Jeff and David have been working with the musicians of New Orleans for a few years now and their latest album, the Spirit of New Orleans Volume 2, is the second of three albums they recorded in New Orleans in 2019.
New Orleans is a melting pot of culture and creativity, that has exerted an influence on the world’s music that’s entirely out of proportion to its physical size (less than 400,000 residents). Like Liverpool, it’s a port city that has absorbed a kaleidoscope of influences from the millions that have passed through it, and the trials and tribulations that it has faced.. That has created something that is uniquely its own – including language, food, music and style.
Mardi Gras has a mythology all its own too – colour, energy and vibrancy – traditions within traditions, marching clubs, known as krewes. All with their own unique uniforms, legends and customs – with exotic names like the 610 stompers, the Ritmeaux Krewe, The Organ Grinders (with their attendant Monkey Spankers), the Disco Amigos, The North Side Skull and Bone Gang, the Muff-a-Lottas and many others.
And bringing it all together in the Big Easy is the music. It’s an aural record of the city’s history, reflected in a gumbo of Dixieland jazz, R&B, marching bands, the music of Sicily and Cuba, rock and roll and Hip-hop.
New Orleans came together in its annual joyous celebration of life and humanity on March 5 this year – just before the virus struck. Jeff and David were there to work on the new album – and soak up some of the city’s energy in the process.
Says Jeff: “The city’s music – and its musicians – make up the fabric of one of the most iconic places on earth. As a musician it’s a privilege to go there and work with the guys who are living in and carrying on this musical tradition.”
Says David: “The quality and skills of the musicians in New Orleans who bring our music to life, is evident in all they do. Many of them come from families who are steeped in the tradition across generations. Working with them is a joy.”
The line-up for the new album was as follows. All musicians are New Orleans-based unless shown otherwise.
Trumpets – Mark Braud and Leon Brown,
Trombones – Mark Mullins and Craig Klein,
Clarinet – Evan Christopher,
Saxes – Jason Mingledorff,
Piano – Josh Paxton, and Leandro Lopez Varady (Chicago),
Organ – John ‘Papa’ Gros, and Steve Lodder (London),
Bass & Sousaphone – Matt Perrine,
Bass – Ryan Trebilcock (London),
Drums – Eric Bolivar,
Guitar & Banjo – Don Vappie,
Guitar– Chris Siebold (Chicago),
Vocals – Aurora Nealand, Dana Abbott, Sean Carey, Derek Procell (Chicago), Paul Mabin (Chicago), and Greg Stafford,
Vocals & Percussion – Jeff Meegan (Chicago),
Vocals & Organ – David Tobin (Yorkshire UK).
Studio 1: Esplanade NOLA – Engineer: Mischa Kachkachvilli,
Studio 2: Music Shed NOLA – Engineer: Jack Miele
A vacation visiting the Greek Isles may be out of the question this summer – but Jeff and David have been working on a virtual alternative – A Greek Odyssey.
This week sees the launch of a new Channel 5 TV series A Greek Odyssey for which Jeff and David contributed original music for all six episodes.
In the series, historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes, pictured below, embarks on an extraordinary journey to unpack the myths and legends of the Greek islands. Her immersive voyage of discovery explores the culture, traditions, food and history of the Aegean.
The series explores the Greek myths, the people who created them and the landscapes which gave them shape. Presented in a travelogue style, the programmes bring to life her epic heroes; Odysseus, Achilles, Jason and his Argonauts, Helen of Troy and Heracles.
Professor Hughes has devoted the last 25 years in bringing the ancient world to life and aside from her books, films, TV and radio programmes, she has taught at universities throughout Europe and the USA including Oxford, Cambride, Cornell, University College London, Maastricht and Utrecht.
Her passion for bringing the ancient world to life in an accurate and entertaining way led to her working closely with Jeff and David on the development of the soundtrack.
Says Jeff: “Our original brief was to compose and produce the theme music for the series. along the way, our involvement grew and by the end of production we had contributed music throughout every episode. We composed and recorded music for the opening and end credits, the pre-title and for various montages.
“We worked closely with Bettany, who took a great interest in the music and series director Anna Thomson.”
Recalls David: “It’s not uncommon to work on projects where budgets are limited and timescales are tight. In this case though we working against the production deadlines and the limitations imposed upon us by the Coronavirus which struck midway through filming.
“Because of the crisis, the music was produced without access to live musicians and eventually all of the 23 minutes of music that we created were used in the series – including an extra piece that was commissioned late in the process.
