Saturday, May 16, 2009

Recording Artist

In my previous post I mentioned that I was gearing up to record a CD with Ted Shafer's Jelly Roll Jazz Band. After a week of home practice, three-hour rehearsals, and four-hour recording sessions, we "recording artists" are done with our part. I was tempted to say "finally done" because it feels to me as if it was a long haul, but really it was just that one tiring and overwhelming week.

And now all my friends are asking "when can I hear the CD?" and the answer is, "I don't know." The actual recording is finished, but much editing remains to be done before the disks can be printed. The editing is being done by the recording engineer, the bandleader, and at least two other members of the band who want a vote on which bits are used and which are tossed. I asked how long it would take and was unsurprisingly told "as long as it takes." So now I'm twiddling my thumbs and wondering if I'll have to wait a couple of weeks, a couple of months, or a couple of years. I'm guessing that the right answer will include the word "months".

I'm not sure I can honestly say it was "fun". I found it a bit too stressful to be considered "fun". There were some really good musicians in the group, and I was nervous and anxious. I just wanted not to screw up too badly in front of them, and especially not in front of the microphones which were pitilessly waiting to enshrine my every mistake for eternity.

But I think I got away with it. Fortunately my every mistake will not be enshrined, because of course we recorded at least two takes of nearly every tune. Any parts that gave us trouble were recorded multiple times, and part of the editing process is splicing together the good bits. There were a few solos I wish I could have done better, where even my best take was none too good. But that seemed to be true for everyone in the band, so I'm trying not to let my neurotic perfectionism get the better of me.

There were two tunes in particular that I was worried about. One was called "King of the Zulus". I'm very familiar with this piece, but it is a difficult one for the cornets. Playing second cornet, I can usually kind of hide down in the ensemble, and if I fumble a bit, people mostly won't notice. But in King of the Zulus there's no place to hide. Each cornet gets a full solo chorus, and both of them should be played hot and high. And my solo is immediately followed by another hot, high chorus in which the lead and second parts are swapped, so I'm playing melody for that time. It's a chop-grinder, and I wasn't sure I could play it twice in a row, so I was relieved when everyone agreed that the first take was a keeper and we didn't need to do it again!

The other piece didn't worry me at all until we got to it. It was late in the evening, Leon Oakley (the lead cornetist) was justifiably tired, and he asked me to take lead on "Chimes Blues". Fortunately for me it's not a difficult piece and it's one I know very well, but I was startled to suddenly be playing lead. We did two takes, and since I was tired too, I didn't play as well the second time through. But I was pleased with my solo on the first take, and I assume (and hope!) they'll use that one for the CD.

That was the only piece in which I played lead throughout; the rest of the time I played second, with an occasional chorus or half-chorus of lead because (I guess) the arranger wanted to give the lead a break. I just want to take a paragraph to say that this is a good thing, because the lead cornetist was Leon Oakley. I don't know of a better living trad jazz cornetist. Leon's chops are great and his musicianship is outstanding. He plays with a power, an authority, and a presence that are simply overwhelming, especially when heard live. I've been admiring (and trying to imitate) Leon's playing for 40 years, and it was a great privilege being asked to record with him. Stress notwithstanding, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Okay. Back to waiting for the CD!

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