Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Melodica: Yamaha P37D Pianica

My new Yamaha P37D Pianica
I just received a nice surprise in the mail; direct from Japan, a brand new melodica! The Yamaha P37D Pianica( it's a melodica, or whatever you like to call it) was highly recommended by a website I recently discovered called ( I actually ordered another recommended model, the Suzuki M-37C Melodion, but as it is also coming from Japan, I don't expect it for another few weeks.) I've been playing melodicas since 2010 when I discovered how much fun it was to play something that used piano keys and air like a wind instrument. Clearly, melodicas are not everyone's cup of tea, and in some ways, they are more of a novelty instrument. However, I enjoy the advantages of the melodica: it's more portable than a piano or a keyboard, it's actually an acoustic instrument, it can sustain notes with the air, and it's almost like the harmonica of Stevie Wonder! ( Well, maybe that last one was a stretch.) I played a Hammond 44 Melodion a lot until one of the reeds stop working and the intonation went really bad (which seems to happen on all of them, even expensive ones). I am too busy/ fearful/ lazy to try to fix it myself, and I can't seem to find anyone else who can repair them. I also frequently play a Suzuki Pro 37; in fact, I used it on my album entitled " The Endless Mysteries. 
The Suzuki Pro 37 which I still like alot

The Suzuki Pro 37 is a bit of a different sound than the Hammond 44( although they are made, or were made by the same company); it's rather bright, but it's still more interesting than most cheap toy melodicas, and it cuts through in a jam session.  Honestly, I hadn't really had the opportunity to play melodica in quite awhile, and after seeing the Yamaha and the other Suzuki model reviewed on, I decided that maybe a new instrument or two might inspire me. Since both of these were around 100 bucks or less, I thought that it was worth the risk.

The Hammond 44, which is amazing but 5 times the price of most other melodicas
My first impression of the Yamaha P37D is that it's a pro level sounding instrument; it's in tune, it's a warm, healthy sound which can bite if you push some air. It feels pretty sturdy and the keys, while maybe not as smooth as the Hammond 44, are still pretty good.

I'm looking forward to messing with it some more in the new year. In the meantime, I made a little youtube review. I think it gives a good example of the sound. I would be playing it some more, but my infant Jordan is asleep and Liam, Kerry, and I are spending our New Year's Eve watching a movie about a rat who gets flushed down the toilet and ends up in an underground rat civilization. Hopefully we'll be in bed by 10pm. Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Self Promotion?

When it comes to self-promotion, I'm probably the worst of all time. When I booked my Senior Recital at Peabody Conservatory, I didn't even put posters up in the halls; the only people who attended were my parents and some vagrants who wandered into the concert hall looking for free soup. ( I think the vagrants really liked the Hummel Trumpet Concerto, but they did not care for the heavy dissonance of the Hindemith Sonata.) I'm a pretty shy guy, although I've developed more confidence over the years; nevertheless, whenever I think about promoting myself as a musician, I always feel like I'm bragging. "Come down to the jazz club, see and hear how great I am and observe how others think I'm great, also..." Whereas some artists are natural born self promoters, and that gift has lead to their success, I've always put promotion low on my list of priorities. I'd rather practice than send out emails; I'd rather compose 10 new songs that no one will ever hear than book gigs and promote myself so that those 10 songs might actually be heard by an audience! (I hope they never ask me to teach a Business Of Music Class. " OK Class: Music Business. First lesson: FIND ANOTHER BUSINESS! See you next

I'm trying to come up with ways to promote my UPCOMING PERFORMANCE AT JIMMY MAK'S MONDAY DECEMBER 7th AT 8PM CD RELEASE. I've contacted local press, done some radio interviews, bought a Facebook ad (Lord knows who is seeing these ads) and put up posters( well, a grad student put up the posters.....) But I think maybe I need to do more. I'm sort of brainstorming on how to generate some last minute interest .  Some of my ideas include:

1. Buying a Megaphone and driving around Portland saying " HEY COME TO JIMMY MAK's ON MONDAY DECEMBER 7th AND SEE ME PLAY JAZZ MUSIC!" ( Hmm, maybe leave out the fact that it's jazz. Maybe if I say "COME SEE ME PLAY INDIE ROCK" and then maybe they just won't notice...)

2.  Coordinate my gig with Hanukkah celebrations( The 7th is the first day of this popular Jewish holiday. I could have a Menorah on the piano? Free dreidel when you buy a CD? Oy gevalt...)

3. Coordinate my gig with the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. ( I wish I was joking, but most of my students did not know what happened on December 7th, 1941. I think some said, " stock market crash?" Oregon, are you teaching these kids ANY history? I guess December 7th is not currently living in infamy.)

4.  Coordinate my gig with basketball Hall Of Famer Larry Bird's birthday. That might not be a slam dunk- pun intended.

5. Tell all of my students that in order to pass their juries, it is a REQUIREMENT that they have to attend my concert ON DECEMBER 7TH AT JIMMY MAKS 8PM. If they ask why they didn't know about this requirement earlier in the term, I'll just yell condescendingly,  " IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS!" And then hope that they don't read the syllabus.

6. Maybe I can become a famous Hollywood actor by next week, and then use my fame to promote my gig! I don't know, that's been done, I think.....

7. Promote the show by touting " special guests": jazz stars like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and McCoy Tyner. Then, when Chick , Herbie, Keith and McCoy aren't there and people complain, just say something like, "Oh, their flight was delayed," or " they locked themselves out of their car," or " their babysitter never showed up." This actually just might work.

8. Maybe tell people that we'll show clips from " Chappelle's Show" between songs. This also might actually work...

Spiro Agnew: One of the worst Vice Presidents, but very underrated as a composer
9. Bill the concert as " A Tribute To Spiro Agnew." Let me ponder that one...

10. Call Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and tell them to mention my gig on the next Epidsode of "Portlandia." Hopefully it airs before next Monday.....Does anyone have their phone number?(Armisen is a drummer, maybe he will come down and sit in...)

At the very least I can post the fact that I'M PLAYING AT JIMMY MAK'S ON DECEMBER 7th AT 8 FOR MY CD RELEASE FOR "WRITE THEM DOWN" as much as annoyingly possible on Facebook. But, as all good advertising people know,  I need a good SLOGAN for my gig. What should it be?

" No Taxation Without George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's"
"Proletariat Of The World, Go To Jimmy Mak's on December 7th and Unite!"
" Tippycanoe and George Colligan's CD Release, Too!"
"Ma? Ma? Where's My Pa? Gone To Hear George Colligan, Ha Ha Ha!"
" The Best Part Of Waking Up Is George Colligan's CD Release"
"54-40 or Go To George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's!"
"George Colligan: The Pause That Refreshes..."
"George Colligan: Good To The Last Sixteenth Note..."
"Ask not what George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's on December 7th can do for you.....Ask what YOU can do for George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's on December 7th"
"Sic Semper Colligan...."
" Genius is 10% inspiration, and 90% GOING TO GEORGE COLLIGAN'S CD RELEASE AT JIMMY MAK's"
" We have nothing to fear but fear itself. ALSO, PLEASE GO TO GEORGE COLLIGAN'S CD RELEASE AT JIMMY MAK's ON DECEMBER 7th"

I think some of these are stronger than others. I'll tinker with these and let you know which one works the best. Maybe I should have been in advertising.......

