A jazz trumpet player whose visionary debut EP showcases the power of ambition, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.
Project Jumpstart’s Entrepreneur of the Month for June 2021 is emerging jazz trumpet player and recent Jacobs graduate Sammy Haig. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut the door on Sammy’s capstone senior recital, he pivoted in a new direction, re-envisioning his recital as Cucumber, a debut multimedia EP that brought together more than 70 remote collaborators from across the country. Featuring six of Sammy’s compositions, presented through six music videos produced and filmed on a shoestring budget, this project is an inspiring example of the realm of possibilities available when we tackle problems with creativity and an open mind.
Sammy Haig is a trumpet player, songwriter, producer, and project manager. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he graduated from the IU Jacobs School of Music and is currently based in the Midwest USA. He has shared the stage with talent such as Bootsy Collins, James Morrison, and Wayne Bergeron. His music subtly and beautifully integrates jazz, funk, and soul influences into an accessible pop landscape.
Watch the trailer for Cucumber:
Project Jumpstart: Could you tell us more about how the vision for Cucumber came about? What inspired you to make a project of this scale, and with a focus on multimedia?
Sammy Haig: Absolutely. Cucumber was originally created in place of my senior jazz trumpet recital. Since I was a freshman, I had steadily been thinking up ambitious ideas for what I could do to make a meaningful and impressive senior recital that summed up my four years at IU. However, once the pandemic started, I quickly realized that all of those ideas were no longer possible.
During a long drive between my hometown, Cleveland, and Bloomington, I began to dream up the project that would become Cucumber. What if, instead of trying our best to perform traditional recitals under heavy health (and, by extension, creative) restrictions, we took a step outside of the traditional model and embraced the online format for everything it stood to give us? Live performances were all but gone, and this was a time for recorded music to shine. What if my recital was recorded?
I was immediately and intoxicatingly inspired by this thought. If I could make my recital in the format of a remotely recorded EP, I wouldn’t have to worry about my health while trying to rehearse a size-restricted ensemble. I wouldn’t have to worry if Zoom would cut out right as I played my best stuff. I could work with as many musicians as I wanted to, and from anywhere in the world. I could take my time to craft something I was proud of. AND, I could be creative in an entirely new way: video.
I knew that if I had a recorded recital, I would need some sort of visual accompaniment. However, this was at the time when just about every musician was releasing a split-screen video. It’s not that these were boring or bad in any way, it’s just that social media had become saturated with them. If I had all this time to craft visual accompaniment, why not use that as another opportunity to be as creative as possible? The visual side of the project would become closely intertwined with the musical side: some songs were inspired by videos, and in other cases the video ideas came before a single note was written.
With this giant dream in my head, I wrote up a 4-page proposal to the IU Jazz Faculty, and thankfully, they took a chance on it, approving it unanimously.
PJ: Were there any important lessons about collaboration and producing that you learned while working with the 70+ collaborators on this project?
SH: So many! Too many to list, but I will highlight my two favorites here:
- Nobody does it alone. It’s easy to fool ourselves, but in almost every piece of media we see, there is a full team of people behind it creatively. Early in the project, I had convinced myself that I was going to do everything by myself. That led me into an unhealthy cycle of self-criticism which held me back and inhibited my ability to get anything done. It was only once I began to reach out to others that I was able to start moving seriously on the project. Whether that be showing a friend something I was working on for feedback, or full-on collaboration with another musician, just opening myself up to others in this creative journey showed me the power of collaboration, and how important it is in any creative endeavor. I’m no drummer, no guitarist, no one-man-band. By embracing that and letting others contribute musically and conceptually to the project, the music came out so much stronger.
- In producing, there are two major divides to navigate: control vs. trust, and perfection vs. imperfection. While creating Cucumber, I had to know where to be decisive and tell musicians exactly what I wanted to happen and how, and where to trust them to interpret the music on their own. The balance between those two was delicate and sometimes difficult to navigate! Additionally, I had to know where to stop in the pursuit of perfection. There is so much beauty in the humanity of performance, but when you get deep into editing, it’s easy to lose sight of that while trying to make everything sound exactly right. That was another balance I had to learn and understand.
PJ: This was a very ambitious project that required a lot of long-term planning and careful decision-making, while also dealing with obstacles of virtual collaboration and pandemic restrictions. What kept you motivated when things got difficult or daunting?
