Thursday, March 31, 2011

Robert Glasper: The Nu Jazz

Robert Glasper
I always tell my piano students to check out the masters: the historical greats such as Fats Waller, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Theolonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, and so many others. However, I think it is also important to check out the players of today. Jazz is a living music, and if we ignore those who are playing jazz now, aren't we,in a sense, discrediting ourselves?

In a recent lesson, I had one of my students listen to some Robert Glasper. Who is Robert Glasper?
Glasper is a young pianist from Houston, Texas. He went to New York to study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and he has had a meteoric rise to success in the jazz world. He was signed to Blue Note in 2005, after having worked as a sideman with people like trumpeter Nicholas Payton and rapper Q-Tip. Glasper is a piano virtuoso: he has a ferocious right hand, which can blaze solo lines of impressive complexity, but also deliver soulful melodic statements. Glasper represents a different point of departure in his influences: I hear more Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, and also some modern Gospel influence. His rhythmic phrasing comes more from hip-hop than be-bop. (Although, I don't think hip-hop would have existed without be-bop, but that's another discussion.)

Glasper's most recent disc is called Double Booked , which refers to, in this case jokingly, the occurrence of a musician who is slated for two different concerts in two different locations in the same night. (Hey, it happens!)This premise is used here to feature two of Glasper's bands on one disc: The Robert Glasper Trio, and the Robert Glasper Experiment, respectively. The former is a perhaps more traditional jazz trio, and the latter is a more blatant vehicle for jazz hip-hop fusion. The Experiment features the great Casey Benjamin, who plays alto saxophone, but also does wonderful things with the vocoder (a vocoder is a device which essentially synthesizes the voice. It almost sounds like a singing robot. But trust me, it's hipper than that!)

Back to my lesson: my student and I had been talking about rhythm. I usually urge students to listen to  Wynton Kelly to learn how to swing. But jazz rhythm has changed a lot since the 1950's and 1960's. It has incorporated all of the trends in American popular music, including rock, soul, funk, and hip hop. Glasper does some beautiful behind-the-beat hip-hop phrasing on "Yes I'm Country(And That's OK)". I wanted my student to try to emulate Glasper's approach in order to have a wider perspective, and to make his rhythmic approach more organic.

I highly recommend you check out Robert Glasper if you want to hear a soulful, modern spin on jazz piano concepts.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Viewer Mail 3: Voicing?

Here's a comment I received on my tribute to the late pianist James Williams:

zibalatz said...
Thank you for this wonderful post! I discovered James' playing through one of my favorite Greg Osby albums, "Art Forum".
And I have to ask, what was that hip minor-11th voicing that you still use to this day?

Yes, and some others were wondering. It's a voicing that Williams uses in his tunes "Alter Ego" and "Arioso". It's essentially two perfect 5ths in the left hand, and then the minor third in the thumb of the right hand, and then a triad from the minor 7th of the root of the minor 11th chord. So if the chord was F-11, the voicing  would be F,C,G,Ab,Eb,G,Bb. In numbers (which is the best way to think of it, because then you can automatically move it around to all keys), it's 1,5,9,b3,b7,9,11. Like so:

This voicing I have found to be useful  in many situations. It's wide at the bottom and colorful at the top. The only note doubled is the 9th, but I think because one of the 9ths rubs against the 3rd, it's not so noticeable. The triad built on the b7 is what Mark Levine (author of The Jazz Piano Book) refers to as an upper structure. The triad is a recognizable sound, and it perhaps make upper extensions of chords more movable. For example, you could play the right hand notes closer together, and get a voicing that Geri Allen uses:

You can find many uses for the top part of this voicing. It sound great as a rootless voicing on the left hand. Stefon Harris uses this voicing, except he will put E in the bass, so it becomes a meatier version of Eb/E.
Let me know how you like these. I think it's good to have some pre-determined voicings, but if you read my interview with Kevin Hays, he talked about his use of scales in order to be more free in terms of generating new voicings all the time. My advice is to consult things like The Jazz Piano Book, or Dan Haerle's Jazz-Rock Voicings for the Contemporary Keyboard Player, and learn the rules, but then always look for ways to break them. The possibilities are infinite!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Remembering James Williams

