Songwriting: Jazzing It Up

Our Take On The Venerable American Art Form

In last week’s blogpost Songwriting: Bossa Nova, I talked about the thought process that we went through in composing our four Bossa Nova songs.

Every one of our songs tells a different story – and each song has a different story of how they came to be. The four songs listed below have unique styles yet all have a foundation in contemporary jazz:

3. Play Something Blue

I came up with the concept for this 50-50 collaboration with David: Amid the everyday pain and stress of life – music can be a drug that soothes your soul. I composed the melody and wrote the verse and bridge lyrics. David wrote the amazing rap lyrics. I’m constantly amazed at David’s storytelling prowess, seeing so much storyline elapsing in such a short amount of time.

David had enlisted Maya Victoria for several songs in his own D-Varg solo releases. I loved her sound and decided to reach out to her for this song.  David is the main storyteller through his compelling rap, while Maya carries the melody, chorus and harmonic background parts. Maya and David have an incredible chemistry in this song.

Tom Povse’s brilliant arrangements for flute and tenor sax give this song a lush contemporary jazz flow.  Tom also trades improvised parts with John Lewis’ tenor.  Throughout all of this we hear Tony Song bringing masterful electric guitar phrases.

Music and lyrics by John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: D-Varg (rap vocals), Maya Victoria (vocals), Tom Povse (flute), John Lewis (tenor sax)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida
(drums), Stan Muncy (percussion).

Listen to the song

7. Stormy Weather

David composed the song “Stormy Weather” and arranged all vocal parts. This is a praise song dedicated to God, with the intention to remind people that there is always One looking out for us at all times.

After David completed the composition and we laid down the rhythm tracks in our first sessions, we brought Ricki Wegner into the studio for vocals. Ricki’s soulful voice was perfect for the vocal parts arranged by David.

After that session, David still felt that something was missing. We brought Tony Song back into the studio with his electric guitar. Tony laid down superb improvised guitar runs throughout the song. As a finishing touch, David brought DJ Jay Midnight into the studio to add special coloring as only he can do.

Music and lyrics by David Vargas
Featuring: Ricki Wegner (vocals), D-Varg (rap vocals) , Tony Song (guitar)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion), Jay Midnight (DJ)

Listen to the song

11. Views From My Window

The concept that I first envisioned for this song, was a look at the dark, painful side of living in the inner city. I realized that this song would be perfect as a contemporary jazz-hip-hop crossover. David carried the concept one step further by creating the device of a window in which the main character looks out at his/her world through.

I composed the melody and wrote lyrics for the first verse. I felt that this story should be started with our rapper as the storyteller, setting the stage for the dark city landscape. David wrote a compelling 8-bars of rap which smoothly eases into my first verse.

From that point, David and I kept writing melodic and rap lyrics as the story unfolded in front of our eyes. I thought that we could simply repeat the same rap intro lyrics on the way out. Just before going into the studio, David wrote new rap lyrics for those final 8-bars.

In the studio, working with Matt Blaque on vocals was amazing. Matt’s style and tone seemed a perfect fit. As I mentioned in my blogpost about our song “Right Next To Me”, Matt always gives 150 percent: He first laid down the lead vocal parts, then he went on to response phrases that I arranged, and lastly, he gave us a full library of harmony parts. Matt Blaque is a true pro.

As Executive Producer, I see so many creative surprises along the way. One special surprise was the amazing horn arrangements from Tom Povse. Tom arranged superb parts for Trumpet and Tenor Sax which give this song a cool bebop feel reminiscent of Miles Davis. These parts were expertly performed by Gil Cohen (Trumpet) and John Lewis (Tenor Sax).

Music and lyrics by John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: D-Varg (rap vocals), Matt Blaque (vocals), John Lewis (tenor sax), Gil Cohen (flugelhorn)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy
(percussion); Horns arranged by Tom Povse

Listen to the song

15. Hortensia

This song is a tribute to the official flower of my ancestral home, Faial Island in the Azore Islands of Portugal. You’ll find tiny Faial 900-miles off the coast of Lisbon Portugal, in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean.

When you travel there, you’ll see these beautiful blue flowers everywhere. We call them Hydrangeas in California, but in Faial they are Hortensias – the official flower of “The Blue Island” – Faial.

