Bienen sophomores to release first jazz album at end of month

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter

Bienen sophomores Louis Danowsky and Sam Wolsk first met at a high school all-state jazz festival during their junior of high school. Three years later, they are about to release their first big band album, “Coalescence.”

During Fall Quarter of his freshman year, Danowsky wrote a tune in a “six-day fit of inspiration,” putting everything else in his life aside, he said. He later gave this completed piece to the Northwestern University Jazz Orchestra and led it in a performance of the piece.

“The feeling of having my music played at that moment was the most amazing, satisfying, euphoria-inducing feeling ever,” he said. “It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in music. After I had done that, I was like, ‘I have to keep doing this’.”

Danowsky and Wolsk spearheaded all aspects of the project, including writing music, hiring musicians and everything in between. Danowsky conducted and led the band through the pieces while Wolsk played lead trumpet.

When Danowsky first approached Wolsk during Winter Quarter with the idea of recording an album, he said he never imagined they would go through with it. After talking more in depth about it, though, he said they began to realize it was very possible.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh that’s a nice idea’,” Wolsk said. “We both had a lot of music, so why not make a big project of it? On my end I had never thought of that, but it was totally something I would do.”

The album was recorded in New York City over the summer. The band, named the “DW Jazz Orchestra,” consisted mostly of people who Danowsky and Wolsk — both New Jersey natives — knew in the area. The album includes eight tracks, they said.

All of the tunes are either original compositions by Wolsk and Danowsky or their arrangements of other Northwestern students’ original compositions, they said. Some of the tunes were originally written for a combo or smaller ensemble, and then later arranged for the larger jazz orchestra.

The group recorded its album this past summer at Avatar Studios, one of the higher-end recording studios in New York City, Wolsk said. Several famous artists have recorded at Avatar, including the cast of “Hamilton,” Yo-Yo Ma and John Mayer. Danowsky said although the studio was on the pricier side, recording there was a worthwhile experience.

“You name any major artist, and they’ve done a session at that studio,” Danowsky said. “So to actually (be) in the same room that Lin-Manuel Miranda recorded in … there’s a real value to that. When you’re making music, you know you’re going to be a part of that story.”

Wolsk said in terms of professional experience, the process of making an album was something he would have had to do at some point if he wants to continue with this type of work. Recording in the studio was very different from playing a concert, he said.

He had an eight-hour day of playing “pretty hard charts,” Wolsk said.

“When you’re in the studio, you have to deliver … it’s super intense,” he said. “Every little mistake you might possibly make is saved forever, which is super important from a professional playing standpoint.”

When composing, Danowsky said he draws on influences from all types of music and composers, including anything from Porter Robinson, an EDM artist, to Maurice Ravel, a 20th-century French composer.

Danowsky said when he first began college, he never thought he was going to be composing or arranging music. But since then, he’s been able to discover himself as a musician through composition.

“Being in the recording studio felt like home,” he said. “I don’t feel it in the practice rooms. It doesn’t even match the feeling of being in a concert hall for me. But being in the studio, leading the people through the sessions … felt completely natural.”

To fund the project, Danowsky and Wolsk each applied for and received an undergraduate research grant from Northwestern, they said. They also set up a Kickstarter campaign online and met their goal of raising $10,000 in 30 days. The album will debut May 30 and will be available on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby, Danowsky said.

Bienen junior Jared Decker can be heard as the drumset player on the record. He said he was honored to be a part of the experience. Decker said he’s been “waiting forever” for the album to drop, and that he is proud of Wolsk and Danowsky for accomplishing such a large project.

“They have this energy and enthusiasm that is really compelling and unique,” Decker said. “Sam and Louis are always welcoming and they just love the music — they don’t let other annoying things get them down. If they did, they wouldn’t have been able to do this because there’s so much work that went into it.”

This August, the DW Jazz Orchestra has a gig scheduled at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, a high-profile jazz club located in the middle of the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in New York City. The band will play several tunes from its new album as well as more original tunes Danowsky and Wolsk are working on. They said they are entertaining the idea of producing a “Live at Dizzy’s” album next, but have not solidified plans as of now.

Wolsk said now that he knows what it’s like to record and manage a big band, he is open to other possibilities, such as working with smaller ensembles, in the future.

“Knowing how cool and rewarding this is, I could do a lot of different things in the future,” he said. “I love this process, and I would happily do it again.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jenniferhepp97