Charles Xavier is a Bay Area musician/producer who is originally from the Boston area. After graduating New Bedford High School in Massachusetts, Charles went on to the Berklee College of Music. At Berklee he befriended Vinnie Colaiuta of Zappa fame as the both of them studied drums and percussion. With this solid music education backround, Charles began his path as a musician. After relocating to the California, he took this knowledge and varied influences of classic jazz artists... Ellington, Stan Kenton... mixed with fusion greats like Herbie Handcock and Brian Eno... and began to create his own unique brand of music. Throughout his creative career, Charles would always experiment with his music and amassed a wide variety of interesting works. Charles has just released a CD showcasing these works titled "Sampler 2016". I recently contacted Charles to ask him what the story is behind the new album.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your "Sampler 2016" release from Happy Note Records. It has a very mesmerizing feel to it with great musicianship, song writing and production. Did you feel it was the right time to have a compilation of your work through the years?
C.X. - After six CDs, it seemed an ideal time to take a look back and give people a look at the range of work that I have composed and produced over the years.
The CD kicks off with two songs written when I was living in Los Angeles recording my contemporary crossover music, sometimes collaborating with composer and vocalist Eric Harrington.
While making this CD, I realized that the songs are a defining moment and a reflection of my life during that specific time period, which culminated through the musician artists, the producers, the instruments and tools I chose to use, the networks, or the cities we lived in, everything at that moment became larger than life through my art.
The CD starts with two songs that the melodies and lyrics draw you in right away, the songs are harmonically stimulating, the beats, quite pulsating like the city they reflect, Los Angeles, or as I like to call it LaLaLand.
The instruments range from percussive timpani to timbales, exotic-sounding synthesized choirs and strings, with jazz influenced solos. The musicians are rooted in Jazz but perform with a contemporary rock influence. Since you are going to hear lots of different influences, you might call it genre-bending. Each release was labor of love, working with the studio and electronic tools available at the time.
Eyewitness News is the next song on the CD, which was an experiment with keyboardist and programmer Hayden Clement. We had the privilege of recording on the Synclavier, a highly evolved digital recording workstation which was only being used by the elite like Sting, Frank Zappa and Stevie Wonder. In, Eyewitness News, I take aim at the big social and political discussions of the 90’s – like the riots after Rodney King and those recovering from hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; all issues that our country is still trying to resolve today today. Written in my home studio and pre-produced on the synclavier, we transferred it to 2-inch analog tape. We added overdubs and did the final mixes at the renowned Control Center Studios in Los Angeles, the same studio where many of the records from Los Lobos were recorded as well as Motown artists (Holland-Dozier, Phillip Bailey) and other rock artists.
Recording during the midnight to early morning shift at Post Logic Studio’s after Hollywood’s elite such as Trevor Horn, Godley and Crème, and others finished their sessions then we’d continue with ours. After this magical period, I started my own studio in Burbank named Happy Media where I recorded my music for TV/Film and then Audio Post in San Francisco at Polarity Post Productions and recording music in my home studio during my free time where I composed over 300 new works and released six albums of material in the last decade.
The next song titled “The Dreamer” cascades with arpeggiated tones and squeals performed with my KAT electronic mallet controller, Yamaha MX49 synthesizer and a few unique sound control devices. It’s such a forward sound, I decided to wait to release “BOSCO,” my futuristic electronic album because I felt that the radio and press wouldn’t support such a radical sounding record. Timing is everything. This sampler results from my thinking the time wasn’t quite right to invest in a promo campaign for a such a forward sounding album.
My first release on my label Happy Note Records in 2006 was “The Xman Cometh – Expect the Unexpected”. It’s an album that serves up music with meaning and a message. It’s a sociopolitical statement with a hybrid rap verse and a punk vocal-style chorus mixing genres and reflecting the times and musical styling around us. The title song the “King is Come” reflects the difficult times we lived in back then (80’s Ronnie Reagan’s Term) and it’s still relevant today when candidates have arrogant and ego-driven attitudes rather than serving the people. Politics have always been an important factor in the Xman’s art.
