The recorded version of “I’m Dreaming of No One But You” is now a reality because musicians from around the world came together to turn an old piece of sheet music into a swinging big band recording. Read the story about how the 2020 pandemic became an opportunity to bring a forgotten song to life.
Hello, my name is Jacob Luecke.
Not long ago my dad gave me an envelope filled with historical information about our family. Inside were family trees, old photos and details about properties our ancestors used to own.
But I was most interested in a piece of sheet music I discovered in the envelope. It was a song written by my grandmother, Leona Augustin. It was titled “I’m Dreaming of No One But You” and was published in 1942.
Since grandma Leona had died when I was two years old, I didn’t know very much about her. I certainly never knew she wrote music.
Coincidentally, I also write music — my hobby is composing acoustic guitar instrumentals. So I was intrigued that my grandma and I shared this interest.
I decided to transcribe “I’m Dreaming of No One But You” for guitar, but it didn’t really work. Then, I had the idea to do the song as if it were recorded at the time grandma Leona wrote it — as a swinging 1940s big band song.
I played guitar and used virtual instruments to create a very basic outline for the song. I experimented with some tempo changes I had in mind. I also tried out a key change idea for the second chorus.
Here’s what that sounded like:
It was very primitive, but I decided that there was some promise. My dream was to use this as a template and find live musicians to play the song in a big band style.
This was right around the start of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. With social distancing measures in place, I realized the only way to move forward was to find musicians who could record the parts remotely and send them to me. Luckily, the website Fiverr made it easy to contact musicians all around the world.
I started with the drums, bringing in Jake Naugle. Jake did a couple takes of the song. The first was slightly more complex with lots of interesting fills. The second take was more laid back. Here is a clip from his performance:
Next I added a bass track with help from New York bassist Andy Warner. I really like his performance. He also did two takes. The bass track ended up being one of my favorite parts of the song. To me the playing here feels a little edgy in places, which is a unique feeling in a big band song. Anyway, I thought he did great work, here’s a clip:
Next came the piano track. I worked with an amazing player who goes by the name ipse dixit. We ended up doing three takes. Two takes were filled with incredible improvisation. The third take was a rote reading of the sheet music.
I was really inspired by this performance, especially since the piano was Leona’s instrument. After hearing his work, I got the idea to a special “jazz piano” version of the song. Here is a clip of some of the improv:
Up until this point my strategy was to keep sending the song to new musicians and having them improvise over the existing tracks. I intended to add trumpets, saxophones and strings.
But I realized that if everyone was just improvising, the song would be chaos. I needed to develop sheet music for the musicians to play going forward. At first I tried arranging the song myself. It turned out terribly.
Luckily, there are several composers on the web who will do big band arrangements. I decided Venezuelan composer Samuel Fuentes would be the best fit for this song.
I worked with Samuel for about a month on the arrangement. His instincts for the song were perfect. I remember making just two edits after receiving his first draft. Here is the PDF of the full score.
With the score now in hand, I was most excited to record the string section that Samuel had written. I decided to seek help from Russian musician Maria Grigoryeva to record the strings. It was a significant undertaking involving two violin parts, two violas, a cello and a contrabass.
The recordings I received back from Maria were incredible.
Every time I received recordings back from a musician I would spent hours checking each track against the score to make sure each note was correct. Without fail there would always be a couple missed notes that required a revision — really no big deal. I also spent dozens of hours using my music software, Logic Pro X, to fix subtle timing and tuning issues in almost every track.
I mention all this just to say that none of that was required for Maria’s tracks. Every note in each part was perfect. Even the timing and tuning were perfect. This saved me so many hours! She also delivered each part with multiple mic positions, which helped achieve a rich, deep sound in the strings.
Another thing I like about the strings tracks from Maria is how you can tell she comes from a classical background. There’s a precision and formality to her playing that added a unique feel to the strings here compared to other big band recordings.
Anyway, I think the isolated string section to this song stands as a worthwhile song in its own right.
So here it is, the unabridged string recording for “I’m Dreaming of No One But You:”
The horn parts were also a significant undertaking. The score called for four trumpets and four trombones, including one bass trombone. I worked with Berlin-based musician Kelly O’Donohue for this.