The late, great James Williams
I consider myself mostly self-taught as a jazz pianist. I will admit that I had one month's worth of lessons in 2nd grade, and I did study trumpet from 4th grade through college, and I did take Class Piano in high school, and I did study a bit with Fred Karpoff when I was at Peabody. But in terms of putting together the basics of jazz piano, I did much of it on my own. Truth be told, I would ask older players about voicings, or licks, or recordings, and then try to figure it out at home. Initially, my home made piano style consisted of playing trumpet licks in my right hand and snare drum ideas in the left hand, since those were the instruments I had previously played. Plus I had listened to a few key recordings, and I suppose I had absorbed a certain "jazz feeling" that translated to my comping on the piano. Also, I had played trumpet along with many of the Aebersold Play-Along recordings, so much that the comping of players like Kenny Barron and Cedar Walton were really in my ears. But in terms of regular jazz piano lessons for a long period... never.

However, I do have fond memories of two lessons I took in the early 1990's with the great pianist James Williams. If you aren't familiar with Williams, you need to be. Williams is probably best known for his tenure with the great Art Blakey, as well as having worked as a sideman with many other jazz greats, such as Tom Harrell, and Dizzy Gillespie.  He also recorded a good number of solo albums. He was one of the founding members of the Contemporary Piano Ensemble (which also featured Mulgrew Miller, Geoffrey Keezer, and Harold Mabern, and sometimes also Donald Brown.) He was the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University for 5 years, until his tragic and untimely death from liver cancer in 2004. Williams was a prolific composer, and his tunes are oftentimes played by others; gems such as "The Soulful Mr. Timmons," "Alter Ego", and "Arioso" are amongst William's works that have been covered by others.

I first heard Williams on the Art Blakey recording called "Album of The Year." (This album is probably more renowned for featuring a young Wynton Marsalis, before he was the household name he is today.) I then heard Williams' series of "Magical Trio" CDs. I was fortunate to get to hear Williams live a few times in Washington D.C.: once at the famous One Step Down with a local trio, and then at Twins with his group which he called the Intensive Care Unit. This was a great band which featured Steve Wilson on alto saxophone and Miles Griffith on vocals. I was always impressed with Williams' pristine touch and inventive harmonic ideas. Williams could channel his Memphis gospel roots quite easily, but he could also conjure up Chick Corea-type angularity that could be shocking. (Once Williams told me how he and Mulgrew Miller used to practically worship Chick Corea's classic trio album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.)

I had met pianist Geoffrey Keezer at Bradley's in New York, who was good friends with Williams, and  he gave me Williams' info in order to hook up some lessons. At that time, I was still living in Washington, D.C., so I would drive my 1984 Chevy Celebrity up to New York. (I remember it was a blinding rainstorm when I drove up for my first lesson. I was terrified driving across the Manhattan Bridge in a torrential downpour . Are they ever going to repair that bridge? C'mon, Bloomberg....) After getting lost in Brooklyn for a while, I found Williams' apartment.

Williams' was so down to earth, a really genuinely friendly person. He was extremely generous with his time. In fact, I believe the lesson lasted about four hours or more! I played piano for him, and he gave me some advice. He played some of his original tunes for me. I remember he showed me a really slick voicing for minor 11 chords, which I still use today. One of the hippest things Williams' said to me was regarding solo piano playing:" You don't have to play the whole time. You can play as if there is a bassist and drummer. Get comfortable with the space."(I have found this advice tremendously useful, and I regularly tell my students this. Many jazz pianists overplay when they are alone: they feel like they have to try to be Art Tatum in order to be interesting.)

I was impressed with Williams' record collection. Remember, this was in the  early 90's, so Ipods were not even an idea! It seemed as though his entire living room was filled with recordings. He turned me on to the great R&B singer Donny Hathaway. He also played me some music of saxophonist  Frank Strozier, who I was unfamiliar with. We listened to some Phineas Newborn, who I had just discovered through Geoffrey Keezer. I remember thinking, "Wow, I know nothing about jazz....."

I remember a bit of an awkward moment when I finally went to leave. Williams' had never told me how much he charged for lessons. "Pay me whatever you think is fair...." he offered. I wrote a check for what I figured a 4 hour lesson with James Williams was worth. I thanked him and then drove to my friend Andy Bachman's apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Bachman and his wife were nice enough to let me stay with them occasionally during these jazz fact-finding missions to New York. That night, Bachman showed me videos (that's right, videos.....) of a then up-and-coming TV show called Seinfeld. (I think I stayed up all night laughing my butt off......)

But I also remember the next time I spoke to James Williams on the phone. "Hey, I think you overpaid me for the lesson. I want to give you some money back....". "Uh, well.....why don't we just put it towards the next lesson?" I asked. " He agreed. I was really touched by his benevolence.

I would bump into James many times over about a decade. I was really shocked the last time I saw him before he died. He had lost a lot of weight. I didn't know it was so serious. We were both playing on a concert with three different bass players: Richard Davis, Eddie Gomez, and Buster Williams. I remember we were talking in the dressing room before the show, and there was a small upright piano in the room. Williams sat down and played some beautiful ballads. I got this sinking feeling that maybe he sort of knew he didn't have much time left.

I attended Williams' memorial service at St. Peter's Church on 54th and Lex. Like many of the events at this church, it was a veritable who's who of jazz. Williams had made a lot of friends in the community. I was almost moved to tears when pianist Mulgrew Miller gave a wonderful speech about how when he had moved to Memphis, he was asked to do a gig, but he didn't have a Fender Rhodes. Williams barely knew Miller, but offered Miller his own Rhodes, even though Williams had a gig that same night. It struck me how selfless Williams was, to give up his own instrument to someone else. That kind of magnanimity is rare.

If you are interested in hearing some of Williams' playing, you can go here to CD Baby, or go to Itunes: sadly, there is only one CD called Alter Ego, but it's a great CD with an all star lineup of saxophonists Billy Pierce, Bill Easley, bassist Ray Drummond, and the late drummer Tony Reedus. It features many of Williams' classic tunes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Brand New Pocket Trumpet

My new CarolBrass Pocket Trumpet
Some of you out there know that, before I was a jazz pianist, I was a trumpet player. I started playing in the school band in 4th grade. I actually went on to do my undergrad at Peabody Conservatory in classical trumpet and Music Education. I never had the natural talent for the instrument; I actually had major embouchure difficulties which made high range and endurance a major struggle. My teachers, Lee Stevens and Wayne Cameron, really tried to help me, but I never developed enough to be consistent. But I was so stubborn that I persisted, insisting that I was meant to be a trumpeter. But then, the piano suddenly became important. I was only learning piano to improve my understanding of harmony. But I sort of got lucky getting gigs on piano in Baltimore. I had so much paying work as a pianist that upon graduation from Peabody in 1991, I proceeded to quit the trumpet entirely.

However, I decided in 1998 that I wanted to give it another try. Unfortunately, I had sold all my  trumpets in 1991( I had a Bach Stradivarius Bb, a Bach Strad C for orchestral excerpts, and a Shilke D/Eb for playing the Haydn Trumpet Sonata and so forth). So I went to Sam Ash in New York and bought a cheap Holton Symphony Bb trumpet. I couldn't really tell if it was any good because all the horns I tried sounded terrible; I hadn't touched a trumpet in years so I had NO embouchure at all. The horns weren't terrible: I was terrible!

So I messed around with trumpet again for a while, for about two years. Then I put it down again for another 5 years or so, and then in 2005, dusted off the Holton Symphony and decided to try again. When I accepted the job at the University of Manitoba in the Fall of 2009, I was assigned a trumpet student. This inspired me to practice so that I would be able to explain and demonstrate physical and musical concepts more readily. I still struggle with the physicality of the trumpet, but I'm better than I was in college. I also have had so many more musical experiences that it has helped my musicality on the instrument. I can oftentimes play tunes that I know on piano but have never played on the trumpet.

Not a Piccolo trumpet!
All this is a preface to what is essential a product review of a recent purchase:the CarolBrass Pocket Trumpet. For those of you who don't understand what a pocket trumpet is, it's essentially a regular Bb trumpet, only the tubing is coiled much more compactly, so that the trumpet looks smaller and takes up less space. But the notes and fingerings are the same. (Some mistake it for a piccolo trumpet, which is pitched an octave higher than a typical Bb trumpet. Piccolo trumpet is used for baroque music such as Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2, or it's used for some orchestral music, such as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exibition.)

Don Cherry
The most famous musician to exclusively play a Pocket Trumpet is avant-garde jazz musician Don Cherry. Cherry played at first a custom made pocket trumpet from Pakistan, allegedly, and then played a pocket trumpet made by Besson for the rest of his life. Cherry claimed that the idiosyncratic nature of the pocket trumpet made him get some sounds out of the horn that were useful in modern musical settings. ( The only other person I can think of that I know who uses a pocket trumpet on a regular basis is drummer Ralph Peterson. I've been on gigs where Peterson pulled out the pocket trumpet and played stuff that many full time trumpeters would envy.)

"How does it play?""I don't know, but it sure is RED!"
However, most trumpet players consider pocket trumpets to be little more than a novelty. Before I purchased my pocket trumpet, many tried to dissuade me, saying that pocket trumpets are "stuffy" and "out-of tune" and "cheaply made." Indeed, you can go on Ebay or Amazon and find pocket trumpets of many different colors for less than 100 dollars. I'm sure these horns are crap. But there are also pocket trumpets which are $1500 and up made by real companies like Benge and Kanstul. Even Monette, which makes the most expensive trumpets(10,000 dollars and up) made at least a few pocket trumpets, as I have heard.

After doing a lot of research on line, I found many good reviews of the CarolBrass Pocket Trumpet. CarolBrass is a company based in Taiwan, and they are various distributors in the U.S. I found a brand new CarolBrass Pocket Trumpet being sold on Ebay for $750 through California Music Supply. It took a couple weeks to ship to Winnipeg from California. When it finally arrived, I was excited, as I hadn't bought a new trumpet since 1998!

Case Closed!
I was surprised at the compactness of the trumpet case; it looked like a small briefcase in which you might smuggle diamonds. Don Relic, who owns California Music Supply, threw in a small soft case that he calls the Tiny Toga for the pocket trumpet. If you were very careful with it, you could probably put the pocket trumpet in the toga and then put it in your knapsack. Also, Don said he would make sure the valves were well oiled, and sure enough, when I took the horn out and started to fiddle with it, the valves were fast. Not the fastest I've ever played, but fast for a new horn, for sure.(Sometimes the valves need to be "broken in" a little.)

Monette Mouthpiece
The trumpet came with a Bach equivalent 7C mouthpiece. They usually come with a 3C, but I actually asked Don to include a 7C, since that was what I was using when I ordered the trumpet. However, in the interim, I had borrowed a Monette B6 mouthpice from a local trumpeter named Andrew Littleford. Now, I've been using a 7C since 1998. But I had been hearing rave reviews about the Monette mouthpieces. (In fact, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen had suggested that I use a Monette mouthpiece with a pocket trumpet in the hopes that it would sound better.)My first impression of the Monette B6 mouthpiece was that it was the most incredible mouthpiece I've ever played! However, sometimes the honeymoon ends quickly with equipment, and now I'm not as bowled over as I was initially. But it still feels good to play, in terms of comfort. I'm going to try the Monette mouthpiece for a little while longer before making my assessment, which would result in me actually ordering one for myself(and they are very expensive: 300 bucks and up just for the mouthpiece.)

So I inserted the Monette B6 mouthpiece into the pocket trumpet and played a bit. My first impressions were pretty good: it has a nice mellow tone, and felt pretty good in all registers. The things that took a little getting used to were holding the trumpet, since the third valve slide on a pocket trumpet is operated by the left thumb, as opposed to the left ring finger on a normal trumpet. I will admit, when I play low D and C#, the notes which are very sharp on a normal trumpet, I have a hard time getting this slide out. I'm getting better at it the more I play, though. Also, I thought the overall intonation was very good, but sometimes, the accuracy of hitting the notes where I'm accustomed to feeling them was a little different. Again, the more I play it, the better it feels.

Most people are mesmerized by the look of the horn. I got the one with the "satin" finish on the bell, which makes it look almost vintage. Some people have called it "cute". I agree. And most people have remarked that it sounds good. Like I said, the more I play it, the more I like it. I'm not sure if full time trumpeters would ever totally replace their normal Bb with a pocket trumpet. Still, what with the airlines constantly cutting back on what you are allowed to bring on flights, it's definitely worth considering, especially for those who just want to have something to practice on vacation. For me, I'm bringing it on my next road gigs as a leader (I wanted to be able to bring the trumpet and the melodica;I think both of these could fit in one bag....). I'm also hoping to bring the pocket trumpet on my tour with Jack DeJohnette in May. Maybe Jack with let me play a few tunes with the band....

So to conclude, I give the CarolBrass Pocket Trumpet a hearty endorsement. Especially when you consider the price, you get a high quality horn for pretty reasonable cost. CarolBrass makes regular trumpets, flugelhorns, cornets, and trombones as well. I have my eye on a CarolBrass lightweight Bb of normal size. So many instruments, so little money.........

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Janek Gwizdala:The Space In Between

Bassist Janek Gwizdala

I recently did a gig with the Randy Brecker Sextet. The concert was in, of all places, a high school in  Wyoming! It was my second gig with Randy's group;the last gig was in August of 2009. I was a little rusty, but I tried to prepare as well as possible, which included making sure I had my sounds cued up on Mainstage (a computer program that basically runs synthesizer sounds using a MIDI keyboard for live performance). I was excited to play with legendary trumpeter Brecker . However, the other cats in the band were no slouches:Ada Rovatti on tenor saxophone, Mitch Stein on guitar, Rodney Holmes on drums (who performed brilliantly on two of my recordings; Mad Science and Realization. We played together for years with David Gilmore and other various projects. He's one of the baddest drummers out there.). I was also looking forward to playing with Janek Gwizdala, a London-born electric bassist who is an up-and-coming virtuoso musician, composer, and producer.

Gwizdala's latest recording is called The Space In Between; the title, judging from first listen, is quite apropos. Gwizdala's previous work as a bandleader was either more funky, jam bandish stuff, or very heady compositional New York modern jazz. This new CD is as wide open as the Wyoming sky. It's all about sound-scapes and unhurried themes. "To Begin", the opening track, starts with the ethereal trumpet of Audun Waage and Gwizdala playing low and  sparsely, perfect for a film noire soundtrack. Gwizdala solos might make you think of Pat Metheny if he was a bass player. He's got a lot of chops and a lot of flowing, lyrical ideas. Guitarist Tim Miller creates expansive textures and spare, thoughtful contrast to Gwizdala's intensity. Saxophonist Bob Reynolds has a pretty tone and takes a nice solo on the way out.

I would describe the track" Bethany" as driving music! Miller strums away, while Gwizdala plays a soaring melody in tenor register. The track eventually moves into a jazzier mode, with drummer JoJo
Mayer turning up the heat. His playing here is reminiscent of Jack Dejohnette, but with a bit more fire.

"Twice" is a slow, postmodern bluesy tune featuring guest vocalist Doug Wamble. Musically, it's in chillout mode, but Wamble's singing is very soulful. The title tune," The Space In Between" has a melody which reminds me a little of saxophonist Billy Harper's music, in that it's a compact, intense melody that repeats with urgency.