The last two CDs on the sampler reflect more peaceful times in my music composing. Composing in my solitude allows me to sometimes create music more beautiful than the times that surround us. Implementing the “less is more approach.” Experimenting with sound manipulation was key in my using surround sound and the AVID Icon controller to manipulate the sound in 5.1. Ending with my special take on holiday music seemed appropriate to create a cohesive representation of some my life-long projects or labors of love.
R.V.B. - Although the tracks have some years between them as far as when they were recorded, there is a glue that makes the "Sampler 2016" seem to flow nicely. Did you choose the songs for this to happen?
C.X. - I believe that the unique glue is my compositional style. Whether I'm composing jazz, new age, electronic music, or avant-garde, it's my harmonic structure, voicings and melodies that carry across my arrangements and musical settings. The cultural environment, location and the players involved are also a huge part in setting the tone for the music. You can hear the hustle and bustle of the streets of Los Angeles in the music from the “Xman Cometh,” the sophistication and attitude of the city in the opening songs “We Talk” and “A Years Past.” “Eyewitness News,” continues to convey an urban city atmosphere with current event snippets and samples of broadcast news. Yes, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the songs from each CD, making my choices and then the final order that the sampler has the music in. The glue in creating the playlist was to start with what I thought was my best arrangements. So this included my work with my LA session band, the recordings with keyboardist Hayden Clement on the Synclavier system, which I felt transitioned well into my newest period of writing using futuristic sounds and controllers for my upcoming release titled BOSCO. It felt natural to then continue with the X-Men Cometh, a mixture of elements from the 80s, 90s into the early 2000s, this work combined everything from street rap, funk, rock and punk jazz. A month before I mastered the album I decided to include the music from my first jazz ensemble Satori 1977.
The next album featured was an EP from 1982, titled the “King Has Come.” which I had decided to change polarity and record music influenced by my new California lifestyle and the sounds of New Wave, reggae and rock. Jump from 1982 to 2012, the sampler jumps to a relaxing, reflective, music that I titled “Perfect Mold,” a unique blending of classic rock, new age, avante-garde and jazz. The music reflects a percussive triangle where the piano influences the vibe bars, and the bars vibrate the cymbals and drums.
A unique. Once in a lifetime undertaking for this artist.
The final CD on the sampler titled, “Xmas Vibe,” captures the holiday spirit and hopefully you can’t whistle to it.
R.V.B. - I notice in the music that there are a mixture of influences with modern jazz as the focal point. What are your influences that bring this out?
C.X. - My influences are diverse in nature; they showcase a curiosity for improvisation, dissonance and melody. Composers such as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, and Don Ellis influenced my love for large ensemble arranging and composition while Fusion Jazz ensembles such as Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, influenced the Funk/Rock sound of my music and of coarse the electronic music composers such as Bernie Krause, YMO, and Brian Eno who tapped into my electronic composing sensibilities.
My influences began with big-band jazz, then modern jazz, creative music, and early influences also included classical, world music, synthesized music, and experimental music influenced in my writing styles. In my 20s, I began to experiment with rock, and performed in punk ensembles in Los Angeles. In the 80’s I began to work with computers, synthesizers, and manipulating sound in the recording studio. All the while, modern jazz was the focal point in the majority of these recording sessions. You hear it in all my music! Jazz was my earliest influence and I still keep up on the new young mavericks making their way up on the scene.
R.V.B. - What instruments do you play and how did you get started in music?
C.X. - Drums were my first and main instrument. Then, I studied piano and composition. My love for the percussive arts continued with my studying mallet instruments, in particular the vibraphone. I did play a little bit of trombone in high school but that was mainly for me to learn the bass clef.
I began playing music on the drums in the Shields drum and bugle Corp of New Bedford. Continued in the high school band, the local symphony, and local bands performing standards at clubs, which gravitated into having my first original jazz ensemble Satori at 17 yrs old. While in high school I began to study the vibraphone taking the bus to Boston every weekend to study at Berklee with vibraphonist Ted Wolfe, whom Gary Burton recommended for me at 16 yrs old. I continued to study drum set with Bob Moses in Boston and at the creative music studio in NY with drum masters Jack De Johnette and Stu Martin. I also studied the vibraphone and composition with Karl Berger.