I really liked her style of playing and was impressed by the ideas she brought to her performance. Her work on these tracks really brought them to life. She also went above and beyond and double-tracked each part, providing a fuller sound.
Here is a clip from her trumpet performance:
And here is Kelly playing the trombone part:
Finding someone to record the bass trombone part was a challenge. A couple players I contacted were separated from their bass trombones due to the pandemic. Apparently a bass trombone is something you keep in storage unless you really need it.
Fortunately Venezuelan trombonist Victor Fuenmayor, aka “Victrombon,” had his bass at the ready. I really like how he performed this one track. It’s not a part that ever really stands out in the mix, but it’s really important to establishing the low end in the horns. It also has some tricky timing that Victor nailed.
Here is a clip:
Next I focused on the saxophone parts. This was especially exciting because it offered the chance to work with two-time Grammy Award winner Fabian Hernandez.
When I started this project, I never would have imagined having a Grammy-winning artist helping record grandma Leona’s song. So it was a thrill to have Fabian’s help.
Predictably, Fabian’s tracks were awesome. His playing is so smooth. The harmonies in his alto and tenor sax parts sound incredible.
Take a listen to this excerpt:
Originally, Fabian was going to play the baritone sax part too. But during his work on this song, he discovered that the heat in his Austin, Texas, garage had unset the pads on his bari sax. It was unplayable.
So I turned to Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Dima Faustov. He nailed the part:
With that, I felt like the instrumentation was in place. I spent roughly the next month working on an instrumental mix for the song.
While doing this, I also began working on the vocal arrangement. Up until this point I felt very comfortable working on the song. I have experience writing, playing and recording instrumental music. But working with vocals was entirely new to me.
Early on, I realized there was a potential problem in the lyrics. Grandma Leona had structured the song to have a four-bar instrumental introduction, then one 12-bar verse. After this, there is a 32-bar chorus that repeats twice.
The chorus both begins and ends with the lyrics “I am dreaming of no one but you.” So the problem is that phrase is repeated twice in a row as it ends the first chorus and begins the second.
To get around this, I decided that in the second chorus we could drop the lyrics and do an eight-bar spoken word segment at the beginning of the second chorus. It was pretty common during this song’s era for singers to just start talking in the middle of a song. It seemed like a good gimmick to use here.
Making things even more complicated, I also had a vision to do the song as a duet between a female and male singer — sometimes singing individually while other times in harmony.
I decided to seek help from Benjamin Lyth in putting together the vocal arrangement. I spent about a month working with Benjamin — who is a terrific singer — to figure out how the female and male parts should work together.
In some places we envisioned having just one singer. In other places they would sing together — sometimes in octaves, other times in harmony. It was a lot to figure out.
That said, working with Benjamin was probably the most fun I had collaborating with someone on this project. There’s a lot of his creativity in the vocal arrangement.
It was especially hilarious to trade tracks as we tried to figure out the female vocal line. I’m not going to post them here, but there are several demos of us straining to do the female vocals we’d written. Benjamin likened his voice to Marge Simpson, while I think I sounded more like Miss Piggy. Anyway, it wasn’t always pretty but we did eventually figure out the vocals. Here is the vocal score that Benjamin produced.
Now I just needed to find the right singers. For the female part, Benjamin recommended Emily Clarke, a singer he knew. Emily has an incredible voice. I could easily see her voicing a Disney princess some day. Emily shares clips of herself singing on YouTube.
Here’s a nice one:
When I was looking for a male singer, one guy stood out immediately: Wyatt Michael. He’s a young singer with a classic voice. I feel lucky to have found him and worked with him on this song before he inevitably gets famous.
The takes I did with Emily and Wyatt were as smooth as can be. Wyatt did his take first, then Emily recorded hers. It was really cool to hear both singers put their own style into the parts. The tracks they recorded stayed true to the arrangement except at the very end.
Wyatt had a great idea to slightly alter the ending of the song. Then Emily worked out a very special concluding line to go with Wyatt’s part.
For me, it was just sitting back and watching the magic happen.
“I’m Dreaming of No One But You” was finally released on January 15, 2021 — on what would have been grandma Leona’s 106th birthday.