Roger Neumann and Brad Dechter concocted a thought-provoking program for the ASMAC January 17 luncheon with the Brad Dechter Octet performing a set of five arrangements of George Gershwin’s final composition, “Love is Here to Stay,” with words by Ira Gershwin. According to Roger, the demonstration’s purpose was “to show how different arrangements of the same tune can make one version of a song sound different from another version.” This was a perfect fit for ASMAC, founded in 1938 to advocate for the art and craft of arranging (a difficult task in a town that increasingly thinks anyone with an electronic keyboard is an arranger and orchestrator).
Brad and Roger introduced the big band set by trading stories about their backgrounds like two veteran stand-up comedians, complete with vaudeville barbs, quips, and double entendres. To describe “arranging” is a complicated task; even most veteran arrangers disagree about what it is and how to do it, let alone, describe what it is exactly. Roger told the audience he had thought about writing a book entitled, “Did You Compose It or Just Arrange It?” as one way of approaching the issue. Brad said that he remembered one of his teachers describing an arranging class as a course in “re-composition.” Roger recalled Gerald Wilson’s now famous radio show in which he discussed the difference between arranging and composing, only to conclude “that they are the same and different.” Whatever it is, as Bobby Tucker put it, “Every note is a drop of blood.” Both Roger and Brad said that Bill Holman was their first inspiration for big band composing and arranging; both Roger and Brad had fathers who were professional musicians who showed them the ropes; and both agreed that they learned more about arranging and the music business “on the job” or on the band bus.
Although Brad had asked his parents for a French horn, he ended up playing clarinet and saxophone. He took up jazz arranging as a high school sophomore with veteran arranger and trombonist Henry (Hank) Schooley. He cleverly gave a list of people with names beginning with the letter “J” who influenced him, virtually a “who’s who” of the great talents working in the business in recent decades. He said another influence was music copyist Stan Sheldon, owner of Lifeline Music Publishing who gave him his first big break when he was young.
Roger acknowledged that one of his best teacher was soul singer-pianist Ray Charles, of Ray Charles and the Raelettes who taught him about writing backgrounds for singers and the essential of “trimming the fat,” which he said he” tried not to take personally.” Brad said he learned about how to handle lyrics in arrangements from his jazz-singing wife Maureen who had been scheduled to sing as part of the presentation, but was ill.
The band played the first chart, of “Love Is Here to Stay” arranged by valve trombonist/tenor saxophonist Bob Enevoldsen (1920-2005), with Madeline Vergari Neumann (Roger’s wife) as vocalist. Next they played Roger’s chart, using Roger’s new melody, over the chord changes for “Love Is Here to Stay,” with the original melody concluding the chart that Roger, with tongue–in-cheek, calls “It Will Never Last.”
Next the Octet played a “ballad” arrangement, also by Roger, featuring Brad and Roger on saxophones. Next they played a recording with the same band playing Brad’s arrangement sung by his wife, Maureen Dechter. Finally they played Brad’s arrangement of the same tune featuring trombone and saxophone solos, which Brad described as his attempt “to get as far away from the tune as possible without losing its essence.”
The Octet included nine players (yeah, ok…): Gary Foster, alto sax/flute; Bob Summers, trumpet and flugelhorn; Brad Dechter, baritone saxophone; Bob McChesney, trombone; Kevin Kanner, drums; Michael Lang, piano; Chuck Nenneker, bass; Graham Dechter (Brad’s son), guitar; Roger Neumann, tenor saxophone. A couple of the regular members of the Octet were not available, including Les Benedict (trombone) and Frank Bennett (composer-arranger/drummer).
Brad Dechter is an orchestrator, arranger, composer and saxophonist, who has been a professional musician since 1971 and an active participant of the Hollywood recording industry since 1981. A native of Los Angeles, he grew up in a musical family in which his father, Ted, himself a noted classical and big band trombonist as well as a beloved local music teacher, was his primary influence and teacher. Playing clarinet, saxophone and flute, Brad gained valuable experience performing with symphonies, big bands and various other groups before attending Yale University, where he received his music Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees.
Primarily working in motion pictures, he has orchestrated or arranged all or parts of over 200 feature films including the Academy Award-nominated scores for “The Fugitive,” “The Prince of Tides,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “The Village,” “The Passion of the Christ” and “The First Wives Club.” He has worked on numerous television shows including the series “Moonlighting,” for which he was nominated for two Emmy awards for his arranging work, and “The West Wing,” for which he arranged and orchestrated its Emmy-winning title theme for composer W.G. “Snuffy” Walden.
Brad Dechter’s arrangements and orchestrations are also showcased in numerous albums, including his wife Maureen’s debut album, “Songs of a Mother’s Love,” and those featuring such artists as Barbara Streisand, Elton John, Johnny Mathis, Jack Jones, John Denver, Cy Coleman, Jim Self, McCoy Tyner, Al Jarreau, Placido Domingo and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London. As a saxophonist, he studied with jazz legend George Coleman (of the Miles Davis Quintet fame) and has played with jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Ventura, Bill Holman, Bill Berry and Toshiko Akyoshi.
— Jeannie Pool