Going Latin with Foxy

I just finished a Producing Music with Logic with Berklee Online class. This was my final project....


Shades of Happiness CD now available of CD Baby

You can now preview all the tracks from my new  Shades of Happiness album that was just released on CD Baby. You can soon find it on iTunes, and streaming services also. Hope you enjoy it.

Album notes:

Alto saxophonist David Valdez leads this lush, lyrical and sophisticated Latin Chamber-Jazz ensemble, performing the compositions of Brazilian born pianist/composer Jasnam Daya Singh, Lee Morgan and Perico Sambeat. The highly orchestrated, yet relaxed and romantic recording cover a wide range of styles, including: Bolero, Tango, Choro, Afro-Cuban, Boss nova, Latin Waltzes, and modern Jazz. The result is a refined, lush, romantic, yet harmonically complex and rhythmically interesting recording that will appeal to a wide audience. Jazz aficionados, Classical Chamber music lovers, audiophiles, and serious fans of Brazil, Afro-Cuban and Latin America styles all will find plenty to sink their teeth into. Singh's compositions on this album are an amalgam of influences that include Astor Piazzolla, Romantic Classical composers like Ravel and Debussy, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, as well as the sophisticated styles of Rio de Janeiro, where he was raised. Valdez's warm alto saxophone is supported by clarinetist/bass clarinetist Harvey Wainapel, a West Coast based musician who is as deeply immersed in Brazilian music as he is in Jazz. Wainapel was also the musical director of Joe Henderson's big band and has been a lynchpin of the Bay Area Jazz scene for decades. The rhythm section is rounded out by Phoenix bassist Christopher Finet and Bay Area drummer Mike Shannon, who are both equally comfortable playing modern Jazz or Classical music. The recording is an organic and distinctly Pan-American Jazz album that holds together naturally. Shades of Happiness is an ultra-hi-fidelity recording that discerning audiophiles will appreciate.


The saga so far......also- Shades of Happiness Chamber-Jazz CD preview!

     I've been working like crazy to complete my Berklee degree for the last several months,  so that I can accept a graduate teaching assistant position at the University of Kansas next Fall. Thirty years ago I bailed Berklee seven semesters into a performance degree. There were many different reasons that I made this ill advised decision, but at the time it make sense. On the strength of my playing, professional resume, teaching curriculum (much of that posted on this blog) and the achievements of my private students I managed to secure college and university teaching
University of Kansas
positions. Without having an advanced degree my career in academia has been limited. For the majority of my career I've earned most of my income through private teaching and playing gigs. Over last several years I've had positions teaching at universities, community colleges and youth symphonies. I discovered that I enjoy teaching large and small ensembles more than teaching privately. Year after year of saying practically the same things to student after student started to really wear on me. I'd developed original and effective methods to teach many different concepts and created a lot of original teaching materials, and I was earning more than I'd earned in my entire life.....but I was really getting burnt out teaching so much.
Tucson, AZ
I needed a radical change. I was totally over Portland; the Jazz scene was withering away, traffic was getting exponentially worse and the cost of living was going through the roof. There were still world-class players in Portland, but it seemed like we were losing Jazz venues each week almost. On top of all that the climate finally became too much for me to bear. I fell in love with Tucson, Arizona and decided to make a change. Tucson had a smaller music scene than Portland, but there a handful of good players, it was stunningly beautiful, the cost of living was much lower than PDX, and Arizona had stronger Jazz education. In hind-sight, I realized that my judgment may have also been skewed by the bounty of amazing Mexican food there. My plan was to make up for the smaller music scene by booking more out of town clinic/gig tours. Tucson isn't too far from L.A, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Albuquerque, so that would be my new circuit. Just last year I was able to book seven clinics (also a few nice gigs) around Arizona, which ended up being the most lucrative tour of my life.

We put the house on the market and I resigned my teaching positions at Portland State University and Portland Metropolitan Youth Symphony. I moved all of our things to a storage unit in Tucson and then headed down there at the beginning of last summer, while my wife stayed in Portland until our house sale closed and she could find a job in Tucson. I was also assured that I'd be able to pick up enough students at the Tucson Jazz Institute, and teach a few ensemble there also. None of my educational gigs panned out....zilch, nada, nunca. I also soon realized that the already small Jazz scene was plagued by infighting and the venues seemed to be hanging by threads. I admittedly get
Carne Seca
more worked up about great Mexican cuisine more than a sane person should, and I now see that great Carne Seca can't make up for all the other lacking elements. The house contract fell through TWICE due to problems that came up in inspection, so I was faced with the fact that I needed to return to Portland and regroup. It seemed my only option to make a living in Tucson would be to start from scratch again and pound the pavement to find a shitty music store teaching studio gig....GAH.

