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Paul Wertico: All In A Day's Work

By Published: December 14, 2009

AAJ: How is this album different than others you've recorded as a leader and as a sideman in the past?

PW: I thought to myself that if we're going to do this, we're all going to come in and just improvise. There's not going to be any tunes or anything written out. But I just knew it was going to be great. I wanted to take that chance. In fact, we didn't even play together until that first night of the recording. We set up in the studio, ate some food, and began to play and it was unbelievable. It's basically a free album. I suggested moods and things that I thought would round out the album, then somebody would start and we would join in. There were no overdubs. Everything's totally live, so all those complex sounds going on at once were recorded in real time.

At one point during the recording I knew it was all just meant to be. Dani had all these unusual things going on with his guitar parts. He said he usually had a little tin cup full of marbles that he put on his strings, but for some reason he didn't have any marbles with him. But right next door to the studio was a craft store! I knew they were closing in five minutes...we quickly ran next door and asked if they had any marbles and they pointed to this huge wall that had marbles of every size. We just started laughing!

The whole recording was so natural. We just kept playing and we actually could have finished mid-way through the second night, because we already had enough material for a couple of CDs, but we kept playing anyway. Nick was totally cool with it since the studio was booked for a certain amount of hours anyway. Plus, we were having so much fun.

AAJ: How did you come up with the title: Impressions of a City?

PW: I'm the Head of Jazz and Contemporary Music Studies at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago, so I'm in the city all the time. When you're in the city, you hear sirens and noise constantly. When we were playing, I was thinking that this is what the music sounded like. There were so many things going on. All kinds of wild sounds and textures were happening. With all of this, I thought it sounded like the city. So when I needed a title for the CD, I thought I'd call it Impressions of a City. After I figured out the CD's title, I came up with tune titles that describe a day in the life of someone in the city.

During two of the tunes Dani Rabin had a radio on with the local traffic report. He manipulated it with effects and it fit perfectly with the music. But then we had to get licensing permission to use it, so we had to try to figure out what station, and what program, we were listening to at that time. We then figured it out by the recording logs. We finally got permission to use the broadcasts but there were also some legal restrictions. We said forget it. So Brian wrote his own traffic reports and went through the same effects processing by doing it on his own. I guess that's the only thing that's "not live" on the record.

Then Nick stepped up to do the cover art. Usually, on his label, there's a drawing of the leader's instrument on the cover. We didn't want that. Nick then put a collage together of photos he took and drawings that went with impressions of the city. He was a bit nervous that I wasn't going to like it, but I thought it was fantastic. I credited him as the executive producer of the album because of all of this.

AAJ: Can you explain the difference between an executive producer and a producer for an album?

Paul WerticoPW: Usually an executive producer is basically the person with the money. Sometimes, it's someone who puts up money but also oversees the process. There are different degrees of producers who put their name on things. Some hire all the musicians, some arrange, some compose. I knew that this was my artistic vision and I put the concept together, but Nick did so much and was just so great in general, that I took credit as producer and he's listed as executive producer.

AAJ: What's the difference between the work on pulling together a project like this where you're the leader versus the work you do on a project where you're a sideman say like one of the albums you did with Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny

PW: When it's your own project and you're able to work with someone like Nick, who allows you to do all the things you want to do and places zero restrictions on you, it's truly wonderful because even though you get to have all the veto power you want, you don't ever need to use it. We were all totally into the music right then, right there, so there was never an issue. But when you work on something as a sideman, you're basically trying to make someone else happy. Part of being a successful sideman is that you make whoever has hired you sound the way they want it to sound. It's always gratifying, especially for someone like me who's been on countless recordings, when you can just be yourself and still get the end result your client wants.

However, many times the leader wants something very specific. They may also do a number of takes of each tune and then not use the takes you really loved because they may not have liked the way they played. Sometimes those records aren't exactly a hundred percent of what you feel it could have been.

In the case of this album, it was exactly what I hoped it would be. I knew what we had and we used what I liked, but because I'm the producer too, I tried to make sure everyone was happy as well. I was watching out for their best interests because that's usually what works best.

AAJ: Recording a record that's essentially a live studio performance versus doing one that's "tweaked," is something you don't see that often nowadays. What is the advantage of doing your recording this way?

Paul WerticoPW: Well, there's the kind of record where you play and it is what it is. You're basically presenting to the listener a performance of that moment. Then there's the kind of record where you spend years tweaking every particular note until it's "perfect." In this case though, it was both. It was totally live, but I feel we have a perfect record. We didn't have to do anything to was the best of both worlds.

To me, there's a danger of doing things over and over so you can make it perfect. If you do it too much, you can take the emotion out of it. I feel this is what happens in modern music quite a bit. Sometimes they're taking the humanity out of the music that's supposed to be portraying humanity. It's one thing to sound like a machine if it's supposed to sound like a machine. But if you're trying to express yourself as a human being and show a certain side of your emotions, then let it have some human qualities. You can present a studio recording as the final product that's been made as perfect as possible, whereas a live record is a documentation of a moment of time.

Yet what's really funny about what we did is that we didn't even have the luxury of getting in there and micro-tweaking everything. We were under a deadline to get things done. Luckily, it was good enough the way it was. I guess that's why I'm so proud of it. It's really real. It's not something we made up and fixed. This record is the way we actually sound.

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