I’ve never been in a musical… unless you count my 8th grade stint in Teens in Tinseltown (it’s real, look it up). I grew up playing guitar and listening to rock, pop, folk, soul, and jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I saw a good number of shows and listened to the Rent cast album 5-bajllion times- yes I was quite the original. Still, I wrote music for years before I wrote my first musical in college; I studied music for years before I started to study this specific craft. When I did focus on musical theater, I was incredibly lucky to have professors, friends, colleagues and mentors along the way- giving me cast albums, scores to look at, and shows to see. I felt like I got an entire second music education. When I was asked to write this blog, I figured maybe I could share a bit of that first education. So here we go, let’s call it a mixtape in a blog. I’ll take requests for categories in future posts, but let’s start with: jazz, country folk rock, and 2000s B-side because- well why not. Hopefully someone will find a new audition song, or a wedding dance, or just a new track for your walking in NYC playlist.
First, jazz. I played in jazz band- I’m outing myself- and I can’t even begin to choose a favorite here. I’m a sucker for bebop, hard bop, etc. This one is for the vocalists out there. Music directors are gonna kill me for it. Let me preemptively say I’m not giving you blanket permission to back-phrase or rewrite rhythms whenever you feel like it. But if you’re Betty Carter… well then you can do whatever you want. Maybe you’ve heard of the song. A little ditty called “My Favorite Things” but this is a bit different from any version I’ve ever heard. The rhythm and energy of her vocal is like listening to a bebop solo on a horn- perfectly unpredictable she brings the song to life in such a different way.
My next pick is another incredible vocalist but for entirely reasons. Smooth soothing and warm, kinda like honey, or whiskey, or a little or both. The voice belongs to Ray LaMontagne. Firstly, let me say that I’ve listened to the entire Trouble album more times than I can count. But I’m picking songs, not albums, so I suppose I’ll go with “Shelter” for this post. So so simple. Why is it so special? Well firstly, there is his voice, which, as I’ve mentioned, is so unique in its texture and soul. But maybe what makes this specific song so special is the simplicity of the central idea: you will shelter me, my love, and I will shelter you. I’m not sure why, but I am sure that he has perfectly captures that aspect of love on this track. You know the truism, “don’t overthink it,” right? Well, this is why. A writer gets out of his own way and this simple perfect song comes out.
I’m ending with a somewhat random pick, but it popped into my head as I began to write and I thought- holy crap that song is so freakin’ awesome that I have to end with it. Isn’t that the best moment on a mixtape? “I can’t believe I forgot about this song! I remember when we were staying with… and you got up on the…” You get it. Also the song is called “Happy Ending” so woo- a pun- get it? Yep, I’m lame. But seriously, Mika’s “Happy Ending,” if you haven’t heard it, look it up. Please google “Mika’s Happy Ending.” I cannot speak to what might pop up without his name in your search, just a disclaimer. This song is a great piece of pop from the jump, but the real gold is the bridge through the end. Just listen, it speaks for itself. I will say, if you like a good layering build, this is the jam for you. Pop, a little gospel flavor, just songwriting goodness.
Ok, tracks 1, 2, and 3. To be continued…