NEW YORK CITY, NY – Aidan Carroll hit me up on social media about promoting his debut album “Original Vision.” Through conversation I found out we know some of the same people, but what I didn’t know was how many nuggets of wisdom he would share with me in this conversation. He shares his journey from Oklahoma to New York, as well accompanist to artist. “Original Vision” will be available everywhere on March 3rd.
What was your family life like, and what were your experiences growing up in Oklahoma?
Part of the reason I got started in music was that my mother was a classical pianist and professional musician at OCU (Oklahoma City University). My dad dabbled with music and played it on the side, and was more self taught than she was. There was always music on at the house and I was drawn to it at a young age.
When I was very young I had sort of a vision/feeling that I would play music for the rest of my life. It was kind of this thing I knew and felt. At age ten, I got a snare drum and a few years later my parents bought a drum set. I started with the drums, even though my mom tried to get me to play piano.
My family was very supportive. I started going to private school and I felt like a lot of the kids I went to school with had traditional and conservative families. As I got older, I felt fortunate that my parents were supportive of artistic things. My dad is really interesting because he was a priest until I was twelve, then he became a psychotherapist full time. He was also a carpenter that built houses, built cars, and had an insane library. My parents were a big influence on me. My mom’s a great teacher, she’s still teaching at OCU.
From there, I switched schools and attended Classen (High School of Advanced Studies), which is where I met Adam & Kizzie. At the time I was still doing drums/percussion. I started a band with friends, got into Rock & Roll, was a band/percussion major, and had a very great first mentor at the school in Professor Al Jernigan. He was a big figure. He was a hardcore disciplinarian type teacher, but once I got into jazz band in bass he really started supporting me. He started showing me records and I was a sponge. I kept developing. That’s childhood to high school.
After graduating from high school, was your immediate action to move to New York?
I thought about New York and I auditioned to Eastman School and got accepted. However, I also auditioned for UCO and received a full ride scholarship. I completed my undergraduate at UCO first. I was a classical major but my feet were heavy in the jazz side. I loved the freedom of improvising and jazz is such an infinite study. When I graduated from UCO I was ready to go.
Those years at UCO were very formative for me. I was able to play at the Jazz Lab all the time with a big band and small group. I got to play with Jeremy Thomas, Mitch Bell, Willie Peterson. Jeremy’s brother was the choir director for the Gospel Choir and Lee Rucker was my mentor and trumpet player and he taught me jazz standards.
I hung around some rough crews at the time, people who had a lot of drug problems and I wanted to move so I wouldn’t be around it anymore. The music got serious enough and that gave me a chance to try out New York. New York is such the ultimate move. I went up there to audition for Purchase College, which went well, but I also sent an audition tape to City Music College because John Patitucci was there. I had to let Purchase know I was attending before I knew City accepted me. So when I got the housing deposit for Purchase is when I got the acceptance letter from City, and I took it. When I moved up there I didn’t have a bass. I used the bass at the school. My friend helped me out getting an apartment and borrowing a bass.
What do you feel was the biggest culture shock moving from Oklahoma City to New York?
I still remember that first trip I took which was just to visit and audition at the school. I pulled into either Penn Station or Time Square on the train, got out, saw the whole mass transit system and thought “what’s going on?” Everyone was moving really fast, the map didn’t make sense, and it definitely took some getting used to. What I like about riding the train is that I could disappear. There’s so many people that you can observe, people watch, and do your own thing. I think getting used to that feel and lifestyle, kind of more fast paced, which is opposite of Oklahoma. in New York, there’s not a lack of hospitality, there’s just an edge here. People are trying to survive here; it’s a tough city. It wasn’t a huge culture shock, I felt like I was ready for it.
Earlier, you mentioned the importance of not giving up. What were some huge “Never give up” moments for you so far?
It’s been a true roller coaster ride since I’ve gotten here. Just to survive as an artist or musician, you will have to work another job at some point. It could easily get you down or depressed. I worked at a temp agency at office jobs while playing gigs all of the time. Before the economy got bad there were good paying gigs. Once the economy crashed those opportunities disappeared. It’s a little disconcerting when you only want to do music or art, but you learn different skills too like: work ethic, being early, and working normal hours. Those were important transitional periods.
I think one of the biggest things for me was that I was a part of a band for four years. I was a part of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. That was an amazing experience. I learned a lot being in a band. There were nine of us and we built from ground up, toured from city after city, and sometimes shared two hotel rooms. After my course with that band, I wanted to leave the earth, I just wasn’t happy. I didn’t have time to do other music, I was trying to maintain a relationship back home while being on the road, and it was difficult. It was definitely a ‘feel-like-giving-up’ moment.
When I left the band, within two or three weeks I auditioned for a gig and got it with Melody Gardot. She’s an American but a superstar in Europe. She’s a jazz, pop, folk singer and I toured Europe with her for the good portion of 2013. Personally, my relationship with my girlfriend also got better at the time. It was sort of a reward or good faith that all of this wasn’t for nothing. I needed to go through the hard part to go to the good part. I’ve seen people go through that stuff and leave and give up.
I think what’s really helped me was being diverse in my musicianship and how I thought. It’s helped me to not give up and keep faith in myself.
Tell me about Lisa Fischer and how you connected with her.