Friday, October 23, 2015

New York Is Still Now

I'm currently away from Portland and on one of my Jazz Fantasy Camp trips. I performed twice in Canada: once at The Rex in Toronto and once at The Jazz Room in Waterloo-Kitchener, about 90 minutes away from Toronto. Joining me on bass was the great Neil Swainson, and on drums was the powerful Ted Warren. I had a great musical time with them, the audiences were very appreciative, and it was a good warm up for my trip to New York.

I had a trio night scheduled for the Jazz Standard. However, the night before, I went down to the Standard to hear the Mingus Big Band. I used to play with various configurations of the Mingus Band. It seems like another lifetime at this point. I really enjoyed the experience from the side of audience member; the Mingus Band always seemed more like a small group than a big band, in that the emphasis isn't on tight ensemble playing or fancy arrangements but more about the groove, spirit, and the strength of Mingus' compositions as melodies and improvisational vehicles. It's also great to hear Frank Lacy sing! Lacy is one of the more underrated musicians in jazz. In fact, any member of the Mingus Band could lead their own band; the bench is THAT deep.
Frank Lacy

Indeed, I am always ranting about how the level of jazz musicians is higher in New York than anywhere else. I believe this is not going to change anytime soon, even though many of the best musicians have moved out of New York for various reasons. As Benny Golson said, New York is still the Jazz Mecca and even in this period of doom and gloom for live music, there is still more jazz and there are more jazz musicians per capita in New York than anywhere else in the world. I think it's hard for folks who haven't spent much time on the New York scene to understand the depth of ability and understanding and expectation that is the norm in New York. I suppose if we want young musicians to feel good about themselves, we can ignore the New York standard and lower our expectations. I have the memories of 15 years in New York that in some ways drift away as I spend more time in Portland. However, even just a few nights of club hopping- from Small's to Mezzrow to the 55 Bar, even walking by The Garage, or even doing some informal jam sessions- has reminded me of the idea that to be a serious New York jazz musician is to have a DEPTH of ability and understanding of the music. Every town has it's local heroes, but some of those heroes would be just another one of the multitudes in New York.

At the Jazz Standard, I had the pleasure of working with bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer EJ Strickland. Although the turnout was not what I had hoped for, it was a very satisfying musical experience. Kozlov and Strickland are easy to play with because they have good time and a great feel but they also know how to take enough chances to keep the intensity and the interest level high. We had a guest on a few tunes- my former student and new resident of New York, saxophonist Nicole Glover. Although I usually try to persuade my students NOT to move to New York, Glover is one of the tiny minority of students I have had in Portland that I think has a chance on the New York scene. (I was pleased to find that many students from University of Manitoba are now in New York and doing well: Karl Kohut, Luke Sellick, Curtis Nowosad, Niall Bakkestad-Legare.....)

Damian Erksine
The next thing was a performance with electric bassist Damian Erskine's band, which consists of Reinhard Melz on drums and Tom Guarna on guitar. We did a performance and clinic for Aguilar amps. The audience was probably 98% bass players! Although we only played 4 tunes, it was fun to reunite this group, which has played merely twice in Portland at Jimmy Mak's.

My trip is not over; I have two gigs in Connecticut. Tonight, I'll be at Firehouse 12 in New Haven with Boris Kozlov on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Then I will be playing drums with the great pianist Noah Baerman in Middletown on Saturday.

It's hard to balance performing and teaching and family. There are few places to play nowadays in Portland. I'm determined to try to continue to work in a trip to New York a few times a year in order to keep my inspiration. Despite the outrageous cost of living and the fall of the music business, New York is still the place for jazz of many kinds.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Alphabet City:" Brian Charette's Triumphant New Album

Brian Charette
Hammond B-3 organ is kind of a thing unto itself. It's not just an instrument, it's a lifestyle. You could take that literally when you consider that, whether you play a "clonewheel" ( meaning a digital keyboard which is designed to emulate the B-3 sound) or an actual B-3, C-3, or what have you Hammond organ, you need at the very minimum a car, or maybe a van, a storage space, and perhaps 3 friends to help you carry the organ into the club
( hopefully not up the stairs!). Don't forget about the Leslie speaker! I have always considered myself a dabbler in the B-3 lifestyle( I've recorded and toured as an "organist" but I'm not anyone's first call...also didn't have three friends to help with the lifting....ha ha). It seems as though older generations delineate clearly who is a pianist and who is an organist( meaning you won't see McCoy Tyner playing organ, or Jimmy Smith playing piano....not that I'm aware least not frequently.....). Among the younger generation, you have the dyed in the wool organists like Joey DeFrancesco, Cory Henry, Pat Bianchi, Jared Gold, and then you have the guys who went from piano to organ, like Larry Goldings, Gary Versace, Mike LeDonne (and I guess yours truly.....come on Downbeat give me a chance......).

Then you have Brian Charette. After reading Charette's bio, I see that he has a classical piano background. I am familiar with some of his writing in Keyboard magazine on the harmonic techniques of Olivier Messian.  Charette could be put in the latter category of pianists turned organists; however, after listening to his latest release on Positone, " Alphabet City," he has convinced me that organ is his true calling. He's so convincing on the instrument; the bass lines, the groove/hookup with drumming wiz Rudy Royston, the fluidity of his right hand, the cool drawbar settings he uses for "comping" for guitarist Will Bernard's solos- all of these things for me put him in the solid " organist's organist" category.

"Alphabet City" has something for every jazz fan: clever, brainy up tempo burners( "East Village"), funky jams( "They Left Fred Out"), medium tempo groovers( "West Village"), psychedelic fusion experiences( "Not A Purist"), soulful second line sermons( "Sharpie Moustache"), music for driving on the highway( "Disco Nap"), music for haunted houses("Hungarian Minor"), music for 70's TV shows("Avenue A"), and so much more. This is not " Back At The Chicken Shack" by any means, and yet Charette, even with the weird sounding smattering of synths and variety of moods, convinces me that the Hammond B-3 is his voice, and he's taking it out of the box and bringing it into the 21st century. Essentially, Brian Charette's "Alphabet City" is the type of  record I wish I could make!

Catch Brian Charette at the Jazz Standard on October 13.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Coltrane Time

I recently performed at Jimmy Mak's in Portland with trombonist Steve Turre. In addition to having drummer Charlie Doggett on the bandstand, our bassist was the great Chuck Israels. During the soundcheck, Turre and Israels were trading great stories. One story came up regarding the fact that Israels had recorded with Cecil Taylor. I said, "Really?" Israels elaborated on a record date from 1958, when Israels was 18 years old. The recording, now known as "Coltrane Time," was actually originally released under Cecil Taylor's name  in 1959 as "Hard Driving Jazz." The line up is Israels on bass, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, and Louis Hayes on drums.

What? That is an INSANE line up. I had never heard this recording. I can only imagine what it would be like for an 18 year old bassist, to get to record with these legends. I looked up the recording on wikipedia, and there is mention of a "tension filled" recording session. " Everyone says that there was tension, but it's not true," said Israels. " Everyone was very nice and it was a surprisingly smooth date." Israels
Chuck Israels
mentioned that it took a minute to adjust to Cecil Taylor's comping, which, if you take a listen, is definitely providing some rhythmic tension, but the contrast in personal styles is fascinating. When I went home and checked out the recording, I was surprised at how " inside" Cecil Taylor sounds; he's making the form and the changes, but in a very abstract way. " They even recorded my tune, 'Double Clutching,' which was a contrapuntal exercise."

If you get a minute, give this one a listen. Musicians often joke about putting together strange rhythm sections and collections of players( for example, " Hey, what about a band with Kenny G on sax, Al Hirt on trumpet, Wynton Kelly on piano, Henry Grimes on bass, and Alex Van Halen on drums? Totally RAD, dude!"). However, all kidding aside, sometimes weird line ups of musicians that might seem like an odd fit can produce intriguing results.

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Blues For Tahir," Todd Marcus' Journey to Egypt Through Baltimore

Baltimore based Bass Clarinetist, composer, and bandleader Todd Marcus has mastered his own destiny with his latest release, Blues For Tahir( Hipnotic). On this new release, Marcus and his Jazz Orchestra hit all the crucial marks for ensemble playing, expressive improvisations, and bringing the compositions to life. Marcus' work here has a strong Middle Eastern influence which is evident in many of the main melodies; indeed, the theme of the album is an exploration of Marcus' Egyptian heritage, as well as a programmatic expression of the recent political and social upheaval in Egypt. However, this above all is a modern jazz record which leans towards composers like Jamie Baum, Michelle Rosewoman, and Kenny Wheeler, if not John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Furthermore, the improvisations from Marcus and alto saxophonist Russell Kirk ( and to a lesser extent tenor saxophonist Greg Tardy) show a strong influence of Baltimore's own tenor saxophonist, Peabody jazz program director and musical original Gary Thomas. Add in Baltimoreons like bassist Jeff Reed, drummer Eric Kennedy and percussionist Jon Seligman, as well as my former Peabody classmate and now Peabody professor , trumpeter Alex Norris, and this music is as much about the state of jazz in Baltimore as it is about the state of Egypt.

Although this is described as a Jazz Orchestra, it's really more of a large chamber group, and the balance of ensemble playing and solo space throughout "Blues For Tahir" is superb. Marcus knows how to combine bass clarinet, flute, trumpet, alto, and trombone in a way that is impressive without trying too hard. The bass clarinet in ensembles like this often functions as doubling the bass line ( with the piano also on "Many Moons") or merely to add exotic color ( I'm sure you could ask  bass clarinetist Benny Maupin about that!) but Marcus insists that the bass clarinet can also be upfront. Marcus often solos in the mid to high register of the instrument, weaving complex lines which surely show the influence of Gary Thomas' linear concept. Marcus features himself sufficiently without denying his excellent bandmates some chances to blow. I wasn't familiar with alto saxophonist and flautist Brent Birckhead but he takes a marvelous turn on "Protest," in an aggressive post-Coltrane, post-Kenny Garrett type of blowing against a modern version of "stop-time."

"Alien" features solos from virtuoso trombonist Alan Ferber and pianist Xavier Davis, who throughout the album shows his considerable prowess as a accompanist. The rhythm section of Davis, bassist Jeff Reed ( who has a beautiful feature on "Tears On The Square"), drummer Eric Kennedy( who burns it up on "Washouli") and the addition of percussionist Jon Seligman( who is also an incredible drummer) is the foundation of this group and helps to solidify the music. ( One thing I noticed while listening to " Reflections" is that whatever type of drum is being played by Seligman has an overtone which "clashes" with the G7 suspended sonority prevalent throughout the section. It's not a bad thing; it adds to the exoticism. I'm not sure if it was intentional but it sounds cool.)I was a bit concerned at first about where "Summertime," George Gershwin's classic, was going to fit on this recording, but Marcus puts his own stamp on it, and most importantly, gives his lead trumpeter Alex Norris a chance to burn out.

Todd Marcus has really come into his own with "Blues For Tahir." It's a showcase for Marcus' playing, writing, and thoughtful artistry.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Drum Genius: Cool App For Practicing

As a full time music teacher and father of 2, I have time finding the time to practice. I used to play and tour constantly, and I'm doing less of that these days. Before I was lucky enough to get called for gigs, I played a lot with the Jamey Aebersold Play A-Long recordings; I still recommend this great series to my students. The recordings feature world class rhythm sections and are a great way to practice keeping time as well as form. It's definitely more fun to play along with an Aebersold recording than a metronome.

Recently, someone recommended a phone app called Drum Genius. It's an app which has an entire menu of jazz drum loops which I believe are either samples or reproductions of loops from players like Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Stewart, and many others. There are many different styles and tempos. When I have a few spare moments, I put on Medium Swing or Fast Swing or Very Fast Swing, and it helps keep my chops up. Obviously, it's not as satisfying as playing with a real band, but it makes practicing way more enjoyable.

I made a little video to demonstrate. I highly recommend this app; I have barely explored it and it's already been inspirational. Check it out!

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Chamber Music America is a wonderful organization which facilitates a boatload of grant money for independent jazz artists. The organization was founded in 1977 and was mostly focused on classical music for small ensembles. Jazz has been a big part of their work since 2000. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation gives money to composers for new works and also money to presenters.
I actually won a Doris Duke grant in 2003, which allowed me to do a number of performances with a quartet featuring Gary Thomas, Drew Gress, and Ralph Peterson. ( We recorded a live record and I wish I could figure out a good way to put it out. There's some incredible stuff on there.)

Most jazz artists are independent these days; some are more independent than others. I'm extremely independent! So I've continued to apply for funding since 2003, and I haven't had any luck. I've applied with many different projects, and music that I thought was original. It's extremely competitive given how many jazz musicians need money out there. I've known extremely talented and able musicians who have applied every year and never gotten a grant. I think they only give 10 a year, so it's very selective. It also depends on who is judging, and that changes every year; some of the judges are more " avant garde" and some are more straight ahead in their tastes, judging from some of the recent winners.

Although I haven't won since 2003, I'm still very much in favor of grant opportunities for jazz musicians. However, I have to comment on the judging process. CMA has made it possible to hear what the judges said about your music and your proposal. Last year, I wanted to get feedback, and  I talked on the phone to a woman who works for CMA, and she read from the judges comments. ( She seemed a little nervous; I wondered how many musicians she had given feedback and if any of them had cursed at her....) I welcome constructive criticism because I want to continue learning and growing as a musicians, and also, maybe I'll learn something and then get a grant in the future. In last year's case, I didn't get much out of the comments; I mostly got the impression that the judges just didn't understand the work I submitted( I sent my "Persian Jazz Suite" which uses Persian scales that have non- western tuning; one judges comment was " The poor intonation really bothers me.").

For some reason, after receiving another rejection letter this year, I decided to ask for written summary feedback. I submitted my Theoretical Planets group( we released a CD on Origin last year.)
I'm very proud of this group, although it is a somewhat young group in terms of experience. Some of the feedback was leaning in that direction- saying that the group was "tight" but not as outstanding as some of the other submissions. It's hard to know what to do with that sort of feedback ( You're good, kid, but just not good enough...).

