The Gospel Truth of What Living’s All About

On November 20, 2005, at Architecture, the recording studio of Scott Fraser, in the Mount Washington district of Los Angeles, an amazing collection of musical minds collaborated in recording of my three original gospel style songs, “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water,” “Sometimes It Takes a Long Time” and “Love, Understanding and Peace,” for my CD, What Living’s All About, released in May 2006. Artist/photographer Hoshi Hana took all of these photos, except the ones of Scott and of Mari, which I took.

First, meet Jessica Williams, powerful rhythm and blues singer and leader of one of the choirs at the Greater Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. She hired the other singers, participated in creating the arrangements, and hired the pianist, Reverend Harold Pittman, minister of music at the same church. Her fabulous improvised vocal solos grace both “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water” and “Sometimes It Takes a Long Time,” and she delivered a fierce and tender oration on “America the Blues.”

Jessica’s choir on my CD includes her daughter, Vetia Richardson, and her friend Irene Cathaway, with whom she sings backup for Connie Stevens. We recorded the singers five times on each song to create the sound of a full choir.

Jessica’s gospel keyboard specialist, Reverend Harold Pittman.

Our bass player, Kevin O’Neal.

Our drummer, David Anderson.

Here I am, wailing with the band.

Ron Grant, my co-producer, works as a film composer. He made all of the music charts for the songs, collaborated on the arrangements and instrumentation, and sometimes conducted the choir.  He’s got an Oscar and an Emmy on his shelf.

Scott Fraser, recording engineer and live audio engineer for the Kronos Quartet, worked with all of us from a viewpoint both technical and compassionate. Scott was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for a recording he co-produced.

Our intrepid photographer, Hoshi Hana, creator of spiritually inspired photocollages and other amazing artworks.

Mixing and Mastering What Living’s All About

This week Scott Fraser and I finished mixing and mastering my jazz and blues CD, What Living’s All About. This is my third CD, but the first one I’ve participated in mixing. I found it not at all tedious (as I’d often heard), but, rather, really quite fascinating, probably because it’s typical of the intensely focussed, slow, painstaking, detail-oriented actions that are part of creating all kinds of art, even forms that appear spontaneous.

We listened to each instrument and voice separately and in combination, looking for “clams” to fix (not so difficult with today’s Photoshop-like digital recording programs). We adjusted volume between the instruments so that each was easy to hear in its moment to shine and each blended with the others without being hidden when someone else was in the spotlight.

In Scott’s studio, the trap drums get five microphones creating five sound tracks that have to be balanced with each other first, before the drums as a group can be balanced with the other instruments. Bass is next, balancing a track from the pickup on the instrument and a microphone on a stand nearby. The piano gets two microphones, both inside the piano, one pointed somewhat toward the bass end of the keyboard and the other pointed more toward the treble. And so forth, with the lead vocal worked on last.

The mastering process balances the volume levels of the songs, so that none are suddenly much louder or much softer than the rest of the collection. Also we listened for just the right amount of silence between the songs.