Interview with Jerry Hey

Jerry Hey talks to 441 about working on Birdland and AfroBlue

Masanori Sasaji and Jerry Hey share a toast

Where were you born? Dixon, Illinois

How did you get started as a musician / arranger?
My father played trombone and my mother played piano. I also have two older brothers who played brass instruments, so there was music around the house all the time. I began playing trumpet at a very early age, and studied to be a professional musician. then when I was with Seawind, we moved to Los Angeles, where we played every Tuesday for a couple years at the Baked Potato. Soon after that Quincy Jones heard about the horn section and called us in on one of his recordings. From that point on Quincy was responsible for my being an arranger. he gave me the freedom to try anything and taught me what did and didnít work, and how I could improve on what I had done.

How did you get involved with the Sasaji projects, Birdland and Afro Blue?
Akira Yada called and asked if I would be interested in contracting the musicians for the recording and it just grew from there.

What did you find exciting about these projects?
New arrangements were written of great standard jazz songs played by some of my favorite players in Los Angeles. On the Birdland project the arrangements included some woodwinds which also gave it a Gil Evans touch.

You are a prolific arranger in your own right. What did you find interesting or challenging about Masanori Sasajiís big band arrangements?
He wrote some very unusual voicings and lines that really challenged not only me, but all the players as well.

How did you select the musicians?
Everyone that I called for this project I have worked with in the studios on other occasions, and I knew that they would give their best performances. Also I consider all of them friends and I believe that helps give a family atmosphere to a recording session.

What were the reactions or impressions of the musicians involved with the two projects?
I had some comments from some of the players that they really liked some of the unusual approaches to these tunes. Different harmonies and rhythmic styles helped give new life to many of the tunes.

Can you tell us about performances by these musicians that really stood out in your mind?
On the Birdland CD I really love Richard Pageís vocal. To know that it was truly live with the band and no overdubs just shows what a great singer he really is. Also Vinnie Colaiuta is always a standout, and especially so on this CD. Ernie Watts; solos really had the everyone in the band listening to what incredible phrases he would pull off next. Brandon Fields, Dan Higgins, Andy Martin all had some great features which highlighted the Afro Blue CD, along with the rhythm section with Peter Erskine, Dave Carpenter, Paul Jackson and percussionist Lenny Castro.

What did you find challenging in conducting the band?
The most challenging was to make sure that I got the essence of the arrangements, along with all the nuances that were written, and conveyed that to the band. tempos, ritards, dynamics all were regarded with the utmost care in order to bring out all the great moments of each arrangement.

What did you do differently from working on Birdland to Afro Blue?
Afro Blue was more challenging because we recorded it in a live situation. We basically played a set a songs in order, then repeated it again and then took a break, just like at a nightclub. We had an audience so we were playing not only for the recording but also for the people that were there to listen and enjoy the music. Also Birdland was recorded by Allen Sides at Ocean Way studio so his expertise was appreciated there making the recording aspect of Birdland very easy. With Afro Blue there were two rooms recording the songs and I had to make sure each room had the proper balance between the instruments, especially since the band was set up similar to alive situation with no isolation between the rhythm and the horns.

What are your favorite tracks from Birdland and Afro Blue? Why?
I love "Birdland" with Ernieís solo and the horns at full throttle toward the end. I also like the rhythm groove of "Afro Blue" and Brandonís solos on that as well. Can you share with us some of your favorite memories from the making of these two albums? Good music, with good players, in a good studio, and a good engineer makes lots of memories for all involved. We had a lot of fun ironing out all the intricacies of the arrangements and then had a glass of wine to celebrate after it was recorded. What more can you want?

How do you see big band music evolving?
Newer technology such as super audio can help to record a big bandís full dynamic range. Also the recordings and arrangements need to reflect the times with a more powerful and present influence from the rhythm section.

What projects are you working on now?
I recently have done a big band project for a 16 year old singer/trumpet player/dancer for Virgin UK. He is doing some newer type songs as well as some classics, all with a big band - basically the same guys that are on Birdland and Afro Blue. I also have just recorded some strings and horns for a Sony artist named Lemar. I think this is his second CD, the first being released in England last year. Jamiroquai will be coming to LA to record and work with the horns. He has listened to a lot of what I have done in the past and hopefully Iíll be putting a few new twists on some of his songs. There is a movie coming out called Polar Express that I will be working on. Alan Silvestri and Glenn Ballard have written some songs for it and I will be writing some big band arrangements of those.