If you are one of the 10,000 people who just saw Art Tatum play with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at the Hollywood Bowl and are curious as to how everything came together, welcome! This is not the official blog of Zenph Studios, the music technology company responsible for Art Tatum (and other artists) coming back to life through “re-performance,” but I am a Zenph employee, as well as a jazz pianist.
I am writing and updating this post over the course of the day of the show (this sentence is being penned in the hotel room). What show, you might ask? Well, today on a great bill of bands at the Hollywood Bowl (including the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band), legendary jazz pianist Art Tatum (d. 1956) will be accompanied by a top-notch live big band thanks to the technological wizardry of Zenph Studios and the arranging wizardry of Gordon Goodwin. If you recall from my previous post about Zenph’s first Grammy nomination, Gordon wrote a jazz arrangement that dances around Zenph’s solo piano Tatum re-performance of “Yesterdays.” Up until now, this had been a studio project, confined to the world of multitrack recording and careful mixing. In the last few weeks, Gordon’s Big Phat Band and Zenph have been working hard to achieve a live, realtime performance of this amazing duet. That’s right, a real Yamaha Disklavier Pro on the Hollywood Bowl stage flanked by 18 of the West Coast’s best musicians. My role has been liaison between the Zenph camp and the Big Phat Band camp as well as playback engineer for the show.
One day Zenph will champion gestural capture and beat induction such that Art Tatum could “follow” Gordon’s live conducting. Until then we have to work with an entertainment industry staple (for better or for worse): the click track. I’ve spend the past few weeks figuring out how to use the Disklavier Pro as a synchronization master to drive a playback computer so that all 18 musicians can hear piano and click track in their earbuds to precisely follow Tatum’s timing nuances. Tatum does not play perfectly metronomically: his swing and his phrasing ebb and flow as is necessary for his virtuosity, he even adds a few beats at certain cadences just to get an idea across. Major props to Gordon for creating an arrangement and click track that wonderfully captures these ideas and hit points.
I’m headed out the door to the venue, check back for updates to this post throughout the day!
*******UPDATE 7:45pm, 15 minutes to showtime******
Tech rehearsal and soundcheck went just fine. I just went out onto the dark stage one last time to make sure the piano was OK and saw a praying mantis perched under the small piano lamp right on the keys. It was a wonderful moment of nature and solitude compared to the detail-oriented hustle and bustle of the day so far. Art Tatum’s widow, Geraldine, will be in the audience tonight, and we’ve heard that she is extraordinarily excited to hear her late husband play again in front of such a crowd. Industry and marketing aside, it’s moments like these that make me happy for what Zenph can do for people.
To the stage!