Sunday, September 21, 2008

family matters

My nephew Dan Weinstein is a great musician working out of LA and more important he is a successful musician, using the musician's tried and true standard for success, he supports his family playing music. Dan plays trombone and violin and any other instrument he can put his hands on. My older brother Cy, a trombone player himself, tried desperately to keep Dan from playing the trombone. He had seen what happened to me after he gave me my first lesson, taking the trombone out of the case, putting it together, taking it apart and putting it back in the case (it was his trombone after all). When he let me take his trombone out for the second lesson I played the damn thing and didn't stop for the next 15 or so years. He wasn't going to let that happen to his first-born son, hence a violin as soon as Dan could hold one up. But Danny got a baritone horn as soon as he was old enough to play in a school band that had brass instruments, changed to trombone as fast as he could and saw himself as a trombone player ever since. Although he is one hell of a fiddle player and a great arranger.

That's Cy, 2nd from the left in the picture next to his youngest son David, a math professor. I'm to Cy's right and Dan is holding Julie his daughter, who now, at 9 years old, is already a great flute player. Cy's eldest, my niece Nancy, plays flute as well, as did my sister June.

After Jazz World Trios I thought success was inevitable. Plus a track from Cuban Roots had been included in a prestigious compilation record of the most important Latin jazz recordings of the 60's. Dan was recording with a number of Latin bands for a company called Cubop out of San Francisco. Cubop wanted to rerelease Cuban Roots but couldn't get anywhere with the company that had the master. So through Dan, Cubop asked me if I could recreate the album. I told them it was impossible since I no longer played trombone, but I would record the same material for them with another ensemble. I sent the company Jazz World Trios and they gave me a $10,000 budget to come to LA and record. Dan was to co-produce it with me, get the guys and write half of the arrangements. I had made some arrangement sketches a few years back for a singer who wanted a band with 3 trombones and flute. That was the ticket. The trombones would give it a connection to the original Cuban Roots, and give a lush background for the flute. LA is a center for Cuban folkloric drumming, so the pieces could easily fall into place. I let Danny know what I had come up with and he liked the idea. The plan was that I would write 5 charts and Dan write 5 ; it would by Weinstein x 2, a joint venture and a glorification of family and music.

I wrote my five charts. I extended the role of the trombones in a novel way, as compared to the standard use of trombones in salsa bands. I used the bass trombone extensively and wrote rich harmonies forming a chorus against which the flute played melodies, for call and response in the tradition of Cuban folk music, as well as the more standard riffs behind the flute solos. I left room for Dan to play solos and sent the 5 charts out to Danny sometime in November. He was a professional copyist (it was a bit early to expect people to use music writing programs) so he had quite a but of work to do: write 5 arrangements, copy out the parts from my 5 scores,  find musicians, book a recording studio and get me a motel room. But remember, Dan is a successful musician and that takes some doing, so Dan doesn't have a lot of time to spare. If he is not performing, he is rehearsing, or writing arrangements or copying out parts, or spending a minute or two with his kids or helping his father get around. 

It was after New Years in 1999 and I had a few weeks off after winter holidays and before the Spring semester began. So I booked a flight to LA. We had 8 days to do the session. I couldn't ask Danny for more time, he had a living to make. I got to the motel he booked for me, conveniently next to the musician's union, Local 47, which is surprisingly alive and well as compared to the once legendary Local 802 in NYC, which gained noteriety for striking right after WWII putting the record companies and Broadway shows out of business until they won a better deal for working musicians (those were the days). Local 47 had free rehearsal facilities that were heavily used by big bands to rehearse, but we could find smaller rooms to rehearse the trombones in and I would have a place to practice if the motel complained about my playing in the room. 

I landed in LA in the morning on Saturday and went to the motel. Dan showed up with an armful of music paper and his two daughters (Julie is his younger daughter. Her older sister Gabriela plays trumpet). We took the girls to lunch and I asked him how things were going. He said things were on track, but I had to meet Francisco Aguabella who was going to organize the drummers. Francisco is a legend among Cuban drummers, famous for his carnival performances in pre-Castro Cuba. Francisco had also played with Eddie Palmieri when I was back with the band right after I had recorded Cuban Roots. Eddie's solo trombone player Barry Rogers had left the band during one of his many attempts to disconnect. So I got to play all of the solos and Francisco was added as a second conga drummer, so the band was moving in the direction of 'heavy drumming,' the calling card of Cuban Roots. I thought Francisco would remember me. Dan, however, was supposed to have booked the musicians before I got there; but we had 8 days, no sweat. He had talked up the date among the guys and had the right musicians on tap. I spent some time with my brother and the family and went back to the hotel and crashed.

