I haven’t written a blog in quite some time…as I often seem to say so this is definitely the time to break out. I have for over a year and a half had a project on my desk(top) that had a lead time that was longer than any other project I’ve been involved, with the possible exception of the Pat Martino collaboration. That will be the subject of a blog soon, I promise 🙂
This project is one featuring Tadd Dameron’s music featuring Terell Stafford on trumpet, Danny Grissett (piano), Peter Washington (bass) and the leader/drummer Ferit Odman. We are joined by some of the finest string players on the scene, violinists Antoine Silverman, Diane Munroe and Tamara Dement, violist Chris Cardona and cellists Emily Brausa and Clarice Jensen. The arrangements are by yours truly and at time of writing 6 out of my 7 are completed while I am working through the 7th (Smooth As The Wind). There will be one trio recording which I am not arranging.
Having this much lead time meant that I had the luxury of taking my sweet time while Ferit seemed like someone who would like to have much of it done way earlier, my guess is because he has been thinking about the project for so long and…it’s his baby! I also became very aware that much of Tadd’s work sadly neglected despite the fact that it is that perfect combination of genius and sing ability. Typically for me, when I begin a project where I have time to think I get The feeling sometimes that I’m knocking on a door. That door goes unanswered, tap the windows, try another door and then BOOM! The door flies open and I enter to open armed greeting or so it feels, at best. Now the exciting part begins as I find myself writing whenever I can, often in bursts. So how do I get there?
Before I can answer that, I used to spend time sitting around waiting on the muse to kick in, coffee followed or joined by cigarettes and eventually I’d get going. Break for more coffee and cigarettes but my head was still in character. Just like an actor I found I would staying character until I got finished writing. But…that was years ago. Nowadays I still have the coffee, I quit smoking years ago, before my kids were born. I am now juggling my writing between duties as the short order cook for two boys, two years apart who love one another to the point of making me wonder if I’m a referee in the WBC or the UFC 🙂 Drive one here, the other there. Shop for food and plan dinner, cook it and then watch them try to not eat as it takes time away from video games. Only cure for games is to take them out to parks, playgrounds, trips etc So when do I write? WHEN I can is the answer. I have to accept that waiting on the muse is like waiting on a train during a rail strike. Years ago I read a quote, “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” Being a single parent means I have to structure my time (definitely not a forte of mine) and often times I’m playing gigs just to keep my hands in. Chops wise, it feels like I get ‘winded’ at time but the compositional/arranging process seems to bring an interesting slant to my improvisations – this becomes more apparent when I play with the kind of players that can leave you no choice but create, and I am lucky to I have lots of those musicians in my life. One connection for me with Tadd came when I wondered how he wrote such amazing inner line movement on “Smooth As The Wind” whilst in prison for narcotics offenses – with no access to a piano. Did he really hear all those harmonies and lines without a keyboard? Well…He DID have access to a piano. The piano in the Warden’s house. Add it turns out was a great cook and somehow the warden discovered this and had him cook for his family. They had a piano and he, upon recognizing Tadd’s musical genius allowed him to use the piano. Tadd may also have taught piano to the warden’s kids but I have to check that in Paul’s book. Upon learning that Tadd was cooking and quite good at it gave me a connection in a funny way. I have two boys almost 7 and 9 years old and I do the vast majority of the cooking for them, actually pretty much ALL of the cooking with the exception of food ordered in. In a conversation in Harlem last night with Gerald Brazel he recounted how several musicians we love and are legends, actually weorkwds as short order cooks including John Coltrane.
Back to Tadd, I felt a lot of pressure as I knew I was representing but I cannot say enough about the enthusiastic support I got from Don Sickler (trumpet/arranger/Second Floor Music) and Paul Combs who wrote Tadd’s Biography. Don and Paul shared sheet music with me and gave encouragement when needed. How? When faced with multiple versions of some tunes I spoke to Paul when I wondered what to do when a (harmony geek warning) melody had a natural 5th in it against a minor 7th chord in one version and another had a flatted 5th, both by Tadd. Paul assured me this was quite common as he often changed his mind after he filed the copyright by the time they were in the studio. Paul said, you’ll just have to pick the one you like best. What to do? It’s not my project but Ferit said “I’ll leave that up to you” With a bit of pressure he said his preference and it happened to be mine too. With Smooth I transcribed the sections Don had omitted (presumably because he was adapting for a non string ensemble) and fixed some harmonic differences of opinion. Having the road map from Don’s chart saved me lots of time when I set out to go bar by bar.
