As a performer and songwriter, I live for the moments I get to see my work come to life as well as the process it took to get there. Any musician will tell you that albums are never easy to make. You will find that things don’t go as planned, and it is in those moments where true magic, creativity, and open-mindedness meld to breathe life into your studio project. I had an awesome opportunity to attend a clinic on this very subject featuring the Daryl Lowery jazz!Quartet.
This quartet—featuring Berklee faculty Mark Walker on drums, Consuelo Candelaria-Barry on piano, Keala Kaumeheiwa on bass, and Daryl Lowery on saxophone—performed some original music at Cafe 939 in preparation for an upcoming recording session slated for this month. Daryl, a Berklee ear training professor, has played with the likes of such jazz cats as Ran Blake, Boston’s funk legend Ellis Hall, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jackie Byard. How cool is it to be within feet of someone who has played with the greats and be able to ask pretty much whatever I wanted? This was a free concert, Q/A session, and a meet-and-greet rolled into one. I was in awe and knew that I couldn’t and wouldn’t let this opportunity go to waste.
I caught up with Daryl after the clinic and picked his brain about of how the band is preparing for the experience of “cutting” live. We also talked about limited rehearsal time/rehearsal strategies, and how pre-production strategies are key to putting together a killer live studio album.
Here is an edited version of the conversation.
On putting an album together
When recording an album, is there a form to putting it together? Should you have an equal mix of ballads and up-tempo songs?
I wrote so many ballads leading up to today including the one we just played. For me you can’t put a record together with five ballads so I suppose I need to make sure I mix it up.
On the rehearsal process leading to the recording session
Are you very vocal in the rehearsal period? How much creative freedom do you give the players to interpret your charts?
I lay back a lot in the rehearsal period and let the players play without much constraint leading to where we are now in the rehearsal process. As we go into the recording session, I will usually have a little more to say. I kind of want to see what other people bring to the music because something might happen that I didn’t think about and I want to continue to do that certain thing if I really like it. The advantage in the recording phase is that I can pick and choose what’s working and not working—meaning I can fix on the fly. If the things I hear in my head I think are better than what is happening in the moment, I will say something and give some input then. The trick is to let the process be organic and just let it flow and see where it takes you.
On arranging music
What do you do as an arranger/bandleader to create a piece and have it sound extremely tight and not like a free-for-all jam session?
It doesn’t have much to do with me as a leader. It really is achieved based on the people you picked to play with. You have a choice of whom you want to play with when it’s your own project so when you play with different people and you find that specific sound, those are the people you keep and continue playing with. Some recordings are put together in a way where each musician lays down their part and sends out the recording and none of the players will ever meet. Getting that perfect sound you want to achieve, really only happens if you play together. Also make sure the charts that you create are clear, especially if rehearsal time is limited.
On being a good bandleader
What does it take to be a good bandleader?
You have to be a good judge of the players you choose and know if the chemistry is right. It’s like being a parent in the sense that you have to know when the team is not getting along because it will definitely show up in the music. The most important piece of it all is making sure that everyone is having fun.
Jonathan Page is a 4 semester voice principal who is majoring in professional music.