Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Dark Side Of The Beat

Buddy, can you spare a jazz gig?
I've been truly blessed to have an actual career in jazz. I mean, it's pretty astounding: I was a lousy classical trumpet player, ready to quit playing, when I discovered the piano. All of a sudden, I had a job! I was playing two nights a week at a hotel in Baltimore. My rent was $250 a month(this was 1989). I was making $220 a week, so I was richer than I had ever been in my life. I was making money IMPROVISING on jazz tunes. And not even very well! I was on top of the world.

And then the gig ended. Another band came in and told the manager they would play for less money. And so was my first lesson in the ugly side of playing music for a living. I was depressed, but I had made a lot of contacts, so the work picked up again. And  now, looking back on over twenty years of playing music for a living, and it always ebbs and flows: sometimes there is work, sometimes not. Still, I'm extremely lucky: most of my Peabody Conservatory classmates have quit playing music, at least professionally. Times are tough for even legendary musicians. The economy sucks. Debt ceiling.....yada yada......You know what I mean.

I've been in New York since 1995 (with a brief pit stop in Winnipeg for 2 years, see previous posts) and the jazz scene has changed a lot. A lot of great venues have closed(Bradley's, Visiones, Zinno's,Fat Tuesday's, Detour, Sweet Basil's/Rhythm, to name a few). Touring has slowed: I remember nine week tours, eleven week tours. Now, a three week stint seems eternal. Even 10 days is a rarity. Also, the jazz audience has changed in New York. The demographic has shifted from die- hard New Yorkers along with European and Japanese tourists supporting the clubs, into American tourists, who come to clubs with little real love of the music. (I played at the Blue Note with the Christian McBride Trio a few years ago, and McBride was telling an anecdote about trumpeter Roy Hargrove. McBride looked out at the packed house and assumed, "Y'all know Roy Hargrove, right?" You could hear a pin drop.) 9/11 didn't help things. The rise of Wall Street hasn't added any listeners: it doesn't seem like Hedge Fund Managers like jazz as much as cigar bars, or whatever. Sometimes I wonder if New York still deserves to be called the Jazz Capital of the World. (Although there are still more musicians here than ever....)

But beyond the economic realities of jazz music, I think what bothers me more than anything is the lack of community and respect shown by people who curate/book/own some of these venues. I would have to say that overall, I'm treated so much better in Europe and Japan, even in clubs. And not just by the audiences, but by the management/staff/bookers/etc...Even outside of New York, I tend to get more respect. Now, obviously, there are exceptions (Small's is great, because Spike Wilner is a working musician, and he really understands the music and what it means to be a musician.), but I am continually surprised by how little musicians are respected in New York, the so-called Jazz Capital of the World. Maybe it's always been this way; mind you, I've never been beaten by cops for standing outside of a club for being Black and talking to a White lady, a la Miles Davis ( I mean, let's have some perspective, please!). But I'm surprised by people who probably should know better, even managers/bookers/staff who are musicians themselves!

I heard a story about one of the most well known venues in the city, and why one very well known young (still young) trumpeter refuses to perform there. One night, after this trumpeter and his band had finished their set, the "proprietor" of the venue turned on the lights and yelled "You guys didn't play anything good all night!" And this is a renowned venue. If this is how we are treated there, how can we expect better anywhere else in New York?

I hate to complain, because like I initially said, I am extremely lucky; I have work, a roof over my head, food in my stomach, bank account, family, used car, etc... And it's not even a money thing; my pay scale is sliding like my tires on the Winnipeg highways in January. But I think what's missing is a bit of respect and decency.

Just as an example, I had an experience recently with the curator of the music at a cafe in Greenwich Village. I have been playing at this venue for many years; it's a small venue, and even with standing room only, it's hard to make any real money. I mean, it's essentially a door gig! Musicians play here because it has a decent atmosphere and it's a place to present their original music. Small establishments like this are bombarded with musicians looking for a place to play. Unfortunately, the people who book these venues sometimes develop an attitude of disrespect towards the musicians. I was a victim of this kind of attitude.

