I first met Craig Tweddell, a burgeoning young trumpet player, in a coffeehouse in Morehead, KY, just across the state from his native Louisville, KY, while I was still in college. We (us founders) were hosting a small hang before heading to the National Trumpet Competition where Craig (and Eric) would be competing in the jazz division.
Flashforward a few years: Louisville. I had just gotten off of the road. I sat at the bar next to a modest crowd in a small room of the Rudyard Kipling – A restaurant nicknamed the Motherlodge by the locals – where Craig hosted a weekly jam session. There was Craig with his trumpet. He started playing with his band and, as good musicians do, he listened, taking in the scene unfolding around him, drawing us all in with his playing.
I stayed in contact with Craig, listening to some of his music along the way. He was good and with each day he kept getting better. And so when we started Bugles Media, I knew I wanted this undiscovered gem of the midwest to be the first artist on our roster. When I asked him to join the team as its first recording artist, he agreed.
A Way With Words: A Conversation with Craig Tweddell
JAM: Tell me about the creative process of writing the music for your first release as a leader. What influences did you draw upon and how did that shape your music?
Craig Tweddell: Well to be honest the music wasn’t written specifically for this recording. I write music a lot and have done so for years. In fact, my hard drive is FULL of my original music. I have originals representing all types of different styles/genres for various sized groups from duos to big band. So the hard part for me was choosing which of my tunes to use for the album and which tunes to omit.
As for the second part of the question, I knew I wanted my first album to be pretty straight ahead but with a modern spin. So I purposely chose tunes that I felt fulfilled that self-imposed prerequisite. Specifically I was really influenced by Scott Wendholt’s album Beyond Thursday, Alex Norris’ album A New Beginning. Also Alex Sipiagin’s album Hindsight.
Why did you choose the group of musicians you did for the recording, and what impact did their participation have on the date?
I hosted a weekly jam session in town (Louisville, Kentucky) for over a year and Luke McIntosh and Zack Kennedy were in the house band. Plus, we’ve done TONS of other gigs together over the years. So that was a no-brainer for me because we’d grown so familiar with each others playing, I knew they had to be on the recording.
Todd Hildreth is somebody whose playing I’ve been familiar with for years, long before I even moved to Louisville, but we’d never really had an opportunity to play together. So the recording actually documents our first real musical encounter, it’s very much the opposite of my experience with Luke and Zack. To be honest the main reason I asked Todd to be a part of the recording is because I am such a fan of his playing.
Now Dave Kana is the only non-Louisvillian on the record. I know Dave from working the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops. Every time Dave plays at the camps he sets the place on fire and the audience always goes crazy. One time I was listening to him play at camp and thought “that is the sound I want on my album.” So I approached him right after that concert and flat out asked him if he’d be willing to drive back to Louisville and be a part of my recording.
What was the biggest difference from the rehearsal to the recording process and how did the time in the studio meet your expectations?
Well everyone in the band is busy so rehearsals had to be concise. We mainly focused on the technical aspects of the music, i.e. road maps, voicings, solo order, etc. We honestly didn’t spend much time taking solos. We had three rehearsals; two without Dave (he lives 8 hours away) and the last rehearsal was the night before the recording session with Dave.
The recording process was actually very similar to the rehearsals in the sense that time was of the essence. We had two days to record ten songs, so five songs each day. We ended up doing two takes of each song and keeping the best take. In that sense the recording process felt very much like an old school blowing session. With the exception of a few punches on the heads, the album is practically un-edited. I wanted to keep it raw and a bit unpolished like those old Miles Davis recordings that got me into jazz in the first place.
What was your first reaction to the recording after it was done? And now that you’ve had a little time to digest the material, what are your overall feelings about the record?
My first reaction to the recording was that of excitement! I wanted this to be a real jazz recording with spontaneity, creativity and energy. I have no interest in making a background dinner-music record. So when I heard how the band was playing in the studio it was a dream come true for me.
When I listen now I still feel the same. Of course I am hypercritical of my own playing so I usually fast-forward through the trumpet solos, but I couldn’t be happier with how the band played my music.
What’s your obsession with word games and puns? For those who don’t know you, can you elaborate on your tune titles?
[Laughs] My brain is always working that way with words, I think it drives my friends and my wife crazy. Sometimes when I make a stupid word joke I think “that could be the title of a tune” and that is how several of the tune titles came about.
You’re an artist working and living in a relatively small market town (Louisville, KY). How has your recording been received by both the local musicians and the jazz audience in the community?
Well it is honestly too early to tell, the album just came out three days ago. So far the response has been overwhelming positive. We’ll just have to wait and see I guess.
What, if anything is it you’d like your listening audience to take from “Away With Words”?
Not sure if this answers the question but one of my goals is to dispel the stereotype of jazz as a soft music, or a music that helps put you to sleep. I try to convince all my non-musician friends to listen to jazz loud. I want to hear low-riders driving around blaring Coltrane the way they do rap. If I could get just a couple of people to put my album on and crank it up from beginning to end, to feel the energy that the band is trying to create, then to me I will have succeeded.
As a musician in the digital age, how do you feel about the physical sale of your CD versus the digital release?
Obviously I am grateful for any means of sharing my music but I grew up on CD’s, specifically Blue Note CD’s. I remember spending hours reading liner notes and just gazing at all those beautiful photos that Francis Wolff took. So it was always a dream of mine to put out a physical CD that somebody could hold in their hand, smell the paper, read the liner notes and look at photos while listening to the music.
I couldn’t be happier with the 12-page booklet that my great friend Chaney Given created for my album. For me just holding the CD induces a great sense of pride. Bugles Media also found a great way to incentivize people to purchase the physical CD by offering bonus content, so far it seems to be working so I am thrilled!
Lastly, what is the greatest feeling or experience you’ve taken away from this entire process? And when or will you record a follow up record?
The best feeling is just being able to share my music with people. I love playing standards and jazz classics but if you look throughout jazz history, all of the greats wrote and performed their own original music and I think there’s a reason for that. There is something very rewarding about seeing an idea through from beginning to end. Starting with a sound in you head and a blank piece of staff paper and ending with the public hearing your music through their speakers.
As far as recording again, I definitely plan on doing it in the future. Like I mentioned earlier I have a lot of music on my hard drive that I’ve written and I’m always writing more. But it probably won’t be for a few more years.