Frankie Maximum Goes Way-er Out West, The Galapagos Suite, Animals, Mo’Animals, Emotions with the Prague Orchestra and Landscapes, also with the Prague Orchestra.
With the same 14-piece band that recorded with him and special guests Tierney Sutton and Ellis Hall on vocals they did a great performance at Vitello’s from the new CD. Playing to a packed house, the band played one long set. Macchia didn’t use a traditional big band format, instead using 4 multi-woodwind players; 1 trumpet, 3 trombones doubling on euphonium and tubas, plus the standard rhythm section and vibes on several tunes. He takes these old classic folk songs and puts new life into them. His all-star band includes himself on tenor sax and multi-woodwinds, Wayne Bergeron-trumpet, Alex Illes, Bill Reichenbach, Kevin Porter – trombones, tubas and euphoniums, Bob Sheppard, Sal Lozano, Jay Mason-saxophones and various woodwinds, Tom Ranier-piano, Grant Geissman-guitar, Trey Henry-bass, Peter Erskine-drums, and guests Ellis Hall, Tierney Sutton, and Valarie King. “The Erie Canal”, an old barge song featured the big horns, tuba by Reichenbach and Mason on bass sax. This one was done in a Dixieland style with a little humorous twist. Lots of woodwinds, piccolos and brass. Erskine’s solid drumming kept everything moving. The tune was written in 1905, but it was brand new tonight for me. “Amazing Grace” absolutely showcased vocalist Hall, done slowly, with a classical chorale at the beginning as Macchia conducted. Hall poured his heart out. The solo by Sheppard on tenor sax just kept building to reach the extreme upper register achieving those high notes as the tune came to a powerful climax. The crowd loved it! “God Bless the Child” was done in the style of Blood, Sweat & Tears. It was very laid back as Ellis sang the theme, with strong horns right behind him. Lozano got in some nice licks on alto and Porter let loose with a mighty trombone solo. Ellis, who sang with Tower of Power, has done commercials, movies and radio spots and has a very recognizable voice. It was a thrill to hear him. Ellis sang a jump-jive tune titled “Flip, Flop and Fly” which was a lot of fun! Bergeron and Lozano were featured and really popped with crisp, sparkling horn lines. I really loved Ellis and the band’s performance.
Frank told some interesting facts about “Tom Dooley” and the music started and became a very pretty version, very slow and haunting. It kind of had a floating feel to it. Macchia took the alto clarinet solo as Erskine played a tom tom effect on drums. Tom Ranier was exquisite at the piano with 4 bass flutes adding their unique sound. I like this new version very much. “Skip to My Lou” was done in a more lively tempo featuring the woodwinds done in a salsa vein and the horns had some interesting lines too. The woodwind’s piccolo solos had a Latin vamp behind them, was executed very well. Bergeron’s exciting trumpet roared throughout the piece. Erskine’s drumming was a stand out. Valarie King, playing bass flute, joined in on “Three Blind Mice”, which was done in a ‘40’s Cab Calloway style with 5 bass flutes, making for one beautiful sound. Bergeron added color with his plunger-muted trumpet, add Grant Geissman on the guitar and they tore the roof off and let’s not forget Erskine on drums. The tune as performed reminded me of the great Duke Ellington. “On Top of Old Smokey” was done in an R&B style of the Saturday Night Live Band with strong solos by Bergeron, Ranier, Sheppard, and Geissman all very dynamic. Sadly, I missed Tierney Sutton’s performance, but I enjoyed the show very much and the unique twist on these classic folk songs.