Vince Giordano Talks "Boardwalk Empire Volume 1 — Music from the HBO Original Series", Working with Martin Scorsese, and More
Mon, 12 Sep 2011 08:32:31
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Music is crucial for setting the scene in HBO's hit original series, Boardwalk Empire.
At the series' central nightclub, Babette's, Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks serve as the house band, performing jazz classics with an undeniable fire and fervor. On the soundtrack album Boardwalk Empire Volume 1 — Music from the HBO Original Series [Available September 13], Giordano and co. reinterpret various numbers with a chilling reverence for the originals, while infusing 21st century panache. Giordano's passion for this music remains palpable and you can feel it in each rendition he offers up. Due to Giordano's diligence, it's one of the best soundtracks of the year.
About the next season's musical direction, Giordano smiles, "It gets jazzier, hotter, and the tunes get a little nuttier".
Looks like we're in for a treat when Boardwalk Empire returns for season 2 on September 25, 2011. Until then, be sure to grab the soundtrack featuring 20s classics reimagined by Regina Spektor, Martha Wainwright, Stephen DeRosa, and many more.
In this exclusive interview, Vince Giordano gave ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino an insider's look at the music for Boardwalk Empire…
You can also catch Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks live in New York City weekly at Sofia's!
You bring a modern energy into these new songs paying reverence to that era with a fresh spirit.
Yeah! That's what Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio said when we did The Aviator. He came over and he asked, "Are you the band leader?" I said, "Yes". He went on, "I never knew how much fun this old music is and how much energy and vitality it has." When you hear the old 78s, they have a limited frequency and that horn sound. I said to Leonardo, "Oh yeah, this was the rock 'n' roll music of its time. It's just that what we hear is not what people really heard back then."
We're not hearing it live the way audiences did back then.
How did you approach the recordings on Boardwalk Empire Volume 1?
Randall Poster is our music supervisor, and he works with the director and the scripts pretty closely. They explain what scene is coming up and what kind of mood—if it's a party mood or a somber of mood. We even had the chance to use some of my silent picture movie music for this vaudeville act. He's the brother of Houdini, and he's terrible [Laughs]. He's one of the guys where everything goes wrong. I had some of this stuff. When they bring these stars out of that time like Eddie Cantor, we knew what music to back him up with. Then there's Sophie Tucker who's portrayed by Kathy Brier. It's a little bit of a question of whether this is appropriate or if it's the right tempo. We experiment with it. Then we submit the music to our directors, and sometimes we'll do a few different takes where something's a little slower or faster. You're working with a lot of opinions, which is great. That's what makes it good. Then, the final say is given to us and they go with it.
What's the story behind "Livery Stable Blues"?
When they first came to me with this project, they said, "You're in this band in Atlantic City. You play dance music, but you're hearing about this new jazz music." It really was new then. This group called The Original Dixieland Jass Band had made the first jazz records on Victor in 1917. It was all the rage, and people went nuts. Bands copied them. Other little bands sprung up. The show creators told me, "We want you to cover some of this music with your energy and fit it to the instrumentation of The Babette's band. Babette's is the club we play in Atlantic City in the show. We did a lot of The Original Dixieland Jass band numbers, but got the instrumentation from our bigger band which has a tuba, a banjo, a violin, and a couple of saxophones. It's a hybrid, but it really works. I'm lucky to have the guys to interpret this music with me. It's almost like speaking another language to get into that whole idiom of what I call, "Ragged Jazz", which is music with one foot in the ragtime era and one foot in this new jazz era. It's a real mixture.
It's very energetic.
You can imagine all of these young people dancing to this with a little bit of that hooch—liquor. When the music first came out, it wasn't illegal, but it became illegal. Everyone was in the party mode. That's what the roaring twenties were about.
Where did "Japanese Sandman" come from?
That tune was a big hit for a fella named Paul Whiteman who was probably the biggest name in entertainment for bands in the 1920s. He had this small band that eventually became a large band with close to 27 or 28 people. That's a lot of musicians. He covered that tune in his first years down in Atlantic City. Our arrangement was based on that a little bit.
What is it about the music from this era that appeals to you?
I got started with this music many years ago when I was five-years-old. At that time, pop radio was playing a lot of schlock like "(How Much) Is That Doggie in the Window?" [Laughs]. My grandmother had this collection of old 78s and a phonograph, which I have enough. It's sort of my "Rosebud". When I would listen to this music as a youngster, I was just knocked out by the sheer energy of the jazz of the vaudeville performers like Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, and Eddie Cantor. It was really hair-raising to me. They were really pushing the boundaries with the beat, and it was all show biz and high-energy. I thought it was great! I still have that love and passion for it.
Is it easy to step into that vibe when you're on the set of Boardwalk Empire?
Oh yeah, the people on Boardwalk really do wonderful things with the sets. They try to recreate how it looked in those years from all of the photographs they study. They tuxedos that we wear are really from 1919 and 1920. The labels in them say who they were made for and the date. They're kind of warm since they're made out of the old wool material. Everyone is in period clothing doing a lot of dancing. They pipe in a lot of artificial smoke to give it that nightclub feel. Boardwalk captures this fun rowdiness that you see in the old films, and you get into the whole story.
Did Martin Scorsese bring you into Boardwalk Empire?
Well, that was one of my introductions, working with his music team on The Aviator. I've had a pretty good run here in New York working with period films. I was very lucky under the baton of Dick Hyman. He's a wonderful pianist, arranger, and composer. For many years, he did the Woody Allen soundtracks. I was playing tuba and string bass with him on things like Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo. You can see me in Sweet and Lowdown. One of my first breakouts was The Cotton Club. I got to work with Richard Gere and Diane Lane with a small combo from my band. Playing with The Nighthawks for close to 40 years, you get a reputation. I've got 60,000 scores and 32,000 pieces of sheet music [Laughs]. I had to buy another house next door just to store all of this stuff. I've got a lot of period instruments. On Boardwalk, I'm playing this violin with a horn on it, which they used in early recording days. It's called a phonofiddle or stroh violin.
Is Scorsese particularly musical as a director?
He's very keen on getting the right music from the period so that it's correct. He's also very interested in making sure that this fits the scene. He's got his hand in there. He really knows his stuff, and he's a big fan not only of classic cinema but classic recordings of times gone-by.
That passion is paramount to creating.
Definitely! I'm fortunately having the fellas in my band who are really into it and understand it. We all come together as a team and can get the results.
Did you have a favorite moment on Boardwalk Empire?
The first season is great. It sets the whole plot. I even get to say one word which is "Prohibition". It's not "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", but it's the countdown to prohibition which was really an important moment. It changed the next 12 years of American history so much. There it is…
Will you be picking up the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack?