Mocean Worker: Old Jazz Meets New Producer The electronic artist Mocean Worker grew up around the greats of jazz and related American musics. On his new CD, he draws upon his history to create vintage-sounding, danceable grooves which aren't quite jazz — but sound a lot like it.

Mocean Worker: Old Jazz Meets New Producer

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At a small sweaty club in the east village of Manhattan, there's something you don't see much anymore: young people dancing to live jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: The '50s combos did smack in the middle of the dance floor. The whole group orchestrated by the bass player who also hovers over a glowing laptop, firing up beats and samples. Adam Dorn goes by his DJ name, Mocean Worker. The crowd isn't sure what to call it.

Unidentified Woman: It's just an amazing synthesis of jazz…

Unidentified Man: Modern, breaky(ph) jazz…

Unidentified Woman: …and electronic music.

Unidentified Man: And a nip of whiskey(ph).

Unidentified Woman: I think it's maybe a genre of it's own.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: Just to be sure to get his name right, Mocean Worker spelled like the word ocean with an M has just released his fifth album, "Cinco De Mowo!" It's a remix tour through jazz history: big bands, funk soul, Latin, with a dance club beat. The album was crafted in a tiny little room in lower Manhattan - a true New York studio apartment.

Mr. ADAM DORN (Electronic Artist): But there's not much of a tour. It's a couch. It has television, a bed and a big computer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DORN: And that's pretty much my world.

SMITH: One thing that amazes me, I don't see any albums here. As somebody who is a DJ for decades…

Mr. DORN: Yeah.

SMITH: …don't you have thousands of albums stored somewhere?

Mr. DORN: Well, I'm looking for five - yeah, I do. There aren't - there's no vinyl in this apartment. As sad of that is for me to admit like I used to have all of my vinyl in my studio but it just takes up too much room and it smells like someone's basement. It smells like - I just don't want around, you know, I wanted a - I'm not living in a dorm room, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: The space maybe uncluttered but you can't say that about the brain of Adam Dorn. The cover of the new motion worker CD features a picture of Dorn with instruments and electronics and boom boxes sprouting from his head.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DORN: My mind is full of beats and all big band sounds and brass instruments and just jazzy stuff in general and it's like, yeah, I mean, I'm thinking music all the time.

SMITH: What some style of jazz do we hear on the recording?

Mr. DORN: Well, I'm huge '30s big man.

SMITH: You mean like Cab Calloway and stuff.

Mr. DORN: Yeah. I mean, yeah. A Cab Calloway that is static - that feel like the '30s big bands down on "Shake Ya Boogie" as the album opens up and it kind of continues for awhile but I have a heavy Latin influence so I tried to - there's song called "Olle Baby" on the record. And I try to get like, you know, Lucy(ph), I'm home. You know, kind of, you know, Tito Puente meets, you know, Machito kind of vibe. But, you know, there's also a heavy Atlantic Records, Blue Note Records, '60s soul jazz kind of thing because, I mean, it's a huge influence in my life and we'll probably touch on that with other questions because my father, I mean, I grew up…

SMITH: Well, let's talk about your father.

Mr. DORN: Yeah.

SMITH: Your father's Joel Dorn. He was a DJ record producer?

Mr. DORN: Yeah, I mean. He was - if you saw the film "High Fidelity" there's a list of jobs that John Cusack reads off as the top five jobs you can have -dream jobs basically. And the number two job is my father - a staff producer at Atlantic Records, 1964 to 1973, I believe were the years. That's my father. He's the only person on earth that ever had that job. The artists that he worked with were Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef. The more known artists would be Bette Midler and Roberta Flack. But I really grew up surrounded by this - like Atlantic was a family. So, it's like - it's such a huge part of my life.

And actually as a bass player, you know, Les McCann, one of the artists my father produced, I actually toured with Les a little bit and I worked with Eddie Harris a little bit. So not only do I have this like knowledge of the production side of things, but as player, I also got yelled at a lot by Eddie Harris and I paid those dues as well, you know.

SMITH: There's a story about you missing your high school prom.

Mr. DORN: Yeah.

SMITH: Because you in the studio with Miles Davis.

Mr. DORN: Yes, I was. And I basically really didn't go to high school. I, as a 15-year-old, realized I knew I was going to be in music. I knew I was going to be a bass player. I thought I'd be a bass player forever, it doesn't turn out that's the case, but I wrote a letter to a producer, a bass player at that time, named Marcus Miller. And Marcus Miller is if you're a bass player you know that he's one of the top three or four bass players of all time - Jaco Postorius, James Jamerson, Stanley Clark. At that level - unbelievable bass player.

And I was really lucky he answered my letter as just a fan and said, hey, I'd like to meet you and if you're in New York come by the studio. And I took to come by the studio and literally as a human can and come by the studio turn into three years of sitting in a corner and I was lucky enough to be in the room. Marcus was producing a record called "Amandla" for Miles Davis' - his last studio record I think - and I just was around a bunch of those sessions and I just so happen to coincide with the fact that my high school that I wouldn't have graduated from was having its senior prom down in, you know, suburban Philadelphia, and I was like, hey guys, I'm with Miles Davis. And I think I'm in, like, in a much better place.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: Listening to your album, I swear I can pick out sort of classic recordings of jazz in there looped - I'm trying to listen for it…

Mr. DORN: Yeah.

