Blackstar version

The version of ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’ on the Blackstar album was considerably reworked from the Maria Schneider recording.

Of the musicians, David Bowie, sax player Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder, and drummer Mark Guiliana played on both. For the album they were joined by keyboard player Jason Lindner, bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre, and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on percussion.

We recorded this song with Maria Schneider’s orchestra in 2014, and it appeared on David’s Nothing Has Changed compilation. For this version he wanted a bit more edge, a bit more urgency. We played it more stripped down and a little faster. The energy of this track is really special – again, David encouraged us to really go for it. Tim was free to go to what I call ‘Tim World,’ which is one of my favorite musical places. By the end, we really get to another gear. I have some Gregg Keplinger metal percussion on my ride cymbal on this take – you can that hear stuff bouncing around!
Mark Guiliana
Modern Drummer, February 2016

The backing track for the album version was recorded at the Magic Shop studio on 2 February 2015. Bowie’s vocals were recorded at Human Studios in New York on 23 and 30 April.

He would come in and explain to us what the direction of the song was. Then we’d get the roadmap together and that took a while, especially on the arrangement for “Sue”, because it’s kind of nebulous and floaty. We figured out where to change and not because it’s not an 8-bar groove kind of thing.
Tim Lefebvre
No Treble, 14 January 2016

The song known as called “Re-Sue” in Bowie’s written notes for the album.

David Bowie's handwritten early song titles for Blackstar

The song went through various iterations during the session, including a version with just drums, bass guitar, and Bowie’s vocals.

There’s the Maria Schneider Orchestra version. We tried to play a quartet arrangement of that. We also tried another version that was not trying to copy or emulate that arrangement. I don’t know which one they kept.
Jason Lindner
Rolling Stone, 4 December 2015

Eventually, McCaslin returned to Schneider’s version and worked out a fresh arrangement.

The new version of ‘Sue’ took the longest. Because the original we recorded with Maria is so specific, with all the orchestration, I said to David, “Why don’t we do a version that’s more open, where we’re just jamming, the guys are jamming, and there’s David Bowie singing that first part. Then we’ll all just cue the sections.” So we did one or two passes at that which were really wild, but it didn’t work. I went back to Maria’s score and reduced it to clarinet, alto flute, tenor. I came back the next morning and said, “Tony, I’ve got an idea of ‘Sue’.” Then I put those parts on and everybody felt it was feeling complete. I was trying to push to have those guys play more open and to get it edgier and let loose.
Donny McCaslin, 31 October 2015
Uncut, January 2016

The album version was tighter than the jazz orchestra recording, with a harder rhythm section and less free-form improvisation.

On ‘Sue’, they asked for something atmospheric over one part of the song, and my go-to trick was turning the mix on my Lexicon LXP-1 [half-rack reverb unit] all the way up, as well as putting the delay and decay all the way up – which makes this giant wash of sound and makes whatever note you play sound really good. And whatever other pedals you add into the mix are further accentuated by that wash.

I’m basically just doubling the bass line. At one point, Tim moved something around in an interesting way and I just stuck with him, so that part is more reinforcing the bass line than anything. I believe I tracked that song with my “Partscaster” strat[-style] for the main, single-line lick, but the harmonics are always my Ibanez – they just don’t pop out as well on the strat.

Ben Monder
Premier Guitar, 15 January 2016

The Blackstar recording ends with eight bars of what bassist Tim Lefebvre called “some raging drum and bass”, led by him and drummer Mark Guiliana.

Mark and I talked about this a bit and it’s amazing how open-minded they were as a team. On ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’, for example, they gave us eight bars to just rage. Mark and I had played a lot of live drum ’n’ bass together, and it’s shocking and amazing to hear that on a David Bowie record – they allowed us to do what we do on this album! I think the stuff David wrote would’ve been amazing with any band, but it’s unreal to have been involved. Yes, he happened to hire a band that was a unit, but it’s not like David simply inserted himself in our world. He demoed these things really well and could have had any studio musicians in the world play these songs. He just happened to want guys with chemistry playing them, so it was very cool.
Tim Lefebvre
Premier Guitar, 15 January 2016