History of the CD Project

by David Roitstein

May 2024 update:
After 30 years of recording at Capitol Studios, we took two years off because of the pandemic (like everyone else in the world). In April 2022, we returned to Capitol to record the 31st CalArts album. In the summer of 2022, Capitol closed the studio for two years for renovations, and we did not produce an album in 2023.

In spring of 2024, our dean Volker Straebel raised some funding to resume the project in another studio. Our good friend at Capitol/Universal, Paula Salvatore, helped us arrange to produce this year’s album at the wonderful Evergreen Studios in Burbank. Evergreen generously supported us to continue the project at the high level we’ve been accustomed to for so many years and we are very grateful to Neil Portnow, Vicki Giordano, and all of the staff at Evergreen!

We hope that you enjoy CalArts Jazz 2024, our 32nd annual album.


When Charlie Haden and I began teaching at CalArts in 1982-83, one of the goals that we hoped to accomplish was to record some of the wonderful music that was being made there. We didn't get an opportunity to do that until 1989-90, when Joe Smith joined the CalArts Board of Trustees.

The idea was simple - Capitol/EMI would support an annual recording project of new, original music from CalArts students. This project would be a way for Capitol/EMI to have a tremendous impact on the lives of many young, talented musicians.

Since then, we've recorded thirty-one CDs at Capitol Studios, and the annual recording has become an anticipated event and an established model for other projects like it around the world.

After thirty-one years of CDs recorded at Capitol, there are now hundreds of talented CalArts graduates who have gone on to successful careers in music. We've had our students touring and recording with a long list of jazz masters such as Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Roy Hargrove, Steve Coleman, Elvin Jones, Geri Allen, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Dianne Reeves, John McLaughlin, Arturo Sandoval, and Brad Mehldau. CalArts students have used this experience at Capitol to go on to be part of some wildly successful pop bands, including Beck, No Doubt, Macy Gray, The Calling, the Wallflowers, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Ozomatli, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Airborne Toxic Event, Belle Brigade, and many others.

Over 700 young musicians, composers, and graphic designers from CalArts have had their best work documented and widely distributed. This is the way the process has worked:

All of the composers and performers at CalArts are invited to submit demo recordings of their best work to a faculty committee. This first round produces up to 100 submissions and includes an indescribably broad range of musical styles and instrumentations. The committee chooses 20 compositions, and there are intensive rehearsal sessions. In March, we have a marathon concert (it feels more like a party!) and listen to all 20 "finalist" groups - the whole place buzzes in anticipation. We then select the 10 groups that will get to record at Capitol.

Each year, we have followed a budget of 2 days recording, which works out to about 2 hours in the studio per group including the set-up time (an incredible challenge by today's standards!). Thanks to the professionalism and talent of the staff at Capitol Studios, we've been able to complete the project within the budget every year.

These hours in the studio are an extraordinary and unforgettable experience for all of the students. They can see, feel, and hear the result of their hard work and intensive preparation, and many have told me that it was a defining moment in their lives.

Another important part of the project is the cover art and design. The graphic design program at CalArts has a similar process where students submit finished products and we choose the design for the CD. The designer that is chosen then works closely with us to complete camera-ready artwork.

The next step is mixing (2 days), mastering (1 day), and manufacturing. We have followed a production deadline every year that would allow a release date in the second week of May, so that the finished CD would be available for graduation. If you could see the excitement, pride, and satisfaction of everyone at the Institute when the CDs are released, you would understand how important this project has become. It is a wonderful moment to watch people as they see and hear it for the first time and reminds me every year that it is well worth all of the effort and expense to produce this project.

Capitol funded the project from 1990 - 93 under Joe Smith, then continued with Gary Gersh in 1994 and 95. In 1996 however, Capitol did not approve funds for the 1996 recording. We didn't find this out until very late in the school year, but it was decided that the continuity of the annual CD meant so much that CalArts President Steven Lavine was able to raise emergency replacement money to pay Capitol Studios for recording time, materials, and manufacturing.

For the 1997 and 98 CDs, after the involvement of several people (including Gary Gersh, Bruce Lundvall, CalArts faculty member Charlie Haden, and others), EMI Music renewed the funding for our project. From 2001 through 2010, EMI Music Vice President Jeanne Meyer was an enthusiastic partner, and continued the annual project. For the 2012 CD project, we welcomed the support of Barak Moffitt, EMI Executive Vice President. In 2013, Universal Music Group merged with EMI.

In 2004, CalArts held a special concert and presentation at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater, part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles) celebrating fifteen years of the CD project. A plaque with a letter of appreciation was presented to Paula Salvatore, the Capitol Studios Director, who has played a significant role in the production of the CD project every year since the very beginning.

Then, on Saturday, April 19, 2014, we celebrated the first 25 years of the collaboration between CalArts and Capitol Records (see 25th Anniversary webpage).

In March 2020, we were almost ready to go into the studio at Capitol when the pandemic shutdown happened. By spring of 2022, our ensembles were back in-person and sounding great, and Capitol approved us to resume our project. After two years without experiencing the magic of Capitol Studios, we are so grateful to share the “31st annual” album with you!

David Roitstein
Jazz Program Director
Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts

Matty Harris & Ryan Parrish. Photo by Scott Groller
Tina Raymond. Photo by Scott Groller
Andrew Conrad. Photo by Scott Groller
Brandon Schmidt. Photo by Scott Groller
Joe Santa Maria, Andrew Conrad, Michael Mull, Morgan Fitch. Photo by Scott Groller