Yes! You read it correctly. Now let me explain…
As we come close to the concert that will pay tribute to the late George Mesterhazy I thought you might like to know some background to what makes this year’s concert different. In a word strings and you could add woodwind to that word. We have a live chamber orchestra and I say live because George never did get to write for real strings. He provided memorable string arrangements via keyboard for Shirley Horn’s grammy (was it a winner or nominated?) album May The Music Never End and his piano playing was always so orchestral and that’s what seems so unfair – he never got to write for a real orchestra. He came close a few times and we all know by his exquisite taste and harmonic choices that he would have written pure beauty – ALWAYS. Furthermore, he loved arrangers and he and I (BTW not just me) talked for hours and hours with him about various arrangers mostly Robert Farnon, Johnny Mandel and more recently Vince Mendoza who George loved. Two years ago George’s good friend Barry Miles, the legendary pianist/arranger/composer mentioned that maybe we could do a concert with strings at the MAC Center in Cape May and we talked about the challenges involved with that – but we also sowed the seed of some ideas that are now about to bear fruit. It was fascinating to me how he and I, and later we would find also Vicki were on the same page with so many ideas. One recurring one was finding a way to take George’s piano notes and orchestrate them for strings and we discussed some ideas about that.
The next year passed quickly and I never heard from Barry as funding hadn’t been raised and I was on tour of Ireland with the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra and would be traveling back to the US on the same day as the Cape May concert was set to happen. It was later that summer (last summer) that I stayed with Vicki at the Merion Inn and she began discussing the string idea again. I tossed some ideas at her and we both began to get excited and then Vicki seemed to panic for a minute as she abruptly stopped further discussion as she wanted to talk with Barry Miles about this and wanted to make sure we didn’t get too far down the road making plans. Barry had been music director of these concerts since George’s passing and I remember Vicki asking if I thought we could work together on it. I love collaborating and I must admit, even I wasn’t prepared for the enjoyment this concert and preparation for it would bring. I made a 2nd trip down to Cape May and joined Barry, his wife Elaine and Vicki at the Merion where we had a meeting and a pasta dinner upstairs from the Merion. My two boys were with me and were too excited to settle, making their mattress into a trampoline and making it almost impossible to have a meeting. Elaine played with them a bit and they would seem to settle and then … off again. We did, at that point get an early framework for what you will hear on June 8th. Barry has a clarity about how he puts a project together that has taught me so much. Sometimes I feel I take the ring road around some areas where I could have taken a more direct route and can always benefit from the kind of cogent planning Barry brought by way of his experience and leadership.
I don’t want to discuss specific songs that are planned for performance as it may take away the element of surprise but for anyone who knew George – you’ll know his love affair with the Great American Songbook meant he could draw on many eras with well known and not so well known songs. With great vocalists like Paul Jost and Paula Johns singing, pianists like Barry and Dean Schneider and then add in one of George’s longest standing collaborators Joe Barrett on clarinet. Joe told me that George played many instruments with him – he was the bassist on a couple of gigs and knowing George he probably played guitar in some gigs too. All of the above makes me feel that between all of us we have helped George reach a dream – he has finally written for strings and we have the privilege of bringing this dream to fruition!
The chamber orchestra consists of a small string section and three woodwind players. The great Diane Monroe from Philadelphia, one of the finest violinists on the scene will lead the strings and I’m particularly delighted by that as we have worked together quite a few times with Steve Wilson’s project. Diane has put the section together while the woodwinds are made up of Bob Rawlings on flute/alto flute/clarinet, MaryLou Newman on flute/alto flute and clarinet and my good friend Doug DeHays is playing an impressive array of doubles with bass flute/alto flute/bass clarinet. George’s long standing rhythm section of Bobby Shomo and Tim Lekan on drums and bass respectively will bring back many memories for anyone who went to ‘Jazz Night’ at the Merion over the years.
Playing at the Mac Center brings us to one of The most beautiful seaside towns on the Eastern Seaboard – of course I’m talking about Cape May, New Jersey. A hotel room in Cape May in summer season is like gold so to get to spend time in this beautiful part of the world adds to the joy of our visit. As always the drive down conjures up many memories for me of driving down to the Merion to play with George, Timmy and Bobby and like all of us onstage that night I am reminded of how much I miss my friend.
PS I thought of writing this after I’d already gone to press 🙂 George and I would occasionally dream/talk out loud about how great it would be to write a project together like they did in the old days and be so busy that one might start a chart while the other finished it – we had heard the stories of Marion Evans and Don Costa doing that and crediting the arrangement to Don Evans. What would George and I have done? George O’Rourke? or David Mesterhazy? Well, we have a new team as Barry, without knowing George and I often talked about this, suggested we do the finale tune together and we did! WHAT FUN that has been and while I’m at it – one of my charts is really a joint arrangement of George’s and mine. Just like we always talked about…