Airto is another guest on "Carrot Juice." The master percussionist does some great atmospheric sounds and vocals while Gwizdala improvises. Gwizdala and crew finally turn on the funk with "Four Brothers": guest Mike Stern, whom Gwizdala has worked with frequently, provides some energetic guitar screaming. Trumpeter Waage goes into a Miles Davis/Bitches Brew vibe, but perhaps more leaning towards a Tomasz Stanko/ Cuong Vu type of restraint. It's like if Chet Baker used effects pedals! A great way to end a CD which has a little something for all types of jazz listeners.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Trio Bembe:Oh My Soul

Trio Bembe: Scott Senior,Amber Epp, and Rodrigo Muñoz

If you know the Winnipeg jazz scene, you most likely know vocalist/ pianist Amber Epp. I first met and heard Epp two years ago at the Monday Night Hang (the local weekly jazz jam session, which is now known as the Wednesday Night Hang, since the Orbit Room changed it to Wednesdays). She struck me immediately as a natural performer, brimming with confidence and energy. Epp is from Steinbach, Manitoba, which apparently has a jazz scene so small it fits in a thimble(meaning there is no jazz scene!). Consequently, Epp never heard any jazz or Latin music until she was 15 years old. However, being the driven, precocious person she is, she immersed herself in the great jazz singers, studied hard in the University of Manitoba Jazz program, and has become an young artist with a bright future.

Amber Epp
Amber Epp, in addition to being a great jazz singer, is also quite steeped in Afro-Cuban and South American music. She spent three months studying in Cuba, and has worked with a Winnipeg-based salsa group called Papa Mambo for a few years. Her own band is an offshoot known as Trio Bembe. The group features Epp on vocals, Chilean musician Rodrigo Muñoz on guitar, and Canadian native Scott Senior on percussion. I had the good fortune to work with them in Winnipeg last year as a guest and I enjoyed myself immensely.

a cajon which Scott Senior plays in Trio Bembe
Trio Bembe has two CDs currently available: the first is self titled, and features many Afro-Carribean standards and some originals by Epp and Muñoz. What's amazing about the group is the powerful groove and fullness coming from merely a trio. It's a nice change of pace to hear Muñoz' guitar as the heart of the band, since most music of this type (at least what I am most familiar with) features brass and piano. Epp has a voice that is full of character and emotion; she sings well in English and Spanish. The grooves, well provided by Senior on various instruments (including the cajon, which is seen a lot in Spanish flamenco music), are influenced by traditions, yet also convey a certain modern funkiness. My favorite song on Trio Bembe is Epp's original entitled "Victory", a bluesy tune with optimistic lyrics which is perfect for airplay.

Trio Bembe's sophomore recording is called Oh My Soul, and it is a continuation of the previous CD, but with some special guests on selected tracks(such as Jimmy Green on tenor saxophone,Victor Hugo López on guitar and the tres, and yours truly on keys), and also more of Epp's compositions. Epp's singing and Spanish has improved even more, and the music has more intensity. The opening cut, "Donde Estabas Tu?" sounds straight out of Cuba.  A surprisingly fast version of the Cuban lullaby  "Drume Negrita" is also quite convincing.

the Cuban tres guitar
I was honored and delighted that Epp asked me to lay down a track on Tania Maria's classic funk anthem "Come With Me." It's a version which is not as heavy- sort- of- disco oriented as the original, but it has a nice relaxed feel. But the album picks up again with a lively version of "Guararey de Pastorita" which features the wonderful tres stylings of Victor López.(The tres is a Cuban type of small folk guitar,with three doubled strings.It's primarily used for rhythm, but it's not really strummed, it provides rhythmic counter-melodies. It's a lot like the calvaqhinho in Brazilian music.) Throughout the album, Epp's vocal style is not concerned with heavy virtuoso melismas;her voice has a distinctive, buoyant, compact quality, with just enough vibrato to keep it interesting. Her singing is accurate and intense.

