Tamir Hendelman: Living a Dream
AAJ: You're both arranging and accompanying there?
TH: Uh-huh. Then there was the Graham Dechter's CD, Right on Time (Capri Records, 2009). He's a phenomenal musician.
AAJ: Amazing, since he's only 12! Actually, he's 23.
TH: He's mature for his age.
AAJ: Jeff [Hamilton] was saying he's an "old soul."
TH: He is. And he did most of his own arrangements; I think I collaborated on one.
AAJ: You're really getting great buzz on those arrangements of yours. Why is that, do you think? Is it because it's so tailored to the individual?
TH: I also like to find little things about the song that were overlooked, to discover a song anew, to find the genius thing the composer did that made it that great. Delve into that. Get into the feeling of that.
AAJ: Can you think of an example?
TH: "Stardust":"and now the purple dusk of twilight time." It's now, it's coming right at you now, as if you already know everything that happened before. Then it goes into everything that happened in that love affair, and we're back in a garden.
AAJ: With a nightingale, yet.
TH: So, where is this person? In the present, in the past? "As I dream in vain/it always will remain"it's always there. This makes you maybe reach for different chords, or go for a certain mood or space, finding the one moment that [composer] Hoagy Carmichael wanted to highlight.
And then if I know who's playing, like if John's doing a beautiful arco bass on it, I think, "hey: nightingale, arco, Johnlet me put this all together and see what comes out." On Angela [Hagenbach]'s we were doing a bunch of Michel Legrand songs, and the producer had this idea of giving "I Will Wait for You" a dreamy, French chanson kind of feel. So I went for that, and composed a totally different melody that could be a song by itself. That became the introduction. So it wasn't like, let's do a four-measure introduction; it was, let's create this world, with accordion and clarinet. As long as it has something to do with the song.
AAJ: That reminds me of [saxophonist] Lester Young, who said everyone had to learn the lyrics to the songs that they played.
TH: [pianist] Bill Charlap is amazing that way. When he plays with his trio, you can hear the lyric.
AAJ: Well, Tamir, it seems that your name is all over the place. Of course, one like yours is impossible to forget. But isn't your given name actually John Smith? After all, that's what [singer] Engelbert Humperdinck did to make himself memorable. He was born Arnold Dorsey.
TH: Are you sure you want to put me in the same sentence?
AAJ: I'm sorry, I'll rewind that.
TH: Anyway, I'm just doing what I love. It's really simple. The recent CD with Jeff Hamilton's trio is called Symbiosis (Capri Records, 2009), which is a neat concept: understanding each other, playing as one. It's something that happens over time. We can be playing a song that we've played twenty times before, and somebody can shoot a certain look, and we can know, without saying anything, what to do: that's the magic of music. You can get to that point.
AAJ: And now, on to the [Barbra] Streisand concert at the Vanguard. I assume that came about because of the Diana Krall and Clayton/Hamilton connection?
TH: Jeff and John did a recording with her [Love is the Answer (Columbia, 2009)], and there were several wonderful pianists on it: Bill Charlap, Alan Broadbent, and I play some tracks. There was something in the schedule where someone couldn't be there, and Jeff and John said, why not call Tamir?
So I came in, we were introduced, and Barbra said, hey let's do a tune I've never performed before, but I'd love to record: "Some Other Time." So we did it, and musically we hit it off. Within seconds we were playing it as a quartet, and then I was invited to record a few more songs and, later, to be part of the Vanguard performance. There was also Oprah, and a show in Londonnot a concert, more of a promotion.
AAJ: What can you tell me about working with such a notorious diva? I can edit out anything objectionable.
TH: No needI had a great experience. For example, there was a moment when she was listening to this string arrangement, and had the idea of having one verse just for string quartet. And then when the string quartet played that section, they played it soft and gentle. She said, I actually hear it as more intense, so put your whole heart into it, and then, rather than "crescendo-ing" into the last part, taper it down, like it's dying away. Then the orchestra comes back in with a full sound. So they did that, and it was the perfect thing. She's such an intuitive musician. It was really neat seeing her think outside of the box.
TH: Right. She doesn't have that kind of a backgroundpracticing for hours, music theory and all thatshe's very instinctual.
AAJ: So, no head-butting?
TH: Not really. I'm just glad that we made sure there was enough time for me to get together with the band that played at the Vanguard, who are wonderful musicians from New York. We spent 20 minutes to half an hour for each song; we played them through, talked about what kind of flavor we wanted to give it. So by the time Barbra joined us, we didn't really need to talk about the music, since it was already there, and other things needed to be talked about at that pointyou know, the lighting, this and that. But the music really flowed. That's the best way I can describe it.