R.V.B. - Do you feel that your music is an overview of the Bay Area sound with the history behind the area? The final CD on the sampler is titled “Xmas Vibe.”
C.X. - I believe the Bay Area is where I began to pull all the musical elements, tracks, and sessions that I recorded over a lifetime together. It’s also when I started to envision my music presented from a label/album perspective. As a label, we are only beginning with releasing my compositions. Our goal is to produce and release works by other artists and composers on Happy Note Records. For me, the Bay Area has had a direct influence in the creation of new exciting multimedia and sonic explorations using real time manipulation, looping, Bluetooth controllers to alter images or audio.
I feel my music has more of a West Coast sound than say the Bay Area. Los Angeles and Southern California also had a great influence on my music, from my writings for Satori- West, to the studio sessions, into The Xman Cometh you can hear that LA groove - the pocket we call it - then you begin to hear the techno /electronica and now sonic exploration oozing in. I'm looking forward to collaborating with other Bay Area artists to create multi-genre, trans-media art. Music is an open sky.
R.V.B. - When you went into the studio through the years, has anything changed or matured as far as how you deal with the talented musicians that you work with?
C.X. - One thing that's changed is that when I choose to produce an album of music I need to take into consideration how it will be performed live, the size of the band and the budget involved for touring and promoting the music LIVE. When I started with Satori, it was a collaborative ensemble, so we shared in the expenses and the task at hand in running the jazz ensemble. Now, if I'm producing a record of my compositions, the budget would have to include payment for artists in recording and touring, something that every label needs to consider in surviving during this age and time we live in.
Everything's changed by technology and at the same time, nothing's changed. Sometimes I'll send the session over the Internet to the players so they can record their parts. In the beginning, Satori would rehearse 4 to 5 times a week preparing for a recording session. We developed our unique sound through rehearsal and performance. Recording was just to document the art we created. Nowadays we use modern tools everything from Pro Tools to Ableton LIVE to record and manipulate the recording in real time.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1978, I began to perform live with some of best musicians in the city and we recorded our original music to analog two-inch tape. Working with session players who could read my arrangements became a big influence on the music I wrote.
The next stage was having a pro home studio so I could spend more time recording and editing the music we had recorded each day in the studio or at my home. Here in the Bay Area I continue to work with the best musicians available to perform music. Sometimes when I record it's electronic-based, other times traditional jazz, we might even explore designing music with interactive apps controlled by Blue Tooth devices. Recording studios will continue to evolve and become smaller and more compact. Voice-activated recording and touch screen manipulation will become standard. All this, of course, is to make the art of recording sound and music more user-friendly, and even, somewhat virtual. No one wants to carry gear in the future!
R.V.B. - Some of the songs are pretty straight ahead and some are sound paintings. I really enjoyed tracks 12 and 13, in the way that it allows you to think and daydream, and not have to pay attention to every note. These tracks must have been an interesting recording session. Can you describe these sessions?
C.X. - Recording sessions for Perfect Mold were therapeutic in nature. The music was a release from my hectic life of producing SIRI round the clock for Apple. Creating music isn't only about the notes, it's truly reflective of the time, environment, and people that surround us. This music came from a very intuitive and reflective state of mind that I was in. In dark times, you have to let in more light and be in a place where one can imagine. I thank the music for getting me through such troubled times that we all go through and I'm here to testify that some of us survive.
The Perfect Mold sessions were recorded in my home studio during a two-month period. I started on the Super Bowl Sunday in 2012 and finished in a couple of months, recording 30 songs on three instruments (90 plus tracks). I recorded everything in stereo, staring with the upright piano, then vibraphone, and last the percussive toys, sometimes sending a second stereo pair using my digitech vocal FX unit for pitch shift or reverb. I recorded all the songs with a loose reflective feel. It’s a heavy listening session when you take in the entire work. I have a couple of friends who are doctors that use this music for healing purposes.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy working with Vinnie Colaiuta?
C.X. - Vinnie and I met at Berklee College of Music in 1975. We immediately became friends and percussive buddies. We both moved to Los Angeles in the late 70s and pursued our musical dreams.
