Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tour Diary December 2011 into 2012....

This is my first term teaching a big Jazz History lecture class at PSU, so I've been a bit occupied with that, amongst other things. But I am determined to keep jazztruth going, regardless of my schedule. I was just thinking back on some cool gigs I had in mid and late December, as well as a few cool hits this month. As a full time university professor, I'm not playing as many gigs as in past years; however, when I do play, it's more meaningful and I appreciate it more. I hope I never lose my love of playing jazz! I'm lucky to be fortunate to play with a variety of different players.

Pianist Kerry Politzer
A few blogs back, I mentioned that I toured Japan in December. The day after I arrived home, I had an amazing concert at the Mission Theater in Portland. This was my debut as a bandleader, and it was, I daresay, a big success. The turnout was great, the audience was enthusiastic, and the musicians were well prepared and interactive. The ensemble included Portland residents Eric Gruber on acoustic bass, Todd Strait on drums, and the veteran Dan Balmer on guitar. Our special guest of the evening was pianist Kerry Politzer. I had Politzer on hand so that I could mix it up(translation:show off)and play some melodica, trumpet and drums. Our presentation was somewhat unique; the first half of the show was my compositions, and the second set was mostly the music of pianist, composer, and former PSU professor Andrew Hill. I had never played any of Andrew Hill's music in the past, although I had been curious about his stuff for a while. It was a great return to Portland and hopefully, it will enable folks in town to get to know my music and even more importantly, get them to come out to some of my other performances!
Marianne Matheny-Katz

A short handful of days later, I boarded a plane once again, this time bound for the East Coast. I had three performances booked; a house concert in Baltimore, a restaurant gig  and a trio gig at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. The Baltimore gig was at Jazzway 6004, which is actually the home of jazz singer Marianne Matheny-Katz and her husband, Howard Katz. It's one of my favorite venues in the world for a variety of reasons. First, the Katz' are VERY cool people; they are really down to earth jazz fans, and extremely easy to deal with. Secondly, the space is wonderful and really supportive audiences always come out. Third, the Katz' always serve delicious desserts after every show! This was a real celebration of Baltimore in that I had three Baltimore natives in the band; my longtime associate Josh Ginsburg on bass, alto saxophonist Tim Green, and wunderkind multi-instrumentalist Warren Wolf on drums. We had never played as a group, or rehearsed, before the gig(Josh asked me before the gig, " Have we EVER had a real rehearsal?" I make no secret of the fact that I HATE to rehearse, probably because I've made so many rehearsals in the past 20 years. I figure if I get great musicians together on the bandstand, then the music will come together. I don't worry about little glitches or a few wrong notes here or there.). Nevertheless, the gig was really lively, and it felt like we had just been on a three week tour. I had never really played with Tim Green, except for one gig with Orrin Evan's big band. I felt like he interpreted my music perfectly, and on a tune where I played trumpet, we had a great musical chemistry. I'm hoping to have some kind of repeat of this band soon.

That weekend was also quite eventful in that my mother, during the Jazzway concert, said she had a terrible earache. (I thought she was joking, as in , wow your music gave me an earache.) To make a long story short, she ended up in the hospital the next day with a very serious infection. Luckily I was staying at her house, or God knows what might have happened. I had to drive her to the hospital. Fortunately, intravenous antibiotics saved her. It seemed like she was doing OK, so I took the train to New York.

Bassist Greg Ryan
A trio gig with bassist Greg Ryan had come in last minute. The restaurant Hillstone, which used to be Houston's, can be challenging to play in , since it seems to be a sort of after work let's drink some margaritas crowd, not a listening audience. However, Ryan is a superb bass player, and he had hired Joe Strasser, a really superb underrated New York drummer. So I was excited to play with this trio. Ryan is a real team player, as is Strasser. They both know a lot of tunes and a lot about how to play really authentic jazz. The "audience" continued to bug me, since I felt that the great music we were making was sort of wasted on them. Still, I tried not to let it prevent me from having fun. Ryan spent some time playing with the late great James Williams, so he knows a lot of tunes by Williams, Mulgrew Miller, and Donald Brown, tunes that a lot of musicians don't know. Plus, he knows tons of R&B tunes and tons of standards. It was another instance where I wished me had more gigs with this configuration!

Linda Oh
Ted Poor
My third stop was Cornelia Street Cafe. I had booked a trio with two more musicians who I have barely or never ever played with. I had played once with bassist Linda Oh, and had never even met drummer Ted Poor! But I had a hunch that this might be an interesting combination. And my hunch proved to be more than accurate! In fact, it was a really magical experience; Oh and Poor took me places that I don't normally go. This can be an advantage of playing with a new group of musicians; even if you are playing sort of old music, it's nice to get a new perspective. One audience member and jazz fan said that it was the best jazz concert she had ever been to! I decided that this would be another group which needed to play more than just one gig.

Jack DeJohnette
I headed back to Portland the next day. The holidays were kind of quiet. I had a New Year's trio gig at a bar/restaurant called Olive Or Twist with guitarist AG Donnaloia, which was fun and low key. I had a one set engagement a few days after with Philly native-turned Portland resident David Watson;I got a chance to play some trumpet with Watson on some bebop tunes and originals. Finally, I headed back to New York for a really momentous performance with the great Jack DeJohnette. It was a 70th birthday celebration at the famous Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. On hand were some regulars in DeJohnette's current band: Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, David Fiuczynski on guitar, and Jerome Harris on bass. We also had some special guests: Luisito Quintero on percussion, Tim Ries on tenor saxophone, and a young up and coming trumpeter named Ambrose Akinmusire. Both sets were packed and the energy level was super high; it always seems to be when DeJohnette is musically involved. I was made aware that, because of the APAP Conference being held that week, a number of promoters and presenters were attending our concert. Hopefully, this will translate into more gigs! But hey, I'll take one night at the Blue Note with that band over nothing. 

Liam, NO! It's a #9, not a #11!
There's more gigs past and future to report on, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime, enjoy this photo of me trying to sit in and my son trying to get in on the action....


  1. -24C in Winnipeg tonight, George - do you miss us? We miss U! :)

  2. Man, I hope you get frequent flyer miles (do they still give those?) Going to have get you to jet into Connecticut one of these days. Sounds like you had fun. Saw Linda Oh with Fabian Almazan in New Haven in late September and she's quite the player!

    I enjoy your posts almost as much as your music.


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