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Sheryl Bailey: Homecoming

Matthew Warnock By
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Richard Bona, George Garzone, Jack Wilkins and Howard Alden, is a testament to the musicianship of this Pittsburgh native.

After recording four small group albums, the veteran picker chose to go in a different direction for her 2009 album A New Promise (MCG Jazz), by working with the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra. The result is a hard-swinging, expertly arranged and entertaining recording that showcases the guitarist's versatility as she seamlessly steps out of the familiar confines of her working trio and into the realm of the large ensemble.

As has been the case with her previous albums, Bailey's maturity and heightened sense of melodicism ring through in her solos and melodic interpretations. Though she possesses lightning-fast chops, and the ability to use them at will, her playing is never over the top or cluttered with double-time licks. Instead, Bailey carefully chooses just the right moment to utilize her technique in order to raise the song to a new level of excitement, instead of running chops for the sake of running her chops.

With this high level of musicality, alongside her talent as a composer, bandleader and educator, there seems to be no end in sight for what Bailey can accomplish in her musical career.



All About Jazz: Over the years you've recorded with a number of different set ups—trios and quartets, for example—but for your record, A New Promise, you went with a big band lineup. What inspired you to record your first album with a large ensemble, as opposed to the smaller groups you normally work with?

Sheryl Bailey: Marty Ashby heard me in New York with my trio, he liked my playing and decided he wanted to do a project with me. He wanted to do something big but wasn't quite sure what that meant at the time. We were meeting together out there in Pittsburgh, he had brought me out to play at the jazz festival, and he came up with the idea of doing something with Mike Tomaro and the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra. The project grew from that idea, of something that I haven't done before, something special and unique for the fans to enjoy.

AAJ: Since the guitar is often relegated to the background in a big band setting, serving a much different role than it does in a small group, did you have to change your soloing and comping approaches for this recording as compared to what you normally play with an organ trio or quartet?

SB: Mike was such a sensitive arranger in regards to that situation. He listened to a lot of my music and had a good understanding of how I play and his goal was to make it as effortless as possible—we did that recording in two days. It was so easy to just come in and do what I do because he had arranged the music in the way that he did. That was cool, in that he arranged the tunes specifically for the way that I play. I didn't really have to think about it, it just flowed naturally.

AAJ: Because of the size of the group big band albums are often recorded differently than a duo or trio record. How much of the album was recorded with you playing live with the band and how much had to be tracked because of the size of the ensemble and miking or room restrictions?

SB: We did the whole thing live; we did two takes of everything and that was it. Obviously, they're a working band so that made a big difference because they were so well prepared and really play well together. Actually, the title cut, which was one of my tunes, Mike wrote that arrangement the night before. So no one had played it before he brought it in that day to record. Basically, he talked us through it, we hit record and that was it. There was a lot of that spontaneous nature involved with this album and I think that creativity really comes across in the recording.

AAJ: How does that approach differ from your small-group recordings? Do you prefer to just hit record and lay down the tunes, or do you rehearse and perform those songs before bringing them into the studio?

SB: I really don't like to rehearse. We gig a lot so we've usually played the tunes a number of times before we lay them down. If we're going into the studio we might get together and make sure we're all cool with how the arrangements are laid out, intros and endings, that sort of thing. I think I really prefer to do live records anyway, because it's spontaneous and you get the energy from the audience. To me, that's what jazz is all about.


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