Monday, January 30, 2012

Another Great Night at Ivories, and this Friday at the Brasserie Monmartre

I'm still kind of amazed. I brought a really great quartet into Ivories Jazz Lounge and Restaurant on Saturday, and we had if not a full house, then almost full. I left the house that evening thinking that after the sold out show with Christian McBride on Thursday, there's no way we could have a repeat a mere two days later. Well, Portland did not disappoint me! The owners were happy, the people were happy, and boy, was I ever happy! It's always great to play to an audience. I was also a bit nervous because we hadn't rehearsed at all, and some of my music is, shall we say, not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, David Valdez on alto, Eric Gruber on bass, and Todd Strait on drums is Portland All Star line-up for sure. And they brought their A Game to Ivories.

Farnell Newton
As I have mentioned, I feel like Ivories is going to really be the new spot for jazz in Portland. Proprietors Jim Templeton and Art Trafton are really serious about making this a respectable venue. I'll be playing there this Wednesday with trumpeter Farnell Newton, starting at 8:30. I will playing late night jam sessions during the PDX Jazz Festival( February 17,18,24,and 25, starting at 11:45, I think.) We also have some other exciting shows in the works. Please support this venue!

 Matt Jorgensen
There is another gig coming up which is possibly as exciting as the Ivories gig. Brasserie Monmartre, a French bistro right downtown, is starting a jazz series in the basement of the restaurant. They have music upstairs every night, right next to the entrance. But they are trying to make the basement a real "listening room". Bassist Tom Wakeling is really making an effort to build a scene in this spot. The last time they had a gig downstairs was when they had the Alan Jones Quartet in November. This Friday, February 3rd, I will playing trio with Eric Gruber on bass and Seattle native Matt Jorgensen. I've worked with Jorgensen many times over the years. He's in demand in Seattle and also has his own label called Origin Records which has recorded many of the great jazz musicians of ther Pacific Northwest, as well as some greats from New York. This show starts at 9pm and goes til 12. It's an all ages show. (This means 21 and under allowed.)So don't miss it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Great Night! Christian McBride at Ivories Jazz Lounge

Christian McBride
Wow! What a night I had last night! As I had mentioned in my previous blog entry, Ivories Jazz Lounge and Restaurant (1435 NW Flanders St Portland Oregon 503 241 6514) is a new spot in Portland that is going to be a great addition to the jazz scene. Not only is the booking open, which means that many musicians in Portland will get a chance to perform there, but it looks as though there are planning to bring in name players, which should delight the jazz fans of Portland. Last night's featured guest was the great bassist Christian McBride. The former young lion and now well established jazz master has been on the scene since the early 90's. Originally from Philadelphia, McBride has been all over the world with most of the jazz greats who are or were alive in his lifetime. I've known McBride personally for about 10 years; I subbed in his quartet every once in a while throughout the last decade, and we even did some trio stuff with drummer Billy Hart at the Blue Note and the Newport Jazz Festival. I was as surprised as everyone else that McBride was going to come through Portland for a one nighter, so I figured I should go down to Ivories and check out the gig.

Kelly Shannon
McBride was performing with some outstanding local talent. Dan Gaynor, a Portland native, is a wonderful pianist, with a strong touch and driving rhythm. Drummer Todd Strait, whom I've worked with many times, is extremely easy to play with;an intense player who is also focused and musical. Kelly Shannon, who organized the entire event, is a jazz vocalist in the classic sense, although she can improvise and create with subtle sophistication. Sitting in on the guitar was John Stowell, who has such an original melodic style that I'm shaking my head as to why he isn't more well known.

McBride has a touring band, but this gig was, as he described it, "an old fashioned jazz party." McBride's arrival in Portland had been delayed severely due to a screw up with the flight from Los Angeles, so there was no time for any rehearsal. So they found tunes that everyone knew. "That's the great thing about jazz", McBride observed on the bandstand,"you don't even have to know the cats. We just met a few minutes ago, but we can still play together." And so they did.

