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Going Track by Track – Night & Day (2020) by Jack Phillips

It’s important to understand that the Night & Day album was originally conceived in 2012 as a combination two styles that I really like: blues rock or the blues in general, and also the sounds of jazz standards and particularly New Orleans jazz.

In 2009 I had written “The Old Grey Hat” and I knew that it was going to be on a future album at some point, but I didn’t quite have any idea at that point what to do with it, and it hadn’t been recorded yet. In 2012 I decided that I would record that song and some other songs that I would write in the jazz style and present them together as original jazz standards. I then decided that I would give the whole project a New York City theme, and so as a lead song to this project I sat down in early 2012 and wrote the first track on the album called “I Love New York.”

Before this I had in my archives several songs that Jimmy Russell and I had written which were perfect for this project. The first thing I did was go to Nola Recording Studio in Manhattan (which at the time was located in the top floor penthouse of the Steinway building on West 57th Street), and using Errol Garner’s Steinway, I recorded with Matt Scharfglass on bass and Dave Silliman on drums the basic tracks for “I love New York,” “Ragin’ Down On Me,” “No One’s Home” and “No More Waitin’.” At the time I thought the songs might be fine with a stripped-down sound of simply piano, bass and drum. But at some point, I got the idea that the songs really need a guitar. I had been in touch with legendary guitarist Caleb Quaye at around the same time and eventually put it together in my mind that I would love to have him perform on these songs. I got in touch with Caleb, and he happily agreed to record with me. I flew out to Burbank, California and met him at a studio called the Jungle Room Studios, and in a very short amount of time Caleb laid down all over the guitar work for those four tracks. Those songs were put together very quickly in early 2012.

Turning to the jazz side of my project, the Americans jazz standards originals that I wanted to write, I put pen to paper and wrote a bunch of lyrics by myself which I normally don’t do, but I had ideas in my mind about the kind of things that I wanted to sing about and most of it had to do with New York City and the old fashioned black and white glamorous New York that you’d see in the movies. With some of those lyrics in hand, I got together with Conal Fowkes, a pianist known for performing with Woody Allen. He and I went to a piano room at the Kaufman Music Center and there we created the melody for “I’ve Got Sophistication Too.” I had a basic melody in mind at least for the first line or two of the song, and Conal would play along and help me figure out the chord changes that led to the next melody line and so forth. Conal performed two functions for me: he played jazz which I have no proficiency in whatsoever, and he helped me formulate the melodies for these jazz songs by suggesting chord changes that I would not have come up with myself. I found this extremely helpful. That first song practically wrote itself in a matter of minutes and we decided to meet the following week to work on another song. Meanwhile, Conal had talked to the great Eddy Davis, band leader for Woody Allen about what we were working on. Eddy was a larger-than-life man who loved to compose music and who probably wrote a song every day…. He really loved the idea of what we were doing but he had some advice for me which was simply that I was making a mistake trying to mix my Blues Rock with these beautiful jazz songs that I was coming up with. He thought that I would have two distinct audiences, neither of which would like half of the album. He convinced me that it was in my best interest to create an entire album of original American jazz standards.

With that in mind, I set about writing more lyrics, fleshing out the lyrical content of the album to be created and wanted Eddy to produce it for me. Conal and I continued to collaborate on a few more songs and Eddy also got involved writing melodies for several songs using my lyrics.

Eddy created lead sheets for the musicians for all ten songs that we had written and after one day of rehearsal, we met at Nola and recorded the basic tracks for the entire album. Conal went back to overdub some strings, vibes, and horns, but that album which was released in 2012 called Café Nights in New York was written, recorded, mixed, and mastered within a few weeks. With album artwork the whole project took about two months. This was novel considering that my older material took years to create. Live recording was the way to go.

In 2017 I released the blues rock album of material recorded just prior to Café Nights. Instead of recording more blues material, I added some live recordings of new blues material that has never been recorded in the studio. That album was called Down in the Jungle Room, a reference to where Caleb recorded the guitars.

Last year I decided that I really did want to put together the album I originally intended in 2012. To do so I gathered all the material from Café Nights where I wrote the melody with help from Conal Fowkes and put them together with the studio recordings involving Caleb Quaye from Down in the Jungle Room and the resulting compilation is called Night & Day to represent the two different styles. The album cover is a caricature drawing by Nate Butler showing me in the evening dressed in a tuxedo looking into the mirror and seeing myself as how I might look in the daytime more disheveled and more appropriate for playing Blues Rock. I’m extremely proud of this compilation album. It’s perhaps my best work to date.

As I think about the juxtaposition of these two styles and the marriage of the songs from two different perspectives, I feel as if the blues tracks represent the world that one wishes to break free from, the pressures in life, the relationships gone bad. The jazz songs represent the Emerald City, where relationships blossom, the martinis flow and everyone is fashionable. It’s an album about a journey from where one once lived to finding a home in New York.

Going track by track

“I Love New York” was the first song I wrote for the original two-style concept album I wanted to create in 2012. I knew I was going to have a New York theme and I wanted to have a song about how much I love New York. Lyrically it’s just a simple story about a guy who, like me, has travelled around and finally found a home in New York.

“I’ve Got Sophistication Too” is a jazz song intended to convey that wonderfully sophisticated New York scene that you might see in old black and white movies with images of old New York where martinis flow in the penthouse apartments.

“Ragin’ Down on Me” is a Jimmy Russell lyric about the pressures of life.

“The Old Grey Hat” was written by me with Woody Allen in mind. In two of Woody’s films, he references “the gray hat” or “the gray hat of compromise.” It is referenced in Husbands and Wives and in Shadows and Fog. I wrote the lyric with Woody knowing that he is uncompromising in his artistry; I imagined a time when woody might decide that if he must compromise it’s time to hang it up. So, this is my little tribute to Woody, a true New Yorker.

“No One’s Home” is another Jimmy Russell lyric about giving up on a relationship.

“Let’s Drink to Us” is my jazz song about an old-fashioned romance in Manhattan.

“Take Them to Manhattan” is a song about the world of fashion that you see in Manhattan, my tribute to the fashion industry.

“No More Waitin’” is always a favorite song of mine to play. It is about giving up waiting for a relationship to flourish.

“Down in the Jungle Room” is a fun instrumental that Caleb and I wrote when we had a little extra time at the Jungle Room studio in Burbank. I’m really pleased with how it came out. it’s a lot of fun to listen to and it makes me wish Caleb and I could do more of that together. He was a joy to work with, a man with a mentoring gentle spirit and a real gentleman. I’m proud to call him my friend.

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