There was one comment that stood out to me. Panelist number 2 said:

 " Good playing. Derivative. Where is your originality?"

This is borderline insulting to me, as somebody who paid my membership fee to CMA, to get comments like this. Derivative? Because I play a conventional drum set? Because I play a swing beat? Because I've been influenced by earlier jazz music? Whose music is completely original, as in having no discernible influence? If you are going to throw out the word derivative, you really need to be more specific. Also, just because one's music doesn't reinvent the wheel doesn't mean it isn't original. Is Hank Jones original? Is he derivative? Is Kenny Kirkland derivative because he clearly checked out McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock? (If he is, I don't care because he's great!)These are extremely loaded words and it just sounds like Panelist number 2 was in a crappy mood and tired of listening to music all day. ( I feel that, after our third round of juries and auditions this year at PSU, which takes three days of listening to students-- CALGON TAKE ME AWAY!)

So in conclusion, I have a Brooklyn- style message for Panelist Number 2. YO! PANELIST NUMBER 2! WHERE IS MY ORIGINALITY? I'VE GOT YOUR ORIGINALITY RIGHT OVER HERE, RUBBERNECK!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cool Gigs with Sinne Eeg

Sinne Eeg
I've had a busy May in terms of playing. I did a Northwest "tour" with my band Theoretical Planets; we did a cool night at Tula's in Seattle, Washington and then rounded back for an evening at Girasole, a venue in North Portland. Then I headed to Europe for a short tour with guitarist extraordinaire Tom Guarna; we did two nights in Rome at Gregory's, one great concert in Muri, Switzerland, and then a nice gig at A-Trane in Berlin. With little time to rest, I went into the studio with my former student and young saxophone phenom Nicole Glover to record her debut CD as a leader; we had a fun two day session at Kung Fu Bakery. In addition to some trio gigs at Jo Bar, I did a house concert and a night at Wine Up on Williams with another saxophone phenom, Rob Scheps. We had a nice trio with Paul Gabrielson on bass; Scheps had me playing piano, drums, pocket trumpet, and on one tune, drums AND pocket trumpet at the same time. (I didn't shy away from the challenge of playing one handed trumpet, riding with my left hand, and transposing a concert chart on Homecoming by Dave Holland, but if you didn't hear it, I'm cool with that. ) On the house concert, we had a special guest named John Moak, an outstanding trombonist who really knocked me out! I also got to play some drums with a nice trio consisting of piano phenom Dan Gaynor, who is one of Portland's most unsung musicians, and Jon Lakey, a great bassist and musician. We had a nice hit down in Eugene at Roaring Rapids Pizza, one of the best places to play in Oregon. Finally, I got to play on a Master's recital at Michelle's Pianos; Melissa Carroll did a great job with her repertoire selection and her performance of some challenging Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz tunes. It didn't feel like a recital- it felt like a gig! ( Which is what it;s supposed to feel like!)

But perhaps the stand out of the month so far has been two concerts with Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg. I met Eeg in 2008 in a week-long jazz camp in Denmark. We jammed a bit and hit it off musically. We did a tour of Denmark in 2009, and one other hit at the Rochester Jazz Festival in 2011. But I hadn't seen her in a while. She has been staying in Los Angeles recently, so I thought it would be cool to have her come up to Oregon to do some duo playing. We had a really nice concert here at PSU; I think our jazz vocal students were quite impressed.

Sinne Eeg is in some ways a traditional jazz singer; her roots are in Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McCrae. However, she has been writing a lot of her own music, which not only reflects a more forward looking harmonic sense but is also reflective of her own life, which is what artistry is supposed to be, in my opinion. Furthermore, Eeg has been developing her sense of the blues, which was evident in her " I'm An Evil Girl" performance. There's a maturity in her approach that I'm more impressed with now that we are collaborating again after a few years of hiatus. We also got in our two favorite Bonnie Raitt tunes, " I Can't Make You Love Me, " and " I Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again."

The day after the PSU concert, Sinne Eeg and I drove to sunny Eugene where we performed at the Broadway House Concert series. Paul and Peggy Bodin open their home to the public for jazz concerts which mostly feature musicians from Eugene but occasionally have some out-of-towners like me and Eeg. These days, the lack of venues and lack of support force people to take matters into their own hands, and I'm always interested in supporting grass roots efforts to keep the music alive and keep musicians working. We sold out the "house" and judging from the attentiveness of the audience, I think we were a hit. Hopefully it won't be another 4 years before I hit with Sinne Eeg again!
from the Broadway House Concert

Friday, May 15, 2015

My New Bass Trumpet

Bass Trumpet
Upon arriving back at home in Portland, after a week in Europe, I found a huge box that my wife had put in my office; it turned out to be a bass trumpet which I had ordered from EBAY a few weeks ago. Some of you may remember that I blogged about another ebay purchase, a marching baritone, from a few years ago. The marching baritone was fun, and I did use it a bunch for some home recording; however, it's a heavy instrument, and I didn't end up bringing it out too much for this reason. My bass trumpet is way lighter and just seems more manageable. I'm not really a low brass guy, but I think I could have some fun with this instrument. Bass trumpet is kind of rare, and there are bass trumpets which list for between $2500 to $4000. This Ebay purchase was used for 200 bucks. Some of these bass trumpets are from China. I'm not really sure of the quality; this one seems fine for my purposes. For me it's really about getting used to the embouchure, air, and what we call the "slotting."

Bass trumpets have been used in Wagner's music, but I would say you are way more likely to see a valve trombone than a bass trumpet in jazz. (Still, maybe I can get in the Downbeat poll for miscellaneous instrument.) I decided to post a short clip. Keep in mind, this is really my first attempt. The first valve is a bit slow, and I'm not sure about the intonation, but in general it seems like an ok horn. Maybe I'll become known as " Portland's Best Bass Trumpet Player." Or maybe " The Paul Robeson Of The Trumpet." Maybe I'll do a recording with all bass instruments: bass trumpet, bass clarinet, bass saxophone, bass flute, and .....bass. Oh, and bass drum. Maybe add bass trombone, which is otherwise known as Bass Slide Trumpet......

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

High School Jazz Combos

I just returned to Portland from my third consecutive experience at the Reno Jazz Festival. It's a pretty amazing event; 8,000 students compete over 3 days in various categories of Middle School, High School and College Big Bands and Jazz Combos. It's been held for 53 years at the University of Nevada, Reno. They have a beautiful campus within a short walk of beautiful downtown Reno.
( Ahem.....) Well, I'd be lying if I said downtown Reno was picturesque, although there is a nice park near the Truckee River. Still, it's a great event and I always have fun. (This year, I had fun without alcohol! Yay!) It's cool to talk with other musicians and educators and of course hear some great students. They also have some great guest performers; this year, I got to hear the incredible Vertical Voices, and the amazing SF Jazz Collective. I got to play a jam session with saxophone greats Donny McCaslin and Jacam Manricks. There are a lot of clinics and performances throughout the day; as a judge, it can be just enough to get through the solid two days of judging, so I don't get to hear a lot of what I wish I could have heard.

