Hustle and flow

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Saxophone player Spenser Liszt burns it up at the Balcony Club in Dallas earlier this month.

Jazz man finances debut with grind, finesses tracks with improvisation

Spenser Liszt got an album out of his master’s degree in jazz studies at the University of North Texas College of Music.

Until Further Notice is the saxophone player’s debut, with a neat seven tracks and 40 minutes of genre-bending jazz.

“It was a mix of things,” Liszt said. “I took a music entrepreneurship class in the fall of 2013. It was taught by Stockton Helbing, this drummer who played with Maynard Ferguson. But I also had my master’s recital.”

The recital gave Liszt a chance to write his own music, and to collaborate with his peers — pianist Addison Frei, bassist Perrin Grace and drummer Matt Young — who provided the rhythm section for Liszt’s master recital.

“I wanted to write my own music, and the music business class required us to create short-term and long-term plans, as well as other kinds of plans,” Liszt said.

“At school, I felt a little bit apart from the pack,” Liszt said. “A lot of people practice licks and study other artists’ way of playing. You know, they kind of steal other artists’ techniques. I’m a pure improviser. When I play, it’s spontaneous composition.

“In school, you might really pay attention to the greats. You might listen to Sonny Rollins over and over. I kind of stayed away from that, and it made me feel like I was apart from the other players. A lot of people might think I’m just a baritone sax player.”

He admits to getting a little antsy during the required classes that saxophone players take.

“You study really old players. I appreciate that, but I wanted to learn a lot of the modern soloists. I had to take music history, too. I appreciate the old stuff, maybe more now than I did when I was in school, but while I was there, I wasn’t really interested in that,” he said.

An advantage to making your own record — and paying for it — is that you get to play to your taste. Liszt said each track on Until Further Notice is different.

“The first six tunes are the first thing I’ve ever written,” he said.

Both “Relief” and “The Observatory” grew out of jam sessions. “The Observatory,” inspired by the facility at UNT, shows off Liszt’s hip-hop influences, though the result is decidedly smoother. The beat is midtempo, but both sax and synth never let the energy get beyond easy-like-Sunday-morning.

“Mr. David” is a tribute to Liszt’s late father. The musician said the song was almost a lark.

“I was in my office at school really late. I just turned off the lights and started to play. Later, I went to the piano and fleshed it out,” he said.

The tribute was actually recorded at Liszt’s master’s recital at UNT. The seventh and final track, “Improvisation,” was recorded in a single session — “a live shot,” he said.

Liszt paid roughly $4,000 to make Until Further Notice. Through the music business course, he said, he was able to use Helbing’s label, Armored Records. The label uses a grassroots approach to get up-and-coming jazz musicians in the studio and eventually into the industry with a record in their hands.

A self-proclaimed “saver,” Liszt makes his living as a freelance musician. The saxophone is his principal instrument, but he can also play the flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon and piano.

Now that the record has been released, Liszt said he can appreciate the alchemy between himself, Frei, Grace and Young that he wasn’t paying attention to when he was keeping his big-picture goggles on during the recording, mixing and engineering.

“Any time you listen to something as much as you listen to a project you’re working on, you can focus so much on getting that one thing right that some things get by you,” he said. “When you’re finished, you start hearing some things between the musicians you didn’t notice before. Some stuff, you kind of go, ‘I wish I’d done that differently.’ But some things surprise you in a good way.”

The real challenge came in post-production, Liszt said.

“I set deadlines for myself,” he said. “I’d never done this stuff before. Mixing was a hassle. My goal was to record in May, master in June and mix in July. And yeah, I did get into a time crunch.”

Liszt enlisted a friend to draw the album artwork, a tadpole-shaped abstract made up of slivers of orange, blue and light blue. Vocalist Jordan Coffing’s mother took the artwork and designed the front and back of the album — as well as the graphics on the disc itself.

“I’m not going to be writing more music until I start working on another record,” Liszt said. “Just like the title, until further notice, I’m going to be promoting the record, playing and working.

The record is available for download on iTunes and Google Play.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.


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