Category Archives: General

5 Things I’ve Learned About Producing Jazz Albums

Originally appeared in

In my long and varied career, I’ve produced albums by artists like Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard, Tommy Flanagan, ​Grover Washington, Jr., Jimmy Scott, Cedar Walton, Jimmy Smith and many others. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way.

1. What’s our story, Morning Glory?

I almost always begin a project by trying to find out from the artist(s) some idea about what kind of a musical story we are trying to tell with the album we are making. Since this music is all about telling your own story in your own way, I like to talk through with the artist as much as possible, and in as many dimensions as possible, about the most unique and freshest approaches he or she might be able to take to each of the songs and original compositions that are going to be recorded.

2. ​Take care of the music (and the music will take care of you).

I try to start out with quite a bit more artistic “grist for the mill” than we​ ​will eventually need for the final album. That way, we can​ ​experience the​ ​wonderful creative process of certain material coming to the fore and other​ ​stuff falling by the wayside as we prepare for the actual studio or live concert​ ​recording process. Quite often, we are blessed to have a vibe or central​ ​mood emerge in harmony with the story we are hoping to tell, and sometimes​ ​the music takes on more of a surprising life of its own while it is actually​ ​being recorded.

3. The music is the magic​.​

As jazz vocalist Abbey LIncoln wrote and sang, “The music is the magic.” No matter what, it is most important that we are recording material that the artist really wants to record, and quite often by far my most important job is to get out of the way to let the magic happen with as much unfettered swing,​ ​imagination and passion as humanly possible.

4. Create a circle of love​.​

I learned very early in my over 50 years of presenting jazz as a club owner ​and concert/recording producer, that, as seemingly corny and utopian as​ ​it may sound, our music is all about love, dedication, honesty and integrity, and​ ​it is a supreme necessity that the musicians can hear each other and themselves with warm and natural clarity. I try to never to lose sight of the fact that “we” don’t really create this music, but we do have the invaluable job of helping to create the best possible environment to allow the shared creative cycles of our music to happen.

5. Make lemonade.

One of my primary mentors, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, liked to tell me, “If all you​ ​got is lemons, then just make some great lemonade.” When I was producing​ ​a McCoy Tyner album for a Japanese record label in the 1990s with a whole group of great young jazz lions like Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, and Antonio Hart, quite out of the blue we got a very special request from the label to cover a Dolly Parton tune, the suggestion of which I felt absolutely certain was not going to bring a smile to McCoy Tyner’s heart, or be well received by any of his all-star sidemen either. Fortunately I remembered that the Japanese music lovers had a huge and enduring passion for certain classical themes by Chopin and Beethoven, and I suggested some of the these themes as a counter-proposal​ ​to the Dolly Parton request. The very successful album we made with McCoy & Company wound up being called “Prelude and Sonata.” ​ Who knew?​

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“My Jazz Life” — Todd Barkan talks about his career on Sirius XM Real Jazz Channel 67 on Thursday, April 12th

There will be a special “My Jazz Life,” 3-hour broadcast on Sirius XM Real Jazz Channel 67 on Thursday, April 12th by Todd Barkan talking about his career in our music and playing cds he has produced in his 54-year career stretching from the Keystone Korner through Jazz at Lincoln Center to recently being named as a 2018 NEA Jazz Master along with Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, and Joanne Brackeen.

Todd Barkan’s “My Jazz Life” broadcast on Sirius/XM Real Jazz will be aired twice: from 3-6 pm on Thursday afternoon, April 12th, and then re-broadcast from midnight to 3 am on Monday morning, April 13th.

2018 NEA Jazz Masters Todd Barkan, Joanne Brackeen, Pat Metheny, and Dianne Reeves will all be featured in an All Star NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert, on Monday, April 16th, beginning at 8 pm at the Kennedy Center, featuring performances by Eddie Palmieri, Christian McBride, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Angelique Kidjo, Helen Sung, Terri Lyne Carrington, Antonio Sanchez, Pasquale Grasso, Sullivan Fortner, Dan Wilson and many others.

This concert will be live-streamed from Kennedy Center via and broadcast by WBGO and Sirius/XM Real Jazz.

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Jazz House Kids

I’m happy and proud to be preparing jazz video lectures for the Summer Jazz House Workshop for the Jazz House Kids July 31-August 11 at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ.

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Todd Barkan talks with Jesse Chuy Varela

Wednesday, July 5th, 3 pm, worldwide at Todd Barkan talks with Jesse Chuy Varela:

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Todd Barkan named 2018 NEA Jazz Master

Very thankful. I’m very moved and honored by this recognition from my peers to be included with heroes Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, and​ ​Joanne Brackeen as one of the four 2018 NEA​ ​Jazz Masters. It’s been a lifelong blessing to have personally worked​ with​ most of the NEA Jazz​ ​Masters since I began this unlikely journey in our music in the mid 1960s. A real privilege beyond​ ​words to be able to provide ​an​ opportunity and space to these indispensable artists to swing and create together. As Bobby Hutcherson told me quite a few times, and even wrote on the wall of the Keystone Korner:​ “True love asks nothing in return.” –Todd Barkan

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