Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Very Special Wedding

On Saturday 21st July we were delighted to be invited to perform at Jonathan and Paulette's wedding reception in Ashley Green, a beautiful village in south Buckinghamshire.

There were several reasons we were particularly looking forward to this wedding; in our email dealings with Jonathan and Paulette it quickly became apparent that they were real enthusiasts of the swing and jive music that we love to perform, and they seemed like jolly nice people too.  And they had also booked a jive dancing lesson for their guests to enjoy before the swing set - always great fun!

Our suspicions that it would be a great day were confirmed when we arrived at the village hall to be treated by the smells of delicious home-cooked Carribbean food - and with the reception being held in a village hall rather than the grander venues that, rightly or wrongly, seem to be "expected" of wedding couples these days, the wedding had a unmistakably friendlier, more welcoming feel.

However, there was one particular reason that set this wedding apart from all others. Jonathan and Paulette had chosen as their first dance an arrangement of "All the Things You Are". This song is a jazz "standard", performed and recorded hundreds if not thousands of times by just about every jazz musician you could care to think of. The arrangement they had picked was written for their favourite singer Ella Fitzgerald by Nelson Riddle, the great American arranger who was a significant reason behind the success of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and many other singers we now recognise as the "greats".

There was just one problem - only a tiny proportion of the music arranged by Nelson Riddle is commercially available, meaning that we were faced with the task of transcribing the notes, without music, from the record (a process that we've done many times before but which is very time-consuming nevertheless!)

However, an off-the-cuff remark to Jonathan that the music might be available in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington DC set in to motion an incredible chain of events.

An email to the Senior Music Specialist at the library quickly established that indeed the music did exist in their Ella Fitzgerald archive (when we've saved up enough pennies, we'll be there in a flash!). However, to get permission to take copies and perform the piece of music, the groom had to contact the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation. Again, a quick reply from the Foundation followed giving us permission to perform the song for their first dance.

There was one more obstacle to surmount - how to get the music from the archives? Obviously Mike was willing to travel to Washington DC (a day spent rummaging in the archives would be rather fun, after all!) but with the gig fee covering perhaps a tenth of the seat on the plane, we needed to come up with another idea.

Which is how Jonathan ended up contacting the Director of Jazz at George Washington University, asking if he wouldn't awfully mind heading to the archive to get us copies. Never in a million years did we expect such a quick "yes" - but a few weeks later we had in our possession copies of both Nelson Riddle's original hand-written score and orchestral parts for the song.

A snapshot of the opening page of Nelson's score
I then had the pleasure of spending a whole day pouring over Nelson's scores and was struck by just how simple, but how fantastic, the arrangement was. The 60s studio recordings don't quite demonstrate just how lush Nelsons string writing was, with over 8 lines of harmony at a time, or how the age old trick of a simple musical line repeated throughout the sections of the big band can be so effective at driving the arrangement to a rousing finale. It was also amazing how few dynamic markings and directions were either printed or handwritten on the parts (these were the actual parts used in the recording studio) - proof that Nelson's "regulars" (the nickname for his faithful, long-serving session musicians) either had a telepathic relationship or simply just instinctively knew how the arrangement should sound.

Our arrangement stayed as faithful as possible to the original Nelson version, adding an extra trombonist to our band to play the opening section, and keeping the structure and harmonies the same. The result was a fantastic, special and very memorable moment for us and the bridal party.

So a massive thanks to Mark Horowitz at the Library of Congress, Fran Rosman at the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, Peter Fraize at the George Washington University, and most importantly to Jonathan and Paulette for all their help in making a small, personal dream a reality!

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