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Occasional Shivers: Chris Stamey Reimagines The Great American Songbook

Occasional Shivers Cover Art

Over the last year, Chapel Hill-based songwriter and producer Chris Stamey has been working on a narrative song cycle set in Manhattan in the early 1960s. Called Occasional Shivers, it centers around a circle of jazz theater performers and their experiences.

Stamey is best known for his work with the legendary North Carolina jangle-pop band The dB's, as a sought-after music producer, and songwriter.

His new work, billed as jazz meets pop against a backdrop of 1960s Manhattan, is set to have its full premiere at Kenan Music Building on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus on Friday September 23 at 8 p.m.

Chris Stamey sitting at a piano.
Credit Daniel Coston
Chris Stamey at the piano.

The program includes new songs sung by Django Haskins, Kirsten Lambert, Millie McGuire, Skylar Gudasz and Mark Wells.

WUNC Morning Edition Host Eric Hodge will be the production's narrator. 

Occasional Shivers stars frequent Stamey collaborators including Django Haskins and Skylar Gudasz and features WUNC's Eric Hodge as Narrator.

The music is scored for jazz combo and string quartet (see music sheet example below). Through the music Stamey reimagines the Great American Songbooks of Gershwin, Porter, Berstein, Berlin and others against a backdrop of pop and 1960s period Manhattan culture.

"I'd grown up with my dad playing these old 40s and 50s songs [on the family piano]. He'd play Jerome Kern. Our family was centered around that. After my father would go to bed I'd sit at the piano and do my own five- and six-year-old versions of those songs," Stamey told WUNC All Things Considered Host Catherine Brand during a recent interview.

"I continued to try to write songs at that same piano until rock n roll swept me away," he said.

Date: Friday September 23

Time: 8 p.m.

Venue: Kenan Music Building on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus
These early experiences and songs from his childhood and memories triggered by the return of the family piano were the initial inspirations for Occasional Shivers.

The concert is presented by the Center for the Study  of the American South, Process Series and Cat's Cradle. Tickets may be purchased online.

When Stamey visited the WUNC studios recently to talk with Catherine Brand they talked about Occasional Shivers, his book to be published next year, New York Stories (see except below), and more. You can listen to that conversation here:

Host Frank Stasio talks with producer and musician Chris Stamey. Pianist Julian Lambert; guitarist Scott Sawyer and vocalists Kirsten Lambert and Millie McGuire join them to play some of Stamey's original songs.

Here are a couple of songs from Occasional Shivers:

Manhattan Melody by Chris Stamey
Manhattan Melody by Chris Stamey

Next year,  Texas Press will publish Chris Stamey's book New York Songs. Here's an excerpt:

My artistic heroes tended to be restless souls, people who are always trying to take it further. Picasso, Joyce, Schoenberg, Gershwin, Stravinsky . . . I’ve never been overly fond of rock stars, but I love musicians. Alex Chilton constantly evolved as a player, going from Beatles voicings to blues and folk, then to Real Book jazz and baroque. Closer to home, Marshall Crenshaw had no incentive to resume guitar lessons after many great, successful records, but he did, and I was impressed (and daunted) when he returned to the fray with a greatly expanded chordal vocabulary on songs such as "Fantastic Planet of Love." My composition mentor at UNC, Roger Hannay, wrote all kinds of music all his life, a wealth of material that has yet to be fully explored, which I was privy to as I assembled his audio archives with him in during his last years; his final symphonies were his best, and showed how he continued to expand artistically. In the classical world, rehearsing with the Kronos Quartet and seeing their attention to the smallest details, or watching my friends Karen and Shawn Galvin from New Music Raleigh either practice, teach, record, or perform music at a high level 8-10 hours every single day, put a different light on all the suggestions from labels to instead "spend time building up your social media presence."

Google Map to Kenan Music Building, Chapel Hill

Occasional Shivers Cast
Occasional Shivers Cast

Listen to the WUNC co-produced radio play of "Occasional Shivers":

Occasional Shivers: Chris Stamey Reimagines The Great American Songbook
Occasional Shivers Radio play with music by Chris Stamey

Fed up with the frigid winters of her native state, Catherine was lured to North Carolina in 2006. She grew up in Wisconsin where she spent much of her time making music and telling stories. Prior to joining WUNC, Catherine hosted All Things Considered and classical music at Wisconsin Public Radio. She got her start hosting late-nights and producing current events talk shows for the station's Ideas Network. She later became a fill-in talk show host and recorded books for WPR's popular daily program, Chapter A Day.
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