Starsign, led by Joel McCollough, left foreground, performs original jazz fusion compositions on “Live from the Studio” in the City College Recording Studio, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Vince Outlaw/City Times Media
Starsign, led by Joel McCollough, left foreground, performs original jazz fusion compositions on “Live from the Studio” in the City College Recording Studio, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Vince Outlaw/City Times Media

Jazz fusion ensemble zones in on the City College Recording Studio

Starsign brings unique mix of contemporary jazz and atmospherics to new campus series

As people settled into their seats, a pre-recorded voice opened the latest Jazz-fusion installment of the San Diego City College Music Department’s “Live from the Studio” concert series with the announcement of something new: “A cosmic dance, a universe of rhythm and harmony.”

The statement, played over ambient sounds, might have referred to the featured band Starsign’s Twilight-Zoney, AI-generated, between-song interludes, or the band’s Jazz fusion vision, but it might also have described the experience of participating as an audience member at the show.

Band leader Joel McCullough offered an explanation, “We’re doing something unique that we don’t think a lot of people are doing and we wanted to put some emphasis on that.”

McCullough brought his 10-piece ensemble into the City College Recording Studio on Oct. 18 for the second installment of the Music@City series produced by the City College Music Department in conjunction with the World Cultures Program

City College Commercial Music program students, left, share the control room with “Live from the Studio” audience members, Oct. 18, 2023 Vince Outlaw/City Times Media

Starsign, assembled through McCullough’s connections with the University of California San Diego Jazz Ensemble, of which he was a member, and musician-search posts on Reddit, played an hour and 15 minute set that featured both up-tempo and slower groove-oriented music, all written by McCollough. 

“I’ve been wanting to write it (the music) for a long time and I just sort of made it happen,” McCollough said, “I came back to school after quarantine my third year and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going insane. I need to find people to play this music with, I can’t wait any longer.’”

The performance, which started about 40 minutes after the advertised 7 p.m. show time, included pre-recorded audio atmospherics, a type of ambient sound, under a Rod Serling-esque voice created using AI audio generation. 

Band members wove these interludes, which introduced the show and many of the tunes, playing them in and out, creating segues between the songs. 

“We’ve been wanting to tell a story with our show, more than just playing songs, to create some drama, create some action between the songs and sort of frame it within a cool lens,” McCullough said in a post-show interview. 

The show was streamed live via the Music@City YouTube channel, as are all other shows in the series. 

The in-person audience of between 10 and 15 people were able to watch and hear the entire set-up process through the performance from seats both in the recording studio and in the control room. 

Audience members were also enlisted to help move their own seats in and out of the studio while the production crew modified the setup to match the band. 

“Live from the Studio” audience members help move chairs back into the City College Recording Studio before the Starsign performance, Oct 18, 2023 Vince Outlaw/City Times Media

“The band had a lot more technical requirements than we were anticipating, so we ended up needing more time to set up,” said Associate Professor and Co-Director of Music Mike Espar. 

McCollough said he enjoyed the experience of playing in a recording studio with the shifting production elements and interactive atmosphere a live audience brings. 

“Knowing that people are back there (in the control room) listening, having some people giving us thumbs up and all that, it’s always a fun experience,” McCollough said. “It ended up being a lot more like being on stage than I expected it to be. It felt like a show.”

The “Live from the Studio” series continues on Nov. 29 with the San Diego Mesa College Guitar Ensemble.

Donate to City Times

Your donation will support the student journalists of San Diego City College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, cover the cost of training and travel to conferences, and fund student scholarships. Credit card donations are not tax deductible. Instead, those donations must be made by check. Please contact adviser Nicole Vargas for more information at [email protected].

More to Discover
Donate to City Times