 I've been one of the feedback clinicians the past three years, the past two for High School Jazz Combos.
( I still hate the word combo, but I reluctantly use it just so jazzers west of the Mississippi know what I'm talking about. It's like saying "Small Coffee" instead of "Tall Coffee" at Starbucks; I just don't have the energy to rebel against their system.) I've heard a wide range of levels coming from these high schools; some of the groups would rival a college group, maybe even a professional group, and others are more at a beginner level. I found this year hat I was able to be positive and constructive with even the most rudimentary groups, and I also was able to find way to improve with the most advanced groups. The "feedback" component of each groups performance is in some ways odd because I believe that the stress of preparing for Reno, traveling by bus or car all the way to Reno, warming up and playing for 20 minutes and being nervous is probably enough for some of these kids; at that point, their energy is spent, and they are ready for some R and R. That's when they head for the "feedback room," and I get to tell them what I liked and didn't like. I find it rewarding, because my goal is never to make people feel bad. ( This year and last, I had a student stand up in the middle of my critique and say, " Excuse me, but I think I'm going to be sick." Both times, it was when I was commenting on something they did. I asked of course, " Was it something I said?" Their fellow students, on both occasions,  said something like," No, they have a stomach bug or something....")

I always try to be positive, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't call it as I see it. Overall, the fact that we still have music in any high school is probably a miracle, and the fact that young people are playing jazz is extremely hopeful. So right off the bat, just coming to an event like the Reno Jazz Festival is cause for celebration. However, I have noticed a few things that it seems like are common issues in high school jazz combos. I say this because I found myself saying the same things over and over during the feedback sessions. Here's a few things:

1. You cannot play small group jazz if you don't listen to jazz. Perhaps that sounds negative. Let's say it a different way; students should have a listening regimen in addition to a practice or playing regimen. In classical music, or playing in an orchestra or wind ensemble, or even a big band,  students are given 90 to 95 percent of the "material," which is that which is on the page; notes, dynamics, articulation, tempo, and so on. Small group jazz is totally different; the written material ends quickly, and at that point, the students are on their own.  In big band, the solo sections are in some ways an afterthought, but in small group, they are everything. Some of the groups were pretty good at playing the melodies of the tunes they had selected, but between the head in and the head out, it was more of a "go for it" approach rather than deliberate jazz phrasing and vocabulary. Believe me, I understand that some of the developing groups I heard are probably satisfied with "getting though the concert." However, if a small group is going to exist, the "material" between the melodic portions has to be addressed in some way. This might sound crazy but I would almost rather that students write out a solo, with the guidance of their instructor, than to just "go for it." The "going for it" approach would be comparable to a stand up comedian going up on stage with no material. Most comedians spend months if not years honing their material. It might take a very long time even to come up with 10 minutes of material. Young musicians need time to "develop their material," so to speak. In some ways, this lack of material it's almost like a classical musician showing up to a concerto competition without any sheet music.

Where does the material come from? Well, as the late great Clark Terry said, " Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate."The jazz language is what the students are learning to speak, and they have to hear it being spoken, as well as learn the theoretical knowledge of chord scales. Will all due respect to how hard band directors in the U.S.A. have to work, I think it's possible to spend a bit of time with chord scale theory appropriate to the selected repertoire. I also think it wouldn't be hard to have some kind of listening time or listening assignments. In this era, no one has to buy records or even go to the library; students can hear s many jazz recording for free on youtube or spotify. Students need to hear the
Clark Terry: " Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate."
language spoken in order to have any sort chance.

One frequent question I asked the students was "Who are your top five musicians on your instrument?" Some had a list, some had less than five, and some couldn't name any. I think having a top five is important in a jazz musicians' development. We have to have heroes. I ALSO recommended that students have a top five on an instrument other than their main axe; jazz musicians need to understand what the other instruments are doing in order to communicate properly on the bandstand. I don't assume that everyone will become a multi-instrumentalist. I would recommend to a young jazz muscian that he take one of his favorite jazz tracks and listen to it all the way through and focus on just the drums. Then do the same thing with the bass, and so on and so forth. I think it heightens the understanding of what the other improvising members of the band are doing. ( I also suspected that when I asked for "your top 5 in your instrument," some of the young musicians in Reno were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. The top 5 list is actually for YOU, not ME! If you love Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, and Robert Glasper, that's wonderful. If you said Liberace, Joe Sample, Hampton Hawes, Andre Previn, and Yanni, I'm cool with that, too! I was listening to trumpeters Maynard Ferguson, Harry James, Bunny Berigan,  and Jonah Jones as a kid; they aren't my favorites now, but at least I was listening to something.....

2. The ride cymbal is the most important part of a jazz beat. I would say that almost every other
group I listened to in Reno had the same issue; one a swing beat, the ride cymbal was being accented on 1 and 3, rather than 2 and 4, and the hi hat was being used as a crutch to keep the 2 and 4 prominent. Now, I'm not saying that 2 and 4 have to be super loudly accented on the cymbal, and that you should never play the hi hat on 2 and 4. It's more subtle. To my ears, a strong accent on 1 and 3 on the cymbal sounds less than optimal( i.e. not swinging). Every jazz drummer from Max Roach to Jimmy Cobb to Billy Higgins to Ralph Peterson to  Bill Stewart has a different way of riding on the cymbal. But I believe in all of the great jazz drummers, the ride cymbal beat is what makes them distinctive, and what makes the music flow the best. We can identify jazz drummers by their solo vocabulary around the kit also, but the great jazz drummers were and are in demand because of the feeling they gave the groove of the music, not because of their solos! ( I was on the road recently with
Bill Stewart, and I think we were talking about rudiments, and Stewart said something like, " You might know all the rudiments but if you don't get the ride cymbal together, nobody is going to call you!) So the point is, the ride cymbal has to feel good. Don't worry so much about the rest of the kit; I would rather have the ride cymbal be good than having someone play all around the kit without good time.

3. Please Don't Be Nervous!  I understand that it's normal, especially for young players to get the jitters before and during a performance: especially for a "competition" like Reno. However, I believe that the sooner in your career you can get over the "nervousness" factor ( not nervous as in " excited to play" but a more debilitating nervousness as in " I'm so afraid to go onstage!" ), the more you are going to enjoy making music. My belief is if you are prepared, there is no reason at all to be nervous. This is especially true in jazz, because in jazz, there are no mistakes. ( Philosophically, this is a very subtle area. I don't mean, as one of my Peabody classmates told me after our jazz performance,
" Wow, in jazz you can just play wrong notes and it doesn't matter!" That's different.) " Mistakes" are really just notes that are not the most optimal. It's a state of mind. The less than optimal notes are part of the process. Young musicians at a competition have a hard time slowing down their minds and actually listen to each other, let alone enjoy the performance. The less nervous you can be, the more you will enjoy every time you perform, which will make you want to keep playing and practicing, because you will be practicing so that you can have FUN!

4. Listen to your band mates, not yourself! We tell people to listen, and in small group jazz, listening to each other is imperative. But one of the things that makes people not listen to their bandmates enough is they are too caught up in listening to themselves! If students can focus less on themselves, they can really tune in to the rest of the band, and really get into the groove, rather than tapping their foot and following the chart and hoping that everyone stays together. Also, focusing on others makes you less self conscious, and therefore, less nervous. Sometimes when I'm playing, I just pretend I'm in the audience. That way, I pay more attention to the other musicians. This sort of thing cleans up all kinds of problems- keeping the form, keeping the time, musical interaction, overplaying, etc...