I have played at this particular venue for 15 years, dealing with a succession of bookers, most of whom were friendly and easy to deal with. Not so with a recent exchange. My wife and I played a double bill there this past spring, and we had a respectable, if not terrific, turnout. But when I contacted the booker to ask about another date, I was dismissed with comments to the effect of: "Feedback I got from the bartender and waiters about your show was not too good, to say the least. Your turnout was way below average, I was told that your sets did not start on time, the whole evening was poorly run, and you didn't even know what instrument you were going to be playing the second set."

I think what bugged me the most was that this booker was judging me by what the host and bartender said about the performance. (This to me is akin to getting a review of the New York Philharmonic from one of the ushers in the concert offense to ushers.) I wanted to ask him if they were musicians or not, but my wife stopped me. I really had to hold back some choice words. Anyway, It's not like I need to play there to make a living; on the contrary, I usually tried to hold back booking stuff there in fear of a conflict with a tour or better paying gig. So as I was saying, it's not about the money, it's about the respect. And this is from a fellow musician, who is probably struggling as much as we all are. Where's the sense of community?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Odd Thoughts on Odd Meters

I was looking at Spike Wilner's Facebook page tonight; a discussion about various and controversial topics relating to jazz was brewing. Wilner's post had generated over 150 comments. I also commented, although I think I was kind of late to the party. I think the post has run it's course, but I wanted to share what I wrote, cause maybe it works better as a stand alone than a non sequitur . 

I was intrigued about the odd meters comment. For some of my students, 4/4 is an odd meter.....

I won't name who, but I heard a teacher lamenting about how his students were always "bringing in tunes in 19/8, 7/16, and what not" and so many "straight 8" tunes. (He was pretty negative about it.) "And nobody's dealing with the swing...." he pontificated further as he snapped his fingers on two and four (around quarter note= 120).

I say, why not be able to do it all? The more you can do, the more you will work. And furthermore, don't dog stuff cause YOU are unable to do it. For example, I really WISH I could play stride piano as well as Spike Wilner does;But I'm only going to admit admiration. It would be too easy to say "Aw, that's some BULLSHIT..." No. The beauty of our modern society is that we can enjoy it all.

Billy Hart
I think that's one thing I always liked about Billy Hart, is that he was curious about everything, even though at heart he is very traditional. Most of what he plays comes out of Max Roach, or even obscure D.C. drummers. Yet all the really progressive European bands call him and he fits right in. Somehow, Billy is STILL the youngest guy in the band.

But I also think we shouldn't do odd meters for their own sake. It's all rhythm. A lot of stuff that you could think of in four you could also think of in 7, and so on. I find myself writing odd meters less, only because I want to do it for the right reasons, not just to be impressive.

It's not that people are playing in 7/8, it's WHY are they playing in 7/8? What does 7/8 make them FEEL? There's so much great music in 4, or 3, or 6......some people might never NEED to get to 7! 

I don't want to count when I listen to Stravinsky or Steve Coleman. I just want to DANCE! But it's the same for anything I'm listening to, so ultimately it doesn't matter.   

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Solo on Come Together

In 2009, I released a CD on Sunnyside called Come Together. The CD was record about a month after a successful tour with a trio featuring bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards. We felt that the vibe was so good, during the 10 day excursion in Japan, that we HAD to record. Since the CD was released, I've lost track of how it's doing in terms of sales or whatever. But every once in a while, people tell me they hear it on the radio, or that they enjoyed it (some people probably downloaded illegally-hey, whaddya gonna do?). I think most people really like the title track, which is my arrangement of the famous Beatles tune. Most of the rest of the CD is originals, which came out great, but "Come Together" seems to be the standout.

I was surprised when someone sent me a transcription of my entire solo on this track. This person actually hired Andy at to transcribe it. I had never seen my improvisation transcribed; it was kinda freaky, like when you hear your own voice on tape for the first time. I asked Andy if it was ok to present it here in jazztruth, and he agreed.

