1) We’re excited to spend some time today with celebrated singer, arranger, composer and guitarist extraordinaire Geoff Muldaur; welcome to our humble abode, Geoff! Before we dive down the proverbial rabbit hole together, how has your 2022 been treating you?
I feel like a groundhog peeking out of his hole. Life is starting to move again. I’ve traveled a bit, done some bird watching, fired up my guitar, done some composing and I’ve made it back to Amsterdam for a couple of weeks. So far, 2022 has been a very good year indeed.
2.) We’d like to congratulate you on the upcoming release of your packed to the brim 2 LP box set entitled His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project) which is due on July 15! To say that this was a massive undertaking for you might well be the understatement of the year! What was the genesis of this jaw-dropping beauty of a box set?
The genesis for most of my projects is a welling up of musical dreams, and the Amsterdam Project – His Last Letter – is a good example of that. I’d been writing chamber music for a while, rehearsing small ensembles, testing new material at select gigs… and it got to the point where I needed to commit to recording. I chose Amsterdam for the recording because I wanted to get gone… get out of the way… just me, my music and highly refined and accomplished European musicians. We spoke different musical languages, and over the ten years it took to complete the project, the players, to a significant extent, learned my musical language and I learned theirs. Watch a behind-the-scenes video, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSDAHSsq79k
3.) His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project) is a real cocktail of different genres of music which you explore quite deftly. Can you walk us through some of your specific inspirations for His Last Letter and how each of those inspirations has informed you as a musician and as a person?
Sure. I grew up during the final decades of the golden age of American music. As a kid in the suburbs of NYC, there were influences all around me… the jazz and blues records in my home, the influx of southern regional R&B, gospel-based doo-wop, my church choir, dixieland, etc. My home life left something to be desired, so in a sense, I was raised by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, The Moonglows, Danny and the Juniors, Jimmy Reed and on and on… a soulful parallel universe.
Ever since contributing to the arrangements of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the sixties, I’ve been an impressionist… not a classicist. We’d take a song we loved, and if we thought we could “mess it up” a little then we’d go to town on it. A few different chords… different textures… fresh new musical twists and turns. And this brings me to His Last Letter… same deal. But in the case of this effort, as I got further into the project, I decided to shed the restraints of arrangement and leap into composition… plumbing my own reaches… culminating with the “Octet in Three Movements.”
4.) Did you know right off the bat that His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project) was going to be more than a traditional one disc release?
No. I like what E.L. Doctorow said about Moby Dick. To paraphrase, he imagined that Melville got about 110 pages into writing the story and said to himself, “O my God, we haven’t left the dock yet!” One begins to write and the story – or in my case the musical project – begins to lead the way. I rarely engage in conceptual projects – Private Astronomy being one exception – but in general, by the time I’m finished, I’m finished. One might imagine or attach a concept after the fact, but I’m onto the next dream.. Pre-order the boxed set here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/his-last-letter-geoff-muldaur/37465772?ean=9789492961471
5.) Who was your producer on His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project) and what did that collaboration look like in the studio?
The producer for His Last Letter was Gert-Jan Blom. Gert-Jan is a seasoned producer with the Metropole Jazz Orchestra in the Netherlands and, as such, is familiar with many of the finest players and singers in the country. These connections were key to the high quality of our ensembles. He’s also an accomplished bassist, band leader and recording artist. I trust him. We worked beautifully in the studio… Gert-Jan, mostly with the engineers, and me with the musicians… although he was helpful with them as well (remember, they all spoke Dutch). When we had a disagreement (not often), you might as well have flipped a coin to find out who would win the day. This cat knew his stuff. A producer/artist relationship of this sort is gold.
6.) Is it even remotely fair to ask you if you have a favorite tune among all of the brilliant music which encompasses this epic box set?
It’s a fair question, but I can’t answer it. When I listen to the recordings – which I’m likely to do from time to time until the next project begins – I listen with a variety of criteria: Was the performance up to my expectations? Do things sound fresh after time and a few listenings? Did I accomplish something technically that I find satisfying? Did my musical bread crumbs get noticed by hip friends? Can I let go of the minutia that bother me and – as I remind myself – no one else will ever notice? This goes on for a while… and then I move on.
7.) How difficult of a process was it to choose which evergreen pieces of music you were going to interpret for His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project)?
The American songbag is so jam-packed that the process is pretty easy. There are tunes that I’ve had marinating for years… like “Black Horse Blues” and then there are tunes, like “The Jitterbug Waltz” that came to mind during the recording process and begged to be rendered. This, due to the sound and artistry of the musicians. Once the ensemble gels, and one gets familiar with the strengths of each player, one starts to write less generically, more inspired by the individual players.
