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The Making of Battle Axe

The fierce support staff at the Fidelitorium.

The fierce support staff at the Fidelitorium.

With our new album out and not a lot of information that we’re able to fit on one side of a CD sleeve, we get questions about Battle Axe logistics, so here are some behind the scenes tidbits about the conception and creation of Battle Axe, accompanied by fantastic photos from our Sunday recording session taken by our documentarian in residence, Alexandrea Thomsen (aka dtownperspective).

Conceptually, it is difficult to come up with a direction for a second album – we wanted to deliver a solid album of dance music, take some creative liberties, showcase a range of tempos, and keep everything fun. With the idea that there are many jazz albums whose cover art verges on lackluster or isn’t eye-catching, we wanted to do something cool. And when I say cool, I probably mean nerdy. Would I buy this album and/or be intrigued by the title/cover art?

One of our local Triangle area dancers, Skyler Hinkel, is an avid video gamer and metal fan – death metal, pirate metal, folk metal, everything. He suggested that Mint Julep Jazz Band be a battle swing band and forge a new genre of swing music where all of our songs had something to do with battles. While the execution of a battle swing band would have been out of our reach in time for an album, the idea stuck and we decided, based on the Jimmie Lunceford tune in our book by the same name, to call the album Battle Axe and include some other conflict-oriented tunes.

With this concept in mind and prior to recording, we announced the title of the album on our Facebook wall, which garnered a great response, including one from Ryan Lemar, a swing dancer and instructor in Richmond, VA, who suggested that all of our albums should be named after weapons and rattled off a list, including a trebuchet. Our tenor player, Keenan McKenzie, who is also a whiz on the soprano sax, took this idea and ran with it, writing an original tune called “Trebuchet” that is very much in the vein of something Sidney Bechet might have scribbled down – très Bechet, even!

Keenan also wrote the original tune “The Dwindling Light by the Sea” and arranged “Say It Isn’t So,” “You Can’t Live in Harlem,” and Mussogsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” (which he initially put together for a Halloween gig in 2014). The remainder of the tunes on the album were arranged by co-bandleader and trombonist Lucian Cobb.

Have you seen this?  Seriously.

Have you seen this? Seriously.

Going back to that cool cover art idea, once we had the Battle Axe concept, vocalist Laura Windley approached graphic designer and electronic music artist Judson Cowan (aka Tettix) about fleshing out a concept for the cover art. Judson attended East Carolina University with half of the band, and went on to do graphic design work, like designing a blimp for Conan O’Brien and print ads for the Atlanta Braves, electronic music recordings as the artist Tettix, and soundtracks for video games like Rogue Legacy. Judson was perfect for the job because of his knowledge of the nerdy, the cool, the funny, and the music. We think that his instru-weapons are the perfect visual compliment to the pun of our album title.

When we met with our recording engineer, Jason Richmond, who recorded and mastered our first album, he made two suggestions that affected the quality of the sound on the recordings and distinguished it from our first album: 1) that we record at Mitch Easter‘s studio, The Fidelitorium, in Kernersville because he thought the studio would be complimentary to our sound as an acoustic band and 2) that we record to analog tape, which would give our recordings that warmer tone of older recordings. At one of his jobs, Jason happened upon a closet full of unused analog tape that a university was going to throw away and gave to him, so he was excited to work with it in the recording studio and we are very pleased with the results.

We recorded Battle Axe over a weekend in April at the Fidelitorium and Alexandrea Thomsen, who did our wonderful Kickstarter video and happens to be our guitar player Ben Lassiter’s wife, came out for the Sunday recording session to take photographs. At this point we had recorded most of the tracks for the album and we were doing re-takes on some songs we thought we could do better. The Fidelitorium was a great studio for us, tucked away behind the owner’s home and a “guest house,” which was essentially a little ranch house where the bands stay when they record there. The studio had an open lounge, dining, and kitchen area separate from the recording area and having that space to decompress and take breaks was great. The common area was also full of great artwork, oddities, knick-knacks, and interesting books. Here are some photos of the recording session for Battle Axe – enjoy!

Jason Richmond manning the ground control.

Jason Richmond manning the ground control.

Through the looking glass...

Through the looking glass…

Guitarist Ben Lassiter chunking out that swing rhythm on his axe.

Guitarist Ben Lassiter chunking out that swing rhythm on his axe.

Jason Foureman in the isolation booth

Jason Foureman in the isolation booth

Aaron Hill, Lucian Cobb, and Aaron Tucker taking a break to listen to takes.

