Posted on December 13, 2006 at 4:40 pm

I’m sitting in the middle of tech rehearsal at the Taper. They’re lighting the section of “Being A Geek” where Evan goes into the audience. Oh, wait, I’m giving things away. Ignore that sentence.

I just got back to L.A. after a week in Seattle conducting the Seattle Symphony for John Pizzarelli‘s Christmas show. It was truly thrilling just to be asked, but the thing about being a guest conductor is that the first hour of rehearsal is always weird. Maybe not for Kurt Masur or Michael Tilson Thomas, but for someone like me who the orchestra doesn’t know and hasn’t heard of, it’s an awkward moment. They’ve all been together for twenty-five years and then I come traipsing in, presuming to tell them how to make music. So I try to keep things light, tell jokes, but no one will laugh at any of the jokes in the first hour. And it’s hard to make music with people who are resisting you. I guess they get a lot of lousy conductors standing in front of them, certainly for pops concerts, which don’t generally require great conducting technique, so they’re nervous and they’re defensive. “Please don’t be one of those guys who can’t place a downbeat.” “Please don’t be one of those guys who mirrors the beat pattern with both hands.” “Please don’t be one of those guys who’s so incompetent that the concertmaster has to take over for him and save his ass.” As it turns out, I’m not one of those guys, but they don’t know that when I get up on the podium. So that first hour, it’s rough.

But after we all got to know each other, it was a wonderful week. The orchestra is a great group of players, very musical and fast, and the additional players brought on for the concert (five saxes, a lead trumpet) were sensational. And at the heart of it is Pizzarelli, who’s a magnificent musician, a wonderful entertainer, and has great taste in arrangers. The whole Christmas concert is made up of gorgeous charts by the greatest arrangers in the world: Sebesky, Ralph Burns, Patrick Williams, Johnny Mandel. If you haven’t heard his Christmas album, I highly recommend it. And I also got to sing a new Sebesky arrangement of “Being A Geek” with that fabulous orchestra in that gorgeous hall, and that was an absolute blast.

David Horiuchi wrote about it on his blog, which was unexpected and fun.

And now back to the more quotidian joys of tech rehearsal. I have no idea how it’s going. It’s been a very slow process, and I’m not particularly good at seeing the show in little pieces and being able to extrapolate from there. The kids are actually doing a sensational job, they’re much more focused now that they’re in the theater. Gallo did a fabulous job on the sets (he’s sitting next to me, so I’m trying to be cool), and the band is sounding great, and the kids look great in their costumes. Thank God for Todd and the designers, who all seem to have the big picture in their minds; I get stuck on why that light didn’t come on during that lyric. More distractingly, I wrote a new song for the show last week, but I haven’t yet been able to see it performed because I was off in Seattle when it was being staged, and now we’re past it in tech rehearsal and can’t go back for another couple of days, so I’ve got this whole new number and I’m endlessly curious about it but I can’t see it. There are just so many trees, how can I be expected to see the forest?

We went into the studio a couple of weeks ago to record the commercial for the show, and while we were there, we did a little medley that we could put on the Internet. You can hear the radio commercial on the official webpage for the show, here, and you can listen to the medley right here on this page! (One note: because of weird Equity restrictions, the band on this recording is not the teenage band we’re using in the show; it’s instead the hottest session players in Los Angeles, which was pretty cool, but I’m sad you don’t get to hear my amazing show orchestra yet.)

Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Ricky Ashley, Emma Degerstedt, Sara Niemietz, Jenáe Burrows, Caitlin Baunoch, J.D. Phillips, Seth Zibalese: vocals
JRB: keyboards/conductor
Dean Parks, Tim May: guitars
Ken Wild: electric bass
Shannon Ford: drums and percussion
Recorded and mixed by Damon Tedesco at Entourage Studios, North Hollywood, CA, November 30, 2006

It’s 6:00 and they’re still in the middle of “Geek,” so I’m going to sign off and go write some orchestrations. (Since we start previews in nine days, it’s probably a good idea to finish the charts at some point.) I’ll try to check in again soon, but as you have surmised, I’m a little overwhelmed with work at the moment.

Come to L.A.! Come see my show! Walk my dog! Babysit my daughter! Have a Happy Holiday!