Getting Things In The Right Order

It’s not long until my new recording – ‘You’ve Got To Pay The Band’ –  will be available, and I wanted to give those people interested a little insight into why I have recorded, and ordered, the songs in the way that I have.

I have a lot of experience writing set lists for live performances, and judging a room to see what kind of song will be best suited to play next (I often ‘call as I go’ for that reason). It’s definitely a skill that Band Leaders and DJs should possess, and though I’m not one to boast, I think I’m quite good at it; I certainly enjoy it and the challenges it poses anyway.

As I sat last weekend and wrote my set list for Hullzapoppin’, I had to consider the tempos, lengths, forms, placement of new repertoire, styles of each song, the band, the number of dancers, the general range of dancers’ experience, and the warm weather; there’s certainly a lot to think about! – You want to take the audience on a journey, but give moments of rest, and enough variety to challenge every dancer of every level in one way or another.

Writing a track listing for a recording is a different art.  You’d think it would be similar, but I find it far more challenging; I want my albums to tell a story from the first track to the last: to be one entity from start to finish.

Last time, with Bookmark, I poured over the tracks and came up with ‘the journey’ relatively easily. And I was really pleased with the way the story unfolded.  Even if no one else noticed it, I know I presented the tracks in the right order for my listeners and my narrative.

This new recording of mine was a different beast. Given the song list was so familiar to me as a ‘live band set’ I found it difficult to break away from that mentality. I kept looking at the tracks as a set list, rather than a story, and nothing seemed to sit right.

Then I switched my thinking and, rather than consider this a recording for dancers (which it isn’t exclusively), I thought of it as my chance to tell my tale of the past 2 years. In that respect, it became very similar to the process of listing the tracks for ‘Bookmark’, and everything seemed to click into place.

As I sent the list to Gav so the Mastering could take place (mastering is done so in the right order to make the album flow correctly) I explained to him my thinking behind it followed by ‘I know no one will get that but me, but..’

Then I thought, why shouldn’t I let people who want to know, know?

So, even though I would NEVER use this as a set list for a gig, here is the track listing for my new album; You’ve Got To Pay The Band, with a little info as to why each song is there and in that place.

1. Why Don’t You Do Right/Hit The Road Jack

For those who aren’t aware of my previous album and the events that followed its release, in order for this to make sense as the opening track, you need to know this: After I recorded ‘Bookmark’, I met a man who wanted to ‘help’ me get more work and more exposure in the Jazz world. Long story short, I ended up having to take him to court for all the money he never paid me (and my band). 3 years of legal battle and constant frustration finally culminated in (thankfully) getting what I was owed. I credit this as the reason I haven’t recorded an album since 2008, and owe many thanks to all who supported me through the horrible ordeal. (You can read more about it here.)

This song seemed fitting as the opening number; finally getting rid of him once and for all.

2. I’ve Got The World On a String

The rest of the album tracks tell the story of my discovery of Lindy Hop and the joy of dancing. To my delight, I found that I do have some coordination (I used to be completely terrified of dancing and would literally NEVER do it in public, as unbelievable as that may seem now!) and since my first introduction to Lindy Hop in December 2010, I have fallen further and further in love with it.

I have been singing this song for quite a while now, and it has remained a firm favourite in my repertoire. It was also the first song I ever sang for dancers at a Lindy Hop event.

3. Happy Feet

I wanted to add a tune that had a 20s feel to my set, and I love the lyrics to this – it fits my album narrative well too. 🙂

4. ‘Tain’t What You Do/It Don’t Mean A Thing

My little tribute to the Big Band era, and a nod of the head to Ella as the first half of this arrangement is based on her recording with the Chick Webb Orchestra. Also, the first Jazz Routine I ever learned was the Shim Sham, so it seems only right.

5. Hallelujah I Love Him So

I just LOVE singing this song. So that’s why it’s here really. That, and Ray Charles is a legend.

6. I Like Pie, I Like Cake

This seems to be everyone’s favourite Lindy tune at the moment, and I can see why – any song about cake is a winner for me. I thought about not recording it as the likes of Gordon Webster and The Four Clefs have made some pretty unmatchable versions, but I like cake too much.  I wrote some extra lyrics for it, so I feel like I’m adding something new to it at least.

Amusingly, when I first sang this to my pianist Andy, his reaction was “I don’t think that’s really about food..”  I shall let you make your own mind about that one.. 😉

7. Swing Brother, Swing

This song was suggested for me to sing by Trisha Sewell. I’ve only heard the Billie version, but I really liked it – the bridge section in particular. I quickened it up and John does a rather monster solo over it on this recording!

* A little side note about the talented chaps on this album: I am very lucky to be working with Andy Cholerton, John Arnesen and Bruce Reid, as they provide me with such a supportive and solid (and creative) rhythm section to sing with. I am also delighted to have John McKillup on this recording – having known him for 12 years now, I think the only other recording we have been on together was my composition for AS-Level Music, and I don’t intend for that to ever be heard again! And lastly, Gavin has been a constant support both personally and professionally, and I could think of no one better to produce this CD with me. *

8. You Are My Sunshine/Bring Me Sunshine

When I was little, my Mum used to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to me.

When I was promoting ‘Bookmark’, I started opening my sets with it (- an arrangement by the highly talented Aidan Shepherd) and really wanted to include it on my second album, whenever that materialised. As I try to keep the majority of my swing tunes happy and with positive and strong lyrics, it was best to leave the verses alone, but I thought it might work as a little intro to the Morecambe and Wise classic, Bring Me Sunshine.

When we were recording this one, I sprung some ‘backing vocals’ on the boys, and don’t think I’ve ever giggled so much; they were brilliant! – If you listen carefully, you can hear Gavin on the verge of laughter by the end (ever the professional!)

9. Blue Skies

Another positive and upbeat tune that was always intended for the second album. Although it’s not recorded here, the beautiful verse of this Irving Berlin number is as follows:

I was blue, just as blue as I could be

Every day was a cloudy day for me

Then, good luck came a-knocking at my door

Skies were grey, but they’re not grey anymore.

This is how I have felt often during the past few years, particularly with regards to this particular musical journey, and as one of the first Jazz Standards I ever learned, I’m glad that this is on the recording.

10. You’ve Gotta Pay The Band

When I first discovered this song hidden away in a Real Book, I was (of course) drawn to the title, given the circumstance I found myself in. I vowed that what- and when- ever I next recorded, it would be on my track list.

The last (and title) track of ‘Bookmark’ was a bass and vocal duet, and I love singing with just a Double Bass, so it seemed like a coherent and enjoyable way to bring this album to a close. Plus, being left with just the singer and bassist is what can happen if you don’t pay the band, and who would want that?! 😉

Abbey Lincoln passed away just a short time after I found this song (August 2010) and so I’m even more proud to be able to share some of her lesser-known music with my friends.

And so that’s a little insight into what I have recorded, and why.

I don’t get to tell these stories on a lot of my gigs any more (or sing ballads/waltzes/latin numbers for that matter!); I figure my job is to play for folk to dance, not tell them about why I’ve chosen the songs I have.

Of course, I don’t mind at all as I LOVE playing dance events, but there is almost always a reason to my repertoire choices, and at a ‘Sit Down Jazz Gig’ I know people oftentimes appreciate knowing these things. So I thought maybe some other people would too.

Thank you for reading, and I hope that you enjoy listening to the recording as much as I enjoyed putting it together – it’s been a LONG time coming!

(You can buy it from HERE, or get one from me the next time you see me, if you like 🙂  )

Tessa x


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