DISCLAIMER: This blog is very transparent. You will learn things about my music career that you probably never would have guessed.
When you hear about most album releases, you usually hear something along the lines of: “This will be the best album I’ve ever done” or “I’ve been working on this album for a long time and it’s finally done.” These are all valid statements that should obviously be a given. As I wrap up the final processes of finishing my next album, however, I’m realizing more and more each day that there should be much more to it than that.
Most people don’t know that my previous release Emotions was meant to be an advertisement for record labels. Period. I had no intent on actually releasing it. I wanted to demonstrate to them my abilities as a producer. That was mainly it! It’s the one thing, besides drums, that I can do in my sleep.
However, things took a different turn from the intent I wished for. Instead, I was signed by Trippin’N’Rhythm Records as an artist. Whoa! Initially, I was shocked at the offer, but the explorer in me told me to take this opportunity and figure the rest out later. So I did just that, and in days, I went from being a behind-the-scenes producer to an on-stage artist. Talk about a drastic and immediate change!
It was the best decision I’ve made thus far.
Once I realized that I would have to step out of my producer element and begin developing as an artist, many challenges came to the surface. But the thing about life is that without challenges, progress cannot be made.
So I had some important questions to answer: Which instrument will be my main instrument? I play four or six of them (if you count the vibraphone and percussion), so I had a decision to make. After some consideration, the choice was obvious: Piano. My mother played piano for a majority of her life, and I grew up watching her. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. Therein lies challenge number two:
If you listen to Emotions, you may notice that the piano playing is “different” for a lack of a better word. I didn’t necessarily consider myself to be a real pianist, so I didn’t take it as seriously as I did production which, in comparison to now, I didn’t take as seriously as I currently do. The solution was simple: Practice and study like a lunatic. And that’s exactly what I did.
When I got signed, I was still in the military. We had formation every morning, Monday through Friday, at 6:30, and we usually didn’t get home until about six in the evening. But I wanted to practice and study as much as possible. I needed to sacrifice something.
After much research, I learned that I could survive with about five hours of sleep. So I would wake up at 3:00 every morning, practice for two hours, go to work, get off, eat while studying pianists, practice some more, spend time with the family, practice again, read and study, then go to bed. Every single day I did this, no matter how tired I was or what the circumstances were. It became a part of me, so much so that when I got out of the military, I still did it. Now, I wake up a little later, but I still practice like a maniac.
You may be asking yourself why I would do this. The answer is simple: I knew in my mind that I had a professional and moral obligation to give fans what they deserve which is good music. In order for me to do that, I had to (and still have to) master my craft. You’ve seen in previous blogs that I’ve studied some of the best jazz pianist ever, from Art Tatum to Bill Evans, Michel Petrucciani to Joe Sample, Robert Glasper to the young Joey Alexander, in an attempt to expand my mind to unorthodox concepts.
I did this on a producer’s level as well, studying the likes of Quincy Jones, Rick Rubin, Phrarrell Williams and many more. I would sit and listen to Q’s work for hours, watch his documentaries, read his books, to know why he does what he does and why he produced in such a timeless manner. I listened to all of the intricacies in his music, the levels, panning, equalization, chord structure, modes, etc. I did all of this not knowing how it would influence my style.
Then when I recorded the first track for Retrospect, I immediately realized why God allowed me to go through everything I went through, why I saw my mother play piano until the day she died, why I sat on my father’s lap at the age of two playing drums, why I can see music and not just hear it. I was being prepared to step into the realm in which I now exist. I know this isn’t the end; I still have more growth, more learning, more projects to do in the future, and more projects to help other artists with. But I am not the artist I was last year, by any means.
You have to keep in mind that the whole time I was practicing like a lunatic, I wasn’t recording anything. Finally hearing myself was a weird experience. I was playing in modes not normally used in smooth jazz. My voicing were more advanced, my chords were dissonant. At first, the label had a hard time adjusting to my new sound. I was one miscommunication away from exiting stage left! But I had a great conversation with Jeff Lunt, the label A&R. He understood my initial thoughts and plans. But he told me something that I ultimately needed to hear. Essentially, he said that it’s not just about the skill, but the feel. It has to feel good.
It took some time, but I finally understood what he meant. I had spent all of this time drastically improving in skill. But it would mean nothing if I couldn’t make it tangible for the listener. So for the first time, I had decided to work with someone else to help me create an album. I worked very closely with Jeff, Brett “Almon” Johnson, and my father to make my new style “fit” into the genre of smooth jazz. Ironically, it doesn’t technically fit anything in relation to smooth jazz. In other words, it doesn’t sound like anybody else.
I named the album Retrospect because it’s a result of looking back at my life, making adjustments, and actually doing something with others in mind as opposed to simply attempting to make a song sound great.
In conclusion, when you get the chance to hear Retrospect, it is my hope that it inspires you to do the same in your life. Take inventory of the things you’ve done and make adjustments as you move toward your destiny.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Please share it with someone that you think may benefit from it.
Keep it smooth...#Retrospect