Friday, April 22, 2011

Recording Album #2

The unassuming entrance to one of the best recording studios in the world: Systems 2

Blog # 76: Recording Album #2

So I'm relaxing in my room, recovering from the past two days. Super tired. We did 95% of the material on the first day, and played pretty much 11:30-6:00. The original plan was to play the 6 longer songs on the first day and then to do the shorter pieces, intros and connecting material the second day. I knew Ziv, the drummer, had to leave early the second day, so he was really pushing to finish everything the first day so he could drive to Boston the next day for a gig and not worry about being late. This kinda gave me a little more of a sense of 'urgency' about the recording. So I ended up saying 'fuck it, lets just see how much we can get done' and pushed through any 'chop' fatigue with musicality(!)

After going home and listening to the stuff I decided that we weren't going to do any more full takes the second day(everything sounded pretty good). We ended up just cleaning up melodies, did a few intros(one with bass and trumpet) and a piano and trumpet duet. I almost didn't play this piece at the last second because I thought we might not end up using it, but was VERY glad we did it. It turned out to be one of my favorite things we recorded and will most likely be the last tune on the CD. I also did a piece with 4 overdubbed trumpets and piano that sounds pretty cool.

Lastly I'll say that everyone was super cool to work with and played really well together. We had only played together as a band once the sunday before we recorded, but the band came together great. Also, big 'thanks' to everyone at Systems 2: my favorite recording studio. They make it so easy to record and everything always sounds beautiful (There are always, 'I played that? wow!' moments)

Listening to how great these songs sound, I really think I have to try to book some gigs with this band and get this music out there more. Its a shame jazz clubs won't book me because I don't have a big name(or really any name!). Because this music sounds great.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Night before Recording

Blog #75: The Night Before Recording

Its been about 2 years since I recorded my first album(jan '09), I can't help but think about how much has changed since then and what is the same. My whole approach to the first record was to be comfortable. I brought a band into the studio that had played the material a bunch. We'd had gigs off and on for about 2 years before we did that album and all those musicians were close friends. This made for a pretty relaxed atmosphere during recording. I am the type of person that likes to have decisions made and know what's going on and with the first record, it was all planned out. I was comfortable with my level of preparation.

Now going into the second record, which I will record tomorrow, I can't help but think its the opposite to that. We did one rehearsal on sunday and will record the album tomorrow. I emailed the musicians the charts, but we were all pretty much sight-reading them at the rehearsal. Even I was sight-reading my tunes, because I wrote them on piano and had barely played over them due to being busy this month with gigs. On top of all that, I've been repairing my chops for the past few days, I really messed them up during all those gigs and was getting a little distortion in the middle register(not enough for anyone to notice but me). I went to Laurie Frink, my trumpet teacher from my NYU days and she gave me some drills to do to bring them back into focus. I've been doing this stuff for the past few days, focusing on chromatic scales and low F#'s. But as a result, I haven't been able to really practice my own music for the record, SO for all intensive purposes, I will be feeling my way through and playing the music for the first time tomorrow too. I'm sure this will be fine, I just hope I've done enough to have my sound clear for tomorrow, and for my endurance to hold up for the 7 hours of recording. I feel good about my chances though. Tomorrow is also going to be interesting because I don't know a few of the musicians I'm using very well AND I added a song last minute that I just wrote. So for this record, I really put off making the decisions(I didn't even know who was going to play on it until 3 weeks ago). There are still a few songs I'm not sure if I'll play muted trumpet or flugelhorn on...I'll feel it out tomorrow, I guess.

I believe growth comes from putting yourself outside your comfort zone and for me 'not knowing' or 'putting off decisions' is something that doesn't come naturally to me...but I'm getting comfortable with that now too. Not having decisions made can be tough, especially when everyone is looking to you for answers, but we(the band) are just going to have to figure it out tomorrow as we go along.

