On a snowy day in March 2017, more than 30 music students and recent graduates — including 21 from MSM – set up their instruments in the sprawling wood-paneled Studio A at Avatar Studios, one of New York City’s most famous recording studios.
This is the room where Bruce Springsteen recorded “Born in the USA,” Madonna “Like a Virgin,” David Bowie “Scary Monsters,” and where dozens of Broadway casts have recorded their albums.
It took trumpeter and MSM Jazz Arts Master’s Degree student (now graduate) Jonathan Dely months of outreach to find the right place for his recording of a full orchestra version of the 1937 jazz standard, “My Funny Valentine.”
The session would be videotaped live by two cameras and recorded by GRAMMY-award-winning sound engineer John Kilgore.
Jonathan Dely warming up in Studio A of Avatar Studios
Jon Snell, a jazz composer, piano player and recent MSM graduate, who arranged this version of “My Funny Valentine” — conducting the 30-piece orchestra, of which 21 are MSM students and recent graduates
“It’s rare to find a studio that can accommodate a full orchestra because very few people are recording with live orchestra today,” explains Dely. “We wanted to capture the richness of a live-off-the-floor sound with a large ensemble and to feature an array of up-and-coming classical and jazz talent.”
“And what an honor to perform an American Standard in a place where so many legends have recorded,” he adds. “You can really feel the presence of musical history here.”
Jonathan Dely and recording engineer John Kilgore listen to the sound check
“My Funny Valentine” was written in 1937 by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the Broadway musical Babes in Arms, and has now been recorded more than 1,300 times by 600 artists including Chet Baker, Chris Botti, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Jonathan’s rendition features his solo trumpet and flugelhorn, along with jazz and classical instrumentation, harmonies, rhythms, and styles.
It was arranged by MSM Jazz Arts Master’s student, jazz pianist and composer, Jon Snell, who graduated this spring alongside Jonathan, and who directed the orchestra in studio.
Along with the 21 MSM students on the project are students and recent alumni from Juilliard, Williams College, and the University of Michigan. The musicians come from the US, France, Estonia, New Zealand and China; more than one third of the orchestra are people of color and about one-third are women.
Studio A at Avatar Studios: Springsteen recorded ‘Born in the USA’ here in 1984
“Our recording of ‘My Funny Valentine’ not only celebrates an American standard through the eyes – and ears – of a diverse group of highly-talented musicians and recent graduates, but it also shows how jazz and classical music can intermingle to create something truly special,” says Jonathan.
“That taste for artistic adventure and the belief that you can inhabit multiple musical rooms simultaneously are among the many core values that were reinforced for us at Manhattan School of Music.”
The orchestra also recorded “Pure Imagination” written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with an arrangement by another MSM student, Steven Feifke, also featuring Jonathan Dely on trumpet.
From left to right: John Kilgore, Steven Feifke, Jon Snell and Jonathan Dely listen to a playback
What makes the project all the more special for Jonathan is the discovery in the final days of production that ‘My Funny Valentine’ composer Richard Rodgers was born less than 20 miles from the recording studio, and that the scheduled release date of June 28th was actually the 115th anniversary of composer Richard Rodgers’ birthday.