Steve Martin virtual collab with Philadelphia Orchestra

We’ve seen a variety of interesting virtual collaborations during the COVID-19 shutdown, with performing artists finding clever ways to make music while socially isolated from one another.

Here’s another featuring Steve Martin and his banjo, together with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was created as part of their recent fundraising concert. HearNOW: At-Home Gala was an online event this past Saturday hosted by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Members of the Orchestra shared several of these videos, including others with Wynton Marsalis, Nicola Benedetti, Lang Lang, Renée Fleming, and Yo-Yo Ma, while requesting donations to help support their efforts while shows are prohibited.

For Steve, they worked up an arrangement for his tune, Office Supplies, which he tells us was one he had done with them previously on stage.

“I had played the tune with the Rangers and the Philly Orchestra at a fundraiser concert several years ago in Philadelphia. The song was arranged by Jonathan Sacks, who had done several of my tunes before. I believe this was the guideline for the orchestra though I’m sure much of their playing was improvised. They even had a great mandolin player! 

Office Supplies was included on Steve’s most recent recording, The Long-Awaited Album, with Steep Canyon Rangers. It’s a modal bluegrass number that fits perfectly with the orchestration.

Martin says that he was contacted by the Vice President of Artistic Planning with the Philadelphia Orchestra to see if he would be interested in working with them on this virtual venture.

“Jeremy Rothman wrote to me and asked me if I wanted to get involved. He said I could play anything I want, and then they take it and run. I debated on what song to play and settled on Office Supplies because I thought the rhythmic turns would be good with orchestra.

It had to be all in one take, and I thought it would be a snap. I wanted to put a click track in my ears to make sure I was solidly on rhythm for the other players. I realized quickly that the click track would not work because of the accent changes in the tune. The click track was actually throwing me off, so I decided to freewheel it. When playing alone, rhythm becomes an entirely different thing than when playing with a group and you have a beat to lock into.

I did many takes at my isolated, quarantined house. I also had to get the opening and closing lines in one take, so sometimes I would play through the entire song and blow the spoken joke at the end.

I was totally thrilled with the result, especially the joy these great musicians infused in their music.”

Watch the video for the joke, the ultimate payoff for the tune.

Well done all!

The Long-Awaited Album is available everywhere online, and directly from Steve’s web site on CD or vinyl.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.