SMITH: Are there actual vintage recordings in your recordings? Did you sample old albums?

Mr. DORN: Not really. What I do is I get musicians to comment and copy things and I distress the recordings and made things sound old and like there are some old things. I'm not going to say I didn't sample anything. I'm not going to say what I sampled and I'm also going to say, without a doubt, whatever I use is so recontexualized and murderized that it would be impossible to know what's what.

My whole thing is I love to see musicians react to tracks that I make and then give me the ability - you know, the freedom to do whatever I want with, you know, what they've done and mess with the sound quality, make them sound old. You know, I instruct them when they come in like it's 1930, we are not at Manhattan right now and you're not checking your MySpace page. You're ready to go play with Louie Jordon, although that would be in 40s. But get people to think in a different context when they're about to play on my stuff and then we just go to town - we go work on it.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: There certainly some names on the album that we've recognized. Herb Alpert plays on one of the tracks. How did you hooked up with him?

Mr. DORN: I work with him about a remix record. He reissued a record of his very famous record called "Whipped Cream & Other Delights" and I remixed the song called "Bittersweet Samba" and in doing it, I actually got to know him a little bit and, you know, like he was very hands-on with the project. So towards the end of the project, I was actually like, hey Herb, I'm working on my record. Is there any chance you could play on my album? And I just kind of threw it out there and he was like kind of emphatically like, yeah, that would be great. I'd be totally into doing that. So I literally sent him a CD. He got it and within three days he sent me back two takes of trumpet parts, you know, on the song.

And I was just like wow. I mean, this is like an icon. And in my estimation, it's like having Herb Alpert tell you like, you know, he's into your music or into working with you. It's like - it sort like the pope telling a priest like, you know what, you're pretty good at this religion thing. You know what I mean? It's like, I kind of, it was like, oh, man, this is amazing, you know. So he sent it back right away and, you know, and then that start the process where I do what I call mowowizing, which is like fine little bits and pieces and phrases. I take anything that anybody plays for me and I chop it up.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: Well, we're sitting here in front of these beautiful computer screens and tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Maybe you could show us how you put a song together.

Mr. DORN: Sure. Everything kind of starts with a beat - some sort of groove in mind. We want to have, I mean, there's no polite way to say this. You want to get their butt moving before you start appealing to their minds. And hopefully, you'll meet in the center and everything will work out. Here's a song called "Sis Boom Bah" and it features Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but I'm just going to play you guys like the simple groove.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DORN: Just a basic drum beat.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DORN: Right cymbal, that's when it becomes a little jazzy. Usually have a couple of snares layered on top of each other. It's a cowbell thing that I lifted off a ballad and there's this little piece of piano in it. I have no idea where it's from. It's like, here's the thing. It's a little bit of bass, a little bit of piano, and this funky, you know, rhythm. Let's add the bass, kick drum, snare, shaker.

I'm going to stop the track for a second. I've taken a three-minute Rahsaan Rooland Kirk flute solo that's actually from a totally different tempo and different key. And what I've done is I've mapped it out over my keyboard. So I have…

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: So each key on there now corresponds to a little bit of the soul.

Mr. DORN: Yes exactly so you (unintelligible).

SMITH: I'm going to reach over here. What happens when if I press this?

Mr. DORN: Don't do that.

(Soundbite of flute)

Mr. DORN: Right. And you just keep returning(ph), like every time you hear,

(Soundbite of flute)

Mr. DORN: That's a phrase.

(Soundbite of flute)

Mr. DORN: That's a hit.

(Soundbite of flute)

Mr. DORN: Just another little lick.

(Soundbite of flute)

Mr. DORN: So think about that now. It's basically Rahsaan Roland Kirk is an instrument. Check this out. So you've heard this little snippets, now you remember this track.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: One last question, you've said with your music that you're - and this is your quote, "making single women in Iowa dance to that scary four-letter word Jazz."

Mr. DORN: Yes I am.

SMITH: What is so scary about jazz? Is it some sort of barrier you're breaching here?

Mr. DORN: I hope so. There's a famous scene in "The Simpsons" where there's a jazz radio station and it says jazz, a 139 Americans can't be wrong. Meaning that basically jazz is sort of viewed as a very difficult thing for a lot of people to get their head around. And the way I look at it is that it was initially party music born out of Brussels and Jupe(ph) joints. And it is steeped on dance music and I think a lot of it - it's been turned into this university level serious button uped(ph) - I don't even know if that's a real expression - button, button up, whatever - it's just too serious.

Jazz is not only at Lincoln Center in a Tuxedo, although I think that's really hip too. Jazz is fun. I don't know that I necessarily make jazz, but I might make jazzy music. And the goal is for people to enjoy it.

SMITH: I'm sitting here at the computer with Mocean Worker, Mowo, a.k.a. Adam Dorn. His new CD "Cinco de Mowo!" is on the mowo label.

Mr. DORN: Yeah.

SMITH: Thanks for showing us the studio.

Mr. DORN: Thanks for coming down.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: To hear songs from Mocean Worker's new CD, and to discover more into your music, visit This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm Robert Smith.

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