I completed the composition selections for the project at the end of 2018, having spent many months listening and composing some tunes. I wanted compositions that would appeal to a very wide Jazz audience and could potentially highlight the strengths of the soloists and ensemble players in the orchestra. I also looked for pieces that would widen my orchestration concepts.
I targeted January 2021 as a potential release date, planning 2020 for recording, mixing, mastering, jacket cover design, etc. This meant I'd have to complete all the arranging/orchestrating by the end of 2019. With 11 selections in mind, I needed to complete an average of one arrangement each month. I was able to complete them in December 2019 and set up a meeting in January 2020 with our engineer, Mike Levine, to discuss my budget and recording methods.
At our meeting in January, we discussed recording the rhythm section live at Mike's studio and the horns in sections, with a few players recording remotely in their home studios. We were getting ready to implement our plan in February when the COVID pandemic hit hard in Florida. This forced us to abandon our planned approach. With no reasonable prediction for the end of the pandemic, Mike and I decided to remotely record each part individually. Mike and his wife also made the decision to leave Miami and go to their 2nd home in North Florida, where Mike has another recording set up.
The next challenge was finding compatible players with home studios that were available and willing to participate. I've always preferred selecting familiar, versatile players, whose musical skills and concepts were as like-minded as possible. That is why, with few exceptions, almost all the players in our recording projects have come through the University of Miami Studio Music and Jazz program. Our backgrounds have been very similar and in some cases we have worked quite a lot together. Unfortunately, several of our current band members were not set up to record at home, so, I had to search for replacements. I needed to find 2 trumpets, trombone, piano, bass, drums, and guitar.
Happily, along with Cisco Dimas (Miami), I was able to include Brett Murphey in Wisconsin, Jason Carder in Arizona on trumpets, and Dana Teboe in Maine on trombone, all of whom I had worked with in The Atlantean Driftwood band and on countless gigs in Miami many years ago. All are also graduates of the UM Jazz program as well.
Here in Miami, bassists Nick Orta, Tim Smith, and Jamie Ousley were all willing and able to record at home. We were able to record bassist Matt Bonelli on a track when Mike Levine made a quick return to his house in Miami. They, along with bassist, Mark Egan, in Connecticut, completed the cast of outstanding bass players. Again, all graduates of the UM Jazz program from different eras.
Guitarist Lindsey Blair (Miami) committed to recording all our tracks along with Randy Bernsen, who is featured on Infant Eyes. Randy (Ft. Lauderdale) and drummer, Peter Erskine (Los Angeles), are 2 of the players on the project that are not UM graduates. Randy is also an Atlantean Driftwood alumni and Peter and I toured together with the Stan Kenton Orchestra as well as concerts and recordings with Jaco Pastorius.
Along with Peter Erskine, the drummers are a cast of all-stars. Lee Levin and Mike Harvey, all recorded their parts remotely here in South Florida. Mike is the 3rd player not from UM, who I have known mostly by reputation and was highly recommended by Mike Levine. We were able to add Jack Ciano on a track, a founding member of The 14, along with bassist Matt Bonelli, at Mike's studio, on the same day as Matt. Percussionist, Richard Bravo (Miami) also appeared on our last project and has taught as an adjunct at UM.
In addition to engineering the project , Mike Levine consented to playing keyboard and piano. On the high recommendations of Ed Calle and Mike Levine, we were able to add pianist, Kemuel Roig, to our Misturada track. David Roitstein (Los Angeles), who is also an Atlantean Driftwood alumni and UM graduate, recorded 3 tracks, but we were unable to use the tracks due to some technical recording issues. The same was true for composer, arranger, pianist, Ron Miller, on his composition, Wood Dance.
Our woodwind players (all UM Alumni), Ed Calle (Miami), Ed Maina (Tennessee), Tom Timko (New Jersey), and Peter Brewer (Miami) all recorded remotely while my brother, Neal Bonsanti, recorded his parts at Paul Hoyle's studio in Miami. Tenor saxophonist, Adam Kolker (New York), contributed a great solo on Driftin', which, unfortunately, does not appear, having become a victim of several edits that were needed to shorten the track.
Devising an approach for recording all the tracks individually and remotely was a special challenge. Mike Levine and I had some success in our last project, "The Future Ain't What It Used To Be", with tracks, such as "Pandamandium", where most of the parts were recorded remotely, one at time. Knowing we had such great players to work with, I generated wave files from the Sibelius software I used to score the arrangements and orchestrations. The playback contains emulated sounds of each instrument. We started by sending the wave file and drum parts to drummer Lee Levin, who recorded amazing tracks on "Dayride", "Misturada", "A Day Tripper's Blues Buffet", and "Got A Match?". Upon receiving Lee's drum tracks we began following the same procedure adding the rest of the rhythm section parts, bass, piano/keyboard, and guitar. Once Mike and I were confident this approach would work, we began the same approach with the remaining tracks. Mike built each track one part at a time as he received them from the players. We added the solos after we had the rhythm section parts completed. If the other horn parts had not been recorded, we used the emulated horns from Sibelius so the soloists would have them as a reference.
This method created a long list of challenges for the players. For example, our rhythm section players had to anticipate the intensity of the soloists and how to accompany each soloist. Coordinating, tuning, cut offs, and articulations were some of the horn's ensemble challenges. Conforming to the established accompaniment was one of the hurdles presented to each soloist.
