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April 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more The Booklist Interview
Live Oak Media is the inaugural recipient of the 2008 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production for Jazz, narrated by James “D-Train” Williams and Vaneese Thomas. Odyssey chairperson Mary Burkey caught up with producer Arnie Cardillo, who owns Live Oak Media with his wife, Debra, following the awards announcements at Midwinter.
BKL: The first Odyssey winner is a read-along, an audio and picture book set. How is a read-along unique?
CARDILLO: Well, the main function of a read-along is to help children develop listening and language skills while they listen to the audio and follow along with the book. The music and sound effects reinforce the text and illustrations and create emotion to go along with the story. It is known that seeing words and illustrations and listening at the same time can help a child retain information by making a double impression on the memory. We feel that adding narration, music, and sound effects helps youngsters enjoy and appreciate the story even more.
BKL: Will winning the Odyssey help change the impression of read-alongs?
CARDILLO: Yes, I definitely believe that it will. I still have the preconception that some people believe read-alongs are not as viable a format as audiobooks. But Jazz certainly doesn’t fit an age category; it transcends the concept that read-alongs are only for young audiences.
BKL: Can you tell us how you produced this title?
CARDILLO: We started by brainstorming. My engineer, Rory Young, and I went through the book to determine what musical styles and jazz period author Walter Dean Myers and illustrator Christopher Myers were trying to represent. I also contacted Walter to get his ideas on what musical inspirations (compositions or jazz artists) he had in mind when he wrote each poem. We produced two other Myers’ titles, Blues Journey and Blues of Flats Brown. Walter really liked what we did, and he trusted us. He was totally confident in our ability to produce an audio version of Jazz. Once we had Walter’s notes and our notes, Rory sat down with composer and arranger Rob Mathes to discuss our ideas. Rob was intrigued by the project, since he’s an avid jazz buff and jazz stylist. He’s also an accomplished composer who, among other things, arranges part time for the Boston Pops. Rob added his own ideas based on his musical genius and the inspiration he received from the poetic and visual beauty of the book.
BKL: What came next?
CARDILLO: A jazz ensemble, comprising Rob on piano and five other musicians, came into the studio for a recording session. Based on the content of the poems and the illustrations, we felt the book needed both a male and a female voice. We decided to bring them in separately, so we could pick and choose whose performance worked best for each piece. James “D-Train” Williams came in first. What a vocal and improvisational genius! He listened to the music once or twice, got his rhythm, and laid down the vocals almost flawlessly. I think there was only one time I had to tell him that his vocal rhythm was too fast and wouldn’t translate well for a child trying to sing or follow along with the text. He thought for a moment and did it perfectly on the next take. What amazed me most was the character, attitude, and powerful presence he brought to his performance.
Vaneese Thomas came in a few days later and followed D-Train’s lead perfectly, adding just the right touches and her own personal style to his vocal rhythms and melodies. Vaneese’s outstanding voice—so clear, pure, shimmering, and silvery smooth—brought a sparkle and shine and was the finishing touch to performances by some of the most talented musicians and singers I have ever had the privilege of working with.
BKL: How did you add the finishing touches?
CARDILLO: Rory did a preliminary run-through to put all the pieces in their proper places. Then we sat down for the final edit and mix. We had to make sure we used the male and female voices where they were appropriate and effective, either separately or together. The introduction, glossary, and time line were challenging because of their length. We decided to play D-Train and Vaneese’s narration off each other, so these sections would hold listeners’ interest. We also had to lengthen or shorten the music for each poem to ensure that the overall pace of the production would hold together as a single entity. Finally, and most importantly, we had to make sure the mix of vocals and instruments complemented each other, being mindful that this is an audiobook and not a music album. The right instruments had to be mixed up or down in each piece to capture, clarify, and musically reflect the author’s and illustrator’s intent. Fifteen people contributed to this production—the most extensive one I’ve ever been involved with. It took five months to complete. None of it could have happened without the seminal creative genius of Walter and Christopher Myers. Their words and pictures were our inspiration from start to finish!
BKL: Do you see any changes for Live Oak?
CARDILLO: We are testing the download market with some of our audiobooks. We just sent off 50 titles to Audible.com. We did a bit of reformatting and feel these audios function well without the book. Picture books start with a story that, in most cases, stands or falls by itself. We are trying the market because we feel download is very viable and here to stay.
BKL: Can you reflect on the impact of the Odyssey Award?
CARDILLO: I’d like to address the role of ALA Notable media committees and now the Odyssey Award in raising the bar for producers and elevating audiobooks as literature. I can’t speak for all producers, but the listening criteria and the dedication to the selection process have made me a better producer. The fact that committees are listening closely has made me listen more closely as well, to pay attention to the standards and, in turn, to my productions. I have to be very cognizant of what I am doing because the audios are being listened to by people of all ages, who have become very knowledgeable and savvy about media. The work you’ve done has created a new definition of the phrase “a collaborative effort.” I bet you didn’t know that you, too, are part of the production process and that you’ve helped raise standards for all of us.
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