5. Bass players need to have a pro show them how to hold the upright bass. There were so many
Christian McBride has pretty flawless technique
upright bass players that seemed like they had never had any solid instruction from a serious bassist. This might be an issue because many band directors tend to be from the Wind Ensemble side of things. I think it's important because upright bass is one of those things that if it's played incorrectly, one can develop serious tendon problems and it can ruin careers before they have started. If you have a young upright player who seems serious, please refer them to your local professional for at least a lesson or two. I also would add that, while some people really don't like the sound of a bass with a pickup through an amp, having amplification makes for less strain on a bass player. These are just common sense things to me; you wouldn't take a high school student who can bench press 200 pounds and make him try to lift 400 pounds off the bat.

6. There's really no reason why high school students couldn't write and play their own music! I'm always surprised when young jazz musicians tell me that they never write their own tunes. I think if you can improvise on chord changes, you can write at the very least a blues head or a rhythm changes head, or some kind of contrafact( melody over existing changes). Encourage your students to be composers! Composing and improvisation are really the same thing, if you think about it. Don't worry about whether or not your tunes are good. You'll get better as a composer if you keep doing it. If you don't write music, you won't develop your skills and creativity.

"Weren't you guys in the last jazz combo?"
7. It's important to look your best; however, I really don't like the "black shirt with matching ties" look. To me, 10 people with black shirts and matching ties don't look like a band, they look like a team of waiters at a 3 star restaurant in midtown Manhattan. I don't want to listen, I want to order the lunch special. In all seriousness, I'm not super picky on the dress code thing; I think every musician needs to put some thought into their look. If you think ripped jeans and a hoodie is your look, then feel free to rock ripped jeans and a hoodie. However, it might not work for a jazz group that plays Ellington and Basie. Tuxedos is a bit extreme for me; I feel like I'm at a wedding. At the very least, nice casual works, or suits with DIFFERENT ties and color schemes. Maybe big band is different. I personally don't like the idea of band uniforms. (Maybe it's because I worked at McDonald's...)

8. Keep some perspective. I love being a feedback judge because I believe that giving a young group
feedback is essential to their growth. If students are open to constructive criticism in addition to positive accolades, they can hopefully learn something; indeed, why would they submit to a feedback session if they didn't want to learn how to sound better next time? This is our lot as musicians; the learning and growing is never over. The more we can be honest with ourselves, the more rewarding our musical life can be.

I thought that some of the high school groups, especially the ones that brought all of their parents, extended family, friends, and essentially an entourage worthy of a major Rock group, seemed to view the competition almost like it was a football game. I understand the need to celebrate the success of the students, especially after a long drive to Reno, but even so, it's just one twenty minute performance. Music isn't like sports; it's art, it's subjective, and listening to jazz music isn't necessarily going to have a fist pumping moment like when the Junior Varsity running back scores the winning touchdown.

I couldn't help but feel as though some of the groups didn't really want a "critique" so much as a twenty minute celebration of their "greatness." While I like to talk about the good, I wouldn't be doing them any service at all if I just massaged their egos. ( I guess I probably thought I was hot stuff in high school as well, what with my three years of winning the "Louis Armstrong Jazz Award." If you heard me play trumpet in high school, you would probably want to run for the hills!) I couldn't help but wonder what sort of "feedback session" some of the groups and their respective entourages were expecting :

You guys sound great. I mean really great. I mean you guys are the best high school musicians I have ever heard. All of the other groups I've heard today were terrible next to you guys. Most college groups are crap compared to you guys. I wish I could study with you cats, if I'm being quite honest.

I usually suggest that you guys listen to the great jazz players of history, but you guys have clearly already mastered the history and are taking jazz into the 21st....well, maybe even the 22nd century! You guys have broken new ground in jazz. I wish Trane was alive to witness this miracle of musical genius. 

I would offer you guys scholarships, but I think what I should really be offering you is a Full Professor position with tenure and a six figure salary. Everyone in the band gets a University job! Also, I would offer you a recording contract but I don't run a label. But I do have Bruce Lundvall's home number. I know it's late on the east coast, but I'll wake him up; he needs to hear you guys and I'm fairly certain he will offer you a multi-album deal with Blue Note, plus unlimited tour support  and merchandising profits on top of a huge advance which you will never have to pay back.

Oh, wait, sorry, I'm getting a phone call. Hello. President Obama? Yes, they are here.....Guys, Barack Obama has heard about your triumphant performance at the Reno Festival and he is going to award you the Medal Of Honor. You are flying to the White House tomorrow on Air Force Two for a special ceremony. You'll also be given tax-exempt status for the rest of your lives. 

Again, you guys are essentially the greatest jazz musicians who have ever lived. Your performance was essentially flawless. It was the epitome of perfection. You all play like GODS! I'm just speechless. I'm probably going to quit playing music after this and go back to working at McDonald's.

Oh, one last thing.  I did take off a  few points for the black shirts and matching ties.........

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Crescent The Chromatic Bear: Joyce Kwon's Weird Children's Audio Book

Saxophonist Joe Manis turned me on to this video. Vocalist Joyce Kwon has done more than simply learn John Coltrane's solo on his classic "Crescent" recording; she put lyrics to almost every note. It's already impressive that she is making all of the notes and rhythms and phrasing. Her lyrics tell a very odd story, one which I would be more accustomed to seeing in one of my son's bedtime books than embedded within a Coltrane solo. The "Crescent" solo becomes " Crescent The Chromatic Bear:" it's kind of like the famous "Twisted," which is Annie Ross' lyrical treatment of Wardell Gray's tune and improvised solo.

Joyce Kwon's creation on "Crescent" is vocalese on steriods. Or perhaps crack cocaine. There's a lot of technical and creative brilliance in her arrangement, but I wondered as I listened if Kwon was a madwoman. There are a lot of great artists out there and it's always refreshing to find somebody who has the chops but also has that extra artistic gear, when they can tap into that deep place in their psyche and bring their music to that next "insane" level.

Kwon has some other cool arrangements on youtube; she did a "cover" of the Danish-Norwegian pop group Aqua's 1997 mega -hit " Barbie Girl." If you don't know the song, look it up on youtube. Check out Kwon's descent into madness at the end of the tune....

If you still aren't intrigued, check out this microtonal serenade to a poor sense of food combining: 

Friday, April 17, 2015

RIP Brent Black

Some of you might remember back in 2011, I posted something about Nicholas Payton's album "Bitches." Part of the article referred to what I believed what was a rather unfair review of Payton's album. The writer of the review was a guy named Brent Black. This blogpost and the extended comments which followed started a huge firestorm between Black and Payton, Black and myself, Black and Dwayne Burno, and had many jazz musicians and fans wondering, "Who the heck is Brent Black?" The controversy died down for a while, and then a few months later , Black randomly posted something derogatory about me. I ended up writing him an open letter as a kind of peace offering. It didn't quite work. I figured that maybe some people weren't worth the trouble.

