Thursday, December 15, 2011

Warm Winds over Woodbridge: Saxophonist Tony Craddock, Jr. Part II

When we left off with Tony Craddock yesterday, we were talking about whether he would prefer a career in music to one in science. We start off part two of our interview by asking him about the tools of his trade:

BBP: Now tell me a little about your approach to the saxophone. I mean of all of the saxophone players out there, who are your influences? Who are your favorite saxophone players out there?
Craddock: My biggest influence, definitely Boney James. As I said, my taste in jazz moves more towards the smooth jazz side, so growing up I listened to a lot of Boney James. I listened to a lot of Kirk Whalum as well. Because Kirk Whalum had a similar style, but he also got into the gospel genre, which I appreciate, which is also where I’m looking to take my career, kind of cater to the inspirational and gospel side of jazz as well. As far as classical jazz, I listen to a lot of Stan Getz, because I like his sound. He’s known as having quote-unquote “The Sound.” Very sweet, silky kind of sound. I also listen to a lot of musicians who are not saxophonists because of the way I view saxophone. I kind of view it more as a voice, more so than an instrument. So when I play the saxophone I try to almost create an effect where it’s singing rather than playing. So I feel like the kind of musicians I listen to, I try of listen to musicians who melodically also have a quality where they make their instruments sing. For instance, I listen to a lot of Pat Metheny, the guitarist, because I think he makes the guitar somehow have this singing quality that I think is rare.
BBP: Okay. In an article I read about you, it mentioned that you like Anita Baker. You try to model your style of playing after her style of singing…
Craddock: I do. What I particularly aim to do is, you know Anita Baker has a very rich, deep voice that nobody can mimic. I’ve never heard anybody say, “Oh my gosh, that person sounds like Anita Baker.” It’s almost like comparing somebody to Michael Jackson: it just doesn’t happen. But that kind of uniqueness she has in her sound is the same kind of approach I take to the saxophone.
BBP: Tell me a little bit about this album that you have out now. What made you decide to make your first album a Christmas album? Those are notoriously hard to market because Christmas only comes once a year. Every article I ever read about somebody doing a Christmas album, they always raised the concern that Christmas only comes once a year and people are not inclined to buy a Christmas album at any other time but Christmas.
Craddock: Okay. Well I did this album with the understanding that there definitely had to be a follow-up sophomore project that wasn’t based on Christmas. So I knew about, like you said, there’s a lot of concerns that you can’t sell Christmas music outside the months of November and December. So I came into this knowing that. But my approach, it was a bit of a no-brainer to me to do a Christmas album, just because I feel as a new musician, you need something to reel your listeners in. And for me, I know I have a creative approach to the saxophone, creative approach to production, and I felt I could take Christmas songs and throw my own creative twist on them in a way that creates a unique listening experience for listeners, you know. Give them a different perspective on the songs that they’re used to hearing in a traditional way. So I felt if I did a Christmas album and took a new approach to it, and captured a certain audience, then when I did my follow-up projects, I would gain sort of a following of supporters and fans, because they’d know what I could do musically. So I approached it from the perspective of Christmas music: everybody likes it. So it almost gives people an excuse to listen to your music. People are usually pretty receptive to Christmas music, so I felt that same receptiveness would translate over to my project and people would be willing to try something new.
BBP: How did you go about producing this album? Tell me how you conceived it, and executed it.
Craddock: The production for the album actually began probably around June. It was a pretty quick process because I knew I had to get it done before the start of the academic year. First I worked very closely with my assistant producer on the album, his name is Ricardo Cordero…a lot of the work on the album was collaborative with him. We took a lot of the arrangements, sat down; I was at the keyboard, on the saxophone. He was at the keyboard and we kind of figured out how we would twist the songs and rearrange them to our musical liking. So between the month of June and August we were in the studio day and night, just grinding out the album, making sure it was ready for this fall.
BBP: Was it difficult…I mean at Christmas time people do cover songs, and I guess you could classify Christmas carols or Christmas tunes as cover songs. Was it hard to find a way to breathe new life into these songs? I guess it was a challenge to kind of make these songs unique, I guess it was kind of a challenge to your skills, I suppose, right? Was that another reason why you did it?
Craddock: I really didn’t see it as much of a challenge because again, I try to take that creative approach to music, just in general. So whenever I hear a song, or whenever I hear a vocalist sing a song or something like that, the first thing that comes to mind is: how would this sound on the saxophone? And then how could I change it to make it my own? So I actually—believe it or not, in the production process, I actually found myself having to hold back from changing the songs even more. Because if I had it my way, I would have been a bit more radical with the arrangement. But I realized I had to, I guess, have what I called “controlled creativity.” Be creative with the songs and make it unique and whatnot, but still leave enough of the originality in it so that people recognize it. So I actually wanted to change the songs more. So the creative aspect of it, making the covers my own was the least of my problems.

BBP: Let me ask you this. You mentioned that you want to come out with a sophomore album pretty soon after this one is running its course. Are you working on that now? And if you are, where are you with it? At what point are you at?
Craddock: Right now, I have about four songs. Four original songs composed by me that are pretty much ready to go. I have the ideas down, the melodic concepts, I just need to get into the studio and add instrumentation to it. But I’m looking to add a couple of gospel covers, and maybe a few jazz covers as well to the album. But the album would contain at least half of original content from me. So I’m pretty early in the process because I’m still promoting the Christmas album. But come January, I’ll be going full-force into production of the second album.
BBP: Do you have an ETA on this project? Estimated time of arrival?
Craddock: No sir, I don’t.
BBP: And are you now part of a band? Do you have a regular group of people you perform with?
Craddock: Right now I don’t.
BBP: Are you looking to assemble one? And is it possible that the people who play with you on the album will play out with you? Because I know that a lot of musicians, they do an album and to promote the album they go out and play live.
Craddock: Correct. I have secured a couple of gigs for next year. I will be using some of the musicians from my album—in addition to other musicians that I have a good rapport with—to tour around the D.C. area. But again, since I am in school, I kind of have to be balanced in how much energy I spend towards music versus school. So if I wasn’t in school I’d definitely throw a hundred percent towards music. But I can only expend so much of my energy towards music because I still have to sustain the educational side of my responsibilities right now.
(He graduates from graduate school in May 2013)
BBP: Your music career as a whole, where would you like to take it? Where would you like to be ten years from now?
Craddock: Ten years from now, I’d definitely like to be a well-respected, hopefully household name, a saxophonist known for having a very smooth melodic easy-going sound, but still a good amount of jazz content, and I’d also like to be known as somebody who is a Christian, and my music will hopefully reflect the inspirational and Christian side of my life.
BBP: I guess that means you want to get out of the D.C. area. What I mean is, that you want to be known outside of Washington….
Craddock: Correct. I want to be known internationally.
BBP: Would you like to get into the Christian music market?
Craddock: I would.
BBP: And that would be something you would do in addition to the smooth jazz market?
Craddock: The way I look at it, I feel like they go hand-in-hand. I think the unique thing about the saxophone, or any instrument that’s not a voice, there’s no words to it. So I feel like inspirational jazz, gospel jazz, smooth jazz, I feel like they can all go hand-in-hand. It’s all about the message behind the music, so I don’t feel like I have to necessarily separate the two. I feel like they’re actually pretty complementary.
BBP: Great! Alright! And remind me of this: which saxophones do you play? The tenor, the alto, the baritone?
Craddock: I play the soprano and alto.
BBP: Soprano and alto, okay. And which one do you like best?
Craddock: I’m actually pretty new to the soprano. I just began playing the soprano about a year ago. So I’m more comfortable on the alto right now. But I do feel like I…I feel like I am slightly favoring the soprano.
BBP: Okay. But you’re more experienced with the alto.
Craddock: I’m more experienced on the alto.
BBP: I see. Okay. And are there possibilities that you see with the soprano—things you can do with it—that you don’t see with the alto? Or is it just a question of being proficient with both expands your range?
Craddock: I think I have equal opportunities with both of them. ..I think the unique thing about the soprano is, the kind of warm romantic tone that you associate with the soprano, almost makes it seem like it’s another instrument. A lot of people don’t even know soprano saxophone is a saxophone because it doesn’t look like one. You know somebody asks me “What saxophone is that?” and I say “the saxophone that Kenny G plays.” And everybody goes “Oh! Oh!” So I feel like the soprano, there are definitely opportunities, because in jazz it’s one of the least used saxophones. Tenor sax is by far the most used and alto is pretty widely used as well. But given that the soprano is one of the more rare saxophones, it has a pretty unique sound. I definitely would like to expand upon that, make it part of my music.

Christmas in the Air is available through CD Baby, iTunes and It's also available on Craddock's Facebook page at:

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