Friday, May 13, 2011

Tour Diary May 2011: Jack DeJohnette Group in Europe Part 1

drummer Jack DeJohnette


Most of my time these days is spent either teaching music, making sure my 16 month old son doesn't injure himself, and blogging. However, in a previous life, I was a freelance jazz musician. Even so, every once in a while, I get to play in European concert halls in front of perplexed Europeans. As I write this, I have just finished the first concert of a three week European tour with the Jack DeJohnette Group. Drummer, pianist, and composer Dejohnette is one of the few living legends in jazz, having served important tenures with Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, and the esteemed Keith Jarrett Trio, as well as leading his own groups.(It's a thrill to play with him: his groove is so deep, it makes it hard to end my solos! I just want to keep playing, it feels so good. An hour and a half set  with this group usually feels like 15 minutes.)

It's a funny story how I ended up in this band: maybe about four years ago, clarinetist Don Byron asked me to sub for Edsel Gomez on a rehearsal with one of DeJohnette's projects. I showed up for the rehearsal, and for the first hour, it was just DeJohnette and I. We played through some of DeJohnette's music, and then eventually the other musicians arrived. DeJohnette was friendly, down to earth, and  easy to play with. "I'll keep your number in case something comes up", DeJohnette said politely.  As I left the midtown rehearsal studio, I told myself sarcastically, "Yeah, right, Jack DeJohnette will call me!" I figured, hey, at least I played one rehearsal with Jack DeJohnette! That's better than nothing!

And then, during the summer of 2009, I was walking down the street in Astoria, Queens, when my phone rang. " Hey, George, this is Jack DeJohnette. I'm putting a band together and I was wondering if you wanted to play keyboards. I kept your number after that rehearsal….."
(I think that qualifies as a lucky break, don't you?)

Dave Fiucznski
We had a smattering of performances last summer with the new band,  but this is the first truly extended tour. We have Jerome Harris on the electric bass, who has played with Dejohnette off and on for many years. Dave Fiucznski is on guitar; he had worked with DeJohnette in some other special project. Rudresh Mahanthappa is usually in the band on the alto saxophone; however, due to Rudresh having a prior commitment,  tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is joining us as a guest for the first week. Also traveling with us is England native Ben Surman, who is doing sound and taking on some of the road manager duties.

The first concert was in Dresden, Germany, in a 1300 seat opera theatre. Our guide, Hannah, told us that it was one of the few times that it had been sold out. That's a good start for the tour! It seems like I tend to play for these type of crowds in Europe more than anywhere else. Playing for a large audience can be great, but sometimes you miss the intimacy of a smaller club. Being on a huge stage with the audience so far away sometimes feels like it's not as connected. But hey, I'm happy to play for any size crowd, as long as they are listening. (What's the old joke? "Why do I play jazz music? Cause I hate crowds…….")

Ravi Coltrane
The concert went really well, considering we hadn't played nor rehearsed in over a year, and Coltrane had never played the music at all. Everything musically seemed to fall right back into place, with only a few glitches here and there. DeJohnette had asked me to bring my pocket trumpet, so I worked it into one tune on the second set, a song called "Blue". I didn't embarrass myself, I think. Coltrane did well, taking some brilliant solos. Fiucznski plays a double-necked guitar; the top neck he has set up so he can do micro- tonal playing. (Fiucznski studied micro-tonal music with Joe Maneri, who apparently can find 72 tones between an octave, as opposed to the 12 we hear in the even tempered Western chromatic scale.)

I'm hoping to get interviews of everyone in the band while we are on this tour. Right now, I should be sleeping, but I'm feeling a little under the weather, and I guess I'm also a little jet lagged. We have to leave the hotel at 6:40 am tomorrow, in order to fly to Vienna,Austria, to play at Porgy and Bess, one of my favorite clubs in Europe. I'll try to keep jazztruth going as much as possible while I'm here. Hopefully it will be interesting to my faithful readers. I know there will be some culinary intrigue in Athens and Istanbul, if not in Prague as well……

Update: After a long travel day, we arrived in Vienna, and our concert at Porgy and Bess was wunderbar! The music is starting to come together, and we are all taking more improvisational chances. The club was sold out; in fact, there were people waiting for us at the soundcheck to get autographs. Hey, it's nice to be appreciated once in a while!

 I was pleased and surprised to run into two musicians I knew in Brooklyn who have been living in Vienna for about 5 years: vocalist and alto saxophonist Shelia Cooper and tenor saxophonist Andy Middleton. We caught up a little bit during the intermission.

 Now it's 1am and our lobby call is 4:45 am. So much for life on the road.....

30 comments:

  1. I thought about going to Hamburg but both concerts were sold out before I even knew that tickets were on sale. Actually, the attraction was a rare chance to see John Taylor play with Palle Danielsson and Martin France, but the DeJohnette would have been a welcome bonus.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You should try to get your hands on some Airborne, George, to boost your immune system while you're on the road. Would love to see you guys with DeJohnette again, with the addition of Ravi Coltrane. However, since the N train doesn't go as far as Europe, I'll have to hope that the band in its current configuration might do a gig a little closer to home!

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  3. George This is the first time I've read anyone's blog!It didn't hurt so bad, good job!

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