July 6, 2007

Chieli Minucci: Composer Extraordinaire Earns the Emmy

emmy_award_75pg.jpgThose who know Chieli Minucci’s music already know what a fine composer he is and that he’s been able to crank out a Special EFX CD followed by a Chieli Minucci CD nearly every year for a number of years. (These days, Minucci and Special EFX are one and the same). But you may not realize how far and wide his composing abilities stretch beyond the world of contemporary jazz, to include television and radio station clips, as well as children’s musicals. When there is music to be composed, not just that which needs to be expressed from his own heart, but for a specific purpose directed by someone else, Chieli Minucci seems to easily get the job done.

This is a special time for Chieli, having won the Emmy for Music Composition for a Daytime Drama for his composing/producing work on CBS Guiding Light. The Emmy was presented June 14th in Hollywood, California, by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 34th Annual Daytime Creative Arts & Entertainment Awards. As an avid fan of his contemporary jazz music, it was a real treat for me to see him walk up on the stage with fellow composers to accept the award. Visit www.emmyonline.org to see the video playback for youself. Simply scroll down on the right side of the window, all the way to Music Direction and Composition – Drama, and double click to watch the clip (about two hours, ten minutes into the clip playback). Chieli is obviously happy and excited that Guiding Light won the Emmy.

I had the opportunity to interview Chieli about the Emmy awards and his latest CD, Sweet Surrender.

In our interview before winning the Emmy, Chieli had some interesting insights to share about writing for daytime drama. He said, “When I was younger, in my 20s, I wasn’t impressed with people who scored music for television. I was somewhat snooty, but later when I got involved in this type of composing, I found it to be a great outlet for writing and playing and arranging music that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise, not to mention the recording of it all.”

As a composer, writing jingles or writing for television has been the right road to travel for Minucci. “As for Guiding Light, we got a new executive producer who wants all kinds of music in the show. The music is stylistically suitable for shows such as Law and Order, and there are different kinds of night clubs on the show, so all kinds of musical styles are featured. So instead of having to compartmentalize the music, I have the opportunity to write in all styles, except smooth jazz, ironically!”

Speaking of Minucci’s skill in composition, he has added another CD to the repertoire of his vast collection of Chieli Minucci/Special EFX CD’s. This one, entitled Sweet Surrender, came out in March and is proving to be yet another successful endeavor in his busy career. It’s a surrender of sorts to places where Chieli’s been on his musical journey. Each song is a tribute to various phases of his evolution as an artist. Some songs hearken back to the days of George Jinda and Chieli as the original founders of Special EFX, and some speak to the solo CDs Chieli has composed, such as Renaissance. Chieli provides his own description of these songs in the liner notes, as he’s done on some other CD’s, and it’s always interesting to see where he’s coming from with each composition.

Those of us who’ve listened to many of the past CDs will see the influence of those tunes on the ones he created for this CD. For instance, the title track, 'Sweet Surrender,' reminds me of the sweet, more serene tunes Chieli has composed over the years, such as 'Ballerina' (Just Like Magic), 'Bella' (Masterpiece), 'You’re My Reason' (Night Grooves), 'Love is Always Young' (Got It Goin On), 'When Love Cries' (Body Language), 'Fantasies' (Party) as well as 'Quiet Beauty' and 'The Lady and the Sea' (Special EFX Collection). I told Chieli I think of all these songs of his as ‘lullabyes for adults’ -- songs that promote peaceful thoughts and a relaxed mood, songs that settle you down when you’re keyed up or worried about something. He liked the metaphor.

There are so many highlights throughout Sweet Surrender. One of them is his collaboration with Philip Hamilton’s , entitled, 'Chant.' Listeners are sure to enjoy that and also the tune Chieli and bass player Jerry Brooks have often played at concerts, entitled 'Rush Hour.' I've often wondered how in the world they could follow each other on this song when I’ve heard it live. Listening to it a few times on the CD gives me a better sense of the song’s progression, and also the skill of Brooks on bass. Brooks is an awesome player! Chieli and Jerry put a nice intro as a track before they get into their intense conversation on guitar and bass. I asked Chieli where this intro came from (entitled 'Dawn') and he told me, “'Dawn' was just part of a medley, while we were making stuff up on stage…..an afterthought, actually.” What an afterthought!

The CD starts off with two make-you-want-to-dance tunes. Chieli wrote the first song, 'Guitarzzz,' for some Guitarzzz concerts (Chieli's alternate band project, co-leading along with Chuck Loeb and Paul Jackson, Jr. Both this one and the single song 'Mystical,' are upbeat, very catchy tunes. Chieli mentioned his record company (Shanachie) is enthusiastically behind the record, and it’s getting a lot of airplay and is on the charts for 15 weeks now. Sweet Surrender as an album entered the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts at #14.

