Recording Date: March 28, 2004
Location: Milkboy Recording Studios, Ardmore, PA
This was one session that I really didn’t know what to expect. What do you get when you mix a little bluegrass with a little rock, add a bit of funk, with a touch of jazz thrown in for good measure? I knew that there would be some wonderful musicianship, but I had no idea as to where the various approaches would intersect…and when they did, whether or not it would gel at all.
I first set my sights on Chris Thile, the phenomenal young mandolin player from (at that time) the award-winning progressive acoustic bluegrass band Nickel Creek. Chris is a wonderful player…taking the mandolin to a new level, much like Bela Fleck has done with the banjo. I thought he would be an excellent guest on our program. So I contacted his manager and worked out the details so that he would be good to go.
With Chris in the fold, I then reached out to guitarist Steve Kimock (Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby and others), who also quickly agreed to participate. Steve is the quintessential musician. He is distinguished for his incomparable approach to the art of guitar; his ability to gently tug a flurry of notes with tonal precision is breathtaking. While you can probably say that Steve Kimock’s genre is rock, no one niche has ever really confined him.
Next, I sought out one of my favorite drummers on the planet, Rodney Holmes (The Brecker Brothers, Steps Ahead, Santana, Joe Zawinul Syndicate). Over the years, Rodney has played with so many different people. That’s him playing on the Santana mega-hit Smooth with singer Rob Thomas. Well, Rodney lived not too far away from Philly, so I suspected that if he were available and in town, he might accept the invite. Plus, I knew that he knew Steve…so that would be a big plus. My instincts were right on point and he quickly committed to the session as well.
So I had lined up a mandolin player, a guitarist and a drummer. I knew I definitely had to still add a bass player to the session, and thought about maybe a horn player as well. I had to be careful though, not to make the band too big as the studio I was using for this session was not huge. Anyways, I learned that saxophonist/flutist Karl Denson and his jam band Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe were playing in Philly that night so it was natural for me to reach out to him with an invite. He, too, was quick to say yes.
For the bass chair, I took a HUGE leap of faith. Bassist Jon Reshard was an 18-year-old kid (at that time) and living in Florida. I had no idea who he was…never heard of him. His manager/father had been calling me repeatedly for a few months pushing hard for me to please include his son on an episode. He would even pay for his flight from Florida just for the opportunity to be on the show. He was very persistent. They both had seen the show on TV and loved it. Jon’s father told me that his son knew bassist Victor Wooten, had attended his Bass Camp and that Vic was quite impressed with his playing. I remember thinking, wow, now this was a father with passion. So I stepped out on that limb, gave Jon’s father a call and said “come on up…I would love to have Jon join us for a session.” Again, prior to this session, I had never heard him play a single note. Now, that was faith. I crossed my fingers, hoped and prayed that I had made the right decision. And boy, did I ever. Jon was terrific. He fit in so beautifully with all of the other players.
Anyways, with Jon now in the mix, we had our “band” set for the Studio Jams taping. After they all got comfortable in the studio, to get us started, I suggested to Chris to perhaps suggest to the guys that they play Smoothie Song, one of the more popular songs from his band Nickel Creek. And so he did. None of the other guys were at all familiar with the tune, so it was interesting to see Chris “teach” it to the band and to see how they all took it in. There were some funky rhythm kicks that took a little time for everyone to get hold of, but once they did…wow, what a great performance. We recorded 2 wonderful takes of the tune – both of them with nice solo passages from Chris, Steve and Karl.
Next, Steve suggested a beautiful tune of his called Tongue & Groove. The interplay between Steve’s guitar and Chris’ mandolin was outstanding. And Chris’ mandolin solo was off the chart. This track remains, to this day, one of my favorite Studio Jams tracks. We recorded 2 takes of this song as well.
After a short break, it was Karl’s turn to suggest a song. He quickly jotted down a short chart for one of his original’s, for a song called God Gave Us Music. It was a nice tune that left plenty of room for improvisation. It had him playing both saxophone and flute. After 10 or 15 minutes of rehearsal, we recorded 1 take of the song.
Going into the session, I had no idea what to expect. It could have been a complete train wreck, or it could have been a slice of heaven. When it was over, I could not have been any more pleased. And therein lies part of the beauty of Studio Jams. Whew!
- Tom Emmi / Producer