The next morning Dan showed up with his music paper and he told me he was busy all day and he would meet me later. He wanted to take me around to meet the guys, a musician imperative when a visiting musician comes to town, especially one who had some special status. And after I left the business, I was given all of the respect owed to the dead for conceiving of and recording Cuban Roots. Dan was very anxious to show off Uncle Mark.  So that night we hung out. It was Sunday, the studio was booked for Wednesday and Thursday. Since I would be pre-occupied during the recording, I would play my parts during the basic recording session, but I scheduled Friday morning to fix my parts and especially my solos. That gave most of Friday to mix and all day Saturday. I have to catch a plane on Sunday to be back to teach on Monday. I met Francisco at a doughnut shop on Sunday morning. He remembered me and we talked about some summer concerts we played in Harlem  the greatest moments of my trombone playing days with Eddie's band. And with Francisco in place, Dan knew who else to call. We would record secular music on the first day, rumba and comparsa, where the drummers would play conga drums and the second day for toques do Santo on which they would play bata. 

Michael McFadin, the owner of Cubop, asked if we would use Cuban pianist Omar Sosa on the date as well as percussionist John Santos. They were the leading Latin musicians in San Francisco and were both going to be in LA for a jazz convention. I couldn't be happier with the additions. And their presence eventually was the key the the records musical success. Omar contributed the finest music played at the session and John who is perfect gentleman, was willing to play the basic rhythm on the claves, palitos (sticks that keep time for rumba) and cow bell, instead of vying for the limelight. Most important, he could calm tempers whenever the egos of the drummers clashed, something that is all too common when you have 5 drummers in a room playing together

Sunday night Danny had a gig that he wanted me to sit in on, so the rest of Sunday was spent with my brother, Dan's family and doing the gig. On the way to the gig I discovered that Dan hadn't done any of his arrangements or any of copying. That was all of the music paper he had been carrying around.  He had planned to write every spare minute, but there were very few minutes to spare and so little or nothing was done. Dan assured me that this was no problem since he wrote without a piano and so could write or copy parts anywhere.

It also turned out the trombone players couldn't rehearse until Tuesday and the parts I wrote were both atypical and difficult, requiring nuance and blend, which is not a strong suit of Latin trombone playing. There was no question about rehearsing drummers, that just couldn't happen and Omar and John wouldn't be there until Tuesday night anyway. I started to get very nervous.

I spent Monday practicing and having a repair man look at my alto flute, more to kill time then for anything. Tuesday Dan showed up only to tell me he had a big band rehearsal at the union rehearsal hall during the afternoon and that some old friends were in the band that wanted to see me. We would rehearse the bones that evening. He had copied out the trombone parts for my 5 charts, but still had only sketched out one part of one of the 5 arrangements he was supposed to write. It was my trombone solo on a tune I wrote for Cuban Roots called Just Another Guajira harmonized for the three trombones, sort of an homage to his uncle. I was touched, it was a labor of love, but I was getting pissed. We had 5 half copied charts, a chorus of another and we had to record the next day. After hanging out with some old friends that had relocated to LA, Dan and I went into a small rehearsal room with the two other trombone players. They were great players and Dan is a clear copyist, they played through the parts, fixed notes, discussed phrasing, but basically didn't get anywhere near the familiarity that would let them play music in the high pressure situation of recording. Plus I was the only one who had a sense of how complex 5 Cuban drummers get when they are playing rumba and trying to impress each other with the depth of their bag, (that is, able to play things that are surprising and difficult to execute, yet correct in the highly stylized context of Cuban folkloric drumming). Drummers with deep bags make horn players lose the beat. And we had five drummers in the studio, playing their kind of music. I was really worried! Plus after the rehearsal Dan asked me about the chords I had used on one of the two tunes he was to have arranged. I was worried and I was pissed, he hadn't started the other 4 arrangements that I was counting on.

We got to the studio Wednesday at noon, Danny had been copying all night and had finished most of my arrangements and his arrangement for Just Another Guajira. The three charts of mine were for the first day, as was Just Another Guajira, so we were ready to record. I had met John Santos and Omar the night before and we made a solid connection. John had tremendous respect for Cuban Roots and Omar trusted John. Danny felt he could only finish two more arrangements and the remaining copying Wednesday night. So even it he got everything done we were a tune short of the 10 tunes we had promised Cubop. So we decided that the drummers would do an additional solo piece, setting the proper tone for the project by playing in the rhythm for Ellegua, which is the official way to open a serious musical offering. Ellegua opens the door and many of the people in the room, including me, took that very seriously. Dan had asked to write the chart for Ellegua, but he hadn't even started it. So letting the drummers play was a perfect solution, we could eventually use the drum version of Elegua at the end of the recording (to close the door and mark the recording over), use Dan's orchestrated version to start the record once it was written, and still begin the recording session with the proper respect for the religious music that was the heart of the project. The drummers sounded great, Omar was inspired and we dealt with the first arrangement, a classic rumba called Malanga. After the usual discussion about how to address the clave, we recorded. The drummers sounded great, the bass player Carlitos Del Puerto, son of the Cuban bassist with Irakere, Carlos Del Puerto, connected the drummers to the horn section and Omar played magnificently. He invented a way to play piano with the rich arrangements and sophisticated drumming that was a mixture of Count Basie, Chick Corea and the best of the Cuban piano tradition. He found beautiful harmonic extensions in support of what I had written, played with exquisite taste and tremendous swing, playing a delicate passage behind the horns and then levitating the drummers with a killer vamp (or 'guajeo,' the term for the repetitious figures that Cuban dance band pianists player). Omar played sequences of guajeos matching the shifting drum patterns and addressing the melodies and modern harmonies of my arrangements for the trombones.

