TO the Record Shelf: “The Ivan Variations” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic

OK, now, From the Record Shelf looks back, at music from the past that has endured. TO the Record Shelf looks ahead, at new music.

Frighteningly prolific, wildly witty, relentlessly clever and fiercely fun-loving, Chandler Travis made his album “The Ivan Variations” the old-fashioned way. In a method unavailable in these plague years, he piled all 14 musicians of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic onstage to play together. You remember: live, with happy people listening.

Check the cover art of this live-onstage CD: Over a black and white photo, a mustard yellow rectangle bill-boards words in the venerable Teutonic this-is-serious style of Deutsche Grammaphon Gesellschaft classical recordings.

When some friends of mine were hired as the record buyers for the (now long-vanished) E.J. Korvette’s department store in Northway Mall, they knew rock, jazz and folk pretty well but realized their classical music knowledge was scanty. So they simply ordered EVERY Deutsche Grammaphon release. It worked. But I digress. Oh, the DDG catalog lists 4,939 releases; 14 hit this month alone, including “The New Stravinsky Complete Edition” – 30 CDs. Even Chandler Travis isn’t THAT prolific…

“The Ivan Variations” collects 13 versions of the same song. Cheerfully Spikey (Jones, that is), zippy and Zappa-esque, it sounds like a music store taken over by conservatory kids who ensured a good time by imbibing laughing gas and peyote, a-plenty. Then they donned Mardi Gras masks and marched in Second Line glee past Tin Pan Alley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, some smoky jazz basements, Carnegie Hall and a comedy club.

My favorites: “Headstand Ivan” in which they simply turned their charts upside down, “Ivan Backwards” – you know, other versions turn the melody inside out. “Ivan Can’t Take It” is a brassy rocker; “Ivan Ska” swings like a tropical breeze; and the encore of “Ivan in Worcester” is an a cappella reprise.

That cover photo shows Travis conducting the ensemble, ringmaster of this sound-circus; but it’s just one of several circuses he typically leads in 80 shows a year.

The Harwich, Mass. (Cape Cod) resident (who celebrated his birthday Monday, March 15) recently said by email he’s busy recording “Great dollops of new stuff from the Philharmonic the Three-O, and the Catbirds,” all bands that he leads and for which he writes and arranges nearly everything. This hyper-activity follows a highly productive 2020 when “we put out quite a bit of new stuff…by the Incredible Casuals, myself, Travis & Shook, Paulette Humanbeing, Pete Labonne, and the afore-mentioned Catbirds, Three-O, and CTP.” Travis said most of this new music is available for free on the merchandise page of his website. Like “The Ivan Variations” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic (there’s also a smaller Philharmonette, but I digress), this music is available directly at, also at iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and band camp.

Looking forward, he said, “As things are starting to look better about the Covid situation, we’re starting to book some jobs around where we live on Cape Cod for the summer tentatively.” Travis explained, “We anticipate doing more outdoor jobs than usual, but we’ll see what happens when! We also hope to get back to Caffé Lena and the Hangar in Troy and some of our usual faves up in your area as soon as the coast is clear-ish!” 

Travis has played almost everywhere hereabouts including opening shows for the late great comic George Carlin with Travis Shook and the Club Wow and headlining in Albany’s Washington Park, the Union College Old Chapel and, as noted, Caffe Lena and the Hangar. 

For now, for a fun blast of Travis’s playful ingenuity at big-band scale, there’s “The Ivan Variations.”