This is the first in a series of articles featuring Thomas Wenglinski and his new album, Adjustments Made. (It’s not the first time he has appeared on these pages, though…you can troll the rest of the Musical Millennial posts here, or jump to the backstory at the end of the article by clicking here.)
Thomas Wenglinski and I spoke by phone on a Saturday afternoon about a week before his move from Texas to Florida for grad school and a fellowship at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. It was a wide-ranging conversation, and I realized, that although I’ve known him all his life (I’m his Mom, although I’m referring to him by his last name here), there are a lot of things I don’t know about his music. I hope you’ll find these insights as interesting as I did.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Wonder, listening to a lot of Philly soul, The Stylistics, The Delphonics, The Spinners,” Wenglinski said, responding to my comment that Adjustments Made is a bit of a departure, style-wise, from his previous recordings, which fit much more easily into a jazz category.
“I wanted to at some point evolve into making music that was in this genre,” he said, noting that he’s been listening to Jake and Abe lately. “I’ve always been surrounded by R&B and soul, and it seems like a natural evolution forward from jazz—they have a common ancestry.”
I asked him to explain.
“They have a lot in common. Harmonically, they are very similar. They come from a common place, influenced by soul and blues music from the early 20th century.”
He went on: “They are so interrelated that I almost see them as inseparable, maybe not even two genres,” noting that many musicians “who played in the R&B / soul genre in 70s were jazz musicians.”
“George Duke is a great example. And Jimmy Rowles, the organist, wrote a bunch of (jazz) standards in the 60s, but was also playing organ on the 5th Dimension stuff, like Stone Soul Picnic.”
He knew I’d love that reference because the group The 5th Dimension was a favorite of my Mom’s, and then mine. He acknowledged that he first heard The 5th Dimension on my iPod when he was a small child, thus giving me some credit for his musical influences. 😊 This made me happy.
The Opportunity Provided by the Pandemic
Adjustments Made was almost completely recorded and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The title is “kind of a vague way of alluding to the fact that we all have to completely alter our lifestyles in the face of the pandemic and quarantine,” said Wenglinski, adding that in a few years, “people will look at the title and think, what could that possibly mean? And then, ‘Oh! it came out in 2020, that’s what it meant.'”
COVID-19 spelled big changes for musicians. “We’ve all had to relearn how to go about daily life in a lot of ways. There are a lot of things we just can’t do, like if you’re a gigging musician, you just can’t gig, because that’s a very in-person activity.”
Before the pandemic shut down Austin, where Wenglinski was finishing his senior year of a Jazz Composition degree at the University of Texas, he was playing 3-4 nights per week, attending classes, working on arrangements for an upcoming Jazz Orchestra concert and the UT Jazz Festival, and preparing for his senior recital, which would have been the culmination of four movements of a suite that he’d been writing for 4 years, An Arc of Innocence.
Then everything stopped.
The coronavirus shuttered every music venue, the university took everything online, and the concerts, festivals and recitals were all cancelled. The performance of An Arc of Innocence would have to wait.
“Suddenly I had all this free time on my hands.” To fill up his wide-open schedule, Wenglinski turned to his library of recorded snippets and began to pull together an album. “I’m always cooking up ideas and nuggets in the recording software I use, so that whenever I want to actually go in and develop a full-length project, I pick the most viable options.”
Those nuggets, which he records whenever he has a cool idea, would usually sit on the back burner for a while before becoming something you and I could listen to, because of time constraints: “You have all these creative ventures and you think ‘one day I’m going to get to this’ but you have to actually carve out time for yourself to do it between all the gigs, because they fill up your schedule.”
So there was an upside to the quarantining. “The pandemic, for all the other things it’s been, for me at least, it functioned as an unwelcome opportunity to sit down and flesh out ideas, and it just so happened that so many of them worked together in a cohesive album that I just decided to pursue that as an end goal for them.”
Like Making Gumbo
The process of putting together the “ideas and nuggets” into an album sounds a little like making gumbo to me. “Absolutely,” he responds. (He has been my kitchen companion during gumbo-making many, many times, and wrote an essay about gumbo – see Gumbo, It’s a Family Affair.)
“If we’re going down the avenue of the gumbo analogy, I know that you always say ‘the rule is to not go to the store, to only use what you already have,'” which is true; I like to make gumbo out of bits of this and that rather than employing a pat approach which returns the same results every time.
Continuing the comparison to gumbo and cooking by feel, he adds, “You could say that you just trust your instincts when composing,” like when making gumbo, and explains that purpose of recording the ideas very quickly as they arise, “documenting without a second thought,” is so that they will be there as ingredients to put together into a cohesive whole.
Thinking about the bits of ingredients that I store in the freezer to make stock for gumbo and how important it is to label them, I wondered about the process of capturing and filing away all of these musical nuggets, asking, “Does it say one-minute melody idea in soul style? How do you go back and retrieve them?”
I got an honest answer: “It’s pretty messy. But to save a file, you have to have a file name, which incentivizes coming up with a title on the spot.”
He shared an example: a few days earlier he had recorded a short “slow groove” idea in Logic (recording software) and named it Sleep In. “It was slow, and I recorded it in the morning, and I had slept in that morning … and it just felt appropriate.”
If this “slow groove” idea gets fleshed out and he records a tune called Sleep In, we’ll know how it got its name.
The Next Movement
That’s all for this first article. The next one in the series will focus on one of the songs in particular, A Rainbow for Fred, which was inspired by Fred Hampton.
The genesis of the article can be found in this post from earlier this month.
Adjustments Made Can Be Yours Right Now!
The good news is that you can access the album right now – for your listening pleasure. Click any of the links below to listen or purchase.
If you download or preview the album, please consider leaving a review. I’d LOVE to be able to say that the Glover Gardens blog promotion was successful, if not perfect.
© 2020, Glover Gardens