Artist Profile: Ira Antelis - Saga of an Elite/Street Collaboration

When composer Ira Antelis talks about his newest album release, Gone But Not//Duality, you will likely get a dissertation about how fate plays a significant role in our lives. But whether or not there is truth to this theory, one thing is certain: determination, persistence and a strong concept are necessary ingredients for a project’s successful outcome, and Antelis has no shortage of any of the above.

Ira Antelis made his mark as a successful jingle writer in Chicago, creating music for campaigns such as “Be Like Mike” for Gatorade and McDonalds’ “I’m Lovin’ It.” Despite his huge successes, he never abandoned the desire to go beyond composing music for products. He produced CDs of his original piano music and continued to write for theater. But as all musicians know, the need to reinvent oneself is necessary in order to keep up with the ever-changing musical landscape.

The idea for his new project grew out of a longtime relationship with jazz pianist Lee Musiker, who Antelis met back in college some 39 years ago. Antelis was blown away by Musiker’s playing and they became colleagues and friends when they coincidentally wound up at a summer program at Eastman School of Music. Over the years Antelis occasionally hired Musiker to work on jingles, but longed for a more meaningful collaboration. (By now Musiker had gone on to a brilliant performing, conducting and arranging career working with the likes of Barbara Cook, Mel Torme and Audra McDonald, while also serving as Tony Bennett’s musical director for the Grammy-winning Duets album as well as Duets 2.)

With Musiker in mind he created numerous piano pieces, which he recorded on Synclavier and sent to Musiker who transcribed them. They both agreed that meeting in person was the best way to work out the arrangements and choose the final contenders, which they narrowed down to 12 and subsequently recorded.

In an effort to widen the net and reach a larger audience, Antelis put on his marketing hat and recruited another longtime colleague, hip-hop arranger Dr. Dexter, to produce a corresponding track for each jazz track that would be released simultaneously (at this point there are five). Though many single releases are followed up by dance or hip-hop arrangements, Antelis thought that releasing both the jazz and hip-hop versions at the same time was groundbreaking. Suddenly Gone But Not//Duality was born.

For Antelis the title has a twofold meaning. He believes that we are living in a world of “preconceived notions” that is ultimately driving a wedge between us as human beings rather than bringing us together. By combining these genres, he’s hoping the project will address the need for more unity and understanding. On a more personal level, the title references those who are no longer in our lives but their presence is forever internalized.

Dexter took the basic piano tracks, picking out the salient sections as motifs, and looped them on a digital audio workstation. His role was more solitary, (which he says was ideal for him) surrounding himself with various visual images to evoke the moods he was trying to convey. He then created colors with vinyl static noises to suggest rain, warm keyboard pads and bass to bring in darkness and drum sounds for the heartbeat. The record scratches were also reminiscent of his parents’ old jazz records, which tied in with the entire theme.

The work’s premiere fittingly took place at SUNY Binghamton where Antelis and Musiker first met, and since then there have been two additional performances in Chicago—one with Musiker on solo piano and one adding bass and drums. Antelis hopes to bring the show to New York in the near future.

The end result has been very satisfying for all three artists. Musiker echoes this feeling, stating, “There is a good variety of musical selections and I am extremely proud of the way it turned out.”

As for Antelis—he’s over the moon: “I’m ecstatic about how it turned out and (it’s) far beyond what I had thought.” He still believes that his collaboration with Musiker was no coincidence, that they met for a reason and this project was always meant to be. But one thing is for certain; without the many hours of hard work and the evolution of the artistic “process” the album might not have been realized.

For more about the project and the CD, visit gonebutnotduality.com or the Facebook page.