ABOUT BACH FUGUE IN G MINOR: THE SESSION
When he’d come home from a long day “slaving over a hot guitar,” George Barnes would cleanse his musical palate with Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Respighi, Ravel, Moussorsky, Tchaikovsky, Wagner — and Bach. It was the Bach Fugue in G Minor, played by organist Virgil Fox under the baton of Eugene Ormandy that inspired him to explore its joy (a hallmark of George’s playing) and complexity (a reflection of his musical genius) in the context of his Jazz Renaissance Quintet.
The six men who participated in this recording — all close friends, masters of their art, and highly-respected in the New York studio scene — were guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, clarinetist Hank D’Amico (who honed his craft with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, among others), bassist Jack Lesberg (well-known for his work with Louis Armstrong, but just as much at home under the baton of Leonard Bernstein), and drummer Cliff Leeman (invaluable to such diverse bandleaders as Glenn Miller and Raymond Scott, and a key member of The World’s Greatest Jazz Band). The original session, which took place on 25 February 1962 at A&R Recording, was recorded and remixed by engineer Phil Ramone, who began as a classically-trained violinist and became the world-renowned producer of such iconic recording artists as Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.
Barnes' early discography is delightfully eclectic: five years after his 1952 Decca release, GUITARS, BY GEORGE!, he recorded GUITAR IN VELVET (in which he revisited his famed Chicago Octet radio performances) and COUNTRY JAZZ, still heralded as an innovation of musical convergence. Two years later, Barnes signed with Mercury Records, where he recorded three albums. In GUITAR GALAXIES and GUITARS GALORE, Barnes wrote sublime arrangements for his 10-guitar “choir”; the third album, MOVIN’ EASY, was a collection of standards and intricate Barnes originals recorded with the Jazz Renaissance Quintet. It was during those sessions that Barnes proposed the idea of recording an album of classical jazz with the quintet. After hearing Barnes’ Bach Fugue demo, Mercury loved the music, but deemed the project too esoteric, and the recording was shelved. The only remaining material from the one-day session were two acetate discs — reference lacquers created in 1962 (the mono edit) and 1972 (the outtakes and full unedited performance in stereo). The discs, intended only for limited use, had been played many times over the years. In this digitally remastered recording, most of the considerable damage to the discs has been removed, while preserving the dynamics of the music and the voices of the participants.
The inclusion of the musicians’ conversations between “takes” affords the listener a rare opportunity to join the players in the unique creative process that occurs in the rarefied environment of a recording studio.
A recording studio is
Six men in one room in one day.
This is the chemistry of creation.
This is how it sounds in the center of the core.
This is counterpoint in full swing.
These are world-class musicians
with the world on a string.
These are best friends and masters of their craft,
skilled, impassioned, connected, inspired
and wired for perfection.
From the ears through the brain to the hand to the page to the eyes through the breath and the fingers and out into the air.
This is the essence of collaboration,
amplified, electrified, captured and balanced
on mylar and acetate.
This is classical jazz, rarefied.
This is the state of the art, sanctified.
This is commitment to excellence, nothing less.
This is conception, gestation, birth.
And this is everlasting.
There are no shortcuts to immortality.
This is the shorthand of genius.
If you listen very closely,
you’ll hear Bach smile.