Then I found out what was really bothering Mr. Black. Turns out that he was dying of cancer. At that point, I figured this man was more to be pitied than to be hated. I know he said some terrible things. Clearly, he was suffering, and knew he didn't have long to live, so he didn't hold back. I donated some money to his fund for his medical bills. All of a sudden he was my biggest fan! He gave me some of the best reviews I've ever gotten.

It's not really about whether Brent Black was a nice guy, or whether he was right or wrong in his opinions, or whether other musicians were justified in being mad at him. I think he was just a human being who was having problems, and that manifested itself in some of his odd behavior. I didn't agree with a lot of Black's opinions, but I just couldn't hate him anymore. There's already enough hate in the world.

I'm glad Black has relief from the physical pain of his mortal existence. Although I have a feeling, wherever he is, he's stirring things up.....

RIP Brent Black

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alto Madness: Bob Mover And Steve Wilson

Alto Madness: Bob Mover And Steve Wilson

the great Bob Mover

I consider myself very lucky that I still get calls to play with some of the living greats in jazz. I haven't lived in New York full time for give or take 5 years and a half years, but it appears I haven't been totally forgotten. This month I have had the pleasure of working with two amazing alto saxophonists, both of whom are perhaps underrated and definitely at the top of my list of musicians. If you haven't heard of them, you need to go check them out!

First, I played two gigs with the fabulous alto saxophonist and vocalist Bob Mover. I had met Mover a few times in New York but we had never really played together. We performed with a big band at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington ( under the direction of yet another great altoist and Portland State faculty David Valdez), but the real magic was a duo concert at Michelle's Piano in Portland later in the week. Mover is definitely old school; in his youth he spent time with masters Phil Woods, Charles Mingus, and Chet Baker. He knows a PILE of tunes; indeed, as much as I harp on my students to learn tunes, I was definitely out of my league. Mover the saxophonist was on fire, at times resembling Charlie Parker on steroids. But Mover the vocalist had a more sensitive side; he performed a beautiful rendition of " Estate" with the original italian lyrics, as well as a heart wrenching take on "Some Other Time." I, Valdez, and everyone in attendance of the concert agreed that Mover, despite some heath issues, never sounded better. ( It's kind of a shame that there wasn't any spot for Bob Mover at the PDX Jazz Festival. It's also a shame that more people weren't at the concert at Michelle's Piano. But I digress….) It was a great learning experience for me and I'm hoping Mover and I can find more opportunities to work together.

My fortune has continued into Spring Break with a tour of the midwest with alto and soprano master Steve Wilson. Mr. Wilson is one of the preeminent saxophonists in jazz, having worked with everyone from George Duke to Chick Corea. I've known Wilson for over two decades; we worked extensively with bassist Buster Williams for years. This quartet features bassist Ugonna Okegwo and the incredible Bill Stewart on drums. It's a high energy group that can swing hard but also journey to esoteric stratospheres. So far, we've played
Kalamazoo, Cleveland( my former employer, vocalist Vaness Rubin, surprised us by sitting in on Sunday night at NIghttown), and a clinic at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan( we are doing an educational residency here). Our next stops are The Green Mill in Chicago, and Columbia, Missouri. Wilson, Okegwo, and Stewart are at the top of their game. I know I'm technically on stage with them, but I feel more like I have the best seat on the house. It's very inspirational. Maybe we'll see you in Chicago, or Columbia, MO? 

Friday, March 13, 2015

RIP Lew Soloff

I was sorry to hear of the sudden passing of trumpet great Lew Soloff. I was fortunate to share the bandstand with him a number of times; with his band, Lonnie Plaxico's band, and the Mingus Band. Soloff was always very friendly and garrulous; he always seemed to have a joke or a story to tell. He knew I played trumpet so he would always talk trumpet; " What do you think of this mouthpiece with this horn?" " I didn't really get a good warm-up today..."  Soloff was well known as one of the best lead players, as well as a great soloist; he was an important part of the classic band Blood, Sweat, and Tears. ( Actually, come to think of it, his solo on " Spinning Wheel was one of the first solos I tried to transcribe...although it was way beyond my range.....)

I remember a great story Soloff told me during a break from rehearsing with the Mingus Band. Soloff had chipped his tooth, and decided to go to the dentist, but Lew being Lew, he brought his trumpet to the dentist. He wanted to see if the chipped tooth had an effect on his playing. " I picked up the horn and played up to a triple D, full voice…" Soloff explained. " But I decided that I didn't really need that kind of range, so I let the dentist fix the tooth." Soloff was one of the greats and he will be missed. RIP , Mr. Soloff.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hal Galper Masterclass: " Masters Need To Play With Students"

The great Hal Galper
Portland State was recently lucky to have the great pianist and educator Hal Galper for a masterclass. Galper paid his dues as a member of the Cannonball Adderly group for three years and then the Phil Woods group for about ten years. He's made some great albums as a leader ("Speak With A Single Voice" being my favorite) and has been working steadily with his trio of Jeff Johnson on bass and John Bishop on drums for many years. Galper has also written a number of great books on jazz, including " The Art Of Comping" and " Forward Motion."

Galper didn't play much during the class, but he spoke and took questions for two solid hours. One of the things that really rang true with me is when I asked him, " In the absence of the apprenticeship system, with the lack of true bandstand opportunities like what you had in the 60's and 70's, how do we recreate that in the academic environment? " Galper responded, "Teachers have to play with their students." He went on to talk about non-verbal instruction, and how oftentimes academia is skeptical of this type of teaching and learning. " Every master teacher should have his own band with students playing in it. This is the best way for young players to learn."

Indeed, I spent most of my early career playing with older musicians from whom I could learn. So much of today's landscape is students playing with their classmates, and then getting out of school and playing with their peers. There are few comparable bandstand " schools" like Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Horace Silver, and so forth, working today. There's nothing wrong with peers playing together, however, musicians of the same level( especially of lower experience levels) playing together tends to become an echo chamber with no perspective beyond their own limited experience and wisdom.

I personally would never compare myself to Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Horace Silver, and so forth; however, since I've been a teacher, I've tried to find opportunities for my students who I felt were ready to go to the next level. My latest CD, "Risky Notion" ( available on Itunes, people, how's THAT for shameful self promotion....) features two of my best students from PSU; saxophonist Nicole Glover and bassist Jon Lakey. I don't believe I'm being presumptuous by saying that Glover and Lakey have learned a ton from playing and recording with this group. I think it's also been good for saxophonist Glover to play alongside Joe Manis. Manis is kind of a beast on the tenor and it's been interesting to see how Glover has been inspired by his abilities without making every song into a "cutting contest." It's made her solidify her own concept even more.

Galper also had some interesting advice about becoming a professional musician in this day and age: " I tell all my students to quit! I say you should only do this if you have no choice. If you do have a choice, meaning you have options, eventually, you will make the choice not to do it anymore. But if you just HAVE to play music, then you should." I know that a lot of the students present got a lot out of that kernel of wisdom, as did I. Believe me, sometimes I think I should finally get my Real Estate license and leave the dream of jazz behind. But for the time being, I'm still have the compulsion to play and work on music. Thanks, professor Galper, for giving us the truth.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

How Many Jazz Singers Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

When I was starting out as a pianist in Baltimore and Washington D.C., I worked with quit a few singers. I never considered myself a " singer's pianist," however, I learned a lot just from working with so many different kinds of jazz singers. I think it's interesting that with so many jazz programs flourishing, it seems that the subtle art of accompanying singers is becoming a lost art. It's a very different endeavor compared to plowing through small group jazz; the head-20 minute solo-head concept doesn't often work with singers. Playing intros and outros, really getting a feel for rubato accompaniment, dynamics, transposing to find the key that is comfortable for different male and female vocal ranges, as well as knowing repertoire and being able to read charts are all part of the landscape. Some of it is common sense, but if singers and pianists or rhythm sections don't play together on a regular basis, they don't develop the skills to do all of these things on the fly.

