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Occasional Shivers Cover Art
Occasional Shivers
Mike Wiley & Branford Marsalis
Mike Wiley & Branford Marsalis from Occasional Shivers

A re-imagining of the language of the Great American Songbook, where jazz meets pop against a backdrop of a 1960s Manhattan love story, returns in Chris Stamey's "Occasional Shivers."  The show is available as a podcast.

Occasional Shivers 2017 Cast
Occasional Shivers 2017 Cast
Occasional Shivers is hosted by Branford Marsalis and features Mike Wiley and Presyce Baez.

The Story of "Occasional Shivers"
Over the last several years, 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. In 2016 he, in partnership with WUNC, turned it into a radio play with a seasonally-inspired mix of music and dialogue.

The play features singers Nneena Freelon, Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Millie McGuire, Presyce Baez, Kirsten Lambert, Django Haskins, Skylar Gudasz and an all-star band that includes jazz greats Scott Sawyer, Will Campbell, John Brown and Bill Frisell. It is by turns a playful and bittersweet show that sounds thoroughly rooted in the season, but does so with all-original music by Stamey.

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.

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

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.

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.

Watch one of the songs from the cycle on YouTube.

Manhattan Melody by Chris Stamey
Manhattan Melody by Chris Stamey

A Spy in the House of Loud
On April 15, 2018,  University of Texas Press published Chris Stamey's book "A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories." Read an excerpt.

Production Credits:
Written and Directed by Chris Stamey
Additional Direction by Caitlin Wells and Julia Stamey
Script consultant: Susan Emshwiller

Principal Cast:
Branford Marsalis (host)
Mike Wiley (as Bags Benmont)
Presyce Baez (as Will Cassidy)
Django Haskins (as Paul Carter)
Kirsten Lambert (as Birdie McDavenish)
Millie McGuire (as Jennifer Delancey)

Supporting Cast
Marshall Crenshaw (as J.P. Carlyle)
Don Dixon (as Jeffery Cabot, also Slippery Baxter [“Underdog” singer])
Skylar Gudasz (as Sylvia Valentine)

Nnenna Freelon (sings opening song)
Will Campbell: alto and soprano sax
Branford Marsalis: tenor sax (“Manhattan Melody”)
Matt Douglas: additional sax (“I Fall in Love So Easily,” “Beneath the Underdog,” “Lover, Can You Hear Me?”); flute, clarinet
Dave Finucane: tenor sax (Will's "Occasional Shivers")
Danny Grewen: trombone
John Brown, Jason Foureman: acoustic bass
Dan Davis, Tony Stiglitz: drums
Bill Frisell, Scott Sawyer, Chris Stamey: guitar
Jim Crew, Wes Lachot, Julian Lambert, Chris Stamey: piano
Elizabeth Eason, Karen Galvin, Laura Thomas: violins
Matt Chicurel: viola
Leah Gibson: cello

All songs, arrangements, and orchestrations by Chris Stamey.

Recorded and mixed at Modern Recording (Chapel Hill, NC)
Additional recording at the Fidelitorium (Kernersville, NC), Overdub Lane (Durham, NC), Arbor Ridge (Chapel Hill, NC), Dark Horse (Franklin, Tenn.)
"What Is this Music that I Hear?" [excerpt] and "I Didn't Mean to Fall in Love with You" mixed by Scott Solter for Bellaju Music.

Recording engineers (music and dialogue): Chris Stamey, John Plymale, Mitch Easter, Jason Merritt, Jeff Crawford, Ali Kreza, Al Wodarski
Music mastered by Brent Lambert at Kitchen Mastering (Carrboro, NC)
Script Advice: David Brower, Robert Doonan, Peter Holsapple, Julia Stamey, Bland Simpson and Jack Herrick
Produced by Chris Stamey and David Brower for WUNC Radio.

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