The concept of Code Blue originally came from an idea to follow‐up my 2005 CD Phoenix: A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley. That CD debuted on the independent jazz new releases at number one. It continued to do well reaching number 13 on the jazz charts. I attribute this fluke to a very good CD and, based on the reviews and interviews, the whole doctor‐jazz musician thing. Therefore the follow‐up CD would have a bent towards medicine and in particular emergency medicine – which is what I have been practicing for twenty‐four years. Code Blue!, which is what is called out when a patient has a cardiac or respiratory arrest, seemed a good fit to merge emergency medicine with jazz.
Several other classic jazz recordings have played off the word blue in their title. My favorite example is the greatest jazz album of all time, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Originally for my project, I came up with the idea to use all standards with the word blue in their title, yet assemble an eclectic collection of different styles – not just the blues. One of the tunes would be an original and I would incorporate the sounds of a medical resuscitation ‐ that is a code blue. As the years past, the small group idea gave way to using a big band.
I’m no stranger to big bands. Big Band writer/arranger/conductor Matt Catingub and I met in high school playing together in the all‐state honor bands. Matt, who was a protégé jazz writer and alto saxophonist dubbed the Baby Be‐Bopper, organized a big band which I played and recorded with for a number of years after high school before moving on to a medical career. During that same period I was playing with Tom Kubis’ big band and was enrolled in an improvisation class that he was teaching. What can I say about Tom? He is an amazing prolific composer/arranger who has become an icon in the world of modern big band music. These two individuals are two of the best big band arrangers of our time.
After more than twenty years of absence from the music scene, I reunited with these two individuals. First there was a Tom Kubis Big Band reunion concert in 2009 using the musicians from the late 1970s big band organized by New York valve trombonist Mike Fahn. Then in the spring of 2013 I reunited with my dear old friend Matt Catingub for a Phoenix Symphony performance. Both performances reignited my love for public performance. The Phoenix Symphony performance was transforming.
Matt Catingub essentially made me the co‐featured artist at the Phoenix Symphony concert. Although unqualified, he put me in front of my home town in a big way. Not only did I have numerous solo features, he also recapped the story which I call the Original Code Blue. That story involved a Phoenix outdoor jazz festival in the late 1980s during medical school where I was traveling from LA to Phoenix to play with the Louis Bellson Big Band. In fact, I was subbing for Matt on lead alto. During our performance of the first tune (Don Menza’s Groove Blues), the scaffolding holding the massive speakers toppled over on top of the audience during a summer monsoon wind gust. There were so many victims that all I could do was triage based on severity of symptoms until the paramedics arrived. I did have one patient under CPR that later died of her crushed pelvis but all others survived. While this was going on, my sister Amy who lived in the Phoenix area, started an eerie audience chant “musician physician, musician physician, musician physician…”
The point in telling that story is that when Matt brought it up again to the audience, I knew it was time to move forward with the Code Blue project. The audience loved it! The musician‐physician’s time was now. I decided to hire both Matt Catingub and Tom Kubis to do half the arrangements each. When I made the decision to do a big band album, Gil Evans’ New Bottle Old Wine became my standard to reach. That LP included some of the best jazz musicians of the time (1958) including featured soloist alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball Adderley”. The selection of tunes reflected the popular styles of that time. I gave up the original idea doing all tunes with the word blue in the title, but was committed to the idea that Code Blue must tell a story and incorporate a real resuscitation or code blue.
Of course I dug into my Cannonball Adderley data base for more ideas. Since I have transcribed more of his solos than anyone else on our planet (currently 12 volumes), it only seems fitting that Cannon’s influence would color this project. On the other hand, I didn’t want this to be another dedication album as was my first CD. I selected several not well known Cannonball tunes or tunes not expected to be played by a big band. Two of those tunes would incorporate some of the best Cannonball Adderley solos I have ever heard. Because Matt and I had done an unknown “Supersax‐like” project using Cannonball solos back around 1985, I asked him to do these two arrangements. The two tunes are The Way You Look Tonight from a radio broadcast jam session in 1958 and Poor Butterfly from a BBC TV broadcast in 1964. These arrangements display some of the most technical saxophone music ever written for big band.
Matt also did the arrangement of the seldom heard Cannonball tune Introduction to a Samba, but we refrained from further arranged solos here. The tune I dedicate to Cannonball is the lovely Charles Lloyd ballad Song My Lady Sings never before arranged for a big band. Matt employs the doubling skills of the talented woodwind section. The tune Patty’s Bossa is my original which I wrote for my girlfriend in high school who is now my wife of 33 years. Matt and I did record it as a quartet in a never‐released CD in 1984, but this big band arrangement makes it drip with sloppy teenage love.
The last tune Matt arranged is a version of Bobby Timmon’s This Here. This was a signature tune for the Cannonball Adderley Quintet of the 1960s. Because of the way the tune was introduced, it was popularly renamed Dis Here. This name became such an icon for Cannonball Adderley that it was the title of a book written by the legendary jazz historian Chris Sheridan: Dis Here: A Bio‐Discography of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (2000 Greenwood Press). Naturally I have participated in the data collection and revisions of that book. During the recording session for this project I received an email from a family member that Chris Sheridan had suddenly died at home in England. What more fitting tribute to him than recording Dis Here for this CD? I therefore have dedicated this recording to him and his love and admiration for Cannonball Adderley.
