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Dan Shout: In With a Shout

Seton Hawkins By

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Secret Weapons deals with the fact that for starters, even famous Jazz musicians are unknown. If I say to my buddies, "Have you checked out the new Branford Marsalis album?," they're like, "Who?" If you're into Jazz, that's obviously one of the biggest names you can get. Even famous Jazz musicians are not famous, so even though some of the guys on my album are heavyweights in South African Jazz, they are unknown. Essentially they are my "secret weapons" that I'm using to bring my music to fruition. I also feel my experiences as a Southern African growing up in Africa and the stories of these songs, my family, and our culture are my secret weapons.. And I think that in terms of my compositions and the instrumentation, if I pull out Marc de Kock on the flute, that's the secret weapon for that tune. So I just started to think about what it is that defines me, and what it is that defines the album. I feel like I've got so many secret weapons at my disposal. There's this whole culture going on here whether people in other countries know it or not.

AAJ: With the latest album, you partnered with PathWay Records on its release. Your prior albums were self-released efforts. What changed?

DS: About three years ago, I went to perform at the Wigan International Jazz Festival in England. It was there that I heard a saxophonist called Paul Booth. We heard that Paul was playing with the trumpet player Ryan Quigley, and that they were both great English players who were doing a Stan Getz and Clifford Brown tribute with strings. So we played our gig and then they came in after us and played in the hall. Marc de Kock and I were just blown away. They were unbelievable musicians, just world-class players. That's one of the most exciting things about being at these festivals, that you get to hear other people you didn't necessarily know. After the gig, before I knew it, Marc tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey Dan, have you met Paul?" We hit it off and we had a pint and I said to him, "Listen man, if you ever come to Cape Town please look us up. I'd love to play with you, book you some gigs, or we can just hang out."

You say that sort of thing all the time, and it usually doesn't necessarily come off. But a year later, I got an Instagram message from Paul, saying, "Hey Dan, I'm coming to Cape Town on holiday. Are you around?" And I said, "Sure, I'll show you some wine farms!" And he came out and jammed on a couple of gigs with me. We had some fun and we really just got on exceptionally well. It was a real treat to hang out with him and get to jam with him. That's when he told me about his recording label. At the time I didn't really think too much of it, except that he told me it was a record label that specifically deals with Jazz in a more World Music vein. I thought that was very interesting. Two years later, I was doing the Secret Weapons album, and was about to go through the usual route of just uploading it onto CDBaby, getting it onto iTunes and Spotify and everything.

But then I thought, "Let me just drop Paul a line and see if he'd be interested." I thought that I'd love to be associated with him. Maybe he could give me some tips and let me know how he goes about releasing his albums. I can't say enough as to how helpful he was and how encouraging he was in getting me onto his label and assisting me with all the questions that I had. It's just been fantastic. I think when I go over to England again, he would be part of the project playing my music, which is another secret weapon.

So I thought to try a new way of releasing the album, to learn from the guys who are doing this all the time, and see where it takes me. So right from album cover design to the release date, ISRC codes, and where to punt the album, Paul just gave me advice. Before, you feel like you're a lone ninja. So to have a little team together who back what you're doing and think it's good is quite encouraging. It feels like I'm going up a step all the time, as opposed to backwards.

AAJ: You referenced on a few occasions the idea of the artists as your secret weapons, and the guest appearance of Gordon Vernick on the album certainly seems to fit the bill. How did you and he meet?

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