SFJAZZ Collective

These Jazz Heads Flipped Michael Jackson's Songbook On Its Ear

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If you love jazz, then the SFJAZZ Collective is probably top among your bucket list performers. If you don’t jive with jazz, SFJAZZ will make you rethink your position. Based in San Francisco, the group boasts some of the best musicians in the nation and has a knack for reimagining hit songs through an accessible jazz lens. When they visit the Center’s scenic Strauss Square on April 13, they’re bringing a special treat – an entire set of reworked and (literally) jazzed up versions of Michael Jackson songs, with each member creating a tailored arrangement for a particular song.

The Center asked the SFJAZZ Collective to tell us why they included certain songs in their repertoire, which draws from the King of Pop’s massive discography. Here’s what they had to say.

“The Love You Save,” arranged by Robin Eubanks
“I was attracted to ’The Love You Save’ because the opening groove was so strong and I heard some things that I could develop into an arrangement.”

“Blame It On the Boogie,” arranged by Matt Penman with Miguel Zenón
“With this arrangement I decided to pare it down to a duo and trio setting. When Miguel suggested that the full band come in at the end I asked him to write it.”

“Fall Prelude,” by Miguel Zenón
“I wanted to write something more concise, which would serve as a prelude to some of the other pieces we have in the book this season.”

“Cross Currents,” by Robin Eubanks
“I wanted ‘Cross Currents’ to have a feel of turbulence in the intro that eventually coalesces into a shifting 5/4 current, shifting gears into a couple of Afro-Cuban grooves.”

“Gray Skies in Baltimore,” by Warren Wolf
“This song is dedicated to the city of Baltimore and the struggles we faced with the Freddie Gray trial. Also, it contains a small part of ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes.”

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” arranged by David Sánchez
“I chose the song because of the bass line statement – you’re being driven on an incredible journey. My arrangement has Haitian ‘Petro’ and Puerto Rican ‘Bomba’ influences.”

“Franklin & Fell,” by Sean Jones
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of two major jazz ensembles, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the SFJAZZ Collective. I wrote ‘60th and Broadway’ to commemorate my time with J@LC and felt it only appropriate to usher in my tenure with the Collective with its West Coast sonic counterpart.”

“Beauty of Space,” by Edward Simon
“I have long been fascinated with space, both physical and mental. I was trying to convey the sense of being in a large space, like a solitary walker in the desert.”

“Thriller,” arranged by Obed Calvaire
“This arrangement would probably be close to what I would come up with if Michael Jackson asked me to be his musical director.”

“Rock With You,” arranged by Sean Jones
“To me, it describes the fluidity and life in real relationships, and Michael uses the perfect melodic and lyric combinations to depict this eternal truth in music.”

“Smooth Criminal,” arranged by Miguel Zenón
“A lot of MJ’s songs are built in layers: groove, guitar riff, vocals, etc…all kind of stacked up. I had that in mind when I was writing this chart.”

“Mr. Right,” by Matt Penman
“This year the airways were abuzz with news of the Republican Primary, and as much as I tried to block out the media circus I know that some of the noise leaked into my tune.”

“Lineage,” by David Sánchez
“My original is inspired by the way I often feel when I listen to some of MJ’s songs, that music and motion are inextricably linked. ‘Lineage’ studies that connection.”

“150 Million Gold Francs,” by Obed Calvaire
“After gaining its freedom from France in 1804, Haiti was forced to pay 150 million francs to prevent a future invasion. I had this history in mind when I wrote the piece.”

“Human Nature,” arranged by Warren Wolf
“Miles Davis put it on his record “You’re Under Arrest.” After hearing saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s exciting solos with Miles, I decided to do a mashup of Michael Jackson’s voice and Kenny Garrett’s firepower.”

“Why,” by Robin Eubanks
““Why” was composed to express the feeling people have when something unexpected happens in their lives. Hopefully we practice a life philosophy that helps give us an adequate answer.”

“This Place Hotel,” arranged by Edward Simon
“As with most of his music, “This Place Hotel” has a funky groove and a catchy melody. I felt it was important for those elements to stay intact with my arrangement.”

Check out this video of their electrifying take on “Working Day And Night”, our Spotify playlist of these special arrangements next to the Michael Jackson originals, and click here to get your tickets for this unique, dynamic performance of some of pop music’s most loved hits.

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