Tom Kubis says he never really understood why I left the music business for a career in medicine. While planning for this project though, he received a supernatural explanation that he said he really didn’t want. During what should have been a routine hospital admission for diverticulitis, the doctors discovered a mass on Tom’s left kidney. Tom is self‐declared medically ignorant, so he turned to me for advice and answers to his family’s questions. He had insurance with a popular HMO (which I used to work for) but was concerned about the complexity of his management. I therefore had his case evaluated at the Mayo Clinic where I currently work, but his treatment would not be covered by his insurance. I came up with an idea to combine this CD project with his treatment plan. I began organizing a benefit concert using this band and tunes he and Matt were arranging in order to raise the funds. There are so many people that love and respect Tom so I was certain this would be a success. Tom though, being a humble man, said he couldn’t take the money. The concert was cancelled at his request. I did continue to work with his doctors and really felt his HMO could provide him with good care. He went ahead with his doctors. His surgery was a success ‐ and he didn’t have to sell his house to pay for it! Tom told me he now knew why I left the music business to become a physician – so I could take care of him. What a sweet thing to say!
Now while all this was going on, Tom was supposed to be writing for my CD. In particular, he was to write and arrange with me The Code Blue Suite which was obviously the most important task. This would be a suite of four movements that represent different stages of our life and would include the title track for the CD. The third movement – The Last Breath Blues ‐ would be the code blue using just a quartet so I had that covered. He completed the first movement and called it Code Pink. He was intrigued by Hal Galper’s Snakin’ the Grass and completed a Brecker Brothers version of that tune. There was apparently some miscommunication and he arranged the show‐stopper tune Bohemia after Dark to include Cannonball’s solo arranged for five saxes just as Matt had done. It was so good we just had to use it. The only question was, “Could a sax section play it?” In addition, he transcribed and then arranged Nat Adderley’s cornet solo for the trumpet section on his arrangement of The Sticks!
For a ballad, we pay tribute to Bud Shank who the jazz community lost in 2009. I admired him so much. I used to go see him with the LA 4 in high school. More so, he wrote and played the music on Bruce Brown’s old surf movies. I still watch those surf flicks over and over today while listening to him jam as the surfers hit Wiamea and Sunset Beach. Homage to Bud Shank is a Tom Kubis original to honor him with my alto.
I felt bad that I had burdened Tom now with the task of completing the Code Blue Suite while he was recovering from surgery. I therefore did what anybody else would do in this situation and completed it myself. I shared the MIDI version with my wife and she insisted I send it to Tom to critique it. I had never written a big band chart before so I listened to her and sent it on to Tom. The next thing I know he sends me Ironman Blues – But Seriously, Dig Me Man! (Code Blue 2) and then the amazing Code Jesus – New Life (Code Blue 4). The only thing I can figure was he heard how horrible my chart was and out of sympathy he mustered up the energy to write these while he was recovering from surgery in order to protect the project from certain doom. He of course denies this, but won’t comment on my “arrangements.” I actually think his cancer and surgery empowered him to compose and arrange my tunes in such a powerful way that it is unexplained. He is living the Code Blue Suite.
The Code Blue Suite
Here are excerpts from my instructions to Tom:
1st Movement Code Pink – Born to See Blues
Just like Cannonball’s music, this needs to be fun and happy‐go‐lucky. I’m thinking of a feel like the tune “Sticks” that I sent you or “Sack ‘O Woe”. Perhaps a waltz or is that too child‐like? On the other hand, a quote of “A Child Is Born” or “Conception” might fit. I’m thinking of surfing, fast cars, chasing girls, and other teenage kind of stuff ‐ rather than nursery rhymes. Stay happy and don’t get too blue as this needs to progress towards the cardiac arrest.
2nd Movement Ironman Blues – But Seriously, Dig Me Man!
Las Vegas (Frank Sinatra ‐ Sammy Davis Jr) big band stuff here. Lots of sinful indulgences are revealed. Heavy and stressful feelings. This tune prepares us with alcohol, high cholesterol, sex, and cigarettes for the next movement where I try to convey the emotions and sensations of a cardiac arrest.
3rd Movement The Last Breath Blues – All Alone Now
Bird would like the name. Rhythm section, code track, and alto only. I recorded the sound samples in the ER at work. I made an amateur video of this movement to try to convey my message.
