Dec 312016

Starting the week of the Jazz Standard run we were coming off a week of personal challenges and heartache that I won’t go into here but let’s just say that my ability to focus was being put to the test. This week seemed to be no exception but that said, I was very aware of the role music has played in healing wounds and beyond that, helping to bring joy to myself and others…and I hoped that this week of Sinatra charts would have the same uplifting effect.

Paul Dunlea arrived in on the Tuesday (13th) and along with Christine Tobin we headed to the Consul General of Ireland’s residence in UN Plaza for a reception I was invited to. The reception was for the RIAM who have partnered with Juilliard here in NYC. I later joked on Facebook that this a special reception to welcome Paul Dunlea to NY for Sinatra week 🙂 I had met Mrs Barbara Jones, the Consul General a few weeks earlier and, like everyone who has met her, was struck by a) how personable she was and b) how VERY important art and culture is to her. It was an early reception so before heading back to Weehawken, NJ where I had parked my car outside Christine’s we went for a few drinks. Here Paul reiterated an offer to come and help me ‘put the pads together’. Anyone who has ever led a big band will know how much work it is. Parts go missing, new arrangements need to be added and numbered, set lists need to be put together…and kids have to brought to music lessons and fed. The latter meant I would meet Paul in Red Bank and then he, Jennifer, me and the boys would grab dinner in Red Bank’s Dublin House. Back home and time to get to work. Paul’s organizational savvy has us immediately on track as he lists missing parts, tapes pages together while yours truly is formatting new additional arrangements in Sibelius.

THE REHEARSAL (Thursday 2pm, opening day)

Carpooling on the way in with Doug DeHays we were trying to avoid double tolls and parking etc, which in Manhattan adds up. I arrive just in the nick of time at Jazz Standard. It’s always a great buzz on large ensemble projects when you see what musicians are here already, watch those who are arriving, texts from those who running behind, the sounds of people warming up on their instruments. With a show that had the kind of quality band I had assembled they don’t need to play through full songs. Intros, endings and a few trouble spots are addressed and we are ready. Nothing left to do now except hit the Blue Smoke BBQ buffet and wait for showtime.

It’s been 8 months since most of us have played together and a year since some of us have…and one sub and the band sounds like we are picking up where we left off. It doesn’t take long before we are “swingin’” and having Bob Millikan on lead trumpet is bringing an authenticity to the sound of these arrangements. Songs like “I’ve Got The World On A String” and “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart” stand out for their immaculate phrasing. The vocalists tonight are Sachal Vasandani and guest vocalist Tony Corrao and they are ‘on’ right from the start.


The O’Rourkestra with featured vocalist Sachal Vasandani, guest vocalists Tony Corrao and Jennifer Sutton O’Rourke

First set is heavily sold out and 2nd set not far behind. Vocalists and Band are hitting it way out of the park. Private emotional moment for me happens when I hear the beauty of the great Robert Farnon’s arrangement on The Very Thought Of You which I have adapted from the full orchestral version to a big band. Sachal’s wonderful rubato waves in and out of Farnon’s great writing. In the middle of the chart there is a brief instrumental interlude that seems to envelope the whole room (as it did last year) and I feel a huge wave of emotion internally as these sounds written by a beautiful spirit remind us of why he was nicknamed “The Guv’nor” by Frank Sinatra. Another one off the bucket list happens when Jennifer sings “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart” – I have conducted that quite a few times with different ensembles but this trumpet section under the legendary Bob Millikan nail the phrasing and the dynamics – all backed up by the amazing swinging rhythm section of Lewis Nash, Peter Washington, Peter Bernstein and Neal Kirkwood. Friday night, both sets are being filmed thanks to a kind offer of help/support by Rob Cantwell, a friend who knows how important this opportunity is to get some good footage.


Guitarist Russell Malone is in the audience tonight and I am reminded of one of his posts on Facebook recently where he reminisced about his performances with the great Joe Bushkin. That gets me thinking a lot of how Frank Sinatra used to wax lyrical about his time ‘on the bus’ with both Harry James and Dorsey’s band. In the latter band Joe Bushkin was the pianist and was enjoying the fruits of having a hit “Oh Look At Me Now” and Sinatra would often joke about Bushkin. Russel tells me later that he played that song with Joe a couple of times. This show, both sets, has been sold out for a while. My two children along with Jeremy Pelt’s two children are at a table together and they are joined by Cassandra Wilson. I go looking for an adult to help out at the table, either Jeremy or Jennifer and Cassandra stops me and says “I got this” quite emphatically. With Jennifer and Jeremy on stage along with yours truly I badly want to make a joke along the lines of …”If we’re up here, who’s watching the kids?” Thankfully, good taste prevails on the night although I am reassured that the table next to Cassandra has two of my favorite neighbors, Jim and MaryBeth Kopec. Jim knows my kids quite well and would jump in if needed…they were model citizens, for the most part 🙂 The audience are a little bit rowdier tonight and I have a feeling that Jennifer and Cassandra are egging them on! Band is grooving hard and the camaraderie is very much at the surface. Roger Rosenberg is subbing for Doug tonight on the low reeds and we quickly find out we have plenty to talk about between sets. Roger had done some work in the 80s for Pat McGuigan, father of Barry, an Irish boxing legend and we were talking about Carl Frampton and his upcoming fight. Roger has been touring with with Steely Dan and like Doug, he covered a plethora of woodwind doubles in our library.


First set is busy and on my mind, hanging over from last year I can hear Lewis saying to me that the Sunday night of a longer run in a jazz club is often the night that shit can go wrong..I won’t write here about last year’s last night but suffice to say this one went off without incident 🙂 Once again I went with the approach of not taking a fixed set of tunes and rehearsing just those and performing the same set(s) nightly for the sake of tightness. We did not repeat a set once during our run, some songs were played every night because of their historical context. I would like to extend my gratitude to the musicians who made this week a huge success and indeed pleasure. Here they are:

Sachal Vasandani, Tonny Corrao and Jennifer Sutton O’Rourke
Dave Pietro, David Lee Jones, Tom Christiansen, Jonathan Ragonese, Doug DeHays – subs: Steve Kenyon (for Dave), Peter Anderson (for Jonathan) and Roger Rosenberg (for Doug).
Bob Millikan, Jeremy Pelt, Phillip Harper, Dylan Canterbury – 5th trumpet for some selections Barry Fannin
Ryan Keberle, Paul Dunlea, Clark Gayton, James Borowski – subs Matt McDonald (for Clark)
Neal Kirkwood (piano), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Peter Washington (bass), Lewis Nash (drums).

 Posted by at 11:11 am

  One Response to “Sinatra 101”

  1. I’m honored to be mentioned!

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