I had the honor of introducing my wife and our three children to Faial on a family vacation in 2015. David and I were in the midst of preparing our “Bossa510” album, but we took advantage of this trip home, to write a new song dedicated to beautiful Faial and it’s famous flower. Our songwriting sessions were delightful, hanging out in our vacation rental condo, looking out at beautiful Pico Island across the channel. David came up with the concept, he composed the melody and the very complex chorus as well as one verse. I wrote lyrics for two of the verses.

Several years ago we managed to plant Hortensias in our backyard in The Bay Area, but we’ve only seen white blooms. In Faial these lovely flowers range in color from white, to pink and other shades. The most common color is the beautiful blue, that gave our island its name.

Music and lyrics by John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: Nick Neira (vocals), Stan Muncy (vibes)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion)

Listen to the song

Next Week

We’ll bring you a behind-the-scenes look at composing songs that are ballads. Visit our 510JAZZ Blog page next week to read our new blogpost.

Blessings to you all.

John Vargas

Recording The Album – The Gear

When it comes to recording music, a good musical performance is always key. Musicians should show up on recording day prepared and well rehearsed.  This usually is the formula to a successful take.

It has been a blessing to be the recording engineer for both 510JAZZ albums Bossa510 & January 16.  All our music was recorded digitally with microphones, mic and line cables, microphone preamps, audio interfaces,  an iMac computer, and Pro Tools.

In this post I’d like to highlight which audio interfaces I used for recording both 510JAZZ albums and why I chose to use them.  When recording 510JAZZ’s debut album Bossa510  we used two audio interfaces: the Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo (thunderbolt) and the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40.


Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo
Focusrite Saffire Pro 40

The main purpose of an audio interface is to take an analog audio signal that is captured from a microphone and convert it into a digital audio signal that can be routed into your computer.  The digital audio signal will get recorded in the computer by a DAW like Pro Tools (computer recording software).

At the time (2014-2015) the UA Apollo Twin was a new and very popular consumer audio interface.  It came with some of UA’s coveted plugins for mixing, so I knew I wanted to use it for recording our album.  The UA Apollo Twin was our master audio interface.  It contains two high quality microphone preamps and an optical input used to route in an additional 8 audio inputs.

These additional 8 inputs were supplied by the Saffire Pro 40 via an optical cable.  I must say the Saffire is a great interface that is reasonably priced and provides lots of versatility for recording and mixing.

This post is about recording… But if you did your math correctly, that gave me a total of 10 audio inputs for recording.  In 2015 (10) microphone inputs was more than enough for recording the core 510JAZZ band.

For the core 510JAZZ band; keyboard, electric bass, drums, and vocals, I was able to divide up the inputs.  I usually would dedicate 6 inputs to the drums, 1 input for electric bass, 2 inputs for keyboard, and 1 input for scratch vocals. I won’t get into microphone placement much on this post, but it did play a key part two shaping the sound of the band.

Once the microphones were in their desired positions, I would set my microphone preamp levels (input levels) via the gain knobs on the audio interfaces.  Gain staging at this level is really important, I learned from many sources that in the digital domain clipping the audio signal can be really destructive to your sound.  To combat clipping one can turn the gain knob down on the audio interface.  Clipping is usually indicated by a red LED indicator on the audio interface. Usually healthy levels for recording are indicated by green and yellow LED’s.

I learned so much from recording our first 510JAZZ album.  Fast forward to 2017 and recording our album January 16.  I wanted to get another audio interface to allow for recording more sources simultaneously.

When Universal Audio made the announcement about the Apollo Expanded  addition to their Console Software (which allows for the cascading of multiple UA Apollos) a lightbulb went off in my head.  This lightbulb visual was shortly followed by the classic “Cha-Ching” sound of cash register sounding off.  The UA Apollo interfaces are not cheap.  I found a great deal on the new Apollo 8 interface online and was able to get one for our studio!

Apollo Expanded


Universal Audio Apollo 8

The Apollo 8 became my master audio interface.  I was able to set it as the master interface in the UA Console Software.  Once I was up and running with all 3 audio interfaces (Apollo 8, Apollo Twin, Saffire Pro 40) I was able to record 18 inputs at once, yikes!