Lisa, first of all, is an amazing person and singer and I’m very fortunate to be in her group. I ended up with that opportunity through her guitarist, JC Maillard, her musical director. JC and I met years ago in New York and I got hired to play with a Zimbabwe pop singer and he was on that gig. Even though I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing with that style I had a good time. From that I just stayed in touch. Sometimes that’s the thing about New York, people can sort of disappear and start going out less, sometimes it takes a simple email and phone call. I hit up JC to play and he remembered me and asked me to do the gig. I didn’t know what it was at first and then I found out it was Lisa. I’d been in it since the beginning. I joined around April of last year. I also got a chance to sub with Fred Hersch, who played with the greats.
I love that all of this is recent. I had a chance to talk with artists who’ve been in the industry for a while; all of them said that nothing happens over night. There’s always a process. Are you surprised at how long this process took?
Yes and no. Last year, 2014 was probably one of the best years of my life on a couple levels. As far as career-wise I finally realized the place that I was in for all these years. I don’t think I would have been ready/mature enough to be in the musical and personal role to be able to do those gigs. I’m a big believer in fate. I don’t think things are random, I think this is how it was meant to be.
Let’s talk about Original Vision. Is it autobiographical?
Maybe? Yeah. It’s one of those things. I talked about recording my music for a couple of years. Leaving Sister Sparrow, touring with Melody, and Lisa allowed me the space and time to get enough money to start. It feels autobiographical because it feels like the sum of everything that started. It’s an arrival point but it’s also a way to describe and release the past. To me, it’s important to do. You feel good from it, but it doesn’t describe you. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it’s a big piece.
Tell me about your single “Sundays.”
It’s a song I wrote a few years ago about my girlfriend then, fiancée now. We’ve been together for about four years and I wrote this early on in the relationship. It’s about love, hope, nostalgia and courtship. It was also written around the time that we hung out a lot in fall, so it has an autumn theme to it.
We released a music video; we’re both in it, as well as the singer who it features. I performed the song a couple times but I heard Chris Turner in a group called ERIMAJ, and immediately I thought he should sing this song. I wanted to make it a single because I wanted to bring in people who may not be full on jazz listeners, and give them something different to check out. Something a little bit more tangible with voice, and to show off that I have a songwriter side. It’s not a modern instrumental jazz album.
In our conversation, Alan Hampton mentioned that his wife and child kept him grounded while recording “Origami for the Fire”. What was your fiancée’s influence during your recording?
Her influence in general is huge. She definitely keeps me grounded. When I met her I knew she was the one, but it took me some time until I realized I was ready to really commit for the long haul. I think it takes a minute as an artist because we’re so committed to our thing. We’re used to being solo and individuals, and we don’t feel we need anyone else. To have one person to share something with everyday that you come back home to kept me going. There were some crazy things about that recording. I had a couple of mini meltdowns. Knowing that you can depend on someone for support, and even almost grieve about it, is a big thing. You can’t do everything on your own.
Also, she works in public relations and has gotten me a lot of help with press. I’m very grateful to her. We’re best friends.
If you had to pick a favorite track from your album, what would it be and why?
I really like how “Undiscovered Simplicities” turned out. I mostly write from the piano but on this song I wrote it on the bass and sang the melody for that tune. There are several tunes I’d say I liked a lot. It feels good, natural and organic. I really like the way Justin Brown (drums), Dave Bryant (pianist) played. I chose two different rhythm sections on purpose to split the album up and the combinations were chosen from playing with these guys a lot. The tunes were fairly specific for those players.
What was the biggest thing you’ve learned from your mentors?
I think all of us as people probably don’t realize the impact of various mentors until later. I can think back to things that I took with me without realizing it.
John Patitucci at grad school in City College, he has the most insane work ethic I’ve ever been around. Not only work ethic but energy. He just plays like it’s his last day on earth. You can tell he’s spent so much time on his instrument. He’s very ambitious and he’s very diverse and all of those things were very inspiring to me. He taught me some more specific lessons on composing and bass playing. As far as writing music, the first thing you play, don’t judge it – just play it, let it come out, and run with it.
Lee Rucker, trumpet player/big band director at UCO, mostly taught me by example. He just taught me how to play a song, straight up. How to play a melody. He’s the master. I would say, out of anyone from Oklahoma; Lee Rucker and Kent Kidwell started that jazz program and kept it going. If you want to hear someone play a pure jazz melody, listen to those guys.
Even being around Lisa, because that whole band is older. I’m the youngest one. It’s definitely a lesson just to see the way she deals with people and how she performs. Basically not having any fear. I think that younger people, we go through these stages where we’re afraid, and naturally so because that’s a part of maturing. Over the years, I’ve worked on not being afraid on stage. To play everything I feel on stage without judging. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from people older than me.
What is the biggest advice that you would give to musicians and artists who want to do what you’re doing?
I would say to think beyond your immediate area. Think broader. Always think broader. There’s going to be a time where we all have to develop our craft. That’s a given. Beyond that; music, art and living is about exchange. You want to find people, actively reach out to them, and make connections. That’s what I’ve realized in New York. You can sit in your apartment and practice all day, then go to a jam session and play your heart out. However, if you want to find out more about what you’re doing, the world, people around you, and how to bring your music to a larger level; you have to go out and talk to people. It’s about human interaction. We’re already doing that as artists on stage. You’re giving something to someone and interacting with them in a way. But I think you need to go the extra level. A lot of musicians don’t know how to communicate with people. Whether it’s club owners, bookers, etc. Learn those skills; it’s not always about what you’re playing. Learn how to develop those skills that come along with being a musician.
We’re lucky to be able to do this. A lot of people aren’t able to live this kind of life, so we have to share it with them.