Gino-and-Dick-BakkerIn the year 2000, I received a call from Dick Bakker, the conductor and music director of the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands. I was asked to perform with the orchestra at a jazz festival in the city of Roosendaal. The problem was I had no formal scores written for such a unique, sixty-piece ensemble. But, as fortune would have it, I was to perform with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra around the same time period.
The MSO had sent one of their premier orchestrators to Portland to confer with me regarding scores. I had spent two days articulating my wants and needs, trusting the orchestrator understood and felt as much passion for the music as I did. It seemed the answer to the problem of having no scores for the Metrople Orchestra was miraculously solved with the old adage of killing two birds with one stone. Not so, by a long shot, I would discover soon enough.
After a twenty-hour travel day, Tricia and I arrived in Hilversum, home to the Metropole Orchestra, nine days prior to the scheduled concert. It was about noon. Time adjusting, then, a four-day rehearsal was on the agenda. I freshened up a little and anxiously headed straight to the Metropole complex that same afternoon to meet with Dick Bakker and discuss the scores and other aspects of the coming performance. He looked estranged, eyes cast to the ground, a little down in the mouth, as we shook hands, Mr. Bakker looking like the bearer of bad tidings.
The scores had been sent from Montreal a few days earlier. Dick had had the time to mull over them, and came to a quick conclusion.
“The charts written in Montreal simply won’t do,” he lamented, as soon as our hands parted. I was shocked, having been assured by the Montreal arranger the scores would be adaptable to both orchestra and big band format. “Not so,” Dick insisted.
The conversation quickly became testy, ending with Dick contending the concert would have to be cancelled. I have always been a fusspot—truth be told, agonizingly maniacal—regarding music details, but cancelling a sold-out concert, after all the preparation and paces I had put myself and others through seemed very wrong to me.
My hackles rose, as I retorted, “No way, Mr. Bakker. . . we will surely find ourselves caught in a legal tangle if you persist upon cancelling.”

The room quieted for a few pregnant moments. The barometer was on the edge of bursting; lightning and thunder about to break Gino-nad-Metropole-2000through the lathe and plaster ceiling. But our serious intentions, stiff body language, and narrowed eyes rendered the inclement weather between us calm and hushed—a sort of détente. Like two peace negotiators, we looked through the scores together. I clearly began to see his point. The charts were indeed unfit for the Metropole Orchestra.
There is nothing like a dead end, or being backed against a wall to have a man throw both his arms up and die—or, to look for any object, however small or blunt to sharpen to a point and weaponize, thereby improving his prospects in a dire situation. I opted for the second.
“Look at these recent double-stave piano scores I’ve written, Dick,” I said, like a trial lawyer having just discovered some new admissible evidence. I dug into my suitcase full of scores then lay near twenty on Dick Bakker’s desk.
“They look good, “ he admitted through his rectangle spectacles, as he gave them a quick once-over. Like playing peek-a-boo, back and forth, he peered into the pages, then over his silver rims and straight into my eyes again and again, wondering where I was going with this.
“Mr. Bakker, put me with four of the best Dutch orchestrators you know. I will use my double-stave charts as a foundation, and apply these notes to the various orchestral parts. We have four days till rehearsal. I will sit with the orchestrators, twenty-four a day if necessary to complete these. We will have ten done, ten great ones done, by the morning of the first rehearsal. . . I promise.”
It was some marathon; running from one arranger to the next, from one end of the Netherlands to the other, explaining my piano scores, how I saw them applied to big band, what my preferred instrumentation for every section was, including solos. A small country never seemed so vast.
It was the morning of the first rehearsal. Dick was rather nervous, wringing his hands, wondering what kind of quicksand he had just driven his orchestra into. The ten conductor’s scores now sat on his podium.
“Gino,” Dick whispered, hoping no one would hear, “there are no dynamic markings. No tempos set. We have never played these scores, what’s more, I have never heard most of these songs before.”
This, I soon grew to love most about the man:
“Would you kindly conduct the orchestra, seeing as you might know how the music is supposed to go. . .because frankly, I have no Gino-And-Metrople-on-stageclue.”
I was like a cowboy at a ‘Boot Barn’. I knew these arrangements were really good, but just as importantly, I ‘knew’ these arrangements like the back of my hand. All’s I needed to do was show sixty puzzled people and a worried doubting Thomas how good they really were.
Needless to say, my conducting skills were, and remain highly untypical, perhaps downright unwieldy to the sitting musician accustomed to the normal conductor holding a wooden baton. (Once, I was accused of looking like a drowning man, to which I responded, drowning only in the music)
There I was: pointing, pounding, waving, raising my fist to the heavens, calling for the sixty to hammer away and grasp what the charts were supposed to sound like. Soon, the room smiled big. I did not care much that my unorthodox conducting might have been one of the reasons. The Metropole was grooving hard. It sounded and felt fantastic.
Like a court stenographer, Dick quickly noted dynamic markings, and tempo changes with almost every measure that whizzed by during the first three days, scrawling notes on his conductor’s score as fast as he could.
Each day of rehearsal was better than the last. On the final day I began singing, as Dick took back control of the podium.
The Roosendaal concert was seamless. Running without a single hitch, as if every note had been cooked, simmered and chilled to perfection—all according to plan. As I sang before the rocking sixty-piece band, exchanging smiles with Dick as he was slicing the air with his wooden baton like a swordsman wielding a saber, I looked to the audience before me, and thought to myself, “Life is messy. . . but it’s good.”

