Well, I got off the stage last night and we had played three hours of music. It was an odd mix and because I have had the great fortune (received the great gift) of working with some of the greatest artists in the world recently from Sting to Springsteen I often find myself wondering what they’d think of the music we’re making. This inquiry often leads to disastrous conclusions because some of my Christmas music is just so loaded with endless Major chord romps full of Sugar Plum joy and hope that I am almost certain at some point Sting would take me aside and say, “Rob, it is all getting a little banal. Cut back on the repeats and add a little darkness here and you’ll be ok.” The good news is that at other points during the event I had a feeling they’d be proud of me. There were some of what Sting would call “bathetic” moments (I adore that man’s vocabulary—I follow him around with a notebook), moments where I gild the damn lily so much the poor flower is begging for its dear life!!! That said there were moments like the title track of the Evening Train sequel “Wheelbarrow” and my arrangement of the “Dreidel Song” which I call “Strayhorn’s Dreidel”. It is a tribute to a record the Duke Ellington band recorded almost as an afterthought one night at midnight at the 30th Street Studio in Manhattan in 1959. It was called Blues In Orbit and the title track alone is one of the most sublime pieces of music I have ever heard. Two minutes and thirty seconds of perfection. Unbelievable. My Ellingtonian Dreidel Song was swinging I must admit. If Wynton Marsalis had been there he would have taken me aside and slapped me upside the head for a few things but it was damn good I think. We tore up William The Angel and “When The Baby Grew Up” and the Chanukah Song “Light In The Window” written for Rabbi Mark Golub is now an essential part of the concert, channeling Bruce Cockburn through Noel Paul Stookey if that’s possible and can be downloaded from the home page of the site. I’m proud of it.

The concert really is at this point like a Mom and Pop store. It contains some absolutely superb musicianship with literally one of the finest Bass Players the world has ever known holding down the Bass Chair, Will Lee from the David Letterman show and countless legendary recordings. We had extraordinary Horn Players just blazing this year, Tim Ries and Mike Davis from The Rolling Stones horn section both on fire, Aaron Heick on Alto Sax who has played so many solos for me on the last two Sting records (an incredible Bass Clarinet solo on “Never Coming Home” off the Best of 25 Years record—download that sucker!!), George Flynn on Bass Bone who is New York’s finest Bass Bone player, top call and Jeff Kievit and Don Harris on Trumpet, both having played collectively with Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Tower Of Power, James Taylor, The Who, Chic, The Bee Gees, Billy Joel etc etc etc. Just extraordinary. Joe Bonadio, who created all the original drum parts on the music that makes up this concert, the guy who made the original records with me, William The Angel and Heart Of Hearts, was back playing drums because our long time drummer Shawn Pelton is now doing Saturday Night Live right up until the holiday. He never had to do the show but they made him musical contractor which is quite a raise and an important position so he cannot leave and play my show. We love and miss Shawn but to have Joe back is magnificent and Joe just KILLED IT!!!!!

The Friday night crowd was just over half full as opposed to Saturday and Sunday which were essentially sold out and yet they were hungry for music. We played almost three hours and a half and they made us play more encores than any of the audiences. They wouldn’t let us go. That last encore I know even BRUCE (the boss) would have dug. A strong version of Maggie’s Farm as if it was done by The Meters. 10 minutes long with D Train singing his BUTT off.

Thanks to all who come. I talked, as usual, way too much about myself and my inspirations musically, partially because of all the new arrangements, the almost Thom Yorkian “We Three Kings” and the other things like “O Holy Night”. Music is such an absolute obsession and I have spent the year studying Stravinsky’s Agon and Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite (Strayhorn’s actually). I have been working with Sting around the clock. It has been remarkable. To come home and get to do MY MUSIC is such a rush that I end up almost in a trance and the concert becomes like a large family gathering. I described it to someone as almost like a salon gathering of friends getting together to hear chamber music. Almost a kind of “Hey, meet us at the church cafeteria Friday, you bring the egg nog, I’ll bring the arrangements and we’ll make music and sing.” Only with this group it absolutely the best musicians you can find in the metropolitan area. I was comforted by the fact that a fairly objective voice told me “We know you’re in kind of trance and losing your mind and we love watching you spin out and listening to it at the same time.” That’s a good thing because by the end it is like waking up and saying “What happened and what did I do???!” Almost like sleepwalking.