'Astralcats' is fun, hearkening back to 'Courageous Cats,' and in this one Chieli has some super fast Frank Gambale-like speedy fingers (though I noticed this in many other songs, too). There’s a lot going on in this and many of the songs. As Chieli explained, ‘There’s a lot of layering of sounds and tones, that’s the whole idea. Some of the songs, like 'Cry of My Soul,' use a lot of guitars. I don’t know which guitar to listen to, there are so many parts that were layered. In learning about arranging, you discover that you can have a lot of layering going on, yet still have clarity and space in the music.”

I have to concentrate to stay with the songs 'Ascension' and 'New Bop.' Ascension reminds me of 'Destiny' (Got It Goin’ On); it’s different and I like it. I find myself wanting to take it apart, somehow, to understand it better. And 'New Bop' has something called hemiolas, a word Chieli introduced to me about this song a few months ago. I took advantage of the chance to ask him what it means. It's a term he learned in college -- "It's like when a rhythmical phrase is accented in such a way as to suggest a 'new' rthym. It's like a rhythm riff within a rhythm riff." Those of you who have appreciated the complexity of this music for longer than I have will no doubt be immediately comfortable listening to these two.

'Cry of My Soul' is a perfect title to a tune with a lot of emotion. It reminds me of Chieli’s powerful 'Without You' (Night Grooves) as well as his renditions of 'Because We’ve Ended As Lovers' and 'Europa.' And 'Play With Me,' featuring David Mann (seen in picture below, second from right), is one of my favorites on the album. Chieli mentioned this was originally recorded as a lyrical tune.

'Children’s Day' is a fitting tribute to the annual Children’s Fair in the area of Forest Hills where Chieli grew up. I love the way all the different harmonies come and go. It’s easy to see how Chieli can compose for children, as in Nickolodeon’s Dora the Explorer and now Thomas the Tank Engine. This really catches the essence of children’s kind of fun. Chieli explained it’s an old song from long ago, a melody he came up with in trying to write a rhythm song, one that starts with a conga player and clapping. It didn’t work as a world piece but he could adapt it to this newer song.

And of course the last one is Chieli’s acoustic duo with acoustic bassist Wayne Batchelor, 'Au Naturale.' That is so very complex, reminiscent of 'Beginnings 'from It’s Gonna Be Good. I wondered if he could actually remember how he played it, and did he write it down or is it just what came to him at the time of recording. Chieli said he had already played parts of it, and decided to turn it into something. “It’s good to add a duo or trio or solo piece to add to the texture of the record.”

Chieli’s been quite busy, having played on a cruise this past winter, (and scheduled to play on the upcoming Brian Culbertson All Star cruise next January.)

EFXband.jpgOne of his latest accomplishments was working on a composing/scoring collaboration with Philip Hamilton for an upcoming Sundance Film Festival short, a project Philip Hamilton (seen in picture, far left) brought to him, entitled, 'Lifted.' It's produced/directed by Randall Dottin and will likely be submitted next year. A record was cut of this soundtrack. Chieli is also offering a trio performance including Jerry Brooks (his bass player), Lionel Cordew (his drummer) – the first of these is September 7th at the Long Beach Jazz Festival. (Brooks and Cordew pictured here left and right of Chieli, along with keyboardist Jay Rowe, far right). In addition, he is scheduled to perform in another Guitarzz concert with Paul Jackson, Jr. and Chuck Loeb in West Bend, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area) on September 8th.

Chieli has a lot of music available for downloading at his site, www.chielimusic.com. Among all the available music are CD material that was never released. One set of songs, East of the Sun, is a collection of some mideastern, new age tunes that provide peaceful, meditative listening. And there is Travels, a CD that was never before released. It's both soothing and stimulating, as its title would imply. Chieli has also added downloadable songs/solo transcriptions for the musicians out there who are curious to learn Cheli's songs, note for note.

In other news, Chieli has completed the score for the live stage show version of the long-running hit British children’s TV show, Thomas the Tank Engine – Thomas Saves The Day, which is now touring across the USA. Chieli has written and recorded songs for this project and as he explains, “I took the music from the tv and dvd’s and rearranged it according to the needs of the script. After rearranging came recording, and it’s a long piece of music to get the audience in the mood for the show. It’s called 'Journeys,' lasts 18 minutes, leading into the story line about the train and life and fantasy, and it’s very metaphorical. This was a very symbolic piece for me, as it was written right before my dad died.” (The late Ulpio Minucci composed for Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and also scored the music for Robotech, a hit tv and dvd series, and greatly inspired Chieli in especially the composing aspect of his own musical career.)

So you can see, Minucci is quite a busy, sought-after musician these days. I wonder how he can produce all of this and constantly be so creatively inspired. As he puts it, “There’s inspiration but there’s also craft, and it’s like any craft that a person learns, whether it’s writing books or creating in some other way –when you know your craft, you get busy working at it day after day, you don’t need to wait until you ‘feel’ inspired.”

Words of wisdom from a master craftsman himself. To quote Jazziz Magazine, “Chieli Minucci is both an influential elder statesman and true innovator." I'm sure many in the music world would join me in saying, 'Amen to that.'

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Happy Jazzin'

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania
MyGirlSunday22@aol.com


Photo Credits: National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Chieli Minucci, Michael Packard

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at July 6, 2007 4:11 AM