“We thoroughly enjoyed working on the project. Working directly to picture is a wonderful thing and as composers it gives us a lot of licence in the creative process.”
Greek Island Odyssey airs on UK Channel 5 TV at 9pm BST on Friday June 12. More information about the programme here.
ITV’s recent evening drama series, Isolation Stories, broke new ground. It consisted of four short films all made and transmitted during the Coronavirus crisis, under the constraints of social distancing. Remarkably, no one from the crew had any contact with the cast.
The series was a quartet of 15-minute dramas that complied with government instructions on distancing.
The production company delivered sanitised filming equipment to the actors at home, who were then instructed by phone on how to use it. Family members were persuaded to act as extras or as technical support to the productions. Among the stars were a heavily pregnant Sheridan Smith, Eddie Marsan, David Threlfall, Philip Jackson and Robert Glenister, pictured above carrying several kilos of film equipment into his home.
The techniques used were so new and innovative that a fifth programme, a behind the scenes documentary, explained how the films were made.
Jeff and David were asked at short notice if they could provide the soundtrack for the documentary. Says Jeff: “The timescale was challenging: just 48 hours from seeing the rushes to sending over the finished music. But David and I have worked remotely (at a distance of about 4,000 miles) as a team for the last ten years. So the production of the music presented no additional issues for us.”
Says David: “The challenge was to produce music that complemented a drama that mixed an almost apocalyptic narrative, similar to 28 Days Later, with black humour. We took the decision not to closely mirror the action on screen with the soundtrack. In any event, the tight deadline meant that we had to write and record the music before the picture was locked.”
The soundtrack was delivered and approved on May 5 (one day early), and the show aired nationally in the UK on ITV on May 7.
The drama series and the documentary are all well worth watching. The drama series is available on the ITV Hub here (https://www.itv.com/hub/isolation-stories/10a0115): and the documentary can be viewed online here (https://www.itv.com/presscentre/ep1week19/isolation-stories-behind-scenes).
Undaunted by the demands of his ‘day job’ as a composer with Jeff Meegan (more than 1,000 published tracks in the last ten years), David has now picked up his pen (or at least taken to his keyboard) as a writer. As they say, if you want a job done – give it to a busy man.
Today sees the publication of the first of a series of articles he has written as an expert contributor for Production Expert family of sites that includes Pro Tools Expert, Studio One Expert and Logic Pro Expert.
His first series offers advice to composers on the huge question of buying orchestral sample libraries and how to select the ones that suit you best.
Says David: “I have been a very keen reader of Pro Tools Expert’s detailed articles for some years now. So, when the opportunity came along to create some articles and contribute to the community, I was delighted.
“As one of team of Experts, I’ll be following in the tradition of creating content that’s presented in bite-size format and as longer, in-depth articles. When I was learning my trade, I particularly enjoyed the way that the articles were valuable to both beginner and veteran alike. I’ll also be looking to contribute to Logic Pro Expert as well, as my experience with Logic Pro goes back to version one on the Atari 540, when it was called Creator Notator.
“There is no one correct answer when it comes to looking at the creation of music. And I’m keen to stress that what I’m presenting is the way that I work, and the tools that I use. My experience has led me to work in a way that suits me and my creative process best.
“I’ll be explaining the pros and cons of my choices, as well as detailing the notable alternatives. Readers might not always agree with my choices or methods, but positive debate is always healthy.”
Today’s article will be the first in a series of ten, with more series planned going forward. Says David: “Music technology is a fast-moving subject and we’ll be looking at developments and revisiting previously published material in due course.”
You can read the first of his articles here.
Jeff and David have been working together now for almost ten years, but their latest recording embraced an approach and a technology that was unlike anything they had ever done before.
Plans were well in hand for a vintage style recording project at Abbey Road Studios. Studio Two was booked, the parts printed and distributed, the 60 or so handpicked world-class musician were ready to go and Jeff was due in from Chicago in a few days’ time.
And then Covid-19 happened and the world changed.
No Jeff from America, no Abbey Road (closed for the first time in 89 years), no musicians to work with – just lockdown and social distancing.
Popular wisdom says that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. David and Jeff went further – and opened their own lemonade factory. And with a lot of hard work – and some great technology from Vienna Mir Pro – they recorded and mixed a track in a virtual space – one instrument at a time.
Says David: “As soon as the lockdown happened, the impact was immediate. It was distressing to see great musicians left immediately without work and scratching their heads as to how to survive without their normal income.
