Oakland Local and Oaktown Indie Mayhem present The Studio Series. One Oakland band, recorded in a local studio, highlighting the thriving local music community in our city. 

To find a piano in a Bay Area recording studio is not easy. The space to fit it is in conflict with the real estate limitations for most working-class recording studios.

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Nino Moschella at Bird & Egg Studio

“They’re kind of a beast of an instrument,” said Nino Moschella, engineer at Bird & Egg Studio in El Cerrito, initially referring to the space needed to house a grand piano or a baby grand, such as the piano at Bird & Egg. “And then obviously the money to maintain it and the work coming in to justify having it.”

A piano can be a calling card for a studio. Moschella believes that many of the musicians who record at Bird & Egg come for the piano, specifically piano-heavy projects such as jazz musicians and other American roots music that come through the doors of the studio.

The musical potential of the piano as an instrument goes well beyond the use of its keys.

“What you can do with a piano is endless,” said Moschella. “It’s a huge resonating thing. It’s not just about playing it traditionally. You can open up the lid and put the sustain pedals down and you can feed signal into a speaker. Or just by singing into it, it resonates all the strings and it becomes a reverb chamber.” For this reason the piano can become a component for many projects at the studio.

The space needed for a piano, however, includes having space for sound waves to travel and develop over time, something for which the tall ceilings at Bird & Egg are particularly well suited.

The Valerie Troutt session serves as a good example of a performance that is ideal for the room. And not just for the instruments, but because vocalists react to the sound of their voice bouncing of the walls of the room and returning to their ears, said Moschella.

“Valerie has a beautiful voice that just resonates the room when she sings. If it was a smaller space, it wouldn’t be the same. I’m certain it would be beautiful because she’s just an amazing vocalist, but the space does have a big impact on the performance,” said Moschella.

For Troutt, a tuned piano is a must. Her music is a current  take on classic jazz, mixing influences from funk, soul and R&B. The song Troutt recorded at Bird & Egg, “Dienda,” is a wordless jazz standard composed by Kenny Kirkland, but Troutt added lyrics for a Black History Month event at the New School in New York that honored Kenny Kirkland shortly after his death.

“The song speaks about the culture of communication in the African-American community,” said Troutt. “In the jazz community, it talks about survival. It’s asking a question and opening the door for people to stand up, make a decision and claim our history.”

Along with pianist Maya Kronfeld, the two never play the same note the same way twice among different takes of “Dienda.” The emphasis and succession moves with the heat and feel of the moment. On one take, a note is played subtle and soft, yet on the next take it might be hammered, elongated or followed by a new improvised solo.

As a duo, Troutt and Kronfeld often perform around the Bay Area under the name Two Shoes Shouting. While not performing, both are educators who emphasize the link between social justice and the arts. They have both recorded at Bird & Egg before and clearly feel comfortable in the space.

The professional yet relaxed environment at Bird & Egg comes in part because Moschella and the other two engineers at Bird & Egg are working musicians who still travel the country performing. They appreciate the lifestyles of working-class musicians.

Moschella started recording as a main job in his early twenties and connects the growth of his career as an engineer with his growth as a musician.

“It was in parallel with my musical growth,” said Moschella. “[Recording] was the first time I made the connection between my own music, writing songs and what recording did for those songs — how it was a good way to improve your skills, hear what you’re doing and get a different perspective.”

It’s a perspective that allows Moschella to wholeheartedly empathize with those he records. Being a studio engineer might be his main job, but when Moschella stood and clapped for Troutt and Kronfeld at the end of a particularly electric take of “Dienda,” it wasn’t about work.

“Just people being able to thrive, that’s what I love to see,” said Moschella. “It’s awesome to be in the room when a performance goes down. Like what Valerie and Maya were doing, there’s no question about it, the energy in the room changes. I just love doing it.”

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