15 Comments
  1. Although 15 years ago, I remember the concert well. An amazing night with magical music.
    I can also remember where I heard your music for the first time some 40 years ago unaware of the impact it would turn out to have. Your music inspired me when I was young and accompanied me through life, going to your concerts always feels like meeting a dear old friend.
    Can we meet again soon in the Netherlands?
    Love Yvonne

  2. I had no idea how much weight was on Dick and your shoulders in the days before your outstanding concert with Metropole. Thank you for sharing the story behind the concert with us. Surely that has to have been the most stressful pre concert drama that you have ever endured. But oh my, what a payoff. The huge, receptive audience, the sheer power of Metropole (which you more than equaled), and the satisfaction of achieving the almost unachievable in such a superlative fashion. Bravo for pushing forward. And lucky us that it was recorded for posterity.

  3. Gino,
    You are a great story teller and a magnificent singer.
    Love you always!

  4. Great story, please come back to Portland, Oregon for a concert

  5. Great read. You have my respect Mr. Vannelli. My husband and I have used that line as our life’s motto: “Life is messy.” We are naming our publishing company Messy Records for many of the same reasons you mention in your story. Life unreservedly spills to the floor. And there isn’t a vessel adequate enough to catch the messiness- so we learn to adapt, as you so very poignantly did.

    You are passionately driven by your art. did you have a choice? Abandonment of the project was not an option. Hence, bring on the messiness. I am glad to read your story had a great outcome. Being the agonizing maniacal artist that you are – I’m sure the concert was spectacular! Now I need to google it, and watch for myself.

  6. I keep watching the videos posted on you tube from the Jazz Festival… I love your performance. You have a wonderful gift regarding all aspects of your music career. I lost my husband of 43 years this past July. Your music has brought me so much comfort. Thank-you Gino Vannelli you are a treasure.

  7. It’s nice reading the stories of your life! Please keep it up. Fans love it!

  8. Gino, You are one of the most magnificently gifted people on this earth! God made you to give out music, to eat, breathe and sleep music, you are music in a man’s soul…! There is no question that where ever you are , there will always be a beautiful song coming from your heart and touching the hearts of every single individual who hears your song. God bless you , my friend. Your music had always lived so beautifully in my heart.

    Love, Linda

  9. It must have been something to see and hear. “the room smiled big”.
    …An unfamiliar composer directing an even more unfamiliar orchestra
    only to jell after much fist waving and taunting.
    I wish I could have been there.
    ..The last time I saw you was about 10 years ago when you played to a small crowd at the Calgary Stampede.
    I keep hoping that you will come back to Calgary but you never do?
    When are you coming back to Calgary?
    ?? Calgary misses you.
    moe

  10. That night I was there! I traveled by car from Italy to see this intriguing situation … Gino Vannelli with an orchestra of 60 elements!
    I arrived in Rosendaal in the early afternoon, I found the theater … and, since it was opened, I walked in, I sat down and saw Gino leading the rehearsals of the orchestra … fantastic!
    In the evening the room was sold out and the performance was really exciting.
    This concert was broadcast on Dutch radio and a friend sent me a copy of the recording of excellent quality.
    I have a beautiful memory of that day.

    gino

  11. Great story,this is moredibly beautiful youre experians,makes it for us verry clear;you keep it firnament to the stars,thanks groetjes uit holland. JS.

  12. You are indeed as gifted a writer as you are a musician. I echo so many of the earlier comments….how I’ve been a faithful fan and follower for over 35 years. I’m anxiously awaiting your return to Houston where I have the same seat in the “sweat section!” I don’t suppose there has ever been or ever will be another as severely gifted as you. Thank you for all the great music, for giving us a peek into your soul…it’s amazing!
    Love,
    Dianne

  13. Gino – You are my god and my angel. Your music has helped survive some of the darkest days of my life in the past few years. When I lost my mom in 1999, your music helped me through it. She was such a BIG fan of yours, we would be driving down the road with the radio on and she would say “Is that our boy?” and I would turn it up. I saw you in Dallas last year and the Eismann and could not stop talking about it for weeks!!!!!!!!!. I still listen to the music and think of all the times my mom and I have seen in you in concert. I will continue to go to your shows in memory of her because I know she will looking down on me from heaven and watching you also. God bless you and your family. and PLEASE don’t stop singing.
    Love always
    Mary

  14. Gino – Thank you for sending the details of this experience to my email address. This gives me even more insight into your life and into what a musical genius you are! I love all of your music: the hits from the early days, your transition into pop music, the wonderful jazz musician you are and how you branched into the world of classical music! I recently saw you in concert in Detroit – you were fabulous singing all your huge hits! I enjoyed shaking your hand, receiving your autograph on my Crazy Life LP and having my photo taken with you.
    There is no one else like you in the music industry! Your attention to every detail and your “fussiness” add to the outcome of the fantastic music that has been and will continue to be your perfect art.
    Your wonderful music goes through my mind all day everyday!!
    Love Always,
    Linda

  15. Hello Brother Gino,

    Love the blog! I agree that the Metropole seemed comfortable with the arrangements. And I was particularly impressed with the few soloists who applied good jazz nuances that you typically don’t find in a traditional non-improvisational ensemble.
    “Walter” and “Jehovah” were standouts for me. But I did notice a slight omission from “Jehova”. The line “I’d sooner catch fire than kill my desire” at the tag end of the bridge/development section was passed over. Were there second thoughts on the line or was this an effort to simplify where you could? Just wondering.
    Be well friend,
    Todd

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