The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part XCII: All the Hip Kids--An Interview with Daniel Louis White
One day last autumn I found this rather vague note, handwritten on a Post-it, on my desk:
Natural Consequences [the new album]
2 180 gram 45rpm disks
Mastering done Capsule Labs (LA)
7 track LP
All original work
After some preliminary investigations, I discovered it was left for me by Chris Perez. Heís a friend of mine who works with both the music industry and the cigar industry--my kind of guy. Chris had been telling me about a 26-year-old tenor saxophonist named Daniel Louis White who had recently graduated from the College of Music at the University of North Texas. Daniel had released a CD in 2011 titled True Communication which Chris had told me was ďfrigginí amazing.Ē The new stuff Daniel was working on, however, was even more frigginí amazing. Chris knew Iíd be interested in it because it was going to be released only on vinyl, and he had a chance to listen to some of it in advance. The look on his face told me all I needed to know.
Chris sent me a CD copy of True Communication. I listened to it, loved it and gave it a rave review on my blog, I then traded a few emails with Daniel; he was genuinely excited to see an actual review of his CD online. I told him that I wanted copies of the new vinyl project as soon as they were available. He promised he would send them.
A few months went by, and we had what the late, great Roger Ebert used to call a meet-cute--well, at least the ďbromanceĒ kind. I went to my favorite Austin cigar store, Habana House. Before I left, I had to use the restroom and I left my credit card with the young man behind the counter and headed to the back. When I re-emerged, the young man was walking hurriedly toward me with a wide-eyed expression on his face. Was the bathroom not for customer use? Was my credit card declined? He extended his hand and asked ďAre you Marc Phillips, the music writer?Ē
As youíve already guessed, it was Daniel. He saw my name on the credit card and knew I visited Habana House once in a while. After that, Iíve seen Daniel numerous times at the cigar store and learned that he was basically working there and then spending those wages on the new LP project. Heíd pull a few shifts and then run to the recording studio and work on Natural Consequences. At this rate, Daniel informed me, the first LP in the series should be finished in September.
Finally, I visited Habana House to interview Daniel--and to smoke some cigars. Danielís taste in cigars is as good as his taste in music--which is, to say, sublime. Before I had lit up a beautiful Curivari El Gran Rey, Daniel was already offering absolute gems about why young people are flocking to vinyl and turntables. Wait, wait, Daniel... let me get the recorder going...
Vinyl Anachronist: Okay, okay. Tell me again what you just said about why young people are suddenly getting into vinyl...
Daniel Louis White: All the hip kids have all outgrown their iPods and iPhones- the cool thing now is to own a turntable. All the hip kids have turntables.
VA: I love that! Itís the best explanation Iíve heard yet.
VA: As Iíve written many times, we middle-aged audiophiles are constantly worrying about our legacy, and as usual weíre freaking out about nothing. So letís talk about your first album, 2011ís True Communication. Itís currently just available on CD. When you recorded it, were you thinking about doing it on vinyl or were you just thinking about putting it on CD just to get your name out there?
DLW: Well, thatís been my dream. Iím a record collector. I like high end audio systems too. Itís been my goal to make a great sounding record but when I did my first project I didnít know what I was doing. I didnít think about marketing, I didnít think about ďwho am I.Ē The music is me, but everything that went into promoting it and getting a finished product that is also me--it didnít happen because my dad wanted this or someone who wanted to promote it wanted this, and honestly to this day, they still think Iím foolish for wanting to do it on vinyl. I have to tell them over and over that I have more of a chance to stand out with this than anything else you could possibly come up with. So Iíve played a couple gigs and Iíve tried to sell my CDís. People loved the music but didnít want to buy the CD. Everyone is used to instant access, and thatís not the real culture Iím trying to reach. I want people to sit down and listen and thereís no better way to do that than on a record player with a really good sound system. There is something sensual about it, and there is an emotional connection there that is lost when you just passively listen to music. Most people donít listen to music.
VA: Itís in the background. Itís just the soundtrack to their lives, and they donít care if it sounds good.
DLW: Right! They have never been educated to know what a good sound system sounds like.
VA: Where did you learn to sit down and listen to music?
