With this recording I set out to make an album that represented all of the different facets of my personality and my career. Many people know me as a jazz drummer, a big band drummer, or a studio drummer. While those are all true, there is much more to my musical personality than just those labels. I enjoy playing rock, funk, free music, pop… even country! I also enjoy composing and arranging as well as producing. In fact a large part of my career over the last few years has been producing albums and conducting and musical directing shows. So with this record, my goal was to create a product that showcases all of those different aspects of me, and also to allow me to make a record with my friends! I am so proud to say that the musicians that are performing on this recording are all close friends, and they are all absolutely amazing! The performances on this album are essentially un-edited. It’s a very “live” recording and I opted to leave in the little things here and there that were less-than-perfect. I feel like they are a part of the music and they are a representation of what we actually created in the moment.
The opening track is a fun tune inspired by one of my biggest influences growing up, the Yellowjackets. The title, “Hers and Mine”, comes from a shopping trip with my wife. We were shopping at H&M, and something about the music that was being played in the store spawned the groove for this tune in my head. I ran outside and sang the basic groove and the start of a melody into my phone, all the while leaving my wife to wonder where I had gone. When I got home, I finished the tune and decided to call it “Hers and Mine” after H&M. When it came time to record it, I knew I needed to have Mindi Abair play on it… Mindi and I grew up together, her father and my father were in a band together before either of us was born! She’s very much like a sister to me and we have a lot of the same influences musically. One of those happens to be the Yellowjakets record “Four Corners”. I remember in my early years playing in her band, being on the road and singing the entire sax solo to “Out Of Town” on the way to a gig together. So, it seemed only fitting to have her play on this tune with me. Thank you, Mindi, for being a part of this and for being such a great friend and inspiration throughout my life. This tune also features an amazing solo by Jeff Babko on piano, and the melody is doubled with Andrew Synowiec on guitar who never ceases to amaze me with his ability to play everything!
Children is a very old tune of mine. I actually wrote this based on a re-harm that I was working on of a children’s song. I took the new changes that I wrote and placed a new melody on it and a new song was born… hence the name “Children”. I should also give credit to Ben Wendel and Phil Rodriguez for helping me out of a writer’s block on the B section. This tune features two of my favorite musicians: Justin Ray and Katisse Buckingham. I met Justin at USC where we were both TA’s and members of the Thornton Jazz Ensemble. We quickly became good friends and upon finishing at USC, rented a house together in Pasadena with a bass player named Pablo Motta. Lots of jam sessions took place in that house, and plenty of late night discussions with a bottle of whiskey where all of the problems of the world were solved! From there, Justin got the Michael Buble gig and his career has taken off (rightfully so…). Katisse and I met on a random gig in Santa Monica playing in a restaurant. I was so blown away with his musicianship and we hit it off as friends right away. Next thing you know, he has me speeding down very steep hills on a mountain bike and my newest hobby was born! You can see Katisse playing with his own band at the Baked Potato in Studio City every month, or you might see him with the Yellowjackets, or Herbie Hancock… you know, little gigs. My sincere thanks to both of them for being there for this project… its nice to have good friends that can play!
From an old tune to the newest, “As I Am, For Now…” is one of those tunes that just happens. I literally sat down and started to mess around on the piano in the studio, and this is what came out. No plan, no preconceived idea about the type of tune I wanted to write… it just happened. Somehow it felt like a reflection of where I was in my life at the moment that I wrote it, hence the “As I Am” portion of the title. A few weeks after I wrote the tune, I thought about how different life can be from day to day, and I added the “For Now…”. A few years earlier I did an arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” for a Christmas recording that featured Justin Guarini and Katisse played soprano on it. I knew I wanted soprano on this tune and honestly I’m not sure there is a better soprano player out there right now. Truly one of the most inspiring, original, and important voices on the instrument today!
Six Freeways is a super-simple, ultra-mellow tune I wrote for a sextet I had assembled briefly that included Ben Wendel, Phil Rodriguez, Jon Pondel, David Hughes, and Greg Gordon-Smith. The tune was title-less, then one day Ben was expounding on the woes of traffic in LA and how he had to take six freeways to get to my house in Pasadena from his apartment in Santa Monica. The title was born. It has nothing to do with the inspiration for the tune, just traffic in LA. I wish it were more clever, sorry. This tune again features Justin Ray and Katisse Buckingham.
The next track on the record is called Worm Cookie. I know, its kinda gross… but there’s a story! There is a club in Boston called Sculler’s. I have played there countless times with everyone from Mindi Abair to David Benoit to Russ Freeman and David Pack, etc. The club is located inside the Doubletree Hotel, and anyone who has ever stayed in a Doubletree knows about the cookies! In the middle of a lengthy tour with Mindi, we arrived at the hotel with not nearly enough sleep and when the lady behind the reception desk offered me a “warm cookie”, I clearly heard her say “worm cookie”! I looked at her in disgust, and then realized what she said, and happily accepted the “warm cookie”. Somehow that inspired a tune and I immediately jotted down a melody when I got to my room as I enjoyed my cookie. This features Andrew Synowiec who did an amazing job of making it his and not a Scofield copy.
Changes is the oldest song on the record, and one of my favorites. It was actually the first tune I wrote that I felt good about. Also inspired by big life changes, it runs through a few different emotions: somberness, hopefulness, and confusion. In the process of recording, I was on the road with David Benoit quite a bit. One night in Seattle, David offered to play on the record! I of course jumped at the chance to have him be a part of the project… but most of it was already done! I couldn’t decide what to do… then I thought of this tune. I was planning to write a string arrangement of it, but after I discussed it with my wife, she encouraged me to have David play on it and do it as a trio. I am really glad I did, because it beautiful! Its amazing to have someone like David, who has such a definable sound play one of your tunes. I can’t tell you what a thrill that was for me, and I have to say a huge thank you to David for not only playing on my record, but for being one of the best friends someone could ask for. He is largely responsible for my career as it is today, and has always been nothing but generous and supportive!