Enough about that!!!!!!!

What is it about the great artists? Sting. Springsteen. Joni Mitchell. Bodies of work that seem extraordinary by any standard you use as a measurement. Do we have artists like that now? I know young people who would put Jay Z and Kanye West in that category and many other hip hop artists, Beyonce perhaps??? I am not so sure. Radiohead? Eventually sure but Radiohead’s work always feels to me like Stravinsky’s Neo-Classical period, remarkable in every way but still as much of a response to something as an artistic statement in and of itself. Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring and Agon, the late and early periods to me feel like they come out of nowhere and are indelibly Stravinsky and just him and no one else which is, of course, nonsense. Someone comes from someone else. Radiohead is remarkable and the closest thing we have right now to a truly timeless artistic presence in the rock scene. I love some of Coldplay’s stuff. At their best they have the ability to write moving and anthemic melodies that are impossible not to sing along to and vibe with. “Viva La Vida” and “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”. These are big NUMBERS. Christmas Lights? Big NUMBER but after 10 listenings it is like eating a bit too much cremé brulee. (Look who’s talking though. Some of my Christmas music is like being force fed an entire Chocolate mousse cake in one sitting :0) Great dessert though and what a voice Chris has. Wonderful.

The radio no longer supports songwriter songwriters and the singer-songwriters like the yesteryear models, the James Taylors and Jackson Brownes and Carly Simons of todays live in Ghettos of coffee shops that don’t even really exist anymore. I guess it is almost like being a Big Band musician in the 60’s. I saw that on one of Duke Ellington’s recordings in the 60’s he recorded “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the BEATLES!!!!!!!!!! I adore the Beatles. The Beatles gave me a life in music but this version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is absolutely God awful. It’s sad to see Duke trying to chase the trends but I am sure that is what even the great ones had to do when faced with the forces of that time and commercial realities. Anyone who loved and lived for great Big Band music in the 50’s and lamented the death of it in the 60’s probably feels like I do about the lack of new Stings and Joni Mitchells, these miraculous writers able to create these 4 to 5 minute gems, worlds that open up an emotional space and musical space that takes you somewhere and brings you back like nothing else. The great Pop song, in their case also the DEEP pop song. We Work The Black Seam, When The Angel’s Fall, Why Should I Cry For You, Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, Island Of Souls, in Joni’s case—Hejira, Black Crow, AMELIA!!!, Both Sides Now, The Circle Game, Cherokee Louise, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Miraculous.

The new Springsteen album will be out next year and it has songs on this level. All of them I heard were of this extraordinary level and also on a level where you can imagine them sung by Gospel choirs and young women and old men for all eternity in my opinion. It’s one of those. I’ve said enough. There are extraordinarily gifted artists out there. I have worked with some of them and just listened to others. Listen to Adele. Listen to the Punch Brothers. Listen to Bon Iver and listen to Anthony Hamilton and The Roots when they’re not on Jimmy Fallon phoning it in and sounding like a particularly bad ass wedding band. D’Angelo, who could probably release more if he had slightly more discipline, is an absolute giant. They’re out there. Talent is abounding. It is great to be alive to see it but these great artists from the past are also wonderful to use as models for what to aim for, what to shoot for when you have the musical ball in your hand.

I am now listening to two extraordinarily beautiful, yet fairly rare compositions by Vaughan Williams–Two Hymns–Tune Preludes–track 1 is Eventide and track 2 is Dominus Regit Me. They are off the record Hickox Conducts Vaughan Williams on EMI Classics. So beautiful. Have a great holiday. I am going to go listen to Separator by Radiohead off King of Limbs. I just got my DVD of their King Of Limbs LIVE From The Basement. I cannot wait. I do love those guys. They point the way also. Have to keep on walking that musical mile towards Strayhorn, Duke, Gil Evans, Igor, Gustav, Anton, Benjamin, Ralph, Edward, Miles, Leonard B, John L, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Terry, Ludwig….Endless. Not worthy. So inspiring though. Damnit!!! God bless you all. Anyone who is reading this drivel. Lots of love. Rob

