So by now if you have followed this story you’ve been a part of an 8-year journey to get this project into reality. It now is in full-on production mode and it’s not getting easier…dealing with a lot of artists and musicians and making sure everything is lining up perfectly is quite a task, but commitment and the knowledge that this could be a groundbreaking project keeps me going.
As it was approaching the time when Sting would be available to record, just like clockwork, I hear from his assistant and he’s ready to go in 5 days. Book the studio and let’s go…one problem…he hasn’t written lyrics to the song yet and is stuck. Can I get a lyricist to come up with excellent lyrics? What? Have it ready in 3 days so he can learn it…OMG, what can I do? My wife Kathy is an excellent lyricist and already has written lyrics for one of the songs on the album, but I do not want to put her under the pressure of writing a song for Sting in 2 days. So I put my thinking cap on and brainstorm…Brenda Russell…She can do it! I call her and explain to her that I need lyrics for this song and it’s an emergency…she apologizes and says she is just to busy to do it. I then tell her it’s for Sting and she totally flips out…”What? Sting Wow! I’ll do it.” I tell her about the time table and she says she’ll do her best. The next morning I get a call and she said she had a great inspiration and wrote them the night before. They are excellent and I immediately call Sting’s apartment and let them know I’m faxing over the lyrics. I then book Sound on Sound studio for Wednesday night and we are on.
I wish I could tell you an amazing story about the session, but there is just the story that he came in, was great to work with, and did 5 takes and boom…we had the track. My wife Kathy never really likes hanging at sessions but she wanted to come to this one! Sting was very nice to her.
I’m in full mode now, lining up talent and still going through songs. I have a date booked with Vanessa Williams for her to do “Love Dance”, I knew for years this was a great song for her. Vanessa is such good people, great vibe and hard worker. I drive an hour up to the Carriage House in Ct., walk in, and there is her arranger Rob Mathis who tells me Vanessa got called in to do a reshoot of a scene in “Shaft” and she has to postpone. Ok, one wasted night, I’ll wait to hear from her to reschedule.
Before you get artists on a track you have to actually cut the track, that is a lot of work in itself, and it takes days to get perfection. I wanted all the top musicians on these tracks and ones that knew Ivan and his music. On the track Sting did, “She Walks This Earth”, I had Vinnie Coliauta, Marcus Miller, Dean Brown, myself and Marc Quiñones. It was smokin. Now to add Michael Brecker on the solo.
Mike comes to the studio. Shelter Island Sound and as always it’s great to see him and hang a bit and get to work with him. He plays an amazing solo and we listen and he says, “We can’t use this solo…It’s too Jazzy…We need a pop solo like I do for James Taylor,” etc… I then get to watch genius at work. He spends about 90 minutes crafting this brilliant solo..wow..genius.
Next up is Chaka Khan. I’ve been patiently waiting on her to do the song called “Cru Cre”, a funky vibe for sure. She has now postponed the session 3 times, uggh, she’s going to be in NYC in 3 days and we can meet at the studio. I know she hasn’t written lyrics for the song yet, I can feel it. I now have to put on my producer psychiatrist hat, because this is going to require some outside of music skills. On a cold January night, she comes to the studio and I am very very nice to her no pressure or anything. Three days before that, I told Kathy that there is no way that she has lyrics done for this song and I can’t say anything, except that Kathy needs to write lyrics and get this song going for us. I know she can do it but she’s got to handle the pressure and come up with something. I leave her alone for two days and she shows me a set of lyrics and I love them. They are not complete but she’s got enough to definitely show Chaka. So here we are in the studio and I tell Chaka I want her to hear this great track we have and if she didn’t mind we kind of came up with some lyrics that I want to check out. She gives me this look like “who wrote the lyrics?” I point to Kathy, and she looks at me like, “Oh great the wife!” Kathy said to her, “look if you don’t like them you don’t have to use them.” As she looks at the lyrics and I sing them as the track is going by, she all of a sudden says to me, “Who wrote these?” I point to Kathy and Chaka says, “I Love these lyrics!” Woa!!.. Kathy then tells her she’s stuck on some of the lines. I then sneak out of the studio and they get to work finishing the Lyrics! Chaka kicks open the studio door to the lounge and proclaims, “Let’s Go and do this.” Well, she kills it! We have a blast doing it and fate takes a hand.