One of two songs on the record that I did not write is Braidy. This has always been one of my favorite tunes, and it was written by one of my favorite people… Justin Ray. I first heard this tune when we were at USC. I think we played it on a combo concert, and I immediately fell in love with it. This particular recording is the only one I have of a sextet that I assembled a number of years ago. It features Ben Wendel on tenor, Phil Rodriguez on trumpet, Jon Pondel on guitar, David Hughes on bass, and Greg Gordon-Smith on Rhodes. I met Ben on that same gig where I met Katisse, only a different night. Much like Katisse, we hit it off musically and have remained friends ever since. Phil and I were in the big band at USC together along with Justin. Phil is in New York now sounding better than ever. I met Jon when we played together for Al Jarreau and Melissa Manchester and David Benoit. One of the musical highlights of my career, and during that trip Jon and I became good friends. Greg and I met very early on in my move to LA from Orlando, and were actually roommates for a couple of years as well. Braidy is a beautiful melody, with a very mellow vibe. I “borrowed” the drum groove from Vernel Fournier’s groove on “Poinciana”.
Now this tune is a special one, as I wrote it for my wife U-Jung. “My U-Shaped Heart” was another tune that developed pretty quickly. U-Jung is a pretty complex individual… quiet and thoughtful, hopeful, and often pretty spontaneous. To me, she has a certain beauty that sticks with you, but it is not a “standard” beauty. Not a beauty that a major chord can really reveal… its far more complex than that. With that in mind, I set out to write a tune that uses the prettier side of Lydian mode. The other part of this tune that is special is that is showcases the core trio on the record: David Hughes on bass and Jeff Babko on Rhodes. These guys are amazing musicians and two of my closest friends. David Hughes and I have been playing together for about 8 years now. We met on a trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with David Benoit where Hughes was subbing for Dean Taba. The groove between us was instant… like we had been playing together for years. That led to me playing in his band, on his albums, playing sessions together, mountain biking together… and becoming amazing friends. He is one of the most versatile musicians I know, and one of the most dedicated friends anyone could ask for. Jeff Babko and I met on a rehearsal for the Ron King Big Band. Everyone talks about Jeff around town… he is one of the resident heavy weights in LA. Once we got to play together, it was another musical kinship that sparked immediately. We have so many of the same influences and think about music and life so much the same way that we were fast friends. He is another chameleon… he can be equally at home playing fusion, or touring with James Taylor, or recording with Beck. These two guys gave a lot of time and sweat and soul to this record and I truly cannot thank them enough. They made this recording happen.
“Tell It Like It Is” is the only vocal tune on the record. This young singer, Chelsey Sanchez, doesn’t look anything like she sounds… I first met her at the Crossroads School Summer Jazz Workshop. She was pretty quiet and reserved… but then she got up to sing “Son of a Preacher Man”, and I was blown away! She has such a unique sound and approach that I was really excited to work with her. We started working together on her original material and working toward making a record for her. In the midst of all that, I asked her to sing on this tune… I am so glad she did! The tune is the other song on the record that I did not write. Greg Gordon-Smith, one of my oldest and dearest friends, wrote this for Justin Guarini of American Idol. We were touring and recording with Justin a few years ago and this tune was one we played live but it never made it to a record. It was always one of my favorites and I called Greg and asked him if I could do it on my record. I also wanted to involve my friend (and groomsman) Dave Hiltebrand in this tune as well. Dave and I met through Greg as they were buddies from Chicago. He came out to visit Greg when we lived together in Van Nuys, and quickly became friends… Dave has been an amazing source of support for me in my life both musically and personally. It was such a great treat to work on this with both of them, even though Dave and I never actually got to see each other during the recording since he did all his tracks in Chicago. Modern technology is pretty amazing!
Of course, if you live and work in L.A. you have to accept that traffic is going to be an unfortunately large part of your life. The next tune, aptly named “Traffic”, is one that popped into my head as I was driving on the good ole 405 one day. As I often do, I sang the melody and bass line into my phone and started work on it when I got home that night. Now, when I was growing up, most drummer’s records always seemed to have tunes in crazy time signatures. I actually never really liked that, it always seemed like it was just done because they were drummers and they were bored with playing in 4. When I wrote this I actually wasn’t even going to record it for that reason… but the more I listened to the tune, and played it with friends a few times, I decided I liked it enough to put it out there. The A section is in 13/8, and the B is in 4/4, for those of you that want to count along. What is amazing to me about this recording of it, is how effortlessly Katisse and Jeff make sense of a very awkward time signature when they are soloing. It is such a testament to their incredible musicality and control of their instruments!
The last tune on the record is a fun one… “Temper Mental” was an experiment with tone rows that had no title or anything until I tried it out on a session one time. Ben Wendel was on the session and when the tune didn’t quite come together right away he commented “Yeah, these kinds of tunes can be tempermental in the studio”. It was the last thing we were trying to accomplish that day and it never really did take shape, so I tried it again on this session… this time it worked!! Even though it’s a different band on this recording, the title was totally inspired by Ben’s comment that day. It’s a free tune, and Katisse adds so much with the flute, taking a comping role rather than the melodic or solo role. Again it shows you how musical he is and his command of the flute is unbelievable! Jeff’s solo is incredibly creative and so is David’s. They both really show their voices here in this environment.
I really did have a great time making this record. I owe much of that to the musicians/friends that performed on it. The process was pretty painless and very rewarding thanks to their talent, musicality, skill, support, and friendship. I hope that you enjoy the record, and thank you for taking the time to listen!