When recording the January 16 album this equated to more microphones on the drum kit – 8 total.  This allowed for our guitarist Tony to participate in all core 510JAZZ recordings.  I usually would dedicate 2 microphones to his guitar (electric or acoustic).  This was a great perk, but required so much more attention to detail.

I was up for the challenge and it really paid off.  I encourage anyone who is new to recording to start off with an audio interface that suits your recording needs and really get to know it.  When you are getting ready to expand you can think of an interface that would equip you for the occasion.

Be sure to listen to January 16 & Bossa510 by 510JAZZ.

Have fun, each day is a blessing.



David Vargas


Sound on Sound. Accessed 5 Sept. 2018.

Westlakepro. Accessed 5 Sept.

Pro Tools Expert.
universal-audio-introduces-new-apollo-expanded-software-powe.html. Accessed 5 Sept. 2018.

Universal Audio. Accessed 5 Sept. 2018.

510JAZZ on Top20 UK Smooth Jazz Chart

We’re honored to be on The Moth FM UK Top 20 Smooth Jazz Chart for the week ending September 2, 2018.

510JAZZ is on The Moth FM Top 20 Smooth Jazz Chart.

510JAZZ’s new song You’re Everything To Me (ft. Maya Victoria) is #20 on the list. We’re delighted that our friends around the world love our music.

We’d like to offer a huge thank you to The Moth FM’s DrGlyn Reece for this wonderful news. What a Blessing it is to be in such good company on the Top20 chart.

Listen to the song “You’re Everything To Me”

View The UK Top 20 Smooth Jazz Chart and Listen to DrGlyn’s Show S04 E49.

“Song On The Radio”

This Week In Radio

We at 510JAZZ strive to reach out to terrestrial and Internet radio stations all over the globe – to tell them about our music.  We’ve been Blessed with very strong support from some of the best.

We’re delighted to see songs from our new album “January 16” playing on 21 stations this past week (August 25 to September 1).  Our most popular song is Right Next To Me (ft. D-Varg and Matt Blaque) followed by the song You’re Everything To Me (ft. Maya Victoria).  These stations have played several other songs from our January 16 album as well.  We’re thrilled to see this acceptance from our friends in radio.

We encourage you to check out these superb radio stations as they are playing the best in Smooth Jazz every day – including songs from 510JAZZ.  Look them up on your favorite search engine and click on their “Listen Live” link.

510JAZZ was heard on 21 radio stations during the week of August 27.

My Love For Radio

Ever think about the music that defined you as an adolescent?  Movies like That Thing You Do remind me of the excitement that artists and composers feel when their song gets played on radio – whether it’s that first radio spin – or several years later after thousands of spins.

I can’t help thinking about Al Stewart’s 1978 release Song On The Radio.  Every time I hear our music, it’s just like hearing Al Stewart’s hit single when I was a teen – pure magic!

Radio has sure changed since those days.  During that time we listened to the radio, fell in love with a song and then went to the store to buy a 45 or LP vinyl album, cassette or CD.  Then we would play it over and over on portable players, in the car and at home.  Radio was always the catalyst, for our love affair with music.

In 2018 music is available everywhere – as close as your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.  The one thing that remains the same is that radio continues to be the catalyst that drive’s music lovers to seek out that song and “put it into rotation” (on their mobile devices, computer, etc).

Radio has changed in a big way.  We now listen to a mix of terrestrial radio and Internet radio.  We no longer need to purchase that physical album at the music store.  The list of radio stations is massive now, to where some of the best stations can only be found on the Internet.

The one common ground here is that every radio station has a presence on the Internet.  So if your favorite songs are only played on a station in Sao Paulo, Brazil or Galway, Ireland – you can listen from where you are, via their live stream.

The Internet has made the music world a much smaller place.

John Vargas

Interview With DrGlyn Reece of The Moth FM

On August 25, 2018, 510JAZZ’s John and David Vargas were interviewed by DrGlyn Reece on his show “Jazz and Coffee” on The Moth FM.

You can listen to this excerpt on our SoundCloud channel.

The Moth FM's DrGlyn Reece Interviews 510JAZZ

In this interview, you’ll hear selected songs from our new “January 16” album. We talk about songwriting, our musicians and more!

This excerpt is taken from “Jazz And Coffee” show S01 E23.

This interview was recorded live on The Moth FM on August 25, 2018. Permission to use this excerpt has been granted by The Moth FM.