Its 2 years later, I'm ready to roll the dice. Let's see what we get tomorrow...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gigs Gigs Gigs

Blog #74: Gigs Gigs Gigs

This week was the last of my 'busy gig' run. Monday I played with my band 'Red Light Growler' at Bar 4 in brooklyn. My chops were still bit tender from the weekend gigs with 'Morning Musuko', but I thought RLG played well and was really happy with the turnout. Great, enthusiastic crowd and our music was well received. At our last gig someone at the show told us they loved our band, but that we were super awkward on stage and had 'zero stage presence'. Strangely enough, I always liked the fact that I didn't talk much to the audience, so at the Bar 4 gig, I actually talked a bit, announced songs, made a few jokes. In all my time playing music, this was the first time i really tried to talk to the audience. It wasn't that bad; maybe I'll do more of it in the future(though ideally I'd have someone else do it).

Last night I played at Chris' Jazz Cafe in philly. It was a group with trumpet, tenor sax, organ and drums. We played standards all night. I can't remember the last time I did a gig of all standards, so that was cool and I was leading the gig, so we only played ones I like :) One of the guys in the band actually got someone to sub on his teaching gig so he could come down and play with us(knowing he'd make less money on the gig than teaching). I thought that was beautiful, and is a good reminder why we all do what we do. Also I've felt recently like I'm really making progress in my playing and could really feel it on this gig. One thing I've been thinking about a lot is playing small phrases that can stand on their own. Just focusing on making one perfect idea. Using more space too. I just really want to play something that means something and I've been definitely feeling a pull towards simplicity and directness.

Today I'm really paying for it chops-wise. I've done a lot of gigs and rehearsals in the past few weeks, playing loud, high, and with little to no warm-up. My chops are feelin' pretty beat up and my tone is a bit distorted. I have from now until Wednesday to get it back together, because that's when my recording is and I really have to sound good on that(obviously). Luckily I've got the next few days free. Heading to see my trumpet teacher Laurie Frink tomorrow...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Touring with Morning Musuko

Here are some Photos Chris Ward took at the show in Philly

Blog #73: Mini-Tour

Just got back from a mini-tour with 'Morning Musuko'(a big band that plays Japanese pop songs). I've done some small tours in the past, mostly leading my own groups, but this was the first I've done with a large ensemble. I had a good time, it was fun hanging with some friends, meeting some new ones and playing some shows. Its funny, touring ends up being 95% travel and 5% actual playing. We did a 1 hour 15 min set in Philly and 45 min set in DC at the Cherry Blossom Festival but were gone for basically 2 days. There wasn't much down time outside of driving and I didn't get to practice other than warming up before the performances. That was a bit weird for me, in the past when I've lead groups I've had times set up where I know I'll be able to do my exercises to keep my chops together, but even without that, I felt good chops-wise during this tour. Shout-out to Miki Hirose and Taku Kuroda: two bad-ass japanese trumpet players.

One thing I thought was interesting was the music that we listened to while we drove around. I wasn't in charge of the stereo so I just listened to whatever they put on(and I'm not one to complain). We listened to a lot of Phil Collins, some Michael Jackson and other 80's pop stuff. This got me thinking about how pop music is mostly in major keys and is generally pretty happy and up-beat. After a while I was just dying to listen to something a little deeper, darker and melancholy. Elliott Smith to the rescue via my ipod. I guess I just really love darker music and the 'real-ness' of it. I don't really understand 'good-time party music'. We all gotta find what speaks to us.

Back to the tour, it actually was pretty nice to drive around and talk with people in the van(the band had 2 vans, each with 8 people). I was lucky enough to be with my friend John Beaty(alto from my first record). Besides the band, we also had 2 girlfriends, an artist and a film maker(Morgan) taking video footage for a documentary. I thought he was a pretty cool guy. I am usually the one off to the side doing his own thing, but ended up talking for a lot of these drives after getting pulled into conversations. It was nice, but now that I'm back, I'm in serious need of some alone time(which is usually the hard part I have while touring).

Anyway, it was nice getting out of the city, playing some music and meeting some new people. I hope everyone enjoyed the shows. Tonight I'm playing a show in Brooklyn with 'Red Light Growler' and then back to Philly Wednesday playing at Chris' Jazz Cafe with a quartet group led by me. Should be fun.