After many years of gigging and living that life - good nights and bad, excellent venues and dumps and being a witness and occasional participant in all sorts of bizarre human behavior that goes part and parcel with all of that, I wound up here... in the woods... and realized that all of that experience didn't mean much unless I documented my music... and did that for the rest of my life! And that's what I'm doing now.
Although I'm a trumpet and flugelhorn player and it's the gateway to what I do, I would guess that I am a bit atypical compared to others that play the instrument. Trumpet players tend to live for the trumpet - they really can't imagine anything else. They're like sprinters or something - they're totally focused on the horn and that's understandable as it's a particularly hard instrument and requires a great deal of commitment. I get all that and I have some of that in me as well, but... the instrument remains a vehicle to get to something I love even more: the overall composition itself and the emotional impact all of that should ideally be bringing to a listener.
Tales Told and Journeys Imagined was sort of my test case. Could I write and produce an album's worth of music? How long would that take? Would anybody play it or listen to it once I had a finished project? I started it in 2008 and finished it 2011, so it took a while, but I was learning as I went and was pleased with the quality of what I came up with. Getting it out to the world proved challenging, but a small group of people that heard it liked it and I got good reviews. There were DJ's on actual radio stations that played it in France, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Germany. Hearing people play your stuff blew me away and I realized that my music could hang with everybody else's. Besides terrestrial radio there was also internet radio and a whole bunch of those people played my stuff too - I made some new and lasting friends this way. It got very busy - a couple stations interviewed me, I had a publicist for a while and a college in Pennsylvania (Moravian College in Bethlehem) even arranged the first track and had the jazz ensemble play it. It was all very cool and educational. I still like it and think it documents where I was at well, so it was a success, but I remain, like most musicians do, pretty much unknown.
I'd been thinking about either recording or composing my own stuff since the 90's, but once I was up here in the woods - and the house we tracked down had a perfect space for it - I could finally build my own project studio and learn how to do it... and then do it. Luckily the whole process came fairly easily to me. As a producer and composer I decided to use the one thing I had that could help me in all of this - my ear - and let that be the arbiter of all disputes and the thing that led the way! What sounded best? What do you like? Write that! There are practical considerations of course - home project studios aren't conducive to large symphonic works etc, but they excel at all sorts of electronic music and various kinds of fusion. It didn't mean I couldn't write for strings, it just meant there were areas to be more careful with and others where I could go crazy. Great! I went at it. My first recording was an intentional mashup of styles and influences meant to try to stretch the listener.
The one track that got the most attention was this one, which I named Making an Entrance (which also is the one played by FIP in France and that Moravian College arranged and performed). It was the first thing I worked on and completed and I thought it was a winner, but... "nobody knows anything" according to William Goldman, and he was right, so I had no idea that it would be received well, but it was!
Tales Told taught me a number of things and one of them was... I work slow, probably far too slowly! So, when an opportunity came up in 2016 and a lot of music needed to be produced in four months, I wasn't sure I could pull it off. I was approached by people connected with Phoenix Project Dance, a group out of upstate New York, as to whether I could put some music together for existing dances. The problem was the chorography was written to some classical works that they thought they could get the rights to and then realized that it was prohibitively expensive. I didn't mind trying, but I did have a concern. If they wanted me to essentially write something just like the pieces they couldn't get the rights to, I didn't want to do it as that hovered way too close to plagiarism. The choreographer assured me that was not the case and that I could write whatever I wanted. All that was fine, but the music did need to work to an existing timeline. Even though I've never worked on a film score, I know that they often have to write to events happening in real time. I decided I could do that with this situation. Plagiarism is serious stuff, but... nobody owns a tempo or where to place accents - that sort of stuff is like musical grammar. You can play with grammar, you just can't steal the speech! With that in mind I worked much faster than I had in a style that was sometimes electronic and sometimes more like classical music. I learned even more this time around - that I could write fast if I needed to and that my concerns with
with strings were a tad overblown - you may not want to write a symphony in a project studio but even the sound of sampled strings has been normalized - people are used to hearing it and it is, to some degree, "legal" to use that stuff. Of course, I already knew this musical truth: the ear is the ultimate arbiter. Once the project was completed to Phoenix Project Dance I got to see the dancers perform to what I had put together and once again, like hearing my tracks on the radio, I got to experience what the music could be and do once it got a place in the real world. I saw Phoenix perform at Colgate University and again at The Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was a tremendous thrill to hear my stuff, that I made in my humming little kitchen of a project studio, performed in a place I had been to many times and revered.
