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.....

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Addition

I apologize to jazztruth fans everywhere for my lack of presence in the blogosphere for the past few weeks. Here's the reason:

No, I didn't become an Obstetrician. We had a baby! His name is Jordan Gregory Colligan, and he was 6 pounds 7 ounces. Now he's up to 9 pounds. I'm trying to find him a personal trainer to lose those unwanted extra pounds. Joking.

He's doing well, he certainly sleeps better than my number one son Liam. But even so, it's taken me away from jazztruth, although I still have many ideas. I've definitely slowed down in the past 5 years ( jazztruth started in 2010) but I still like having the forum to present ideas, teaching concepts, CD reviews, and lots of other things. However, having a family, teaching full time, trying to book gigs, and keep my exercise regimen take up most of the day and sometimes it just seems impossible to get to everything. I didn't even mention practicing in that list; after ignoring the fact that I pretty much stink as a pianist these days, I've decided to get back in the shed on the 88's. ( Also, I'm preparing for a solo concert in April and then a possible solo piano tour in June, so I need to be ready for that.)

I have many things to report, a PILE of CDs to review, and other things. So stay tuned and I'll be right back with more jazztruth.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Happy New Year,  everyone! I'm sure many of you have New Year's resolutions. It's great to have goals and get motivated and January 1st seems like the best excuse to have a new beginning. For example, I noticed that 24 Fitness is open today, so that folks can honor their resolution and start working out in the hopes that this is going to be the year that they finally lose that weight and get ready for those tight jeans everyone seems to love in Portland. Unfortunately, for some, January 1st might be the ONLY day they work out this year. This might be because we set our expectations way too high. I've always been one to have many goals, and this year is no different. I don't know, you tell me whether you think I'm setting myself for failure:

George Colligan's New Year's Resolutions:

1. Run a mile under 4 minutes.
2. Run a Marathon under 2 hours.
3. Run a 100 mile ultra marathon barefoot, on an empty stomach.
4. Improve my technical and improvisational skills on Piano, Organ, Drums, Trumpet, Upright Bass,
Electric Bass, and Marching Baritone.
5. Become technically proficient on Trombone, Clarinet, Bassoon, Flute, Guitar, Bass Trumpet, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, C Melody Saxophone, Baritone, and Ukelele
6. Learn 5,000 new tunes in every key. That means all major AND minor keys. So if the tune is in Major, I'll learn it in minor, and then take it through the keys again.
7. Transcribe every recorded Herbie Hancock solo, every recorded McCoy Tyner solo, every recorded Chick Corea solo, every recorded Keith Jarrett solo, every recorded Kenny Kirkland solo, every recorded Mulgrew Miller solo, every recorded Wynton Kelly solo. ( I'll leave every Bill Evans solo until next year.
8. Learn the complete piano works of Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Scriabin. Transpose all of these pieces into every key. (Major AND minor....remember...from before?)
9. Become a master of tablas and Indian music. ( This I can probably knock out over the weekend...)
10. Memorize the complete works of Shakespeare.( It's already on my Kindle so this one, again, piece of cake!)
11. Bench press 589 pounds. On an empty stomach.
12. They say most of the muscles in your body are in the lower body, so I guess I will probably be able to deadlift double what I can bench. So let's round up and say 1200 pound deadlift. Should be cool.
13. 5,000 pushups and 5,000 pullups. If this doesn't get me on the cover of Men's Health, nothing will.
14. Write a Rock Opera based on the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. Now, I know what you are thinking, "George, that writes itself!" Well, yes, it does. But I want it to be really really FUNNY as well as entertaining, informative, and life changingly transformatively inspiring. I want to take this one to Broadway!
15. Win a Tony Award for my Rock Opera based on the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. I guess the awards won't happen until 2016, so.....OK, scratch that one off until next year. (Patience, Colligan....)
16. Become the best Jazz Educator in the world. If you've been following my blog, you are probably like, " But, George, haven't you already accomplished this? And isn't it also highly subjective?" Well the answer is Maybe, and MAYBE, MAYBE NOT! I'm working on the book called "The Absolutely Definitive Completely Complete Guide To Learning Jazz: Becoming the Greatest Jazz Musician Who Has Ever Lived And Getting Every Gig In The World." THIS book is going to be the one. When you read all 1,003 pages of My book, you'll say, " Aebersold, SHMABERSOLD! Bergonzi SHMERGONZI! Levine SHMEVINE!" Or something like that. Pick your favorite jazz instructional
author and put SHM in front of their name.
17. Become the Greatest Jazz Musician Who Has Ever Lived And Get Every Gig In The World. I know what you're thinking, " George, isn't this impossible and again highly subjective?" The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT! If I'm going to publish a book called "The Absolutely Definitive Completely Complete Guide To Learning Jazz: Becoming the Greatest Jazz Musician Who Has Ever Lived And Getting Every Gig In The World," then I have to teach by example. If I can't do what I say in the book, who's going to buy it? Do you think anyone would have bought Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" if he didn't actually THINK AND GROW RICH? You KNOW Napoleon Hill was ROLLING in cash money! ( I mean, I assume. I don't have any proof.)
18. Win the World's Greatest Dad award. Pretty sure I won that last year, if my coffee mug has any legitimacy.
19. Solve the Middle East Crisis. Now I KNOW what you are thinking. "George, so many have tried and failed in the past century. What ideas do you have that are different?" Well, my idea comes from this: the history of the longstanding feud between legendary entertainers and former partners Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin( from an article by Shawn Levy in The Guardian):

