Did you get most of your arranging chops from listening to these records or did you ever formally study with someone? BC:
I never went to music school and never studied with anybody. It was really more of sitting down and seeing if I could figure it out. It took a long time at first to transcribe those pieces and now I'm so much faster because I can hear better, my ear is attuned to those kinds of voicings, and I can pick up things better. But I think you learn best by doing. A lot of times I would bring in charts and the band would say, "This doesn't sound right, the clarinet should be lower." A lot of these thingsfor a whilewas kind of trial and error. I would bring in charts [that] wouldn't sound exactly right; there would be a reed section that didn't sound exactly right. So I would go back and maybe take it down an octave or change a voicing. But there's very little of that now because I've learned how to do it. Over the course of 10 years I've sort of learned how to do it.
In terms of transcribing, I just try to take some of the voicings and I try to forget about it. I have a turntable that has a usb cable and connects to my computer, so I have a digital version of what I'm transcribing. So I don't have to sit by the turntable and listen to the record a thousand times. With the digital version, it's much easier to pick out a particular section that might be hard to hear. I think the idea is to transcribe what you need to then re-arrange for this particular band because the instrumentation is different, I might want to open it up for improvisation, or I might have different idea for an ending. It's not exactly the same. In some cases it's wildly different, it just depends on the piece. There are some pieces that I might want to take into a whole different direction, other pieces some good the way it is, or maybe I want to put an ending somewhere. So there are a lot of liberties taken when it comes to that.
But you can learn it on your own; it just takes a lot longer. If I had gone to music school, I probably would have had the arrangements done a lot quicker earlier on in my career. I would have known how to voice particular instruments. But you know, that was the great thing about having a working band; you could basically use the band as feedback. AAJ:
Let's talk about instrumentation on Ghost Train Orchestra's latest record, Book Of Rhapsodies
(Accurate, 2013). Billy Kyle
played piano on John Kirby
's Sextet and there's a keyboard instrument on Alec Wilder's recording of "It's Silk, Feel It!" Is your decision to leave out a keyboard instrument for this project come down to timbre? Or is there something about guitarists that you prefer? BC:
It really came down to the people in the band. The original idea behind the band came out of a commission for doing a series of shows at a theater. The idea behind that was [that] was really interested in music from 1926 to 1931 so I wanted to play their instrumentation, which is three reeds, tuba, trombone, banjo, drums, trumpet, and violin so you have a nine-piece band. So the core of the band came out of that commission and when it came time to do this record, I really didn't see any need to add a pianist. It just felt like I wanted to work with this guitarist that I've known for a long time named Avi Bortnick
who I met in Florida in the mid '90s. Like I said, it came down to the people, who have you always wanted to work with, and I wanted to work with Avi. I also wanted to bring in a bassist, so that's how Michael Bates
came in for this record.
I think what you're hearing in the Alec Wilder thing is a harpsichord, which is really interesting that Alec Wilder was interested in the harpsichord and actually built the octets around the harpsichord. So I felt to have that done on a piano would have been disrespectful because the harpsichord is such a strange sounding instrument. Actually, the guitar sounds closer to the harpsichord than the piano because of the plucking nature of the instrument. So I just felt like, "Well, let's see how the guitar sounds." I don't know why I was hearing guitar, I knew that I wanted to work with Avi and I knew that there were some pieces that I had in mind for guitar, so I might have felt that it would be more interesting. Plus the guitar has all this spectrum of sounds; every solo he takes has a different sound. There's a surf guitar solo sound on one song, there's another song that sounds psychedelic, he might use a roto-box pedal on one song, and use a fuzz box on the other. And the thing with the guitar is that it just gives you this huge open vocabulary you can use that you can't really get with a piano. So those [might] have been the things that might have been going through my head in terms of instrumentation.
But I think it really came down with wanting to work with Avi. It's funny when someone comes back into your life 20 years later you know? Before the rehearsal I hadn't seen him in probably 15 years.