- Code Blue 2 ends with alto fills over last chord
- A capella alto intro to Code Blue 3 The Last Breath Blues
- Motif statement by alto with heartbeat at 74 bpm (half note)
- Add cardiac monitor beep in G at bar 8 lining up with the second part of the “lub-dub” sound
- Add funky electric bass at bar 17
- Add funky drums at bar 25
- Add Rhodes at bar 33
- Add a few more 8 bar phrases while sax develops towards an avant garde solo
- Superimpose the thought of Cannonball while running from a bright light that seems to want totake me away
- Rhythm building, increasingly chaotic – then a sudden grand pause
- Human heart sound continues accelerated at 120 bpm with cardiac monitor for about 2 bars
- Monitor has a few erratic beats then about 3 seconds of complete silence
- Sustained cardiac monitor alarm for about 5 seconds identifying the cardiac arrest
- Moog synthesizer mysteriously chimes in
- Overhead emergency page, “Code Blue room 350, Code Blue room 350, Code Blue room 350″steadily fades out from start to end
- Visceral groan sound over Moog synthesizer which fades out quickly
- Complete silence except for a series of 3 defibrillator shocks
- Heart beat resumes at 85 for two bars (half tempo of next tune 170)
- Add cardiac monitor beep in the key of C at third bar to set up for the next tune
- Gasping breath sounds
- Build cardiac monitor chord every 4 bars, adding the 5th then the #9
- Big band hits the last chord on a C7(#9)
- Segue into Code Blue 3 Code Jesus in the key of C
4th Movement Code Jesus – New Life!
I’m hoping here that the listener feel the “re‐birth” of this second chance at life along with the patient (and band). It has to just be dripping with soul. A Baptist gospel‐like celebration! A return to the sweetness of life: Jesus Loves Me This I Know, Amazing Grace, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, and Walk Tall ‐ all that sort of stuff.
Whether I achieved my artistic end or not, The Code Blue Suite represents my own path through life. Although I didn’t actually have a cardiac arrest, I did come to a point in my life where I decided to lose my life in order to have a new eternal life. It became particularly meaningful as I lost my dad on January 6, 2014. I was his caregiver for the last five days of his life. He always supported my music so I put headphones on him so he could listen to the Code Blue Suite just before he died. He was in a coma, but he began grinning as he listened.
The Big Band Resuscitation
Choosing the members of the big band was easy. I would ask those whom I had played with in the 1970s who were still on the scene. It would include several members who played (for free) at my wedding in 1981. I informally called the group Resuscitation as I felt like we brought an association back to life.
The sax section was easy. Dan Higgins was like a mentor to me and an inspiration for doubling. We share a common love of Cannonball Adderley’s playing. Bill Liston and I used to just hang out and play when we were kids. Greg Huckins seemed to play on any gig I was on. I would have loved to have Bill Green, but unfortunately he passed away. Bill and Greg played in my wedding big band. The second tenor was supposed to be the protégé Lucas Pino who played on my 2005 CD Phoenix, but he got a very well paying world tour just before the sessions. Everyone in the section agreed that Rusty Higgins was the guy for that chair.
The trumpet section includes two of my favorite jazz players Ron Stout and Jeff Bunnell. Ron played at my wedding. I can’t even remember how many jazz gigs we did together as kids. Another member I met when he was just beginning to blossom and now has become the first call lead trumpet in LA – Wayne Bergeron. What can I say about Wayne? He requested Dan Fornero to be the fourth member.
Of course on trombone I had to have Scott Kyle. Scott and I have very similar life paths and our families have remained close all these years. Andy Martin, whom I consider one of the best jazz trombonists of the day, would play lead for me. Andy and I, as well as his two brothers, had played quite a few jobs together in our early years. His articulation and phrasing is something I’ve always admired. Alex Isles and Bill Reichenbach sat behind me on many a big band gig. I also got to know a lot of the brass players as they visited my brother’s repair shop (Robb Stewart Brass Instruments) to get their horns repaired or customized.
Originally Matt Catingub and Tom Kubis were to play piano on their own arrangements, but Matt ended up playing on all the tunes to give Tom some rest after his surgery. Tom did conduct his arrangements though. That was really special. Kevin Axt is Tom’s favorite bass player and he and I played together in the 1980s. Although I only met Steve Moretti in April of 2013, I asked him to play because of his association with Matt and I really liked his playing. He drives the band hard and steady. He added some amazing moments on Introduction to a Samba and of course his feature on the flag waver Bohemia After Dark.
I think one of the most special things about this project is the fact that not a single person I asked to play said “no”. These guys are all miles above my abilities yet they played beside me and supported the project as my friends. You can’t say that about many recording sessions. They certainly didn’t do it for the money!
Recording, Mixing & Mastering
The recording sessions were at the East West Studios in Hollywood. Many famous musicians and big bands have recorded in their big room. What made it nostalgic and very special was that Matt’s mother Mavis Rivers recorded there with Frank Sinatra. Rich Breen was our recording engineer and was the master of about a million tracks. He did a fabulous job. I think at first he thought he was working for some inexperienced schmuck with a wallet, but I won him over by being a nice guy that played pretty good too. Tommy Vicari is an old‐school analog guy who did our mixing. He is just as much part of the band as the musicians – a real artist. Tommy Suggested I use Bernie Grudman to master. I took his advice, but I had no idea that Bernie was the world master of mastering. I don’t think I could do any better than these three guys unless I got Einstein, da Vinci, and Rembrandt.