The trombones sounded pretty awful, having a hard time playing in tempo with the complex drumming. We kept the bones low in the drummers' headphone mix so as not to throw them off time. All I could focus on was how the horns players were messing up my beautiful arrangements. And we couldn't really do more than one or two takes since we would lose the spontaneity of the drummers who were playing each take as if their lives depended on it. 'Don't worry we will fix the bones in over-dubs,' was the refrain. I played adequately showed Omar and the drummers the kinds of things I was going to play in my solos and was very grateful that I had built time in the recording schedule for me to fix my parts. I knew that I might have to do almost everything I played over again, but I had a whole morning set aside to do it. 

The drummers needed a bit of a break from the intensity of the first two tunes and I wanted the trombone players to get their confidence back.  Dan had taken a decent trombone solo on Malanga, but when he brought the trombones in with vamp  (called a muña) to push the flute solo, he misunderstood the drum pattern and brought it in across the clave (the ultimate sin for a horn section in a Latin band). I wasn't sure how we could fix that since it was loud and probably picked up by the mikes on the drum tracks. The trombones where in a booth facing the drummers who were spread out across the studio floor. Omar and I were in separate booths at the other end the studio and Carlitos was between Omar and the drummers with his electric base going directly into the board. The drums had about ten mikes and a few of them were pretty close to the trombones, and booths are not sound-proof. This wouldn't be a problem if we had to fix wrong notes in the trombones by overdubbing after the session was over. When you fix wrong notes the new note goes in the same place as the wrong one so the echo of the wrong one is covered up. But if you replace something in another place the slight sound of the original recording is likely to be heard, but life goes on. The time in Malanga gets spacey when the trombones come in, 'crossed' against the clave, behind my flute solo, but the tune sounds great anyway. But for now the trombone players were feeling pretty uncomfortable.

Dan had finished the chart for Just Another Guajira the night before, basically rewriting the original melodies and back-up figure. But he did have the ensemble harmonization of my trombone solo that the trombone players had rehearsed, and that is just the sort of playing that these great trombone players could do with panache. They could read and had great technique, and the complex and coordinated playing required to recreate a solo by a brass section is what horn players take the greatest pride in. This was the way to get the trombones back on track and enable them to regain the confidence of the other musicians. They did a great job and Dan's writing and their playing is quite impressive. Just Another Gaujira had another advantage as the next tune of the date. The drum part was fun and easy, a guajira is the simplest kind of cha cha beat and it swings. And the piano and bass parts were equally familiar and even routine, except for some interesting harmonies that make the tune something special to play. This was a tune to make everyone relaxed. But there was a problem.

Chick Corea had played the original recorded version of the tune on Cuban Roots and Danny wanted Omar to play what Chick had played behind the horn parts. Dan hadn't written out the piano part, just sketched the chords and Omar had just constructed an amazing role for the piano to play on Malanga. Plus, he was a little pissed at the trombones since he had had to listen to them to hear where he could add figures and contrasting harmonies, and he knew that they had screwed up. So he was in no mood to listen when Danny came into his recording booth, sat next to him on the piano and starting banging out his version of Chick's part. Omar started to get annoyed and told Danny to back off. Dan got on his high horse and said he was the arranger and that he wanted Omar to play what Chick Corea had played. Omar said, 'So call Chick Corea,' and for a minute I thought the record date was over. Fortunately lunch came, Pollo Loco for all, and everyone went to eat. Dan went to copy arrangements and Omar sat in his booth with his ear phones on. I was across the studio in my booth with my ear phones on (I had been listening in horror to their conversation which was picked up by the open mikes). I had my flute in my hands and Omar started to play. He played a phrase and I played something in response. We played like that without looking at each other for about 10 minutes. We stopped and came out of our booths. I said to him in Spanish, 'that's how you play on my record, whatever you feel.' We went to eat chicken.

