Jazz Christmas Sessions - featuring the sax...

Christmas CD Catalog at Greg Vail Music

Making "Is It Christmas Yet?" CD

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Is It Christmas Yet cover art. Christmas Jazz CD New for 2004 has Christmas Time Is Here, Angels We Have Heard On High, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, White Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, Away In A Manger, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Silent Night, Winter Wonderland and We Three Kings.

Is It Christmas Yet? Home Page | Christmas Yet? CD Booklet | Christmas Yet? Thanks | The Making of Is It... | The Making Part II | Christmas Yet? CD Review | Teen Jazz CD Review | Customer Testimonials

Is It Christmas Yet? CD


Dave Stone on the Double BassDoing a live session required some planning. I needed the studio ready for everyone before they got there, and needed to be fair with the musicians schedules to avoid hours of down time so I scheduled it all very carefully. 'Ready' means everything is miked and levels have been checked, headphones are up and running, and the system is ready to push the record button. Rick Alvarez had everything ready and we got started.

Dave Stone was scheduled first. I had this idea of doing a tune with just Upright Bass and Tenor Sax that I wanted to try without too many listening ears. I brought some sheet music and a pretty good idea of the song form; we talked it over and started recording. Dave and I tracked “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” once we knew what we were doing with the song form and it turned out great.

I love stretching a project because I really believe that diversity keeps peoples attention. Too much of the same and you loose the interest of the listener. Stretch arrangements and musicians as far as you can, and you'll get a really awesome group of songs on disc. Just Bass and Sax? Pretty cool!

This song tracked real quick and we were now right on schedule, with a great sounding track on the hard drive. We were off to a great start!

Bubba Bryant on DrumsBubba was next to show up because I had this idea of taking my favorite drummer and giving him a feature on an up tempo version of “The Little Drummer Boy.” And of course, Upright is too cool to use just once, so Dave Stone, Bubba and I did our only trio piece on the CD with Bass, Drums and Sax.

I had an arrangement idea for this also but just took the chart I had and marked it up so bad it looked pretty ugly. This track took a bit longer to record. We did it swinging with 2 bars of ¾ in the bridge. It took a minute to get it to feel natural with the odd measures in the middle of the line, but after a take or 2, it tracked great and the arrangement worked really well.

From here, I had scheduled Jason Mills and David Levray to track the Jazz Guitar Quartet pieces. Dave Stone bailed and Jason and David got set up and we were tracking, only 30 minutes behind schedule now. The Guitar Quartet consisted of Me on Sax, Jason Mills on Jazz Guitar, David Levray on Bass and Bubba Bryant on Drums. This was a smokin' section!

I digress, but I keep saying 'schedule' because it totally surprised me that the session went so close to how I had thought it would in the first place. When I called the guys about tracking a CD in a night or maybe 2 nights, they all responded the same way. “You can’t record a whole CD in a night!” I told them that we perform 3 CDs of music every night in the clubs and I thought 1 CD would be easy. It’s funny but they all thought about it and said, “Ya, your right!” Back to the studio…

Jason and I had selected 4 songs and I asked Jason to do arrangements for his songs. Jason did an amazing job on "Angels We Have Heard On High" with the B section in 5/4. He also arranged "Away In The Manger" with 5 bar phrases which left a nice space for fills and a freer feel. Jason wanted to try "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" as a bluesy shuffle and that turned out really cool too. The forth tune I gave him was Vince Guaraldi tune from the old Charlie Brown Christmas Special, "Christmas Time Is Here". It needed no arranging since it is so cool the way they did it.

Bobby Cruz played the B3 OrganI had my buddy, Bobby Cruz scheduled to join us once he was done with his stuff, and he got there around 10PM to watch us track the last Guitar tune.

We got the B3 up and I asked Jason to stay for 1 more song, going 5 piece for a tune on "Silent Night". I wanted to do a ‘get down and dirty’ version blowing Alto Sax with the Guitar and B3 sounded great together.

It was time for Jason to bail and the 4 piece with Organ started tracking. Now it was getting late and Bubba had been there for a long time so Bubba suggested we finish the tracks the next night. I asked the guys and they had all been booked for 2 days so they agreed that it would be cool if we hit again tomorrow.

I scheduled everyone for Tuesday Night at 10 PM and the guys loaded out. It was about 1 AM and we had covered a lot of the tunes and I was really happy with the great tracks we had recorded! Engineer, Rick Alvarez and I hit the booth to listen and pick the good takes, mark them, and that was DAY 1.


I had they charts copied and everything ready to go when I "GOT THE CALL."

The weather had turned bad and Bubba was driving down from the North when he called and left a message on my machine that he was not going to make it. He said he was driving thru the worst storm he had ever seen and it was not safe, he was getting thrown all over the freeway. He said he was turning back.

Ron Robertson on Drums - Day IIWhen I got the message I freaked out. I tried to call the Bass Player and he did not answer his cell phone. David was driving from real far too and I did not want him to come all this way with a canceled session.

I got on the phone and called everyone I could think of with no Drummer saying yes. This storm had not hit down here yet so I had no idea what these guys were talking about and everyone up North said NO. I finally called a buddy at the Church we were recording at because the Church Band was rehearsing until 9 PM (That's why we had a 10 PM Start), so I asked him to book the Church Drummer for me if David showed up. As the Church rehearsal ended, I got the call that David had just arrived so I confirmed the Church Drummer, Ron Robertson and headed over to the Church to Track.