Hello all,

I had two diametrically opposed experiences regarding the Christmas Concert today and I love when that happens though I wish the second had happened first and vice versa. First I ran into a guy in Starbucks who said this, “Rob, we’re coming Saturday night to the show. We would not miss it for the world. It is literally the holiday for us. I fought going to it initially with all that is within me. I told my girlfriend ‘Christmas Concert? Are you out of your mind? I would rather have all my bottom teeth removed.’ No thanks. I get enough Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer wherever I walk. I don’t want to hear any of these songs ever again. I don’t even like “Hark the Herald’ anymore. Little did I know it was like going to see Herbie Hancock play with Michael McDonald and Tower Of Power, with a little Joni Mitchell and Dylan thrown in for good measure. Horn arrangements, a choir to boot, a bit of Gospel, a lot of groove and just vibe for days. We bring friends every year.”

Right after I kissed him on the mouth ;-), I told him what I tell every person I meet in Starbucks who say they love the Christmas Concert: that I am convinced this will finally be the year that people decide “Enough. We’ve had it. Rob Mathes, you are a pain in our Xmas tail. No more William The Angel. No more Babies growing up. No more Ellington Dreidel Songs. DONE! We have had it with your fat face. Go away large man. Bah humbug you manger loving piece of poo!!”

What comforted me about that exchange though is that that is exactly what the concert is meant to do, to be an entirely MUSIC FILLED EVENT to stir the spirit like a combo Handel’s Messiah meets Dave Matthews at the corner of Ellington and Dylan Avenues.

Just as I got my ego boost, I drive down the road and run into an acquaintance who has had many conversations with me about the event and has always feigned a slight interest. I told him, “Hey man, this is probably the year to come if you’d like. There are great seats on Friday and good seats Saturday, decent on Sunday. You can call T.D. Ellis at the Music Source above Boston Chicken in Riverside (203-698-0444) or do http://www.artscenter.org  If you really have trouble getting a ticket, I’ll buy you one myself out of the house seats (I try to buy tickets for friends myself instead of giving them away because it’s a charity concert).”

This is a really musical guy. We talk about “Songs In The Key Of Life” and the Blues and Howlin’ Wolf and Gospel music. We are not close, basically only neighborhood friends of a sort, but he’s a wonderful guy and always a great character to run into. I could see in his vacant expression that not only was he not interested but the conversation was bugging him. I found a quick way out. I said, “Hey Curtis (names have been changed to protect the innocent), no worries, the concert is not for everybody.” He replied, “Sunday I am watching Football and Saturday I am hanging with friends. Have a great holiday.” Now, no one knows what anyone is going through in such a quick exchange of course. He could be someone going through something really intense or someone who literally is in the same place the guy above was regarding all things Santa!

As I left this exchange I thought, “Good for you Curtis. To hell with the self promoting Concert giver who thinks his little event is all important. Watch your football. It’s the weekend for goodness sake.” I also thought that the sadness I felt was somehow good for me. It isn’t all about me and my little concert. That I wasn’t going to be able to turn another person on to the beautiful music the great musicians I am privileged to play with make on that stage is no great bummer. I would love Curtis to check it out and become a convert like so many others but it’s ok. The fourteen hundred tickets or so we have sold thus far have been sold to people that keep us coming back every year and we are going to play our hearts out for those people. There are many tickets left though and we’d love some new converts. We will part the Red notes and kick out every jam on Anderson Hill Road that night I can guarantee that.

Onto other subjects….What is it about musicians??? Why are they such a beleaguered breed?? People don’t buy music in near the numbers they used to. No record stores. People buy from iTunes but adults on average don’t buy music like they used to and kids trade music and only buy singles. The Album is essentially dead. Musicians are under siege in big cities. There isn’t a lot for them to do. Will Lee was asked by a gifted musician recently, “Hey Will, what do I do to have the kind of career you had being a great studio musician playing on a lot of great recordings?” Will immediately without missing a beat said, “Sorry man. You’d need a time machine. These days a ton of music is made by turning on a computer.”

A lot of great music is made that way. I admit it. I love the bigness of those Gaga records and even remember singing Katy Perry’s Fireworks at the top of my lungs with my daughter while driving home from the city one night. All those records are made with software and not really with many musicians. But I digress.

