Friday, April 3

Going for the Grammy: UCLA jazz director works on Anderson .Paak’s nominated album ‘Malibu’

Daniel Seeff, program director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, played on Anderson Paak's Grammy-nominated album "Malibu." (Stella Huang/Daily Bruin)

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated Daniel Seeff's brother introduced him to DJ Khalil. In fact, DJ Khalil's brother introduced Seeff to DJ Khalil.

UCLA faculty, staff and alumni have contributed musical works that are nominated for the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, 2017. Their talents, ranging from playing the saxophone to composing songs to performing in an opera, have been recognized with nominations in five different categories.

Not all musicians can say they have had a chance to record in a studio with Anderson .Paak, A$AP Ferg and Kendrick Lamar – but Daniel Seeff is among the few who have.

Seeff has been playing bass professionally for 30 years and works as the program director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.

Seeff’s playing appears on Anderson .Paak’s 2016 album “Malibu,” which is nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards. Seeff played guitar, bass and co-wrote “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Your Prime” after his longtime friend and collaborator Khalil Abdul-Rahman, better known as DJ Khalil, invited him to work on the album in 2015.

As a dedicated jazz musician who draws musical inspiration for his compositions and improvisations from a variety of genres, Seeff’s contributions helped create a winning sound on “Malibu,” DJ Khalil said.

Seeff said he has been working professionally with DJ Khalil since 1997 and has never said no to collaborating on a project with him before. He was first introduced to DJ Khalil’s music when he heard Khalil’s brother playing it in the car outside Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles on Pico Boulevard in 1996, he said.

“It was like a hip-hop beat but with a long jazz guitar riff,” Seeff said. “I thought it was incredible, and all I was thinking was that I wanted to get a copy of that music, so I asked him, ‘What is that?'”

Khalil’s brother introduced Seeff to DJ Khalil, and the two connected over a common taste in jazz and contemporary music. When Seeff went to DJ Khalil’s house for the first time, he noticed DJ Khalil had a big pile of records with a jazz album called “Bright Size Life” by Pat Metheny on the top.”I thought it was really incredible that a hip-hop producer knew that album,” Seeff said. “I picked that up and said, ‘You know this?’ and he said, ‘I love that album.’”

Seeff and DJ Khalil also frequently collaborate with keyboard player and songwriter Sam Barsh, who played the keyboards and co-wrote “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Your Prime” on “Malibu.”

[Related: Faculty play in Grammy-nominated piece honoring Frank Zappa]

Barsh first met Seeff through singer Maya Azucena and Seeff introduced Barsh to DJ Khalil. The trio first achieved popular success when they worked together on Aloe Blacc’s hit pop single “The Man” in 2013.

The three instrumentalists share a strong bond – Barsh and Seeff said they rent out rooms in DJ Khalil’s studio to play and record. When they collaborate, Seeff usually plays the bass, Barsh plays the keyboard and DJ Khalil works on production, Barsh said.

To record “Malibu,” DJ Khalil set up an electric drum set for Anderson .Paak to record pieces in his downtown Los Angeles studio.

Barsh played the keyboards and Seeff alternated between the guitar and bass. Within minutes of walking into the studio, they started jamming and improvising freely, Barsh said.

The three found a funky groove that would become the main rhythm for the song, Barsh said.

Anderson .Paak, who has previously toured as a drummer, played the drums during the session, in addition to providing the vocals for “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.”

DJ Khalil recorded the best 15 minutes of their improvised session, Barsh said.

From there, DJ Khalil cut down and edited the recording to produce “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.” They returned to the studio later to finish the intro and outro of the song. The process took the group only an hour or two.

“We had a good connection and we were like a band jamming,” Barsh said.

Another song on the album, “Your Prime,” started from a chord progression that Seeff conceived as he was improvising in the studio. Seeff said the progression was inspired by a Nick Drake song that he listened to prior to recording.

“(Seeff) was noodling around in the corner and we started jamming to it,” DJ Khalil said.

Seeff contributed musical diversity to their playing because he drew from his own taste in music, DJ Khalil said. “Malibu,” a fusion of funk and rap, reflects Seeff’s varied music interests.

Seeff doesn’t like to limit himself to genres but is drawn to reggae, jazz and hip-hop, he said.

“His eclectic taste and his background works well with what I’m coming from – I try to work in different genres as well,” DJ Khalil said.

Seeff brings something new each time he plays, Barsh said. He is excited by the subtleties that make a song work.

“There’s a lot of virtuosic players but I would call (Seeff) over them any day,” Barsh said.

Despite multiple previous Grammy nominations on albums such as “Lift Your Spirit” and “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” Seeff remains humble and tries to improve his musical abilities, Barsh said. Barsh described Seeff as a jazz cat, a term reserved for talented players.

[Related: Music professor commissions Grammy-nominated classical piece]

“I see him as a unique and admirable cat because he’s stayed humble to the music,” Barsh said. “He’s always crafting.”

DJ Khalil said Seeff’s work ethic has made all his acclaim well-deserved, as he is continually seeking ways to improve every facet of his technique and musicality.

Seeff hopes to record his own material and continue working with exciting, up-and-coming talent at UCLA and in the jazz industry.

“I’ve been determined from the beginning and still am to keep improving,” Seeff said. “It’s very satisfying for me to look at something I did and know I couldn’t have done that six months ago.”

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