Friday, June 19, 2015
Thursday, June 11, 2015
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
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
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
( 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 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:
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."|
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
" 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!
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|
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?"|
8. Keep some perspective. I love being a feedback judge because I believe that giving a young group
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
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: