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Frank Macchia | Folk Songs for Jazzers

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Folk Songs for Jazzers

by Frank Macchia

GRAMMY Nominated CD!! Using a 13 piece ensemble of top Los Angeles musicians, arranger Macchia has reinterpreted traditional American folk songs and used his crazed imagination, invoking genres from funk to swing, New Orleans style to fusion.
Genre: Jazz: Modern Big Band
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  Song Share Time Download
1. I've Been Working On the Railroad
5:36 $0.99
2. Red River Valley
5:41 $0.99
3. Skip To My Lou
3:53 $0.99
4. Oh, Susanna
6:49 $0.99
5. Did You Ever See a Lassie?
5:20 $0.99
6. Polly Wolly Doodle
5:35 $0.99
7. Tom Dooley
7:39 $0.99
8. The Arkansas Traveller
4:50 $0.99
9. Amazing Grace
6:56 $0.99
10. The Erie Canal
5:38 $0.99
11. Hush, Little Baby
5:03 $0.99
12. The Blue Tail Fly
4:29 $0.99
13. Kumbaya
5:07 $0.99
14. On Top of Old Smokey
6:12 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This CD has just received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement (Skip To My Lou)!!!

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 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.

Album liner notes:

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 frankmacchia.net. You'll be able to download 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

Special Guests:
Tierney Sutton- vocals, "Red River Valley"
Ellis Hall- vocals, "Amazing Grace"
Valarie King- bass flute, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho"

Special Thanks: A big thanks to all the people mentioned above for their talent, generosity and patience with me on this project, as well as Andy Waterman for a brilliant job recording all this material Thanks also to Rich Breen for audio guidance and knowledge, Neal Breitbarth, Alex Iles, Dave Wells and Peter Erskine for mix input, Peter Macchia for the album title and CD disc photo, Guy Paonessa at Entourage for a great studio, MOTU for my favorite audio program, all my friends who supported me throughout this project and a special thanks to my wife, Tracy, who sticks with me through thick and thin. And a big hug for my son Charlie!
-Frank Macchia Dec. 2009



to write a review

Bruce Klauber

JazzTimes Magazine Review of Folk Songs for Jazzers
Instrumentally, this 13-piece ensemble is anything but traditional. Macchia uses four multi-woodwind players, a trumpet, three trombones (who sometimes double on tuba and euphonium) and the standard rhythm section. That instrumentation and the leader’s tasteful writing, which often recalls Gil Evans, help make this project a very special one. Highlights abound, especially “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” which permutates rhythmically from New Orleans second-line to 5/4 and mambo before returning to the second-line rhythm. Vocalist Tierney Sutton guests on an emotional “Red River Valley,” and singer Ellis Hall performs a remarkable version of “Amazing Grace.” The soloists, representing the cream of the West Coast crop, are consistently first-rate, particularly reedman Sal Lozano and trumpeter Wayne Bergeron. Special credit must be given to drummer Peter Erskine, who plays this difficult music with ease and grace. I’ve rarely heard him play better than this.