8.) Who are some of the talented musicians that lent their musical prowess to the new box set?
I doubt your readers would recognize the names of any of these fine European musicians, but… to name a few:
The Starting Five:
Margreet Bongers, bassoon. Margreet is the principal bassoonist with the Netherlands Philharmonic. She is also engaged as soloist with other orchestras and renowned for her baroque and classical style. The principal bassoonist in the LA Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Munday – with whom I’ve worked – studied classical bassoon with Margreet (that’s a hell of a way to go for lessons, but she’s that good)
Hans Colbers, clarinet. Hans has been 1st clarinet with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. He is also soloist with the Hague Philharmonic and professor of clarinet at the Conservatorium of Amsterdam.
Wouter Brouwer, French horn. As a young man, Wouter was the solo horn with the Radio Symphony Orchestra. He is now principal horn with The Netherlands Phil and The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra.
Alida Schat, 1st violin. Until recently, Alida was concertmaster of the Metropole Jazz Orchestra. She has performed with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe… and a regular player with string quartets, including the Faro Quartet and the Narratio Quartet.
Mick Stirling, cello. Britisher, Mick Stirling studied with Lawrence Lesser at the New England Conservatory. He was later cellist with the German Ensemble Moderne in Frankfurt and part of the Raphael Ensemble. He has also performed as guest principal with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony and Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
… and our wonderful vocalist:
Lady Claron McFadden, mezzo-soprano. Claron – if I may call the Lady that – studied at the Eastman School of music in Rochester, NY. She debuted in the title role of Lulu under the baton of Sir Anthony Davis. Other performances have been with The Netherlands Opera, Salzburg Festival, Aix-en-Provence Festival, La Monnale, the Royal Opera and many more. She is a regular guest with the BBC Proms and has performed with the Nash Ensemble and the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw. Claron has for many years been a resident of The Netherlands and was knighted April 24th 2020.
9.) Whose idea was it to include the 40 page book within the box set? It made this onetime box set-aholic nostalgic, that’s for sure!
Ha! Well, we finished recording in January 2020 and then Covid hit. Gigs stopped, as did any idea of recording anything new. I was in irons… as the hale and hardy tar might say. I started writing His Last letter album notes and, having little else to do, got carried away to my eventual pleasure. I had no idea the events in my life were worth recounting in this way until I got rolling… and after a while I looked at what I was doing and thought… “Lucky man… right place, right time.”
10.) What do you hope fans walk away feeling after listening to and absorbing His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project)?
Of course I would hope that the listener enjoys the music on a subjective level… with the heart. But I would also hope that the listener would say to themselves what Bob Neuwirth said to me when he was urging me to restart my music career in 1997 (I had stopped performing in 1984 and was working in Detroit in the steel business)… “Do you know anyone else out there who sounds like you?” I couldn’t say I did… so, armed with that admission, Bob then convinced me to drop what I was doing and join him for a tour of Italy. I got hooked… and I haven’t looked back.
11.) On the heels of the release of His Last Letter, what do your touring plans look like? Can fans look forward to seeing you on the road this summer?
Nope. Still too much Covid out there. I’ll do a few small dates to stay in shape… at least that’s my plan, but I’m starting a recording project in NYC. Time to bring my ideas to the Big City… (Geoff Muldaur reunites with Jim Kweskin for an evening of music at Club Passim in Cambridge, on July 8th. Tickets are available now: https://www.passim.org/live-music/events/jim-kweskin-geoff-muldaur/ )
12.) What makes Moon River Music the perfect home for you as an artist and for His Last Letter?
Nothing is perfect Young Man, but I must say my relationship with John Weijers and Moon River Music is pretty close to perfect. It’s not the music club it’s the club manager; it’s not the label it’s the label president; it’s not the radio station, it’s the DJ. Well, you get the idea. Life is a “String of Hearts.” (Bobby Charles). “Go where the love is,” (Geoff Muldaur)
13.) As a songwriter, which comes first for you – The lyrics or the music?
As you know, I’m primarily a singer, arranger, composer, guitarist. I’ve written a few “songs” but as my experience at that craft is limited I can’t really say much on the subject.
14.) Any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with on His Last Letter (The Amsterdam Project)?
No, just a thank you for your interest… and my apologies for ending this to make breakfast.
Please visit https://www.geoffmuldaur.com