The tunes on Swing the Circle are clever. The collection contains works written, performed, and produced entirely by Indaba Music members. Headed up by Colin “Bonny Blue Hare” Edwards from Aberdeen, Scotland, Swing the Circle centers around jazz songs, oscillating between smooth soul and big band swing.
The 19 collaborators hail from all over the globe. But, based on the cohesion of the record, you’d think they were all in the same room. It’s a showcase of obvious talent. Colin’s complex compositions challenge his audience intellectually, while maintaining an effortless feel and enjoyable listening experience. Greg Pappas (who also moonlights as a speed painter) writes and sings tracks that swing hard. He pipes out witty lyrics in a husky croon with note-worthy confidence. Ira Jackson’s soulful contributions are smooth, smart, and tastefully done. It’s great to hear skilled musicians and Indaba stand-bys like Cliff – SaxUtopia, Lulu M, David Minnick and many others strut their stuff in this more traditional setting. We sat down with Colin Edwards to talk about the project.
Hey Colin! So, how did you find out about Indaba and what made you decide to join?
At the end of a post on firstname.lastname@example.org a comment caught my eye:
“PS i just found a great site for recording artists. it’s free. you can record from anywhere in the world, upload and mix tracks, and let others download and record to them. you can also find musicians to work with on new projects. it’s really cool.”
That fired my imagination so I visited the site, it seemed well thought out, designed as an aid for serious musicians. I searched for members working in familiar genres and I could see the potential for making connections with like-minded people. I felt right at home and liked the tone of the site, no ads, no gimmicks, it looked like a well-equipped workshop, and I got the impression of a noble purpose behind it all.
Well, we’re thrilled that you found us! How exactly was Swing The Circle conceived and how was the line-up solidified?
There isn’t a short answer to this question, Swing The Circle represents a turning point in my life (no pun intended), and out of adversity came a Swing Jazz tune, which later became the title track of a six track CD.
I dedicate the tune to Clara for her unquenchable spirit, to Glicerio her father for his miraculous recovery from a medical crisis, and to the love which took her to his bedside, tending to his needs night and day for 6 weeks. Although geographically separate, Clara and I talked every day and in my thoughts I was right there with her. Life-threatening events can evoke life-affirming responses, and it was this situation that provided the impetus for the Indaba session I created at that time. It started with the working title “Life Is A Circle”, but I knew this wasn’t quite on the nail, too much of a philosophical statement. At some point I realized this was going to be a dance tune and it is the swing rhythm that makes it so.
Once I had the piano part mapped out I invited a few Indabans I had already worked with, Anne Cozean was the first to contribute a beautiful vocal improvisation. Soon after this Greg Pappas stumbled upon the session and offered some lyrics, which I instantly liked, so I created a parallel session for this love song, “A Special Place.” It is similar in structure and melody, but the voice takes centre stage and the piano part is simplified for its new role as accompaniment. Later, I rough-drafted some saxophone parts and was searching for someone to play them. Cliff SaxUtopia volunteered some much needed help with scoring for wind instruments, new territory for me. His generous input led me to re-write these parts several times as I learned more about the range and capabilities of the instrument. He then agreed to record the parts for me and did so with great style, these tracks were used in both sessions. Ben Christa laid down a nicely understated brush-drum track and finally with support at the mixing stage from Ulf the recording was finally mastered after some 8 months of development. It was during the making of Swing The Circle that I became acquainted with Ira Jackson, although he made no audible contribution he was a keen member of the session, listening, observing and offering helpful comments, so thanks to Ira also.
I should also mention photographer Kevin Dooley who’s striking image of a fairground at dawn seemed to me just made for the session, I found it by searching for Creative Commons licensed photographs on flickr.com.
I learned a lot from running these two parallel sessions, it was exciting and soon grew to be all consuming. I would sometimes awake in the early hours with an idea for a new melody variation and run upstairs to the computer to try it out. I guess this intense creative energy showed in the music, at one point I was getting new membership requests – one or two each week. This amazed me until I realized the session was being featured along with others on the Indaba home page, so this gave me the feeling of being actively supported by my hosts. I’d like to acknowledge the open friendliness among Indaba members, and I owe a great deal to these people, whose names are credited on the CD cover, without their enthusiastic participation I might have managed a passable home studio demo recording of my tune but would I have gained new friends or enhanced my knowledge? I doubt it.
