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'Something To Hold': Why This Self-Produced Jazz Singer Made A Physical CD In 2019

Judy Wexler's fifth album, Crowded Heart, is out now.

Judy Wexler's fifth album, Crowded Heart, is out now.

Jeff Fasano, Courtesy of the artist

Los Angeles jazz singer Judy Wexler has no record label. She is like many musicians in that way. But unlike many others, every few years, Wexler puts together and circulates a CD herself. That’s right — not a streamed album, but a physical CD.

Wexler is a friend of NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg, who started wondering: why, in the age of streaming, would an independent artist go to all the trouble and expense of putting out a CD? And what would that process involve?

For Crowded Heart, Wexler envisioned a collection of new jazz standards: Timeless-sounding tracks that other singers could cover and that could supplement the genre staples of the 1930s and ‘40s. “While they’re brilliant and wonderful, there’s only so many versions of them that one can do,” Wexler says of those jazz classics.

To see her idea come to fruition, Wexler fronted a large portion of the project’s initial costs. “I decided that I would just finance half of the CD and just do it,” she says.

Wexler asked for song suggestions from jazz songwriters with whom she’d shared her vision, then gathered with her band to record five of them. Wexler calls this collection “jazz standards for the 21st Century.”

A videographer shot that session and Wexler posted clips of it on social media to launch crowdfunding for the record. Altogether, the project has not been cheap. “I’m kind of in denial in that I haven’t quite figured out the numbers,” Wexler says. She wagers a guess for the final bill to be “maybe cost the amount of an economy car.”

The CD’s tangibility, though, and the special experience that it offers to listeners, makes Crowded Heart well worth the cost and effort to Wexler. Even in the streaming era.

“I think there’s a lot of people who still want something to hold,” the artist says. “They can open up, they can look at the artwork, they can read the liner notes, they can see the personnel.”

As an artist, too, Wexler sums up why she values seeing her work take a tangible form: “You just have to have something of yours that you can hold onto that represents the work you did.”

Listen to the full story at the audio link.

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