Monday, February 6, 2012

Inside Cirque Du Soleil's Michael Jackson Tribute with St. Louis Trumpeter Keyon Harrold

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Michael Jackson: Still filling arenas. - COURTESY OF CIRQUE DU SOLIEL
  • Courtesy of Cirque Du Soliel
  • Michael Jackson: Still filling arenas.

Trumpeter Keyon Harrold has spent much of his professional life in the relatively laid-back atmosphere of jazz clubs and recording studios. But when the St. Louis native performs in his hometown this week, he'll be in the middle of a circus - literally. That's because Harrold is part of the live band for "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour," the tribute to the late singer produced by Cirque du Soleil that's playing the Scottrade Center (1401 Clark Avenue, 314-241-1888) on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sure, Harrold has been part of major tours before, as a musician-for-hire backing up prominent R&B and hip-hop stars such as Maxwell, Jay-Z, and Erykah Badu. But with a cast of 65 performers, including twelve musicians, and 38 semi-trucks filled with lighting and sound gear, video projection and special effects equipment, staging and scenery, the "Immortal" tour is another level of "big" entirely. "It's just massive," says Harrold. "It's one of those incredibly big productions that Cirque is known for."

Harrold was hired for the show last year by musical director Greg Phillinganes, the veteran keyboardist whose extensive list of credits includes work with Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and Quincy Jones as well as Jackson himself, for whom he served as musical director for tours supporting the albums Bad and Dangerous. "I had met him one time before, during the Grammys or the BET awards. He saw me playing with Maxwell, called around and reached out to me, and asked me did I want to join the circus," says Harrold, who immediately signed on. "Working with Michael was the next thing I wanted to do, but unfortunately, he passed away. So this was like a no-brainer."

After a month of music-only rehearsals, "we rehearsed for three months with the dancers and choreographers. Cirque usually does a minimum of eight months of rehearsal. We did it in like five, which is crazy," says Harrold.

The song list for the show includes more than 30 of Jackson's tunes, with new arrangements built around digital playback of his original vocals and locked to a click track to ensure consistent timing to go with all the lighting cues, video projections and other visual elements. "Kevin Antunes (keyboardist and former musical director for New Kids On The Block, Mark Wahlberg, Britney Spears, Nsync and Justin Timberlake) is the guy who mashed up all the arrangements," says Harrold. "He had total access to all of the masters."

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