“So, we tried to be a little proactive. We managed to put together a group of the musicians (many of whom would have been on the session) who had excellent remote recording facilities of their own. We decided to try to record one of the songs from the session just to see how it would turn out when recorded entirely remotely, one instrument at a time.”
The line up (how it’s intended to sound, not how many people played!) was
- Flutes and piccolo,
- Two clarinets,
- Bass clarinet,
- Two bassoons,
- Four French horns,
- Four trumpets,
- Three trombones,
- Eight first violins,
- Eight second violins,
- Six violas,
- Four cellos, and a
Jeff explains: “We discussed in detail with players the logistics of sending and receiving files, file formats etc. We asked our lead violinist to mark up the string parts so that all of the players could articulate similarly. We also discussed the merits (or not) of recording fewer players with more takes or recording more players but with fewer overdubs. In the end, we went for a middle ground, with players changing instruments and seating positions where conditions allowed. We decided that we’d opt for a reasonably close mic formula from everyone so as to remove the different nuances of so many different ambiences.
“We sent click tracks and demo playalongs to our rhythm section first and then added that to our playalong, which we then sent to our brass and wind, with strings and harp going on last in the same way. After receiving files back from players, we were pleasantly surprised how cohesive the playing was, although there were a couple of tuning issues that we had to fix (given that no one could tune to each other).”
Then came the hard part as David recalls: “The really tricky part for us was approaching the mix.
“We’ve obviously worked on mixes before that have recordings from disparate places but nothing remotely as large as this. It was crucial that it appeared as if everyone was in the same room playing together. We turned to Vienna MIR Pro with Synchron Stage RoomPack to make that happen.
“We had been aware of Vienna MIR Pro, but never needed to use it. So it was with some interest we loaded it into the project. We were both incredibly impressed with the results. The ability to move players around within a virtual soundstage using varying degrees of effect brought the individual sterile recordings to life, as though the musicians were seated next to each other on the sound stage. We were equally impressed by how easy it was to manage.
“Having never used the plugin before we both easily found our way around and were able to get a pleasing product even though we used only a fraction of the plugin’s capabilities. We now both look forward to experimenting and growing with Vienna MIR Pro as well as finding different new ways to utilise this unique and innovative plugin. “
Christmas is fast approaching, and what better way to start celebrating than to see one of our tracks “What a Wonderful Time Of The Year” chosen by Spotify to be in their Christmas Jazz playlist alongside artists like Michael Bublé and John Legend. As of writing there are more than 275,000 followers of this playlist, so here’s hoping you all like our Christmas offering!
Big production news themes with urgency and dynamism. Recorded in London and Chicago and then mixed in New York
Some might say that the Andrews Sisters were the sound of a vintage generation. The first all-female pop group and the originators of the girl power movement, and pioneers of Vintage Vocal Swing. This 1940’s signature sound inspired our recent collaboration with Joanna Forbes L’Estrange. ,
An eight-track album of 1940’s silky-smooth close harmony pieces with lyrical subject matter ranging from the USO (United Services Organisation), and Choo Choo’s, to a little Christmas ditty called Hurry Santa.
Our first collaboration with Joanna couldn’t have been easier. A mainstay on the London vocal scene, Joanna is equally at home in practically every genre of music, but it’s her time spent with the Swingle Singers that made this project, in particular, the right one for Joanna.
With the songs written and the recording date set, we found ourselves once again in the familiar setting of Abbey Road Studios – but this time in the iconic Studio 3, where Pink Floyd famously recorded “Dark Side of the Moon.”
We were lucky enough to put together a stellar line up of players who specialize in 30’s and 40’s music to set the stage for an incredible collaborative effort:
After a stunning day of rhythm and horn sessions, the stage was set for the evening vocals. What better way to get into the spirit of the music than to wear vintage 1940’s clothing, so that’s exactly what we did. David in an R.A.F. uniform, Jeff in 40’s-style trousers with suspenders and hat and the girls in classic matching Andrews Sisters’ outfits. Joanna joined by Sara Brimer-Davey and Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson expertly weaved their way through the vocal arrangements for three hours of pure joy. We were all instantly transported back almost 80 years.
Each of us in the studio that day commented on how we couldn’t remember a recording session that was more fun – and since we are collectively talking about thousands of hours of studio time that is really saying something!
Look for our Vintage Vocal Swing album to be released by Audio Network in summer 2018!