If you go to my YouTube channel you will see a bunch of little films of me conducting orchestras at Abbey Road and at Clinton Studios (God rest her soul–Clinton was one of the last great New York Studios to close last year–the last day at Clinton was June 17, 2010). Every musician in those orchestras is a treasure. For instance, there is a moment in the film of me conducting the Intro of Why Should I Cry from Sting’s Symphonicities where the camera pans and you see the great Clarinetist Nicholas Bucknall with his Red scarf (it was FREEZING that day in London-Feb 2010) looking to his left. In the distant is Richard Watkins and Michael Thompson playing a Horn Line as the camera turns. JUST THOSE THREE NAMES bring up some great English music making history. So many extraordinary Film Soundtracks feature those great players. Richard Watkins is a Horn Legend in England and a lot of great composers have written Concertos for him. The cellist with the Grey hair to my right is Tony Pleeth, whose father was the very famous Cellist and teacher William Pleeth, Jacqueline DuPre’s teacher. Tony plays the Cello Solo in “Roxanne” on Sting’s Symphonicities and the Cello solo on a bunch of the Panic At The Disco stuff and some of the NeverShoutNever stuff plus tons of other things I have done. The wondrous Jackie Shave is leading the session on 1st Violin but in the second row of Violins to my left is Tom Bowes, one of the most extraordinary Violinists in England. On Viola is Peter Lale and Perry Montague-Mason is playing 2nd Violin. These are all contracted by Isobel Griffiths who is by now a legend in London. She has contracted everything from the Harry Potter films to Gladiator to Rufus Wainwright, Sting, Coldplay, XTC and Peter Gabriel records. She does everything for me. We all miss Gavyn Wright who was Concertmaster on these sessions for years. He retired in 2006.

At Clinton it’s Sandra Park’s orchestra featuring Lisa Kim as Concertmaster and Sharon Yamada along with Rebecca Young and Robert Rinehart on Viola and Alan Stepansky on Cello. They are playing a rather impossible chart for Next To You. My chief worry when taking on the Sting project was the intensity of the early music and I wanted to write one insane barn burner where I envisioned the strings playing at triple fortissimo at light speed while a percussionist beat on folding chairs, capitalizing in a Classical way on the Bang On A Car All Stars aesthetic which in the Classical world is the closest thing to what the Police were in the Pop world when they came upon the scene musically. David Cossin, the Percussionist from Bang On A Can is the Percussionist on that track along with Joe Bonadio. The Police were not as ferocious culturally as the Pistols or other true Punk and Wave outfits but musically incredibly muscular and deeper than all of them from a Harmonic and melodic perspective of course.

These are all heroes to me. Kids now make music by PUSHING BUTTONS!!  Go buy the Punch Brothers Antifogmatic record of the Edgar Meyer/Chris Thile record. Go buy the Goat Rodeo Sessions by Yo Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile. Buy The Black Keys record or the Black Dub record. MUSICIANS!!! PLAYING!!! What an inspiration.

Drummers Shawn Pelton. Joe Bonadio. Vinnie Colaiuta. Curt Bisquera. Charley Drayton. Kenny Aronoff.

Bassists Will Lee. Zev Katz. Pino Palladino. Jon Evans. Jeff Allen. Tom Barney. Anthony Jackson. Ira Coleman. John Patitucci.

Guitarists Billy Masters. Shane Fontayne. Marc Shulman. Dominic Miller, Tim Pierce. Jeff Mironov. Nicky Moroch.

Percussionists Bashiri Johnson. Mino Cinelu. Joe Bonadio. Rhani Krija. Shane Shanahan. David Cossin.

Keyboardists Michael Bearden. Philippe Saisse. David Sancious. Henry Hey. Chris Coogan. Rick Knutsen.

Horn Players Jeff Kievit. Tony Kadleck. Don Harris. Jim Hines. Jeremy Pelt. Andy Snitzer. David Mann. Aaron Heick. Lou Marini. Brad Lehli. Tom Timko. Tim Ries. Roger Rosenberg. Clark Gayton, Mike Davis. George Flynn, Jim Pugh. Keith O’Quinn, Jeff Nelson, did I mention Jeff Kievit?

Thanks also to Jill Dell’Abate for coordinating all these musicians for me for many, many years and for also contracting regular string sessions for me and beautifully with no drama, I might add, featuring the great Violinist from the MET named Elena Barrere.

