FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION FOR THE 64th GRAMMY AWARDS
MUSIC IN FILM: THE REEL DEAL
Best Arrangement, Instrumental, or A capella: "Chopsticks" - Bill O'Connell (Instrumental)
THE LINER NOTES BY DAN BILAWSKY
More than three decades separate Richard Baratta’s departure from the jazz world and his reemergence on the scene, but the drummer’s whereabouts during the intervening years aren’t exactly a mystery. To put it concisely, he was sidetracked in celluloid.
The Poughkeepsie-born Baratta, who was reared in a musical household, cut his teeth in his home city, and spent post-collegiate time studying with Jack DeJohnette and gigging in the Catskills, took to the jazz trenches with vigor when he arrived in the Big Apple in 1975. Settling into a loft near Union Square, he hit the ground running and struck up fruitful associations with pianist Hal Galper, saxophonists John Stubblefield and Joe Ford, bassist Dennis Irwin and numerous other notables. Baratta passionately embraced gigging for nearly a decade, but he discovered that it was difficult to sustain and use as a springboard to a stable family life. So with frustration and desire serving as fuel for change, he bid farewell to jazz and stepped into film.
From 1984, when he took a job scouting locations for Desperately Seeking Susan, to 2019, when filming wrapped on Joker, Baratta, who climbed from the position of location manager all the way to executive producer, was ensconced in movies. His work figured into more than 50 films—Donnie Brasco, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Irishman included—and he became a known quantity in the business.
With the exception of a sporadic hit and the rare on-screen cameo, Baratta steered clear of performing. But as fate would have it, his second career pointed him back to his first. While working on Spiderman: Homecoming at Kaufman Astoria Studios in 2016, he was introduced to John Nikach, who was transforming that facility’s commissary basement into a club called The Astor Room. Upon striking up a quick friendship, Baratta scored a gig there, hit the shed and made some new musical connections. And in the blink of an eye he was up on stage, holding his own with the likes of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Marcus Printup, pianist Emmet Cohen and bassist Russell Hall.
Over time, a scene began to develop around Baratta’s steady gigs at The Astor Room—or George’s, as it later came to be renamed—and during the club’s run, which ended with its closure in late May of 2019, jazz regained a serious foothold in the drummer’s life. So much so, in fact, that Baratta left motion pictures behind. Music has become his primary pursuit again, yet, as you can hear on this studio debut, movies still factor into the equation.
With Music in Film: The Reel Deal, Richard Baratta sews together the two halves of his professional life with a little help from his friends. Teaming up with pianist Bill O’Connell, who serves as musical director; saxophonist Vincent Herring, the record’s primary melodist and soulful lead; guitarist Paul Bollenback and bassist Michael Goetz, two close colleagues from The Astor Room years; and percussionist Paul Rossman, Baratta’s cousin and longtime rhythm partner, this savvy drummer explores the nexus between movies and music while girding it with his own history. Essentially a working band, with a gigging history and future plans, these men exhibit real chemistry right from the get-go on a samba-fied “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” O’Connell’s nod to the masking scene in Mrs. Doubtfire, the performance—a perfectly lively gateway to the theme at hand—is propelled by Baratta’s stick work and given over to the charms of Herring’s alto. From there, the band shifts gears with a shuffling rewrite on “Everybody’s Talkin’,” of Midnight Cowboy fame, and a beautifully direct interpretation of “Alfie,” a ballad which benefits from Herring’s heart. The oldest song in the mix, Euphemia Allen’s “Chopsticks,” is also the first to reference Baratta’s film career. Having worked on Big, he couldn’t let the opportunity pass to pay homage to the Tom Hanks-Robert Loggia piano dance. O’Connell, penning a killer Latin arrangement—“Conjunto Baratta,” as he jokingly refers to his creation—delivers with montuno machinations and flair. Moving on, Baratta and company branch out in numerous directions. “Theme from ‘The Godfather,’” opening on Bollenback’s engrossing Sicilian suggestions, waltzes along with energy. “Seasons of Love” puts guest vocalist Carroll Scott at center stage for a lights-are-low take on Rent’s most beloved song. “Come Together” winks at Baratta’s work on Across the Universe and adds some funk and New Orleans grime-and-groove to the music. And “If I Only Had a Brain” coolly swings while inserting a metric wrinkle with a brief detour into 3/4. The final third of the album proves no less appealing and diverse than what precedes it. “Theme from Peter Gunn,” the band’s lone look toward television, is shaped into an up-tempo swinger with post-bop panache. A haunting, reharmonized “Maria” explores Stygian shades. “The Sound of Music,” proving buoyant, is packaged in an arrangement that O’Connell penned for an erstwhile employer—the late Jon Lucien. And a sunny “Let the River Run,” reborn in seven, closes things out while acknowledging Baratta’s work on Working Girl. It remains to be seen whether this album will spawn a sequel, à la movie success stories, or simply exist as a stand-alone statement. But Baratta, who recognizes it could go either way, is simply thrilled to be back in the swing of things and really looking forward to seeing the band play on. “Being away as long as I’ve been away, and then to be in the fold with some of these musicians I’ve been playing with, I’m like a kid in a candy store right now,” he shares. “It’s wonderful for me, so I just want to keep it going. That’s all.”
THE MUSIC / SONGS
JAZZ WEEKLY REVIEW
THE SAXOPHONE SOLOIST ON "ALFIE":
THE ARRANGER OF "CHOPSTICKS" & PRODUCER:
PACKAGING & ARTWORK:
JILL CLIFFER BARATTA
BEHIND THE SCENES OF RECORDING "ALFIE"
©2018 by Richard Baratta. Proudly created by Juliana.