Frank Macchia, an orchestrator for the film industry, had forgotten when the Grammy nominations were to be announced, so he got the surprise of his life when a friend called to give him the good news.
The Burbank resident is up for his first Grammy for “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” on his CD “Emotions,” which was nominated for Best Instrumental Arrangement.
“I was flabbergasted to find out I had made it,” said Macchia, 49, a former Glendale resident. “Most of those nominated are linked to big record labels. I’m producing the CDs myself. I’ve put out about five or six CDs since 2001.”
His competitors in the category are Harry Connick Jr., Steve Wiest, Vince Mendoza and Gordon Goodwin.
“The surprising thing is that it reached enough people in the music industry to have gotten a nomination,” he said.
The nomination is a huge acknowledgment, said his wife, Tracy London.
“It says that people he respects in the music industry have heard him and that his creation is on a certain professional level,” London said. “People always say it’s just great to be nominated, but that’s one of the truest things in the world. It’s a fabulous thing. I’m so grateful to those people who listened.”
When you listen to the piece, you have to concentrate on it, said Steve Hull, music supervisor for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“His work is very complex,” Hull said. “This piece is very nuanced in terms of the textures he works with. They are not simple at all. He’s not talking down to anybody. You really have to pay attention to his music. You have to really listen to it. I don’t get bored when I listen to his work.”
The song was written in the 1700s or 1800s, Macchia said, and there is some question about where it originated. Some historians believe it comes from England, and others believe it’s an American folk song.
“I love folk songs,” he said. “I think folk songs are pure and simple in their melody, and, for me, I can alter and add a lot of things through harmony and rhythm to make them hopefully much richer and elaborate.”
The “Emotions” CD, a jazz album, was released in January 2007. What makes it unique, he said, is that most jazz soloists are backed by rhythm instruments — drums, bass and piano. But Macchia improvises on the saxophone against the music of an orchestra with strings — violins, cellos and violas — and woodwinds, such as flutes and clarinets.
As an orchestrator for films, Macchia takes a composer’s music sketch and notates it out for each instrument in the orchestra to play. His most recent credits are “Fantastic Four,” “Superman Returns,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
I’ve spent a lot of years doing orchestrations, and that’s been more on film music, which isn’t jazzy,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to combine jazz improvisation over orchestral music.”
His first inspiration for the technique came when he was a child watching the Disney film “Fantasia,” he said.
“I remember seeing ‘Fantasia’ and seeing the section to the music of ‘The Rite of Spring’ by Igor Stravinsky,” he said. “I heard that music and something resonated in me. I didn’t know what the music was, but I loved it and the colors in the film.”
As he grew older, Macchia said he gravitated toward music that was colorful, and not just classical.
“I especially loved music by the Beatles,” he said. “The music on the Sgt. Pepper’s album has so many textures and different sounds.”
Macchia released another CD in January called “Landscapes,” featuring himself on saxophone and backed by the Prague Orchestra. The CD has a six-movement suite in which he interprets places on the saxophone. One movement is called River Rapids.
“I’m taking the listeners on a river rapid ride,” he said.
“There is lots of churning in the strings. I’m basically playing a long, evocative melody and improvising over the churning strings.”
It has more folk songs and spirituals, but each pertains to a particular place, he said. Some of the songs are “Shenandoah,” “Sidewalks of New York” and “Down in the Valley.”
For “Sidewalks,” he arranged a fast-moving piece to depict a modern-day New York that is busy and bustling, he said. For “Down in the Valley,” he said he tried to interpret a feeling similar to what Miles Davis did on the piece “All Blues.”
“I tried to get the feel of all blues down in the valley,” he said.
With this album, he said he has tried to update the great American folks songs of the past.
“I tried to create a very new and hip kind of interpretation,” he said. “I’m hoping some of these songs will be something an orchestra can play during American holidays like July 4th concerts.”