From a musician who has never been concerned very much about following trends in his career Marc Jordan’s latest, “ FROM THE BEGINNING” a sonically rich, orchestral pop-jazz record, is yet another intriguing turn.
In his forty plus year career he has been a hit solo artist (‘Marina Del Ray’, ‘Survival’), a sought after songwriter (‘Rhythm of My Heart’), a group member as part of the quartet “Lunch At Allens," and in the last decade, he took up a paintbrush and became a visual artist. Trends come and go, but for an artist of Marc’s breadth, marrying his talent with inspiration has never been an issue. There’s always been a project in the headlights.
But “From The Beginning” is something different. It’s a fulfillment of a long held dream that has been waiting for the right moment to be realized.
For Marc, it’s a return to his roots. To record songs that have had a great effect on him in a context that would evoke something essential for him. “I wanted to do an orchestral record. I wanted to sing some great songs I didn’t write. There are some beautiful, beautiful songs out there, and I guess I’m at the right point in my life to do them”.
But there’s a perhaps a softer, more sentimental reason to go down this road. “. “ These songs have been in my life forever. Marc’s father, Charles Jordan was a professional classical singer in Montreal, Toronto and in New York where Marc was born. Although he sang classical, Charles was a serious record collector.
“My father was a record collector who loved so many genres of music. So, it’s not just that I grew up hearing the great singers of the 20th century, but my father and I would spend time together listening and talking about them. Always when I hear these songs, they remind me of my dad. So, doing something like this is a chance to stretch myself as an artist and see if I could do it. But it’s also kind of like continuing the conversations that I had with my dad”.
“These are songs I have loved, in some cases since I was a kid. The American songbook songs are ones my father, Charles Jordan, sang in the 40s and 50s in New York. I grew up with them, and they’ve informed my songwriting to this day.”
Marc has flirted with orchestral arrangements and pop/jazz on a few previous releases, but “ From the Beginning “ is a deep dive. Wrapped in lush orchestral arrangements, the thoughtfully chosen collection starts with offerings from the Great American Songbook, like Hoagy Carmichael’s “ The Nearness of You,” Curtis Mayfield’s gospel influenced “People Get Ready,” Canadian opera superstar Measha Brueggergossman adds her velvety vocals to an interpretation of the Oscar nominated song “Calling You”.
It also includes songs more associated with popular music, like Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” ( “I think its one of the great songs ever written”). And then veers off into unexpected territory with orchestral versions of The Rolling Stones “Wild Horses,” and Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”. As interpreted here by Marc, those edgier songs have become moodier, contemplative, cinematic.
As well there are 2 original songs in the collection, the tender “He’s Going to Break Your Heart," written for his teenage daughter when she started dating her first boyfriend.“I saw them together, and I thought was he’s going to break your heart. That’s an emotional thing for me. As her father I knew that the time had come for me to stand back and let her live her life her own way. But I was feeling it so strongly that I wrote the song and then put it away. I didn’t feel that I even could record it at that point. But now it feels right.”. The album also includes“I Saw You”, “written for Marc’s wife, writer, singer and producer in her own right, Amy Sky.
“From the Beginning” is a largely orchestral album, but beyond that it isn’t easily definable.
While it’s not a true jazz album, the influence of jazz is undeniable. “I sort of tried not to think of it in one way or the other. Primarily I think of it as an orchestral record even though there’s not orchestra on everything. But my phrasing has always been on the jazz side of things”
Although the idea for this record had been on Marc’s mind for decades, the challenges were more than just finding the right time in his life where this kind of passion project made sense.
To pull this together Marc needed to find the right collaborator, a producer and arranger who could realize what Marc had been hearing in his head for years, and help pull the pieces together: the right arrangements, the right tone, and the right players. Marc found that with Toronto composer/writer/music director/producer Lou Pomanti.
The two men had known of each other for years, but it was a random tune on the radio that made the penny drop for Marc.
“I heard something on JAZZ-FM that Lou arranged and I thought it was Nelson Riddle. It turned out to be Lou’s work and I thought Wow, he’s really great. So I called him and we just did it.”
Marc and Lou brought some of the best and most in demand studio musicians together for the sessions including Tommy Emmanuel and Kevin Breit on guitars, the legendary Randy Brecker on trumpet (“He has such a beautiful mind for harmony and played so appropriately. His tone is beautiful”) They formed the “in-studio” nucleus.
The next challenge was to find an orchestra that could lay the groundwork for the cinematic, tender feeling that Marc was looking for.
At Lou’s suggestion they hired the Prague Orchestra, and the project moved forward.
Lou and Marc provided the orchestra with guide vocal track, but they worked with the orchestra remotely via an on line hook-up.
Recording that way gave Marc the advantage of being able to experiment until he felt his vocals were exactly where he wanted them
For Marc, who had always sung original music in a pop vein, the project revealed a major challenge. Singing to orchestral tracks required an entirely different approach than anything he’d done before.
“I wanted to sing with a different attitude and in a more beautiful way,," Marc explains. . But, after years of singing pop music, to sing to an orchestra is way different. You don’t have that rhythm to rely on and to propel you into the next few bars. And as someone who phrases in odd ways even in the pop world, it was a challenge, and I had to work at it. I would lay down a vocal and then a week later I wouldn’t be happy, so I’d do it again, and then I’d do part of it again. I did each song number of times until I got it to a place where it felt right”
It wasn’t just finding the right vocal approach, Marc was looking for something special. “I didn’t sing live in the studio with the orchestra, but I wanted it to sound like that, like the way Sinatra would do it. He was right there in the room with them and he would do it and that would be the take," says Marc.
And then the songwriter, became the archetypical singer, the interpreter, putting his spin on the material. “The trick for me, was to make it sound like I was in the room and singing to them and with them in the moment. I think it gives you a unity of emotion”.
That emotion is key to the record. “I think that it reflects where I am in my life quite a bit. The songs are about love. I’m getting older and so I see the world in a certain way. That’s definitely part of this project for me”.
The other piece of the project is his connection to some of the songs.
“I think its easy to figure out how some of the classic songs were chosen. But people might look at Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” and wonder how that fits on an orchestral album”, says Marc “ I wanted to make music you could see. “Walk on The Wil“d Side has been a movie in my head for 30 or 40 years. When I go to New York that’s what I’m hearing in my head. Its part of the movie of this record. I was born in Brooklyn and its always been romantic for me. That’s where I first saw art that blew me away.”
There is a definite cinematic quality to the album, from Marc’s point of view. But where it lands with the listener, says Marc, is really going to be up to them. And that’s exactly what he’s hoping for.
“When you’re young, it’s all about you. But somewhere along the line I realized that it's not about me at all. When you understand that you realize that music is a gift. It’s a gift you give to people. It’s to be shared I never used to like playing live , but now I love it because I’m giving something to people and I have to say I get back as much as I give and more. Audiences are so generous . I have learned that music, not just the songs that I’ve written, but all music is important. It reminds people of their humanity their goodness and their love. It’s spiritual. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to make a living at this and to still be doing it.
Marc Jordan’s songs have appeared on over 25 million records and counting.
”My passion for music and for songwriting is deeper and more profound now than ever before in my life. And so I go to my studio , put my headphones on every day, seven days a week, and I write.”
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