Braxton Cook, a 31-year-old saxophonist and vocalist who grew up in Silver Spring, had just finished a short, month-long tour across the East and West Coasts with producer Kiefer. He was hanging backstage at Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom with friends and bandmates when they suddenly started bombarding him with questions: “Bro, what?!? You’re on a Taylor record?!?”
When force-of-pop-nature Taylor Swift’s tenth album, “Midnights,” dropped on October 21, those digging through the credits could see Cook’s name plainly displayed on the production credits for the lead track, “Lavender Haze.”
“For a jazz musician, a saxophonist, that’s not normal,” Braxton told District Fray over the phone this past Tuesday, less than five days after the massive album drop. “It was just a perfect ending to a great month and a great tour.”
Cook grew up under the tutelage of some of the D.C. jazz scene’s most respected educators, notably saxophonist Paul Carr and his Jazz Academy of Music. After graduating Julliard, Cook began a more traditional career in the jazz world, playing more straight instrumental music and collaborating with other rising figures in the jazz world like Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Butcher Brown. But like many musicians of his generation, raised on a diet of R&B, soul and hip-hop and cutting their teeth on whatever bandstands would have them, Cook expanded his palette. He’s played three NPR Tiny Desk concerts – with Scott, British neo-soul singer Tom Misch and progressive soul band Phony Ppl – on top of his own “Tiny Desk From Home” concert that showcases his strong sense of crafting silky grooves and hooks.
District Fray called up Cook to get the story from him on how he ended up on the lead track on what is likely to be the biggest album of 2022. Here’s Cook’s story in full, with some minor edits for clarity and length.
Braxton Cook: It all started with one of my best friends, Jahaan Sweet. We go all the way back to Juilliard together. We were roommates, suitemates and homies. He lives out in Los Angeles since graduating. He studied jazz piano, and I studied jazz saxophone there, but all that time he was producing tracks on the side and getting deep into music production. So, since graduating he moved out to L.A. and started working with some of the biggest artists in the world: the Beyoncés, Drakes, Kendricks, all of that. Every once in a while, in our group texts, he’ll just ask us to send ideas in or to reinterpret ideas. So, that’s just something we’ve been doing while we’ve had free time…and we just share ideas back and forth, flip ideas and stuff like that. Sometimes he’s like, “Yo, can you send me a vocal sample, something you’re working on?”
So, one of these days I just sent him this voice memo of me working out this pop tune, an idea of mine. It’s just me singing over a couple chords. I sent it to him, and he flipped it and reinterpreted it the way they did and made it sound like a processed sample. This was maybe a year ago I sent to him, or a couple years ago. And it turned up on Taylor’s record.
I don’t know how he got linked up with Jack Antonoff and that team but, like I said, he’s just connected. He sends our ideas and all this stuff around all over the place. He recently got me on a Giveon song this past year, on that “Give or Take” album that came out in July. He’s always just throwing things around; you just never know where it’s gonna land.
I just remember he gave me a call one day and was like, “Hey man, where’d you get that sample from?” And I was like, “It wasn’t a sample bro. It was an original.” “Okay, cool, just wanted to make sure,” he responded. He was being really cryptic about it. And then a week later his manager reaches out — I think he’s signed to Isla Management, they also manage Giveon and a few other people like Boy Wonder and stuff like that — with the same kind of call and then they were like, “Alright, so, I think it might be placed on x, y, z. There’s an NDA, blah-blah-blah, I’ll connect you with their team.” Right after that, I get on a call with Jack Antonoff’s manager, Tyler, who helped to produce the track and then also some of the other people on Taylor’s team. We went over terms super quickly, and we locked it all in. It was cool. It was very very smooth. We had lawyers look over everything, and I just couldn’t really talk about it. I forget exactly when that call was, but it was about a month ago.
I had no clue when the record was coming out, but then Taylor announced it was dropping in October; And then, BOOM! All of a sudden, everyone’s texting me like, “Yo, this song, ‘Lavender Haze,’ has your name on it.” And that was the first time I got to hear the song. The camp is that tight, you know? When I finally heard it sounded great. It’s buried deep in the song, throughout; just this little vocal part that’s looping throughout the track.