The idea for THE STILL OF THE NIGHT began when Wopat was recording the original cast album for "Annie Get Your Gun", in which he starred with Bernadette Peters. Before long, producer Russ Titelman had joined the project. Titelman's credits read like a who's who of modern music, including his Grammy-winning records for Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, the critically acclaimed, early recordings of Randy Newman, and hits by George Harrison, Rickie Lee Jones, George Benson, Chaka Khan and James Taylor.
The idea was to keep it simple and romantic with vocal performances that are intimate and conversational. They set the bar high: create a concept record in the tradition of Frank Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours," "Where Are You," or "Only the Lonely," choosing songs of mystery and question, rather than straight-ahead love songs. Go for the greatest songwriters-Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hart, Jimmy Webb-and subtly reinvent them to make them more contemporary. The songs weren't dramatically changed or substantially overhauled from the original versions but rather re-harmonized as in "For All We Know" to make them a little more unusual than the traditional versions. They also brought in arranger Jonathan Tunick, famous for his long association with Stephen Sondheim, to add his touch to Jim Webb's "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress" and the title song from Sondheim's 1964 musical, "Anyone Can Whistle". Famed Grammy award-winning Arif Mardin did the beautiful string arrangement on "Ruby" while Rob Mounsey, whose wide-ranging credits include working with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello and Madonna, did the arrangements for five tracks.
Songs were chosen by trial and error during rehearsal from a long list compiled by both Wopat and Titelman. "For All We Know" was the first choice, it was the breakthrough that set the tone of the record. Jimmy Webb's "If These Walls Could Speak" became one of the recording's most haunting pieces with simple piano and strings while just piano and voice on Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" is one of the work's most direct performances. With Wopat's brilliantly emotive voice, "Where Is Love" from Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" was transformed from the hit song in a musical about children to a soul-searching, grown-up, deeply emotional lament. But the big surprises are "Let's Fall In Love" and "In The Still Of The Night": the first with its big band arrangement, and the second, a bossa nova in the style of Getz/Gilberto. Adding a touch of humor are "Making Whoopee" and "Baby It's Cold Outside," which features Antonia Bennett, the 26-year old daughter of Tony Bennett who makes her recording debut.
Much of THE STILL OF THE NIGHT was recorded live with a trio featuring some of the world's top jazz musicians, including Larry Goldings on piano, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Steve Jordan and Rob Mounsey. Guitarist John Pizzarelli plays on five tracks. His father, jazz superstar Bucky Pizzarelli, (who has played with Benny Goodman, Stephane Grappelli, Lionel Hampton, Dion DiMucci and Lionel Hampton) performs on "Let's Fall In Love."
Titelman said, "We wanted to make an emotional album people can listen to over and over again, something that could stand the test of time like the great Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra records. Besides, Tom is one of the greatest singers I've ever heard, so it was a real pleasure doing this record and a real experience for all of us. He doesn't make a big deal of it, he just shows up and does it. When we were doing 'Anyone Can Whistle,' he walked into the studio with his crash helmet on (he rides a bike). I introduced him to the musicians, he went in, sang this astounding performance, then said 'okay, gotta go.' No big fanfare around it. He just kind of does it."
Tom Wopat first came to public attention in the late '70s as the freewheeling Luke Duke on the comedy-adventure TV series, "The Dukes of Hazzard." But his background as a classically trained vocalist was a far cry from the car crashes and corny humor that gave the series a seven-year run and afforded him the opportunity to make his debut as a director on five episodes.
Born on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin, Wopat began singing and dancing in school musicals when he was 12 years old. He studied music at the University of Wisconsin and began his acting career in productions of "West Side Story", "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "South Pacific". Within weeks of his arrival in New York in 1977, he appeared off-Broadway in the hit musical "A Bistro Car on the CNR", then signed for the title role of "The Robber Bridegroom" at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. Back in New York, he made his Broadway debut in Cy Coleman's "I Love My Wife" and followed that by starring as Curly in an off-Broadway production of "Oklahoma". Wopat resumed his theatrical career in 1986 with "Carousel" at the Kennedy Center. Returning to New York in the early '90s, he starred in the Tony Award-winning musicals "City of Angels" and "Guys and Dolls". In February, 1999, he created the role of Frank Butler to Bernadette Peters' Annie in the Broadway revival of "Annie Get Your Gun", a role which earned him a Tony nomination. Wopat has also appeared with the Cincinnati Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in programs featuring the music of Broadway.
What's next for Tom Wopat? First, Wopat is doing a nine-month tour in "Annie Get Your Gun", which will take him cross-country from October, 2000 through next summer. Wopat's non-musical career has included starring roles in TV movies and a leading role in "Cybill" as well as a recurring role in "Home Improvement" in 1998.
HE STILL OF THE NIGHT has now given him the opportunity to clearly define who the real Tom Wopat is. He explains: "Everybody likes this kind of music. There's something about it that's kind of undeniable. A couple of swing tunes, the lushness of the strings, and horns and strings together, is a winning combination. The thing that excited me the most, other than doing all these great, great songs, is that we did so much of it live live vocals done right in the session with the musicians. As a singer and as a musician, I've played trombone and I've played guitar. There's nothing quite like it, being able to record it all at once. You never really recapture the magic of doing it together and that's really what the joy of it is, doing it together and having it come out so great."