The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: Betsy’s Coming

Betsy’s Coming

Volume One of Nine Lives contained 24 songs but it was just a sampler of the stories.

There were 15 more songs needed to turn it from a sketch into a picture. The songs didn’t go at the beginning or end, they fit like missing pieces between the songs that were already released.

Thanks to a generous donation from Whole Foods and the donations from Chris Joseph and many others who helped repeatedly throughout the making of Nine Lives with financing and friendship.

We began with Betsy’s Coming.  It is the song after Fine In The Lower Nine and takes place in September of 1965 as Hurricane Betsy approaches New Orleans.

When Colman and I first started writing songs for Nine Lives we decided that Betsy and Katrina would have to be instrumentals.  I didn’t feel I could do them justice as pop songs.  I didn’t think words would adequately embrace the moment or the story of either storm.  Colman trusted me on the music, always waiting for me to form melody and structure before jumping in with words on every song.  In this case, he trusted that I would write the instrumentals and I did, for demo’s sake, sketch out a few bits but even three years ago when we began I knew someone else would have to write the instrumentals.

I settled on Matt Perrine for Betsy and Shamarr Allen for Katrina.  The results were equally stunning for reason unique to each man.

In order to write Betsy’s Coming, Matt researched jazz in 1965, specifically New Orleans jazz.  He built the song around a series of chord cycles and drum solos.

He asked Jason Marsalis to be the drummer for this and I was thrilled.

The Marsalis family is a symbol of the standard of excellence in jazz here and around the world.  I have watched them play for years and have watched Jason grow up on stage.  He attacked this song with the kind of hunger and ferocity that one only has in youth.  I had never met Jason but when he arrived at the studio Mark Bingham greeted him with a couple of dirty jokes and from Jason’s reaction I could tell it was a familiar routine.  Them laughing made it easy for me to relax and let Matt take over the session for the song he had written.  I would get to be observer and fan for this one.

It was a workout as Matt put the band through it’s paces.

Jason Marsalis didn’t just play drums, he made a statement with his drums.  It was stunning to watch unfold.

Matt played tuba, bass and trombone but it was perhaps his finest hour as band leader on Nine Lives.  Unlike most of the record, this wasn’t just his arrangement.  It was his arrangement, his composition, his vision from start to finish and it is a great addition to Nine Lives.

Jack Craft played cello and Matt Rhody violin and it was an intense bit of playing for each.  Tom Fischer on saxophone, Alex McMurray on guitar and Eric Lucero on trumpet and each player brought his A game; Matt wouldn’t have accepted less.

Bety’s Coming is a reflection of it’s composer as much as the moment in the story of Nine Lives.  It is a well researched, precisely executed adventure in the conflicts of structure and chaos.  Frenzied, feeling nearly out of control and not for one moment being anything other than what Matt had planned it would be.  A swirl of sound that sounds almost like confusion until you realize you are surrounded by organized fury.

It begins with a sustained note on cello and violin while Jason does a crush roll underneath as Perrine takes us on a brief musical tour of New Orleans going about it’s business as the storm approaches.  A dixieland band finishes a song to an enthusiastic uptown crowd while downtown a blues band slinks to the finish of a song for an equally appreciative crowd.  Throughout both the sustained note plays the insistent buzz of the approaching storm.

The crush roll of the drums begins to jerk to life and a series of rolls becomes a groove the band hints at picking up and then leaps on.  From there the songs intensity builds, swirling around your senses to intentionally confuse until the explosive drum solo toward the end of the song feels something like relief.  The band jumps back in as they pummel each other and the city of New Orleans, the sounds of Betsy’s Coming.

Most of the record I heard in my head for the last three years before bringing it to life.  On this one I trusted that a guy who’s work I respect and admire would deliver something stunning and Matt did just that.

If you want to know more about this song, ask Matt Perrine next time you see him.

~ Paul Sanchez – January 5, 2012

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One Response to The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: Betsy’s Coming

  1. Carol Sensenbrenner says:

    I continue to be amazed when I read how each song is created. Thank you for these updates. I do not have a music background but enjoy knowing how Nine Lives has been created. I have read the book, listen to the first CD and was lucky to be at the May 4, 2011 performance. Looking forward to hearing the new release. I am awed!

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