1. Tell me about your new album. It’s entitled Pictures at an African Exhibition. I based it off of the orchestral work Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, who wrote the whole symphony based off of the work of his artistic friends in Russia. It’s a project that has 13 original works of music accompanied by 13 original paintings. Each piece of music has a corresponding piece of art that goes with it. It was written for a double drum quintet and a 12-piece wind ensemble. It’s taken a long time, but it’s almost out there now. Each track has a theme that shows up throughout the entire work. I tried to make it sound like a movie being played without words or the screen. I was trying to write pieces that conjured up images or specific cultural and historical aspects of Africa as I was writing, whether it be melodic and/or rhythmic.
2. Where did you get the idea to pair the songs with artwork? Rather than having the paintings already done, a friend of mine in London, artist David Emmanuel Noel, did it kind of in reverse. I wrote the music and he painted the paintings after he heard the music. We combined these two art forms to make a big project out of it.
3. How long have you been working on the album? It’s been a journey! We started playing the music around 2013 or ’14. We finally started the recording process in 2015 and finished it last year. It’s been trying to get everything packaged and finalized that has proven to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated.
4. Did you crowdfund for this album? I did a little bit. It helped out a lot with getting the mixing and mastering done, which we’re very happy about. If Spike Lee’s doing it, I think we should be doing it.
5. When is the album release date? We’re looking at March 30, 2018. We want to get it out there on the radio and promote it correctly so everyone knows about it!
6. How would you say this album is different from your work in the past? It’s a bigger scale for sure. I’ve never really bridged the gap between other artistic mediums. I might have been influenced by writing or other compositions, but I never actually integrated it into the project, so that was a challenge. It’s been a learning process. I’m looking forward to doing more projects of this nature. On this one, the band, including myself, was a 17-piece band with a wind ensemble and David Emmanuel Noel. Now I’m dealing with another team for the packaging and the final layout. I feel like I made a movie.
7. That’s one of the great aspects of jazz; it’s so collaborative. Maybe even more so than most other genres. Most definitely. I feel like I found a good team in a lot of the people I worked with on this project.
8. What was the process like to record with such a large group of musicians? I recorded with a small group first: me, piano, bass, and two drums. Once I had that, I wrote the wind ensemble parts that I laid down on the original tracks, so I kind of made the arrangements so that we weren’t held down to something prearranged. We could be expressive. I could write a part that complemented what we created. I wrote all the arrangements myself.
9. What’s your plan to support the album? I’ll be doing an official press release at the top of the year, I believe. I will start doing a radio campaign and interviews about the album, and of course I’ll be blasting on social media. I probably won’t be doing much performing so we can build some anticipation, but after the album is out, I’m hoping to get a lot of traction so I can bring this band out on the road. Most likely it will probably just be the quintet, but I’m hoping to have some performances where I can showcase all the components: the wind ensemble, the quintet, and add the artwork. We did a show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where the quintet played and had the artwork projected over us on the backdrop. I hadn’t done something like that before, so it was a nice experience. Hopefully at some point we can have the original works of art out so people can walk around, listen to music, and check out the pieces. That would be my dream. I’m hoping to break into some venues that might not have been available to me without this cross-pollination of art.
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photo credit: Adrian Montanez