The Modern Music Man: he also plays 70 instruments and video games


In a recording studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last month, where the wood paneling on the walls and ceiling gave off a faint pine scent, Charlie Rosen stood in front of 17 fellow musicians, smiling. Best known for his Broadway work, Mr. Rosen accompanied the music, stick comfortably in hand, as the ensemble played the sheet music for a Nintendo racing car game.

With a muted television providing signals, he and his 8-Bit Big Band were recording the music of Mario Kart 64, blown with 36 instruments, including saxophones, trumpets, trombones, 11 violins, three cellos, and a harp.

“Do you have everything we need for this section?” He asked his engineer. “Great. Let’s go to level 3.

At 28, Mr. Rosen is an orchestrator, composer and arranger with his hands in many musical cookie jars.

He is the music supervisor and orchestrator of “Be More Chill” on Broadway, a show for which he also plays guitar in the pit. He has a big band devoted to video game songs and another dedicated to theatrical music, which will perform at Feinstein’s / 54 Below on Monday.

Mr Rosen also produces commercial soundtracks for skin-care company Olay in his small home office in Harlem, where he stores 52 instruments in a 9-by-10-foot room that faces a quiet street.

There is a melodica, a flugelbone, a zither and a theremin, which makes the ooo-oo-ooo sound of old sci-fi movies and is played by waving your hands in the air. If you count what he calls his “toys” – like harmonicas, tambourines and a kalimba – Mr. Rosen has 70 instruments at home. He can play them all.

“It’s crazy,” he said after counting. “I’m crazy.”

This collection is more than a nifty party trick. Indeed, while he considers himself above all as a bass player, his ease with so many instruments is part of what makes him such a precious orchestrator.

“It’s a bit like cooking,” he added. “The more spices you know, the more you can combine them to create new flavors in places you might not expect.” Once a year, he reckons, he’ll work on a piece of music and think, “You know what that needs? A bass melodica.

Mr. Rosen exists as a kind of bridge between genres and generations, embracing Broadway standards, pop songs and the music of Tetris. And all of this is reflected in his work.

Marc Shaiman, a Tony-award-winning theater and Oscar-nominated film composer, described Mr. Rosen as a great talent, but without the eccentricities that sometimes accompany the ride. “He’s the kind of talent where I almost want to hate him,” Mr. Shaiman said. “But I can not.”

Jennifer Ashley Tepper, producer on “Be More Chill” and creative and programming director of Feinstein’s / 54 Below, describes him as a hub for young Broadway musicians, as between his bands and the shows for which he hires, he employs so many of them.

“It’s an incredibly calm and stable source,” Ms. Tepper said. “When you find out that a great reporter is coming, or something has collapsed and we can’t put it back, that’s the first person to say, ‘OK, let’s make a plan.'”

Mr. Rosen, an easy-to-smile bearded energy bundle, has lived in the same six-bedroom apartment in Harlem since he was 22, with a rotating team of roommates. His girlfriend, Danielle Gimbal, does the work of copying his music and is frequently present at his house and during recording sessions.

Raised in Los Angeles, Mr. Rosen is the son of a classical bassoonist (his mother, who also plays flute, clarinet, piccolo and sax) and an organist (his father, who also plays guitar, banjo and accordion). A large Wurlitzer pipe organ, like a silent movie house, was in his childhood home.

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When he was 3, his parents noticed that he could tell if a note played on the piano was white or black – it had a perfect key. So he started playing the piano, with his mother as his first teacher.

He had no intention of working on Broadway. But as a 15-year-old jazz student at a performing arts high school, he auditioned to play in the pit for a regional production of the musical “13” – and off we went.

He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for four semesters, between Broadway shows. He turned to courses that he felt could help him professionally, such as music production, arrangement, and Afro-Caribbean percussion.

His main concerts are now the guitar for “Be More Chill” – his instrument, dressed for the occasion, wears a bow of brown hair on his head – and co-orchestration of the production of “Moulin Rouge!” scheduled to open on Broadway in July. (On the first day of the “Be More Chill” performances, his union’s new management told him that the contract rules prohibited him, as the show’s orchestrator, from playing in the band, but he was reinstated while the contract was in progress. renegotiated.)

Thanks to Mr. Rosen, “Be More Chill” contains a theremin, which does its electronic ooo-oo-ooo thing when a mind-controlling supercomputer dies. There is also a flugelbone, which he described as his “secret orchestral weapon”: stamps for a small orchestra.

Joe Iconis, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Be More Chill,” said Mr. Rosen’s ability to have so many instruments in his head, but also so many different genres of music, old and new, can give an air to his work. of magic. “

“The breadth of her knowledge of music of all types is simply intimidating,” said Mr. Iconis. “As much as he knows the synth sound that was used on Ariana Grande’s last record, so well does he know the trombone model used in the orchestration of ‘How To Do Business Without Really Trying’.” “

Mr. Rosen has a lot of plans – he would like to write music for video games, music for a movie, to be commissioned by a large symphony orchestra to write a piece – but no particular purpose in mind, he said. he declares. He just wants to continue.

“You can’t be Charlie without being incredibly ambitious,” said Jason Robert Brown, who was the songwriter and lyricist of “13” and has worked with Mr. Rosen on several concerts and shows since. “But I think it’s really an ambition to have as much music in your life, in your head and in your mouth as possible. He loves to make music.


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