Working With New Composers (And Other Honors)

I had the good fortune to work with 2 new composers in the last month – well, new for me, that is.  Marc Shaiman was honored at a New York Pops concert at Carnegie Hall in the beginning of May, and he had asked me for a new arrangement of a show-stopping song that had appeared in the Martin Short show, Fame Becomes Me. I’ve loved Marc’s music through the years, my favorites being Hairspray and The American President.

Later in May, I scored a new musical, Dog and Pony, with music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker, whom I had only met once before while working together on a show at Radio City. Michael is also brilliant, and a consummate musician. He’s known for his Off-Broadway hit, Alter Boyz, but I bet he’ll soon be known for a lot more. His co-writer is the equally brilliant Rick Elice, and the cast (Heidi Blickenstaff, Beth Leavel, Eric William Morris, Nicole Parker and Jon Patrick Walker) is absolutely sensational, as is the director Roger Rees and the Music Director Adam Wachter.  And there’s no place better to work at than The Old Globe. These two projects were very different, and both turned out well. Interesting that the concert was only one song with a huge orchestra, and the show was the usual 2200 measures of music (15 songs or so), but for a tiny band.

This week, I was also at a rehearsal for the Tony Awards broadcast, with conductor Patrick Vaccariello and Hugh Jackman. With the 24-piece orchestra, they’ll perform Mark Hummel’s and my arrangement of “Steppin’ Out.”

My next 3 shows are already lined up: The Visit (John Kander & Fred Ebb), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Denver Theatre Center) and On the Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenoweth.

First, though, back to LA for the Emmy Awards. I didn’t win the Drama Desk last night (I had been nominated for my orchestrations for Big Fish, and my co-nominees included the great Jonathan Tunick, Michael Starobin, all losing to Jason Robert Brown – things could be worse!). As for the Emmys, it’s my great fortune to be nominated once again as composer for Nickelodeon’s The Wonder Pets.

But the real excitement for me these days is that TrackSlayer continues its progress in our Beta testing! Our public launch is not far away!


More about my days with Sir Paul


I didn’t mean to keep you waiting for more of this story.  And it wasn’t meant as a tease.

It was the fall of 2010, and I knew that Sir Paul was to perform in a one-night Broadway gala honoring Frank Loesser, and benefiting The Actors Fund at the Minskoff Theatre.  My friend Brad Haak was the music director, and Paul’s “co-chairperson” was to be Jo Loesser. (Jo was the love of Frank’s life, and has been my dear friend since about 2003 when she engaged me to arrange Frank’s last, though incomplete show, Señor Discretion). Jo was well aware of me being the biggest Beatle fan in the world, yet I didn’t have real hopes of being involved with the gala.

Now, I’ve never understood that expression of “feeling your own heart pounding” – until I played back my answering machine that day.  It was Brad, saying that he’ll be conducting one arrangement of mine from Señor, but, “…what I really need is for you to do an arrangement for Paul McCartney.”  I was aware of my heart pounding, and all I could do was to drag my son to the phone to hear that message. After a few more minutes, my heart returned to normal.

A phone meeting was set up for Paul and me (!) for the next day. Paul sang me his ideas for “On a Slow Boat to China” (a song of Frank’s that Paul owns, I think).  Then we had a chat for about 20 minutes… and the next day I worked out the arrangement and emailed a little demo. On the 3rd day, the phone rang at around 8am — “Hello, Larry – It’s Paul.” I picked up the phone, and said “Paul who?”

Well, he had already listened to the demo and loved it, so I wrote the full orchestration in time for a Friday orchestra rehearsal, but Paul wouldn’t be flying to NYC until the following day.  A meeting with Paul and me was scheduled for Sunday afternoon at his hotel, and Brad was to join us at some point.  This would be 2 days before the concert.

Slow Boat to China score

To be continued!

Amazon TV program?

It was news to me that Amazon is also in the TV business.  But now I’ve learned that this has been the case for a while.

My surprise was when I was asked to compose a score for a pilot of a new kids’ show, The Jo B and G Raff Show.  It was a mad dash to fit it into my lineup in July, and the orchestration of the near-finished animation had to wait until I returned from South America in December.  But it all got done, and now we cross our fingers and hope for it to be green-lighted as a series.

This week I have a smaller assignment, composing one episode as a guest composer for PBS’s Peg + Cat series.  This episode will be next year’s Hanukkah special.

