Standing out from the crowd

  • Blog

Last time I posted, I talked about the recording process I was going through. I updated my Recordings page to include some of the new tracks we came up with.

Tangentially, some of my friends and former students have released their new professional album, Play, and I think it’s really special. You don’t have to go to Nashville to produce a professional recording with all the studio polish. Great facilities and engineers are available anywhere, so young professionals like the Dan White Sextet can make a solid recording. This is great, but it also means that there are a lot of groups out there making recordings that don’t have a lot of redeeming quality. The obvious challenge is that of making your recording stand out from the pack, and I think this recording is an excellent case study.

The primary factor I’m drawn to with the group and this recording in particular is their clear concept. They’re not just playing jazz – they’re playing music they feel passionate about, and they’re playing it the way they feel it. They’re not trying to fit within a particular sub-genre and they’re not even really trying to cater to a market niche. They’re making a statement about who they are as artists, and they’re also making a statement about the art form in general. This artistic honesty comes through in every detail of the project from the arrangements to the mixing, and it makes the recording catch my ear more than most of the other self-produced albums on the market.

They’re all very skilled musicians, and they have the chops to pull off their vision, but I think it’s important to have a vision in the first place. A lot of people can play extremely well, but if the result doesn’t have something to say, nobody’s going to listen. It’s more straightforward to achieve this when doing one’s own arrangements and/or compositions, but even playing a standard orchestral excerpt requires a vision. How many times have you heard a performance of Bolero, heard the trombonist hit all the high D flats, and then thought “but that didn’t sound right.” There are as many “right” ways to play the piece as there are trombonists, but there are infinitely more “wrong” ways. If you want your performances and recordings to end up anywhere other than your own basement, you have to say something more than the right notes!