When I hear cuts like "La mucura", which is an Antonio Fuentes tune from the late 40's, and "Yerbero  Moderno", a Celia Cruz hit, I get a sense of high authenticity. Trio Bembe knows their history. But also, with originals like "Oh my soul," and "Olhos de luz", I get a look into the future. I see great things for this band. If you live in Winnipeg, you can catch them (and me!) at their CD release party on April 15th, 8pm, at the West End Cultural Centre.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happenings in Winnipeg: Aqua Books, Rufus Reid, and Paul De Gurse

The great Rufus Reid
Hey, jazztruth readers. Long time no see. Did you miss me?

Well, things have been hectic around here. Teaching full time and dealing with a curious, rambunctious 15 month old son will wear anyone out! Plus, trying to practice and deal with all the other life stuff leaves little time for blogging. So I'm grabbing a few moments to blog about recent items. (I really should be practicing for my gig with Randy Brecker. I haven't played with him in over a year and a half, so I'm pretty rusty on his music. I might have to pull an all-nighter before I fly out tomorrow morning....)

First up: I'm certain everyone knows about the horrible devastation in Japan, which is a country that almost every jazz musician I know holds dear in their heart. I've toured Japan at least 15 times. Japan is my favorite country to travel to, and the recent tragedy there is heartbreaking. I pray for better days and recovery for this great nation.

I was scheduled for a trio performance at Aqua Books in Winnipeg this Saturday. Bassist Steve Kirby and drummer Quincy Davis were scheduled to join me. At the last minute, Kelly Hughes, the proprietor of Aqua Books, asked me if we could turn the trio performance into a benefit for Japan. I heartily agreed, and so did Kirby and Davis. So if you are in Winnipeg and you want to support Japan and also hear some great jazz, come down to Aqua Books on Saturday, March 26th. We start at 8pm and most likely will do two sets. Brazilian guitar wizard Marco Castillo will join us. All proceeds will go to help Japanese victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

This past weekend, I was thrilled to get a chance to play with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Richard Gillis, who is also the trumpet professor at the University of Manitoba. I was honored that Gillis asked if they could play a few of my big band charts. They played two of my arrangements; Charlie Parker's " Segment" and Herbie Hancock's "Wiggle Waggle". I had absolutely no complaints.

It was also great to finally get to perform with special guest Rufus Reid. I was a student at the Banff Summer Jazz Workshop in 1990 when I first met Reid; I was a mediocre trumpet student who was thinking of switching to piano at the time. I remembered,when Reid coached my ensemble, how generous with praise he was, and how also he was able to get us to visualize the music so quickly. Reid hasn't lost any of his touch in twenty-some years. He brought a stack of big band charts which were challenging and fun to play. It was great to hear his superb quarter-note beat as well as bask in the beauty of his gorgeous lyrical bass solos. Reid has a way of making one feel like a long-lost friend. It's a joy to play music with someone like this.

Finally, I was even more thrilled last week to hear one of my students, native Winnipeger Paul De Gurse, give his third year recital. Paul has been studying with me for two solid years. Paul already had a lot of ability when we first started. Our main issues during these two years have been rhythm/time feel, touch(using weight), phrasing, learning tunes, composition, and solo transcription/analysis. Paul is a good student, but at times, I was frustrated, and I know that Paul was as well.

I tried various tactics to try to help Paul improve faster, and I was skeptical at times. However, recently, it seemed as though many elements were falling in to place. Paul prepared diligently for his recital, which included a mix of originals and standards. When we had his last lesson before the recital, I was encouraged, and very confident that Paul would succeed in giving a solid performance. But I was
really flabbergasted at how great the recital ended up being. Paul was extremely confident in his playing and in his conversations with the audience. Paul never showed any sign of faltering, and he always seemed like he was having fun. This is the kind of performance that you can charge admission for! (Which is what I say to my students often;" You sound great, but ask yourself -who will pay 50 bucks to hear this?" Something to consider....)

Is this diminished scale or altered?
I was so proud of Paul's recital. This is one of the great things about being a teacher; watching your students succeed. Maybe I've been too worried about them not succeeding to even think about this. It's a lot like watching my son learn to walk: it's great to see someone grow and achieve new things. I'm looking forward to more of this as my teaching career continues.......