AUSTIN (KXAN) — It all started with a mouse click and a phone call.
UT Adjunct Professor Dr. Michael Sailors composed the call and George Strait’s lead guitarist Rick McRae received the message. Inspired by the latter’s “Isolation Blues” he found on KXAN.com, Sailors wanted McRae in on a special quarantine arrangement to complete an ensemble of musicians.
“I thought wow, it’d be really cool to feature Rick with a big band,” Sailors said. “Even though we can’t actually play together, let’s put a virtual thing together.”
When asked what song he’d like to play, McRae asked, “Oh, how about this old song called ‘Rosetta'” composed by Earl Hines, and then Sailors went to work on his own rendition.
The project was a learning curve for both of them. Sailors had never created an arrangement from a composition virtually with multiple musicians and McRae had never been a part of one.
“It’s all virtual, and he’s never even played with a big band before. This thing is new for a lot of us,” Sailors said. “Took a little coaching at first, he doesn’t have a home recording studio. At first, we were just recording his things with his iPad. Eventually, he was able to have his guitar sound recorded digitally.”
Listen to the entire arrangement here, or watch below:
Sailors took away more from the performance than just learning how to produce the arrangement virtually.
“I think it went really well,” Sailors said. “In the meantime, while we can’t play together, I think these little projects are really good because they keep us motivated, give us something to do, and we get to learn some new skills during this time while we’re not really working that much.”
Live music and its future
The last time Sailors played live was on February 2, in New York at Birdland Jazz Club.
“That was the last time I wrote something for a live band.”
He considers himself “lucky” during the coronavirus outbreak since he is able to continue a few projects, but he knows not all musicians are as fortunate.
He moved back to Austin last September from New York and he is thankful he’s able to keep in touch with his musician friends — some of whom were featured in his “Rosetta” arrangement.
“Doing this thing and seeing their faces on the screen. It was kind of, almost, like we were playing a gig.”
But Sailors did caution his friends.
When I first asked them, the musicians I had asked, I told them all, ‘look, if you don’t want to do this, that’s totally fine.’ I didn’t have any money to pay them. I said, ‘look, this is just gonna be a fun thing.’ And they all said yes, which was great. I’m really close with a lot of these guys. And so, when we got done with it, they all were so happy to see the finished project. They’re in the same boat that I am — they’re not playing gigs right now. This is sort of the best-case scenario for people who are used to playing all the time, you know to do these little online projects. It’s cool, you know it’s definitely not going to replace live music. It’s definitely not going to replace the feeling of performing with a band on stage, but in the meantime, while we’re getting through this, this is like a good substitute.Sailors said.
Gratefully, Sailors and his friends received money from viewers and he was able to pay them for their performance.
Sailors shared his outlook on live music for rest of the year.
“My whole thought about it is I’m assuming everything’s going to be okay. I spent some time worrying about it and it just does no good to worry about how bad it could be,” Sailors said. “I lived in Michigan through the recession, and this is not like the recession, but it was very bad there. Actually, that’s why I moved to Austin. It was to get into a place that has a better economy and where you could work and make a living as a musician. It’s gonna be tough we just have to persevere.”