These are just a few of the musicians I get to play with on a regular basis. I will add to the list as I remember more. This is just off the top of my head. I haven’t mentioned singers or people I play with every once in a while or String players, just people I play with a good bit of the time or at least recently. The people above are people to emulate musically/artistically. Remarkable musicians, all of whom contain within them secrets to a different universe and ways of looking at the world artistically we could all learn from. That is what musical expression does. Every musician who uses his soul and fingers and air through a horn plays differently every time he/she picks up his or her instrument. That is the message of my Christmas Concert other than Love coming to town born in a stable and Judah Maccabee winning back the temple. The great amazing heavenly gift of music. The great proof for me of something beyond us all. Beethoven, Stravinsky, Corigliano, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Sting, Sprinsteen, yes Bon Iver’s “Stacks” (that’s the song I am on now), The Beatles ’65, Vivaldi’s Violin Concertos (all of them–yep–all 760–more like 150 actually), Mahler’s 9th, Duke’s Blanton and Harrell band, Wynton Marsalis’s new Vitoria Suite record, Branford’s new duet record with Joey Calderazzo, Radiohead’s Supercollider.

Anything Keith Jarrett has done ever….. Human beings playing music…….MUSIC. Thank the Lord for music. There. I said it. I hope the agnostics out there will forgive me that one.

Come one come all. Come one come all. Never assume we will let up in our pursuit of musical epiphanies. Never assume that William The Angel will just grab himself a turkey sandwich with a little mustard and sit by the side of the road playing Jingle Bells Blues while watching the clock. No No No No No No No No No!!! How many Christmas/Chanukah/Holiday seasons do we get in one life? As my friend Ian Cron said to me this year, “It seems Rob that your life is spent watering other people’s musical gardens and some pretty damned important people. What a magnificent job.” HELL YES!! (excuse the language). What a year it’s been (you can read the blogs). BUT…. the Christmas Concert is where I get to make music on my own and with all my illustrious Manhattanite geniuses, Will Lee and the rest. I have spent an inordinate amount of time working on this years event, arranging the music and tweaking things, changing old arrangements and just trying on new things for size. You never know when the Concert will come to an end. I know that next year will be a year where I am asked to take on the musical supervision of another project for Sting that will have me far away during the Winter and I know that I will be spending more time in DC after the Kennedy Center Honors because of a possible extended Holiday television project there. Will there NOT be a Rob Mathes 19th Annual Christmas Concert??? I would certainly hope there will be but I go passionately into all of these because they all seem somehow precious.

I appreciate the support of the audience every year and we sweat every seat sold. I still have to call out the troops in the last week and say, “Come on down!!” I got the ticket sales info today and as with every year we have sold a ton of tickets but there are many seats still available and Friday night is the night that has the most available good seats because people assume that is the toughest one to get to because of rush hour traffic and that is the first concert etc etc. All of them will be special in their own way. The first concert has an opening night energy and intensity which is cool.

I always feel odd pushing at people to do this or that. Musicians are hermits. So many of US stay in our corners and never go out. We listen to our iPods and act like vampires and yet when WE do a gig we want everyone to drop everything and come. This concert has been a tradition for so many for so long and I know that is because of the lyrics behind the original songs and the music made onstage. No one needs a new arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard On High” though. Too many Holiday concerts center around cute arrangements. Not this one in my mind. No one needs treacle. Everyone needs to be uplifted at this time of year though. I went to the choir rehearsal tired on Sunday and was greeted by 40 people who sang so beautifully and it immediately transformed me. I will hear 6 extraordinary Horn players play my Strayhorn like version of the “Dreidel Song” (yep, I threw out my Brubeck version because it wasn’t good enough, this one kicks tail, much better and swings like a mo) and it will transform me. I will hear the great sax player Tim Ries who plays with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for a living but also plays with Maria Schneider’s Big Band play a solo on that and it will be MY Christmas. My daughter Emma will sing Starbright with me and that will lift me up. Joe Bonadio will play a middle eastern Drum with me while we do a quasi Bruce Cockburn meets Thom Yorke version of “We Three Kings”. We’ll play “What Do I Find There” for the first time in a long time and D-Train will sing 4 solo pieces, easily one of the great Gospel/RnB voices we have period, full stop.

