Street Date: November 10, 2023
Label: Teamchuck Records
Game Changer features reimagined classics from the soundtracks of Super Mario 3D World (“Super Bell Hill”), Final Fantasy 7 (“Tifa’s Theme”), The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (“Song of Storms”), and other classic games across major platforms.
The 8-Bit Big Band’s fourth dispatch contains even more first-call musicians from the New York jazz scene. “You Wouldn’t Know,” from Lego Dimensions: Portal, features the acclaimed trumpeter and vocalist Benny Benack III. “Tifa’s Theme,” from Final Fantasy 7, features luminous trumpeter Chloe Rowlands of Westerlies fame, “Song of Storms” features the incredible Patrick Bartley, and “Last Surprise” featuring keyboard player and vocalist phenom Jonah Nilsson of the band Dirty Loops.
The guests on Game Changer also hail from the highest echelons of theater. After “Intro to Album 4,” a magisterial overture reminiscent of mid-century Broadway, vocalist Joel Waggoner brings a Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra-style panache to “Can You Feel the Sunshine?” from the 1997 Sega Saturn game “Sonic R.”
“I Wanna Take You For a Ride” hails from the seminal fighting game “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” — well, an eight-second loop of music therein, in which a woman sings the title on repeat, which has become something of a viral meme among gamers.
“When you’re selecting your character, there’s a four-bar loop,” Rosen explains. In response, “I had this idea of, What would the rest of the song sound like? If that is one line of the chorus, it would be cool to write the rest of the song.” The resultant horn arrangement channels the punch of the Bay Area R&B legends Tower of Power co-written with the up and coming contemporary funk/soul band Lawrence.
Gamers of all stripes know “Pollyanna,” which originates from the “Earthbound/Mother” game franchise. From its original context in an ‘80s synth pop idiom Rosen cannily pivoted to ripping gospel and R&B. “It’s very beloved in the video game world because the lyrics are incredibly positive,” Rosen says. “And so life-affirming that I thought it would be a great contemporary gospel tune.”
While Rosen is blazingly adept at stylistic cross-pollinations, he knows when to avoid messing with the formula, and play it straight. As such, he lifted “Super Bell Hill” from “Super Mario 3D World”; the 8-Bit Big Band performed it essentially a la carte.
“It’s not that big of a difference from the original,” Rosen says. “The more contemporary Mario games have already skewed toward having a lot of big band in their soundtrack, and this is just a nod to Nintendo’s recent developments.”
As he puts it in Game Changer’s liner notes, the format “matches quite well orchestrationally with the bright and colorful world of Super Mario.” And if you survey the 8-Bit Big Band’s discography, you’ll find other examples, like “Jump Up Superstar”; “Super Bell Hill” further illustrates the nexus of big band and the Mushroom Kingdom.
Old compatriot Benny Benack III, a renowned trumpeter and vocalist on the New York scene, joins the 8-Bit Big Band for “You Wouldn’t Know,” a witty selection from “Portal.” (The eagle-eyed gamer may remember that Benack crooned “Want You Gone,” from “Portal 2,” on the 8-Bit Big Band’s previous album, 2021’s Backwards Compatible.)
Like all the other songs from the “Portal” universe, “You Wouldn’t Know” was written by the great Jonathan Coulton. Once again, Rosen assumed the role of the transmuter, and flipped the script on “You Wouldn’t Know” from indie rock to big band jazz — this time modeled after Dean Martin’s arrangement of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”
Featuring guest vocalist Aisha Jackson and guitar soloist Nir Felder, “Beneath the Mask” is a selection from the score of “Persona 5”; like its neighbors within the popular game, it’s a heady mix of neo-soul, jazz and funk. Rosen opted to push it beyond the boundaries of what he calls “a very chill background music theme,” and render it a hard-hitting big-band number — with abundant neo-soul flavor, as a nod to the original.
Within the DNA of “Mabe Village” — a music-box-style lullaby from 1993’s “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” — Rosen perceived malleability. He spliced it with the approach of the legendary trumpeter, composer and arranger Neal Hefti — particularly the epochal “Lil’ Darlin,” originally recorded by the Count Basie Orchestra; trombonist Jimmy O’Connell contributes an inspired solo.
Composer Nobuo Uematsu looms large in the gaming realm, particularly for his contributions to the “Final Fantasy” series. From his canon, Rosen pulled “Tifa’s Theme,” a love overture from “Final Fantasy 7.” Soulful and sweet, the 8-Bit Big Band’s interpretation features Chloe Rowlands on flugelhorn, and a lavish string orchestra.
