By Chuck Reider
I bet that most of you reading this know the Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF) song the above lyric came from and you can sing it! Since we are recording it as a part of EWF recording project I thought I would share a little of the song’s background first. Then introduce you to two of the musicians performing and lastly a quick project update.
September (I knew you knew), was released in 1978 and included in their greatest hits album, volume 1. It is one of their most popular recordings. Leader Maurice White invited songwriter Allee Willis to join him in writing the song. Willis who was an up and coming songwriter was thrilled to be asked. When she walked into the studio and heard the opening guitar riff she hoped that was the song White wanted her collaboration. As Willis remembers “So right from the beginning he was singing, 'Ba-dee-ya, say, do you remember / Ba-dee-ya, dancing in September”. Eventually she asked, 'We are going to change 'ba-dee-ya' to real words, right?" When it became clear that no words were going to replace ba-dee-ya Willis asked “What does ba-dee-ya mean” which White replied “Who cares?”. It was at that point Willis learned one of her greatest songwriting lessons. “Never get the lyric get in the way of the groove.” The burning question. What is the significance of the date 21st of September (fun fact, my birthday) in the opening line? People asked her that all the time, but her honest answer is it sounded the best. White and her tried all the dates, but this one just felt the best. Now you know the rest of the story. Second fun fact, when the time comes, we will be asking all our fans to join in the chorus. Hey, we can all remember ba-dee-ya.
Now let’s meet two of the newest Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO) musicians, keyboardist Angelo Monroy and percussionist David Gervais. Both studied jazz at UNR and the jazz community is thrilled they are sticking around for a while. Monroy was born in Hong Kong to working musicians. Mom sang and dad played the guitar. In 2003 the family decided to move to Las Vegas, but mom and dad decided the night life was too much and got day jobs in the casinos. Monroy started piano lessons at a young age and kept at it long enough that piano became a natural part of his life. He attended the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts where he had lots of opportunities to play in small combos and big bands. Even got to perform with jazz greats Randy Brecker and Jimmy Cobb. Monroy loves and studies music of all kinds, but it was a 2017 trip to New York City jazz scene that inspired him and dedicate himself to this craft. He hadn’t decided on UNR until jazz faculty pianist Adam Benjamin called him and urged to come on up to Reno. Here he has found a home in the Reno music scene and enjoys it’s sense of community. Monroy is studying for his master’s degree and I hope to catch his spring recital. He loves teaching music and plans to stay in town for a while. Fun fact three, his parents got tickets for him to see Earth, Wind, and Fire for his 12th birthday and went backstage to meet and get photos with vocalist Phillip Bailey and bassist Verdine White.
Percussionist David Gervais prefers his nickname Pudge that was bestowed on him as an infant. Though his parents were not musicians he was surrounded by music both at home and at church. At age six he received a drum set and from that day on he has played percussion. He had a few lessons, but decided to focus on playing in bands until he was fifteen when he started his serious study. His dad would take him to student recitals at UNR and it was Aaron Edgecomb’s recital that inspired him to really take the deep dive into music and UNR was a natural choice growing up in Minden. His UNR years were transformative. He says it is hard to pin down exactly what, but it was a combination of being around faculty and gifted student musicians. Faculty showed him the “jazz culture” through studies and how the faculty interacted musically with students off campus. They taught him how to teach himself, push forward and explore the limitless options in music. Since the quarantine he has been diligently practicing and when possible performing with small combos outdoors. Gervais is saving his money to fund an eventual move to New York City to perform and gig with other musicians. He had not really heard of EWF until this project but I can testify he jumped right in listening to and learning how congas and all the percussion instruments help to create the EWF special groove. He is a great complement to Andy Heglund’s drum set grooves.
We are a bit over halfway on our recording project. The rhythm section and saxophones have recorded all their parts and the brass to finish this week. Sounds like it is almost done, but the next step is bringing in the singers and soloists to record their parts. Then mixing, mastering, cd production, artwork. More on that in future articles. Fun fact four, mark September 30th on your calendar and join us in a virtual tour of Tanglewood Studios and hear a bit of what we have recorded. For now, let me leave you with this thought. After the song September is fully recorded I want all our fans to join us (virtually) to sing the chorus. No singing skills needed, just the joyous spirit of Earth, Wind, and Fire.