I put this concert up there as one of the things to see if you want to be brought into the season in this area. You will not find a deeper pool of great musical talent with the people I am blessed enough to have with me every year. Come one, come all. There are still tickets available. IF THE SITE SAYS IT’S SOLD OUT, THE WEBSITE IS LYING There are lots of seats and we are at the intimate Pepsico Theatre where every seat is good!!! :0)
Friday, December 16th at 8pm, Saturday, December 17th at 8pm, Sunday, December 18th at 3pm at The Pepsico Theatre of Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase College
Call the Music Source and talk to T.D. Ellis, 203-698-0444. Try http://www.artscenter.org or 914-251-6200.

You should be able to get tickets through one of those three ways. I am loving the new Wilco, the new Feist and still digging on Separator and Supercollider and Morning Mr. Magpie off King Of Limbs big time (Radiohead). I am looking for some new music but by new music, I mean NEW music. That is not easy. Hope to see you on the weekend. Rob

Why you ask?? Why would one want to subject themselves to more busyness, another place to have to BE during this insane season?? Why, why, WHY??? (wringing of hands held high towards the sky in an almost Shawshank Redemption like pose). Well…..

I must say Christmas/Holiday concerts fall into a number of categories. The ones I adore, which would be any great performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio or Handel’s Messiah of course or Bill Charlap or Herbie Hancock or Wynton or Branford Marsalis or Christian McBride or any number of extraordinary Jazz musicians, the ultimate perhaps being Keith Jarrett playing some swing version of something heartbreaking or joyous to make me laugh my *&! off or tear up at an “I’ll Be Home” or something like it. In other words, concerts that are not laden with treacle and syrup or baubles, bangles and beads but pure unadulterated MUSIC!!! MUSIC!!! MUSIC!!!

What I would love to add to that is some sense of the season, mystery, a sense of the topicality of the thing, joy, hope, humility, grace, songs that explore the themes and vibe of Christmas. That is what we have always done.

But Rob, we have come. We love it but we’re tired this year. We’ve seen you. You’re fine but enough already. When The Baby Grew Up. We get it. William The Angel. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Dylan covers. Yeah. Whatever!!

I guess I don’t have a great answer for that one other than to say that I honestly put the musicians on that stage at Purchase on the 16th, 17th, and 18th up against any single group of musicians gathering to play in the New York area around Christmas time. They are New York Best Kept Secrets and some not so well kept like the legendary Will Lee on Bass from Letterman and James D-Train Williams on Vocals but add to them a six piece Horn section full of extraordinary improvisors, some who tour with the Stones, others who have toured with Sting and Peter Gabriel. Billy Masters is on Guitar this year and Joe Bonadio is on Drums. The 40 voice Choir and Tabitha Fair and Ian Cron will be singing.

We always have new music and we always stretch out. In my mind we get better every year. That is the goal, to have the music be richer and more inviting. To find new depths in it. All of us have learned and experienced things in life heretofore unknown to us. This becomes a part of the music making at our central music event of the year, these concerts.

Please join us. You will not regret it. Be aware we will rock the house for a while. We are going to play a lot of music and jam on hard. I am bring some new things in. I have re-worked my crazy hard-bop Brubeckian Dreidel Song into more of a Strayhorn thing. We are playing a B.B. King tune and bringing back Dylan’s Ring Them Bells which we didn’t play the last two years. Three concerts: Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinee–

December 16, 17th, and 18th at The Pepsico Theatre of the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, SUNY 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights and 3pm on the Sunday.

TIckets are $75, $60, $45, and $35 and can be bought online at http://www.artscenter.org or at the box office by calling 914-251-6200. They are also on sale at the The Music Source in Old Greenwich at 203-698-0444 or http://www.themusicsource.org

We hope to see you. I am listening to Big Fat Hen by Wynton Marsalis as I type this and getting into the Christmas groove. I highly recommend downloading that one and Green Chimneys and Branford’s new record with Joey Calderazzo and Christian McBride’s new Big Band record. WOOOOO!!! Amazing.

