A full-size orchestra that plays video game music? Whoever heard of such a thing? For Los Angeles transplant turned New Yorker Charlie Rosen, he saw a need to blend together his two hobbies: music and video games. The idea would culminate into The 8-Bit Big Band, a 25 member Jazz/Pops orchestra that rearranges music to the tunes of classic video games.
“I have always loved large ensemble music and grew up listening to orchestras, but I have also been a lifelong gamer since I was a kid,” said Rosen, who likens video game music to those of film scores. “People grow up with emotional experiences of consuming this media and fall in love with music associated with films and shows. I grew up with a video game library of the new American songbook, and I think it deserves the same entertainment as the Golden Age American Songbook.”
Rosen, who is the bandleader of The 8-Bit Big Band spends time on the Broadway scene as the music supervisor for Broadway hit Be More Chill. The multi-instrumentalist with an eclectic taste in music, credits music as being in his blood; with a classical musician for a mother and a jazz musician and organist for a father. He merged his two interests together and voilà! The 8-Bit Big Band was born. As for the name, Rosen wanted to utilize the term “8 bit,” which is associated with video game terminology.
“It feels like a niche community, but it has a huge passionate fanbase. If you find musicians who are gamers, they hear about us and immediately think what we do is amazing,” said Rosen, who has found that people with various talents are willing to jump on board such a cool project. “We have had inspiring singers from Japan, animators from Europe and musicians from the states join in on the fun. I treat the music with respect and I’m arranging it in a professional way.”
Rosen enjoys top tier jazz musical arrangements since it is already “great music at its core.” But when he gets to arranging Mario, Zelda, Tetris and Pokémon, a whole other level of nostalgia kicks in, resonating with people on a emotional level.
“People are still looking for the scores of the old Super Mario games because that is what they grew up with and remember playing as a child,” he said. “My favorite video game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64. It’s the most incredible and complex video game soundtrack of all time. That soundtrack taught me music theory.”
When deciding on what music to arrange, Rosen draws from his own body of knowledge. However, he has a particular penchant towards Nintendo.
“Koji Kondo of Nintendo is an incredible writer and composer. Sometimes I go hunting and look for what stands out to me,” said Rosen. “Still Alive from the game Portal is a rock song and when I was listening to it, I thought it could be good as a Frank Sinatra-style classic and it really worked.”
To get their music, The 8-Bit Big Band has albums on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon, anywhere that can stream music. The first album, Press Start! features the music of the Super Mario series, The Zelda series, Ganbare Goemon, F-Zero and Final Fantasy, and enabled a second album called Choose Your Character, which, according to Rosen, will be available soon.
The 8-Bit Big Band will be playing two live shows on May 23 at 8 and 10 p.m. at SubCulture in Manhattan. Rosen noted that in addition to the band, which will total 30 musicians, a number that sometimes reaches 65, the evening will also feature special jazz guests.
To learn more about The 8-Bit Big Band, visit www.the8bitbigband.com.
Also, check out these 8-Bit Big Band videos:
The Tetris Theme song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV7GijG9ZWY
Mario Bros Theme Salsa version – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-jedrMcJ-Y