Saturday, March 31, 2012

Antonio Adolfo: Chora Baião

I'm an armchair fan of Brazilian music; I don't consider myself an expert, but I know what I like, and I know enough to recognize the authentic. Brazilian music seems to get lumped into the "latin" music category, however, it has some distinct differences. The sub-genres and associated rhythms(samba,  baião, bossa nova, choro) might share qualities with Afro-Cuban or Carribean styles to those with an untrained ear. And yes, the original source of all of these New World styles is Africa, and it's all in how the African ideas mixed with the music of the respective European conquerers. I've spent time playing with various Afro-cuban and salsa projects, but I lean a bit more towards the Brazilian styles, maybe because they seem somewhat more pliable, which makes it more adaptable to jazz music. Also, I used to work with a bass player in Washington, D.C. named David Jernigan who taught me a lot about Brazilian music. (Also, my wife, pianist Kerry Politzer, is an expert on Brazilian music as well.)

Antonio Adolfo is a great Brazilian jazz pianist; his latest CD is called "Chora  Baião". The baião rhythm is   a unique rhythm: 

It's  like the first half of a 3:2 Clave in Afro cuban music. And "Choro" music is a style which is very much related to ragtime music in form and melody. (Think "Chico Chico No fubá")

"Chora  Baião" features a few originals from Adolfo, but also features music by two Brazilian composers: Chico Buarqe and Guinga. Buarque is a well known and very prolific artist. Guinga, whose name means "Gringo" ( a nickname which came from his light skin), was not known to me before checking out this recording. His career goes back to the 1970's when as a guitarist he accompanied many  well known Brazilian singers, and also had many of his songs recorded. He also apparently had a dental practice for thirty years. Maybe his parents were happier....

Adolfo has a great project here. The rhythm is real and infectious, but the sonorities of guitar, voice, acoustic bass, percussion, and occasional vocal(provided by Carol Saboya, Adolfo's daughter)make a light, chamber music atmosphere which is intriguing but not overbearing. The first tune, "Dá o Pé, Loro (Hey Parrot, Give Me Your Foot)" is a textbook " baião" demonstration, and the melody is very stately and joyous, with nice deliberate solos from Adolfo and guitarist Leo Amuedo. "Nó na Garganta " is a moody bossa tune; the somewhat haunting melody unfolds nicely into mellow solos. The title track,"Chora Baião" might remind you of Chick Corea, who was very influenced by this kind of music. Adolfo's eighth notes are right in the Brazilian vibe, in that they sort of speed up and slow down within a four note grouping. Guitarist Amuedo is a little more rhythmically adventurous.
The next two, "'Você, Você" and "A Ostra e o Vento" feature vocalist Caol Saboya, has what you would expect from a Brazilian singer; her voice is unadorned, clear, and beautiful in it's stoicism. Since "A Ostra e o Vento" is a waltz, Adolfo hints at Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Children's Games" one of my favorite tunes of of the classic Jobim album "Stone Flower".

On "Chicote", there is a Stanley Clarke-ish bass solo from  Jorge Helder, who is outstanding on the entire album. A Great example of samba is "Di Menor", a great Guinga tune, which could be considered the Brazilian equivalent of Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes'  "Mambo Influenciado". On this tune, drummer Rafael Barata and percussionist Marcos Suzano show us how it's done. For Brazilian jazz fans, or for those of you looking for your first experience of hearing Brazilian music, this CD is for you. I leave you with a taste of the title track, just to wet your appetite for this wonderful album by Antonio Adolfo....

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

I have a somewhat distinct memory of the first time I heard the music of  The Shaggs: I was in England, on a bus, traveling with clarinetist Don Byron. I think it was Don (but it might have been bassist Leo Traversa) who let me hear the music on his headphones. I remember thinking that it was a hilarious prank, and I started laughing hysterically. But after a few minutes, as I continued to listen,  I started to get an altogether different feeling; I started to think that this was actually serious music. I was confused, yet intrigued.

