The Making of Nine Lives, Vol. One – Disc Two: Track One

We Are The Band

This track is a scene in Nine Lives where Wilbert Rawlins Jr. has become a band director and is about to lead his band into competition against a much larger, better equipped marching band.  He is trying to inspire young players to rise to the challenge of the moment.  It is a joyful song and we wanted disc two to begin with joy because it was to be a dark ride after that.

Shamarr arranged this track for the record.  I asked him to give me a New Orleans high school band sounding track and arrangement, telling him to choose who he wanted to play on it.  He likes to record at his own studio, P.O.M.E., which is fine with me because he does great work and is comfortable there.  It also allowed me to record other songs at Piety while Shamarr got work done at his studio.

Colman and I believe in Shamarr.  We both had so much confidence in his talent that we never heard his arrangements or even a song he wrote for the record on his own until he had finished them and turned the recordings over to me.

He dropped the flash drive off and Wes Fontenot, the Piety recording engineer, downloaded it on to a flash drive.  I kept asking for burned CDs of the songs to take home and during the sessions it became a running joke with Shamarr and Wes that I needed to stop being such and “old man” about technology and not use outdated things like CDs.  “Got to learn to use a flash drive, Unc!”  I would just laugh to myself.  I didn’t bother to tell them that when I first started recording we brought tracks home on cassette to listen to the day’s work and that was considered exciting because you didn’t have to wait for the album to be pressed on to vinyl to hear the music.

I put the song on the studio speakers and a shrill whistle blast of four beats came jumping out of the speakers, just like you would hear at a parade if a band was kicking off a song.  The drummer hit the introduction and the band began playing the song’s groove.  I had written it in straight fours, thinking of military style marching band, but Shamarr slowed the tempo and swung the groove so it sounded like a New Orleans band high stepping down the street.  The song has trumpets, trombone, tuba and drums and it is jumping.

I asked him who played drums and to my delighted surprise he told me the drummer on the track is his nine year old son, Jarrel. The thought of Shamarr’s son on the track was so sweet that I couldn’t stop smiling.  The fact that his son was swinging the track like a pro and he is only nine was kind of stunning.  The fact that Shamarr is singing, “We are the band and these are my children” on a track with his son playing drums, well, that just filled my heart to the brim . A gift I will have in my life long after Jarrel has grown into a man and is making records of his own.

Shamarr played all of the trumpets and trombones on the track. He did it in part to save us money because he knew the budget was tight for me.  He also did because he just loves playing music, especially recording, and he jumps at the chance to play as many different instruments as he can when we work together.   On our duo record, Bridging The Gap, he played trumpet, keyboard, trombone and percussion.  He kept trying to take the guitar from me but I had to draw the line somewhere.  Shamarr appreciates the respect I give him in turning over my songs to let him work on on his own and he digs deep to give me good stuff.  Colman and I were dancing in the control room as it played and I could almost hear the drums echoing off the bottom of an overpass.

Bennie Pete from The Hot 8 Brass Band plays tuba.  He and Shamarr are friends.  Shamarr plays with Hot 8 whenever he gets the chance though, as an official Ambassador of Jazz for the State Department, his time is becoming increasingly limited.  Bennie also played on a song Shamarr did after the BP oil spill called Sorry Ain’t Enough No More which I also appeared on so this was our second time being on a record together though I still would like to be in the studio with him some time.  Bennie is always cool with me which is nice because he is a giant of a man and I am always happier when men twice my size are cool with me.  In fact, I will go out of my way to make a fellow comfortable if he is as sizable as Bennie Pete.  Truth is, Bennie and Hot 8 are a great brass band and I would be happy if they had just heard of me.  That Bennie goes out of his way to be respectful and welcoming means a lot to me because I have been learning about music since the flood, mostly through guys like Bennie letting me into their world to hear grooves in ways I hadn’t learned from playing in rock bands for twenty years.

All through the making of Nine Lives I kept telling people that it wasn’t about me, Colman or even any one of the singers.  This record is about community because that was something we lost in the flood that I thought we would never get back and through music I have been able to find threads of that community to sustain me in my own life and art.

To have learned about jazz from Boutté, John Rankin, Matt Perrine and so many others,  to hear Shamarr and Bennie talk music or life, (which is the same thing), listening to Glen David create chaos out of songs and songs out of thin air, all of these things helped me take another step, write another song and make it through another day after the flood.

I stepped away from even the recording of this track and Shamarr delivered the song but also he delivered community.  His community: His son, Jarell, his friend, Bennie, and his own memory of what it means to be in a small high school marching band but still wanting to blow away the bigger band.

As the track played, I asked Shamarr why it was just trumpets, trombones and tuba and he answered, “Well, Unc’, you said it was a small band.”  I asked if he could add sax, clarinet or flutes. “Flutes!” he laughed, “I can if you want it to sound like a white band.”  We laughed at each other and I went on dancing to the finished track of We Are The Band.  All I did as producer on this one was to ask Mark Bingham to mix it.

~ Paul Sanchez – June 6, 2011

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