Darren Rahn A Second Glance
by Cheryl Hughey
A master’s level jazz graduate from the University of Northern Colorado, Canadian born saxophonist Darren Rahn at the age of 36 has already achieved more than most musicians dream possible. As a producer, the list of Billboard credits to his name are many and his current credits include "Throwin’ It Down" (Top 10 Wayman Tisdale), "Life in the Fast Lane" (Top 20 Dave Koz), "Goin’ All Out" (Top 20 -Eric Darius), "Third Wind" (Top 30 Bob Baldwin) and "Sweet Sundays" (Top 30 Tim Bowman).*
Rahn began working behind the scenes in the mid-90s producing and programming tracks for other artists. It was his work with Wayman Tisdale in 2004 on the #1 single, "Ain’t No Stopping Us Now," that would bring Rahn to the forefront of the music industry.
"Until my work with Wayman, I remained pretty much behind the scenes," said Rahn. Rahn continued to work in the studio with Tisdale and an assortment of other smooth jazz heavy hitters. These relationships would prove pivotal in the launching of his solo career and enabled him to quickly move from the console to the stage. By 2006, Rahn co-headlined in Catalina along-side Brian Culbertson and has toured with Tim Bowman, played with leading acts like Wayman Tisdale, Eric Darius, Kim Waters and Greg Karukus. In 2007, Rahn signed with nuGroove Records and released his debut CD, Once in a Lifetime.
Integrating his solo career with his producer side is something Rahn juggles with ease. "I balance it pretty well. When I’m in the studio, I usually let the "producer" take the lead. I’m almost always in producer mode making sure what is being played serves the song best," said Rahn.
Rahn learned early on from his mentors the necessity of separating artistic desires from production goals. "I learned from Wayman Tisdale about what he calls, ‘staying in your lane.’ Knowing when to stay in your lane has been key to my success," said Rahn.
However, Rahn is quick to admit that playing the saxophone was his first love. "I was an artist before I was a producer. The producer thing just kind of happened," said Rahn. "Long before I was doing what I do now, I was playing the saxophone."
Indeed, it was his early work on his debut CD, Once in a Lifetime, that brought caught the attention of Wayman Tisdale in 2004. Later, Eric Darius would take note of this solo work from the CD and hire Rahn as producer as well.
As an artist, Rahn constantly strives to raise the benchmark in his music. "I want to let the music and playing speak for itself. I want my playing to be timeless to stand the test of time," said Rahn. Creating his own sound is equally important. "The people that are successful really have a distinct sound. They have the ability to have a sustainable career," he said.
Rahn believes that in order to be a successful performer, you must not only be original in your creative process but you must also pay close attention to the connection with the listening audience. "Music is not just for me. If a song was just for me, then I really don’t see the point of recording it on an album. The reason for my playing is to reach out and share with people. I want to take what is in my heart and really connect with the audience," said Rahn. "I hope the music I do offer brings people happiness and is a positive force. I’m not the kind of guy that wants to sit around and do dark music. I want to do music that touches people and gives them a lift," he said.
In an industry that is often more interested in the bottom line than artistic merit, Rahn has managed to remain strong in his desire to carve out his unique sound. Rahn has shown that it is possible to find a happy medium between commercialism and creativity. "Every time I write or produce, I’m trying to break at least a little bit of new ground," said Rahn. "I know what’s worked in the past and what people have enjoyed but I don’t want to get stuck there," he said.
As a producer, Rahn specializes in integrating sounds that are familiar with new ideas. If you listen to some of his work with Dave Koz, Eric Darius or the Wayman Tisdale’s single, "Throwin’ It Down," you realize that he is drawing on vintage elements, yet pushing the production and music forward. When working on covers, Rahn doesn’t "want them to sound like an old remake." Rather, he pays homage to the original but gives the tracks a "funky, modern edge at the same time." For instance, you will hear solid, contemporary mixes in the arrangements on Tisdale’s albums "Way Up" and "Rebound" and an R&B edge throughout most of Eric Darius new album, Goin’ All Out.
When writing new music, Rahn stays up-to-date on industry trends but doesn’t try to write specifically to fit the radio format. "I’m aware of what’s working in the music industry but I don’t write my material based on that. The majority of that is what is in my heart. Whatever is moving me at that moment is what dictates what happened. I let my heart lead the way but I also use what I’ve gleaned from the industry. The trick is to make sure all of that is done to best serve the art," said Rahn.
Although he continues to break new ground and redefine the landscape of contemporary jazz, this young lion doesn’t consider himself a pioneer. "There are many great pioneers in this genre that have come before me. I’ve certainly learned from them. I have no doubt guys like Jeff Lorber, Grover Washington, Jr. and David Sanborn have been pioneers," said Rahn. "There are a lot of changes in the industry right now and I’m part of those changes, but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a pioneer. I’m not pretentious or presumptuous about what I’ve done or am going to do. I’m just happy about doing what I love," he said.
We are all aware that these are perilous times for smooth jazz. Whether history marks Rahn as a pioneer remains to be seen. Sometimes it is the diligence and strength of one voice that can make all the difference.
*Current Rahn Credits in the Top 10:
Wayman Tisdale Throwin’ It Down
Produced, Co-Wrote and featured on Sax
In the Top 20:
Dave Koz Life in the Fast Lane
Produced, Co-Wrote and Mixed and Played all Horn Section Saxes
Eric Darius Goin’ All Out
Produced, Co-Wrote and Mixed and Played all Horn Section Saxes
In the Top 30:
Bob Baldwin Third Wind
Produced, Mixed and Played all Horn Section Saxes
Tim Bowman Sweet Sundays
Going for Adds or being spinned right now:
Darren Rahn feat. Wayman Tisdale On the Rebound
Produced, Co-Wrote and Mixed and Played all Saxes
Michael Manson Bring it On
Co-Produced and Played Sax
Nate Harasim NuGroove
Played Sax features Darren on Sax
Soon to be Released:
De’Nate "Reminisce" CD songs - "So Sexy" and "Let Your Body Move"