Reverend Zen: Angels, Blues and the Crying Moon
From there I headed to Boston, where I graduated from the Berklee College of Music with a B.F.A. in composition. I really started enjoying the composing side of things, so it was a chance to become more involved with writing as well as playing. I studied arranging with Michael Gibbs, who'd worked with Gary Burton and John McLaughlin, and I studied drums with Gary Chaffee and Keith Copeland, who'd played with jazz pianist Billy Taylor and Stevie Wonder.
After seven years in Boston, I moved down to the New York City area, actually about an hour north of the city, where I live today. John Scofield lives in the same town, a few blocks away. I really liked the time I spent in Boston, but I wanted to be nearer to that New York attitude and energy that comes out in the music around the city. Besides writing and recording I began teaching drums privately and part-time at a couple of the public schools in the area, which I enjoyed doing. I seem to have a knack for breaking things down and explaining them, so I picked up a rep as a drum teacher.
AAJ : Apparently it took 10 years of preparation for this release to come to fruition. Why so long?
JE: Well we didn't do much in the middle of the project for seven years. First, my original partner decided to relocate to the West Coast, then I had to deal with some personal issues and a couple times you might say, the Reverend Zen widows and orphan's fund ran low. On top of that I'm kind of a slow worker. It's just your basic independent project pit falls, but I hung in there, and got it finished.
AAJ: James Gerard is credited with being your co-writer. Who is James Gerard?
JE: I first met James up in Boston. We played together in a band up there. He spent some time at Berkley and at the Boston School of Electronic Music. James is originally from the Detroit area and played bass and keyboards with the singer Jim Gold, who had a couple Top 40 hits back in the day. We both relocated to the New York City area about the same time. We put together a jazz/rock group playing clubs and colleges that eventually morphed into Reverend Zen. The two of us handled all the writing and arranging of the RZ songs until he left the project and moved to Seattle. Since then I've pretty much been the chief cook and bottle washer.
AAJ: Can you describe how you composed each track? Was each a group effort, or did you compose each essentially by your self?
JE: Each track was basically composed one of two ways. Sometimes the chord progressions and song form were written first. Sometimes the lyrics, melody, song form and drum groove came first. For example with "Dangerous Times," the music, song form and arrangement came first and then the lyrics and melody were written. With "The Boston Shakedown," the lyrics, melody, song form and drum groove came first and then the chord progression and arrangement were written. From there we'd do midi arrangements of the songs with a sequencer so we could fine tune things. We didn't want the songs to sound like a first draft effort. Then we'd record the basic rhythm tracks with keyboards, bass and drums, I'd lay down a lead vocal track, then guitar tracks and background vocals were added. Ninety per cent of the writing and arrangements on the CD were done between James and myself until he left. By that I mean the keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, guitar parts and background vocals. Since then, it's been in my hands.
AAJ: Your CD credits a large number of musicians on each song. This includes up to two percussionists, two keyboards, multiple guitarists and background vocalists. Did these individuals contribute to different tracks and who are they?
JE: Considering it took 10 years to record the CD, there was a certain amount of attrition, logistics, endurance and an alien abduction or two involved with the musicians. Really, we just tried to find the right musicians for each song and put them in a setting that played to their strengths.
When James was involved with the project, he handled the keyboard parts. After he left, I brought in Rob Aries on keyboards, who'd played in one of John Scofield's bands, and I put down a lot of the pads and background keyboard parts.