At what point did you decide to make a CD out of the project and how did you determine what would go on it?
Getting this session done required that I learn new skills: diplomacy, management, producing, arranging, and writing scores. I started contributing to other peoples’ sessions, mainly bass and piano parts, these projects stretched me and I could see the quality of my work improving. So towards the end of 2009, I had a feeling of personal achievement, I had been involved with some very talented people, and established new working relationships and friendships. I really felt like celebrating, and this is how I conceived the idea of the six-track CD initially as a Christmas gift for friends and family.
I drew sketches for the cover design and got the idea to make an Indaba sampler CD to showcase what can be achieved with internet based collaboration. I wanted to feature my own compositions and the work of fellow collaborators Greg Pappas and Ira Jackson. I struggled somewhat deciding to include the song “A Special Place.” There has to be a good reason for a CD to carry two versions of the same tune, it could seem a bit overindulgent, but I thought it was justified to demonstrate how an idea can develop in unexpected ways.
Are you still in touch with the original collaborators?
In order to move the CD project forward I created a private session called “SWING THE CIRCLE CD,” to which all the collaborators were invited. Although the musical work is already done, this session page serves very well as a point of distribution and discussion. I offered to each collaborator a free copy in exchange for their permission to sell the disc as a charitable fund-raising medium, I’m happy to say everyone gave the project their blessing, waiving any royalty rights on this particular compilation. I also needed a discussion forum to make sure everyone was happy with this idea, to explain in detail what the fund raising is all about, and to report on progress.
What is your approach to songwriting and producing?
Songwriting is something I always believed I could do, but self-motivation is not a strong point, my most productive musical achievements have arisen when collaborating with others in some way. A few songs have come out of my private solitary writings but I tend to agonize over whether they are really of value to anyone but myself. When working in a group the responsibility is shared, and the energy that can develop between people is something quite special.
“Write anything you want to”
This is perhaps the least helpful brief you can get at the start of a project, unless you already have a specific idea formed, there will be no focus and decision making becomes wooly.
The kind of brief I relish: “Write a piece of music in the key of G, exactly 2 mins 45 secs long with a dark foreboding mood and a strong insistent rhythm.”
By imposing strict limitations the mind gets really focused – I worked for two years with a small theatre company performing Greek Tragedy in schools, this is the kind of brief the director Dennis Douglas would give me, I loved working for him because I knew exactly what was expected of me, I didn’t get lost in a vague mist of possibilities and working to deadlines also served to get my ideas into sharp focus.
Does that approach differ when collaborating on the Internet?
Throughout these sessions I often thought, “this is a pretty strange way to record music, working with a team of people, but never meeting them face to face.” You might think this would spoil the whole process but somehow I found it to be a special case. A member’s personal profile page gives me some clues about their character, but I don’t really know much until I’m working closely with them. We have to proceed on a basis of mutual trust or nothing will happen at all. I believe the secret to remote collaboration is to communicate with openness and sensitivity and when listening to someone’s audio file, allow a little time for reflection and further listening before responding. I speak from painful experience here, I sometimes act or speak a little impulsively, and artistic folks easily take offense at criticism. It is possible to establish a good rapport with some session members by speaking directly by phone or Skype, however I’ve learned that some prefer to keep a little distance and I respect that.
With Swing The Circle I was leading the whole process, perhaps a little too strictly at times but I knew what I wanted. By contrast Greg’s excellent 1950‘s style song “A Thing Like Swing Won’t Die” was entirely his composition, he asked me to make a new arrangement of the song giving me plenty of freedom but I referred back to him constantly as the arrangement developed and was happy to alter things to suit his taste. Ira’s moving and tender blues song “I Need To Know” was done in similar manner, it gave me a lot of satisfaction working on both these numbers.
Any projects you are working on currently or on the horizon?
The priority right now is to get this CD onto iTunes, and find local outlets to sell the physical discs. The fund-raising cause is to provide support for people living with cancer; someone close to me has that condition so there is my motivation. I’m thinking that getting the songs performed live somehow could significantly help the fund-raising.
I have continued to work on Indaba projects throughout 2010, notably in New York City with Greg Pappas and Ira Jackson. I’ve been collaborating with Grainne Smith, and other Aberdeenshire writers with a view to more live performances. If people like my piano style I’m open to session invitations for swing, blues, or maybe something a bit unconventional as long as it has melody.