Occasional Shivers

Dec 18 9 PM / Dec 23 12Noon / Dec 25 6 PM
  • Hosted by Branford Marsalis

A New Holiday Special For 2016 From WUNC & Chris Stamey

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.  It's now a radio play with a seasonally-inspired mix of music and dialogue.

Branford Marsalis
Credit Palma Kolansky

The play features singers Nneena Freelon, Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Millie McGuire, Kirsten Lambert, Django Haskins, Skylar Gudasz and an all-star band that includes jazz greats Scott Sawyer, Will Campbell, John Brown and Bill Frisell. Branford Marsalis appears as a party guest. It is by turns a playful and bittersweet show that will sound 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 at the piano.
Credit Daniel Coston

Listen to the program (or download it to listen later):

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

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.

Check out one of the songs from the cycle:

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."

Production Credits:

Directed by Caitlin Wells
Written by Chris Stamey
Script consultant: Susan Emshwiller

Principal Cast:

Walker Harrison (as Will Cassidy)
Django Haskins (as Paul Carter)
Eric Hodge (as Bags Benmont)
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])
Nnenna Freelon (as Soundtrack Singer, Pour Amour de l’amour)
Skylar Gudasz (as Sylvia Valentine)
Branford Marsalis (as Party Guest)


Presyce Baez: singer (Will Cassidy songs)
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
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

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."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
Produced by Chris Stamey and David Brower for WUNC Radio.
Distributed by American Public Media

Additional information & audio

WUNC Special Broadcast On 118 Stations Nationwide

Dec 13, 2016

The 2016 broadcast premiere of WUNC's holiday special "Occasional Shivers" was heard in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St Paul/Minneapolis, Cleveland, Raleigh and more than 100 other public radio markets across the country. The show was produced in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by WUNC and was distributed by American Public Media.