Let me back up a little bit... to 1968; The Shaggs were a rock band made up of sisters from Fremont, a small, boring town in New Hampshire. The Wiggin sisters(Dot, Betty, and Helen) started this band because their father, Austin Wiggin, was convinced that his daughters would become rock stars after his mother gave him a three part prophetic palm reading when he was a boy. Two of her three prophecies eventually came true; therefore, Austin Wiggin figured he would help to facilitate the third. He took his daughters out of high school and had them study through the mail using something called American Home School. The Wiggin sisters' days consisted of practicing their music, studying, and doing calisthenics. It didn't seem to matter that the sisters could barely play their instruments....

The Shaggs, named after the haircut of the same name, played their first concert in 1968 in Exeter, New Hampshire, at a talent show. Austin thought his daughters were ready, although they were of the opposing viewpoint. Even though the audience threw soda cans, Austin was not deterred. He forced his daughters to stick with it. Eventually, after a nursing home gig where residents were probably too feeble to throw anything and just happy to have some company, The Shaggs began a weekly stint at the Freemont Town Hall. Being as it was probably the only music going on in the town on Saturday nights, folks came out to either throw things or just to dance and accept The Shaggs as they were....
In 1969, Austin Wiggin brought his daughters to a studio near Boston, Massachusetts to cut a record, which ended up being called "Philosophy Of The World". The recording engineer tried to persuade Austin that the group wasn't read to record, but Austin replied that he wanted to " get them while they are HOT!" Here are the liner notes which Austin wrote:

"The Shaggs are real, pure, unaffected by outside influences. Their music is different, it is theirs alone. They believe in it, live it.... Of all contemporary acts in the world today, perhaps only the Shaggs do what others would like to do, and that is perform only what they believe in, what they feel, not what others think the Shaggs should feel. The Shaggs love you....They will not change their music or style to meet the whims of a frustrated world. You should appreciate this because you know they are pure what more can you ask? They are sisters and members of a large family where mutual respect and love for each other is at an unbelievable an atmosphere which has encouraged them to develop their music unaffected by outside influences. They are happy people and love what they are doing. They do it because they love it."

If you've listened to any of the material I have posted, you might be having a similar reaction to mine. This band was described by Frank Zappa as "better than the Beatles." I suppose that is a matter of taste. I do think that their music has a kind of haunting, innocent quality to it. It's interesting how the rhythms sound really bad and out of sync at first, and then the same seemingly random rhythmic sequence will be exactly the same every time. There's a certain purity to their music; they write about what they know, which is very little. The Wiggin sisters weren't allowed to date or socialize. There's suggestion that, after his wife died, Austin maybe have had "inappropriate intimacy" with at least one of the daughters. Obviously, there was a really weird dysfunctionality taking place. This might explain why, when Austin died of a heart attack in 1975, The Shaggs immediately broke up the band.

Cut to 1980, when two members of the band NRBQ  convince Rounder Records to reissue the album. It was again reissued by RCA Victor in 1999. It has become a cult favorite. I've heard some cover versions of these songs, and they don't sound right to me, compared with the originals. It's probably because the songs are played "conventionally" by professional musicians. This is what is fascinating about this music. Clearly, the Wiggin sisters were completely untrained and unaware. That's what makes there music so different. I think every musician, at whatever level of expertise, need to have a little bit of untrained innocence added to their music. I guess it all depends on taste. Let me know what you think. If Frank Zappa liked them, then there must be something worth checking out.....

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mike LeDonne Interview Part 2

Here's Part 2 of a great interview with pianist and organist Mike LeDonne.....

