Jherek Bischoff

Tribute to The Thin White Duke

February 4, 2016 by Jherek | Comments Off on Tribute to The Thin White Duke

Strung out in Heaven EP

I learned of David Bowie’s passing as I was walking on stage at The Smell in Los Angeles. I was performing with my old band The Dead Science at a benefit for the wife of a friend of the band who had recently passed away. Playing that night was incredibly strange. I could see the news spread through the venue while we played; one side of me found comfort in being with people, playing music, and the other side of me felt like putting down my bass and just giving up. I had never experienced that feeling of resignation before. Music has always been there for me, so that sensation emphasized just how deeply I was affected.

I am not a lifelong Bowie fan. I had only become intimate with his music in the past five years. Recently, I arranged “Life On Mars” for eight tubas to celebrate St. Ann’s Warehouse’s grand reopening. Breaking down that song and really dissecting it gave me an even deeper appreciation for his genius. I love when a song sounds natural on the surface, but when you look closer, you find all these amazing things happening: crazy chord changes, a missing bar here and there – things that, when you sit down to play it, it’s much more complicated than it first seemed. I fell deeper in love.

The day after he passed, Amanda Palmer and I were talking on the phone and kind of jokingly said, “we should do a Bowie string quartet tribute.” As the conversation continued, the joking slowly became plan-making. It just felt right. The thought of digging in to his songs, dissecting each one, and then making my own versions felt like a lovely way for me to honor him. We decided to do an EP strictly with string quartet and voice, and gave ourselves two weeks to get everything done.

It was an insane two weeks! I only had a day to arrange each song. I was literally printing music out five minutes before walking out the door to record the string quartet. I reached out to my friend, Serena McKinney, a fabulous violinist, and she put together one of the best quartets I have ever heard in my life (Serena McKinney on violin, Alyssa Park on violin, Ben Ullery on viola, and Jacob Braun on cello). We recorded in a fantastic studio in LA, and everyone was SO GOOD we finished recording in 3 1/2 hours! The whole thing! So insane!

Recording the string quartet.

Recording the string quartet.

Afterward, I sent the tracks to Amanda who was in Santa Fe, and the next day she recorded her vocals in a studio there. Then, we enlisted the lovely Anna Calvi to duet on “Blackstar,” and she recorded her vocals in a studio in London. I also wanted a solo on that tune, so Anna’s killer guitar playing was the perfect solution. She rocked it! We also got John Cameron Mitchell involved, (HEDWIG!!!) but everything was moving so fast, and we were running out of time and couldn’t get him into a studio, so we had him record vocals in his NY apartment into his cell phone! Everything was sent to me and I had three days to mix and master everything! I have done projects quickly before, but this was some next level quickness.

The EP was funded by Amanda’s marvelous fans who support everything she creates over at Patreon. I want to thank them for making it possible, and all of the wonderful musicians and helpers who took part in its creation. I also want to thank Amanda Palmer for trusting me to take the reigns and arrange these songs however I wanted. It was really fun. Most of all, I want to thank David Bowie for living and breathing his art, and inspiring others to do the same.

I present to you: Strung out in Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute

Album Artwork by Sarah Beetson

Album Artwork by Sarah Beetson

You can stream it over on Pitchfork today. It will also be available tomorrow via Bandcamp/iTunes/Spotify for $1. 54 cents goes to Bowie’s publisher, and the rest of the proceeds from the first month will go to the cancer research center at Tufts Medical Center (in Amanda’s hometown of Boston).

Love to you all, and hope you enjoy.

Happy New Year!

January 10, 2016 by Jherek | Comments Off on Happy New Year!

Swinging by to say Happy New Year and give you a little update!
There are a bunch of really big, great things brewing that I will announce soon, but in the meantime, the new year has started off pretty full on!
Last week, I helped my friend Amanda Palmer record a new tune. The song is called “Machete” and it’s a really epic song about her best friend who passed away last year. She was visiting L.A. for the holidays and mentioned she had a new song ready, so we rented out Studio 3 at legendary EastWest Studios, which was an absolute privilege. This is the room that Pet Sounds was recorded in as well as many other great records and tunes, such as The Mamas and the Papas “California Dreamin” to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. It was a really fun, geeky day.
We put a band together, with Ryan Lerman on guitar, and none other than Ben Folds on drums! No surprise, he is a really good drummer. One of those good-at-everything dudes.

