Though I do have my own little “cameo” as a vocalist on Ripples, it was a major treat to write for people who can REALLY sing!
Recently I wrote about the sentiment behind my song “Time Is Now” (click here for that entry). I know plenty of fine singers who are of my generation or older, but it seemed to me that a song about youth empowerment needed to be sung by young people.
That was my line of thinking when I wrote the song late in 2008, having been commissioned by my alma mater, the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) in New Haven. At that time the instrumentation was choir and big band, and my one personnel request was that Erica Bryan be the vocal soloist. I had met her the previous summer when she was a student at the Center for Creative Youth (CCY) at Wesleyan and I came to learn that she was both a gifted and serious young musician (as I learned furthermore upon hearing some of her compositions) and a powerhouse of a person. She has since moved on to the Hartt School of Music as a double major in composition and jazz voice. Since she has only continued to mature musically, she was a no-brainer choice. Check out this recent performance of hers.
The other three singers are all products of Wesleyan. Jessica Best was the first singer to be admitted into the Jazz Ensemble since I began teaching it in 2007, both undaunted by and up to the task of doing everything that I asked of the instrumentalists, whether arpeggiating through chord changes or vocalizing the difficult melodies to repertoire like “Prince Albert” and “Passion Dance.” That alone would is impressive, perhaps, but I wasn’t going for impressive (highly capable, maybe). I was going for soulful and expressive and Jess is those things. As such I asked her to sing with my trio at Resonant Motion’s inaugural “Jazz With a Conscience” concert in the fall of 2012. This was actually the first time that I had ever participated in a performance of “Time Is Now,” and she also sung the Oscar Brown, Jr. song (often associated with Nina Simone) “Brown Baby.”
Claire Randall, meanwhile, first came to my attention when I heard her sing a couple numbers with the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra, conducted by my colleague Jay Hoggard. She was friends with a good number of my students and eventually took some lessons with me. Along the same “not just a singer” lines, she transcribed and sang, verbatim, solos I assigned her by Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown and even Ornette Coleman. And she too is far from just a technician, with a maturity that belies her youth. That extends beyond music, as she has also been standing behind her commitment to music as a force of positive change as a Program Associate for Resonant Motion
Finally, I thought of Garth Taylor, who was never my student. He was, however, the lead singer of a band known now (after several iterations) as the Rooks. Featuring my longtime students Gabe Gordon (also an RMI Program Associate) and Spencer Hattendorf, the Rooks are a fabulous contemporary soul group and Garth is a real dynamo in that context.
What really sold me on Garth, and indeed on having him, Jess and Claire all participate was hearing the way they blended when singing together on Spencer’s senior recital. I knew they were all dynamic soloists, but hearing them harmonize was deeply moving in a way that I’m only capable of being moved by high-quality and soulful group vocals.
Because I had them gathered for “Time Is Now,” I thought I should take a chance and see about having them sing an a cappella arrangement of “L’Amour Gagne (Love Wins),” the setting of a short French poem I wrote that provided part of the musical thematic material for “Ripples.” It’s a tricky arrangement but I figured the reward (beautiful, haunting vocals) would outweigh the risk (doing a bazillion takes and not getting it). A bazillion takes were not needed and both Claire’s solo reading of the melody and the group harmonization that follows sound just . . . well, you can judge for yourselves when you hear it.
Each of these singers has a bright future that I’m excited to track. More significantly, though, the present is authoritative and compelling, and I’m grateful to have been able to harness that for this album!