Stretch Music (Introducing Elena Pinderhughes), the sparkling new Ropeadope album from trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, is plenty forward-looking in itself. It “stretches” jazz with its two-drummer lineup (including Joe Dyson’s novel pan-African kit) and its willingness to incorporate other genres, but is nonetheless Scott’s most tightly focused album to date. But the Stretch Music app it gave birth to may prove downright revolutionary. The app not only permits aspiring musicians to practice interactively with bona fide albums by established stars, it also provides a new possibility for musicians to derive income from said albums.
“Our app allows you to customize your practicing experience,” explains Scott, 32. “For instance, if you play trumpet, you can take the trumpet out and take the solo to the record, and play the melodies, whatever the trumpeter is doing. Any instrument that’s on the record, any channel, you can actually mute, you can fade it, you can [isolate] it, you can pan it from left to right and move it around, you can create looping. Let’s say you only want to play a four-bar passage [and] practice that. You can just loop a four-bar passage; you can slow it down, speed it up-and it stays in the same key.”
“It’s basically like Play-A-Long 2.0,” he adds, referencing the familiar Jamey Aebersold educational books and recordings designed to accompany players learning to improvise. “But what [Play-A-Long] is generally, it’s just the rhythm section that’s playing. So you can improvise over it, but you can’t mix and match or take out specific things.”
Darren Hoffman, whose company Tutti Dynamics teamed with Scott to bring the app to fruition, offers a variation of Scott’s Play-A-Long quote when it is repeated for him a few weeks later. “[Bassist] Rodney Jordan said it was Jamey Aebersold on crack,” he says, laughing.
Hoffman, 31, has come to a Manhattan hotel room, toting a freshly purchased Apple iPad, to demonstrate the $9.99 app (which runs on iPhones as well) and sketch out the history of how it came to be. Basically, Hoffman parlayed his studies in filmmaking and jazz drumming (at Florida State and New Orleans University, respectively) into a series of grants to develop various aids to music education. These led to two particularly notable successes. Hoffman worked with Dan Moretti of the Berklee College of Music on Essential Grooves, a foundational interactive program for Berklee arranging classes, and with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to create a big-band program now used by 650 high schools. Both feature crisp visual images of the musicians involved, along with the audio bells and whistles now on Scott’s app.
Scott, meanwhile, had recorded Stretch Music at Berklee’s new studio and was asking around for recommendations for an app collaborator. Drummer Charles Burchell, who had worked on Essential Grooves, steered him to Hoffman and Tutti Dynamics. (Burchell was recommended by Jason Marsalis, along with Scott sideman Dyson, when Hoffman approached his former drum teacher seeking New Orleans drummers living in Boston. Dyson had already returned to New Orleans when the project got underway, so the gig belonged to Burchell.) Scott and Hoffman met in February, and the app was released in September.
“In future versions there’s going to be the ability to record yourself,” says Hoffman. “But basically, as an aspiring trumpeter, if I’m 17 and I want to play like Christian, I can play alongside his whole band without Christian in the way. Or I can play along with him, and lower his volume a little bit, so that I can have that guide.”
As Scott explained, aspiring musicians can do likewise with Elena Pinderhughes’ flute or any of the other instruments in the band. And they can cue up sheet music for whatever parts they please. Scott’s app and its Berklee and JALC predecessors have earned rave reviews from students and educators alike. “The one response we get the most,” says Hoffman, “is, ‘I wish I had this when I was a kid.'”
Scott’s peers, meanwhile, began approaching Tutti Dynamics about collaborating on their own versions of the Stretch Music app even before its release. Scott promoted his app hard on his website and social media, and they recognized its other potential upside in this era of music streaming. “With Apple Music and Spotify, it’s hard to get anyone to focus on how important it is to purchase the music,” notes Hoffman. “So instead, why not offer something that you can’t get otherwise? It’s not just monetizing for the sake of monetizing it; it’s a deeper, fuller experience that you can’t get from streaming audio.”