It's best if you listen along with the track. Fortunately, somebody has posted it on youtube. The chord changes are simple; it's literally a 4 chord tune (Dminor, or D7#9, A7,G7 and then B minor later on). I used a lot of diminished scale ideas on the D7#9, or I might use polytonality; for example, in bar 73, I played a Db sus4 chord in the left hand over D7. Or especially, if you look at bar 147, during the vamp out, where Absus is implied over D7.

I suppose you might say the idea of posting one's own solo is self-serving. Well, I thought it would be interesting, and also, I needed material. I hope you enjoy it, and if you want a PDF copy, please let me know. And be sure to check out Andy's other transcriptions at http//

Monday, July 18, 2011

Viewer Mail: Midi Controllers and What To Practice

"I don't Know.....People who need HELP!"
It's great to know that my blog is actually helping people. ( Reminds me of dialogue from Zoolander:" Derrick, What people?" "I don't know.....people who need help!") This letter comes from a pianist who I interviewed recently in this forum. 

This is so timely for me, George. I am on the road with Shunzo Ono in Japan, and using one of Gene Jackson's USB keyboards . I am using ProTools sounds because I have Logic in my other computer, not the one with me. I don't do this often, so I am kind of lame at it (and fortunately, there are pianos on every gig, which of course I am relying on), but I want to get better at this. Gene said to buy the Apogee and probably Mainstage is the way to go, and here you are saying the same thing. Thanks for posting this--it's a great wakeup call for me, and reinforces what I need to do to get more in the game. 
By the way, do you carry a mixer also?And also, I wanted to ask you...any advice about good USB controllers? I'm using Gene Jackson's CME (M-Key) and it's a little unresponsive. Do you have one with an action that you particularly like? I mean, I know it's not gonna be a weighted controller or anything, but maybe some are better than others, eh?

-David Berkman

David, I don't carry a mixer, because you can mix everything in Mainstage, and it stores the levels. You let the sound man do the rest. (Hopefully he is competent. Or, if you are running it through an amp, you can set that main level. The computer generally sounds better in the monitors and/or the house speakers.) It's funny because I did a tour with Shunzo myself many years ago, and I did have a mixer. I think that was the early 2000's, around the time I was just starting to use soft synths. Truth be told, I mostly did piano, Fender Rhodes, and Yamaha Motif on that tour, but I did have my own mixer, which they provided. But it shouldn't be necessary with this set up I'm suggesting. (Which is Midi USB Keyboard to USB/Computer to Apogee(using the second USB slot) to mini plug/1/4 inch cable/ Direct Box/ House System.) Sometimes I think I should use a volume pedal, but honestly, it actually seems to make it more confusing for me. Unless it's a lot of organ sounds or very complicated two handed parts. When I toured this summer with Jack DeJohnette, I had a volume pedal in my suitcase but I never needed it.

KeyRig 49
I use the M-Audio KeyRig 49 Key controller. It's pretty standard, no frills. And the response is decent for a keyboard.(Alesis makes good controllers; I just started using a 25 Key Alesis for bass sounds.)If you are really picky about the action, you could always ask whomever books your tour to provide a Motif or another weighted-action keyboard and then Midi it to that. I'm kind of used to the action. Plus, it's better to have your own keyboard, because you know that it works, and you don;t have to spend the whole soundcheck trying to make sure that the Midi set up it correct.The M-Audio fits in a duffel bag, and I only got hassled once by the airline people during the three week tour. (I actually ordered one of the CME boards, because they are a few inches shorter, and I thought it might fit in my suitcase. But the store I ordered it from said they weren't in stock, so I cancelled the order). M-Audio also makes  a 49 key controller called the Axiom that has a lot of extra knobs on it, which can all be individually programmed in Mainstage. Once you start thinking about all the ways you can manipulate sounds on the fly using a midi controller, you'll never leave your room! Like I said, it's limitless. ( Full disclosure; I have an Axiom, and that fit in my suitcase, but one key broke, and I haven't had a chance to get it fixed. Now, I leave it out and my son likes to bang on it, even though there's no sound....)

This next letter is from one former student at the University of Manitoba, where I taught for 2 years....

Hi George,

Hope your summer back in city is going well, it's probably hot down there. 

I was wondering if you might be able to shed some light on some practicing issues I've been having lately. As you know, I had been spending the last year and change playing predominantly pop gigs, and my gigs playing jazz seemed to have been getting few and far between. As a result, when I find myself back into jazz context I get this feeling of "What am I doing??". I've been trying to discipline myself to be practicing jazz again, but having a lot of difficulty prioritizing areas to practice without getting overwhelmed by all the many things I should or could be practicing. Sort of resulting in a "I have so much to do to catch up" feeling. I'm wondering if you might have any insight or any ideas to give me a push.

-Aaron Shorr

Aaron, this is a common problem, regardless of whether you are playing primarily pop gigs, or playing jazz every day, or not playing at all; the idea that there is so much to practice, that one can never catch up, is prevalent with almost ever musician I know! I don't think there are any musicians that don't feel this way at some point. Sometimes, it can be motivating to be overwhelmed. I felt overwhelmed the first time I heard Geoff Keezer play piano, because I could envision what amount of practicing it would take for me  to approach that level. I practiced 4 to 8 hours a day for a few years after that. I never really attained his level, but it pushed me to be a better jazz pianist.

There is no substitute for discipline and drive to improve, and in that sense, there is no easy answer. If you aren't in a musical situation that is pushing you, it has to come from within. Keeping a practice journal helped me a lot in those early days. It's like trying to lose weight or get stronger in the gym; it takes a long time and you have to be patient. It might take months before you see real progress. And if you look at music as a lifetime pursuit, it may become less daunting. (Unless you are planning on living a short life!) And also, knowing that you aren't alone helps: even "successful performers" are teaching or perhaps doing gigs that are not as "creative" as they would like them to be. So many of us have to view our musical development as a "side pursuit". There's so often a disconnect between developing your own abilities and getting gigs. (This is what they don't tell you in music school!)

The good news is that many of the concepts you might be trying to work into your playing are applicable across the board. Basically, any melodic, rhythm, or harmonic idea can be worked on in the context of any tune. Therefore, you might want to try starting with a handful of abstract ideas, and then work them into a tune. Or, you could work on ONE tune, and try to find a whole bunch of concepts within that tune and then extract them , and then put them into another tune. Monk used to practice
ONE tune for a whole day, and try to figure out all the things that can be done with it. That might be a good place to start for you; pick one tune and try to "leave no stone unturned" in terms of what you can do with it. Then, eventually, pick another tune!

But the prevailing message is patience: you can only learn one tune or idea at a time. The risk of being overwhelmed is that you never really develop anything perfectly. I think it's better to focus on a handful of things as opposed to working on a million things and half-ass all of them.

Above all, be patient. I'm 41 and there's so many things I still want to improve in my playing. I have so little time to practice(between teaching and daddy duties), I have to steal time: I might find 5 minutes here, or 10 minutes there....but I try to make it count.

I hope this helps!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mainstage: Live Synths With Your Computer

George Duke, a great musician and a nice guy
Last year, I did a little tour of Japan. One night at one of the clubs in Tokyo, the great keyboardist and producer George Duke came down to listen; he was in town playing at the Cotton Club. I got to speak with him a bit, and he was talking about his tenure with Frank Zappa's band. Duke described how difficult it was to work with the analog synthesizers of the 1970's, especially live. "Back then, we had no presets, no saved sounds," he confided. " I had to use all the cables and knobs, and try to remember which sounds were for which tune. And then Zappa would give me the evil eye and say 'that's not the sound you had before'...."

What the screen looks like for Mainstage
Boy, have we come a long way from those days. Now, keyboard players have limitless possibilities, thanks to laptop computers. I've used a Mac laptop for years as a portable synthesizer. (Admittedly, there is always the risk of a laptop crashing. But if you think about it, there is always a risk with any electronics. I've never only used the laptop; I like to have a hardware synth, or at least a Fender Rhodes as a back up.) The application that has been working well for me is something called Mainstage, which comes with Logic Studio. I used to use Logic for my live synths, but Mainstage is really set up for a keyboardist to mold to his or her desires. All you need is a USB controller, a USB cable, and some kind of audio interface( I use the Apogee One, it works really well with Mac) and you are ready to go. (Oh, I almost forgot, you might want to have a foot pedal, because this is something that can help you to hands-freely switch sounds during the gig.)

Mainstage is very user friendly. If you already are familiar with Logic, you will have no problems with Mainstage. You can choose a preset template or start with a blank slate and add sounds. Logic comes with tons of great sounds built in and arranged in a very convenient way. On the left side of the virtual interface is the Patch List, where you have all the names of the sounds, and you can add as many sounds as your computer's RAM will allow. In the center is a visual representation of your virtual keyboards, and you can edit parameters here, or below that screen. On the right, you have a sort of virtual mixing board, where you can set the volume, and layer each patch with new sounds, or add effects, such as reverb, chorus, etc....

The editing capabilities are incredible. You can layer, split, transpose, add effects, tweak, and even set the tuning as you like. The ease of editing within the computer is so much easier than on a keyboard. And you can add so many sounds, and create your own much easier. Additionally, you can run audio through Mainstage and use the effects for maybe a real guitar, or a real Rhodes.

I've been using a laptop for synths for many years; I probably first attempted it with Lonnie Plaxico's band. I then started using it regularly for my Mad Science trio; I used it to augment the Hammond B-3, or Nord Electro, which is a much more portable substitute for a real Hammond. Buster Williams asked me to bring my set up many times, and I also used it for a tour with Lenny White's band. I think one of the reasons Jack DeJohnette asked me to join his band was because he wanted me to do some synth stuff.

Scott Kinsey
Now I realize that there are many jazz listeners and musicians who are immediately turned off when you even mention "synthesizer" or even "keyboards". I think it's a shame that so many are so close minded. After all, acoustic instruments are tools invented by man, just like electronic instruments. And furthermore, acoustic instruments can sound terrible in the wrong hands, as I'm sure you can imagine.

I've never shied away from playing keyboards. And to be honest, I've never considered myself very good at it. There are players like Adam Holzman or Scott Kinsey who are really first call for that type of thing. But because I've tried to incorporate it into what I already can do, I think I've gotten some work that I might not have if I only billed myself as a "jazz pianist."

I sort of regret the fact that I missed the 70's and the real analog gear. But the cost and effort to play analog synths in working situations is a huge hassle. The amount of variety I've been able to get out of Mainstage would be impossible in the 70's. I'm hoping to get deeper inside the program and see what new sounds I can create in the future.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tour Diary June 2011: Rochester Jazz Fest, Baltimore, San Remo Drum Fest

Wow, the summer is flying by! I've tried to squeeze activities that are more "summer vacation"-like around my musical activities. I will say that after four semesters of full time teaching, it's great to be back in New York and playing with a variety of heavy cats. I think I'm a bit rusty, but it's slowly coming back, just in time to start full time teaching in the fall! Oh well......

I've had a few nice one-offs in the month of June. First, I flew to Rochester, in upstate New York, to play the famous Rochester Jazz Festival. I was accompanying a wonderful vocalist from Denmark named Sinne Eeg. We met at an educational camp in Denmark in January of 2009, and she called me for a duo tour later that year. This time we had Josh Ginsburg on bass and the talented Jochen Ruckert on drums. A quick rehearsal, and then two sold out shows at a huge church near downtown. I regretted as usual that it was only one gig, since we gelled so nicely.

Next, I took the train down to Baltimore to play with a young clarinetist and bass clarinetist named Todd Marcus. We played in an interesting venue called Caton Castle. I had been hearing about it for years, but I never played there. It's a great place to play, and the atmosphere is that of a classic jazz bar and soul food restaurant. The only problem is that it's in a very rough section of West Baltimore.( For those of you who watch "The Wire", which I just got into recently, it's basically in that neighborhood.)Still, the crowd was a real listening crowd, and they were very enthusiastic. The rhythm section was the great Baltimore based Warren Wolf on drums (you might know him as a vibes player) and Eric Wheeler, a young virtuoso bassist from Washington D.C.