Now we are just a few days from the session and I can’t wait to hear the music. My good fried James Lafferty is helping me with the taping of parts as we head down the final stretch. All this has happened in a week when I had a joyous return to playing with Seleno Clarke’s band Harlem Groove in the original lineup (minus Rogers – Roger Coles who we all miss). Playing with Gerald Brazel, David Lee Jones, along with Seleno of course and drummer Wayne Henderson who used to sub for Rogers – this felt like a real homecoming. What a week 🙂
August 14th at the Bunker Studio.
With a 10am start time and me not wanting to deal with an early morning drive grappling with the Lincoln Tunnel and then the Billy’sburg Bridge I decided to take a couple of nights in a hotel. I found some great prices for Manhattan, even Lower Manhattan but Brooklyn…the prices were ridiculous. I decided to touch base with Steve Tarpin of the famous Steve’s Authentic Keylime Pies and see if there was an inside line on hotels in my old ‘hood. Having mentioned a few he finally said “There’s also Hotel Tarpin where you might even get a cup of coffee in the morning” This is what I ended up doing and it added a joyous reunion to the recording. Make that reunions plural – I got to see not only Steve, but Victoria and Derek AND Steve’s Mom Diana and his sister Loretta. Seeing Red Hook now 10+ years later was a revelation. Red Hook and how it has changed is worthy of a separate blog post.
I start the day by punching in the Bunker Studio address BT I use Steve’s Red Hook zipcode and long story short I find myself in Park Slope and not where I needed to be in Williamsburg. According to the GPS I can still make it just on time. By this stage Antoine Silverman (violinist extraordinaire) has texted me to say the L Train is not running but they should still be “on time-ish”. This is a relief as I am in danger of being ‘lat-ish’ and I have all the music!
Before we know it we are tuned up and recording On A Misty Night and listening to beautiful analog playback and right off the bat I am loving how it all sounds like the great vinyl recordings I was raised on. Ferit’s planning has made it possible for the session to run really smoothly and other analog factors are eliciting a ‘different’ style performance…with tape you can’t just drop in one note where you feel like it – you have to take a whole passage where you can get in and out without ‘destructive editing’.
In the planning stages Ferit and I have decided we will avoid multiple takes on ballads. Apart from the demands on Terell Stafford’s chops I have long felt that complete takes of ballads are best if limited to one take unless something major needs fixing. In the case of each of the three ballads we are treated to sheer beauty by the soloists Terell, Danny Grissett (piano) and Peter Washington (bass). I am particularly excited by the sheer taste and command of Danny’s comping. I had begun to quietly enter that almost curmudgeonly zone where I believed that comping of this was even was a dead not dying art. Having experienced the way the late Mulgrew Miller comped on string arrangements I had written on Jeremy Pelt’s Close To My Heart album it was moving to a point I have difficulty elucidating in words when I heard Danny effortlessly weave in and out of the harmonies. Two interesting points here: a) Ferit approached me about this recording because Close To My Heart is one of his all time favorite albums and b) when Ferit asked Mulgrew about which of the younger guys stood out to him Danny Grissett was the first name he mentioned.
On the day, Terell’s playing blew us all away. His taste, groove and sound (wait ’til you hear his AND Danny’s solos on the blues Just Plain Talkin’!) along how game he was on Smooth As The Wind where he had to assume the role of two trumpet players – on the original recording Tadd uses strings and horns and the lead trumpet line is played by a separate player while Blue Mitchell takes the solos. The lead is quite high, not screaming high but in a range that is quite demanding to play with control while going back and forth in improvised solos. Peter Washington’s pocket locked in with Ferit’s drumming reminded me of how I come to depend on having Peter there when doing a project like this (look out for us on a special Sinatra celebration coming up later in the year!) Violinists Antoine Silverman and Diane Munroe both showed what can happen when you cast someone as a featured performer rather than a background supportive role. Tamara DeMent who played 3rd Violin mentioned to me how surprised she was at the degree to which a third violin part was featured in the forefront. The latter I believe comes from my love of the great Robert Farnon where the contrapuntal component even when subtle makes sure that the only time you write a pad is when you truly hear one.
A special mention to my good friend James Lafferty who ALWAYS helps me over the last fence when it comes time to print and tape pages together.
With album slated for a vinyl and CD release in the fall it is my sincerest wish that you, the listener will enjoy this as much as we did making it!
Best for now,