The great Dick Berk
And then it opened up into a pretty long jam session. I got to play trio with McBride and Portland's own Dick Berk, who is a true master of the jazz drumming language. While I enjoyed getting an opportunity to play piano( I even got to play trumpet later in the evening), I enjoyed watching McBride play; his technique on the bass is simply breathtaking. He has perfect intonation in all registers, and seemingly limitless speed and ideas. And he makes it look easy.

Lots of others got up and played, including drummer Alan Jones and bassist/vocalist Belinda Underwood. The gig went pretty late. McBride understandably had had a long day, but, like many musicians I know, loves to play regardless of physical or mental fatigue. It was mentioned that he'll return in April. I hope to be around if it happens. The turnout was great in that it was completely sold out!

And if you want to see me at Ivories, come down tomorrow, Saturday, January 28th, starting at 8:30. David Valdez in on saxophone, Eric Gruber is on bass, and Todd Strait is again on drums. It's going to be a lot of original music, but we will throw in some standards as well. Come out and support live jazz in Portland!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ralph Alessi and This Against That Are WIRY Strong...

Ralph Alessi
I've said it before on this blog: Ralph Alessi is one of my favorite trumpet players, and one of the most original trumpeters of the modern era. Alessi plays the trumpet with such technical ease and flexibility that it almost sounds like a synthesizer; some of the things he does just don't seem possible on the trumpet. (Alessi is one of the best sight-readers I've worked with. We've played in bands together with impossible music and Ralph always played like he wrote the music.)And yet, he uses his powers for good instead of evil;yes, he can play high notes and tricky fingerings, but he does it with the intellectual restraint more in line with Miles Davis or Chet Baker or Don Cherry, rather than a Maynard Ferguson machismo. His melodic and harmonic approach is very easily identifiable. You're more likely to hear Steve Coleman M-Base inspired intervallic discoveries as opposed to predictable trumpet-like phrases. (Alessi worked with Steve Coleman for many years.)And finally, Alessi's writing is unique. Alessi can create very concise structures for improvisation, which are challenging, but oftentimes the melodies (as well as the titles) are quite humorous. Furthermore, Alessi is a great free improviser.

Alessi's latest album is called Wiry Strong, and it features his longtime band This Against That. The music on the CD is mostly pre-composed strucutres, with a sprinkling of interludes of free improvisation. The opener, "Clown Painting" uses some slick audio effects to create a scary mood. "Racy Banter" is like Phillip Glass on steroids, a chaotic spontaneous ostinato, which in some ways, due to the masterful drumming of Mark Ferber, has a twisted interpretation of African polyrhythms feel to it. "Station Wagon" is the first official "tune" of the CD, and it sounds like 5 bars of 4/4 divided into subdivisions of 5/8. This track features a quirky, yet majestic piano solo by Andy Milne(who also had a long association with Steve Coleman). Alessi's solo is confident and smooth.

Alessi's whole approach to the trumpet is very streamlined, which allows him to play phrases which require much dexterity. He isn't hampered by attempting to have a huge sound;his sound is big enough to accomplish his musical goals. It's a focused, intense trumpet sound.

Ravi Coltrane has collaborated with Alessi for many years; he has many shining moments here, including an introspective solo on "A Dollar In Your Shoe," which is somewhat of  a dialogue with pianist Milne. Another great solo is on "Bizarro-World Moment", where Coltrane lets loose with some whole tone scale explorations. I would have liked to have heard more from Drew Gress, who is one of my favorite bass players, and a superb soloist as well as a great accompanist. Gress takes a gnarly, twisty excursion on "Sock Puppeteer".

I was fortunate to hear this group live during a recent trip to New York. The band was playing a late set at the 55 Bar in the Village, with Tony Malaby subbing for Ravi Coltrane. (Coltrane was there though, sitting at the bar, listening.) Alessi is great, his band is great. His music is great. I couldn't understand why they can't have a week at the Vanguard, or even a night at Carnegie Hall! Clearly, Ralph Alessi is talent deserving wider recognition. If you don't believe me, check out Wiry Strong. It's easily downloadable on itunes.

