They say timing is everything. I say, being ready for timing is everything. And so the following dream came true as thus…….
I thought my last CD’s message was all about life coming full circle, hence the title Circle in a Square, but this latest project is that and some, kinda feels like Lightning in a Bottle. At the top of 2017, Elliot Scheiner and I found ourselves at my alma mater Berklee College of Music’s new state of the art recording studio, The Shames Family Scoring Stage, recording my latest collection of songs. I’ve spent my career writing and producing my original music and I thought is was about time to go back to where it all started, on my living room floor in Phoenix, Arizona, listening to my parent’s record collection. Of the many albums that I played over and over, one in particular made an impresson early on. The songs and performances were perfectly crafted and produced featuring an up and coming jazz chanteuse, Nancy Wilson on a collaborative record she made with Cannonball Adderley. He convinced Nancy to come to New York from her home state Ohio and she quickly found herself with a record deal and recording with some of the best jazz musicians of the time. Her soulful horn like resonance and phrasing, and her bewitching beauty made the whole world fall in love. But as a kid, I really didn’t understand things like that, I only knew that I loved her voice and the way the music made me feel. That was enough for me to learn all the songs way back then. They have stayed with me throughout my life, an indellible impression on my heart like a tattoo.
So when I was thinking about what my next musical project would be, I thought it was time to address the standards. I’ve consciously waited this long to feel certain about my point of view and now it feels like a welcome friend to give myself over to the Great American Songbook. I’m not big of themed CDs, but when musing on the prospect, the idea of paying tribute to Nancy Wilson and this iconic record with Cannonball came booming through my head. “Go home, go back to the beginning,” my instincts said. As I dug deep into that record, it quickly became clear that more repertoire would be needed, since half the project was instrumental tracks, so I started at the beginning of her career to cull songs from “Like in Love,” “Something Wonderful,” “The Swingin’s Mutual,” “Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly,” “Hello Young Lovers,” and “How Glad I Am.” That was a far as I got, there was so much there from 1959-1964 to dig around and discover. I developed 13 songs and settled on 11 for the recording. It’s a healthy combination of deconstructing some of the songs and others being a nice nod to the existing performances. Ideally, it’s equal parts celebration of a great singer while leaving plenty of room for me to play and push around the notes.
Andy Ezrin, who I first met when I joined New York Voices, has remained one of my very favorite pianists. He and I began getting together batting around arranging ideas and developing the songs in 2016. Over the course of the year we played a handful of shows and brought the music to life on the bandstand. Looming large was what was the next step…?
The new year changed over and I was still trying to figure out how to launch a Kickstarter to get us and the music into the recording studio.
I called Elliot Scheiner, my partner on Circle in a Square and mega star in all things audio. On New Years Day we spoke on the phone and found ourselves talking about how to get this into motion. He had an idea to reach out to Berklee College of Music and offer this as an educational Master Class at the top of their semester to showcase the facility, his mic-ing and recording techniques and capture myself and my band performing a full set of music. The specific goal was to go for live takes and complete a record in the jazz tradition in two days. Hal Leonard joined this ambitious undertaking to capture the whole weekend on video for further educational material and for me to use to help tell the story. Suddenly, this became a mega weekend, ripe with high expectations and pressure, and there was no turning back. If I dwelled in the worry, I could easily have thought twice about the scope, but instead, I knew Andy and I could get the band ready and look to our mentoring skills to lure away the ego and put that energy into passing the baton and practising what we preach.
In short order a project went from a question mark to a reality. And even more so, a returning home to my Alma Mater where discovering my profound love affair with music would continue to be an unfailing and unquenchable desire hence forward.
I so enjoyed working on this music with Matt Wilson and Ben Allison early on, but both of their schedules prevented them from being available for this last minute date. We booked Jared Schonig and Matt Penman and had one long rehearsal a few days before the session. Ingrid Jensen joined us the day of the recording session without a rehearsal. They all brought a soulful, dedicated sense to the task, highly attuned artistry and joy of being a part of the teaching dynamic. It was a magical collection of musicians surrounded by an energized and curious student body and teaching staff throughout the recording sessions. There were many students and teachers coming and going throughout, taking in the Master Class, but there was a mighty few that stayed for the whole thing, becoming totally invested with the experience. In the end, we all shared lightening in a bottle, all conditions were ideal, everyone performed and completed tasks on point, the music stood the test of scrutiny, and there was a huge sense of pride in what was accomplished.
We all reluctantly returned to the real world. The Super Bowl was on deck, it would seem high priority to get thee to the beer and wings. But we all stood frozen, knowing that as soon as we exited, the bubble would burst and life would return as we knew it. So the music will tell our story. “A Sleepin’ Bee” was awoken. It was one of the most sacred experiences I have ever had in the studio in the midst of all the company and commotion. And I am so grateful to all the players that made this miraculous weekend happen. Following this is a list of thank yous. It must be said.
Next step is mixing in mid March. The faithful students that hung for the weekend, and they know who they are, are invited to be in the room while Elliot mixes. How ridiculously cool is that? And so we begin the artwork, and the next phase of how to get this out to market. Stay tuned for that news, there will surely be some.
In the meantime, happy birthday Nancy Wilson. Your musical legacy is most humbly and graciously appreciated….by so many of us.
Big thanks to Elliot Scheiner, Musicians, Andy Ezrin, Matt Penman, Jared Schonig, Ingrid Jensen, Berklee College of Music Teachers and Administration, Carl Beatty, Rob Jaczko, Mark Wessel, Dan Thompson, the film crew for Hal Leonard, and student engineers, Andres Abello, Pedro Calloni and Loren Dorland. Also special thanks to my niece Lolly Allsop who was a brilliant assistant and partner in crime and to Chris and Mark Allsop for making sure we could pull this rabbit out of our hat tout suite!