Before heading back to Oregon I talked to my old homie Chuck MacKinnon, who had just started working on his DMA at University of Kansas, where my friend and long-time musical collaborator Matt Otto had just been hired as the assistant director of KU's Jazz program. Otto had arranged a graduate teaching assistant position for Chuck. Chuck was getting a full-tuition scholarship, plus a decent stipend, in exchange for teaching two ensembles and playing in the big band, a very sweet deal. Otto made me the same offer, but there was one huge hurdle....I didn't even have a bachelor's degree yet. I would have to scramble to complete my Berklee BA by the time KU started the following Fall semester. My buddy Nick Manson, had also dropped out of Berklee years ago and had just completed it through
Matt Otto
Berklee's online program, so I knew that it might be possible. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to at least try. I first had to get a couple of Social Science credits out of the way, which I took online through Portland Community College. Those were actually really interesting- Intro to Shamanism and Latino Studies.

Berklee Online reviewed all of my transcripts and told me that my fastest track to graduate was going to be an Interdisciplinary Music degree (in music business, music production and performance). Berklee has something called Prior Learning Credits, where they'll grant you up to 30 credits from prior life/professional experience. They make you write 6-8 page papers where you address each learning outcome for each course you are petitioning credits for, you must also provide extensive documentation to support your petition. I also needed to do a Capstone project, mine was a present an unfinished CD project with a plan to complete it, also a detailed budget, timeline and plan for distribution and marketing. It seemed like an overwhelming amount of work. I'd have to practically write a short book! Then the dean told me that I'd need to submit at least three fully mixed and mastered tracks with the capstone.....by that point I was shitting bricks. I didn't even know if I could salvage three tracks from what I had thought was a failed recording session. I had hoped that my capstone was just going to be an intellectual exercise, a proposed plan to put out a CD that I knew wasn't going to ever complete, because it seemed that there were too many problems with it.

J.D. Singh
Two years ago I wanted to finally get a good recording of the Latin/Brazilian Chamber-Jazz project that I'd been working on for several years with Jasnam Daya Singh (a.k.a. Weber Iago). We'd gone through many different incarnations of a smaller Chamber format, at times using hand percussion, violin, bassoon, flute, electric bass, and Latin kit. We tried out many different players in town, but had a really hard time finding the sound we were looking for. Jasnam was born and raised in Rio, so he is incredibly particular about who has the right feel. We had two parallel projects for years, a more Classically oriented Chamber Ensemble and the more straight-ahead Latin-Jazz Quartet we led, which we booked more than the Chamber Ensemble. We wanted to record with a full rhythm section, but still keep the Chamber concept as the core focus. We needed just the right musicians in order to pull that off. I arranged a nice anchor gig at the Oregon Coast Chamber Festival, a gig at the Portland Jazz Workshop series I was managing, and a few other smaller gigs. It was enough to make the travel arrangements work for the out-of-town players who we needed for the recording.

 I asked saxophonist/clarinetist Harvey Wainapel, who was an important inspiration and mentor for me when I was younger, to come up from the Bay Area for the tour/session. Harvey was the perfect guy for several reasons. First of all he is an incredible clarinetist and bass clarinetist (and saxophonist), he also has been deeply involved in Brazilian music for decades. Harvey taught himself Portuguese and began making regular trips to Brazil years ago in order to study the music and perform with Brazilian musicians. He's been leading his own Brazilian projects on the West Coast for a many years, performing his own compositions, Brazilian standards, and compositions he commissioned composers to write material for him. Harvey was already a fan of Jansam's and had recorded some his Jasnam's material on one of his CDs. Let me digress here to say that Jasnam's compositions are incredible challenging to play over, even though everything he writes sounds lyrical the harmonies are no joke. I've been playing some his tunes for nearly eight years now and I still feel like I'm hanging on for dear life each and every time I play them. They have deceptive resolutions and key changes all over the place, challenging melodies and rhythms, and unusual forms. Addto that the snakey Brazilian feel and you feel like you're heading down a luge run with a luge. Harvey just eats those types of tunes for lunch, killed it when it came time to record.