Check out Ralph Alessi's website here:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

George Colligan at Ivories this Saturday 8:30 to 12

Hey there Portland Jazz Fans. If you enjoyed my show at the Mission Theater in December, then you'll enjoy my show coming up this Saturday at Ivories Jazz Lounge and Restaurant. Ivories is a cool new hang in Portland. It has a great atmosphere, a great piano, friendly staff, and great music. It's conveniently located at 1435 NW Flanders Street, right in the Pearl District. I think Ivories is going to be the new spot in town for real live jazz.

David Valdez
The band will feature David Valdez on alto. Valdez is also a successful jazz blogger, but he is a monster on the alto saxophone. We've been playing a lot since I moved to Portland, and I'm enjoying his playing the more I hear him. He lived in New York for some years, and he still possesses that New York edge in his playing. Eric Gruber is a fine bassist who I've played several times with since I moved here. Todd Strait is a groovemeister on the drums. He's very clean and consistent, but can also light a fire when necessary. We've played a bunch with Dan Balmer's trio.

We'll be doing a mix of standards and originals, but with emphasis on the originals. Much of the music will be off of an unreleased recording that I did this past November for the Steeplechase label. I think it's going to be a great show, and I hope to see you there. There are other upcoming shows in Portland and elsewhere coming up, so stay tuned! In the meantime, enjoy this video from a recent festival gig featuring Jaleel Shaw, Boris Kozlov and Donald Edwards.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

LA Club Owners.....But really, ALL CLUB OWNERS

But where are people? You see people? Show me people. There are no people!
One of my Facebook friends had posted a link to an article regarding music venues in Los Angeles, written by a working musician. I thought it was right on the money, and it could really apply to all music venues, at least in North America. I believe there are many reason why live music is suffering; the bad economy, the lack of interest in culture, the sprawl of Americans into the suburbs(they don't want to drive back into an urban area at night to see music, let alone take public transportation), the prevalence of internet(people stay home and surf the net or watch TV for free; why drive and pay 10-50 bucks to hear some difficult sounding music?). However, this article by Dave Goldberg makes great points.

There was a time when you could do a gig, even a jazz gig, at a club, and it was more common than not to get a guarantee of payment. Now, most jazz gigs, really most club gigs in the U.S., are door gigs. Perhaps college student musicians or unmarried twenty somethings will have the energy to play door gigs. I must say, it's pretty demoralizing to play a door gig at age 42. And I'll admit I have had mixed luck with getting people to come out to my gigs. I've sold out shows, but I've also played to plenty of empty rooms. I played a gig recently which was maybe one of the best musical experiences I've had, but I'm pretty sure I won't be playing this venue again due to the lack of people.

I understand the dynamic of "If you have a name, people will come to your gigs" or "you have to develop a following," or "get everyone in your extended family and everyone who you went to high school with to come to your gig!" In order to really have a name, you have to have a publicist and a label behind you. In order to develop a following, you need to have gigs, and then it gets into a which comes first, the chicken or the egg type deal.(In order to get a gig, you need a following. How can I develop a following if I don't have a gig?) And getting your friends and family to come? Well, ask my mother about that. She does her darndest, but not everyone might be available on June 26th for your one show.

Anyway, read the article. Musicians will understand. Club owners and bookers will probably have a litany of reasons to disagree. Mr. Goldberg says that:  

I think we as musicians need to fight back. Sure you can get mad about it, but that won’t do anything.We could all agree not to play those for the door gigs, but you know that isn’t going to happen. But what we can do, is explain to the club owner that it’s not in their best interest to operate their business like this.There is too much at stake for them not to be truly invested in the music presented in their venue.

I've wondered this myself for years. It takes a lot of time, sacrifice, and commitment to play music well. All of a sudden, we have to be Public Relations Experts! And some people just suck it up and put in the EXTRA work it takes to get people to come to their gigs. Those people can end up being successful. They usually aren't married with children. 

