michael shirtz | BLUE SKIES
BLUE SKIES | The Album
After returning to performing in 2014 and slowly rolling back onto the scene, OCM announced that Shirtz would begin a series of three albums last fall. The first is the album BLUE SKIES which highlights songs from the Great American Songbook and selections that had a story or connection with Michael's past. During October 12-15, 2017, the members of the Michael Shirtz Quartet and special guests gathered at Capital's CMC Studio F for recording sessions on BLUE SKIES. Entirely produced by Shirtz with Doug Neel, the album features 12 songs that highlight Michael's unique approach of mixing various styles and genres together to enrich the stories of the songs themselves.
BLUE SKIES | Songs
Our Love Is Here To Stay
The Nearness of You
It's All Right with Me
I've Got You Under My Skin
Cheek to Cheek
My Funny Valentine
Pure Imagination / Imagine
Make Someone Happy / Smile
Always in the Wings
BLUE SKIES | Musicians
Michael Shirtz, vocals & arrangements
Doug Neel, guitar & trombone
Dwight Bailey, electric & acoustic bass
Reggie Jackson, drums
Danny Bauer, piano, keyboards, rhodes
George Michael, alto saxophone
Charles Saenz, trumpet
BLUES SKIES | Production
Doug Neel, Executive Producer
Michael Shirtz, Producer
Tom Forster, Associate Producer
Chad Loughrige, Recording Engineer/Master
BLUES SKIES | Album Concept
Narrative by Michael Shirtz
When we began discussing three various album projects at OCM Productions, I was struck by the opportunity to record BLUE SKIES first. After all, I wanted to record an album since the early 2000s that reflected my interest in Jazz, Swing, and the American Songbook. In looking at the many songs I have performed, arranged, and presented tributes to over the past 25 years, how would I go about selecting the right songs for this first album? I looked to the original album I was to record in 2003 which was to be a combination of jazz standards and my own compositions. But that was then and this is now. I felt more compelled to record songs that have had a profound impact on my life and work. And so, BLUE SKIES is about those songs that have inspired and brought bright sunny days into my life.
The album’s theme track, Blues Skies, was one of the first songs I learned as a kid. It was one of those songs you never forget and it’s message is so clear with a melody that’s so simple - a lesson in both artistry and storytelling that the American Songbook composers, such as Irving Berlin, were genius at creating. The song starts out in minor and ends in major leading us to put our sad or angry thoughts aside so that we can look to bright, happier days. Thats what this album really is about. In a world so chaotic I want people to sit back, take a moment, and think of the things that make them happy and put their dark days behind them and celebrate their Blue Skies. Maybe if our world focused more on Blues Skies and not all the gray clouds, our world would be a little happier!
I grew up watching old movies with my parents that were musicals featuring such entertainers as Gene Kelly, Doris Day, and the incredible Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Their music and dancing inspired a young boy to fall in love with the great sounds of the early American Songbook. Cheek to Cheek is from the movie “Swingtime" which I grew up watching over and over again on an old VHS tape. I wasn’t shy about trying to copy their dances and sing along with them in our living room. The song is a great story of romance and finding that person to dance through life with…I guess it is no surprise that I married a dancer!
What makes the perfect Jazz Standard? The one that never loses it’s appeal and no matter how many times it is performed and recorded - its story is timeless. Drawing from so many influences like Chet Baker, Mel Torme, Miles Davis, Kevin Mahogany, and George Benson, My Funny Valentine is an incredible love song that just needed to be on this album.
Education and teaching surrounds the work that both my wife and I do. After visiting her 1st grade classroom following the devastation of Sandy Hook, these two songs immediately began swirling around in my head while watching the kids. After a while, I put pen to paper and created this arrangement of Pure Imagination & Imagine in celebration of the joy that creativity and imagination brings to this world. These two anthems really ring true and have powerful lessons that have greatly inspired me. I hope that kids everywhere always find joy and never stop their imagination to be those dreamers in the world.
Our Love Is Here To Stay is one of the great Gershwin love songs. I think the lyrics are appropriate for any type of love - romance, friends, family. There has been so much love given to me, this is my way to say thank you and give that love in return. Plus, I think the world needs a little more love these days.
Cole Porter is one of my favorite composers and his music has influenced much of my own compositions. I wanted to take one of my favorite Porter tunes that I use to sing all the time from my early days of sing, and create an arrangement that incorporates my interests in Brubeck, Bach, Monk, and Big Bands. It’s Alright with Me incorporates my love for both swing and classical music as the arrangement twists and turns through a series of styles and tempos.
My wife and I first danced to I’ve Got You Under My Skin and the first song I ever sung to her was the Nearness of You. Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael are two composers from the American Songbook who were brilliant in finding the perfect marriage between words in music. Always a fan of the Sinatra and Jobim recordings, I chose a cool, Latin treatment to I’ve Got You Under My Skin that features a very relaxed, conversational approach to the song. When my wife was living in South Africa she sent me a picture of her in front of this wall that had the lyrics of I’ve Got You Under My Skin which still sits in my office and makes me smile whenever I look at it 11 years later. I love singing and telling the stories that are embedded in ballads. The Nearness of You simply captures the way I feel about my wife for the past 13 years. Someone who has been there through many ups and downs, sickness and health, and is the best friend and encouragement any man could have. I am the most confident and comfortable when she's near me.
Route 66 was the very first song I ever professionally recorded back in 1994 at the age of 15. A favorite of my grandfather’s, we never realized that in the studio I recorded the wrong cities in the lyrics - a little mistake my grandfather jokingly reminded me of frequently. I have always loved the Blues and the vocal stylings of Nat King Cole, so it seemed only fitting that I “correctly” record this tune on the album some twenty plus years later.
Always in the Wings is a tune I wrote with lyricist Marilyn Forster. The tune is a song from the musical we are writing called “Ghost Light.” I put this tune on the album because metaphorically it sums up the last 15 years of my life and like the character in the musical, this album is me breaking through my own doubts and fears and sharing my music with the world.
At the end of the day, I perform music because I want to tell stories that make people think, make them laugh, perhaps help them take a walk down memory lane, or make new memories in the process. No matter how I impact peoples live’s with my work - my goal with them is to get them to smile and just make them happy. We spend a lot of time these days thinking about the negatives in the world, when maybe what we really need is to focus on the very things that make us happy and bring us those “blue skies” in life. Recording this medley of Make Someone Happy & Smile seemed all too appropriate as it reflects my humble goal as a entertainer.
I hope that people listen to this album and find it to be uplifting and joyful. I want people to turn to this music when they are having a bad day, and hopefully find BLUE SKIES when they listen to this album.
Capital CMC Studio F
October 15, 2017