May 25, 2022

My first jazz album took 5 years to make

I made my first solo album without ever having a plan in place. And it took five years. Aim to Stay released back in October 2020, but its production had three long phases:

  • 2015-2016: the artistic beginning
  • 2017-2019: the nothing middle
  • 2020: the staging of the end

Got a passion project on the backburner? It’s still there for you.

Dive into these three phases with me, and know that your creative journey is far from over.

2015-2016: the artistic beginning

June 7, 2015 tracking session. That year, the story from last week’s issue was on my mind. Vancouver jazz was kicking me out of town because I hadn’t been a good boy, so I bought a plane ticket to Denmark and planned my exit.

Only one problem: jazz still inspired me tremendously.

At the end of 2014 I heard Bill Frisell and Brad Turner, two of my biggest jazz heroes, perform together in North Vancouver. The fire burned in me to make emotive, creative music on that level.

I wasn’t in school, so what was I waiting for? It was time to make an album, and I rallied three friends to copy the Brad Turner Quartet’s lineup of trumpet, piano, bass (me) and drums.

We tried out some music I had written over the last few years, had one rehearsal, and booked a studio date to track as many tunes as possible. I didn’t really spend money on anything and was a teenager living with family, so I paid for the project.

That’s about all I remember, except the pit in my stomach while taking the SkyTrain to the studio. Feeling unprepared!

We tracked five of my tunes that day and had zero plans for what to do with them. It sounds ridiculous now, but I sold my upright bass a month after using it in this session. At least I got the recordings tracked before catching the plane to Denmark.

July 4, 2016 - another tracking session. Between the last session and this one, living in Europe alone had helped me grow up a bit.

At this point, I was a folk musician who missed spending time with friends around jazz. In fact, I had tracked a violin/guitar/bass album a week before this tracking session of my own. Folk and fiddling was clearly taking over my working life, so I rounded up a jazz quartet’s worth of friends once again.

We used electric bass, not upright bass, this time because that’s the only instrument I had. I didn’t mind if the tracks turned out casual and less-than-immaculate.

Maybe that’s why we casually blew through eight tunes that day!

2017-2019: the nothing middle

2017. Now I’ve got 13 (five plus eight) tracks recorded but no project, no plan. The tracks weren't mixed. I uploaded a handful of those tracks for free in a few online places, without even mixing them. They got used in short films, which is pretty cool for how shoddy my distribution was.

But that was just a shot in the dark. I was occupied with folk music and starting my band, which launched in 2018. No momentum went into the jazz quartet music I made.

Finally in 2019 I reunited my best jazz friends at the time. We had a rehearsal where the photo from this issue got taken, we had a gig or two, and we spent a day in the studio so that I could test the waters with a few single releases.

But to my horror, I didn’t have any of the 13 old tracks on my hard drives anymore!

I had to go hat-in-hand to the studio owner and ask him to send me backups. He didn’t have to hang onto those for me, but without him doing that, I’d have no album at all.

Now that I had them back, I didn’t want to lose them again. What could I do with them?

2020: the staging of the end

May. Settling into the pandemic really opened the doors to this project! For the last couple years I had spent May to September going away every weekend for performance travel. Not being able to do that allowed me to look at those old tracks and imagine their potential.

I had a jazz community in my life still, against all odds. It was time to make a project for the community, even if I needed lots of professional help.

Several professionals contributed to the project from here on, in these areas:

  • art for the album cover
  • mixing the tracks
  • mastering the audio for different formats
  • graphic design and layout for the CD
  • manufacturing CDs
  • consulting on anything I needed help with

As of July we got almost everything done. Because too much was on my mind, I started writing here every Wednesday morning, which is now a favourite thing to do full-stop.

August became about how to release the project. My publicist let me know that something was missing from the files, but we got the first single out. The release date for the album was set. It felt like finally having a plan, five years after I started.

You’re closer than you think

to fulfilling your passion project. The moments that you’ve spent chipping away at it will add up to something, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet.

You haven’t missed your chance, and it’s not too late. This timeline of making my first album shows us that things can be on the backburner for years but stay relevant, and we can pick them back up when the momentum is right.

Thinking about all of you who want to start podcasts, write, make art of any kind, I wish I could tell you what the key moment is when it starts to snowball to completion. If I had to guess based on making Aim to Stay, it’s probably the moment when you know who the project is for.

This album is for people who want to know the artists they listen to, who want to say they knew me when, and maybe want me to say I knew them when. Because I will say that about you!

Every day I wake up and think, “There’s not enough time in the day to keep up with all the talented people in my life and the awesome things they’re up to, but I’m gonna try.” Don’t you?