We were riding high in 2019. We had returned from the Staples Center in Los Angeles as Grammy® winners with Spanish Harlem Orchestra for “Best Tropical Album,” my first such award as a producer.
Back in New York, things were cooking along. The phone was ringing for gigs and recordings and I was planning for the completion and release of my next studio album. All the while, we were all casting a wary eye toward the happenings in Wuhan, China.
Then the other shoe dropped.
Our gigs were canceled, piecemeal at first, and then we musicians looked on in horror as our entire slate of shows for 2020 got wiped off the map. Tours were canceled. All of my colleagues working on Broadway suddenly found those doors shuttered. The coronavirus pandemic had struck and our world was changed forever.
As a career musician, I wear many hats – trombonist, composer, producer, arranger, mix engineer, and business manager – in constantly shifting priority. Even before COVID-19 struck, I was confounded as to just how I was going take the next step in my career because I’ve always been pulled in so many directions. One dream that I always had was to create a musical community under the banner of a hybrid production company and subscriber-supported record label.
This was the idea behind Circle 9. I wanted to create a place where some of NYC’s most talented and underrepresented artists could go and receive world-class label service, including sales, distribution (online and physical), marketing, and publicity, all at an attainable cost. All of this would be offered along with a full suite of production services: music composition, arranging, production, mixing and mastering.
During March and April 2020, staring out the window and holding a phone that was not ringing, I realized I now had the opportunity to do this. I switched off my intake of the daily onslaught of dire news and set about formulating a business plan for Circle 9, something I had never done before. I arduously read business journals and websites and wrote and re-wrote my business plan and had my business colleagues check it to see if it made any sense.
At the same time, I was planning on finishing and releasing my fifth studio album, Sol. The idea for the album was to blend Latin jazz, salsa, and R&B influences in a suite of original compositions. We started this process in December 2019 when we recorded eight tracks for the new album, having no idea about what would come to pass in a couple of months. In April 2020, the idea of continuing the production seemed impossible. How were we going to finish recording a studio orchestra and singers during a global pandemic?
Though the perseverance of the musicians, cancelled and re-booked dates, and plenty of safety measures taken in the studio, we completed Sol in August 2020. I set about mixing the album that same month on the new studio equipment I invested in for Circle 9. While the album was being mastered, we made a music video for the title cut in New York City, replete with flying drones and shooting from a shuttered beer hall in the Bronx.
When we finally opened for pre-orders in November 2020, I was shocked at the volume of orders coming in for the CDs, and more significantly, for the collector’s edition vinyls we were having manufactured. It told me there was a positive signal out there for the realization of my ideas and dreams.
Sol finally dropped on December 4th, and we’ve already had a raft of glowing reviews from top online outlets, including a “Best of 2020” pick from the esteemed French publication Le Monde. More are in the works as I write this.
Looking reflectively now at Circle 9 and Sol, I realize that my career goals are aligned like never before. I managed to establish a funnel to channel all of the skills I have acquired through the years – composing, arranging, performing, producing, engineering and business – into a well-focused beam of light that serves a greater purpose. It is my hope at Circle 9 that we can grow and continue to serve our brothers and sisters in the music community after this tough time and well into the future.