Md. man launches ‘Seven Tones Project’ for quarantined musicians, filmmakers

Cherry blossoms bloom outside the National Cathedral in a music video from the Seven Tones Project. (Paul Glenshaw)
WTOP's Jason Fraley explores the Seven Tones Project

Great music and great movies can still be made — even if you’re sheltered in place.

A D.C.-area man offers that chance with his YouTube channel “The Seven Tones Project.”

“Duke Ellington is kind of the foundation of this project,” Paul Glenshaw told WTOP. “He said, ‘Anytime you have a problem, you have an opportunity. Even if you had seven good tones, those were the tones that had to be used.’ That was really the genesis of this.”

He hopes to provide artists a creative outlet to escape the confines of quarantine.

“Anybody who needs a live audience for their work to be fulfilled, doesn’t have it,” Glenshaw said. “Let’s use what we’ve got. Here we are now. Musicians can still record at home. Filmmakers can make films at home, even if you’re just using your phone. So that’s the idea. Let’s see what beautiful things we can make with the tools that we have at hand.”

Glenshaw, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and grew up in D.C. and Reston, Virginia, reached out to local musicians he met during various music projects around the region.

“This region is so rich with incredible musicians,” Glenshaw said. “The first person I contacted was the great bass player John Previti. Within an hour, I had two takes of a recording he made. … We’re limiting the musicians to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn songs, which is to say they have at their disposal an incredibly rich and broad repertoire.”

Beyond the Ellington and Strayhorn stipulation, are there any technical requirements?

“You can record with whatever you have at home, even if it’s just solo bass or just accompanying yourself,” Glenshaw said. “A great clarinet player, Seth Kibel, did a duet with his 15-year-old son that’s beautiful [and] George Mason professor Jim Carroll, who is a tremendous alto player, sent us a beautiful recording of ‘Come Sunday.'”

Glenshaw also has plenty of filmmaking connections thanks to partner Darroch Greer in Santa Barbara, California. Together, they pair each song submission with a filmmaker to create a unique visual interpretation.

Of the 18 songs that have been recorded, nine have already been turned into films, with another six in production and 18 more in the works.

“‘Prelude to a Kiss’ [was] set to beautiful slow-motion photography of beehives,” Glenshaw said. “Another one set a solo guitar version of ‘Sophisticated Lady’ to incredibly beautiful footage of the cherry tree in his yard in Chevy Chase. Another one filmed himself on a GoPro walking, riding a bike, on the Beltway to a drum set version of ‘Take the A Train.'”

Glenshaw himself directed a video using a recording of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” performed by Alex Hamburger, who grew up in Takoma Park and now lives in New York.

Thanks to social media partners, the D.C.-based project has spread around the world.

“We’re getting a lot of help from the Smithsonian Associates, D.C. Jazz Capital Bop, WPFW and George Mason,” Glenshaw said. “I’m meeting new filmmakers and new musicians all the time. I got an email from a clarinet player in Osaka, Japan, this morning!”

Anyone can participate, no matter your experience level.

“It’s an open call,” Glenshaw said. “Student filmmakers, student musicians, professionals. It’s really open. We want to give you something that is fun, something that is a creative outlet and something that might even be a bit of a challenge, but a fun challenge.”

What can audiences take away from watching the videos?

“We can’t go to the movie theater [or] the art gallery … to have that intimate experience where you really feel like you’re communicating one-on-one with an artist,” Glenshaw said. “These small films, these little pieces of poetry do that in a way that a huge, multi-hour binge can’t. There’s an intimacy where the artist is expressing themselves directly to you.”

Along the way, he hopes folks will rediscover the music of Ellington and Strayhorn.

“Ellington was born and raised here in D.C.,” Glenshaw said. His roots are here and his legacy is absolutely tremendous in its breadth and depth. … It’s not just the big band hits. It’s an incredible resource that can be inspiring, uplifting, comforting, exciting and fun.”

As for Glenshaw, his creative brainchild is proving contagious at a time of solitude.

“The experiment was to see even now, shut down as we are, even with all the limited resources that we have with zero budget — everybody is volunteering on this with zero budget and zero resources — can we still make something beautiful?” Glenshaw said. “The answer is coming back loud and clear: absolutely. It’s thrilling to see it happen.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Paul Glenshaw (Full Interview)

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