We played mostly Marcus' original music and arrangements. In fact, the gig was really preparation for a recording, scheduled for a few days later in New Jersey. We recorded at Skyline Studio, one of my favorite places to record. Paul Wickliff is on of the best engineers in the biz, and he keeps the Steinway piano in great condition. The fact that we had played through all of the music on a gig made the studio time very smooth, and I'm anxious to hear the project once it's mixed and mastered.

A few days later, I went into the studio again with the aforementioned Josh Ginsburg. This wonderful bassist and composer , another Baltimore native, asked me to be a part of his debut CD. Josh and I have worked a lot together, with my trio and in other projects. I was surprised at the depth of his composing: he really found some unique textures and melodic ideas. Accompanying us was the fabulous Rudy Royston on drums and Eli Degibri on tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone. The date was another one day-er in the studio. It's always a challenge to cram everything into a day, but such is the nature of jazz recording budgets. Again, I look forward to hearing it when it's ready for consumption.

That weekend, I packed my wife and son in a car and we drove from Manhattan to Saratoga Springs, a three hour and change trip. I was to play one set with Jack DeJohnette at the Saratoga Jazz Festival. I've played at this festival a handful of times over the years, and I love it because I get to hear a lot of groups for free. This time was no exception: I got to hear guitarist Lionel Loueke's trio, bassist Ben Allison's band, Eliane Elias' Band, and Marcus Strickland(surprisingly playing alto saxophone instead of his usual tenor), all for free! The set with Jack went well, as predicted. After our European tour, it was nice to play for an American audience. This is one of those festivals where people can actually camp out near the stage for a few days and see all the acts for one price. Not a bad way to spend the weekend. It was cool also because my 18 month old son got to see his first jazz festival!

Finally, I had another one-off in San Remo, Italy with the Donald Edwards Quartet. Donald Edwards, originally from Baton Rouge, is another musician that I've been associated with for many years in various configurations. This band featured the great Moscovite Boris Kozlov on acoustic and electric bass and Philly's own Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone. We played as one of three groups; each group featured a drummer's band. (The other bands were led by Eric Harland and Jamire Williams.)This outing was more of a collective; each player contributed original tunes. Edwards is a skilled composer, and his music was very challenging. It was nice to be in sunny San Remo for a short time. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this gig was my and Shaw's travel routing; it took almost 5 days to enable us to do one 90 minute concert! We had very lengthy layovers in London. Sometimes for me, these kind of trips make the concert seem like an afterthought, because most of the time is spent in transit. Well, such is the life of a touring musician. I might gripe about it now, but I'll miss it when I'm knee-deep in teaching next semester........

Jochen Ruckert snacking before soundcheck

Josh Ginsburg and bass du jour

beautiful church that we played in with Sinne Eeg

Jochen and drum kit

Stained glass

Todd Marcus explaining music to bassist Eric Wheeler

Caton Castle 1

Caton Castle 2

Todd and I stopped at Wendy's on the way back to New York. Ugh.....

My room in San Remo

Room in San Remo 2

San Remo 1

San Remo 2

San Remo 3

San Remo 4

San Remo 5

San Remo 6

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Miles Davis: THE MOVIE

Miles Davis, as played by Tom Cruise

I've been hearing for years that plans are being made for a bio-pic regarding the life of Miles Davis, who is arguably the most famous and controversial jazz musician there ever was. The first thing that probably comes to most people's mind is the question of who would be the most likely actor to play Mr. Davis; the great Don Cheadle is usually the first choice, based on the obvious physical resemblance. Wesley Snipes might be a close second, depending on availability.That being said, I know this might not be the obvious choice, but listen up: if you're talking range, versatility, and still a big box office draw, then the obvious choice for the iconic trumpeter and musical innovator is- Tom Cruise.

Please, hear me out! I just think Tom Cruise is that good an actor. I think he can capture the cool intensity of The Prince Of Darkness as well as anyone alive. Tom Cruise is one of the best in the
Tom Cruise, great actor, or GREATEST ACTOR?
business, although much of his best acting lately has been done while running at top speed, and there probably won't be a lot of that in a Miles movie. Although, that might be something that could be worked into the script. Perhaps Charlie Parker could chase Miles across a 52nd Street rooftop. Or maybe Parker and Davis could be hired by the FBI to track a Russian criminal gang, and prevent them from detonating a nuclear device in downtown Los Angeles. Yeah, that would spice it up a bit.

I know what you're probably thinking: "But George, you big dummy, Miles Davis was African-American, and I'm pretty sure Tom Cruise isn't." Yes this might be true, but the Magic of Hollywood can fix that; the stuff they can do with CGI these days is amazing! Didn't you see Avatar? It would be nothing to transform Cruise into Davis. You'd be surprised what CGI can do: you should see what Kate Winslet really looks like without tons of computer special effects…

And let's face it, you can't walk into a Hollywood executive's office, even with the best ideas, without the big names attached. Here's how I would fill out the rest of the cast:

Charlie Parker would be played by George Clooney. Again, big box office draw.

Max Roach would be played by Kate Winslet, but more for the uncanny physical resemblance.

Gil Evans would be played by Jamie Foxx, only because I think he's still pretty hot after the Oscar win.

Juilianne Moore as John Coltrane
John Coltrane would be played by Juilanne Moore, which is kind of a no-brainer if you think about it.

Marcus Miller…..hmmm….I'm thinking Matt Damon or Justin Timberlake. I think Timberlake would add an edge to it. Plus the kids seem to like him. Wasn't he in that boy band years ago, Menudo?

Miles Davis' wife Francis would be played by Gwyneth Paltrow. If she can convince us she's an alcoholic country singer, this should be no biggie for her.

The rest of the cast we can worry about later. Now, I thought I would include a brief plot synopsis as part of my pitch to the studio. Obviously the synopsis would be "based" on Miles' famous autobiography. However, The truth is usually much duller than fiction, so this preliminary synopsis should give you some ideas on how we could "tweak" Miles' story in order to get a little more zing into the story, so we can get more out of the opening weekend:

Our story starts in a distant galaxy, on the dying planet of Be-Bop, where scientist and trumpeter Lu-Es is putting his baby son Du-We into a spacecraft, which is shot into space just as the planet implodes. The spacecraft lands on Earth on a farm in rural Kansas, where Ma And Pa Davis discover the baby, and adopt him as their own. They name him Miles, because "he must have come from Miles away, from another galaxy." Eventually, they learn that Miles has super powers; he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to inhale massive amounts of cocaine in a single bound. Upon further examination, it becomes obvious that the cocaine is what accounts for the first two "super powers"…..

The Davis family is poor, until they start receiving federal farm subsidies, which then enable them to afford to send young Miles to the Juilliard School in Metropolitan City. Miles is more interested in hanging out with the jazz musicians on 52nd St than studying classical trumpet. He meets Charlie Parker, a saxophonist and Jedi Knight, who takes him under his wing and teaches him the ways of The Force. Miles spends most of his time trying to learn the complex chord changes of modern jazz, and also becomes a master of the light saber. He eventually graduates to a welter-weight saber, and after several light saber battles in Atlantic City, he decides to fight for the title, going 12 rounds with welter-weight Jedi champion Darth "Crazy Legs" La Motta, and loses in a decision.

Cut to 1959; Miles Davis is the most famous trumpeter in the world. He is standing outside of the famous jazz club called Birdland. He is lawfully minding his business, merely shooting heroin, collecting pimp money from his prostitutes, and selling Marijuana to some nearby children. A cop tells Miles to move along. Miles tells him "No Hablo Ingles, Hombre, " and is severely beaten. He falls into a coma, and eventually wakes up in a hospital in Berlin. He insists to the doctors that he is a university professor, scheduled to give a lecture at the Adlon Hotel. He is released, and attempts to find his wife at the hotel. He finds his wife , and she does not recognize him, and is with someone else who claims to be her real husband. Miles eventually figures out that he himself is a CIA assassin, who was sent to Berlin to kill Hitler, but unfortunately, he is 15 years too late.

