Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh: Raising Their Voices
"My guys know the music so well," Schneider says. "And also, the way it was recorded. It was a very tricky thing for the rhythm section to play along with. I thought, 'Wow. It's important that they have those guys.' So I think it was a big thing that helped a lot ... I went to the studio to help out with the rhythm section. It was a good thing I did that. I'm used to being in the studio and I'm used to working with them and I know the music so well. I was able to help out in that way. But all the choices were theirs [Dollison and Marsh]. They're both really together musicians. Kerry writes wonderful arrangements. Julia is just an amazing singer. She writes very beautiful stuff too. They are really talented people."
Marsh has a bachelor's degree in music education from the University of Kansas and got his master's in jazz studies at the renowned University of North Texas, where he concentrated on vocal jazz and composition/arranging. He's heavily involved in education for vocal groups. Dollison has bachelor's and master's degrees from another renowned music school, the University of Miami, and also has a strong performance pedigree, having performed in New York City clubs and shared the stage with the likes of Bob Dorough, Kurt Elling, Christian McBride, and Mark Murphy and sung with symphony orchestras. She also has her own CD, Observatory (Like So Music, 2005).
The singers are grateful for Schneider's participation. "She was really advocating for that, as opposed to us finding other, very capable players," says Dollison. But she was nervous about, 'Are they going to be able to replicate it like my guys do?' So she gave us a lot of support and guidance. She came into the studio with us and helped us produce the recording. It worked out perfectly. We were very fortunate."
Marsh says, as they received word that each individual musician was able to get onboard, the excitement grew. "There was a bit if anxiety, as you can imagine. We wanted it to be complete, or obviously there would be a little bit of something missing from it if we were missing one of the guys. So we were real happy about it."
Getting the band to be in synch with the complex vocal lines was a challenge, even with the musicians being familiar with the music. Often, musicians lay down the music and vocal aspects are recorded over those tracks. What Dollison and Marsh did was the reverse.
"What we did is we recorded all the vocals first, actually, using a moving, floating click track (a series of audio cues used to synchronize sound recordings) in our home studio," says Marsh. "I created a click track in the digital audio workstation, Digital Performer. I made the click match Maria's original recordings so there would be an organic sense of push and pull to the time. She doesn't use a click while recording. She conducts live things for the band when they record. So we wanted to have that kind of give-and-take, and that breathing room, tempo-wise. We didn't want to record to a strict click."
If they'd used the cues of a click track for the band first, before the vocals, then "what you'd do is arbitrarily decide whether you go faster or slower," Marsh continues. "We really didn't know how to do that. And we weren't sure we were going to be able to get the band together soon enough to get the project started. So we went ahead and recorded the vocals first. We used a temporary MIDI-mime performance using a keyboard for the drum parts, and the feeling of the bass, and all that. Of course they're not great, but it was enough for us to sing all the tracks and get everything edited, at least roughly. Then we took all of that, with those click tracks, into the studio and the band played underneath us, sort of. And we got their performances. Then we mixed everything down, re-sang some things. We did our solos and all the mixing and mastering."
That's the technical end. But getting their voices to form a pleasing sound that replaced the Schneider horn sections, as well as getting the music as true as possible, was another matter for the singers to tackle. It took a lot of planning.
"Luckily, I am a high soprano and I have that range," says Dollison. "In singing with [Schneider's] band live, I was able to reach the highest lead trumpet part. So really we decided to break it up according to our vocal ranges. And we decided on syllables for each section. For the trumpet section to have their own sound, I did it with a more nasal sonority or resonance."