Parker, Figueroa record album with local jazz funk band AOS

Parker, Figueroa record album with local jazz funk band AOS

Before and after each take in the recording studio, there is a negative space. Before Blake Parker (12) begins to play, that space is an expectant hush. After, it’s a pause weighted with questions. 

Blake Parker (12) plays the drum set part for Ambassadors of Soul’s newest album.

“I’m always worried about what’s to come when that silence ends,” Parker said. “Do I have the right sound mix of instruments in my headphones? Do I remember the structure of the song? Are my improvisations going to work out in the moment?”

The 18 members of Ambassadors of Soul (AOS) release an album each year, their production schedule running from September to June. The band typically starts recording in December after first rehearsing the music. Parker has been playing with AOS, a funk band based in San Diego, for three years now, but the pressure that comes with each take in the recording studio never eases. 

According to Parker, his role as a drummer is particularly fundamental because the energy, feel and groove of every song revolves around the drums.

Andy Geib, the band’s director, said that this is also what makes the role of the drummer particularly demanding. As the sole drummer, Parker is the only one who needs a complete take from beginning to end with no mistakes. 

“I’m constantly worried about messing up, because it wastes the literal physical tape that our producer records on,” Parker said. 

Because of this, Parker is hyper-focused on the details. As a rhythm section, they will do 5-7 takes of the same five-minute run. With each fresh take, he said, there is a balance between putting the mistakes he made in the previous takes behind, while also keeping what he liked about those takes in mind and including them in the next take. 

Sawyer Figueroa (12) leads the tenor saxophones in their part of the recording.

Once the rhythm section has recorded, the winds section listens to the track to play their part. Unlike the rhythm section, the winds section isn’t required to do a full run-through. Instead, Sawyer Figueroa (12) said that they will record in pieces and the producer will lay those individual tracks over the entire recording. 

Figueroa, who joined the band last year and is the lead tenor saxophone player, said the most important part of jazz is listening. As a soloist in one of the songs, Figueroa was given the opportunity to improvise in his part.

By listening, he said, he develops the basis for how improvisation in his solos should sound. 

“Oftentimes, I go into a solo with a scaffold for how I’m going to shape my phrases or approach certain chord progressions,” Figueroa said. “That allows me to make a solo that fits within the harmony and style, with my own little flavor to it as well.”

According to Geib, Figueroa must match the rest of the saxophone section stylistically on all the parts as lead tenor sax player, but he gets to show his creative side on his solos.

Typically, once all parts are recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered, they are sent off to be reproduced and made into CDs. However, due to social distancing guidelines, the album production is halted until further notice. 

Although they may not conclude their time with AOS with a completed album, both Figueroa and Parker said the impact that the experience had on their musicianship is clear. 

Figueroa isn’t pursuing music as a career, but he said that because of his experience with AOS, he plans to record more music and join jazz bands during his time at University of California, San Diego. 

Parker, who seeks to pursue percussion performance as a major at Northwestern University, said his experience with AOS has provided him with the flexibility he needs as a percussionist.

“Being a part of AOS has given me that flexibility and understanding of so many different styles,” Parker said. “It’s helped me develop my ability to think about what sound I want and be able to find that.”