Jeremy Levy and Scott Yoho at the 2012 NAMM Show
After receiving a master’s degree from the University of Miami in Studio Jazz Writing in 2004, Jeremy Levy headed to Los Angeles with the goal of bringing his music to a wider audience. Since then he has worked in nearly every medium, including film, television, and video games. Recent examples of each include Tower Heist, The Event, No Ordinary Family, Battlestar Gallactica, Batman: Arkham City, Infamous 2, and God of War 3. He has also provided arranging and music preparation services on everything from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, to American Idol.
Since 2007, Levy has co-led the Budman/Levy Orchestra alongside saxophonist Alex Budman and a host of first-call LA session musicians. On April 17, their first album, “From There to Here” is being released on Origin/OA2 records. I recently spoke to Jeremy about the CD release, his career, and his use of Finale.
SY: What brought you to LA, what were your goals?
JL: Like all composers moving to LA, I was hoping to get into the film world. I’ve subsequently put most of my effort getting into film orchestration, because that seemed like the best fit as I’m mostly from a strict notation background. Seeing as piano is not my primary instrument, I’ve always preferred the digital pen and paper way – like Finale – over using DAW software. I’ve always written in that fashion for full orchestra or big band or large ensemble, where you’re dealing with all the minutiae, which I’ve always really enjoyed. Originally, I did more session work as a trombonist too, but I’ve had to pare that down in favor of my writing.
SY: How does it work co-leading the group? Do you each assume separate roles?
JL: Originally we were both composing, but the way it’s gone he’s done more studio and touring work, and I’ve done more composing/arranging/orchestration since then. So I’ve sort of taken over the writing side of the band.
The way it’s going to work out is the way it is on the record. As composer, I create the internal musical voice for the band, and as the artist, Alex brings it to life. Like if you look at some of those Michael Brecker records where he had Pat Metheny playing. Pat already has his own distinct musical voice (and is a huge influence on my writing), but Brecker would bring something wholly unique to his tunes. That’s what we did on this record. There are 11 tunes, 9 are originals, two are arrangements. I wrote all the music, and Alex is featured on almost everything.
SY: Let’s talk about the recording. The sound of “From There to Here” is decidedly up-to-date. What or who inspired the sound you were going for?
JL: Musically, I think of it as somewhat along the lines of Maria Schneider, that kind of contemporary jazz orchestra type of thing. I have a diverse musical background, and it all comes to play into this. I’m interested in rock and pop production, and I love all the great fusion records from the 70s and 80s. We also do an arrangement of a song from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, to further keep things fresh. I’m definitely coming from a less pure jazz point of view than from the Blue Note era.
SY: This is a modern recording, and you went to great lengths to craft the sound.
JL: We approached this project sort of like a film session. The rhythm tracks were recorded separately from the band. Then we recorded the ensemble sections in a larger studio, and later solos, string quartet, and percussion, so the production was more like a pop or rock record. We were going for a much tighter, produced sound.
We were aiming for a modern big band sound, especially in the mixing. We hired Alex’s good friend, Steve Baughman, to mix the record. He has mixed records for lots of best selling hip-hop artists, like 50 Cent and The Game. He got us sounding very modern and not entirely like a traditional big band record, which I think is a good thing.
SY: Tell me about Finale’s role in the process.
JL: Every single tune, every single note, every single part was written in Finale. This would be impossible for me to accomplish without Finale.
SY: Is your creative process to sketch on paper first?
JL: That’s kind of come and gone over the years. Now I tend to have a template open and put sketches right into Finale. I pretty much start at point A and go to the end. Sometimes I might sketch out the whole arrangement, then go back and fill in the orchestration, but most often I’ll write the whole thing, full orchestrated, from beginning to end, over two or three days or sometimes faster. I’m pretty quick. I tend to think in more full-fledged ideas.
SY: I imagine some of this is the result of the discipline you’d had to acquire through your professional work, doing weekly TV shows, and other projects with crazy deadlines.
JL: Yeah, I’m definitely pretty fast entering notes and moving music around using QuicKeys to program all my shortcuts and keystroke combinations. Tim Davies (Hollywood orchestrator/conductor), whom I’ve been working with for quite awhile, really helped get my chops up. I consider him a Finale guru.
SY: What are some of your favorite Finale productivity tools?
JL: I like Jari Williamson’s new Explode plug in, I’ve been using that a lot. (http://www.finaletips.nu) When doing parts I use the TG Tools Modify>Transfer—it’s one that I couldn’t really live without. (http://www.tgtools.de)
SY: I haven’t used Jari’s new Explode plug-in, what is it that you like about it?
JL: The biggest difference is that it automatically explodes down from the top staff of whatever is selected, instead of having to manually click a destination choice. Getting rid of that extra step really speeds things up. Jari also created a plug-in called “Rhythm Copy,” which has been incredibly useful for quickly changing rhythms without changing the pitches.
SY: You were kind enough to share notation examples from two tunes (“From There to Here” score and piano part and “It’s Like That” score and tenor sax 1 part). Soundcloud links to audio of each piece appears at the bottom of this post. Can you tell me a little about each peice?
JL: The title track “From There to Here” features pianist Andy Langham on melodica, while on “It’s Like That” we really dug into the pop production. I think we used 3 different types of guitars over five or six separate tracks of overdubs.
SY: Nice looking parts!
JL: I always aim for my parts be that classic LA session look, generally four bars to a line, easily laid-out page turns, so all my parts are always 5-7 pages. It’s always that compromise between page turns and legibility. I find players really respond well to nicely prepared music that is easy to read down.
SY: In addition to your personal website and the group website, you also have an online shop for your music, including your charts, at http://jlevymusic.myshopify.com/. Got any tips for others trying to sell their scores and parts?
JL: I’m selling recordings and charts through Shopify, which is sort of an online shop template/host. You pay a monthly hosting fee, and they deal with everything else. You just enter your products, tweak their slick looking templates, and it’s all set up. I use a plug-in called Fetch for digital content like pdfs and mp3s. When someone buys a CD, I get an automated text message telling me the PayPal payment was received, along with the buyer’s shipping address. Then, I just have to head over to the post office.
SY: What are your goals for the CD?
JL: In general, I’m looking to get some more national exposure for my writing, to get more commissions and arranging work. I’d like to be doing more production and arranging on rock/poprecords. My friend Chris Walden is a great example of the kind of work I would like to further pursue. I’m currently helping Chris with arrangements on a new record for Matthew Morrison of Glee fame, being produced by Phil Ramone. By the way, Chris is another fellow Finale user!
The CD release show for “From There to Here” is happening in Studio City, CA on May 1, 2012. Check out the show and share your subsequent review by clicking on “Comments” below.