Quite a cast of characters were assembled for my coming “Open Borders” album. To say the recording exudes personality, might actually be an understatement! The music was noticeably shaped by the musicians’ distinctive musical voices. I thought it might be fun to share how the members of the 10-piece band were selected, and to provide some insight into my relationship with each of them.
If your interest is piqued after reading the article, I hope you will consider purchasing your copy of “Open Borders”, in advance of it’s release. By doing so, I can put your money to work now, when it is most needed. Several expenses loom, including cover art fees, manufacturing costs and hiring a publicist. Copies can be ordered through the following link: ffnd.me/at/762/1275/#/story
Kris Allen – alto saxophone
When I decided to form this 10-piece band, my first call went out to Kris. Aside from being a great musician and a levelheaded, good friend, Kris is incredibly “well connected” in Hartford the Northeast in general. He grew up in West Hartford and attended the Hartt School, where he studied under Jackie McLean. He has also spent a considerable amount of time in New York City. I knew he would have valuable perspective regarding what musicians to include. I only specified that they needed to be decent readers, strong improvisers, and hungry to play. Together, we came up with a roster, and surprisingly, it hasn’t changed considerably since those initial discussions in 2009. Equally remarkable is that Kris hasn’t missed a gig since the group’s inception. In every other chair there have been numerous substitutes. He even played the music in Dallas, at a jazz educators conference, with a conglomerate band of jazz professors from around the country.
Wayne Escoffery – tenor saxophone
Picking a tenor player for this band was no easy task – not for a shortage of options, but because there are so many great players from which to choose. I ultimately left the decision to Kris, thinking, “Who knows saxophonists better than one of their own?” When Kris mentioned Wayne as an option, I must admit I knew his name, but wasn’t familiar with his playing. I knew he and Kris were students together at the University of Hartford, and Wayne played with Tom Harrell, and the Mingus Orchestra, among others. Since making the initial call, I have enjoyed getting to know Wayne both musically and personally. I like the fiery intensity his solos bring to the ensemble!
Lauren Sevian – bari saxophone
Kris said, “We need a REAL bari player, like Lauren Sevian.” He wasn’t kidding.
Lauren was completely unfazed when just before a concert, I presented her with a new, Giant Steps-filled set of chord changes for her solo on “Appointment In Ghana.” She’s a powerhouse player and I’m thrilled to have her as a regular contributor and solo voice in this band. It’s no wonder that she’s playing regularly with Christian McBride, the Count Basie Orchestra, Robin Eubanks and the Mingus Big Band, to name just a few.
Jeffrey Holmes – lead trumpet
Jeff Holmes is a bit of an enigma; he could easily be misconstrued as intimidating because of his quiet and self-assured demeanor, mixed with his focused intensity. As a musician, he is the complete package. In addition to playing trumpet, he is also masterfully adept at the piano, drums, composing/arranging and large ensemble direction. Initially, I hired him at John Mastroianni’s suggestion. From the first notes he played, it was immediately apparent that he had an exhaustive, informed grasp of the lead trumpet’s role. His phrasing, articulations, note lengths and releases were all beyond compare. With Jeff playing lead, the band never sounded better.
Josh Evans – trumpet soloist
I first met Josh when he was a high school student playing in one of the Connecticut regional high school jazz bands I was hired to conduct. That was probably fifteen years ago. It has been interesting to witness his career unfold and to hear his playing develop. I have seen him move beyond trying to clone Freddie Hubbard. He’s no longer merely regurgitating tried-and-true bop lines, and in my opinion, he has become one of the most expressive, daring improvisers on the jazz scene today.
Alex Gertner – French horn
Alex was still a graduate student at the University of Connecticut when we recorded this album. In the semester prior to the recording, I prepared this music with a student ensemble in which he played. He impressed me to the extent that I had no hesitation hiring him for the session. Having already rehearsed, practiced and performed the music, I knew he’d be better prepared than most professionals I could call; and he lived up to my expectations.
Sara Jacovino – trombone
I first became aware of Sara in 2009, when she won the Sammy Nestico big band arranging award, which I had won several years prior. Seeing that she was from Connecticut, I reached out to her, made her acquaintance, and learned she had played trombone in the University of North Texas’ One O’Clock Jazz Lab Band. Following university, she moved to New York City, where she too participated in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, though not during the same years as me. These days she plays frequently in DIVA, the all-woman NYC jazz orchestra and the Birdland Big Band, led by Tommy Igoe.
Ben Bilello – drum set, Henry Lugo – string bass
I tend to think of Ben and Henry as a unit. Even when I text them, it’s never individually; it’s as a group text. When we hang out between sets, there is always a lot of laughing. They’re goofy and light-hearted. I like that. That said, they both take my music seriously and are always well-prepared. I like that too.
Atla DeChamplain – vocals
When listening back to the recorded takes of East of the Sun, I kept thinking, “this melody would sound great if it was sung.” Then it dawned on me — the featured saxophonist was recorded in an isolation booth; I had the capability to overdub a singer in his place! If it worked – fantastic! If it failed, the original was just fine, as is. (By the way, it worked splendidly!)
Atla made an impression on me earlier in the year by driving out to Storrs with the intent of meeting me and “sitting in” at the weekly jam session I host. (I admire her for being a person that is intentional and takes the necessary steps to make things happen.) Like she did that night, she sang great in the studio! I can’t think of another vocalist who could scat all the right notes over a sequence of diminished major seventh chords. Can you?! Now I’ll need to get serious about incorporating some vocal features into this ensemble’s repertoire.
Ricardo Monzon – percussion (congas and shekere)
Ben Bilello suggested that “Dolphy Dance” could benefit from some congas being added. I honestly didn’t know who to ask, so I turned to Peter Kontrimas, the recording engineer. Peter is also a first-rate bassist who’s musical judgment I explicitly trust. He recommended Berklee professor, Ricardo Monzon as someone who had good taste and played along well to prerecorded tracks in an overdubbing studio situation. He didn’t disappoint.
Here’s the link where you can purchase your copy of “Open Borders”: ffnd.me/at/762/1275/#/story. It will be sent to you two weeks before it’s official release date, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped bring the project to fruition. Thanks for your support!