Cut to 1969, where Miles is in the studio, recording "Bitches Brew." At this point, for some reason, Wynton Marsalis is the narrator, who derides the music as being "not true jazz." The next 10 years are glossed over for some reason….

Anyway, that's what I have so far. There's a whole scene with Miles Davis drag racing with Bill Evans, and there are some evil demons from the the planet Be-Bop, who were banished by Lu-Es and have come to seek revenge on Miles. But that's probably something you could put in Miles Davis II: Electric Boogaloo…..

And just for those of you with no sense of humor, please keep in mind that everything I just said was a JOKE. Also, for real info on the Miles Davis movie in the works, see this link.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Listening 2011

 I was recently asked by a writer in Italy to write something for All About Jazz Italia; he wanted me to write short blurbs about 10 CDs I am currently listening to. This is what I sent him. I figure it's not redundant; maybe this will be the only English version! Anyway, here are 10 CDs that I've been trying to check out, when I'm not singing the Elmo's World song to my son Liam.....

Becca Stevens Band- Weightless ( Sunnyside Records 2011)

Becca Stevens is a brilliant up-and-coming singer/songwriter. Her influences include many genres of American music, but this album and the previous one, Tea Bye Sea, have her unique stamp, especially her way with lyrics. And the fact that she keeps and develops her band really gives a cohesiveness to the sound.

Carlo De Rosa-Carlo De Rosa's Cross Fade: Brain Dance (Cuneiform Records 2011)

Carlo De Rosa is a bassist who I wish I could play with more frequently. He's got ridiculous chops on the instrument, but this album shows that he's got a big musical vision as well. Great input from pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Mark Shim, and drummer
Justin Brown.

Jack DeJohnette-The Jack DeJohnette Complex (Milestone Records 1969)
This is one of my current employer's first albums as a leader. It's cool that DeJohnette asked Roy Haynes to fill in on drums while DeJohnette plays the melodica. There is a lot of late 1960's energy on this one.

Jimi Hendrix- Axis Bold As Love ( Track Records 1967)

Is there a piano equivalent of Jimi Hendrix? I don't think so. Which is why I'm trying to study Hendrix as one of the gateways into Jazz Fusion. Jimi Hendrix was more of a jazz musician than people think. Which is why many jazz musicians choose "Little Wing" from this album as a cover tune.

McCoy Tyner- Horizon (Milestone Records 1979)

Tyner can do no wrong, in my opinion. The 1970's recordings of McCoy Tyner are super powerful, and at this point, he had really solidified his concept. I used to play "One For Honor" with bassist Charles Fambrough.

 Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green-Apex (Pi Recordings 2010)

 I had only listened to Bunky Green once many years ago, but I was aware that many alto players were influenced by him. And now I really see why; he sounds incredible! And Rudresh Mahanthappa is also amazing; this a real alto saxophone summit.

Sting- Bring On The Night  ( A&M Records 1986)

I saw this band live in 1985. I still love some of this music. Kenny Kirkland takes some amazing solos.

Tom Harrell- Wise Children  ( RCA Records 2003)

 Harrell is a genius, and there is some great writing on this CD, wonderful orchestration. "Snow" is a beautiful composition with vocals.

Eddie Harris- The In Sound ( Atlantic Records 1965)

 I transcribed Cedar Walton's solo on "The Shadow Of Your Small". And Eddie Harris is super soulful and brilliant on this CD, just a great feel to this recording.

John Coltrane -Blue Trane ( Blue Note Records 1957)

I'm re-investigating this recording; I believe a jazz musician could learn how to improvise from only listening to this recording for 6 months to a year. Everyone takes great solos, and all of these compositions are classics.