DLW: My grandfather has three Klipsch Cornwalls, all powered by Carver amps and the whole nine. Thatís the system that hopefully one day I will inherit--we will see about that. But he cared about it, he taught me to appreciate things, like whether itís the cigar Iím smoking--he smoked cigars too--or the music. I didnít think I would become a jazz musician--those sorts of things were not in my head as a child. I didnít know I had a musical talent until I was probably 14 or 15 years old and it never dawned on me that Iím probably the closest thing to him that has ever existed in my family. And itís really weird to see how they praised him for his art of appreciation yet they donít see that Iím trying to bring that forward with my company and my music. I choose a studio because I treat every composition as though it is a painting and I can always change and Iíll probably reinvent my compositions over time but my interest is to compose. Itís not to play live everywhere. A lot of people find that hideously disturbing. Theyíre like, ďWhy donít you want to play live?Ē I love playing live but honestly I would much rather make a great sounding record.
VA: You know with a great sounding record, people can listen to you fifty years from now.
DLW: Exactly! You got it right there.
VA: You are immortal that way.
DLW: A great-sounding record is my canvas. Thatís where I paint musically, that exists forever and guess what? You can only get it on vinyl. And if they create something better than vinyl, then you can get it on that. I think people want to own a physical product and people that care about music want to own a product. Itís an investment--I have a piece of this guyís work. I know I feel that way. I have to get all the Sam Rivers records. I have to have the complete set. Iím a collector. I have that mindset. I have to see how this guy developed over his lifetime. My hope is that I can capture a small audience that is very excited about what I do and be of service to them. This isnít just a one off deal before I do something else. Iím very serious about this and I want people to be engaged. Iím trying to tell a story here. It canít be passive. You canít appreciate my music and not listen to it.
VA: Itís the very nature of jazz. A lot of people say ďI donít understand itĒ or ďI canít get into it--itís chaos.Ē But jazz demands your attention. Itís a very specific thing you are experiencing, just maybe not in the order you are used to. But thereís a point where it locks in. I didnít start listening to jazz until I was in college. It goes along with vinyl and high end audio--jazz and high-end audio are partners forever. Listen to the great jazz recordings in the Ď50ís and Ď60ís like Miles Davisí Kind of Blue or Sonny Rollinsí Way Out West. They didnít know at the time they were making some of the best-sounding recordings in history. They were just doing the best they could. Even the recording equipment back then wasnít letting them know just how good it was, because the playback equipment wasnít there yet. We know now what they did, and how excellent it was.
DLW: The art of appreciation is a funny thing. I donít think that anyone sips their first sip of wine or beer or smokes their first cigar and likes it. Itís the same thing for jazz. They might be interested but it has not engaged them yet. Most of the albums that have been influential in my career have always been the recordings I didnít quite understand at first. Theyíre intriguing because theyíre mysterious and with my records I donít want people to hear it the first time and go, ďWow! Thatís great!Ē It should take repeated listenings to get what Iím going after. I want to tell a story. I donít want my music to be about pure intellect or about being the best saxophone player. I just want to be the best I can. Iím spending serious money for my record to be done with a half speed master because I want that information to come across.
VA: So that bring us to the new album youíre currently recording, Natural Consequences, which sounds like itís a very ambitious project. Tell me a little about the technical side of the recording.
DLW: It will be released on 180 gram vinyl, in a series of three releases that will be separated by about six months. Itís virgin vinyl. Itís recorded at Crystal Clear Studio in Dallas, mixed by Randall Squires in Austin, and it will be mastered by Gil Tamazyan. I picked the right people to do this and Iím paying a very pretty penny to do it right because I do not know all the ins and outs about the recording process. I keep delaying the release, which artistically drives me nuts but I didnít want to have any regrets. I wanted to do it right. I had regrets with my first CD--Iím surprised you liked it as much as you did!
VA: Are you kidding? Iíve been playing it at high-end audio trade shows and everyone likes it! Weíve been getting a really good response from it. These are usually people who know something about jazz, and theyíre almost surprised that they donít know what Iím playing. Theyíre like, ďWhy donít I know this?Ē Thatís saying a lot. Theyíre saying, ďThis is really good, and I should know it, but I donít. Why not?Ē
DLW: Well, thatís flattering. I want to give people a quality product. I donít care about fame or glory, I just want excellence, whatever excellence means, and thatís changed over time as Iíve gotten older. To me, itís just using my natural gifts. ďWhat do you do the best? What purpose do you serve in the community?Ē I feel like a lot of musicians just want to sit and compare themselves to each other. I feel like too many people focus on how to wow the world. You wow them with your natural gifts! My goal is to make the best sounding jazz records I possibly can. Itís not really about me- the reason it sounds good is because I chose the best musicians and they created that energy and make my music come alive.
VA: Are you using the same musicians on the new recording?
DLW: No, the bassist is different. His name is Daniel Parr. But itís still Justin Heaverin on drums.
VA: Yeah, keep that guy. Heís amazing.
