Friday, August 19, 2011

A Place for Perfectionism

There's this disease called "perfectionism", where someone is just never satisfied no matter what. No one wants to be a perfectionist! But as an artist, there are times when you know deep down that something could be a ton better than it is. The question is whether it's worth fixing. Sometimes, the answer is, "Yes it is!"

I've had that situation a couple of times in producing this album. My very first recording session was for the song Morning Aire. When you hear me play it on the piano, it sounds like a classic jazz shuffle, like a "big band" tune from the '40s maybe. But the rhythm I heard in my head was more agressive. During the session, I tried to convey this to the drummer, but he could only hear that big band sound.

I was so happy with James Howard's guitar and bass work, and so excited to have a studio recording of one of my songs, that I let it go. But after a few months, the drum rhythm was bugging me more and more.

Actually, it's more than just me worrying about being a perfectionist. It was about my confidence as an artist. I'm an amateur working with pro musicians. Who am I to know better than the drummer?

A few months ago I found the drummer Garey Williams for an upcoming track. In an email exchange, I sent him the recording of Morning Aire and explained the rhythm I wanted. I wasn't feeling confident that what I wanted even made any sense. But he replied, "I think a 'Bernard Purdie' type of Funk Shuffle will drive the tune more than the current drum part."

"Bernard Purdie shuffle?" I had to search YouTube. Holy crap - Bernard Purdie played on Steely Dan's Aja album! That was exactly the sound I was looking for!

Long story short, I finally got Garey into the studio this past Monday, and with the wonderful support of engineer Jay Kenney at Audio Logic, Garey was able to replace the original drum track on Morning Aire.

Here's a sample of the result:
Morning Aire (sampler) by Leo Brodie

This was one case where I am so glad I insisted on the vision. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summertime Highway

This week I finished tracking the piano duet, "Summertime Highway." I recorded one of the piano parts back in April, and the second part this week.

Summertime Highway (Sampler) by Leo Brodie

In keeping with the theme of "Across the Years", I wrote the main melody of this tune back in college or thereabouts, and wrote the B section in the mid-nineties.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Foresight in hindsight

Wow. I was just searching my hard drive for something, and found this description of my current CD project instead. I wrote it on February 09, 1995. 16 years ago! That’s when I first decided to do this project.

I want this album to have really beautiful songs, played with a jazz sophistication (not really in jazz style, just the sophistication). Not insipid or repetitious, like New Age Music, or elevator music either. Strong, powerful and full of beauty. I won't be doing "It Shows" or "Laura Laur," or probably even "Tears At Last," because I think of them as more rock tunes. This is my mid-forties album (and it will be published before I'm actually 45, or even 44! Promise.

Amazing how well that describes what I'm now in the process of creating. It's a log time to have an unfinished dream. I’m glad I’m doing it now.

Meanwhile, I've got a tentative agreement with a fantastic drummer here in Seattle to do all the remaining drum tracks. Will keep you posted.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Alamitos Bay"

I loved playing this track with Jon Hamar.

Like my other tracks, this was recorded by the magnificent Jay Kenney at Audio Logic Studio in Seattle.

Song copyright 2011 Leo Brodie

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New song: "Alamitos Bay"

It's been a while since I wrote a new song, but last month I happened upon a fun little chord progression. This is a demo recording of the main section:

Since this recording I added a very beautiful "B" section. I plan to include this on the CD, featuring only the piano and upright bass. I've arranged a recording session with a great acoustic bass player named Jon Hamar.

I can't wait.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cello Session - March, 2011

I liked the sound of the cello and piano together on "Monica's Song" so much that I tried the same approach with another song from the album, "Across the Years."

The version on my original CD from 1998 sounded quite a bit different. One problem when you are using MIDI synthesizers is that you can click the mouse and get a completely different instrument so you tend to go overboard using lots of different sounds. Plus, everything sounds so dull and unnatural, you want to spice it up with multiple instruments. (Harpsichords and French horns, oh my!)