GC: Well let me ask you this, because this is also kind of related and I’m imagining that you probably played with a lot of cats who were older than you when you were coming up.
ML: Yeah, everybody was older than me.
GC: And certainly, the major names that you’ve worked with were older than you.
ML: Exactly, Benny Golson and so forth… They were older so they really kicked my butt; they knew how it was supposed to go… I had no idea.
GC:Ha ha ha that’s funny. But I think that that sort of like mentorship… do you think that that’s lost today?
Benny Golson
ML: Definitely! Who’s left? I mean, I’m the older guy now, ha ha ha.  So I figure like that’s what I’m doing. I mean, I have a lot of different drummers I’m using up at Smoke, the younger guys, like I figure we’ve got to start breaking the younger guys in to what the other side of things are because these are extremely talented guys who can do damn near anything, but they don’t usually get to groove that much, and they don’t get on gigs where the featured thing is swinging all the time so when I get them on the gig, I start molding them right away. I mean, I start telling them, you know in a nice way, I certainly … I hope I don't act like an idiot, but anyway, I just tell them, you got to do this, I need this and I need this... and if you want to keep doing this gig you have to do these things… and they are all too happy to do it. This is exactly what we wanted. We want to learn these things, and as a result, I’m getting a whole pile of guys that I can use in a musical setting. And I don’t think there’s too many things like that going just because there are no bands anymore, first of all: who you going to work with? And there certainly aren’t that many masters left in the world anymore, like, I mean of the ilk of George Coleman or Benny Golson ... you know who I mean. That ilk of musician is disappearing, I hate to say. It’s a horrible thing to be losing those people… and that’s I think a really important thing to me, is to keep what they’re about alive… in me if I can and to put it into younger musicians because I certainly don’t want to ever lose that in this music. I think it’s incredibly important to do new and different things and to search for whatever and be into being open-minded and not being closed-minded but you don’t want to lose what these guys spent their lives creating, you know? And I’m really good friends with George Coleman; we talk on the phone all the time… and Harold Mabern is a close friend, and Cedar Walton is a good friend….  and I just love these guys and I loved Milt Jackson. He was like my father! And I feel like we owe those guys a debt and the debt is to keep that stuff going forward and to keep what they’re like in this music too. Don’t let it disappear…. because I could see it happening. I could foresee a day where we don’t have that element in the music anymore and all you’re hearing is.. well, I don’t know what you’re hearing! Something else, but not that. It’s becoming sort of a cause of mine to keep that alive in young people and through me in the audience. I’m dedicated to that whole thing, and the sad thing is I don’t think most of the jazz world is that interested in that particular thing. But you never know- they always say things come back around . But right now I’m feeling a sort of a turning away from those values,  that swinging is important, that keeping the blues in the music is important, that playing the changes is important… all these basics that those values are kind of getting a little bit lost and almost avoided, like people are avoiding it because it's not popular and it's not what the guy of the latest generation is doing. I don’t even know what they’re doing because I try and go check out new music ... but, it’s hard for me  to listen to a lot of today's music. and I’m not a closed minded person- I love music… and I love any kind of music. I love classical music, I love jazz music, I love good R&B music, I love gospel music, I love any kind of music that’s good, but like I have to say a lot of things I find kind of boring nowadays when I go to hear young guys groups. I like it for about one or two tunes, but… it’s no fun. Just don't have fun listening to the music, like I want to go out, I want to have a good time. I don't want to go out and be schooled in the latest trends; I just want to go out and have a good time, and it’s hard to do that these days..i don’t know.. what do you think?
GC: I’m into a lot of different kinds of things. I’m into the new, the old and everything in between, and I always try to keep an open mind, like even if maybe my gut reaction is negative, I still try to keep… well, maybe there’s something wrong with me.
ML: Hahaha, I know…
GC: Well, maybe…
ML: You know what? I used to do that too, man and now that I’m in my 50’s, I just don’t care anymore. I don’t want to have to try to like it, I just want to like it. When they put on music for me back in the day, I liked it , just right off, it hit me. It was like, “Oh! This is fantastic, you know.” And I ain’t talking about just some good old timey bluesy record, I’m talking about Trane’s “Transition,” you know, stuff like that. I said, “Whoa, this is incredible,” right off the bat.
GC: Generally... I think it’s good to try to push forward, but I think if you completely reject history, there’s going to be something missing. I think you lose a foundation and I think that it’s hard to balance being new and being skilled. I think a lot of people are just concerned with being new as opposed to having their stuff together, you know? Like if you can’t play changes, if you can’t play in time, if you can’t swing, if you’ve never heard of certain musicians, it’s a little suspect to me.
ML: Yeah, or know certain tunes, melodies, certain musicians you should know. I was just talking about this today, but this is nothing new, because I had put up this interview with Charlie Parker on Facebook and it’s an incredible interview. I mean, it’s so awesome to hear him talk, and what he talks about, so it’s really inspiring to hear it. I put it up on Facebook for people to check out and somebody made a comment that without Bird, like 99 or 99.9% of the musicians would not even exist today.
GC: It’s true.