I love working with Vinnie. First we talked about the two pieces - “We Talk” and “A Year’s Past” , like, what groove I had in mind for him. Then we went over the arrangements and booked the session. My concept was to allow Vinnie to record last in the studio on my arrangements. The music was built on drum parts. By recording him last, Vinnie could hear all the intricate parts and complement my arrangements at this final stage of recording. The concept worked perfectly as you hear in the final tracks that were recorded in one take. He’s that good!
R.V.B. - Do you feel your songwriting has changed or matured through the years?
C.X. - It's always changing and evolving as I’m looking for that “Something NEW” kinda of feeling!
I go through periods where I lock myself in to create music and other times where I just let it happen when it chooses too. I do find that I also work efficiently when I'm driven by deadlines with production tasks. Composing and recording in my home studio is my true instrument. After the promotional period for this record, I'm planning on a long intensive period of composing and working with Sibelius, Pro Tools and other new tools. I'm really looking forward to this time to finish the BOSCO album and record new material including experimental electronic music compositions. I think it's going to be one of my most exciting periods for composing new works!
C.X. - Since this is a compilation of my work over the last 20 + years, many people were involved in this project. Too many to name in this short interview but I do try to list all involved on each of the album’s credits listings. Some of the key people involved in my life creating my music are Rick Britto, Maurice Bourque, John Harrison III, Tony Newton, Sam Riney, Eric Harrington, Glenn Feit, and many, many others. This project, as with most of my projects, they are a labor of love. They involve many musicians, producers, engineers, graphics and computer experts, and then there's the legal, promotional, and marketing side. Thanks to all who assisted me with this project and my life-long goal of composing music.
R.V.B. - The last 2 songs are in style every year in December. How did you enjoy doing a holiday album?
C.X. - I love holiday music so it was an honor to produce this work. To take on some of the most widely known songs in the world and put a unique spin on them was my goal. It's not a typical approach to Christmas music, but I think it's very innovative and sounds unique. I didn't want to create your typical happy-go-lucky holiday music album. In fact, my intention was to create a work that one could not whistle or sing too. For some, it’s been the only music they could listen to during a difficult time in their life, a moment of extreme grief. On a technical note: It's one of the first 5.1 surround sound holiday music DVDs available to lovers of holiday music and experimental contemporary recordings.
R.V.B. - What are your plans with Bosco? Is it finished and ready to be released? Is it about a dog or chocolate milk?
My first plan is to walk Bosco tomorrow morning, ha ha. It's been a work in progress since 2011, not quite happy with it yet… I keep getting new toys with cool new sounds!
Far as I can tell it's scheduled to be release late 2017. We'll see. Bosco, is my 160 pound Newfoundland and Bernese Mountain dog mix. He's on the cover and he’s a star wherever he goes. People love him and he loves people. He’s a gentle giant. He was named Bosco when we got him at one yr. old and we do love the chocolate sryup named Bosco which we have a bottle of in the frig right now.
In a perfect world I’d release Bosco, have a manager and agent to manage produce the tour, document the event and then produce the media to be released worldwide. The truth is, BOSCO is a work in progress and I have new tools and apps to help create and complement the art that's already been recorded. I could've released an early version of BOSCO in 2012, but it has continued to evolve and mature as I do. I envision the release be part of a multimedia show that I'm writing that I call “FROM SIRI TO BOSCO TOUR” which encapsulates my work for the recording industry with technology companies and then using these same digital tools to create music and art, which I now work full time to run the label.
R.V.B. - Do you plan to do any touring to support the new music?
C.X. - This past summer, I toured the East Coast in Philly, New York City and Massachusetts. Closer to home, I’m playing a quartet date in San Francisco (Red Poppy Art House 12/15/16), in –store performances and this January I’m at Jazz Connect in New York City. I’m already working on booking my next major tour in June. We're reaching out to promoters and agents to book a tour in Europe. I’ll be attending MIDEM for the first time with the goal of licensing music from our catalogue to the independent European TV and film community. We’re always open to other touring and licensing opportunities but being a small DIY enterprise we’re keeping our immediate focus on the early summer season in Europe.
Thanks again for this brilliant opportunity and have a happy.
Thank you for considering answering these questions.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Charles Xavier visit his Facebook page. www.facebook.com/charlesxavierxman
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