Here is that recording from the 1998 demo:
Across The Years (1999 synthesizer version) by Leo Brodie

With the cello arrangement I took a much simpler, cleaner approach. I also played it much slower, and decided to try something that -- at the time -- I thought was quite daring: switching from straight-quarter time to a jazz rhythm for the final section. It turns out to sound so natural and right that I bet most people won't even notice the change.

I bought a copy of a music scoring software package called Sebelius First, so that I could print out the arrangement. Here's the last page of "Monica's Song":

Jay Kenney, my recording engineer, recommended a cellist named Kevin Krentz. Kevin agreed to play my arrangements, and on March 2, 2011, we went into Jay's studio.

Here's a portion of the arrangement of "Across the Years", with Kevin playing both cello parts.
Across The Years (Sampler) by Leo Brodie

Then we recorded both cello parts on "Monica's Song." It turns out that this arrangement is really challenging for the cello, particularly one solo line that is very high-pitched. Kevin was on the highest string, almost as low on the fingerboard as you could be. But Kevin pulled it off beautifully.

Here's the last minute of "Monica's Song":
Monica's Song (teaser) by Leo Brodie

"Morning Aire" Session - Nov, 2010

Finally the calendar rolled around to our "Morning Air" recording session date: November 3, 2010.

I had emailed James the chart. The chart was very simple because for this particular song, the piano is the lead instrument and plays the main melody. James would improvise a guitar solo. He only needed the structure of the song and the chords, not individual notes.

When you're working with pro musicians, you don't need separate rehearsal time, as you would expect with amateurs. In fact, I had never visited the recording studio until the session, although I knew people who had recorded there (including James), and had worked with Jay Kenney, the owner and engineer, before. Jay is great to work with, and I love his place. The studio features a nice Yamaha C3 grand piano and a drum kit.

At the session, James and I recorded the basic track, with James playing bass guitar.

It took about an hour for us to find the right groove and get a good take. Then James overdubbed lead and rhythm guitar.

We spent a couple more hours on that, and finally Jay mixed it together.

I'm really happy with the result. James did an outstanding job.

The Perfect Approach: Slow Production

After "winning" James at the benefit auction, he agreed to play on one song in the studio. In fact, he was willing to play not only electric guitar, but bass as well (by overdubbing).

There are several songs on the CD that I would love for James to play on, but for this gig I chose a light, jazzy one called "Morning Air."

All I had to do now was book the studio time and hire a drummer, while remembering how to play the song on the piano and practicing it until I could get through it without mistakes.

I realized this is the perfect way to produce by CD. One track at a time, no rush. One track every few months would let me practice and prepare, and also save up the money for studio and the musicians.

As it turns out, our schedules for the recording session didn't align until November. But meanwhile, I was spending a lot more time at the piano. My daughters were listening to a song on the radio by a young contemporary band, which I really liked. For fun, I made cover of it - not for the CD, but for me (and YouTube):

And had so much fun with that, I went for even more tracks on a very old favorite of mine:

Meanwhile, I wrote the chart for "Morning Air" to send to James, and practiced it daily on the piano.

When you're in no rush, time truly is on your side.

Friday, March 18, 2011


By early Summer of 2010, I had found a well-recommended, affordable recording studio, and was planning to invite Anna to go with me to get a high-quality recording of the cello/piano arrangement (see previous post). I was excited about that because I had never had my music professionally recorded in a studio.

I still wasn't thinking about the CD project at all. But on June 25, Cindy and I, along with the girls, went to a benefit concert and auction at our church. Several of the regular musicians were offering their services for the auction. The idea was that if you won the highest bid, they would come to your party or event and play. 

Cindy wanted to contribute to the fundraiser. She leaned over and asked which musician I would want to bid on. Instantly, I replied "James." I was referring to the amazing guitarist James Howard, who performs regularly with his own blues-rock band, and often plays at our church.