DLW: Yes, he is. And Sean Giddings on piano. Theyíre all world-class musicians. I want them to stand out in my recordings and get gigs.
VA: You want them to be able to say that they played on your record, and have people say, ďOh yeah, I want that guy on my record.Ē Thatís sort of an old-fashioned thing in jazz, like getting The Rhythm Section to back you in the studio.
DLW: Yes. I didnít set up the mics or mix or master the records. My music is just the vehicle to make that happen. I want to support an economy in music. I pay my musicians well. If youíre going to be a leader in a group, you need to serve your musicians. Iím a sax player. You hear me only half the time. When I compose or go into rehearsal I always allow my guys to have a say.
VA: True Communication is the first new, contemporary jazz album Iíve heard in many years. Iíve been buying reissues and such for a very long time, so it was a bit of a surprise for me to hear both the timeless and the modern touches. What is the jazz scene like now in your opinion? How is it different from fifty years ago?
DLW: To be honest, I donít really know what it was like fifty years ago. All of the jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside were pumping out great music all the time.
VA: And they were following them around and recording them live all the time too.
DLW: Sometimes the live recordings were the best because you usually go to the recording studio at eight or nine in the morning. Thatís not jazz musician time.
VA: Then again, some of the best studio jazz albums happened when musicians would play a live gig all night and then go to the studio afterward and get drunk and start recording at 3 or 4 in the morning.
DLW: Iím not advocating drugs here, but I would get lessons in Houston from Terence Tony, who used to play with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. We would be listening to old recordings and he would say, ďMan, I bet they had some great drugs in that session.Ē I feel like the ďjazz sceneĒ is very ambiguous. The term has been reconstructed and I even question the definition of jazz. I think there are certain cliques and groups of ideology that run together and if you arenít what they are about they will disclaim you and say thatís great music but itís not jazz. I grew up in the jazz tradition. I studied with people who I thought were the best, whether they realized it or not. I learned the art of composition on my own. School taught me to organize my thoughts, but I didnít learn jazz at a university. I learned it from the individuals who were kind enough to lend me a hand. You can argue whatís cool or who you want to like it but at the end of the day, I donít know all that goes on in the jazz scene today. To be appreciated, you have to be genuine. Miles is genuine. Monk is genuine. Is Miles the best trumpet player in the world? Is Monk the best piano player in the world? Not necessarily. One poet said of Monk, ďHe is the elephant of the piano,Ē but I hear something beautiful, unique and dynamic where other people hear something sluggish and simple.
VA: That reminds me of my favorite rock drummer, Keith Moon. Heís undisciplined and sloppy but absolutely no one sounds like him. I like to anger Rush fans by saying thereís nothing that Neil Peart can do that a drum machine canít and they go absolutely ballistic. I havenít heard a drum machine yet that can sound like Keith Moon.
DLW: That is what I meant about chasing after being the best piano player. That itself is not worth chasing after. I can create perfect music on a computer.
VA: Thatís the whole thing with digital. Itís either a zero or a one. Thereís no 0.3s or .785s like there are on vinyl. Every time you are deciding between zero and one, you are losing something, and there is something missing in digital that is present in vinyl. You are trying to capture a musicianís soul and digital canít do that like vinyl can.
DLW: I have to decide if it represents my music. I donít have a lot of money but if I hear an old record thatís $40 and it engages me emotionally, I will buy it in a drop of a hat.
VA: I just did that for a Sam Cooke album. Heard it, had to have it, paid probably too much money for it. That reminds me of a friend of mine--he refuses to listen to Bob Dylan on CD. He will walk out of the room if itís not on vinyl. As for me, I have a ton of jazz LPís, but I donít have a ton of jazz on CD. It just doesnít sound as good.
DLW: There is more than just a novelty to buying a record. When you play it, itís engaging, and I can connect to it more. Itís probably not the same connection that you get live--that is a different thing, but vinyl captures that better than anything.
VA: Was there anything about recording on vinyl that surprised you? DLW: Not in terms of my product. But generally speaking, Iím very surprised by the sound of vinyl. I was surprised by the difference in sound between two turntables, that this audio gear could make such a big difference. The whole thing with vinyl started out very novel, but as Iíve lived in Austin, Iíve become a record collector--my bank account speaks to that very well.
VA: So, after all that... what kind of turntable do you have?
DLW: Donít judge me, but I only have a SL1200, I donít have a good cartridge. But hopefully that will change!
You can find out more about Daniel Louis White and his recording projects on his website at www.daniellouiswhite.com
Contact the Vinyl Anachronist at firstname.lastname@example.org and see his Blog site
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