In addition to contributing to premier Kansas City-area jazz ensembles The Natalie Bates Quartet, The Sextet, saxophonist Aryana Nemeti is also a highly regarded performer, composer and music educator. She recently released her debut album of reggae music, The Sax in I, an album she recorded in part with legendary Jamaican roots singer Dolphin 'Naggo' Morris. Nemati has shared the stage with Harry Connick Jr., Mindi Abair, Sister Carol, Reeko Lion and Harold ‘Spike’ Bonhart. In this interview, Nemati delves into how she worked on The Sax In I with Morris, her creative process and shares her book and music recommendations.
Talk about your brand new debut album, The Sax in I. How did this project come about? How long had it been in the works?
I was playing a show with one of the local reggae bands I perform with out in Lee's Summit last summer. Former singer of the Heptones, Dolphin 'Naggo' Morris, was visiting his sister who lives in KC and they came out to the show. This is where I first met Naggo. He liked what he heard and the band I was playing with that night did a show with him while he was here during his visit. He invited me to come over to his sister's to work on and talk about music. He had new songs that he was working on in Jamaica and wanted me to play over them. I also had a few songs I had been working on and he was quite impressed when I played them for him to hear. We eventually took this to Markosa Studio in Shawnee and did a couple recordings. He soon had to go back home. After he left, we kept in touch and began talking about putting together an album with the songs we worked on with the addition of new material. Things were in full swing by September and all the mixing and mastering was complete in January.
What were some of the unforeseen challenges of recording The Sax and I? How did you work through these challenges?
The biggest thing was that myself and Naggo were working on the majority of the album from different parts of the world. I was writing and recording here in KC and he was having local Jamaican musicians record the tracks in Jamaica. For my originals, I would send rough cuts that I created in Logic to the studio in Green Island, Jamaica. They did a great job of bringing what I sent to life. For the songs that Naggo sent me, I recorded my part from home, sent it to them, and they would let me know if they thought there was something I should change, such as the inflection of a note or the trajectory of a phrase, or that I was ready to take it to the studio. The back and forth was a bit tedious but it was the best way to go about it. It was difficult not being there because when I would hear the completed tracks I truly wished that I was there with them to absorb all that was happening, not just musically but culturally and socially as well.
The Sax and I is primarily a reggae album, which we don’t see a lot of in Kansas City. What do you love about this style of music?
There are many aspects of reggae music that draw me towards it. The general nature of the music is attractive to me because it is laid back but has a perpetual momentum to it. The subtlety and the timing within the music are also big factors into why I find the music so enjoyable and fascinating. For example, the subtraction and addition of specific instruments. When the bass drops out and you just have the drums along with the skank (upbeat typically played by keyboard and/or guitar) and a nice horn line or vocal line, you get a completely different soundscape even if the chords are the same. There are many different textures used throughout the music, all enticing in their own way. There is a lot of great instrumental reggae music from artists such as the Skatalites, Roland Alphonso, Bobby Ellis, Tommy McCook, and a slew of others. Artists such as these were the primary inspiration for my album and most of what I am working on currently. The compositions and their arrangements are creative and melodic. Vocally, Reggae is extremely powerful, constructive, and informative. Self-empowerment and self-awareness are big topics within the music, which really speaks to me. There are some great history lessons too! From calypso, to ska, to rocksteady, to reggae, to dub, although under the same umbrella, I find that each style is suitable for certain moods and unique in their own way.
How long have you been composing music? Describe your songwriting process.
I started to dabble in composition in high school but did not have much knowledge of music theory. At that time, I would mostly arrange tunes. When I got to college in 2010, I began to take music theory classes and jazz improvisation classes, and this helped tremendously. After a couple years there, I started to take composition more seriously. I do my best not to force any of my compositions. Ideas come and go in waves. Inspiration varies. Some ideas turn into something, others are kept on the shelf. Most of the tunes will start out as a melody, a bass line, or a set of chord changes. From there, I follow the ideas and work out what I am hearing in my head. I like to produce recordings on my computer. This helps me get a better idea of what it will sound like as a whole. I have a midi keyboard that I use to program lots of different sounds (drums, keyboards, effects, etc.). Depending on the group it is written for, I may use music notation software.
What advice do you have for younger musicians considering a career in music?
The lifestyle is different, but totally worth it. It does take a lot of work, focus, and it comes with a great deal of responsibility. Most importantly, you have to keep your mind open. There are some bands I play in now that I never thought I would play in because I was not listening to or exposed to that style of music. But because I had an open mind, tried different things and explored the musical community in Kansas City, I have been able to keep steady work playing my saxophone. There is so much music out there; I think you need to ask yourself what you want out of a career in music. Trying different things and playing in a variety of musical environments can help you make decisions on how you want to spend your time. Balance is always a good thing in music and in life. No matter what, always stay true to yourself!
What inspires you about original music in Kansas City?
I am inspired by original music in Kansas City for many reasons. There are musicians and composer of all genres, from jazz to classical to folk to hip hop, and lots more. Tons of fusion groups (mixed genres) which is always refreshing. I feel this is important because it keeps the scene diverse and all walks of life can enjoy listening to and composing original music in their preferred genre(s), no matter what it may be. A great deal of the original music is written at an extremely high level; world class music coming from Kansas City.
Aryana Nemati's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
The Reggae Power by Sly and Robbie
Equal Rights by Peter Tosh
Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins
Fearless Leader by John Coltrane
Somethin' Else by Cannonball Adderley
The Devil's Horn by Michael Segell
The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia
The Natural Mystics by Colin Grant
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Tao Te Ching by Laozi