I used to play at Blues Alley in Washington D.C. in the early 90's. I played there with a lot of great musicians who did decent business. But I also played there with musicians or singers who weren't full time, who had day jobs in an office. They would play Blues Alley once or twice a year, and get everyone they ever met in life to come out to the gig. Most of the time, they were not that great as musicians. But they did good business. OK I'm being nice, oftentimes they were, um, not very good, in my humble opinion. But they would continue to get bookings. Clubs no longer care about the quality of the music, they just want bodies in the seats. And they don't want to take any responsibility for it. It's supposed to be OUR job to bring people. Period.

Spent 18 hours a day on his mailing list.....
Sometimes  I think about what it takes in the New Music Business to be successful. I almost think that I need to never practice again, and only focus on marketing myself.  Problem is, when I first fell in love with jazz, listening to Clifford Brown, Herbie Hancock, and John Coltrane, I thought to myself:" I want to PLAY this music!" I didn't think, " I want to have a huge mailing list and spend hours promoting myself on the internet!" And naysayers( I know you are out there-some of you are my Facebook friends!),  you might think I'm being defeatist or negative. You're probably right.  Maybe someday I'll get my act together  and sink what's left of my vast fortune into a massive 9 month  publicity campaign, so I can FINALLY get that 60 dollar gig  at that little jazz club near Christopher Street that never returns my calls .....

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....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jazz Heaven

Drumer Falk Willis, creator of
"Jazz Heaven" at first reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite Woody Allen films called Stardust Memories; in the film, Allen plays a filmmaker who can longer make funny films because of all the suffering he perceives in the world. He is working on a film which is very moody and Fellini-esqe. The producers of the film edit in a scene where the passengers on a train, who look very depressed and sad, end up in, you guessed it, "Jazz Heaven".


But this blog is regarding a brand new site which drummer Falk Willis has set up. It took him a few years to get it going, and it's now up and running. It's here:

It's full of instructional videos with many of the greats of jazz who are active today. Kenny Werner, Ralph Peterson, Ari Honieg, Jean Michel Pilc, and many others, have made videos which are informative and entertaining. The site is clearly in it's infancy, but it looks like it can be infinitely useful. I've just peeked into a few of the lessons; it's great to hear viewpoints from today's masters, young and old. There are also interviews, and there is a chat room to discuss the various materials contained herein. There are separate forums by instrument as well. 

I believe that this type of online teaching studio is another way that musicians are taking back the control of their art and careers. Willis is a great drummer in his own right, and he is someone whose taste and musical viewpoint I respect. I think you will also. Check it out for yourself!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Carmen Lundy: One Of The Greats

I've worked with a fair number of jazz vocalists in my career, including Cassandra Wilson, Vanessa Rubin, and Claudia Acuna, among others. A vocalist whom I have admired for years and always wanted to work with is Carmen Lundy.(She actually called me once a few years ago, in an emergency situation where she needed a last minute sub, but I was booked! Drat!)I remember Vanessa Rubin taking me to hear Lundy at Sweet Basil's, and I was floored! Lundy seems to have it all: a great voice, unbelievable musicality, stage presence, plus she writes and arranges her own music, and knows tons of classic tunes as well. The mystery for me is why she isn't a household name! Well, maybe this is a start; at least my readers will know about her.

She was born in Miami, and started piano at age 6. She joined the church choir when she was 12, and decided then that she wanted to sing. Lundy got her degree in opera from the University of Miami. In 1978, she moved to New York City, and worked with the great Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. She then started putting her own groups together, employing the likes of John Hicks and Kenny Kirkland.
She also spent some time touring with the musical "Sophisticated Ladies", a revue of Duke Ellington's music(and many known jazz musicians toured with this show, including Kenny Garrett. Also, I saw this show in the 80's.)

I went to see Lundy perform at Ronnie Scott's when I was in London a few years ago. She did a song called "Walking Code Blue"; the performance was so deep, the audience at Ronnie Scott's, which can actually get kind of noisy, was completely silent. They hung on her every phrase. And she also did one of my personal favorites, "Vu Ja De", which has some very cool and creative lyrics.