“Passing Breeze” reaches deeper into the past; it’s from “Outrun,” a graphically innovative racing game popular in arcades in the late 1980s. “The game has you cruising down the beaches of the West Coast,” Rosen describes; its engine is Jared Schonig, who lays down head-spinning solos.
“The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” resonated with a generation of gamers; by way of “Song of Storms,” Rosen saw fit to tip his hat to that classic title utilizing Patrick Bartley’s absolutely bombastic alto sax vocabulary. Again, he nudged it in a new direction — from the 3/4 sea shanty vibe of the original to a modal, post-bop feel a la Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter.
The album concludes thrillingly with “Last Surprise” — another selection from “Persona 5,” along with the aforementioned “Beneath The Mask”. The track is a co-arrangement with Button Masher — who won a GRAMMY in 2021 for his collaboration with the 8-Bit Big Band, “Meta Knight’s Revenge.”
Rosen and Button Masher tailored this arrangement for the virtuosic singer and keyboardist Jonah Nilsson, from the Swedish fusion group Dirty Loops — who have made waves on Jazz Internet for their reharmonized arrangements of contemporary pop music.
Game Changer was arranged and produced by Rosen himself — not only a GRAMMY winner, but a two-time Tony recipient. It was mixed by GRAMMY-winning engineer John Kilgore and mastered by the industry veteran Alan Silverman. Whether you’re more on the jazz or gaming side of the equation, Game Changer has something for you — context aside, it’s simply fantastic music played with imagination, virtuosity and panache.
“Every album, it gets tighter and tighter, and the band sounds better and better, and the quality goes up and up,” Rosen says with a smile. “And Game Changer is definitely no exception.”
Street Date: January 8, 2021
Out January 8th, 2021, Backwards Compatible is the latest release by The 8-Bit Big Band. Their third full length release, Backwards Compatible expands this ever growing contemporary body of music with a symphonic orchestra made up of over 70 of New York City’s finest musicians. Musical Director and newly minted Tony nominee Charlie Rosen arranged and produced the project’s 13 imaginative renditions of some of the world's most popular video game music.
Special guests include Grace Kelly, Adam Neely, Benny Benack III, Leo P., Zac Zinger, Sam Dillon, Steven Feifke, Andrew Gould, Tiffany Mann, and the vocal sextet Accent. Backwards Compatible was mixed by GRAMMY award winning engineer John Kilgore, and mastered by engineering veteran Alan Silverman, who has worked on more than 80 GRAMMY nominated or winning albums throughout his career. Backwards Compatible features a winning musical combination: melodies that are instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever traversed through immersive game worlds, and dazzling arrangements, with impeccable musicianship that will appeal to music lovers across the board.
Since its inception in 2017, the 8-Bit Big Band has become a viral sensation. Their fully produced music videos, regularly uploaded to their YouTube channel, has aggregated over 9 Million views, and over 200,000 subscribers, followers, and listeners across the globe, selling out large-scale concert venues in New York City and Boston to date. The ensemble was founded by Charlie Rosen, who at the age of 30, already has 11 Broadway shows, and countless Off-Broadway and regional productions under his belt. A man of many talents, Rosen has worn the musical hats of arranger, orchestrator, music director, pit musician, and music supervisor. This year, he received his first Tony Award nomination - for his orchestrating work on the Broadway production Moulin Rouge.
He has long seen video game music as the perfect vehicle to reach a broader audience, and introduce listeners to the jazz artform. With over 1.2 billion gamers in the world, Rosen surely has a point. “As a lifelong gamer who also grew up listening to the best in orchestral and big band music, I see the music of many video games as musically equivalent to other great works of music set to media such as film scores and broadway shows,” said Rosen last year ahead of their sold out concert at Sony Hall earlier this year. “Many carry the same quality of melody and composition when it comes to quality, scope, and emotional appeal for audiences. The crowd reaction when we play our versions of themes from favorites such as Mario, Tetris, and Legend of Zelda is overwhelming, not just because it’s amazing music on its own, but also because of the strong memories and nostalgia evoked in an audience that played these games throughout childhood. I truly believe that video game music deserves to be included in a ‘New American Songbook,’ just like classic film and Broadway music has been canonized by the Golden Age American Songbook.” In a 2019 New York Times feature, journalist Elizabeth Harris notes “Mr. Rosen exists as a sort of bridge between genres and generations, embracing Broadway standards, pop songs and the music of Tetris.”