The storm was just starting to hit and it was obvious that we had an interesting night to try and make music.

Bobby Cruz was trying to help me out, making calls for Drummers too, so I called him and said we were on and get to the Church. We got things set up and started tracking about 10 PM.

Once we got started everything went great. Ron did a great job and we got the last 3 songs tracked over the next 4 hours. Then came the real work. I sent everyone home, we cleaned up the recording gear before getting in the booth to listen.

Rick Alvarez and I hit the booth for edits of the nights tracks. We listened thru everything and found a couple of cuts needed to be edited. It was 6 AM before Rick and I got out of the studio but everything was sounding great.


CD Mixing and Mastering - Art Work

Once the recording was done and Rick and I had the songs edited, it was time for Rick to get everything mixed. I got to work on the Art layout, getting all the art and text files from Shannon and called the Graphic artist I was referred to by a friend.

Rick got the songs mixed and I finally had song times to register the Copyright Licenses for each tune, finish the art work with actual times and start the web pages with the new, correct info.

Shannon and I had the art work laid out with all the design concepts ready but I needed a pro to add some depth to it. Lee Sarti Design did an amazing job taking our art and design and putting it together with a real touch of class.

One More Song

I had this idea of having Vanessa on the CD since Ben was on my first Christmas CD. I scheduled a quick session with Rick at the Church and Vanessa come in to record her vocals on "Silent Night". It was the last thing to record and I needed to get the time for this track to finish the Art Work.

It was really fun. Vanessa had been singing "Silent Night" with her Kids Choir and I had the practice track she had been practicing with. Vanessa had just finished choir rehearsal with her friends, the Gunn girls. Vanessa got set up in the studio and started to sing and I stopped it cuz I could tell something was wrong. Vanessa was singing real hard, not sweet like she usually does.

I took the headphones off her head and listened. Rick had set her up to record, not realizing she was a total Deva at 5 years old. I told Rick to turn up her mic in the headphones and turn down the track. She was singing to hard because she could not hear herself.

Once we got the mix right, Vanessa sang it great, first take! It went sooo fast that the Gunns wanted to do sing it with Vanessa and we had the time, so a hidden track was born. I had Vanessa, Lexi Gunn and Emma Gunn do a pass and decided I would put it long after the last track ended - no track ID so it is kind of hidden.

The Hidden Track was born

Both tracks sounded so cute. I had to have Rick create a keyboard track for them to sing over since I could not use the rehearsal track we used to get them to sing in the first place. Rick did a little piano part, mixed it and we had the recording done.

Song Sequence > Art Work and Mastering

Once I had the final mix I had to get the sequence done. That's the order of the songs on the CD. It's hard to get a final sequence together before you have tried a couple, burned them as CDs and then listened thru the whole CD a few times to know what works. When the Song order was done with all the song details on file, then the art files where adjusted and sent to the printers and the mixed CD was mastered by Rick and sent to the manufacturer to begin making copies.

Bar Code

I realized I had not figured out the Bar Code stuff and had to find a Bar Code printer to send a file to the Lee Sarti Design so he could add the Bar Code to the Art Work and resend it to the printer. There are so many parts to the process.

Promotion - Websites, CD Baby - Marketing

With everything delivered to the Printer and Manufacturer, web pages and promo began. I got the web site laid out and began the difficult job of trying to differentiate between the 2 Christmas CDs on Greg Vail Music.

This was very complicated since the first CD was Pop style with classic, traditional Hymns and the new CD was Holiday songs in a traditional Jazz Style. It is like one was new and old and the other was old and new. Then web layout and site navigation was also tough. It took a couple of weeks to get it all together and a few drafts before it really made sense and was all uploaded.

Printer sent the Art Work. Where's the CD's?

During this time, the printer got everything sent to the plant and I thought CDs were being made, but found out the Manufacturer was going to need some serious babysitting. I ended up calling, emailing, faxing, and made more calls to make sure they would get the dang CDs pressed and assembled before Christmas. Things had gone a bit too well and I guess it was time for someone to screw things up. Thanks Tape Specialties.

The Exciting Pick Up Day

We had CDs ready for Thanksgiving Weekend. I drove out to the Valley and started sending them to CD Baby to get the CD Baby page up, SmoothJazz.com for download sales and radio stations for airplay. CD Baby took longer than I thought, SmoothJazz.com never got it up for 2005 Christmas sales and the airplay was minimal because it arrived too late.

In Conclusion

With all that said, Is It Christmas Yet? meet all sales expectations with everyone with the exception of Rick Alvarez (Studio Expenses) paid in full. I got Rick's out of pocket expenses covered but he and I did not see a penny from 2005 sales to date.

Greg Vail

Is It Christmas Yet? Home Page | Christmas Yet? CD Booklet | Christmas Yet? Thanks | The Making of Is It... | The Making Part II | Christmas Yet? CD Review | Teen Jazz CD Review | Customer Testimonials

Is It Christmas Yet?

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Is It Christmas Yet? CD

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