One of her recent albums features Lundy as a one-woman show: she wrote much of the music, mixed the CD, and played every instrument on the CD! It's called "Solamente", and it's impressive. Here's a sample:
Lundy's website has many of her recent albums available for sale: Here's the link: 

There is some news about her upcoming release, "Changes" which features pianist Anthony Wonsey and bassist Kenny Davis. There's a lot of things available on the site:sheet music, downloads, and even some of her wonderful artwork. Lundy is a true Renaissance Woman. Here's another one of my favorites: "In Love Again".

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Does Good Music Stand A Chance?

"Listen Honey!" The Reflex" by Duran Duran! Their Playing Our Song!"
I suppose every generation looks at the younger generation and says, "Ahh, kids today.....they don't know what good music sounds like. They listen to crap! In my day, we listened and danced to that wonderful old-timey singing group called Duran Duran...Now, THAT's music!" Well, now that I'm middle-aged, I guess I'm no different in wondering what these young good for nothing whipper-snappers are listening to. I've said before that much of today's music sounds, to my ears, like a bunch of people shouting over a car alarm. And I realize that's unfair and there is a lot of good music out there. But I think oftentimes these days, you have to really seek out good music. Good music might not find you on it's own. I think that's because the split between MUSIC and COMMERCIAL MUSIC has really widened. There has always been the commercial element in American Music. But now, because of the breakdown of the conventional model of "release an album and people pay money to buy it at the old-timey record store", the remaining Record Companies(do we even call them that anymore) are hyper-concerned with sales. Unfortunately, the focus is lopsided towards LOOKS, SEX APPEAL, IMAGE, SCANDAL, and SHOCK VALUE. And then market it towards children, who easily succumb to peer pressure and don't want to be out of the loop.

Don't get me wrong; many artists in previous generations were good looking and had a certain image working for them. But they could, when all was said and done, really PLAY or SING! Now, that aspect of being in "music" seems like an afterthought:

I love Katy Perry. I heard that she also is a singer.......
Listen, we got this hot young talent, she's beautiful, she's got tattoos, she can dance, she can do naked backflips- we want to send her out on a world concert tour!

Uhh, what does her music sound like?Can she SING?

Listen, Music, SHMUSIC! We'll worry about that later. We have AUTOTUNE! Singers today don't actually sing! Why would they? We have the technology! You don't use a typewriter anymore?What, Mr. types on his Ipad? Whadya worried about, with the music and the singing?

Some of you might remember the "controversy" of Esperanza Spalding receiving the Best New Artist Grammy last year, beating out that handsome young Canadian Justin Bieber. Many Bieber fans were outraged, and thought that Spalding should "Go Die In A Hole...", amongst other choice insults. The issue the Bieber fans seemed to have with Spalding was that she didn't sell as many CDs, therefore, she must not be as good! It's amazing how the people have been brainwashed into believing the hype: Sales equals Good, No Sales Equals Bad. I wonder how many of the Bieber fans actually went and listened to any Esperanza Spaldling. I wonder if any of them said, "Well, she is a really good singer, plays upright bass, writes her own music, and seems to be poised for a career beyond Bieber, who, once he hits puberty, people will get tired of, and he'll have to move back to Canada..."

Enjoy your hair while you can, Bieber, cause in 20 years you got NOTHING!
Now, I would never tell Bieber to go die in a hole. After all, he's Canadian, and whenever he's at death's door, his hospital stay is totally covered by the Canadian single payer system. But, if he were to win any more awards, I take serious issue, thanks to a band called Dirty Loops. This trio from Sweden has become an internet sensation with their cover of Justin Bieber's "Baby". I'm hooked on this performance! There's a lot of slick re-harmonization, gospel chops drumming, advanced funky bass playing, and phenomenal singing by Jonah (can't seem to find his last name...). If you haven't heard it, I guarantee you'll be walking around you house singing a falsetto "Baby, Baby, Baby..." (Everytime my son hears me do that, he goes, "David, David, David"! Ha Ha!)

What's not to like about that! But I think what's funny is that I really didn't know the original Bieber song; that's because I'm 42 years old and have very little time to listen to Bowl Cut Headed Freaks from Canada. However, I decided to check out the original and see where Dirty Loops got their "inspiration":

OK, so the guitarist can't tune his guitar, and Bieber can't sing in tune, but other than that, it's CLEARLY AWESOME. At least, judging by the screaming teenagers, it must be awesome, right? What am I missing?

