New York big-band leader Vince Giordano talks to Atlantic City Weekly about working on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and its GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack.
Vince Giordano has two homes in New York. One he lives in, the other is full of vintage sheet music, a collection that was featured on a PBS special last year. "It's not like the show Hoarders, I can assure you," Giordano tells Atlantic City Weekly, "it's pretty organized."
The big-band leader, who has weekly gigs at Sophia's Restaurant in New York City (every Monday and Tuesday evening) talks to Atlantic City Weekly about working on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and its GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack.
How did you initially get involved with the Boardwalk Empire project? Had you worked with Terry Winter before?
No, no I worked with the music team that worked on The Aviator with Randall Poster. He was the music supervisor on that film. So we had such a great time and hit it off and did a lot of vintage music for The Aviator and he found out what I’m about and my [music] scores [collection] and things like that. It was kind of a natural that he’d call me for Boardwalk Empire.
So there was the Scorsese connection as well there.
Yes, yes, that didn’t hurt either.
Do you watch the show?
Yeah, oh yeah. You know people ask me, 'What’s happening next? I say, 'I don’t know.' They don’t tell me anything. They just tell me little cues to fill in and 'we need this and we need that.' But I’m not privy to what’s going to happen to whom, you know?
The music plays a very important role in the series, especially when the band is playing at Babette's. It’s a really important facet to the show I think, the music.
I agree. They do some great underscoring and they do some great synchronization, you know, what’s going on with the screen action.
How has the process worked thus far in terms of recording songs for certain scenes and finding the right songs for the right spots? Were there songs that were chosen during shooting or were songs selected during the writing process?
Generally what has happened so far is the script [for an episode] gets sent over to Randall Poster and [music coordinator] Meghan Currier and they read it over and they have some thoughts. And then they ask me and they also get directions from some of the research team there, working with old 78 RPM records, on what could be done. As you know, the show does use a lot of old vintage 78 RPM records too so they’re kind of steeped in the history and making sure it’s right. And we’ll try out a few things. Our regular gig every Monday and Tuesday at Sophia’s in New York City becomes a sort of a tryout place for some of the material. We get to run the stuff through and then make scratch tracks of the material for myself and for [HBO] so they can get a feel for how the arrangements that we’d like to do will sound like. I’m trying to keep that gig alive.
So anyway, that’s kind of how it starts to come together and then many times they will request different tempos of the same song because sometimes a slower or faster tempo might work better for the film. So I say , 'OK, that’s cool.' They also sometimes request full versions and then less full versions because, again, you really don’t know until you start putting the music underneath the film and the emotions you’re trying to get, how it’s really going to fit together. It’s sort of like, I don’t know, cooking or something. You know, adding the right spice and the right ingredients and all that.
But you’re not privy to the entire recipe at the time.
No, no, sometimes if they have something that they really want something different for they’ll send me over a [scene].
So you can actually see it before you score it?
Yeah, so I can see a little bit of it. And we’ve rescored a lot of things that way a lot of times. We were asked to do the full version, the full band version, as was done on the old 78s and come in really gangbusters as they did and then [the producers] may be like, 'Eh, that was a little too much for what we needed.' So I’ll re-score it for like strings or clarinet and strings and then they can even choose between that – if they just like the strings by itself, if they like the clarinet by itself, or they like the string and the clarinets together. So it’s kind of a mix and match thing.
Your band appears on the show as the band at Babette's. Is this the first time that you’ve been on a show on television?
Television show I guess, but we’ve done a little film work.
So the band has appeared in films?
Yes, the full band showed up in Finding Forrester and a smaller version of my band was in The Cotton Club. Revolutionary Road, that was a small band there and the thing with Madonna, Bullets Over Broadway. No, no, Bloodhounds Over Broadway. I was in two films that I always get mixed up — Bullets Over Broadway and Bloodhounds Over Broadway.
Bullets was Woody Allen, right?
Yeah, exactly. Bullets was with Woody Allen and Bloodhounds was with Madonna. Sorry, sometimes I have to pause. It’s all a rush there.
Do the music producers on Boardwalk Empire ask you to find songs at all? I know there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen in terms of the music department and Terry Winter and even Scorsese are involved. Everyone has their ideas I’m sure.
Yeah, there’s a lot of things going on, a lot of people putting input. Occasionally, I’ve suggested some things. Like in the first season they said 'give us something that’s really kind of novel.' I said, 'well, one of the first things that comes to my mind is this dance that people did back in the late teens that’s called the 'Half and Half.' You had the 'Foxtrot,' and you had the 'Tango,' and you had the 'Waltz,' but there was a dance called the 'Half and Half' and it’s in 5/4 time. ... And not only were people listening to this 5/4 music, they were dancing to it. So I thought that was kind of neat. I don’t think they did any dance sequences for it, but they used it for some background music. So, I tried. You can’t be disappointed if they don’t use it. That’s the way it is in film. A lot of things get left on the cutting room floor or whatever.
Luckily, with this project, it’s an ongoing series, so there’s always a chance that certain music pieces could end up in another season.
Yeah, exactly. Some of the things we’ve done in the first season and weren’t used, showed up in the second season.
Like Leon Redbone's new take on“The Sheik of Araby” maybe, right? Or was that recorded just for the soundtrack?
No, that was for the soundtrack and they used that in the second season. I think one of the tunes that we did on the first season was this long forgotten tune, a neat little tune, called “The Vamp,” and that showed up later on. I thought it was going to be lost.
So would you watch the show on a Sunday night and hear it and say “ah!”?
Yeah, 'there it is!' Kind of neat.
I spoke with Leon Redbone recently and he said you asked him to sing “The Sheik of Araby” earlier this year,a tune which he recorded on one of his Warner Brothers albums in the 1970s. Double Time, maybe?
Yeah, way back, yeah.
And you recorded with him on a lot of those early Warner Brothers records, or at least a few of them.
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