Audeze speaks to jazz trombone player, educator and producer Elliot Mason

Elliot Mason is a jazz trombone player, educator, producer, audiophile and avid listener. Always grateful and appreciative to have music be such an important part of his life, he currently performs with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, The Mason Brothers Quintet, Sofijazz, and his own band Cre8tion. Elliot teaches music at the Juilliard School in NYC.

 

 

"I have been using the LCD-X’s primarily for mixing... The LCDi3’s have been a total game changer for me, they are now my headphone of choice for tracking." - Elliot Mason
Here's our talk with Elliot:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

There are a few recent projects/albums that I’m especially proud of. My debut solo album Before, Now & After, a unique project with an amazing band and wonderful guests. Two Sides, One Story, an album recorded Avatar Studios in NYC with The Mason Brothers Quintet (quintet with my brother Brad), and a raw live album from Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in NYC titled Efflorescence.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I have been a part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis for 10+ years, it’s definitely a full time gig. Pre-pandemic we were on the road 4-5 months of the year and when off from touring we perform at our hall at Columbus Circle NYC. With my own projects, Cre8tion and The Mason Brothers Quintet, I play more of a leading role on and off the stage and enjoy putting my producer/engineer cap on when it’s time to make a new album.

What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

Coming from a musical family, and both my parents being jazz musicians, there was always jazz on in the house. They gravitated towards the masters that influenced them: Dizzy Gillespie, Harry James, Ella Fitzgerald, Freddie Hubbard, Count Basie etc.
For my brother and I that set a wonderful foundation that enabled us to branch out in both directions of that timeline, working backwards to listen to their idols, and their idols, as well as moving forward to follow the direction of those who were influenced by them.
This upbringing definitely helped enable us to appreciate music that at its core focused on making you feel good, regardless of style/genre. Recently I feel I’ve come full circle, revisiting some of my favorite musicians that influenced me when I was growing up, now with fresh ears and a new perspective. I’m always searching to discover more wonderful artists and emotional recordings that inspire me to continue to create.

Can you name any factors you feel majorly influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Family has been a strong theme throughout my personal musical projects, and continues to fuel my intent behind the music that I write.
I’m blessed to have such a great foundation from my parents, my mother, a wonderful jazz vocalist and my father, a trumpet/trombone player and my music teacher/idol from an early age.
My brother, an incredible trumpet player, with whom I have a special musical connection that balances our individuality.
My wife Sofija, with the voice of an angel who constantly inspires me to evolve, and our son Maksim, (future perfect pitch trombone player!) whose joyful innocence continually reassesses my perspective on music, love and life.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

A very challenging and frustrating time in my life was when I first moved to New York City as a professional musician. At age 19, I had just graduated Berklee College of Music in Boston, and decided to move to NYC with only a few contacts in the book. Although absorbing the energy, and being around wonderful musicians can happen quickly, in a big city like New York it can take time to gain momentum, but once that momentum starts rolling, it can can give back tenfold.
Being a young, eager but broke jazz musician, I went through phases of going to concerts (within my budget), meeting people, sitting in at jam sessions and trying to develop relationships/contacts as much as possible. Often feeling discouraged if all of the above didn’t show instant results, but still inspired to double down on practicing/working on my own projects. I sometimes felt uncomfortable showing interest in a well-known gig or focusing on ways to connect with my idols, but the most traction came for me when equally finding a healthy balance between developing my own scene/sound with friends and peers, and also respectfully reaching out to people I wanted to perform/collaborate with. This way I developed a unique representation of myself (album(s), videos or upcoming gigs) for my influences to hear.
If I were to redo my first 10 years living in NYC, I would definitely be more proactive in reaching out to musicians that I wanted to perform with, (this includes learning all of their music) and making sure I’m overly prepared for any opportunity that could only be a phone call away.

I actually have a frustrating headphone story that seems appropriate also... Earlier in my career, when heading to the studio for a recording session I would often reach out to the engineer and talk about mic preferences, preamps and setups, but never even thought to ask about available options of headphones.
You normally get to the session, your headphones are setup and you’re either pleasantly surprised or extremely disappointed! Well, there was one session where I remember being very disappointed, not only were they not great headphones, but they were also in terrible shape. During this time, I played with one side off and placed it on top my head, but the headband was broken and had zero spring to keep them secure. Sure enough, at the pinnacle of my solo when I was closing my eyes taking more movement liberties, the headphones completely slipped off and fell to the floor. Now, all of the horns were in a booth so at this point I couldn’t hear the rhythm section playing live at all, so I decided to play some random noises whilst bending down to pick up the cans and throw them on my head! Fortunately the take wasn’t ruined, but to put it nicely, you can definitely hear that I’m making some interesting strange choices in that solo!
What did that experience teach me? Equipment can change the direction of the music. Now I always travel to a session with 2 sets of cans: my LCDi3’s are definitely one pair and I bring a backup just in case...

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

When setting up to record ourselves, we simply want to capture our personal sound with as many analog nuances as possible. I quickly learned when putting together my own home studio that it can be a slippery slope that often brings diminishing returns, but sometimes getting the digital representation a few steps closer to the real acoustic sound can make all the difference.
For me, my top few pieces of gear for recording are: My favorite microphone, a Coles 4038 with a Universal Audio 610 preamp, along with my Audeze LCDi3’s. A high end A to D converter is also up there on my list. When mixing and making adjustments, a good DAC and a great pair of headphones are crucial in hearing any changes to those important but sometimes subtle fine details/nuances.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

As long as you’re doing music for your passion and love for it, it will always give back. The things you feel are your strongest attributes might not be the same qualities that you get paid the most for, be open and prepare to work diversely within the music field and treasure those moments where you get to do what you love.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Between work, work preparation and casual listening, it’s a rarity that a day goes by without me having headphones on my head at some point.
When producing/mixing, I enjoy going back and fourth between speakers and headphones to compare mixes, but often gravitate towards headphones when checking for clicks, pops and general noises that happened when recording. When it’s time to listen just for enjoyment, a good DAC/amp and some Audeze cans will bring you deeper in to your favorite recordings, sometimes it’s hard not to smile.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them so far?

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a huge Audeze fan. I’ve recently been using two Audeze models, one for tracking/recording (LCDi3) and the other for listening back/mixing (LCD-X).

I have been using the LCD-X’s primarily for mixing and often switch from speakers to these headphones when listening/tweaking subtle nuances. They bring a lot of information but also aren’t dry or analytical, which makes them extremely enjoyable and just plain fun for casual listening.

The LCDi3’s have been a total game changer for me, they are now my headphone of choice for tracking. I have been using/bringing them on all recording sessions, from home to studio. They have a very unique design, open back in-ears (similar models include: iSine10, iSine20 and LCDi4). For any wind instrument and vocalist, we often struggle to use IEM’s because they create the feeling of singing with your fingers in your ears, but over-ears can also be challenging to hear our acoustic sound. You will often see musicians wearing one ear off when recording to try and mix both acoustic and headphones sounds, this is especially prominent with trombone because our instrument can almost touch one ear. With the LCD-i3’s you don’t get the fingers in your ears feeling, you can hear yourself acoustically while keeping both ears on and they sound amazing!

One of my most recent projects was a livestream concert that was recorded in the studio, then streamed a couple of weeks later. This concert was super fun and a little bit less stressful than recording an album as we just ran the set down. I used the LCD-i3’s to track/record and then mixed the project using both the LCD-X and LCD-i3 as references.
Here’s a link to the livestream: