Right to Love
Producing a big-band album on an "indie" budget is no walk in the park. But this has been a joy and an adventure from the start.
I'd been batting around ideas for my second "album" for a while, talking to producers whose works I've admired over the years. I learned a lot, but nothing seemed to click. In the late spring of 2014, I saw on Facebook that Thad Wilson, a friend and peer, was performing regularly at Columbia Station in Washington DC with his jazz orchestra. I made a commitment to go. I clearly remember being floored by their thrilling performance of "Caravan," one of Thad's original and most electrifying arrangements. At that moment, I had my album concept, contingent, of course, on Thad's desire to get involved. Fortunately, the answer was "yes."
The jazz orchestra concept felt like a natural extension of the direction I'd already been taking. You see, for the previous fifteen years or so I'd been performing two acts that had a big-band feel: "Nat & Sammy Remembered" and "Rhythm, Blues & Broadway." I'd traveled the world with these two acts performing on both land and sea. So, "Right to Love" feels a little like the child of that experience.
The album took shape organically. I'd join the band down at Columbia Station every other Thursday, and we'd perform the material under consideration. We were not only performing but also testing material and preparing for upcoming sessions.
I knew I had to have "Caravan" on the album. And "Corcovado" was another sensual, pulsing Thad Wilson arrangement that I fell in love with. The brilliantly written "I Was Telling Her About You" was yet another original arrangement from Thad's book that worked for me. "Alright, Okay, You Win" felt good, too. Thad's arrangement is faithful to the Joe Williams original but with some minor adjustments to suit his orchestra.
The theme of the album was beginning to take shape, but we needed a few more numbers and it was clear they'd have to be new arrangements. "Avalon" comes from my "Nat & Sammy Remembered" act and our arrangement honors the Nat King Cole original, but it's been tailored and augmented slightly for a bit of extra dazzle and a better fit.
My mom introduced me to "The Lamp Is Low" via a gorgeous Johnny Hartman recording. I fell in love with the song immediately and set about sketching an arrangement for Thad to bring to life. Well, apparently Thad had his own ideas and inspirations for the song. When I heard his take on it and how he heard me singing it, I had to give it a shot. Honestly, it's a different approach for me, and I really like it. I hope you like it, too.
"The Right to Love" is a song that I've loved ever since I'd heard it on Nancy Wilson's "Lush Life" album and Tony Bennett's "If I Ruled the World" album. The song speaks for itself and its message is both timely and timeless.
Last, I needed to include one more piece. I settled on "Macarthur Park," the bridge section. Decades ago, I'd heard Tony Bennett sing just the bridge and I loved it. That recording haunted me for years, and as the years have piled on, the lyric seems to resonate more deeply. This piece serves as a kind of pivot point for the album and gives it an added depth and dimension. My concept was to keep it very intimate with just a trio and to make room for one of Thad's signature trumpet solos. Thad couldn't get to the session on time due to a snag. So we did a couple of practice runs on it and it felt so good the engineer just started recording. Thad finally got to the session and crafted a beautiful, anthemic solo that feels completely in touch with the attitude and theme of the tune. The "alternate take" is one of those "practice" takes. I included it because there's stuff on it that had to be heard, particularly Chris Grasso's sensitive, heart melting piano solo.
So, there you have it — a glimpse into the making of this album. Enjoy the clips, take it home with you. I hope you like it. And I/we look forward to playing for you on the big stage under the lights somewhere.
STEVE WASHINGTON "Life Is A Song"