Via Nocturna Interview

(translated from the original interview in Portuguese)


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Hi Thom, how are you doing? Thanks for this time with Via Nocturna.
Great, my pleasure!

Can you speak a little of your musical background and curriculum?
Sure.  I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I first got into music after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Ann Arbor was a hotbed of music.  The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival brought lots of great musicians to Ann Arbor starting in 1969.  These included Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King, Magic Sam, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, Sun Ra, Leon Thomas, etc., all of whom I saw as a young teenager.  In addition, many of the teachers in the Ann Arbor Public Schools moonlighted for Motown Records as musicians.  These included the great jazz trumpeter Louis Smith who taught one of my first high school jazz bands.

The Motown sound had great influence on you? It’s still an important movement in your career as solo artist?
Absolutely!  I was fortunate enough to play regularly with four of the “Funk Brothers” – the Motown Studio musicians who played on all the hit records.  These included Johnny Griffith, Pistol Allen, and Joe Hunter.  These guys were my dear friends, and I learned so much from them about playing in the pocket and establishing the groove.

About your new album – How was the creative process this time?
My new album “All Over Again” is almost all my original compositions (except for one Kenny Burrell composition, “Then I Met You”).  Here, I was so fortunate to work with some jazz and fusion stars, including pianist Mitchel Forman, bassist Jimmy Earl, and percussionist Luis Conte.  Mitch in particular seemed to take an interest in this project. He was a pleasure to work with, adding his creative touches at every turn.  Jimmy Earl paid me the ultimate compliment.  When we were listening to the playbacks in the studio, Jimmy exclaimed “Man, we sound like a band!”  I think it is really true: the musicians and I were so sympatico that we established a true band feel in the studio.

Looking back, how do analyze your evolution since “So Shall We Learn”?
“So Shall We Learn” was my first self-produced CD.  It was a good experience.  However, I learned along the way the importance of bringing in other creative people to help produce.  On my second record, “Brother Brother,” I collaborated heavily with Detroit organ phenom Duncan McMillan.  Duncan helped to arrange many of the songs we agreed to perform.  On “All Over Again,” I brought in an official co-producer, my mixing engineer and saxophonist Michael Parlett.  Mike has worked in the smooth jazz world, and he added a sophisticated polish to the new record that I am very pleased with.

Prior to your first solo release you had lots of experiences with various artists, right? With whom you had the most pleasure to work with?
Before my first record I worked with the aforementioned “Funk Brothers” for many years back in Detroit: pianist Johnny Griffith, drummer Pistol Allen, and pianist Joe Hunter.  I also backed up the sixties soul singer Jimmie Delphs who has remained very popular on the British Northern Soul circuit for his hit records “Don’t Sign The Papers (I Want You Back)”, “Mrs. Percy”, “Almost (But Not Quite)”, and “Dancing a Hole In The World.”

How do you get in touch with all the great musicians that play with you in the album?
Usually by telephone or email. :0)  But seriously, my drummer Michael Barsimanto played on my previous two records.  He worked with Mitchel Forman in several bands including former Police member Andy Summers and Rickie Lee Jones.  Michael recommended Mitchel and Jimmy Earl.  Then Mitchel recommended soul singer Rob McDonald.  It kind of escalated from there with each musician recommending others.

What was the working method with your guests?
As I said, this record was a real collaborative effort. I brought the tunes to the studio and we rehearsed them once or twice before recording them.  Mitchel Forman in particular was wonderful at rearranging sections of my songs on the fly in the studio. Mitch would call out suggestions from the piano booth and 9 times out of 10 I would just go with his suggestions. We recorded the piano trio first along with a “scratch guitar track (although some of these disposable tracks ended up being used on the record). I re-did most of the guitar parts starting the same evening as the rhythm tracks were recorded. Later, we overdubbed horns, vocals, Mads Tollings’ violin, and Luis Conte’s percussion.

You have crossed in studio or not? How do you deal with the recording process with so much musicians?
Do you mean have I crossed paths with these musicians in the recording studio?  Yes, particularly in the cases of drummer Michael Barsimanto and saxophonist Michael Parlett.  They have been on several recordings that I played on, including singer-songwriter Michael Patch’s record “Mighty Engine Roll.”

Do you think you reach all the objectives you had in mind with this record?
Yes, I am absolutely pleased with the final product.  I don’t think there is anything I would want to change about it.

At least, the charts and the reviewers are giving you a good feedback…
Yes, I am very pleased with the response on jazz and adult contemporary radio, and several of the reviews I have garnered.

Thank you, very much. We wish all the best to you. Would you wish to add something else? 

Thank you so much for listening to the record, asking such intelligent questions, and your support!  It was a fun interview.