The Isolees, First Virtual Ensemble Listen
"In the wee small hours of the morning"
In the wee small hours of the morning was composed in early 1955 by David Mann with lyrics by Bob Hilliard. They collaborated on it during a post-midnight session at Hilliard's New Jersey home. Mann was about to depart for New York, when Hilliard insisted he remain for impromptu songwriting. Mann came up with the tune, to which Hilliard quickly wrote the lyrics. The song was immediately adopted by Frank Sinatra and rose to the top of the charts for 18 weeks. It became the title track of Frank Sinatra's album In the Wee Small Hours, released in April 1955, which is considered one of the first “concept albums” in popular song. Instead of being a collection of unrelated songs, the 16 songs on the album deal with themes of loneliness, introspection, and lost love. The cover artwork portrays Sinatra on a deserted street awash in blue light. Rolling Stone magazine ranks In the Wee Small Hours as #101 on their list of “the 500 greatest albums of all time.” It is the highest ranking Sinatra album on the list, which is biased to younger artists, particularly rock-folk artists of the 1960s and 1970s. The song has been professionally recorded by at least 34 artists, including Nancy Sinatra (!), Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Carly Simon, Barbara Streisand, Keith Jarrett, Liza Minnelli, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall, and Christian McBride – the latter in 2017. For 65 years, it has been used to express wistful thoughts of wee hours sleeplessness.
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning was chosen as an experiment of a virtual pick-up group of musical amateurs at KAUST called The Isolees, working in isolation during the KAUST Coronavirus lockdown in a conscious attempt to defy the feeling of the lockdown. The instrumental arrangement used by the The Isolees is by British trombonist Carol Jarvis, a virtuoso soloist in high demand in both classical and popular performances. Jarvis is a Past-President of the British Trombone Society and is on the Board of Advisors of both the International Trombone Association and International Trombone Festival. She has been a professor of trombone at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in London since 2006, and has given many masterclasses and recitals across the world.
The inspiration to form an ensemble of isolated KAUST musicians came from Dr. Emma Nason, Head of Science at The KAUST School. Emma is a violinist in KAUST’s Azure String Quartet, and often plays Concertmaster of The KAUST Orchestra. She plays 1st and 2nd violin for The Isolees.
The master behind the virtual production is Peter Diglin, music teacher at The KAUST School, and a popular saxophonist in KAUST events. Peter is also a digital whiz, who envisioned the mechanism of synchronization for musicians who were not permitted to meet and then collected and mixed their separately recorded tracks in his home studio. Peter here offers his sax and his trumpet. Wendy Keyes, the former Head of the Office of the Arts at KAUST and violist of the Azure String Quartet, here adds both viola and cello.
Her husband, Professor David Keyes of KAUST’s Extreme Computing Research Center, rounded out the ensemble on piano, with four musicians covering seven instruments – easy enough digitally!
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning is an experiment – not a finished product. The five tracks sent to Peter were “first takes” just to see if the idea would work. In Peter’s judgement, they were good enough to post beyond The Isolees, themselves, though the musicians and the producer already know of many improvements to make.
Now you be the judge! May it be a blessing, now or in those wee small hours…
David Keyes, 25 March 2020.