Jherek Bischoff and Ben Folds

Ben and I bonding over our shared love of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Tracking in Studio 3 at EastWest

Tracking in Studio 3 at EastWest

The next day I recorded strings with a few of my friends at The Rattle Room: Crystal Alforque on violin, Lauren Baba on viola and Aniela Marie Perry on cello. I was a bit bleary-eyed because I had to wait until we finished recording the piano, drums, guitar and bass, before I could arrange the strings. So, after being in the studio for 12 hours the first day, I went straight home and arranged until 5 in the morning, then got up a few hours later to head over to the studio again. Here’s a sneak peek:

I am now finishing up the mix and it will be released in February via Amanda’s Patreon, which you can check out and support here, and also read a couple of really sweet blogs Amanda wrote about how the song came together here and here.

It's The Pits! banner

I also wanted to mention that if you are in L.A. next week, I am playing at the La Brea Tar Pits on Friday the 15th as part of 5 Every Day’s event “IT’S THE PITS!” It will be a set of primarily ambient music, accompanied by a string quartet and clarinet, performed amongst a bunch of fossils. How cool is that?! It’s all-ages and free and you can get more info on the Tar Pits website here and on Facebook here.

More soon!

Liaisons, Sondheim and Baseball

November 23, 2015 by Jherek | Comments Off on Liaisons, Sondheim and Baseball

A couple years ago I was approached by virtuosic pianist Anthony De Mare about a wonderful project called Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim From The Piano. Liaisons is a project celebrating the music of Stephen Sondheim. The enthusiasm of Anthony and his team was extremely inspiring, and what started out as a small celebration turned into a project including 36 composers from all corners of the music world.

I recently received the final CD in the mail and it made me really stop in my tracks. As I stared at the cover, at the ECM New Series logo, I realized a full circle moment in my musical history occurred.

Early on in my musical journey I was extremely in to jazz. I was a deep listener of jazz and focused all of my time on trying to become a jazz musician. Many great jazz records have been put out by ECM, and those records greatly influenced my musicianship. But even more specifically, my (very brief) time at college was spent studying jazz, but one day everything changed. I was walking down a hallway and heard the most incredible music I had ever heard. I stopped in my tracks, walked into the classroom, and walked straight up to the teacher who was in the middle of teaching a classroom full of students! I asked in a fevered pitch: “WHAT IS THIS MUSIC?” The music was Arvo Pärt. I had never listened deeply to classical music – it had just never found its way into my life. At that moment, it entered my life like a ton of bricks. It was everything I wanted from music – drama, space, complexity – it was just incredible. I walked straight out of the classroom to the record shop, bought the record, and quit school the very next week. I wanted to focus on music on my own, and find my own footing in this wild new world!

To see my name on the cover of Liasons with the ECM New Series imprint, along with great Jazz composers like Wynton Marsalis, and Classical music greats like Steve Reich, it totally blew my mind.

Beyond all of this, it is so incredible to be part of a project celebrating such a unique and glorious mind like Sondheim’s! As a teen, I was really into baseball and was pretty good at it believe it or not, but I started to get super deep into music when I was cast in a high school production of West Side Story. I started skipping baseball practice to go to musical practice, and realized I was going to have a lot more fun playing music than baseball. In a roundabout way, Sondheim is partly responsible for my quitting baseball (Thank you, Sondheim!). I certainly would never have made a living from baseball, so it was a good move.

So, what seemed in the beginning to simply be a request to write a new arrangement of a song for some music enthusiasts, ended up bringing back and tying together all of these individual moments from my musical history! Thank you Anthony de Mare, Rachel Colbert and, of course, Stephen Sondheim!

By the way, my arrangement was just premiered in NY at Symphony Space, with Sondheim in attendance! It was reviewed in the NY Times.

For more information about the Liaisons project, check out an interview with me and some of the other composers for the project here and buy your own copy here.