So… where to begin?
Until last night, after almost 32 years as a musician in New York, I had never played the Blue Note. I’d been there many times to hear other artists. Never set foot on the stage myself.
When I was in the planning stages of the Detour Ahead album, which I arranged, produced and mixed, I never imagined it would lead me there. I mean, of course, when you’re arranging music like that, and writing down the bones, you can’t help but wonder and hope, “ya never know, maybe this’ll do something interesting.” There’s also this HUGE fear that what you’re doing is somehow sacrilegious to the music and the iconic artist you’re invoking. I mean, Billie Holiday… that’s a big hat to wear. Terrifyingly large.
When we played the Apollo as a quintet, I was thrilled. Another iconic venue that I had never really expected to ever grace the stage of. Or more correctly, be graced by being permitted to make music on such hallowed ground. Kinda like the first time I performed at the Rinaman in Nashville. There’s weight to the ghosts that have taken up residence in the very floor of those stages.
Aside from the Village Vanguard, there isn’t really another iconic club left in NY that is so squarely on the radar as is the Blue Note. It’s an iconic brand, and is a destination for many people – it embodies “New York Jazz” in the minds of many people, worldwide. So when we got the opportunity to take the project into the Blue Note, I was alternately thrilled and terrified.
To sit on the Blue Note stage, as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, surrounded by eight REALLY good friends, all REALLY good musicians hand picked by me, and for every note played in the arrangements to have come from my pen, was a thrill beyond all reason and any expectation I’ve ever had a right to have. To have done so in front of a sold out house that received the music with such amazing enthusiasm was one of the more sublime and uplifting experiences of my career. Not bad for the first time…
Of course it was all done in support of Johnny, who rose to the occasion and delivered heartfelt and heartrending versions of the songs he has so much love and respect for. It was strikingly evident many times throughout the night how much love he has for Billie and her music. I cannot thank him largely enough, or enough times, for the opportunity to make this project a reality, and for the opportunities it has thus far presented me.
Doesn’t matter how good the writing is if it’s not played well. None of it would’ve been possible without the hard work and dedication of the guys in the band: My longtime brother in the foxhole, friend and Jukes bandmate, Chris Anderson on trumpet and flugelhorn; another unique and beautiful friend, and gourmand in the best possible sense of the word, Ronnie Buttacavoli on trumpet and flugelhorn; another Jukes bandmate and longtime friend, Neal “the Dude” Pawley on trombone; multi-instrumentalist and all around great guy, Ken Hitchcock, who flew up to New York from Virginia at his own expense to do the gig, on baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and alto flute; my foodie brother and woodwind doubler commiserator at-large, Allen Won on alto saxophone, clarinet and flute; the inimitable Shawn Pelton on drums, who always brings an amazing level of intensity, focus and sheer power to any gig we do; my longtime friend and super funky and deep bass player, Steve Count, who always finds a pocket and keeps it there; and lastly, a guy I’ve come to deeply love and respect as a musical compatriot, co conspirator and deep and loyal friend, the bebop cowboy himself, Glenn Alexander on guitar, who is living proof that a cowboy-hat-wearing hick from the wilds of Kansas can indeed play jazz at the highest possible level. And of course Johnny, who’s wit, charm and depth of musical understanding and nuance can often be overlooked, but who brought all of that forth beautifully both on the album as well as on stage last night. I thank them all for making my scratchings on a page into something truly worth listening to, and I salute their patience and forbearance with my neurotic and haranguing harping on the details of the music throughout the process. Thanks guys and I love you all for it…
I also want to thank our crew, who always make things go much smoother than they would otherwise without them: Hood, Prinzo and Phil. Also to our manager Harvey Leeds ad our agent Tim Drake, without whom the little details, ike getting paid would never get accomplished.
And an EXTRA SPECIAL thank you to my good friend, and stellar photographer & videographer, Mike Rossi, who drove down from Rhode Island to spend the weekend with us, documenting the entire process. I’ll post some of his exceptional work later, after we’ve culled through and found the gems.