Django Bates: From Zero to Sixty in Five Days
"I really like, in the 'Donna Lee' arrangement, where the horns all stop, and you're left with just the trio, plus the guitar doubling the melody in the way I stretched it. When it goes down to that trio plus guitar, it sounds like an underwater jam session or something, because of the time stretching written into the arrangement."
The guitar Bates refers to belongs to Markus Pesonen, a young Finnish six-stringer who was one of a couple of additions to the Norrbotten big band, which also included Norwegian tubaist Daniel Herskedal and Ashley Slater, who flew in from London to both play second trombone in the big band and sing "A House is Not a Home," which Bates planned to include in the Luleå program.
"It was this lovely big accident that led to this," says Bates of his arrangement of "A House is Not a Home." "First of all, I had this idea. We played this Parker tune, 'A-Leu- Cha,' and the trio sang these very nice-sounding 'Oohs.' We'd already recorded that piece on the first album. When it came to the second album, I was thinking, 'Damn, it's a shame we can't do the singing, because it's a part of the band now,' so I was looking out for a piece where we could do just that and picked up a book of Bacharach songs, flipped to the page of 'A House is Not a Home' and came to the point, halfway through, with the word 'goodnight' and started playing around with that word, with a groove underneath it, and thought that it would be great for the vocal thing.
"So it came from an odd place," Bates continues. "It came from my desire to have the band sing. I did an arrangement of it but had the singing introduced gradually each time that phrase comes around, and then I started thinking, 'Who's going to sing this?' The band used to sit around, every night on tour, listening to singers hundreds of different versions of that song, eventhinking, 'She's good; he's good.' We had some weird people on the list, including the guy who recorded that song originally, Brook Benton, and we were all listening to it and saying, 'Wow, that's really nice. Nobody's heard of this guy; he's going to work for the gig. Good, it's going to work.' I'd also done a gig with him as a kid at some pub somewhere, not knowing who he was. Unfortunately, gone, I'm afraid.
"Sidsel [Endresen] happily agreed to have a look at it and consider it. And so we went into the studio and recorded it with her in mind. I played the melody at the speed that I thought she could sing itjust one note, which you would think would work, but actually I was really just not convinced. Let's say it was a great experiment. So I played the melody on the piano, and we all went in as a trio, played along with melody around it, and then came in, listened to it and went, 'Wow, that's really weird the way we had to speed up there to fit with melody, but I think it'll be OK; would it be OK if we stretch this little bit here?' It just got more and more complicated, but it was nice: a nice complication. I added the celesta and Peter the bowed cymbals and instrumental effects.
"And then, at a certain point, Ashley [Slater]'s name came into my mind, and I listened to a piece that he'd sung called 'Private Sunshine'a lovely track where he sounds like a real crooner, with that [British] accent and growly voice. So I called him, and he said, 'Sure, man, I'd love to give it a try, but I can't sing that high anymore.' And I said, 'It's pretty low.' Later, he told me, 'When you sent me that demo, with you singing along with the studio version, it's the first and only time I've spent hours and hours practicing something and rehearsing and singing something to try and get everything to slot in exactly in place as it is there.' So when he came in and put the voice down, it all started to make sense. Also, he sang one of the later verses in a very kind of lonely and empty way. The last verse is similar to the first; it was a real challenge for him to sing it.