After the project was finished I realized that the length of the pieces used in total was close to a half hour of music, but that there were snippets of other pieces that were also used. If I completed those partly finished things that had excerpts used, I'd have close to an hour of music! Time for another download/album/CD etc! So, during '17 and '18 while working on all sorts of things, I wrapped up all the music and got it mastered. Music for Dance was released in 2019.
Here's a track from Music for Dance entitled Ujjayi that I was pretty pleased with for a lot of reasons, but I particularly like the fact that if you heard the track above from Tales Told and then heard this one, you'd probably not guess they were done by the same person.
2019 was an interesting year. While working on the dance material I had been working on two additional projects, one which was supposed to be the follow up to Tales Told and another in which I intentionally wrote lighter stuff that could be done quickly and were more pop oriented in nature. While those were coming along I invested in a new horn (pictured all around this page). I went to see the best people in the business of brass and trumpets, at least in my estimation although I'm hardly alone, at J. Landress Brass in NYC. Josh and the boys treated me like gold and I found a horn unlike any I had ever played, an Adams A4 with a shepherd's crook. An amazing sounding thing - it was love. The Adams can be customized and Josh helped me through that process. The result is an instrument I love to play and that is literally a one of a kind. After achieving the horn I spent time trying to get used to its peculiarities and that eventually required the manufacture of a mouthpiece that wasn't "off the rack" by the good people at Stork Custom Mouthpieces. The Storks make amazing stuff and it turned out to be a perfect fit.
Playing a new horn got me interested in getting... additional advice. I sought out some of the best commercial trumpet players I could find (although I've gotten spectacular help from classical players over the years, this particular horn and the type of stuff I wanted to play on it sent me in this direction). I talked to Bryan Davis, one of the finest lead trumpet players in New York and a serious student of the horn and Anthony Fazio, who plays lead with the Mingus Big Band in NYC. Besides being great players both Bryan and Anthony are very approachable guys who love to teach. I took their advice very much to heart and issues that had always plagued me (and I had long since been convinced were physical in nature and not fixable) suddenly went away.
Going into 2020 I decided to get out and see if I could see improvement in a live playing situation and managed to get a couple trio gigs (myself, Ed MacEachen and Tony DePaulo each took a turn on guitar and Brandon Nelson on upright bass) at a local wine bar. The gigs were going pretty well when... Covid happened!
Covid brought everything to a grinding halt, and like most people I looked out for the safety of my family and my elderly mom still up in the wilds of Maine. Once we knew that my wife could work from home and that my son had a space to do whatever schooling could be provided, we were in pretty good shape. Being a little bit of a hermit already, staying at home didn't really bother me, but there was oodles of extra time. What's a musician to do?
Practice! The gains of 2019 solidified in a far greater way in 2020 and another thing happened. I started to realize that the studio (that I have long nicknamed the Defiant Amoeba because a: every good studio needs a cool name, and b: it correctly
correctly describes my relationship to the music industry) was woefully out of date. I was still going at it with a digital audio workstation from 2008. I was twelve years (which in equipment terms might as well be several thousand tears - I was making music for 2020 and beyond with stone knives and bearskin) out of date. So, an enormous upgrade took place. Lotsa stuff... Lotsa sounds... The one big problem? Figuring out how to use it (and in the conceit that has started plaguing us since the beginning of the century, incredibly complicated programs often come... without instructions, because, "C'mon man, stop being such a loser - you're supposed to just get it!!!"). So, as we begin 2021, and who knows what's around the corner, I am digging deeply into learning the new equipment, moving my older projects into the new platform and starting new stuff with new sonic possibilities.
With all that going on I've also been asked to play on a number of other musician's material this year. I'll be involved in a recording project of contemporary jazz based out of Italy, writing horn parts and recording with a singer/songwriter in the States and I have a few other smaller writing projects on the burner, so I'll be hoppin'!