Back now with DAY TO DAY.

Any Brian Setzer fan knows he's come a long, long way from his Stray Cat days. Sure he can rock this town, but he's also pretty good with jazz, big band. He can even tackle folk music and country.


Brian Setzer has done all that and more with his new CD, "Wolfgang's Big Night Out."

Independent producer Derek Rath has more.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRIAN SETZER (Singer): My idea with this record is, you know, everyone take these composers so seriously. These guys were the party rock and roll animals of the 1800s. You know what I mean? I'm sure these guys were wild. And I thought, I want a picture if they want, and all had a good time one night - had a couple of drinks, what they would do.

RATH: Okay, classical pianists, here my song, it's going to be a rocky road.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: It started with Brian Setzer noodling "Blue Danube" on the guitar. His wife liked it and he realized he was on to something. After adding guitar and bass parts, he took it to the record company and they liked it too. But Setzer's challenge was to distill an entire classical composition down to pop tune length.

Mr. SETZER: The "Blue Danube" is, you know, 20 minutes long. So, you know, I had picked up what pieces I liked and then write the whole big band charts.

RATH: Setzer knew he'd need help doing this.

Mr. SETZER: And the only person I could think of who wrote some sort of classical swing piece was Frank Comstock.

RATH: Legendary big band arranger Frank Comstock started with Doris Day and band leader Les Brown in the '50s. If you don't know his name, you know his work - the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" theme, "Adam-12," "Gilligan's Island" - just the man for the job.

Mr. SETZER: So I said, jeez, is there any way to see if the guy is even still alive? Sure enough, you know, he's 84 and he's a crazy old guy. He's a - he called me up on the phone and he just had me rolling.

RATH: But how to coax him out of retirement.

(Soundbite of "Take The 5th" by Brian Setzer)

Mr. SETZER: Well, first of all, I had to get him kind of interested because he basically said, oh, I haven't written anything in 40 years. I don't know if I could still do that. So I said, well look, Frank, if you're interested, I'm going to send you Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and run with it, pick out all the pieces you like and write a chart. And he had one back for me in about five days. It takes us three weeks.

RATH: Frank Comstock was on board. Brian then gave him Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," which Comstock turned into "Wolfgang's Big Night Out."

(Soundbite of music "Wolfgang's Big Night Out")

RATH: Comstock ended up arranging half the tracks for the CD. With arrangements in hand, Brian assembled his big band for a rehearsal. They were blown away.

Mr. SETZER: They were saying things like, this is the real old school legit stuff.

(Soundbite of music "Wolfgang's Big Night Out")

RATH: Even for Brian Setzer, a virtuoso guitarist in his own field, this project was a challenge.

(Soundbite of song, "One More Night With You")

Mr. SETZER: (Singing) I don't need no foreign car, movie star, new guitar. But you brought me in a funky bar and one more night with you.

RATH: "One More Night With You" is a remake of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King." Like many tracks, it includes Setzer's trademark rockabilly vocals and some complex chord changes.

(Soundbite of song, "One More Night With You")

Mr. SETZER: (Singing) All I need to rock it down and one more night with you.

The actual rhythm guitar in this record was next to impossible because it was a chord changing every beat. And I asked Frank, Frank, do I get to play every single chord here? And he didn't really have an answer for me. Well, (unintelligible). They just did it, you know. They didn't really ask me about it. They just played. And when I got into the bass player's notes, I realized I did. I had to play every single chord. You know, crazy jazz chords and it was pretty - it was hard.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: For Lisa(ph), a take on Beethoven's "Fur Elise" (unintelligible) to the palette with a gypsy swing treatment, ala Jango Reinhart.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: If there are any (unintelligible) still listening, Brian Setzer's choice of titles will be the coup de gras. "Flight of the Bumblebee" becomes "Honey Man," Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" becomes "Here Comes the Broad," and the "William Tell Overture" is transformed as "Swinging Willie." But Setzer's unconcerned about ruffling feathers.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SETZER: Well, (unintelligible), but I have been doing that all along. I said that about rockabilly music. There are people that put this thing in the glass case, you know, and they dance around it, worship it. It's not made for that.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SETZER: You break the glass ticket out of the case and have fun with it. That's what music is here for - to take liberties with and to try and make something new out of them and enjoy them.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: For NPR News, this is Derek Rath.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Madeleine Brand.

COHEN: And I'm Alex Cohen.

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