Only for the New York Philharmonic

3 musicals in 5 months made the end of 2013 perhaps the busiest yet. Even before Big Fish had its Broadway opening in October, I had started orchestrating The Landing, which is 3 one-act musicals by John Kander. (The writing team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb gave us Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys and many other classics). Then, at the moment that I would have had a break from the world of deadlines, I was offered another show to orchestrate, this time from Misi Murillo of Bogotá Columbia. The show, Por Siempre Navidad, was a labor of love, and I treasure my new friendship with Misi, Leo, Nicholas, Ricardo and so many others in Misi’s theatrical family. Everything about this show is sensational.  Not an ordinary Xmas show, it’s a full book musical – Misi’s songs are inspired – and she even found an arranger named Nicholas.

I did finally get some time off in December, and when the phone did ring, I was glad it wasn’t another enormous musical. Unfortunately, the request was for a new arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne!” (I never did like that song) – But since it was to be premiered with the New York Philharmonic on New Year’s Eve, I said “yes.”

Now after a short trip to L.A. and San Diego, I am back to work on what I hope are the finishing touches for the launch of TrackSlayer!

The Gibson J160 – what I learned

I admit that I struggled to get the right sound for the Harrison guitar part on “This Boy.” But after some detective work, it was clear that I was barking up the wrong tree. I had tried various settings on the Country Gent, but I came across the isolated vocal tracks of the Beatles, and heard just the leakage of that guitar part into the vocal mic.  It convinced me that it was the leakage from the Gibson J160, and sure enough, the Gibson going direct into the board got the sound I was looking for.  I should have thought of that possibility, since I learned long ago that it was Lennon’s Gibson on “I Feel Fine,” which I never imagined was anything but an electric.  But with the pickups, the acoustic/electric is a thing unto itself.  Probably the guitar geeks were way ahead of me on that one, but it just shows me that there’s always more to learn.IMG_1093 LH serious

I truly hope that musicians and singers find the same enjoyment as I have with these recordings.  And until there’s a way to separate the original recordings to this depth, perhaps these tracks will be the next best thing.

My chat with Sir Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney Take 1 resized 3

Did I say “3 separate guitars?”

At one of the mix sessions this week, Dave Darlington (engineer) and I prepared the stems for “Ticket to Ride.”  I remembered that I referred to “3 separate guitar parts” that would be completely isolated in my recording.  Well, I counted wrong, because there are 4!

Buried under the iconic 12-string ostinato is a rhythm guitar part, which is more easily heard in the coda, but plays throughout. So the complete separation includes:  • Ostinato on the Rickenbacker 360-12, • Rhythm on the Rick 325, • The low A’s on the Strat, and • My favorite part – the McCartney fills on the Epiphone Casino.  Nice to be able to mute any one of them separately and play along.

We also re-inspected the guitar parts to “Taxman.”  Dave pointed out that what I had thought was a volume pedal at the re-entrance of the guitar figure (before the third verse at 1:31) was rather the fader being brought up in the mix, while the guitar was in progress with a hammer from  C to D, therefore the attack of the note is not heard.  Whether intentional or not, it always sounded pleasingly psychadelic to me.

Speaking of “Taxman,” I had the good fortune to work with Sir Paul when he made his Broadway debut  in 2010 (more about that soon!) – I asked Paul about the “Taxman” guitar solo, saying that after all these years,  I still find it difficult to count – though I’ve since learned it very well – Paul’s only explanation as to how he did it was “too many stimulants!” In future posts I’ll tell you lots more about my 4-day episode with the master.IMG_8740 Rick 12 w JimIMG_8618 epiphone

Big Fish Comes to Broadway

I’ll grab a quick couple of days at the shore before returning to Big Fish for its final changes as it approaches its Broadway opening.  Starring Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert, directed & choreographed by Susan Stroman.

So happy to be working again with composer/lyricist orchestrator Andrew Lippa, as we race toward the deadline of September 5 (1st NY preview) and October 6 (opening night) at the Neil Simon Theater.  My previous collaboration with Andrew was The Addams Family, which currently plays in South America, and I first worked with Ms. Stroman on our beloved The Scottsboro Boys.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to have 3 shows running simultaneously.  Big Fish joins the current hit Pippin, and The Book of Mormon is in its 3rd year.