Harvey Wainapel's web site

A few years ago my buddy Dmitri Matheny brought a bassist up to the Northwest from Arizona named Chris Finet, and we had a chance to play a few gigs together. Chris seemed to have everything that I was looking for in a bassist. He had a massive sound, great technique and intonation, good harmony, great ears, great solos, high energy, intuitition, took risks, and had exactly the right amount of forward motion that I need. It always felt so solid playing with him and he allowed me to be able to relax and take lots of chances, because I could trust that he would still be there to support me if I
started walking off an improvisational cliff. I'd never forgotten how easy it felt to when I was able to have Larry Grenadier in my quintet when I first moved back from Boston to the Bay Area. Larry is the pinnacle of the bass world IMHO, but Chris definitely reminded my of Larry. Chris is also a monster Classical bassist and is the Classical bass professor at Northern Arizona University, he is also a sub with for Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. I knew that Chris was one of the few people who could pull off the more Classical oriented material Jasnam had written, and still be able to sound great on the hard hitting Jazz tunes.

Jasnam suggested drummer Mike Shannon for the session, since he'd been working with him with Hristo Vitchev's group in the Bay Area for years . The drum chair always seemed to be the most problematic for our group. Jasnam didn't want a drummer who was trying too hard to play in an 'authentic' Brazilian style, but he also need to have a drummer who understood his subtle feel.
We needed a drummer who could play a wide range of Latin styles AND swing his ass off. We needed someone who would be sensitive to the Classical chamber approach at the core of the delicate woodwind concept we were imagining. Mike was trained as a Classical percussionist and he's one of the most sensitive, understated, yet also exciting and tasteful drummers I've ever worked with. Everything he plays is for  good reason and he seems to always know exactly what the music needs at any given time. The material we recorded was very challenging but Mike flew up and nailed every tune without even a single rehearsal.

I booked a two-day lockdown at Supernatural Sound in Oregon City, the studio I recorded my last CD Oasis with Pere Soto. Supernatural has a hand-built API: Legacy console that just sounds incredible. I hired an engineer named Sacha Müller, who also recorded Kerry Politzer's CD that I played on a few years ago. Sacha was one of the most efficient, knowledgable, and talented engineers that I had ever worked with and he got us a great studio rate. We must have recorded something like twelve tunes in a day and a half. We thought that there would be enough separation between the horn both and the main room where the rhythm section was set up, so that I'd be able to re-track any solos that I wasn't happy with and/or fix ensemble parts. Going on that assumption I figured that even if I
Sacha Müller
knew that I kacked one of my solos I'd just keep the tape rolling as long as the ensemble parts were good. The band nailed most everything right away and there just two tunes that we recorded more than one take of. I have a hard time getting loose in the studio as it is and tend to keep playing better the more passes I record. It turned out that there was bleed from my saxophone on the piano tracks, making it impossible for me to overdub anything later on. All but two tracks on the album are first takes! There were a few tunes that I floundered on and even stopped playing in the middle of the solo because I knew that would I would overdub later, since three of the cats on the session were heading out of town the next day. Sacha also used two different ribbon mics on my horn and one of them made my horn sound like a choking turkey. All the rest of the recording capture was great, except for that Thanksgiving slaughter sax tone. It always seemed to work that way for most of my prior sessions as a leader, the old 'band sounded killing but I sounded like shit scenario'. When I was preparing to re-track my parts down in Oaxaca at Pere Soto's studio later I thought that there were too many issues with my tracks to salvage the session. Pere and I couldn't figure out how to get a sax sound that I liked and I couldn't overdub anything because of the bleed issue.

When I found out that the dean of Berklee Online wanted at least three MASTERED tracks I got worried. I thought that it was just going to be an expensive exercise in turd polishing, since I believed that there was no way to get a good enough final project to make it worth releasing. The FINAL hurdle make it over before I could go to grad school is getting all of my final learning portfolio credits granted. Creating my Prior learning portfolio was the most stressful and time consuming thing I've ever done in my entire life, no joke. It turned out to be one of the most useful, productive and educational experiences of my life. It forced my to organize pretty much my entire thirty year career in music. I printed out the entire portfolio last night and was around 100 pages long, including eight 8-page papers I wrote on my work history, discography, new bio, a master index of this blog for easy navigation, letters of professional recommendation, scores, students and blog reader endorsements, a teaching/performing C.V. for the last three years, a budget, timeline, marketing and distribution plan for Shades of Happiness.  This second time at Berklee I've learned valuable skills that have already opened totally new opportunities and my career goals have come into sharper focus. I also now have an incredibly detailed and complete work portfolio that will help me with booking and when applying for teaching jobs in the future.