I strongly believe this project could never have been completed in this fashion without Mike Levine. Very few engineers could have successfully overcome the technology challenges of assembling and coordinating each part into a master track, along with the musicianship required to edit, repair, and mix this project. I am truly amazed by what Mike and these great players put together.
CHOOSING THE SELECTIONS
Countless hours were spent listening to a wide assortment of recordings in order to find the music I believed would be accepted and enjoyed by our audience, stand up to repeated listening over time, fun to play, challenging to arrange/orchestrate, and would give our soloists and rhythm section players settings that would showcase their talents. It took sorting through a lot of great material to find interesting, energetic tunes, as well as some colorful, passionate compositions for the project. I was also interested in co-arranging pieces with 2 of my former U of Miami colleagues, Ron Miller and Vince Maggio. I felt their compositions, creativity, and arranging/orchestration styles would expand my knowledge and offer our listeners a contrast in styles.
I had always loved Ron's big band arrangement of "When I Look in Your Eyes" and his composition, "Wood Dance" originally written in 3/4, which we performed together for my Master's recital in 1973 with Ron (Keyboard), Danny Gottlieb (drums), Mark Egan (bass), Pat Metheny (guitar), Bob Meyer (Flugelhorn), and Steve Goldstein (Percussion), all students at UM at the time. Ron graciously allowed me to reduce the instrumentation, make a few orchestration changes, and some edits on "Look". I was particularly excited to analyze the Gil Evans' arranging and orchestration techniques he included in his arrangement. "Wood Dance" gave me the opportunity to work with one of Ron's many modal pieces. I originally imagined a bass clarinet solo in the arrangement and contacted Bob Mintzer to see if Bob could record it for me, but unfortunately Bob was not set up to record at home. Ed Maina recorded a great bass clarinet solo for us, but after numerous listening, I felt the basic orchestration had so much bass clarinet in the ensemble writing that piano would provide a needed contrast.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's Vince Maggio led a 13 piece ensemble, featuring Ira Sullivan, called The Baker's Dozen. Although I was not a regular member of the band, I often had the opportunity to sub at rehearsals and for a couple of concerts, and became a big fan of Vince Maggio's arranging. Two of his arrangements in their book included "I'm All Smiles" (Leonard/Martin) and "Misturada" (Airto). I'd written a chart on "Smiles" during the early years of The 14 Jazz Orchestra, which I never liked. I contacted Vince to see if he had the score to his version. We worked together to combine the two versions. Vince's version of "Misturada" along with the Airto's recordings were a big influence on our recorded version.
Chick Corea's music translates very smoothly to large ensembles and has been a part of each of our recording projects. Our latest project, "Cartoon Bebop" contains two of Chick's compositions, "Got A Match?" and "Duende". I heard "Got A Match?" as a high energy track to potentially showcase 4 of our players, Ed Calle (tenor), Ed Maina (piccolo), Lee Levin (drums), and Nicky Orta (bass). The passion I heard in Chick's String Quartet version of "Duende" was like a magnet and offered me the opportunity to showcase Ed Calle's more lyrical style and my brother, Neal, on oboe as well. It was the 1st arrangement I completed for the project.
Adding some of my own original pieces to the project was also one of my goals. As I selected the compositions to arrange, I began to work on some original pieces to fill in some style gaps. One morning, I happen to see a TV advertisement using cartoon characters, Rocky and Bullwinkle, who happened to be childhood favorites. Over the years, I worked for many entertainers in music theaters. One of them, Liberace, used the cartoon's theme in his show, which was always fun to play. After repeated listening and examining the sheet music, I discovered a way to hint at the theme by using piccolo and tuba while adding Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk motifs. My 1st title was Rocky, Bullwinkle, Bird and Monk, which morphed into "Cartoon Bebop" and became our album title. Once I had decided on adding tuba for both "Cartoon Bebop" and "When I Look In Your Eyes", I contacted David Bargeron, who I had met while performing at the Jaco Pastorius Birthday concert in 1981. Unfortunately, David was recuperating from surgery and couldn't get back in playing shape to record. At the last minute I decided to use an emulated tuba sound.
"A Day Tripper's Blues Buffet" combined 2 compositional goals. I was considering adding a Beatles tune and was also planning to include an original Blues in the project. I pulled elements of both together to form this piece, hoping for a kind of Rock 'n' Roll feel.
Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock have always been among my favorite composers and players, so I searched through their vast libraries of compositions hoping to find and add 2 great additions to our project. Wayne's ballad, "Infant Eyes", has been one of my favorites since the day the "Speak No Evil" album was released. I was always hesitant to arrange it, not feeling confident I could capture its sensitivity and lyricism. I also did not want to subject Ed Calle to the logical comparison listeners and critics would make to Wayne's solo and phrasing. I decided to attempt to capture the compositions essence with a slow 6/4 feel and use a variety of woodwind colors to try to create a new setting. Guitarist, Randy Bernsen, had recently sent me one of his new recordings and I heard the exact sound I was looking for. Herbie Hancock's "Driftin'" came from his 1962 "Takin' Off" release and provided a great hard swinging vehicle for the band.
Stanley Clarke's "Dayride" , from Chick Corea's Electric Band "No Mystery" album, was the last arrangement to be completed, but one of my 1st choices for the project. It was challenging to translate the small group version into a 13 piece band. I decided to incorporate Chick's approach to solo fills and the exciting shout chorus near the end of the recording into our version. It turned out to provide a great solo vehicle for the talents of Ed Calle, Lindsey Blair, and Mike Levine.