The Making of “Project 13”

Project 13 Band Shot

A while back, I was called by my friend and teacher, David Bloom, to do a recording/video session of a song in tribute to Trayvon Martin. I showed up at the studio knowing it would be an R&B type of song, so I brought one of my Strats and my Sebago combo amp, a “Dumble” clone of sorts.

 

The band consisted of a fantastic rhythm section, with Khari Parker on drums, Tony Brown on bass and Chris Cameron on organ. Even though we had no arrangement worked out, starting from the first take I thought, “Wow, this is easy. These guys are so great, I don’t have to do anything but listen“. After three takes, we had an arrangement and a keeper take. It was ultimately released on You Tube. You can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTbO1FWrje4

 

So, this first session was the impetus and inspiration for me to do what ended up being “Project 13”, with this same group. This time, I would arrange a number of songs that might highlight a certain area of my playing:  R&B and Blues. I added to an already incredible rhythm section an additional keyboard player, my friend Vijay Tellis-Nayak. I have worked with Vijay in a number of settings on numerous gigs over the years, and he can play just about anything, in just about any style.

 

There is this sort of “old school”, R&B thing of having 2 or more different keyboards, all interlaced, that I had envisioned for this project. That, and playing live, together in the same room (except for the singers)—and video it all. Again, all very “Old School”, and distressingly rare, in my opinion.

 

I have had the pleasure of working with all three singers a number of times. Mike and Paul, mainly through the Bad Sneakers Orchestra (see links), a band dedicated to recreating the music of Steely Dan. I have worked with Ameerah weekly in a dance band, playing the hits of yesterday and today. Each vocalist is excellent on their own, but I knew that as a unit, they would work supremely well together. Their superb performances on these videos speak for themselves.

 

So, once I had the band in place (and a studio, since Vijay also owns and operates Transient Sound studio), I wanted a really great producer so I could concentrate on playing. Someone on whose aesthetics and dedication to excellence I could rely, absolutely.

 

As it happens, I had recently become acquainted with Steve Rodby, bass player for 30 years with the Pat Metheny Group. Steve had come to a few gigs where I happened to be playing. We would talk in between sets, as musicians do, and he was always very generous and kind in his commentary on my playing. Quite flattering, indeed. I had also learned that, in addition to all of his many other talents, he is extremely gifted as a video editor, having edited many of Pat Metheny’s videos.

 

So, he was a natural choice for producer/video editor. I had hoped that part of the allure for him might be that he doesn’t often get the chance to do this type of music, since he mainly does Jazz sessions, but I was aware that this style of music is, at the same time, an important part of his background as a musician.

 

Luckily for me, he agreed. Although Steve is a busy guy (as you can imagine, a multitude of projects constantly overlapping), from the very start, he always gave very detailed attention to all aspects of the project: making sure the charts were correct, checking out the studio, giving very detailed instructions to the videographers, and about a million other things.

 

I made a list of songs that I wanted to do. They had to be of a particular character, which remained somewhat ineffable. I didn’t want anything too obvious nor too arcane. It HAD to be just right, each one had to fit the attitude of the singers. After much hand wringing (and a thoughtful suggestion from Mike Harvey to do “Jealous Guy”), I had the tunes in place.

 

I then began to make pretty rudimentary, home demos of what I wanted the arrangements to be; what kind of grooves, song form, where and how long the solos would be, etc.; and from there, to write out the charts, reflecting the arrangements. I sent everyone the demos and had one vocal rehearsal where the vocalists sang over the demos and recorded it, the results of which I sent to everyone–the band, the singers and Steve.

 

On February 13, 2014, we all met up at Transient Sound in Chicago, IL.  We had six hours, I had prepared five songs… Very ambitious, as anyone who has recorded will tell you, but these were all consummate pros and they were totally prepared, and sounded amazing from take one of the first song. (As it turned out, we only got four songs done, but quality over quantity, right?)

 

It was clear that the success of each track depended on my performance, since everyone else was spot-on from the first downbeat. It was just a matter of trying to record the best performances I could manage.

 

That day in the studio was quite exciting and rather hectic. After all the set up and A/V testing was finished, we started to make music. Steve was extremely helpful in keeping us on track; he would come hustling out of the control room into the studio and sometimes announce something to the whole band or quietly instruct a single member.

 

Some producers will laconically sit in the “Producer’s Chair“, rather bored and somewhat put-out, and mumble unenthusiastically, “Yeah, sounds great…”. THIS IS NOT STEVE RODBY!!  Steve will dance around the control room (while making very detailed notes! If you look carefully at “Love And Happiness”, just over drummer, Khari Parker’s shoulder, you can see him in action for a split second), and call out with gusto, “YEAH, PAT!”, or whomever.

 

After the first take of the first song, Steve called us into the control room for a playback. Again, Steve dancing, and with a HUGE grin, shouting above the music, “Yeah! We got THAT on tape”. The rest of the day went very much like that. Lots of laughter, fun and joy at making music TOGETHER, in one room.

 

What else could I have asked for? Great songs, an amazing band, incredible singers and a sublime producer …

 

And me, in the middle of all that, just trying to hang on…
Special Thanks to:

 

Khari Parker- Drums
Tony Brown- Bass
Chris Cameron- Organ
Vijay Tellis-Nayak- Keys and Mixing

And on Vocals:
Mike Harvey
Ameerah Tatum
Paul Mabin

 

Recording Engineer:
Steve Gillis

 

Technical assistance, Colorist & Web Consultant:
Brian Schwab

 

EXTRA Special Thanks To:
Steve Rodby
David Bloom
And, of course, Miriam Sturm

 

 

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