I believe that becoming a good accompanist for singers will make you a better accompanist in general. You have to be selfless to a point when you accompany another musician. You make it about letting them shine rather than worrying about what you sound like. Furthermore, you making someone else sound good is really the reason they would call you for another gig; it's not necessarily that you took great solos on your own. Some singers I worked with barely gave me any solos( maybe half a chorus if that even) but that's also a challenge: how to take a great solo within a chorus or less.

Recently, I met a young lady from Armenia ( by way of New Jersey-- not sure which exit....) named Lucy Yeghiazaryan. She was in Portland for a visit and I got to hear her and I was surely impressed. We had a free afternoon and we got some videos just for a lark. She's got a marvelous instrument and really has a great feel for the jazz tradition. I try to keep my accompanist's chops up and I thought this was a good chance. I figure I should document something with Yeghiazaryan before she becomes famous!  Please enjoy the music!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

RIP Clark Terry

The jazz community is saddened by the loss of the great trumpeter Clark Terry. One of the first jazz trumpeters I ever heard as a middle school student, Terry has been an inspiration to so many. He's underrated in someways, but he had an extremely long career( so many trumpeters in jazz seemed to die young) and played a very physical instrument extremely well even as the rest of his body failed him. He was 94 years old! Terry played with Duke Ellington AND Count Basie, which is pretty impressive on it's own. Miles Davis looked up to him, and Terry was one of the first great flugelhorn players.He was the first African American musician to be on staff at NBC in 1960. Truly a great muscian, he also had his humorous side; if you haven't heard his "Mumbles, " you are in for a treat.

There is a recent film about Terry called " Keep On Keepin' On" which I haven't seen yet. ( I'm sure it's better than Whiplash.) I'm glad they were able to get it done before he passed. Let's remember Terry by listening to his music.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Looking Forward, Glancing Back

It's a few weeks to go until Spring Break, and I can feel the home stretch. I am enjoying my teaching; many of my students are really impressing me with their improvements. I'm hoping to make improvements of my own as well.  I'm determined to find time each day to practice a least a little so I can hopefully make similar strides as my students have made. I also have a number of gigs coming up, for which I would like to sound somewhat prepared. I'll get to that in a minute.

Because I've been so busy I have not been able to blog about my gigs as I have in years past, but I wanted to make brief mention of them, lest ye think I've been put out to Jazz Edumacator Pasture! During the fall I did a number of things. I booked my own tour of Europe and went to Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria. I recorded another organ trio project with tenor saxophonist Joe Manis. I was invited to perform for 4 nights at Jazz Alley in Seattle with fusion legends Lenny White, Victor Bailey, and Larry Coryell. I played a bunch of gigs with Chris Brown's Quartet and his crazy arrangements of 80's pop tunes. We did a number of Portland State recruiting performances and visits all over the state. I went to Novasibirsk, Siberia( Russia) for the
Novosibirsk has some big  statues!
first time with Lenny White's band ( quite a long trip for ONE HOUR OF MUSIC!). I brought in two New York special guests for masterclasses and performances: alto saxophonist Jim Snidero and flautist and composer Jamie Baum. I played a bunch of gigs in Eugene; Roaring Rapids Pizza, The Jazz Station, Broadway House Concerts- the audiences were wonderful. I took a trip east to hit the newest spot in New York- Mezzrow, run by Spike Wilner who also runs Small's across the street. Then I headed down to Baltimore to play trio with Warren Wolf and Tom Baldwin at Jazzway 6004( one of my favorite places to play on the east coast!) Beating the Thanksgiving traffic back to Newark, I then flew even more east to Birmingham, U.K. to do a week long residency at the Birmingham Conservatoire. ( It's always a pleasure to teach and play here- the students are at a super high level and even 6 hours straight of combo coaching leaves me energized!) Portland wise, not only did I bring two of my groups( Theoretical Planets, the group in which I play drums, but also my quartet with Tom Guarna, Damian Erskine and Reinhard Melz, which has a new recording under Erskine's name which will be out soon.)into Jimmy Mak's after a very long hiatus, I started playing at Wine Up on Williams, which is a great help to a scene which is hurting for jazz venues at the moment. Lastly, one of my pieces entitled "Existence" was premiered by the Portland State New Music Ensemble under the direction of Ken Selden. ( I got to play some pocket trumpet on it...)

Jordan Gregory Colligan

Although January 4th brought Jordan Gregory Colligan into my life, I still made time to release my Theoretical Planets recording on the Origin Label ( Risky Notion is the title) and it's available on Itunes. I also got to do two nights with the great trumpeter Randy Brecker in Bend, Oregon. I did some really nice gigs in Maryland; one was a CD release at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore( my alma mater) with Alex Norris, Gary Thomas and Rudy Royston( I played Hammond B3), the other was a gig at Blues Alley in DC with clarinetist Todd Marcus( featuring Warren Wolf on drums and Kris Funn on bass, who really blew me away!) I also did a really nice concert at the Mennonite Church in Southeast Portland with the great tenor saxophonist Rob Scheps and Paul Gabrielson on bass.

I did want to mention first off that this coming weekend Sunday, February 22nd from 7-9), I have a gig at Corkscrew(1665 SE Bybee Ave 503.239.WINE)
in Sellwood; I'm performing as a singer songwriter. Bassist Jon Lakey will be joining me. I haven't been doing this live so much lately, although I actually have an entire album of songs in the can ready to be released. I performed all the instrumental tracks and vocal tracks and recorded it all myself. ( I need help from Adam Brock on mixing and Dana White on mastering.) Come by if you want a taste of the material!
A couple of things to which I'm really looking forward. First, my band Theoretical Planets will be at Wine Up on Williams(3037 N. Williams Ave) on March 6th at 8pm. Come by and buy a CD!
The same band will be at Christo's (1108 Broadway St Ne Salem, OR) on March 12th ( I think we start at 7). My spring break will be spent touring the midwest with the great alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson; the band will feature Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. It should be quite amazing!

April will be busy as well. I have solo piano engagement at The Jazz Station ( 124 W. Broadway, Eugene, OR) starting at 8. This is going to act as part of a warm up for a solo piano tour that I am doing in June on the east coast. April 11th with be my CD release for "Risky Notion" and it will feature not only Theoretical Planets( Joe Manis, Nicole Glover, Jon Lakey) but also my trio with Chris Brown and Chris Higgins. This will be at Michelle's Piano's ( 600 Se Stark St, Portland, OR) and I guarantee it will be awesome.

That's all for now. I promise next blog time to have more jazz nerd stuff like patterns or CD reviews.....