‘Becoming’ Jazz masters: student musicians release album


Photo courtesy Ethan Dodd

Six student musicians form the jazz group “D Squared.” The group released an album in August.

By Isabel Hoffman

Having played in countless jazz county orchestras, Whitman pit orchestras, ensembles and bands, there was one remaining musical feat that Ethan Dodd (‘18) wanted to take on as his “senior parting gift.” Dodd wanted to record an album.

On August 15, Dodd got his wish: he and five other high school musicians, who call themselves D Squared, released ‘Becoming.’ The album is comprised of six covers of jazz standards and three original songs written by various members of the band, including the album’s namesake song ‘Becoming’ and Dodd’s ‘Solemnity.’[bandcamp width=170 height=42 album=2989187132 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 artwork=none track=1236256718] [bandcamp width=170 height=42 album=2989187132 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 artwork=none track=3370759226]

Members include Dodd, seniors Ben Wolstein and John Blackwelder; and Marcus Welsch, Michael DeMarco and Isaac Applebaum, who attend other local schools. The boys all knew each other from years of being involved with the jazz community and are each highly skilled at their various instruments.

“It was kind of an all-star group from the county and from the state,” Wolstein, who plays trumpet, said.

During rehearsals, the group put their own stylistic spin on the songs they were covering. The combination of original songs and jazz standards gave the band the freedom to adapt and rearrange songs, Wolstein said.

D Squared recorded their album at Blue House Productions, a popular recording studio for jazz musicians where some members of the band had previously recorded music.

The band won Whitman’s Battle of the Bands and thought that the prize money would cover the recording expenses, Blackwelder, the band’s guitarist, said. Unfortunately, their prize money only covered a fraction of the costs, which also included licensing fees in order to get ‘Becoming’ on Apple Music and Spotify, and making 250 CDs.

Getting the album on streaming services was important to band members because it can be used as a portfolio of their craft. Wolstein said that putting the album on streaming services gives it a lasting presence and something to look back on in the future to track their musical progress, but the process of getting licensing was challenging.

“It was a group effort. My dad helped out a lot, trying to get the families to chip in their share,” Dodd said. “We purchased licensing through Distrokid and we had to get special codes so we can make money off of streaming them. It’s very little money—like a decimal point of a cent per play.”

The musician’s busy school schedules, which for the group’s seniors included graduation, only allowed the boys to have one rehearsal before recording the album. Dodd said he learned the importance of planning out song intros and outros beforehand, which the band didn’t even consider before their time slot at the recording studio.

Reflecting on the process of creating ‘Becoming,’ the members of the band had mixed reactions. Blackwelder said that with all the fees and time commitment that the album required, he feels no need to record another one soon.

“The album is sort of a snapshot of where we are right now,” he said. “We’re going to graduate in less than a year, so in the time after this album, we’re not going to just become insanely better than we were on the album.”

Dodd said that being the producer of the album was a lot of hard work with minimal payoff. Not many people bought the album on iTunes and Dodd still has most of the CDs. Because jazz is such a niche genre, few people will likely ever listen to ‘Becoming,’ Dodd said.

Blackwelder is happy to have the album as a marker of his musical process and is looking forward to going back and listening to it in the future.

“Hopefully it’s not my peak,” he said, with a laugh.

Listen to the full album here:
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