Sally, wait. Donít go. Letís dish. Tell me everything. Do you ever miss New York? Where did you get your dress? Whatís the weather out in Phoenix? How do you like my husband?
Ben? Iíve always liked him, you know that.
You find him changed?
Not really, not down deep.
I rarely dig beneath the surface.
-- James Goldman, Follies
Back in 2003, our fourth year in business, we brought out an album called The Maury Yeston Songbook. Tommy had known Maury for over twenty-five years, ever since he was a student of Maury's in college; after Tommy graduated, he assisted Maury for a number of years, as Maury was writing some of his greatest scores. The Maury Yeston Songbook proved our best-selling album to that point and was glowingly received. But one review troubled us. A critic complained that there were several songs from Nine but only one from Maury's Titanic, and said that he couldn't figure out why a Yeston collection would be so "unbalanced." And the remark rattled us because we realized the obvious answer hadn't occurred to him: those were the songs chosen because those were the ones we liked best. The album wasn't an archival retrospective; it was art, it was entertainment, it was subjective and personal, and a reflection of how we responded to Maury's work. And that's what made The Maury Yeston Songbook a PS Classics release: that's what gave it its particular life and specificity. Another label would have made a very different Yeston album, and no doubt an equally good one, and that's how it's supposed to work.
(In a similar vein, Tommy was freelancing for Nonesuch Records in the 1990's, and he and conductor Eric Stern collaborated on an album called Leonard Bernstein's New York. Nonesuch sent Tommy out on a radio interview the week the album was released, and the first question out of the gate, the DJ asked Tommy, "So why didn't you include [the song] 'America'?" And before Tommy could respond, the DJ pressed him, "I mean, there are like a dozen songs in West Side Story, but you only included three of them." And Tommy tried haltingly but candidly to explain that in shaping the album he and Eric had chosen the songs that spoke to them the most, that lent themselves to this particular format and this particular group of singers, and that albums find their own shape, and their own length, and that ideally you reach a point where the album feels full, and rounded, and that he felt he and Eric had achieved that here. And the DJ responded, "But why didn't you include 'America'?")
The point of those two stories? That making albums is personal -- at least it is for us. And maybe this year's releases have been the most personal of all.
In our last column, we talked about the six albums we were releasing between June and August of 2011, and noted that more than any set in our history, we were doing those six "for us." We promised to let our passion infuse our work, to continue -- as best we could -- to prize art over commerce, to only green-light projects that got our juices flowing, hoping that those would yield the most satisfying results. In essence, we promised to dig a little deeper. What we couldn't have known when we penned that column is that 2011 would close with two albums that mean as much to us as any in our catalog: the Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording of Maury Yeston's Death Takes a Holiday and the New Broadway Cast Recording of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.
We've mentioned our history with Maury. As for Steve Sondheim, we met him in 2000 when Tommy was hired to produce the recording of Saturday Night; Steve liked working with Tommy and recommended him to co-produce the recording of the New York Philharmonic's concert of Sweeney Todd. Over the years, Steve has permitted PS Classics to preserve some of his most glorious scores on disc, on Grammy-nominated cast albums including Assassins, Company and A Little Night Music. He also gave us access to his private demo collection, allowing us to release our Sondheim Sings series.
But maybe all that pales next to Follies, because the genesis of that recording -- like our relationship with Maury Yeston -- goes way, way back. Tommy remembers scooping up the original cast recording and piano-vocal score of Follies as soon as they were released, in the early '70s; by age 15, he was pretty much a Follies junkie. But sometime in the late '70s, he saw an actual production of the show (he remembers it was in Merrimack, NH, or Merrimack, MA, but Google searches have proven fruitless) and realized that the Follies experience was far richer than even those magnificent songs suggested. Movie lore has it that Lucille Ball, back when she was queen of the programmers at RKO, said prophetically, "Someday I'm going to own this studio," so we'd like to stress that it's not like Tommy sat in the audience that night (with his grandparents on either side) and said, "Someday I'm going to produce a Follies recording." But this year, when the opportunity arose to do just that, he knew the kind of recording he wanted to make -- one that would speak to him, as a fan of the show, one that might convey the musical and dramatic qualities that, to his mind, make Follies a singular, irresistible theatrical experience.
In one sense, our new cast recordings of Death Takes a Holiday and Follies couldn't be more dissimilar. Tommy and Maury agreed that on Death they'd go "lean" -- it's a "song" album in its purest form, maybe the most traditional in that sense that Tommy's produced in a decade. But that's what the material cried out for. Follies is expansive: an effort to not only capture the score, but the experience of the show. (Songwriters often say that the question they hate the most is "which comes first: the music or the lyrics?" We've decided the question we hate most is "How do you feel about dialogue on an album?" -- or worse, "What's your rule about dialogue on an album?" We always counter that there are no rules, at least there shouldn't be; content dictates form, and the more imperative question to ask in choosing which material to preserve is "Is it effective?" "Is it involving?" "Is it moving?") But both Death Takes a Holiday and Follies, in design and in execution, stem from our deep devotion to the composers and to the material. It's hard to describe how gratifying it is -- after ten years of running a label -- to find yourself working on recordings that move and excite you the way these two did. And it's worth noting that that passion is shared by two collaborators who've been with us for all ten years: our art director Derek Bishop, who came aboard on our fifth album, and our engineer Bart Migal, who's been with us since our fourth. We joke to them both that we wouldn't have a label without them. Don't tell them: it's not really a joke.
We released just eight albums this year, the least we've put out since... well, since 2003, the year of The Maury Yeston Songbook. We had vowed to go back to our roots, back to when we were smaller and, ironically, had a little more money in the bank: when there was no reason to green-light an album unless it was going to give us deep, unbridled pleasure, or maybe challenge us in a way that was both exhilarating and intimidating. From our vintage restorations of Strike Up the Band 1930 and Sweet Bye and Bye, to Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman's elegant and witty The Trumpet of the Swan, to uplifting solo discs by Liz & Ann Hampton Callaway and Kate Baldwin, to our Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording of A Minister's Wife and the aforementioned Death Takes a Holiday and Follies, this past year has felt like a wonderful experiment that paid off in spades: a chance to remind ourselves that we started this label to continue to record -- and to share -- the kind of music we care most about. We have no idea what next year will bring (we have never been good about planning ahead), but we'll do our darndest to keep digging beneath the surface.
ó Tommy Krasker & Philip Chaffin, November 2011
Tommy Krasker, Executive Producer for PS Classics, can be reached at
email@example.com. Philip Chaffin, A&R Director, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.