ML: Yeah, except I was thinking about it, and I was remembering back to my college days, and already there was a movement going in the 70’s away from listening to Bird, like people were purposely not listening to him and saying they didn’t want his clichés or his kind of thinking to get into their music. They felt like it would corrupt their stuff and make it sound just clichéd if they listened to Bird. They became very prominent musicians that you would know right now, and it blew me away, so actually when I was in college, I swear a small handful, like maybe a half dozen people, used to practice his tunes at night and jam on his tunes. Everybody else was into totally different stuff, like in those days it was the avant garde, like Art Ensemble of Chicago, Ornette, and Cecil Taylor. I liked hearing those things in short doses but I never really loved... well, I loved Ornette, but I never really loved the super avant garde stuff. I just thought it was lacking in emotional scope. It didn’t have warmth to me, it didn't have any charm. It just seemed kind of cold and dark.
GC: But you know, I mean for example, classical musicians, I think there’s pros and cons about being a classical musician. But I think that classical musicians study all the history when they go to school.
ML: Yeah, that’s true. So it’s good to know about it and listen to it, to understand it, sure, but these people were 100% about that, like that’s it and the other stuff is old-fashioned and you don’t even listen to it because you don’t want to seem old-fashioned. And that was already in the 70’s, so I’m saying that that is nothing new; it’s what we’re talking about. I guess it's been going on for a long time, and what we’re seeing now is just a falling off of a lot of the older masters, so there’s really nobody to put things back in perspective anymore. And then you have a lot of guys just teaching in colleges but that’s different than having an old master. But if Milt Jackson tells you, it’s got a certain weight that you just can’t deny, you can’t argue with it. If he tells you that x, y, and z is the truth and that other stuff isn’t you’re going to be ok, I gotcha, you’re right. But when your teacher tells you it’s like aaah, ok, whatever you say buddy. It’s a whole different thing.
GC: Yeah, but again, there’s pros and cons of classical studies. I went to a classical school. But  as a classical trumpet major, I respected my teacher and considered him the authority. I feel for some reason now, not always, but some students don’t want to listen to their teacher. They think that they know everything.
ML: Well, that’s a very good point. That’s right, there’s another value system there just between the elders and the youth like that.  I guess that`s always been there too, but it seems even more now than ever… That’s wild, you were a trumpet major, wow, that’s amazing.
GC: I’ve played with Benny Golson maybe a handful of times like in Europe, but you were, and I assume you still are, in his band or you’re playing with him frequently?
ML: Yeah.
GC: What’s that like?
ML: Oh, it's the best thing in the world, I just love him to death, he is the sweetest, nicest, greatest musician too. Outstanding musician. It’s like having this great man who’s hiring you and giving you gigs telling you do your thing to the utmost and “stretch it out as much as you can, and don’t worry about a thing, I love everything you do.” He builds your confidence and gives you the freedom to just go for it… play weird but stretch your stuff as much as you can. He loves it when you change stuff up and you’re doing things that excite him and he lets you know it too.
Milt Jackson
I mean when he’s onstage, he’s totally demonstrative about his enthusiasm about what you’re doing, and so you’re playing and he’s wowing you while you’re playing, so you just play better and better and better; you can’t go wrong with that kind of enthusiasm from a guy like that. At the same time I was with Benny Golson, I was with Milt Jackson and I loved him; he was a very, very dear close friend of mine. I was honored and I learned a lot from him too, but Milt Jackson did not really want you to stretch the music too far. He liked it in his home base, in his home field where he enjoyed music and we never had a problem. He never told me one thing. I was with him for 11 years, he never told me one thing about what to do, and he always loved my playing and he told me so, and again I got that kind of support from him, but if I started to show some other things on the gig, he’d take me aside and tell me, “Now, man, you know…”  I remember one time we were playing this tune “SKJ”… you know that tune?
GC: Sure.
ML: It’s just a downhome blues in D flat.  I was listening a lot to Kenny Dorham at the time and I was learning some turnbacks. Plus, I was listening a lot to McCoy at the time and I was learning some of his ways of interpreting harmony. So, I was playing at the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore, on this crappy little upright piano, and so I started to do some of these turnbacks in “SKJ.” I started to throw in a couple little things here and there and during the break, we’re hanging out and he’s like, “Now, Mike, I have nothing against people experimenting, but why you got to do it on THAT tune?” And I knew just what he meant, it’s like, that’s not the place to do that, I learned a lot right there. It’s like you got to stay within the vibe of the music, man, you can’t just explode your stuff anywhere on any tune.
But Benny Golson, I’ve been playing his book for so long. I must have played “I Remember Clifford” a thousand times by now and “Whisper Not” and all those things, so I tend to start to take these things a little bit less when we’re playing and he just loves it. As long as it makes sense and stays within the confines of the basic personality of the tune. And I’ve said to Benny before, sometimes I almost feel like I’m afraid that I might alienate people because of some things that I do. I’m just really trying to see how to do it different, and he just said, “look, don’t worry about that because when you come right down to it, how you play is who you are and you can’t escape that, so don’t be ashamed of who you are, just put it out there,” and I said, “wow, ok, cool!” I’ve gone by that rule ever since he told me that; and it has liberated me, in a way, from worrying so much about just what these people in this audience are going to think about me. Sometimes I think I’m taking it pretty far and they really get into it, they’ll go right with me. And then sometimes they’ll ice me, but whatever… I mean more times than not they’ll stick with me…