In the subsequent years, they literally didn't speak. Once or twice they collided on the back lot at Paramount or in some Vegas green room. But often they deliberately ducked one another. In 1960, when Dean went off Rat Pack-ing, Jerry was persona non grata, and it's a sign of his hurt and resentment that he responded to the Rat Pack's Las Vegas shoot of Ocean's Eleven by going to Miami and making a resort hotel movie of his own, The Bellboy. By 1970, Jerry's career had spun out of control in a haze of drug addiction and the changing fashions in comedy, but Dean was a bigger star than ever, with a smash hit weekly TV series and a film and recording career to rival Frank Sinatra's.
In 1976, Sinatra tried to mend fences between the estranged partners, surprising Jerry during his annual muscular dystrophy telethon by bringing Dean out from the wings. It was a truly spontaneous and emotional reunion - the two stood patting each other and smiling through tears as though a loved one had returned from the dead. But despite Jerry's entreaties after the show, Dean never rejoined him on stage or even for mere social interaction. Finally, in 1987, when Dean's golden son, Dean Paul Martin, died in a plane crash, Jerry reached out to him, instigating, at least by Jerry's account, a sporadic telephone relationship.

Maybe it's naive to think that we could erase centuries of hatred, war, hostility, and mistrust by bringing Jews and Palestinians out on stage to surprise each other on a telethon. Well, has anyone ever tried it? Could it really hurt? It's probably as good as any other idea out there....

20. Achieve total enlightenment. This might be a stretch. I think I need the right mantra. Or maybe the right chanting shoes. I'm sure they have some stuff over at REI.......

Monday, December 29, 2014

The 2014 First Annual Colligan Awards

Since I've been on the subject of movies lately, one great film I saw recently was "Birdman," an incredible vehicle for Michael Keaton, who plays a former action star trying to produce a darkly serious play while trying to keep his dark mental difficulties at bay. The acting by Keaton and co-stars which include Edward Norton, Zach Galafanakis, and Emma Stone, is solid. However, the cinematography and special effects are absolutely amazing. Furthermore, the musical score, which is mostly solo drum set, really blew me away. It sounds somewhat improvised, but it really fits the emotion of the story, as any good score should. ( When I think of my disappointment with "Whiplash," it's nice to hear truly great drumming in a movie.)

I recently discovered that jazz great Antonio Sanchez is responsible for the score for
"Birdman." I also discovered that his score was rejected by the Academy of Motion Pictures for consideration for an Academy Award. Sanchez' fans are wondering why. The reasons the Academy gives have to do with the amount of original music related to known songs, I think bottom line it's because the Academy is stupid. And racist. And just plain evil. Do I think the Academy and it's members are worse than Hitler? That would be pushing it a bit too far. So then the answer is yes. 

Antonio Sanchez is an incredible drummer, having played with Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Miguel Zenon, and plenty more of the heavyweights. He's very successful as a musician, so I'm betting that he could probably care less about whether he is snubbed by the aforementioned Worse-Than-Hitler-Academy of Motion Pictures. However, since so many of these awards are so pointless and arbitrary, I'm starting my own Awards.

Good Evening And Welcome to the The 2014 First Annual Colligan Awards. I'm your host, Ellen DeGeneres. We have a really great show for you. We have many special guest, and so many great song and dance number. I have lots of great joke(Rim Shot)......ahem..... Moving right along, presenting the award for Best Musical Score is Jack Black.

Jack Black: ( In a loud, rock and roll type voice) Hey everybody, the nominees for Best Musical Score are:

Antonio Sanchez for "Birdman"(Roll Clip)
"Birdman," Antonio Sanchez (Roll Clip)
(Roll Different Clip)
" Big Momma's House 13," Kanye West ( Roll Clip.....Ugh..)
" Indian Jones and the Quest To Find A Good Hip Replacement Surgeon," John Williams( Roll Clip, I guess...)
Antonio Sanchez for "Birdman"(Roll Clip)

And the Colligan Award goes to......
Antonio Sanchez for "Birdman!" 

( This is Antonio Sanchez' first Colligan Award....)

Anyway, I have a vivid imagination. I recommend the film, Antonio Sanchez got robbed, and F the Academy. 

“What's with all these awards? They're always giving out awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolf Hitler.”
Annie Hall (1977) – Alvy Singer (Woody Allen)

Awards are like hemorrhoids. Sooner or later every asshole gets one.”
Swimming Pool (2003) – Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling)