Release Date: 2023
Label: Ear Up Records
- Toy Piano
- Green Light For Billy Drewes
- New Dawn
- Look For Water
- Sweet Magnolias
- Half A Baton
- Jeff Coffin – soprano & tenor sax
- Johnny Vidacovich – drums & toy piano
- James Singleton – upright bass
- Tony Dagradi – tenor sax
- Helen Gillet – cello (track 9)
The origins of this project have long and deep roots. I first spent considerable time in New Orleans in 2009 with Dave Matthews Band recording Big Whiskey & the Groo Grux King. It was during this time that I first met saxophonist Tony Dagradi, bassist James Singleton, cellist Helen Gillet, and the legendary drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Their names, music, and reputations were well known to me and I was very happy to make some music with them, albeit informally, while I was in town.
Fast forward a couple years around Jazz Fest time in NOLA. Helen asked me to do an improv set with her at a club where she had a residency and I happily said yes. It was a great night and afterwards I asked if she would be interested in doing a recording together. We eventually found some available time and recorded in Nashville, TN at ITA Studios for a few days and came up with our duo project called Let It Shine.
In 2021, Helen asked if I was interested in bringing our duet to a larger outdoor venue in NOLA called Broadside Theatre. I was. In order to have something different in the second set, I asked Johnny V to do some duets with me. He was into it and I decided that I wanted to add bass as some of the new material I was writing was a bit more suited for a trio. My first call was to the great spirit James Singleton and he also said yes. I felt since we had a trio why not make it a chordless (no piano or guitar) quartet?!? I called Tony Dagradi because I knew he would totally fit the situation and he was into it too! In addition, I asked Helen to play a few tunes during the 2nd set because she’s such a badass. So, long story kinda short, we played the gig and it was great and when it was over I asked if they all had any free time to record before I had to leave a few days later. I felt I needed to document this group if possible. Thankfully, they all had a brief window of time that following Saturday and we went into Preservation Hall Studio, which also happened to be where my wife and I were staying, and we recorded 9 tunes in 3 hours.
The tunes are performed with various combinations of instruments from duo to trio to quartet to quintet. The only constant in each tune is Johnny and me because the concept started off as duet ideas and it seemed appropriate to keep that foundation throughout.
Another thing I should mention is that Johnny, Tony, and James are all founding members of the NOLA super group Astral Project. They have been playing together for 30+ years and their communication seems almost telepathic to me. There is no substitute for familiarity and these musicians are definitely family to each other.
Something that was unexpected, but not surprising, during the process of making this record was that Tony and I never once talked about articulation, phrasing, dynamics, etc…he is such a master of the saxophone and I feel our styles and tones really complement each other. James brings such a brilliant fire to everything he does and Johnny…well, Johnny is one of a kind and there aren’t words to truly describe him. Ornette Coleman once told me that he thought ideas reside in the same place as prayers do…I think that’s maybe where Johnny is from.
In general, It felt like the tunes were a new wave of music rising up like the dawn of a new day. Bright, colorful, hopeful, expanding, full of wonder, and I really love the way this project turned out. Everyone is magical on it.