About 2 years ago in early 2017, I got a call from Digital Domain, Inc. founder Scott Ross inviting my wife Erica and I to a surprise birthday dinner for his wife Michelle at a restaurant in Hollywood. We all met in Rome 6 years ago through a mutual friend.
There was a table for us all, a gang of about 16 people and as with most of Scott’s productions, it was loaded with creative interesting people. Mark Chait and his partner Vasilis Paddis were two of those people. Mark, I learned, was a concert pianist and film composer based in China and also a representative of Steinway Pianos. By chance we were seated next to each other so got to know each other over dinner.
At one point, as we were singing happy birthday to Michelle, I thought, damn, I should run out to the car and grab a harp and play something for Michelle. So I did. I came back and played an impromptu blues jam for Michelle. At this point, Mark says to me, “Wow, I’m writing a score for a Shanghai, China TV/Movie production and I was thinking of using harmonica. Would you be interested?” Of course, I gave my usual reply, “ Oh, hell yes! “
A few months later in May, Mark and Vasilis, emailed me a guide track and chart. It went something like this:
“Hi Jimmy Z!
Hope all is great in your world.
It took a bit longer than expected but we finally got the green light to go ahead with Mark’s re-arrangement of ‘Moscow Nights’ and we would love to have you play the Harmonica as guided by Mark below.
I have attached the following three Moscow Nights guides and the Side Agreement for you
Mp3 (a): This is the Guide Track – see attached
Instructions: All new tracks with guide vocal line Key: B minor transposes to C Minor where Jimmy comes in at Bar 23.
At Bar 42 (approx. 2 min 58 secs from start) – JIMMY plays lead MELODY line.
PLEASE NOTE: This is his guide track – below is the TRACKS minus the vocal guide which can record over. I want Jimmy to play solo at Bar 23 all the way out.
Mp3 (b): Instrument Tracks – see attached
Instructions: INSTRUMENT TRACKS without Guide Vocal for Jimmy to play over
The track is blank until 43 seconds (where the solo vocals will be acapella) and then its just guitar and vocal until Jimmy comes in at Bar 23. Then he plays the SOLO MELODY at Bar 42 at 2min 58secs in.
Moscow Nights Sheet Music – see attached”
I was informed Moscow Nights is an old Russian drinking song (what isn’t?) usually played very fast.
When I listened to the track, to be honest, I was a bit intimidated. It was this beautifully orchestrated piece with soaring female operatic vocals, delicate piano and accordion. As you can see in the email notes above it flows from B minor to C minor.
Not exactly the blues, rock, funk or country songs I usually record on. The harmonica would be very exposed. No room for error.
And as I was due to leave for Sweden in a week they needed it ASAP. I was tempted to defer and tell them maybe they would be better off with a chromatic harmonica player. Then as I started going through the chart with the guide track and a few minor harps I discovered that this was something maybe I could deliver on.
So I did. I played the melody as they instructed and they loved it but then they wanted me to improvise outside of the melody. So I did. I ended up improvising over the entire vamp.
And things turned out all right. Mark Chait raised my game.
Here is a rough mix mp3 of my harmonica melody and solo over the vamp because you won’t hear much in the final edits:
Here is the full piece:
To top it off, last week I got the word that a reviewer in the UK listed the soundtrack as “one of the Best Scores of 2018!”
I’m honored to be working with an artist of Mark Chait’s stature and massive talent and very proud of my playing on “Moscow Nights.”
Purchase the soundtrack here.