The rest of the recording went pretty much the same. The high point of the second day was Danny playing a lovely violin solo on the toque for Ochun, Danny's patron saint. Danny had wanted to write the arrangement but only had enough time to writes out a simple harmonization of the melody based on the Cuban Roots original (He did write a brilliant arrangement for Ellegua that starts the album with beauty and love). He compensated for the lack of written horn parts by making it a piano and violin feature. Dan is a great violin player and him and Omar rose to the occasion, put bad blood behind them and played their asses off. But mainly, Danny was copying parts (he had piano and bass parts for two more of my charts to do and his entire arrangement for Ellegua). He wasn't taking breaks and generally raising the tension level, writing at the table, while the guys were having lunch. Inevitably there were copying errors and Danny was rewriting parts while as we were recording.  The trombones were getting through the charts but with some real problems. The drummers were having a ball, Omar was having a good time and I was just waiting until I could get into the studio on Friday and play without tension and with full concentration. Carlitos, the bass player, had a very high paying record date the second day and sent in a sub, Eddie Resto, who did a wonderful job playing the toques do Santo. The $10,ooo was just enough to pay studio costs and minimal money for the musician; Carlitos just couldn't afford to turn down the date. Danny did all of his arranging and copying for free, making the same money as the guys and I paid for all of my living expenses and flight. All in all, Cubop got their money's worth. A reasonable budget for the date would have been at least $15,000 and we should have had at least another day of mixing time.  'Whatever,' as they say. 

The music was all recorded that Thursday and Friday was to be my day to relax and concentrate on my playing. But there were trombone parts to fix. Danny decided that rather than bring back the trombone players he would over-dub all of the parts himself. He also decided to play bass trumpet on a tune that was supposed to be his trombone feature, a comparsa called El Barracón, for which he had memorized a trumpet solo by the legendary Cuban trunpet player, La Florecita, recorded on probably the best folkloric record to ever come out of pre-Castro Cuba, Festival in Havana. Barry Rogers had made me buy that record when I first joined Eddie Palmieri's band so that I would know the 'real deal.' That record has been my touchstone ever since. Danny nailed the trumpet solo on bass trumpet, but spent quite a bit of time playing his own solo, trying to bring it up to the sublime level of the classic solo he had played as an introduction before the band brings in the melody.

By the time Danny had recorded what needed to be done to fix the trombone parts, including at least a half hour on his bass trumpet solo, I was fuming. It was in the afternoon, he had been working for hours and I had to rerecord flute parts and do the basic mix. I went off! I have had three physical encounters in my life. In the second grade someone knocked my pencils off my desk and we got into a little kid fight in which the kid stabbed me on the wrist with a pencil (a blue dot which I will proudly show to anyone, my only mark of valor).  The other two were involved with my first wife when I was in my twenties. Some guys had made an unflattering remark about my soon to be wife and I, enraged, pushed one of them in the gutter. The real fight was when I jumped off the bandstand and attacking a guy who had made her laugh during a period when I was breaking her heart (I had confessed to an affair and told her I wanted to leave, we had a kid instead. Ah youth!). As Danny was packing up something he said made me lose it. I started to scream at Danny that he had fucked up my recording, that he was irresponsible, that he was an unreliable low-life mother fucker and push came to shove. The engineer broke us up before a blow was struck (we are musicians after all and who would risk a broken finger or a busted lip just to prove a point) and Danny left. I was sweating like a pig, white as a sheet and with my blood sugar down to nothing. I was trembling and dizzy and I had to record the flute parts and solos on more than a few tunes. I tried to play but couldn't get any breath support for the sound. Someone in the studio gave me a banana and some orange juice and I played through my parts an redid some solos in an hour or so. It is not my best playing, but as they say, it has moments. We started mixing and called it quits about 10 at night and left the rest for the next day. The engineer was marvelous. It was before pro-tools, but he had a computer automated board and so he could save his EQ's and section balances from tune to tune. This saved a lot of time, but it meant that once he had a balance for the three trombones that balance was used for all of the tunes and the same for the two drum ensembles, congas the first day, bata drums the second. Unfortunately that robbed the trombone parts of a lot of nuance, but miraculously the drums sounded great. The album, Cuban Roots Revisited, is among the best recording of folkloric drums to come out of the US. The horns are another story.

Saturday night, when I got back to my motel I listened to the tape dub of the finished record and I cried. It was very close, but no cigar. On the plane I listened to it over and over and knew exactly what I needed to do to fix the mix. The studio had sent a tape dub up to Cubop and after a few days I called Michael McFadin and told him we didn't have enough time to do the mix justice and I would pay to fly out and remix. He said he liked the mix. Cuban Roots Revisited was done. I swore I would never do a record without enough time to mix and remix if necessary, that I would never record on too small a budget, that I would never rely on another musician and that I would never mix family and music, that is, record with Danny. Lot's of luck! I'd would even love to do another project with Dan if he had the time and inclination.

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