All That Jazz: A Producer’s Art
With the "lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer" now upon us, many a jazz fan will be seeking a cool breeze in the comfort of the shadows. It’s a perfect time to feed the Hi-Fi (or iPod, MP3 or whatever)! The familiar names, the cream of the crop, are all there on the shelf or a download away: the inimitable Coltrane, Miles Davis, Monk, Mingus, along with our estimable contemporaries from Joe Lovano to Curtis Stigers. The discerning listener will pause to consider his choices; for each of these headliners there is an Orrin Keepnews, a Milt Gabler, a Teo Macero...or a Mark Ronson putting a "spin" on the proceedings! Taking nothing away, in fact adding value, to the aforementioned virtuosi, recorded music is a producer’s art.
What better reminder can there be that these are the "days of soda and pretzels and beer" than the arrival of the 2012 London Olympic Games? The quadrennial appearance of an ancient Greek legacy, now transported to the banks of the Thames, encouraged by warm weather and fresh air, will provide a global celebration at the confluence of sport and movement and music.
Music and athletics have an eons-long shared history, but together and apart, both have been embraced by the human family as participatory cultural phenomena. It is only in the modern age that they have morphed into passive entertainments. That’s why this Olympiad, at least one of its global sponsors, is urging us to "Move to the Beat", lifted by the energy of global competition. For an Ellington Orchestra, a swinging jazz combo, or a pop tune, the goal may best be summed up in the words of American Bandstand teenagers too numerous to count: "It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it."
Which brings us back to the highly regarded producer, Mark Ronson, and to today. The stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, Ronson has produced hits for Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera, Lily Allen and Robbie Williams, establishing quite a track record...to be burnished this year with a bit of "track and field" grit.
Enlisted by long-time Olympics sponsor Coca-Cola, Ronson was asked to create a pop anthem for the Games, built on the rhythmic foundation of sound samples of Olympic athletes in training. Teamed with dance-pop singer Katy B, they’ve written, and Ronson produced, "Anywhere in the World," the centrepiece of the global Olympics-themed ad campaign in which the musicians star. None of this is by chance: Recall the company’s equally long history with pop music, including the Haskell Wexler-directed "Hilltop" ad filmed in Italy that put "I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing" at the top of the charts in 1971.
Interviewed last month in London, calling it both daunting and "really a lot of fun", Ronson reflected on the challenge: "You come into the studio and think, shit, we are expected to write a global anthem!" He admitted to a great deal of pressure, but was evidently delighted they "asked us and not, for example, Katy Perry", wanting something credible, the sound of London’s youth.
Impressed by our talk, reflecting on summer fun to come, I found myself taking Katy B seriously when she sings, "Come with me..."
With my son August directing, we took a stab at our own summer soundtrack, beginning with the "Anywhere in the World" anthem, a bit of a mash-up, now found at youtube.com, titled "On the Run...Anywhere.m4v".
Katy B beckons, "No matter where you are..." imploring, "Let’s start a new movement... out on the street" but there I am, "sleeping in the sun," hoping to "keep it shady" as a revered jazzman, with a wink and a nod, would have it.
A trifle really at only 59 seconds, but now it’s high time you set out to record your own summer soundtrack!
TVR Jazz Columnist Philip Ellison is Public Affairs Manager at Coca-Cola Austria