finding gratitude

Weird, tragic, confusing, depressing, horrific. I could go on and on to describe 2020 in many more words (let’s give “unprecedented” a break, shall we? I’m tired of that one). BUT, I would much prefer to use this space to express gratitude. My little world, like everyone else’s, experienced a radical shift. But we still found a way to make music, stay connected best we can, and carry on. For that, I am incredibly grateful and spoiled that I get to do what I do with the people I do it with. I wanted to write longer and individual posts about lots of these projects, but it feels right to at least mention a few bright moments in my musical life during the past year.

Celebrity Zooming

A large portion of my year has been spent working with Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman over Zoom. These two masters of songwriting are collaborating on a new musical based on the movie, “Working Girl.” It will premiere on Broadway…someday. The experience has been really amazing for me, and I’ve learned a lot. We work over Zoom and utilize cloud collaboration to produce demos of the songs to be included in the musical. I’m grateful for this experience that would have only happened this way under our current circumstances.

Power of Attorney

Earlier this year, I worked with Max of Brewerytown Beats/Brewerytown Records to mix and re-mix some reissues and previously unreleased material from the 70’s. His devotion to Philly’s rich musical history is truly admirable, and I’m honored that he trusts me with this work. From the press release:

In the early 1970s, the funk / soul band Power Of Attorney was formed at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford (30 miles northwest of Philadelphia). The story of their formation is just as powerful as the music that they left behind.

In late 1972, the prison’s Activities Director Theodore “Ted” Wing broke ground on a new recording studio. As part of the rehabilitative arts and music initiative, the space was built to offer a creative outlet for incarcerated individuals to express their musical talents. In November of ‘72, an audition was held throughout the prison to form a band.

It has been reported that over 1,600 men auditioned for a spot in the band.
Wing ultimately settled on a lineup that consisted of William Smith (lead guitar), Charles
McDowell (bass), Merion Wilson (tenor saxophone), Edward J.X. Smith (guitar), and Otis Graham (drums). With a lineup of gifted musicians and a fresh new recording studio to practice and lay down tracks in, the band Power Of Attorney was officially born.

A Spiritual Vibe

Gigs can come through many different avenues, but I don’t think I’ve ever been hired through a chance encounter, some small talk, and then “hey, we need a bass player for a session next week – you interested?” Such was the case with meeting Dr. Guthrie Ramsey and Vince Anthony. The session became an incredibly memorable one for me, and I later learned that it was special for Dr. Ramsey as well (the story is told much better than I could ever tell it here). A Spiritual Vibe, Vol. 1 was released this year, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Tiny Desk

Tiny desk season is a big one for musicians, as getting the NPR light shined on an artist can be a massive career break. I recorded one audition earlier this year – just before the first lockdown, in fact, which makes it even more memorable. This video did not win, but the playing by my friend Arturo Stable and co., plus the incredible vocals of Mary Liz, does not disappoint.

Virtual Festival

Before anyone could really make sense of how concerts would or could work during the pandemic, Anthony Tidd had already put together a virtual festival! The Act4 music festival started in April, and I had the honor to record sets by my friend Sumi Tonooka and the great Kenny Barron! I was glad to do something in the wonderful space @exuberance, which has been dark for most of the year. You can still watch the concert here.

New Music

Despite all of the restrictions and changes to everyday life, musicians continue to create. I draw huge amounts of inspiration from this that I try to take into my own writing and projects. I won’t be able to include all the projects that I’ve worked on, but a few 2020 releases of note:

The Anchoress – PRISM Sax Quartet and Piffaro Renaissance Band

This powerful piece, by David Serkin Ludwig and Katie Ford, is based on a medieval story but feels shockingly appropriate for our time. We recorded all parts at the Curtis Institute of music, and learning how to mic some of those less familiar Renaissance instruments was a fun challenge!

Hotbed – 2020 singles

I had a blast mixing a few singles for this band. It’s always great to go wild with studio production, which is permissible with a psych rock band.

Alex Maimone – Honey Lavender

It’s hard to believe that this is Alex’s first release. She sounds seasoned, and was relaxed and professional in the studio. Plus she hired a great band to back her.

Little Lives

This new project by my friend Miles was a real joy to put together. Excellent songs and playing all around, and the important social commentary felt timely to release just before the election. More from this project next year!

I hope that everyone is staying safe and finding their joy in each day. Wishing you a Happy New Year!

punk bach

I recently read David Byrne’s book, “How Music Works.” One chapter, in particular, emphasizes the importance of the space in which a composition is performed. Byrne asserts that not only is the venue critical to the composition’s performance, but composers are writing to the venue, whether it is a conscious choice or not. He cites examples ranging from Bach’s organ works sounding best at more modestly sized churches (the intricate contrapuntal lines get blurry in large churches) to punk bands writing songs best heard in the cramped and sweaty CBGB.

This year, physical spaces have transitioned into virtual spaces. We’re all experts at Zoom and meet regularly (begrudgingly?) with our floating headed colleagues, friends, and family. So how does this inform the music written today? Notice I didn’t question if music would be written during this time, or written collaboratively for that matter. Artists are compelled to create and will naturally react to what’s going on around them.

All this pre-rambling is meant to set the table for a recent project I was a part of: Mutual Mentorship for Musicians, or M3, is a new program that pairs up remarkable collaborators from historically underrepresented gender identities to create new music. I was thrilled when my friend, Sumi Tonooka, hit me up to mix the work she’d been doing with collaborator Jen Shyu.

From a workflow perspective, the setup was pretty simple. Sumi and Jen would hop on to Zoom to record together. Once they worked out their ideas, the two would improvise together, each locally recording their parts to be integrated together later. That’s where I came in. They both sent me their stems to stitch together, mix, and master.

Besides the extremely high level of artistry, what struck me most is that the music is truly written for the “space.” As improvisers, Sumi and Jen are reacting to each other in a musical dialogue. Anyone who has tried to play music remotely with another person has instantly met the frustration that comes with internet lag or latency. It’s impossible to play in sync. But with the music created by Jen and Sumi, you’d never know it. The improv within the compositions develops in a way that is extraordinary considering the way in which it was written.

The piece premiered last night along with works by two other pairs of composers. Everything will be available for a limited time here, or embedded below. Jen and Sumi’s piece is a powerful ride, addressing themes of identity, race, family, and so much more (synced to a set of moving visuals done by Sumi). I was glad to be a part of this one.