SH: Without a doubt, the most motivating factor throughout the project was the collaborators themselves. They kept me going. It was so special to be able to work collaboratively with my closest friends, especially in a time where we otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
Before I opened the “floodgates” to collaboration, the size and scope of the project would often overwhelm me to the point where I began to dread the project, like a final paper you don’t want to start. But, once the collaborations were flowing, my mindset shifted. I was suddenly starting to wake up excited and ready to work on the music. It became incredibly fulfilling.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed (which was frequently), all I had to do was pick up the phone, call someone I was working with, and talk to them. Without fail, they could always put me in the right frame of mind, and our conversations always pointed me in the direction of the ever important “next step.” My collaborators, friends, and family, we were in it together, and I was not alone. That kept me moving through any obstacle I faced. I knew my collaborators were waiting for my go-ahead.
PJ: One of the amazing things about Cucumber is that each music video explores not just different locations and editing styles, but also various types of visual storytelling (for example, the stop-motion in “Doesn’t Feel Like Summer” and the outer-space CGI in “Dasher II”). How were you able to come up with such fresh concepts for each video, and figure out how to execute each of these different styles?
A peek behind the scenes of “Doesn’t Feel Like Summer”
SH: Firstly, thank you for the kind words! I wouldn’t say that I set out to specifically make every video extremely different from the last. It’s nice, however, that it turned out that way. Perhaps it was that subconsciously, I wouldn’t gravitate towards doing something I had already done in the project. But more practically, the reason each video is presented in a certain way is highly linked to the music and its meaning.
Each song is genuinely inspired, meaning, for each song, I had a meaning, an experience, or a message I was writing from. There was no instance in which I was writing music arbitrarily or to pad time onto the project. Because of this, I made each video to represent that meaning in what I felt was the clearest way possible. “Doesn’t Feel Like Summer” is about something very personal and specific, and the stop-motion holds great significance in that. For “Dasher II,” I wouldn’t have been able to portray the space-influenced aesthetic of the music with an in-camera music video. And so on for the rest of the videos in the project.
PJ: You managed to finance this project on your own, which is an amazingly resourceful feat! What were the biggest expenses? What advice would you give to those who are also planning to self-finance their creative projects?
SH: Thank you! The biggest expense was definitely the beach trip, where we filmed “Cucumber” and “Will I See You Tomorrow?” Aside from that, most other expenses went towards distribution.
To those who are planning their own shoestring-budget creative endeavors, I would say first and foremost to work with your friends, and people who believe in what you’re doing and want to be a part of it just because of that. That was one of the things I was most grateful for in this project: people wanted to be a part of it simply based on our relationships and the nature of the project. I was so humbled by that. In addition, people who refuse to work with you unless it’s a “gig” for them tend to be less creatively invested in the music than they are monetarily invested in it. This was a labor of love, and I’m glad that my love wasn’t the only love going into it.
Another very powerful tool in financing projects like these are grants. The Hutton Honors College provides very helpful creative grants! They can help give you the financial push you need.
PJ: Do you have any words of wisdom on the planning and producing process, for those who might want to take on similar creative projects for their own work?
SH: Yes! Again, it’s too much to list all at once. My biggest piece of advice in planning and organization is to get your ideas out of your head and into tangible space, whether that be a piece of paper, or the notes on your phone or computer.
One might think that it would be extremely overwhelming to see just how much you have to do all in one place. But things become much more overwhelming when you let them sit in your mind. There, they tend to warp, become ambiguous, and fade in priority relative to the most pressing task of the day, only to come back and freak you out later when you remember them.
While creating Cucumber, my walls became to-do lists and timelines. I had different lists for each song, and each day. I also used Google Spreadsheets, Drive, and email extensively to keep the digital side of things organized. This kept me going throughout the process. As long as you know the immediate next thing you need to do, you can continue to move forward. Without that, we’re lost.
PJ: What’s one of your favorite memories/experiences from creating this EP?
SH: Without a doubt, my favorite single memory from Cucumber was filming the video for the title track. We were walking around the beach with a Tupperware full of cucumber slices, and 5 full cucumbers… needless to say, we got some crazy looks and laughs, which didn’t encourage me as I made my “acting debut.” It was a hilarious shoot and we had so much fun creating that video.
Overall, though, the best experience in making Cucumber was the collaboration. Just being able to work and make music with my friends was such a privilege, and I can say for a fact that making this music and these videos has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in my life to date.
A huge thank you to Sammy Haig for giving us some insight into all the creativity and hard work that went into this project!
- Visit Sammy Haig’s Instagram / website
- Watch and listen to the full Cucumber EP on YouTube