As a trumpet player based in Chicago, Gerald Bailey has a longstanding career of both teaching and being a sideman in bands that pass through the city. Whether he’s playing with Mumford & Sons or Father John Misty, or opening for the likes of Dap-Kings or Antibalas, he’s been a fixture of the Midwest music scene since the mid-2000s, and his currently making news with his latest album, “Migration Climate“. Being curious about how the album was made, I got on a call with Gerald to ask a few questions about his background, his studio setup and certain tracks.
– Hi Gerald. Pleasure to be speaking with you. In terms of your upbringing, I’ve heard that your mother moved in with your dad’s family in Indianapolis in the early 80s. How did that contribute to you becoming a musician?
That happened in 1980 when my mom was in high school and pregnant with me. My father was also in high school and worked as a paperboy. Unfortunately, he was hit and killed by a drunk driver whilst on his paper route as a teenager., so my mom moved into his bedroom at his parents house and raised me with them.
As a child, I wanted to get involved with baseball or basketball, but I was unable since those sports cost a lot in equipment and fees. I joined the Boy Scouts instead, which is where I met my first group of musicians, and I started playing the drums once I was old enough. I later switched to trumpet in the 5th grade.
– Why did you pick the trumpet over something more popular like the piano?
The instrument you pick has a lot to do with your financial background. It only costs a couple of hundred dollars for an entry-level trombone or trumpet, and even a drum pad with sticks only costs $50, as opposed to a piano or violin where both the instruments and the lessons are really expensive. So I opted for what my family could afford.
– You graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in trumpet from the University of Cincinnati. Why did you go there and was the trumpet always the first choice for your studies?
Cincinnati offered the most scholarship money for a performance degree, which meant free tuition; that’s why I went there. In terms of my instrument choice, I’d played trumpet since my teenage years, and things are so competitive at the college level that it’s wise to stick with the instrument you know best, otherwise it’d be hard to pass the entry auditions.
– What do you mean by college being “competitive”?
Music schools will often use their ensembles as recruiting tools, whether that means recording albums or performing in a jazz festival. They’re ultimately performing for prospective students, and scholarships are given to musicians who perform in the ensembles in order to recruit new students to the school. It’s been twenty years since I was in college but I think it’s getting worse as music programs become more of a business. Scholarships aren’t given to students who want to become music teachers, which is why people choose performance programs over educational ones, and I had to pursue a performance degree in order to qualify for a scholarship.
– I see. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, you attended DePaul for grad school, correct?
Yes. It was a school in a large city and that’s where I wanted to live. The girl I was dating at the time worked as a ballet dancer in Chicago, so I moved in with her, but we split up soon afterwards and I stayed in Chicago to do my own thing.
I graduated from DePaul in 2005 and started working as a freelance musician and sideman in both local bands and the ones passing through the city.
– What were some of your most notable gigs from that period?
There was a soul movement happening at the time, and Daptone was releasing acts like Dap-kings, Lee Fields and Antibalas. I played with a band called JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, and we’d open for Daptone’s acts when they came through the city. I also played in a group called Black Bear Combo, and we performed at the Obama White House for their Halloween Party in 2009. But to be honest, my notable gigs were playing soul, jazz, reggae, rock, and Turkish music every night in the city.
– Though you’re currently an artist, you also teach music classes at places like University of Indianapolis and Chicago High School for the Arts. How did you get into that?
When I graduated from DePaul, it became apparent that one of the few opportunities available was to teach at colleges, but I could only teach part-time since most full-time positions require a PhD. I currently teach “Introduction to American Music” at Moraine Valley, as well as “Production and Music Theory” at Chicago High School for The Arts, and “Music Technology” at South Suburban College.
– Do you make more of a living from teaching or performing?
It varies. There are times I make more money playing, but my music is more about personal art than commerce, so I’m not worried about bringing in most of my income with it. It’s also inspired by my teaching work, so the two worlds feed each other.
– From 2010 onwards, you’ve worked with notable names like Mumford & Sons, Belle and Sebastian, and Father John Misty. How did you come into contact with those groups?
I was playing with a band in Chicago during Lollapalooza in 2011, and there were some musicians in the audience that heard us and we traded numbers afterwards. Those guys were volunteering at the festival by driving golf carts, and by coincidence were driving for Mumford & Sons the next day. The band happened to say that they needed trumpet players, and so the guys I’d met reached out to me. This was at a time when I slept with my phone in my hand in case someone called me for a gig. The phone rang at 11am when I was sleeping, and they asked if I wanted to play at Lollapalooza in an hour. I jumped on the train with my trumpet and played the gig with Mumford & Sons in front of 10,000 people (laughs).
Once you start playing with enough groups of a certain size, you become known as someone that can step in and play with bands on a bigger stage. By 2012, I’d played with enough bands that I was on a call list for different musical directors. So I was called to play with Belle and Sebastian several times when they came through, and it was the same with Father John Misty.
– I’ve heard that your trumpets of choice are made by Adams. What do you like about them?