Backwards Compatible explores musical selections that were prominently featured in iconic video games without sacrificing one iota of the band’s focus on stunning musicality. This awe-inspiring release begins with “The Chrono Trigger Main Theme”, a reimagined arrangement of the theme from the 1995 game Chrono Trigger. Taking a nod from the Jaco Pastorius track “Kuru/Speak Like a Child”, the album begins with improvised lines from all of the players growing into an expansive soundscape featuring pianist Steven Feifke blazing through this tribute to electric big band jazz fusion. Featuring the vibrant Grace Kelly on alto sax, the band tackles a Tower of Power inspired funk arrangement of “Hydrocity Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994).
Featuring celebrated vocalist and trumpeter Benny Bennack III crooning in the style of Frank Sinatra and soloing on trumpet, the band gives a rousing rendition of “Want You Gone” from the popular game Portal 2 (2011). The band displays its virtuosity in a powerful Arabic-tinged, metal-infused jazz fusion performance of “Super Mario Land Underground” from Super Mario Land (1989) with a boundary pushing performance on the baritone sax by the inimitable Leo P.
Rosen demonstrates his stellar musicianship on the bass with a Jaco-inspired introduction and melody to the popular soundtrack selection “Dire Dire Docks” from Super Mario 64 (1996). Zac Zinger is featured on the EWI in a smooth big band rendition of “Birdman” from the game Pilot Wings 64 (1996). This lush arrangement is followed by a mesmerising performance by vocal jazz sextet Accent on a contemporary jazz version of “Lost in Thoughts All Alone” from Fire Emblem: Fates (2015).
Bass player and composer Adam Neely is featured as a soloist on a nimble orchestral jazz arrangement of the game music standard “Saria’s Song” from The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time (1998), which is followed by a dazzlingly dynamic and powerful vocal performance from the amazing Tiffany Mann on the James Bond inspired “Snake Eater” from Metal Gear Solid 3 (2004). To take us into the end of our journey, Grace Kelly delivers an uplifting and jubilant take on the new modern game music hit “Jump Up Super Star” from Super Mario Odyssey (2017), followed by a farewell from the band with a classic swing big band take on the “End Theme from Super Mario World” (1990).
In the words of Charlie Rosen, “This album was born as a collaboration between a collection of some of the most creative, talented, and open-hearted artists and musicians that gathered together to showcase that when performed with heart and skill, Video Game Music deserves to take its place alongside other legendary bodies of musical work. We hope you enjoy listening as much as we did creating, and long live Video Game Music!”
The 8-Bit Big Band is a 33-member jazz/pops orchestra formed by Charlie Rosen to celebrate and realize some of the best musical themes of various video games from a multitude of consoles and eras. The members of the 8-Bit Big Band come from all around the world, with most residing primarily in New York City, and are some of the most highly sought-after musicians and performers internationally. Many are all gamers at heart who enjoy playing many of the titles whose music they performed.
Recently featured in Forbes Magazine, the 8-Bit Big Band is redefining the concept of the modern big band. Comprised of 33 top musicians (many of which are gamers themselves), Rosen’s extraordinary endeavor celebrates the breadth and richness of music from globally sensational video game franchises like Super Mario Brothers, the Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and more in a way that is spellbinding. They have consistently sold out shows across the United States; most recently, at New York City’s Sony Hall this past January. In October, the 8 Bit Big Band made their first appearance in Boston at the Berklee Performance Center and filled every seat.
Since its inception, the 8-Big Band has become a viral sensation. Their fully produced music videos, regularly uploaded to their YouTube channel, rack up tens to hundreds of thousands of views. Currently, the channel boasts nearly 80,000 subscribers and has garnered over 3M cumulative views in the past year. In May of 2018, the 8-Bit Big Band released its first album, Press Start!, which features the music of the Super Mario series, the Legend of Zelda series, Ganbare Goemon, F-Zero, and Final Fantasy. In June 2019, the band released its second album Choose Your Character, which includes music from Donkey Kong Country, Duck Tales, Sonic The Hedgehog, Pokemon, Portal and more from Super Mario Series, The Legend of Zelda and Tetris.
“As a lifelong gamer who also grew up listening to the best in orchestral and big band music, I see the music of many video games as musically equivalent to other great works of music set to media such as film scores and broadway shows. Many carry the same quality of melody and composition when it comes to quality, scope, and emotional appeal for audiences. The crowd reaction when we play our versions of themes from favorites such as Mario, Tetris, and Legend of Zelda is overwhelming, not just because it’s amazing music on its own, but also because of the strong memories and nostalgia evoked in an audience that played these games throughout childhood. I truly believe that video game music deserves to be included in a ‘New American Songbook,’ just like classic film and Broadway music has been canonized by the Golden Age American Songbook,” Rosen says.
For: Game Changer
THE NEW YORK SUN
"The 8-Bit Big Band is refreshingly analog and mostly acoustic — and deliberately old school." Read the full article here.
NEW JERSEY JAZZ SOCIETY
"Overall, the material is exciting, and you quickly forget about the source of the music. In fact, if you were just sitting down to listen to the music with no knowledge of its source, you would just think that you were hearing imaginative charts of tuneful songs. " Read the full review here.
THE ART FUSE
"The material is new, it swings, and the musicians sound like they’re having a blast." Read the full article here.
For: Backwards Compatible
This nomination marks only the third time that video games have been acknowledged at the awards. Read this article here.
As the last five composers have established, big band is not necessarily a genre, but a vessel in which to pour any kind of music. By way of the 8-Bit Big Band, a jazz/pops orchestra that performs video game music, Charlie Rosen is actively testing this hypothesis. Read this article here.
"Hats off to Charlie Rosen and his amazing ensemble for creating this stimulating testament to the enduring big band genre from such unlikely material." Read this review here.
The roster incorporates the talents of more than 70 of New York City’s finest musicians, with special guests such as Grace Kelly, Adam Neely, Benny Benack III, and the vocal sextet Accent. Check this feature here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Backwards Compatible, unlike some other albums of recent vintage, is uniquely inspired and amply rewards repeated listening. In other words, despite its rather far-out premise, the music will most likely grow on you. Due credit for that to Rosen's fertile imagination, as well as to a BIG band that embraces the concept, apprehends its meaning and makes it not only plausible but memorable." Read this review here.
The 8-Bit Big Band has released their third album, Backwards Compatible, which continues the group’s approach of reimagining video game music for jazz orchestra. Led by Charlie Rosen, the band has arrangements of music from Chrono Trigger, Super Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid 3, and more. Read this announcement here.
"This is a great party record and obviously a labor of love. The amount of work Rosen spent reworking all these tunes is staggering, and the huge crew here seem to be having just as much fun with it." Read the full review here.
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
"It's quite a fantastic album that does everything that it says on the tin" Read more here.
"There is an inherent silliness to jazzing up video game music but this is a professional, and even moving, set." Review here.
For Live Performances
Bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Charlie Rosen has shared the latest video for his 8-Bit Big Band project, with which he performs original arrangements of music from some of the world’s most popular video games. This time, the band he has gathered for this very special user-generated video may be the largest virtual big band ever created, as it features 664 musicians from 40 different countries. Together, the perform a version of “Lifelight” from Super Smash Brothers. Read the full feature here.
"Bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Charlie Rosen has gathered possibly the largest ever virtual band for the latest user-generated video of his 8-Bit Big Band Project."Read the full feature here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
In the two years since the ensembles original inception, it’s become a virtual, viral phenomenon. Their YouTube channel boasts nearly 100,000 viewers. Check it out. Read the full feature here.
Name: Charlie Rosen
What show were you working on when the quarantine started?
I had a few things in the works; my orchestrations could be heard each night in Moulin Rouge on broadway, and I had just finished orchestrating a few musicals which were premiering in NYC or out of town that had their sights set on Broadway for the near future, as well as in the development of some other new shows looking to start their journey to a Broadway theater as well. Read the full feature here.
The 8-Bit Big Band, under the direction of 29-year old multi-talented bandleader/composer Charlie Rosen, is redefining the concept of a modern big band. This 33-piece ensemble specializes in original “big band” arrangements of music from some of the world’s most popular video games – and since its inception, it has become nothing short of a viral sensation. Read it here.
Feature article previews October 2019 show at Berklee Performance Center. Read it here.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
Feature article previews March 2020 performance art Berklee Performance Center. Read it here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ/WICN
"What had been brought together this evening by a deeply gifted young arranger and instrumentalist was a generational team of exceptionally talented musicians, a quality that figured heavily in pulling off this highly creative, immersive, multimedia celebration. " Read full show review here.
"Much in the same way as the madeleines that Proust wrote about so many years ago would involuntarily conjure memories from a single bite, hearing video game melodies takes me back to the safety of my childhood living room floor, to hours spent cross-legged, lost in digital adventures scored to these enduring songs. This is the power of the music of the 8 Bit Big Band, a 35-plus-piece jazz pops orchestra that performs and brings to life these tunes like never before." Full show review here.
DAILY FREE PRESS
"As an ensemble composed of endlessly talented and passionate individuals, the 8-Bit Big Band was able to showcase a shared passion of love for music and gaming in how they combine video game music and jazz. Without taking away from the games’ sentiments, the band fluently executed live music in a class high above their own." Read full show review here.