I'm being sarcastic, of course. The song sucks, the performance sucks, the music sucks. The singer from Dirty Loops could out sing Bieber with one vocal chord tied behind his back!

If Bieber has any Grammies, or even any money, he should just send it all to Dirty Loops. Come on, Bieber, do the right thing. I won't say go die in a hole, but maybe you should go sit in a hole and think about making some better music....

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Viewer Mail: Motivation



I recently got a letter from a former student. Here's an edited version of what he asked:

If you don't mind, could I ask you a few questions (and I'm sure many more will continue to arise) that have come up while working on some concepts?

When we would talk about transcribing solos,  and you said that just those little parts of solos were enough, did you mean, for example: taking a line from that solo and playing through the keys, both hands and then maybe modifying it to personalize it? Would it be advisable to spend a lot of time really learning one song inside out while working on repertoire, or to spread the learning of concepts over many different tunes?

Also, when you said you were practicing 8 hours a day in your younger days, how did you make that work? Were you alone, where nobody could find you?! or just waking up really early? 

This is a version of how I responded:

You are exactly right, take any part, big or small (smaller to start) of a transcribed solo and move through the keys, through tunes, any place you think it might work. And modifying it will also be good. In a sense, it's more the rhythms and the shapes that are important, more than the notes. If you know which notes to use from scale and chord awareness, then you add rhythms and linear shapes to that, and you are there!

The info can work on any tune, and certainly, you need to always be adding to your repertoire of tunes, but I think it would be good for you to spend one session on one tune. Monk said to take a tune and play it for 2 hours, or 8 hours, or a whole day, and then you really worked through ALL the possibilities. Try it! And then , obviously, you condense that into a 4 chorus solo. At this stage, it's hard to see overnight progress, but it's a sort of everything-at-once approach. If you start out with abstract concepts, like chords, scales, voicings, licks, rhythms, shapes, whatever, and then make it all work inside of a tune, or 2 tunes, or 3 tunes, then you are on the right track.

And it's true: between 1991 and 1994, I practiced around 4 to 8 hours a day, every day. I wasn't in school, and my only other responsibilities were eating Chinese food every day and playing gigs on piano. I wasn't traveling much either. My best friend is a bass player, and we were roommates for part of that time;  all we did was listen to CDs, go to Tower Records (which was right across 

Our apartment was actually behind this Tower Records in Rockville, MD
the street), buy CDs, transcribe, play tunes,  and watch the cockroaches take over the apartment.

I think it's hard in a smaller city or town to get pushed in the right way. I was a mediocre trumpet player due to my lack of good embouchure, and my teachers probably were too lenient with me because they had sympathy for my frustration. But when you are on a bebop gig, especially with older, crusty players, there is very little patience for young cats. So that's where I got my ass kicked:playing with older cats on the local scene. I wanted to learn all the tunes and all the styles so I could be THE BEST, at least in Baltimore and D.C. And then when I went to New York, I wanted to be THE BEST in New York, and maybe the World. Well, that's all subjective at a certain point, but I can say that at least I've rubbed elbows with THE BEST on occasion. 

Speaking of getting up early, I remember complaining to my trumpet teacher, Wayne Cameron, in college about how I had a hard time practicing in the morning because my lips were puffy and it took a while to warm up properly. " Well, get up at 5 AM, then..." he snapped. "How bad do you want this?" I said, " I want it bad!" He said, "Well, remember, there's always somebody out there who wants it badder than YOU...somebody who WILL get up at 5am so that he can practice."

So this is motivation. What's motivating you? How bad do YOU want it? And there is no right answer. I'm 42 and part of me STILL wants to be THE BEST . Part of me just wants to take a nap and sit in the hot tub.
I think you have a lot of potential and I would love to see you do this at the higher levels. But it will be hard to get pushed in a smaller town, unless you can push yourself. I always had a lot of motivation within;sometimes I think,  even if I lived in Regina, I probably would have still practiced a lot.