Adam’s make cutting edge instruments, and even though the trumpet’s design is already established, they’re able to make subtle changes that affect the way the instrument sounds. So they’ve been my favorites for a while.
– How many instruments do you play in total?
I play drums, keys, synths, trumpet, trombone, flute and percussion, all of which I have at home in my studio setup. I also play samplers, if that counts (laughs).
(Below: Gerald’s home studio)
– Can you talk a bit about your home studio setup?
Sure. The drum kit was given to me by the owner of Potions Music, Andrew Brearley. The snare is a vintage Rogers and it sounds great in a small room.
My two primary mics are an Electro Voice RE 20 and a Cascade FatHead, which I use on everything from trumpet to drum overheads – I don’t have any direct mics on kick or snare. If I’m recording a horn solo, I’ll likely use the RE20, but if it’s a horn ensemble, I’ll use the Fathead because it catches more of the room. I’ve used the same two mics for most things, and my first album was made with the RE20 only, and the occasional SM57.
(Below: Gerald’s drums)
– What kind of preamp do you have?
Just a UA Apollo Solo and two plugins: the Studer A800 and the 610 Tube Preamp. I’ve achieved a lot of grungy sounds just those two.
– For your solo career, you’ve released your albums on a label called Potions Music. How did you get connected to them?
Harry James is an artist in Chicago who used to play with The Chandeliers. He’s been my main influence in recent times and we talk almost everyday. He sent me links to his first album that came out on Potions during the pandemic. It blew my mind and sounded amazing, so I asked if we could work on something together, and he sent me five tracks that I played trumpet on. Because my solo music was recorded in a similar way to Harry’s, it led to me releasing it on Potions as well.
– Your latest album is called “Migration Climate”. How has the release of that been going?
The release was great. We sold out the first run of vinyl in three hours online. I received 50 copes and they sold out in a week just from me carrying them around in Chicago. I literally sell them to people when they walk up to say hello. Andrew said it would happen and I didn’t believe him (laughs). People would just approach me in the coffee shop and ask for a copy. The record sold quickly in Europe as well.
– Who did the mixing and mastering of the album?
I did mixing along with Nick Broste, who’s an amazing engineer in Chicago that works with artists who mainly play acoustic instruments. I recorded everything in Ableton, so we mixed the album in there too. I got the mix to 75% of where it needed to be, and Nick did the rest.
Brian Schwab did the mastering. He’s also an engineer who focuses on music featuring acoustic instruments. He’s also a trumpet player that I’ve performed with in the past.
– Let’s talk through some of the tracks on “Migration Climate”. I’ll mention some names, and you can share how certain things were created:
Drums: The drum kit was in the middle of the room and I maxed out the 610B. I push things until they sound crunchy. Personally, I think you have to push the software further than you would a hardware unit to make it sound good.
Keys: That’s my Rhodes MK2 played through a bass amp with the RE20 two feet away. There’s some crunch from 610 which is used pre-DAW, and I later applied a chorus in Ableton.
Drums: That’s a small cafe-sized kit played in my room with the mic placed three feet away. The mic was the RE20 with no processing. Harry James is one of my biggest influences, and his whole album was recorded with a SM57 and a four-track recorder. I picked up that minimalist approach from him.
Piano: That’s a grand piano in a classroom at the University of Indianapolis that gets tuned every week. It’s the same piano that was there 30 years ago when I was a teenager living in that neighborhood. I went back with my Beta 57 and RE20, and put the Beta in front of the piano, with the RE 20 over my shoulder, next to my ears. I recorded “Hello Sun” and “Climate Migrant” that way. The large piano in a small soundproof room also made the sound very distinct. The preamps were the Apollo Solo.
Drums: The hi-hat was recorded by itself and so are the toms, all with the RE 20. 808s were added afterwards to beef things up.
Brass: That’s a flugabone, which is like a trumpet pitched down an octave. It was recorded with an RE20.
Piano: That’s an out-of-tune upright piano that was recorded to OP1. Sometimes I’ll change the virtual tape speed to make things sound more out of tune.
Brass: That’s a valve trombone and trumpet recorded to the RE20, all through the Studer A800 tape plugin that’s pre-DAW. I maxed it out on the input.
– You and Kyle Hodges made a remix of “Raised by Frogs” that was called “Raised By Conservatives”. How did that come about?
Kyle is the marketing director at Dark Matter Coffee, and we decided to release a version branded with “Migration Climate” that came with a QR code for downloading the album. During the meeting to design the coffee bags, Kyle spoke about getting back into music, so I suggested we remix one of the tracks from the album. I took two bars from “Raised by Frogs” and looped it. Kyle added the drums from a Drumetrics sample pack and I chopped it up. The trumpet was recorded in one take during a dinner party with our with friends and family.
– Thanks for talking to me Gerald. It’s been great to learn about your career. What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’m working on my next album. I’ve finished a large part of it, so I’ll be pitching the tracks to Potions and hope for a release in April. Potions will aso release a second run of “Migration Climate” vinyl with a slightly different cover design that’s black instead of white, with some peach colors. So I look forward to that.
(Below: Gerald holding a copy of “Migration Climate”)