While assembling my portfolio I picked through this blog with a fine toothed comb, and organized articles on improvisation, philosophy, my teachers and musical peers, my vast archive of live recordings, product reviews, recordings of rare master classes, promotional strategies, exchanges with players from all over the world, interviews, book and DVD reviews, questions from readers, television programs that I produced and/or directed, arrangements from my personal library, and much more. I  forgot how much material is on this blog. It was eye opening and I now have a clearer idea where to go from here.

This blog introduced me to people from all over the world, and many of these people have become significant on a personal level, some have opened new career opportunities for me. This blog was the main reason I was able to land a university teaching position without a college degree, it also opened opportunities for teaching Jazz clinics internationally. Every new city I visit run I usually into someone who was a regular reader, often they tell me that they followed my blog for years. I tend to forget this when I'm at home and haven't been actively posting. There's a decade of my writing and materials here, and when I'm slogging through day to day life it's easy to forget that this stuff is still valid and helpful to other musicians who are serious about Jazz.  One of the comments I've gotten for years is that there's so much material that it takes too much time and effort to dig through the blog archives. Here is a link the master index (though still not even close to being complete) :

Casa Valdez Master Index
(make sure to actually download this PDF document because the link won't work if you are viewing in in the Dropbox window)

The deadline for my portfolio is in just a few days. I've literally never worked so hard and so long for anything in my entire life, which is kind of sad because it makes me realize how much I might have accomplished had I worked this hard all along. Better later than never I guess.That should be my motto from now on. But back to my new recording project.....

Last week I went to Sacha Müller's studio to revisit the session and try to scrape together three tracks  to submit with my capstone proposal,  I figured all that would come out of it. We figured out that one of the ribbon mics was a hypercardioid and was responsible for picking up the turkey massacre sax sound off the reflection from the plexiglass iso booth door. Once we got rid of that track and I was able to tweak my EQ I began to see a glimmer of hope. I was surprised how good the first tune sounded once we figure things out. Then the second went smoothly. Lo and behold, my playing didn't suck nearly as much as I remembered! If I had had more runs at my solos I would've gotten better, but I actually liked some of them, shocking. Sacha is a truly masterful sound engineer and he worked his Pro-Tools magic on a few of the solos that had issues. He time-stretched, cut and pasted, pitch shifted and massaged several of my solos back to life, and soon we had eight mixed tracks. I tend to forget just how great Jasnam's writing really is, but hearing those incredible players pull it off made me forget all of my usual insecurities about my own performances. I realized that I ALWAYS feel like that, other than maybe once or twice a year, but those fleeting moments never seem to get recorded. I just finished a Berklee Online course on Logic music production a few weeks ago, so I dug out the raw tracks from a live gig I'd recorded with the smaller Chamber-Jazz group at the now defunct Ivories Jazz Lounge. That gig we'd had the talented multi-instrumentalist John Nastos with us on clarinet, bass clarinet and flute, and on bassoon we had Evan Kuhlman. I sounded confident, loose and in total command of my horn. Here's one of those tracks from that live recording session:

This is also the title track of my new CD. I like my solo a lot more on the live recording of course, but that's always how it goes for me. Of course Jasnam didn't like how he played on the live session. It's always something....

Anyway, by the end of the all day mixing session with Sacha we had eight tunes that sounded really cool. I didn't think we'd get three. I went back a day later and did a lot of fine adjusting to a the levels on every tune. Jasman's tunes are highly orchestrated and the melody parts are traded back and forth between the sax, clarinet and bass clarinet every few bars. It took a lot of highly detailed mixing work get get the balances right.

The next day Sacha took me over to Dana White's Specialized Mastering for the final mastering. Dana made everything clearer and more cohesive. It was sounding really, really good. I realized that I had a recording that I was proud of, probably for the first time ever. The tunes really held together as a whole and there was a lot of beauty and feeling in every tune. The Chamber-Latin-Brazilian-Modern Jazz cross-genre approach sounded totally natural, unselfconscious and unaffected. A dark cloud seemed to lift away from the sun, only figuratively of course since we are here in Portland.