BEHIND THE MUSIC WITH AS IS
A NIGHT IN TUNISIA
DAY ONE | DAY TWO
It was very late one summer night in 2016 when we started working on A Night in Tunisia for the new album. The air was pretty thick as we sat on our porch playing with different approaches. We were inspired by a few specific versions of the tune - Manhattan Transfer's Grammy-nominated arrangement (Vocalese, 1985), Chaka Khan's (And the Melody Still Lingers On) and Cyrille Aimee's version with just guitar (Diego Figueiredo) and vocal (Smile, 2010 ) - but we were also hyper aware that the song had been done hundreds of times by as many artists. If we were going to do it, we wanted to have a fresh take to offer. Two ideas came about that evening - first, opening up the form and using the vocalese elements of the tune to both separate the verses and break them down to half-time... and second, Alan's brilliant idea to use the Caravan melody as an introduction and melodic motif throughout the tune.
James McKinney, Producer/Arranger
Grammy Board of Trustees
As a young listener to jazz in her youth, Stacey ALWAYS confused these two tunes (Caravan and A Night in Tunisia) - maybe because they both tap into more exotic-sounding musical modes (phrygian, lydian), or maybe because they reminded her of all those kitsch-y Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "Road to" films (Road to Zanzibar, Road to Morocco, etc) which were released in the same years as the tune itself morphed from its original title "Interlude" to its title today "A Night in Tunisia". Dizzie Gillespie, who wrote the tune, spoke about how his development of the afro-cuban rhythm was a purposeful departure from the 4-beat basslines at the time, introducing a special kind of syncopation to mainstream American jazz. For us, we simply wanted to take our listeners on a ride - lulling them into the groove of Caravan and then gliding into the melody and lyric of Tunisia.
The instrumentation and vocalese elements on our recording are all very purposeful. You can hear the nod to the tune's Latin roots in Alejandro Lucini's artful percussion. There are so many layers to the percussion tracks on this particular song. You really need to just tune into the instruments to appreciate the sonic landscape Alejandro created for us. Listen in to the introduction for the quintessential squeaks of the "guica" which immediately transport you to a tropical locale.
And then there is the afro-blue inspired vocalese arrangement, starting with the Caravan motif at the entrance. Bobby McFerrin and Cheryl Bentyn's Grammy-nominated vocal arrangements for the Manhattan Transfer cut are stellar, and we knew we had our work cut out for us in developing a solid vocal arrangement. Enter James McKinney, our producer, who developed a gorgeous, lush, original arrangement inspired by the Afro-Blue vocal group at Howard University. Together with Christie Dashiell and Carl "Kokayi" Walker, the vocals on this track really shine! And they worked long, hard days in the studio to get it just right!
As amazing as the final mix sounds, it's hard to truly appreciate the lush complexity of the vocal arrangements that went into Night in Tunisia. Here's an early, working version of just the vocal arrangement (acapella) of the track where you can really hear the different layers of Stacey, James, Kokayi and Christie. Check out Kokayi's beat box! I betcha you thought that was percussion in the final mix, huh?(give it about 10 seconds to start)
A Night in Tunisia was also the track that took the longest to complete. We recorded the initial tracks on the very first day of studio sessions for the album in September 2016 and Stacey's solo section was the last piece that was added over the vocalese bed in April 2017. When we were done, we knew we had something very special. We are so grateful to the artists who helped us bring this vision to life! It's hard to do a very well-known jazz standard in a unique way, and very rewarding to hear radio stations play our version alongside other well-known renditions.
That's a Wrap!
The music video for this track is coming soon. Here's a sneak preview for you!....
Stay tuned for Day Three tomorrow featuring the title track of Here's To Life with more
behind-the-scenes from the studio!
Did you miss Day One?