GC: Maybe they were too busy texting…
ML: Hahaha exactly, you know what it is man, because you’re a very open-minded player and you certainly stretch the limits when you play…. and do you ever feel like that? Does it ever cross your mind like maybe I’m losing these people?
GC: Sure. Sure, it’s a tough thing to gauge. I think jazz music tends to be like you said, something that has to be listened to, and I think that especially as time goes on maybe people want to listen less. It’s like they don’t really want to pay attention to it, which is why you have sort of the rise of things that are a lot fluffier but somehow get filed under jazz. You know, I won’t name any names, I guess…
ML: Yeah right, exactly.
GC: Because that is not jazz but people will think it’s jazz and put it on during dinner and say, man, I listened to jazz, check this out and it’s really not jazz. You know, things are so non-confrontational now. No one is doing anything that makes you think. It’s all just, stuff that’s very easily… it’s all like candy and fast food, there’s nothing really nutritional.
ML: That’s true, for the stuff that’s selling millions of records that’s true… for the stuff that’s making really powerful money for people that’s true. Well, that’s the thing with the organ band that I try to do, not that I try to play fluff, at least I’m playing some pop tunes that are swinging. I’m hoping to bridge some gap between those folks.
GC: But you’re doing it in a very hip way and that’s what I liked about the gig. You do stuff that’s recognizable but then, you make it musical and there’s definitely some meat to it, it’s not just a sell-out.
ML: Right. It’s not a cover of the record. I put a lot of time and thought into making those vehicles to play on. But still, I like to think that I get those folks involved who come in to Smoke and don't give a shit about jazz. Once you get them involved, you can rip some more fast tunes in their face and they’re into it, they’re not getting turned off by it so, the organ is good for that, I think. That’s one thing I like about the organ, it’s a got a little bit more appeal, like common folk appeal. I mean, depending on who’s playing the piano I tend to take left a lot more than the organ, actually I’m still searching for a way to take the organ more left. I keep searching for it; it’s a little more difficult when you can’t comp, when you have no chords in the left hand. And you’re walking bass lines. You can do interesting things harmonically, but it’s not the like the piano where you can really superimpose things over a bass player… and it’s just got a whole different sound on it than piano on organ. I’ve been looking for that sound on organ, I haven’t found it yet, but I’m looking for it.
GC: Hey just real quick, anything in the works that I should mention?
ML: Let’s see, well, my new record is out, “Keep the Faith”. I’m doing a quintet gig, I’m using Louis Hayes up at Smoke, and I’m going to do the music from that record “The Pole Winners,” some of those tunes, because Louis Hayes is on that record and I just want to do a little tribute to that. I love those tunes, so I figure playing those with Lou Hayes should be totally cookin’. Then I’m going out with Golson, a little tour in March in Italy, stuff like that. I wish I was playing at the Vanguard next week, but I’m not, and probably never will, but who knows.
GC: Haha.
ML: And I’m still holding the gig on Tuesdays. Thank God for Smoke, let me say that, and thank God for the Hammond B3, because that thing really upped my gig potential. It doubled everything, really, in a world full of piano players. The B3 really has brought in a lot of stuff for me in the past 10 years. Sometimes I want to just kick it and burn it and never play it again but… It’s just such a beast, I’m like, how many times can I do this? But it is a great thing, I just love it! 
GC: So, I have a real quick question to ask you. Are there any fake, let’s call them, B3’s?
ML: Clones, you mean?
GC: Clones that you like?
ML: I have a Nord.
GC: Well, there you go.
ML: I think that its good; it’s not a B3, but in a pinch, it sounds damn close and it feels pretty good. Lonnie Smith was just telling me that the new Hammond keyboard that came out is excellent and I’ve been hearing good things about that. I haven’t tried it myself… but I’ll tell you what I really loved was that Pat Bianchi gave me this software for my computer called BB3… it’s by some Italian guy who made this software… man, you hook that up to your controller keyboard, it sounds incredible.
GC: Really!?!
ML: It sounds just like a B3. I mean it’s got all the background sounds; all of the flaws and everything, it’s incredible. I was using that to practice with while I was on the road with my Nord, and it’s very enjoyable to play, the thing is that... all these clone keyboards, the hardest part is how do you reproduce the sounds through an amplifier? Because it sounds great with a headphone, but when you put it in an amplifier, the sound downgrades, that’s what I have found. With the Nord, the thing to do is to put it in stereo for two amplifiers and that really sounds good. If you get a bass amp and a guitar amp and split the Nord right and left channel it sounds very big, it fattens out all the sound and makes the sound much more real. That might work with this software too. I’m not sure, but I know with the Nord it really made a difference, are you using one like that?
GC:  I have the Nord Electro 3.
ML: Yeah, that's what I have.
GC:  I like the C1. The Nord is great, I’ve been listening to demos of the new Hammond SK1, I’d like to play it just to see…
ML: Yeah, you got to play it because the whole thing is how it feels as much as how it sounds. I hear that the Hammond copied the Nord keyboard this time, so it should be good.
GC: OK! Well, Mike, thank you for your time!
ML: A pleasure!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jazz History Final 2012(Jazz Humor)