Emma Mathes, my 16 year old is going to sing a solo in the concert this year. I told my girls I was NOT going to be one of those insane annoying fathers who carted their kids out to sing at events but they love singing so I said we’ll space it out. Every couple of years. Sarah sang two years ago then we took a break. Everyone loved it. It’s Emma’s turn this year. The last time she sang she stole the show from Dad and everyone talked about her which was rather disconcerting. I’m not sayin’ I’m just sayin’.

I mentioned the Goat Rodeo project by Yo Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile in my last blog. BUY IT NOW! Insane.

See you hopefully on the 16th, 17th, and 18th. R

Well good people, back home from the wars. DC was ablaze last night with the annual shindig they call the Kennedy Center Honors, this year honoring Meryl Streep, Sonny Rollins, Neil Diamond, Barbara Cook, and Yo-Yo Ma. I have been musically directing the show for producers George and Michael Stevens since 2003 and it is quite an undertaking every year. This year was actually somewhat less stressful because the heavy lifting on the Sonny Rollins segment was done by my friend and Bassist/Composer/Arranger extraordinaire Christian McBride. Sonny is one of the great improvisors in history and that segment had to be all about improvisation and expression. My work on the Jazz segments of the past have been arranging and planning them with people like Bill Charlap (for the Dave Brubeck segment) and I helped with this a bit but Christian invited some of his illustrious friends like Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette, Roy Hargrove, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Billy Drummond, and Herbie Hancock. Amazing. For Neil Diamond, we had Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland sing her tail off reinventing “Hello Again” as an open tuned Acoustic almost Patti Griffin like heartbreaker. Lionel Richie turned “I Am, I Said” into a quiet storm Tuskegee meets SoCal thing as opposed to the Brooklyn meets LA Super Pop Ballad it originally was. Smokey Robinson came and funked out a bit with Sweet Caroline. I had a wonderful time with Smokey and am putting a few pics on the site from the bash.

The Meryl tribute was predictably star studded in every way with Anne Hathaway enchanting everyone with a version of the song Meryl sang to Jack Nicholson in Ironweed called “He’s My Pal”, turning it into “She’s My Pal” of course. Joining her were Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, and Mike Nichols and Robert DeNiro spoke about her. Great stuff. Every notable Broadway actress from Audra McDonald to Patti LuPone to Kelli O’Hara and Glenn Close sang in tribute of Barbara Cook and Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick spoke about one of their first dates being going to a Cook concert at the Cafe Carlyle.

For me the most intense part of the evening, the one I was most involved in even though I literally did not PLAY a single note was the segment for Yo Yo Ma. This was partially because the producer Michael Stevens and I had talked about it for months and the idea of the final arrangement haunted me for a number of reasons. Most exciting for me was that Michael wanted to honor Yo Yo not just as the greatest Cellist of our generation but as this Musical Bridge for so many people, this creator of the Silk Road Project, this man who has crossed so many boundaries, from playing with Ennio Morricone to Astor Piazzolla to Mark O’Connor and Alison Krauss. This man who has made music his playground. Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers, literally the Paganini of the Mandolin, easiest one of the greatest virtuosos alive on any instrument played along with Double Bassist Edgar Meyer, also one of our greatest composers and instrumentalists, a literal Giant who often composes single handedly these projects that bring together people like Bela Fleck and Alison Krauss and Yo Yo. They have a record out with Yo Yo Ma and Stuart Duncan who plays in my band at the Honors every year. The record is called The Goat Rodeo Sessions. Stuart is one of the country’s great treasures. He is a studio superstar, the leading fiddler for Nashville projects and the man who played so much of the fiddle music on “O Brother Where Are Thou.” The Goat Rodeo record is absolutely remarkable and it is the kind of record that I cannot recommend highly enough.

