DONALD EDWARDS SIGHS AND PUSHES back from his drum kit, shoving open the French doors that separate him from the rest of his band. They have been laboring over the same 45 seconds of music—a rhythmically devious opening that only a drummer could invent—for 45 minutes. Much has been accomplished on this December day in the palatial, moldy elegance of New Orleans’ Kingsway Studio, yet with each false start the tension increases: To stay on schedule, the band must finish two more songs before quitting for the evening. Next door, Mark Elliott, the 27-year-old producer and co-founder of Dallas’ Leaning House Records, sits at the mixing board, his hair mussed, staring out a window as the shadows grow long on the streets of the French Quarter; he is losing light along with the collective focus of his musicians. Edwards wanders into the control room, and they murmur in low tones, Elliott looking down, rubbing a spot on the ï¿½oor with his shoe. “It takes a mental thing, you know,” Edwards says, clearly frustrated. He lingers a moment, then walks back to his drums for another take. He has no other choice.
The tape rolls again, and this time the band sails through the introduction, swinging furiously until seconds before the end, when something—a sound—goes by very fast. The musicians laugh nervously. Hoping for a reprieve, they listen to a playback, but tape, as always, is unmerciful. It’s a perfect take save for one glaring and uncorrectable bad note. No one speaks. Elliott’s dark mood drops like a curtain as he abruptly stands and stretches. He smiles at Edwards, who has been eyeing him cautiously. “Want to try it again?”
Elliott and his 27-year-old partner, Keith Foerster, have come to Kingsway—a sprawling 1860 mansion owned by producer Daniel Lanois—to record what will be the eighth release for Leaning House, their ï¿½edgling jazz label. Friends since their elementary school days in Dallas, Elliott—medium build, intense, engaging—and Foerster—tall, serious, quiet—grew up as self-described misfits. Neither had a particularly keen interest in music until 1987, when Elliott first heard a Charlie Parker record and started on the seductive path of discovery that every jazz fan experiences. He came to revere vintage jazz recordings not only for their music but also for their sound, look, and feel; each was an audible memento of irretrievable history. After a whimsical attempt to start a jazz band, the pair began attending gigs around Dallas and getting to know the players, and soon Elliott was inviting musicians to record at a studio where he was studying engineering. By the time they graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1993—Foerster with an accounting degree, Elliott with a psychology degree—they were talking about starting their own label.
At first it was just that: talk. “Up to a point, these experimental sessions were just sort of piddling,” Elliott recalls. “We were not doing anything of great consequence.” Then he and Foerster met saxophonist Marchel Ivery, who is the stuff of legend in the Dallas area (“Tenor of the Times,” TM, March 1997). A thirty-year veteran of the jazz scene, Ivery could have made serious waves on either coast, but as a family man, he chose to stay close to home for most of his career, working the Texas rhythm and blues circuit, putting in fifteen years with pianist Red Garland and even a short stint in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Although Ivery was 55 when Elliott and Foerster coaxed him into the studio in 1994, he had never led his own recording session. Initially, he wasn’t sure what to make of these two young kids hanging around. “Were they for real or was it some kind of put-on?” Ivery remembers thinking. “But they kept