Quick flashback: Several years earlier, while chatting with James, I asked about hiring him to play on my CD project. He was open to it, but we didn't get specific, and the idea still seemed out of reach, so I didn't pursue it.

As it happened, Cindy was the highest bidder on James. But I still wasn't sure if he would agree to a studio gig. Later I emailed him to ask how he felt about that. He loved the idea. He wrote back: "Thank you so much for buying me at the auction and having such a cool creative way to manifest the opportunity."

So we were on. It was as if these coincidences - discovering a cellist in my neighborhood, preparing to hire a recording studio, and then "winning" James' services at the auction - conspired to kickstart my CD project!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Real Cello

By 2009 I had pretty much forgotten my CD project, and in fact wasn't playing much music at all. But sometime near Christmas, several families on the block were gathered at a neighbors' house to party and sing Christmas carols. One of our neighbors is a girl named Anna, who was 11 at the time. Anna had brought her cello.

I've always thought the cello was a beautiful instrument. Many years earlier, probably 1995, I had written a tune called "Monica's Song," which I always felt cried out for a cello accompaniment. The synthesized cello on my demo CD never quite cut it.

So there I was sitting at a piano, with a real cello and a real cellist only a few feet away. This was my chance. I asked her to play a G for one measure, then a B flat, while I played the introduction to the song. Wow, it was beautiful!

That moment inspired me to write a full cello part for "Monica's Song" for Anna to play. At first, the part was very basic, mostly just the root of each chord. Some months later I got to hear Anna play one of her concert pieces, and was amazed to hear how well she could play a very complex piece. I started making her part more interesting, and even gave the cello a beautiful line that had been played by an oboe on the original version. Anna mastered it. I'm very grateful to Anna for patiently enduring all my rewrites. I learned a lot along the way. But we ended up with a beautiful arrangement.

A few months ago, I brought Anna into the studio to record that arrangement.

Here is the result:
Monica's Song - Arrangement for One Cello by Leo Brodie

This is not the arrangement or recording that will appear on the finished CD, but I'm very proud of it. Writing this arrangement got me playing music again.

Making the Studio Version - Finally!

I created this blog to track my progress creating the studio version of my CD, to be titled Across the Years.

I first envisioned this CD way back in 1995, when I still lived on Orcas Island. I was writing a lot of music in those days, and had recently rediscovered songs I had written as far back as high school. I had software on my computer that allowed me to create arrangements using electronic synthesizers in place of real instruments. It was great fun to hear these songs with string ensembles, woodwinds and brass instruments, in addition to my piano - even if these instruments didn't quite sound real.

In 1998, after I had moved to Seattle, I released a "demo version" of the CD. It had 9 tracks, and featured mostly synthesized instruments -- all the piano parts were synthesized because I didn't have access to a real piano at that time. Although few parts, like the flute on "Picture You And Me," were real instruments played by friends, the overall effect was a lot less appealing than I had hoped.

Here are preview clips from that CD:
1. The Best Is Yet To Come [MP3]
2. Wishing I Were There [MP3]
3. Yellow Autumn Sun [MP3]
4. Monica's Song [MP3]
5. Picture You and Me [MP3]
6. Summertime Highway [MP3]
7. Kate [MP3]
8. Morning Air [MP3]
9. Across The Years [MP3]
All songs (C) (P) Leo Brodie 1998.

And here is the album cover image from the 1998 version:

I burned several dozen copies of the CD on my home computer, and sold some to friends. But my intention was to eventually produce a studio version, with live musicians playing all the instruments.

Being new to Seattle and not knowing any professional musicians in town, it looked as if my dream would cost on the order of $20,000 -- way beyond my budget. So I set it aside and waited. The following year I met my future wife and adopted a baby girl. While I did think about the project once in a while, I could never see a way to make it happen. Until a year ago.

More next time.