The duo of bassist Mark Saltman and keyboardist William Knowles makes music that finds optimism through the crackles made by life’s sorrow and despair. Saltman draws inspiration for his compositions from such tragedies as the devastation of New Orleans after being hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the scars left by The Holocaust which prompted the title track for the duo’s latest CD, Yesterday’s Man. Accompanied by vocalist Lori Williams-Chisholm, Yesterday’s Man is club-room jazz with music that is warm and intimate massaging an upward slant etched into every track. Yesterday’s Man is the follow up to the group’s debut disc and features the crisp rattling beats of pan-steel player Victor Provost and drummer Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson. Saltman describes how the recording of Yesterday’s Man came together and the group’s aspirations for their music.
JazzReview: Why did the group name the new album after your track "Yesterday's Man"? How does this song reflect the overall themes on the album?
Saltman: The album title continues our theme of focusing on the melodic elements in music that our generation sometimes forgets about. There are some things which should transcend time, run through generations and melody is one of them. Sometimes we forget that technology is just a good tool for us to use, it is not a replacement for the basic elements with which we should be working. Yesterday's musician was also focused on developing their own sound, being an individual and writing their own music, all things which we want to continue to strive for. The song itself ‘Yesterday’s Man’ is about a holocaust survivor’s memories, and that era in history reflects a great deal of chaos, which often is depicted through non-tonal music. I had visited the Holocaust museum last year with some of my concert band students and wanted to write something that had the element of hope.
JazzReview: How did you find your way through William Knowles' tracks like "Cry" and "What Was I To You"? Did William give you direction about what to play?
Saltman: William and I each write our tunes separately and then play them for each other. We usually write out our charts and rehearse a few times so that we can make the music the way we want it. On both of those songs, William had specific ideas about what he wanted everyone to play. The only thing I had to do was make sure I interpreted the lines the way he wanted them. William will usually write out any hits that the band has to make.
JazzReview: Who wrote the lyrics for "They Don't Really Care For Us"? Was it hard to tap into your feelings for the victims of Hurricane Katrina to write this song for them?
Saltman: Actually the first thing I had for the song was the phrase "They Don’t Really Care " I think I was listening to someone on the radio talking about the lack of resolution to the situation more than a few years after the hurricane hit. One of the commentators was talking about how little has actually happened so far. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for the city to come back, but Its such an important place in Jazz history that it should bother us that we haven’t done more to restore it.
JazzReview: Was it hard to play for Lori’s vocals on "They Don’t Really Care For Us"?
Saltman: With Lori it’s really pretty easy. She is excellent at interpreting melodies, so as long as I can sing a melody I know, she is going to bring something fantastic to it. We actually played this one on the night of President Obama’s inauguration and Lori added some stuff to it that I wish we had captured, because it was really, really beautiful, but it was just one of those momentary things and I wouldn’t want to try to repeat in the same way because the spirit of that night was unique.
JazzReview: How did you choose which tracks to put on the recording? Who is involved in the decision making, and what factors do you look for in a song that made it ready for the album?
Saltman: William and I get together and try and find songs that work together for the record. There are usually a few that we have already been playing live that we think would be good, but we always have a couple of new things that we are working on. We try to make sure that there is variety in the songs that we pick, and we usually play our new things for each other so we get an idea of what we think should go in. Sometimes the way that Jimmy Junebug Jackson, our drummer, hits a groove too makes us go, wow, okay we need to include this too- because he adds a unique element to certain songs as well.
JazzReview: How did you meet Victor Provost? Why did you want him to play on the recording? What does he add to the song "Shesh"?
Saltman: I think Jimmy Junebug Jackson met Victor first, but I remember him coming into a jam session I play at. Right away, I was like, man what a cool sound that is. We have always considered adding some non-standard instrumentation to our sound. We thought about the violin before, but we also were looking for the right person, someone who really brought a lot with their sound, and Victor does that. On ‘Shesh‘, and really everything he plays, Victor really plays some great ideas that keep the solos moving well. I think that and his sound are the key ingredients. Even though the song is middle eastern in flavor- the pan seems to fit right in; maybe it’s the residual oil?
JazzReview: Did the recording challenge the trio in ways that you never had to face before, or were the conditions similar to working on your previous album, Return Of The Composer?
Saltman: With every record we do there are new challenges because the tunes we are writing are evolving in different ways. As William, Junebug and I play together more, we continue to develop our ideas, and sometimes get a chance to play through things.
JazzReview: Have you played any of the tracks from Yesterday's Man live? What preparations do you make to transition the songs from the studio to playing them in concert?
Saltman: So far we’ve been able to play most of the songs from the record in a live setting. I think the ones that we haven’t done so far are ‘Yesterday’s Man‘, ‘Theme in Search Of a Film’ and ‘Folk Song’. Those can be a bit tricky but we hope to get to them. The biggest difference between playing the tunes live and in the studio is the solos. In the studio, we have to limit the number of people who solo, and the number of choruses that get played on each song; once we get live, we let each soloist decide how long they want to play.
JazzReview: Is performing live comfortable for you or do you enjoy the songwriting more?
Saltman: I enjoy both quite a bit; a lot of times, the first time you play something live can put you on edge just because you want it to go right, and until it does you’re a bit nervous. But there is also a huge thrill to hearing the song come alive- and to hear how everyone navigates through it. Writing can be funny too. When you come up with an idea that you really like its absolutely a great feeling. But there are also a lot of times when things just aren’t flowing and can be frustrating. Plus, I am kind of an ideas person. I love the creative part of everything but take forever putting the final touches on. Sometimes it’s really hard to commit to a certain direction when there are a couple of ways to get there- and each has its own scenery.
JazzReview: Has the group benefited from selling your albums on internet sites like Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby? Has the internet been resourceful for the group?
Saltman: The Internet helps to get your music to folks easily. You don’t have to fight with anyone to get shelf space anywhere. The thing is though, that the amount of money you see from internet sales is still pretty small, and its still mostly the younger folks who get music that way. The Internet in general though makes it a lot easier for people who have heard of us to find out a bit more.
JazzReview: What are you aspirations for Yesterday's Man?
Saltman: We always have a good deal of aspirations for every record we release, but sooner rather than later reality sets in. In other words, we always hope that the record will really go somewhere, have a big impact on folks and get us to the point where we can be touring regularly, but that is a really difficult road to get to; especially because we are focused on playing original music. Each record we do though, we try and make the music better than the record before and continue to try and grow as musicians and composers.