Geoff Gascoyne writes about the new Jazz Session Band App



Bassist GEOFF GASCOYNE tells the story of the Session Band - Jazz Edition app, of which his one-time bandleader JAMIE CULLUM has written: "This is an extraordinarily useful tool for jazz musicians of any ability, from the very beginner to the gigging professional. It offers an absolutely brilliant way to practice and write. If you are an improvising musician this is quite frankly essential." 

Geoff Gascoyne writes: 

- THE BACKSTORY

I have been a professional musician for over 25 years. Because I meet a lot of people, I get occasional random messages from people I may have only met once.

This happened again last year on Facebook from someone I hadn't heard from for years recommending me for a recording session playing bass on a new iPhone application, or 'app' as it is called. The session was for 2 brothers Paul and Martin Sissons who had devised an app called Session Band which featured a dozen or so music styles including R and B, rock, funk, garage etc which would play back pre-recorded audio loops by simply inputting chords in a simple block form. My part on this session was to simply play acoustic bass on the jazz style part of it which was frankly not very good, the bass lines were all written down and did not fit together well. I was quite openly critical to Paul at the time, possibly putting my job at risk, but he was very open to my idea of creating a dedicated jazz version of Session Band which would be much more authentic.

Forward to January 2013 and planning began on the new jazz edition of Session Band. I was given the role of producer and had some big decisions to make before we could begin the recording process.

- THE MUSICIANS

Drummer Ralph Salmins is someone that I have known since my pop touring days with 'Everything But the Girl' back in the nineties. Ralph has had so much studio experience I knew he had to discipline, accuracy and of course the swing feel to do what I needed. Pianist Tom Cawley also is a great musician who can play so 'in the pocket' that I knew it would reduce my editing time later on, plus I knew that the piano player would have to be able to play EVERY CHORD IN EVERY KEY IN ANY STYLE which is not an easy task. It was also suggested to me by Paul Sissons that a solo instrument would be a big asset to the product. I was a bit sceptical because I knew that the app would be used for mainly a play along but then I thought more about it and decided that Andy Panayi would be the perfect choice, a multi-instrumentalist fluent on all saxophones and a master flautist.

- THE PLANNING

Because of size limitations of the app it was decided that 15 different jazz styles would be right so I started to listen to my iPod and making lists of the tempos and styles that I liked. The final list was as follows; jazz ballad, slow, medium, medium up and up swing in 2 and 4 feel, medium 3/4, afro jazz, bossa nova, fast latin and shuffle. This offered a good cross section of tempi ranging from 60 to 220 bpm. Next I had to decide on the chord types. I had to choose only 10 but felt that it was enough to covered any jazz standard.

The chord types are; maj7, maj7#11, 7, 7b9, 7#5#9, 7sus, m7, m7b5, m maj7 and diminished. These of course would have to be played in all 12 musical keys, therefore that was at least 120 loops we would have to record for each of the 15 styles! I later discovered that for each style we had to record a 2 bar loop PLUS a single beat chord AND an ending chord! So that was a total of 360 loops for each style, a grand total of 5400 AUDIO LOOPS! I knew this would take some high level of focus and concentration but confident that it could be done.

- THE RECORDING SESSION

The Bunker Studio in Welwyn Garden City was booked for 3 days in January. In order to be ready to record effectively in the time available, things needed to be organized in advance. I prepared 15 templates in Logic Pro, my music software. The way to do it was to play each style in C then C#, D, D# etc but do it in real time in order to save time. The main loops are 2 bars long, so I set the click track to the right tempo and set it up with a bar rest between each loop. This meant that we had to play in real time 2 bars of jazz in C, starting and stopping in precisely the right moment so as not to cross the beginning OR END of the loop, and then a bar rest the the next chord etc etc. this was easy at the slow tempo but as soon as it got faster this was very hard and took massive amounts of concentration.

First we recorded the drums. I got Ralph to play along with some demos that I had made previously , then picked the best 2 bar groove and edited it so it sounded good when on a cycling loop. Then I got him to play some drum fills, each style has 3 different drum fills. Once that was done Tom and I got to work on the piano and bass which was recorded on top of the drum loops LIVE together in order to get the interactive jazz feeling. It was exhausting work, and by midnight on day two it was done. Next was the icing on the cake, Andy came in at 10 am on day 3 with soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone plus flute and alto flute and I sat back and let him record a solo on every one of the 2 bar loops with various instruments. It is quite simply an invaluable lesson in jazz vocabulary just listening to his creativity and sheer inventiveness. Now this app had turned into at truly world class product that I was so excited about.

- THE EDIT AND THE MIX

Now my task was to go through all 5400 loops to make sure that when one loop was played straight in to another you would not hear the join. I thought the playing was hard but this was on another level. This took 2 weeks of intense back breaking sitting at my computer trimming wave forms and applying cross fades. Once edited, I had to mix the sound, add reverb etc. Some tests, putting random portions of the recorded audio together sounded amazingly good. After I was satisfied with the sound I had to load all the loops onto a hard drive and send them to Paul and Martin to be put into the Session Band software.

About two weeks later, I downloaded my first test version of the iPad app which totally blew me away. This was incredible, to be able to input any one of 120 chords in 15 different styles and have them played back seamlessly. My next task was to create the demo songs that would be included within the app itself upon purchase. I had to program 20 for each of the 15 styles so I started inputting all the most well known jazz standards that I knew plus a few that I didn't. This process was ongoing for weeks while bug problems were ironed out in the software. New features were also added, a count in plus automation which allows the user to bring in and out any instrument at any point in the song.

- HOW IT CAN BE USED

It is incredible to think that this is possible from a small hand held device. When I was learning jazz I used to put on my Jamie Aebersold records and play along to a jazz trio but now this technology allows you not only to play a song in one key and one style like the record but 12 keys in 15 styles, I just wish I had time to practise nowadays. This app is useful to music teachers as well, I have already used during the 3rd year music degree exams at LCCM and I have got my students to sing and play back some of Andy Panayi's solo phrases as ear training.

It can be used not only as a practise tool but as a device to make a professional demo, the studio quality of the audio is so good that it could be used as backing for a singer or instrumentalist.

Jazz Session Band is the world's first chord-based audio loop app, which allows the user to create high quality copyright-free music wherever they are and whatever their level of ability. Simply input your own chords and watch the chords instantly convert to great sounding audio.

On Youtube there are AN INTRODUCTION (embedded above)  and A DEMONSTRATION.  

Jazz Session Band is available from the iTunes Store £5.99 for iPhone or iPad (650mb space required) 

6 comments:

  1. I'm just starting to learn jazz chordings and this is an indispensable tool. What an amazing app. I do wish I could change the tempo more than just a few BPM.
    I would be willing to wait for the song to re-render for this to happen.

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  2. Agree - the jazz app from Sessionband is a great tool. Very useful to singers like myself - instant backing band plus all recorded loops, not 'midi' sounding.

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  3. This "app" is really fantastic!
    I just bought the jazz bundle for 3€.....simply unbelievable!

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  4. The app is wonderful!
    But WHY does it have a HIDEOUS filing system which does not allow you access to your WAV files unless you are a guru.

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  5. Geoff Gascoyne responded by email

    "The files within the app are not wav files but are all compressed and designed to work with each other, if you want the individual full quality wav files you need to buy the 'producer pack' sold separately. Sessionband is NOT any kind of filing system.

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