Tour blog days 5-6

The JWA Big Band is on tour during January to the USA and Barbados.

Big Band tour day 5: Recording

Today it was into the studio to record band for a CD.

Most of us took the subway from the Holiday Inn to the studio in Brooklyn where we would spend the day working with master recording engineer Joe Marciano (a 2014 Grammy nominee for big band recording) and his assistant Max (a 2014 Grammy nominee for Latin Jazz recording). We all arrived at the session justin time for the 11am bump in. All of us except the two singers Rosie and Sophie who had slept in, took a cab to the wrong part of Brooklyn and eventually arrived in a police car, driven by two kindly cops who rescued them and delivered them safely to the correct address. At least it was a dramatic entry…

After a relatively quick set up in the state-of-the-art studio we got stuck into the tricky business of setting up the right headphone mix for everyone. The horns were set up in a “C” formation with the rhythm section separated, the piano on one side of the room, bass and guitar opposite, and the drums isolated in a booth. Every instrument was close-miked and each musician wore headphones through which they could control exactly what mix of which parts they heard. This is important when everyone is set up in an unusual formation and everything sounds different.

Once the headphones were sorted and recording level were set we were ready to begin recording. Joe, the lead engineer, gave a quick tutorial in how to stay “on mic” plus other fundamental recording techniques. He also pointed out that the vintage microphone Daniel was using for his trumpet had previously belonged to John Coltrane. The grand piano had once been in Carnegie Hall, and the drum set once belonged to “Smitty” Smith.

The first tune was A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, a ballad. We did two takes after a slightly nervous start. IN fact, it wouldn’t be until late afternoon that the whole band really started to relax. We got a good take of that one and moved on to Riverscape. It was slow but steady going from then on with four tunes done by a late pizza lunch. Many of the musicians had great trouble staying in tune, so we spent a lot of time between takes re-tuning at the insistence of  our producer Anna Okunev whose expert ears would not tolerate sloppiness.

By the end of the session at 7pm we had nine tunes done, one more than we had planned. There was some excellent playing and we’ll all be excited to hear the final product which is being mixed and mastered as I write this.

Following the session it was back to Manhattan on the subway, free time for dinner and packing, and then early to bed ready for a 3:15 check out the next morning.


Day 6: NYC to Barbados

It can take a long time to check in and get through security at New York’s JFK airport. A very long time.

With that in mind we had a 3:15am check out time to make a 7:45am flight. Against the odds everyone in the group was up and waiting in the lobby at the right time. We went in three shuttle buses through rain-streaked streets in the pre-dawn darkness. It was much warmer than the previous few days, but now persistent rain had set in. The airport was blanketed in quite a thick fog. Due to weather conditions in other cities many flights out had been delayed or cancelled. The terminal was full of stranded passengers trying to sleep on stretcher-style beds provided by the airport or the airlines, a seemingly futile effort amid the throngs of more fortunate departing travelers, including us.

True to form it took ages to check in, though the American Airlines staff member looking after us was fantastic and very generous, turning a blind eye to a number of suitcases that, alarmingly, were already over-weight.

From check in we made our way to where the queue into security seemed to start. Wrong! With mounting dismay we followed a gargantuan line that snaked its way back through the terminal, round corners and almost out the front doors. Eventually we found the end, lined up and spent the next age defending our spots from brazen queue jumpers who seemed to abound. The reward for lining up was being yelled at by a series of frustrated security officials: “Shoes off”, “no belts”, “nothing in your pockets”, “keep your boarding pass if you were pre-screened” (huh?), “don’t use two trays. What do you need two trays for?”, “push you bags along, quickly, quickly”…

We made it through security with just under half an hour before boarding, fully justifying the super-early start! As it turned out, boarding was delayed because a member of the cabin crew was late.

The plane was very full, but everyone settled in for the five-hour flight to Barbados Grantley Adams International Airport. Most of us slept for most of the flight and it seemed over very quickly. The arrival process was very quick, much better than previous visits to Barbados. Before long we had our bags, were out of the terminal, and meeting “RC” our person-on-the-ground in Barbados. He had a truck there for our gear and a comfy bus for the short journey to South Gap Hotel at the tourist hotspot of St Lawrence Gap.

The hotel turned out to be very pleasant. Not long after a speedy check-in we all met near the pool overlooking the wide blue expanse of the Caribbean Sea. As I write, most of the band are relaxing after an early dinner before getting some much-needed sleep. We have an 8am start to get to the setup and sound check for tomorrow’s lunchtime gig at the Frank Collymore Hall in Bridgetown.


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