Two weeks later Ivan is in NYC He’s going to stay with us for a few days and play some keys and do a vocal on “Somos Todas”. We also go into the city and meet Romero Lubambo at the Blue Note to see Michael Brecker and his band. Ivan seems very happy with what’s happening. I record a duet on “You Moved Me To This” with James D-Train Willaims and Lisa Fischer that is just beautiful.
Finally, I hear from Vanessa Williams who is ready to do “Love Dance”. She’s about 6 months pregnant but truly sounds spectacular at the session. There was a sax solo on the song and I asked Dave Koz to play it. I got some snickers and sneers when I told people I was going to have Dave do it, the jazz cats thought it would be a mistake. Well to their surprise Dave played a great solo and it was so great Don Heckman from the LA times even mentioned it in his review and he really doesn’t like smooth jazz and what Dave does, but was knocked out by this…Don’t tell me how to make a record and who to use, I know what I’m doing.
I also caught a lot of shit for using Peter White on the song “Elis”, an excellent samba vibe. It was a calculated move to try to get some smooth jazz radio airplay for the album because we were going to need that. The song came out great but the risk didn’t work as his management and label would not let me use this song as a radio single. So in a way, I blew it because it was such a great radio cut and we didn’t get a chance to use it, and I could’ve taken it in another direction.
So now we make the trip to LA to work with some artists out there and try to go towards the homestretch of the record. I’ve got Dianne Reeves, New York Voices, and Freddy Cole, as well on the album. One more track to cut with Brenda Russell, she is going to sing the song “Nocturn” that Kathy has written some beautiful lyrics to. After this session, we decide to do what we call the “screw the budget meal”, and take Brenda and engineer Joe Chiccarelli out to one of our favorite sushi bars in LA, Asakuma. $300 dinner for sushi, oh well, it was a great day and let’s eat…
I did have a bad experience in New York with a bass player who swore to me up-and-down that he would be great to play on this record and he would kill these parts. It was a huge mistake and he truly didn’t cut the mustard and it was a very difficult day in the studio. A real debacle. It seems that the ones that don’t get the job done are the ones who want to get paid immediately. So I went out to LA still needing bass on two tracks. I reached in the bag of tricks and called Marcus and basically begged him to do the two tracks and he said, “Cool, let’s go.” He made a big difference and I was right to make the call.
I could go on and on and tell more stories because there are lots of them, but all things must come to an end and this record was winding up.
Hanging over my head was knowing that recently Grover Washington Jr. passed away. On the beach in Malibu one beautiful day in February, I came up with the idea for the album “To Grover With Love”, I wanted to try to do something spectacular in his memory. One day we will tell the story of that experience.
So here we are six months later and the album comes out. Three months after that, I get a call that we got two Grammy Nominations. One for Best Male Pop Vocal and one for Best Pop Instrumental with Grover. The Grammys were a trip and so many good friends out there and so many people wished us good luck because they truly love the record. Well, we did win for Sting but didn’t for Grover.
About a month after that I started getting calls from some labels and some of the A&R guys and label presidents that turned me down three times, all with the same question, “how did I get Sting, how did I get Vannessa and Chaka and those great artists on this record?” I said, “It was easy, They Loved the music!”
A landmark moment in my musical career; to make an album like this, you really need some help and you really need the commitment of some great musicians and I was able to get that with folks like Will Lee, Romero Lubambo, Cyro Baptista, Vinnie Coliauta, Dean Brown…and others. All the artists showed great commitment throughout the making of the album. That’s what it takes. No compromises. I now listen to the album 20 years later and it sounds as good to me as the day that I finished it. Many people over the years have written to me, from all over the world, telling me how much they love this record and at that point, I look at the journey that I took to make it and know that in the end, it was all worth it!
Addendum-When I look back on this project, it also gives me a moment of pause and I realize some mistakes I made. I spent, as I’ve mentioned, 8 years trying to get this project off the ground. I was so happy I finally got a recording deal for the project. I should have worked harder and not been so malleable to the label. I liked everybody at the label, the issue was that the album should have been called “Jason Miles A Love Affair The Music of Ivan Lins”. Instead, my name was on the back cover listed properly with my production and arrangement credit, however, I didn’t get the recognition that I deserved for Conceptualizing what this project really was and the credit needed to penetrate the general public. We get nervous that the label may get pissed and negate the deal. That’s usually not the case. The moral is fight hard to make sure your work is recognized and the concept works for you. Time moves on and people forget. They don’t forget when your name is front and center.