If you have any doubts let me at least say this, you can afford two dollars. Go spend $2 and download two songs. Attaboy and Here and Heaven. Just unbelievable. Anyway…….Edgar, Chris and Stuart played a version of Attaboy without Yo Yo for Yo Yo (* the honorees sit in a box in the first tier alongside the President and First Lady and they witness the performances. The performers perform in honor of these people.) Then the second group was also a group of people I had discussed with Michael, dear friends I have worked with before in the studio, in particular the great Cellist and Conductor Eric Jacobsen and Violist Nick Cords, both members of Yo Yo’s world famous Silk Road Ensemble. They are all virtuosos. Wu Tong was a musician from Beijing who plays a remarkable kind of Mouth Organ called a Sheng. It is best described as a kind of Asian Harmonica with Organ pipes. Incredible sound and Wu Tong is a master. He is also a gentle, kind and wonderful human being. Cristina Pato played the Gaita, a Chinese BagPipe which gets a remarkable sound and Cristina is an incredible presence. Look her up. She is a firebrand. Shane Shanahan played Percussion alongside Haruka Fujii. Brooklyn Rider is an upcoming String Quartet that has made a lot of noise of late, getting rave reviews for their iconoclastic concerts by the New York Times and they just recorded the Philip Glass Quartets plus Beethoven’s op. 131, the great Holy Grail of String Quartets. Colin and Eric Jacobsen lead the quartet. Colin is a great arranger and master Violinist and the quartet serves as the core group of the Silk Road Ensemble. With Jeffrey Beecher on Doubule Bass, they played a version of a piece called “Turceasca” which was extraordinary. Prior to all of this an all Star quartet of Chamber Musicians featuring Jamie Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Pamela Frank, Lynn Chang and the legendary Pianist Emanuel Ax played a section of the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Quintet. The planned finale was supposed to be some representation of how Yo Yo COMBINES ALL OF THESE ELEMENTS TOGETHER!!! A musical melding of the worlds. First the Chamber Musicians playing something uniquely in the language of Chamber Music, then Stuart, Edgar and Chris playing in their American Bluegrass Virtuosic language and then the World Music of the Silk Road into something else.

I was asked to bring these musicians together in an arrangement that would lead to the entrance of James Taylor singing “Here Comes The Sun” because that was the song he did on Yo Yo’s recent Songs of Peace and Joy record. I am such a fan of all of these musicians, such a groupie in a sense, having bought and imbibed their work for so long that I was daunted by the whole thing. I am not falsely humble. When called upon to do an orchestration for Sting or Springsteen or a Horn chart or Choral chart or a large composition of some sort or musically direct this or that, even a star studded extravaganza, I am fine. I am programmed to do it. I have done it for years. BUT….writing something that is supposed to work and be authentic moving between different styles and then into a simple and beautiful version of a Classic Beatles composition without sounding pretentious all the while being played by some of my favorites musicians on the planet????????? Holy Mother of our Lord!! Add to this the fact that Michael Stevens wanted to see if John Williams would agree to conduct it. JOHN WILLIAMS!!!

John Williams is known to most people as the composer of some of the most popular movie music of all time, from Jaws to Star Wars to Close Encounters to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, E.T., etc etc etc. To me, that is underrating him. It is some of the more astonishing off the beaten path scores which contain some of his most remarkable music and some of his serious music. His piece TreeSong written for Violinist Gil Shaham and his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, written for Yo Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are both masterpieces in my mind, just remarkable compositions, so beautifully rendered. His scores for Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can and his absolutely out of this world A.I., one of the finest scores of the past 20 years, are must haves, along with Saving Private Ryan, which is full of meditative Hymn like threnodies and Schindler’s List of course.

The pressure I put myself under writing this score, as simple as the eventual arrangement was, was crushing. My wife will tell everyone that I became a nightmare to live with. A very different experience from arranging the first charts for Sting. With Sting’s music I had prepared my whole life for it in a way. By the time I met Sting Soul Cages and Ghost In The Machine, Nothing Like The Sun and Synchronicity were fully internalized and I almost knew exactly what to do.

With this it was trickier. Thanks, indeed eternal thanks go out to Michael Stevens who approved a demo budget for me to go in and fully demo my arrangement and to Becky Young and Lisa Kim from the New York Philharmonic along with Joe Bonadio and John Patitucci who played on the Demo, all contracted by Sandra Park, and Alex Venguer who engineered it. I sent the demo to John Williams and James Taylor, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, the Silk Road Ensemble and everyone else and they were all very happy. The performance went beautifully and to have John Williams so pleased and to have him agree to conduct it was a huge compliment and honor. He is a real hero in every way. To call him a generous and kind man is an understatement. He was a gem in the extreme.

That is my full report from the field in DC. The honors are on CBS Tuesday night the 27th of December. Be sure to watch. The Christmas Concert is coming up and I am deeply excited this year. Expect a full blog tomorrow about that.

Lots of love and Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays and all that………… Rob