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Mike DiRubbo: The First Priority? Recording This Band

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You want to use the best musicians you can and be with people you enjoy off the bandstand as well as on
For New York Accent: Live at the Kitano (Cellar Live, 2007), his fourth record as leader, alto saxophonist DiRubbo chose to forego the studio for the room at Manhattan's Kitano Hotel. DiRubbo picked the setting in part because, with paid studio dates becoming increasingly rare for independent jazz musicians, he realized he needed to take the reins of getting his next record out.

So he assembled a killer band—piano legend Harold Mabern, long-time bassist-of-choice Dwayne Burno and drummer Tony Reedus—and captured their symbiotic spontaneity during two nights in February, 2006. Once he had the dates recorded, DiRubbo enticed Cory Weeds, fellow alto player and owner of the Cellar Live label and its namesake club in Vancouver, Canada, to put the record out on Weeds' live-only label. I recently spoke with DiRubbo about his new record and the challenges of being a young jazz musician in the digital age.

All About Jazz: Why did you choose to do a live rather than studio recording?

Mike DiRubbo: I always wanted to record a live thing. That group had worked at the Kitano a bunch of times, and I wanted to capture them. I also thought the room there at the Kitano would be good to record in—at the time, it hadn't been done before.

I'd played with that particular group off and on for a couple of years. I've known Mabes for ten years or so. The first priority was recording this band, and then working out what dates would work for everybody. The dates we were there were a Wednesday and Thursday, because it's less likely that people will have obligations on those nights.

AAJ: How big a space is the Kitano?

MD: It probably holds about 75 people, max. It's almost like playing in someone's living room—it's intimate, with a real nice vibe.

AAJ: You played there those two nights, but the disc says everything was recorded on February second.

MD: Yeah, all the tracks on the CD are from the second night. Those seemed to be the better takes. We played the same compositions both nights, which isn't unusual even if you're not recording. Like if Cedar Walton is at the Village Vanguard all week and you go see him on different nights, you'll hear a lot of the same tunes. That gives you more opportunities to really get inside the tunes.

AAJ: Did you guys rehearse before the shows, like you would before a studio date?

MD: Yeah. At the time I was living in Brooklyn, Dwayne was living in Brooklyn and Harold lives in Brooklyn, so we rehearsed there. Tony would come in from New Jersey. I wanted mostly for us to go over my music—four of the seven tracks on the CD are my compositions.

AAJ: What can you tell me about the titles of your compositions on the disc?

MD: "Clarity refers to the state of mind I need to be in to navigate myself through the chord changes on this composition. Major chords to me have a clarifying, bright quality. "The Sage is pretty self-explanatory. Certain musicians have a mystical quality to their playing. I had some of them in mind when I composed this. "New Year's Dream is kind of an experiment; there are no deep connections associated with the title. "Better Days was named to provide hope. In particular, the war in Iraq, the tsunami in the Pacific and the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. I feel that music can have an uplifting effect on listeners. I hope "Better Days can provide that to those who need help.

AAJ: One of the ones that isn't yours is Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman. Out of all the songs in the world, how did you pick that one?

MD: At the time I had a publicity administrator, who has since passed away. She was always pushing me to find new tunes to put in a jazz setting. I always liked the lyrics to that Billy Joel tune. One day I was sitting at the piano and it just popped into my head. I have the record it's on—I stole the record from my sister when I was a kid—but I didn't want to listen to it right then. Sometimes when you listen to "The Tune, you tend to stick too closely to it. So I worked the tune out, and later went back to see if I had it right, and I did, the right key and everything, E flat.

When I'm coming up with music, I have specific musicians in mind. With that tune, I was definitely hearing Harold play—his style of comping and how he plays.

AAJ: How did the date differ from how it would have been if you hadn't been recording it?

MD: The only difference might be that on a couple sets, we redid tunes because I wanted another take. Like with "New Year's Dream, I thought, "Let's do this again. The band feels a little looser. I feel a little looser. The people in the audience didn't seem to mind. I warned them before the sets that because we were recording, there might be stops and restarts. I think that happened only once.

AAJ: What about song length? Were you conscious of not playing too long, more so than you might be if you hadn't been recording?

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