Aaron Hill, Lucian Cobb, and Aaron Tucker taking a break to listen to takes.

Take one or take two?  Or re-do?

Take one or take two? Or re-do?

Toys at the studio!

Toys at the studio!

Keenan and Lucian listening to takes of Night on Bald Mountain.

Aaron, Keenan, and Lucian listening to takes of Night on Bald Mountain.

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Thanks to G2B Gastro Pub for hosting the Mint Julep Quintet!

The MJQ horns at G2B – Lucian Cobb on trombone and Aaron Hill on tenor saxophone. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Weber.

This past Friday the Mint Julep Quintet premiered at G2B Gastro Pub in Durham, NC – we’d like to thank G2B not only for giving an unknown band a chance, but also for their impeccable hospitality to both the band and our guests and, without a doubt, the greatest hamburger we have ever tasted. We managed to fill up the jazz lounge and, for that, we thank everyone who came from near and far to hear us perform, including a group of fans from Lake Gaston. It was a lovely evening, we couldn’t have asked for a better venue or crowd!

Hey, Good Lookin’…

Al's a crooner, who knew? Shenanigans at the photo shoot...

Several events have requested promotional photos, so we decided to put together a photo shoot. This proved to be a more difficult task than we imagined, coordinating schedules with 8 band members, a photographer, and various venues as possible backdrops. When all else failed, we decided to meet after a rehearsal at a public building. When we got to the location we realized it was locked, but we made the best of the situation by doing the shoot outside, in the dark, doing our best to stay warm in the freezing January weather. Special thanks to Richard and Katherine Springs of A Captured Image for braving the cold with us to take these photos!

Check out the frozen fruits of our labor, which are also available on the “Photos” page of this website. From left to right in the photo below: Peter Lamb (tenor saxophone), Jared Wofford (guitar/banjo), Aaron Tucker (drums), Aaron Hill (alto saxophone/clarinet), Jason Foureman (bass), Al Strong (trumpet), Lucian Cobb (trombone), and Laura Windley (vocals).

FAQ About the Mint Julep Jazz Band

Starting a new band raises a lot of questions – in conversations with people, these questions have come up most frequently, so here’s a little FAQ to get you more acquainted with the Mint Julep Jazz Band:

What kind of music will you play?

We will focus on music from the 1920’s and 1930’s, but some early 1940’s tunes may creep into the mix. The band will be playing arrangements that are either transcribed from original recordings or reproductions of original recordings (or a combination of both – sometimes having a hi-fi reference helps a lot) and arrangements that our maestro Lucian Cobb creates on his own, based on songs from this era. We will be playing a few arrangements Lucian has done in the past and songs you may have heard vocalist Laura Windley perform, but the majority of the material will be new. Most importantly, this music will swing!

How many people will be in the band?

Right now, we really like the idea of having either a 7 or 8 piece band, giving us either a 3 or 4 piece rhythm section with 3 horns, plus a vocalist. With this format, we are able to play arrangements of big band or smaller group charts, giving us a fuller sound than a jazz combo. We are also able to offer a more affordable alternative to a big band.

Will you have a smaller group?

Unfortunately, we will not have a smaller group. We understand that this limits the venues we can play, especially locally, but we are more interested in creating a specific sound.

Who is going to be in the band?

We’d like to have a set lineup, but in the jazz world this is not always possible – some of our band members have bands of their own, so we are fortunate enough to have other jazz musicians that we have worked with in the past to fill their shoes. You can be sure you will see Peter Lamb (sax), Al Strong (trumpet), Aaron Tucker (drums), Jason Foureman (bass), Aaron Hill (sax), Rich Willey (trumpet), Kyle Santos (trumpet), Mark Wells (piano), and other great jazz musicians from the Triangle and beyond who we enjoy performing with and will lend their unique talents to this endeavor.

When will you be ready to play?

The goal is to be ready in March and, indeed, we’ve already got gigs in March 2012 and beyond! For more details, see our calendar page. We do have a show on February 23 for RDU Rent Party – we invite everyone to come to this sneak preview!

Where will you play?

Our bread and butter will be swing dances, and we’ve already got a wedding on the books. We are also available for community events, outdoor festivals, jazz societies, schools, private parties, charity events/fundraisers, historic and reenactment-related events, and, really, anywhere that people enjoy music. We are looking to travel outside of the Triangle area of North Carolina and would welcome gig opportunities in other cities.