 (Disclaimer: much of the following is meant as humor, although it's based on truth....which most comedy is. Or so I have read.)

I've been teaching jazz history since 2009; when I joined the faculty at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Jazz Department head Steve Kirby asked me to teach the Jazz History class.... two weeks before the semester began. Well......I didn't have much time to prepare a syllabus, but I had heard of Louis Armstrong, and also Wynton Marsalis, so I figured I should mention those two names a lot, and then ask the students, "what do YOU think?" as much as possible. Yeah, that should fill up some time.....

I believe that my "skill" of being able to "teach" Jazz History was one of the reasons I was hired at Portland State University. So.... here at PSU, I've just finished a term of teaching Jazz History to a group of 190 mostly non-music majors. It was, in all seriousness, a lot of fun, and I think a lot of the students enjoyed it, and may have actually learned something. It would have been nice to have more interactive class discussions, but since I was the only one with the microphone and the powerpoint presentations, it tended to be very one -sided. 

Just for laughs, I modified one of my Jazz History tests and posted it below. Let's see if those of you who consider yourself to be jazz aficionados can prove your knowledge of America's only original art form besides reality television. (Note: taking this test is for amusement purposes only. You can not get PSU credit or win any money, so stop calling me saying that I owe you money, David.)

1. Which of the following would be considered important "Hard Bop" musicians?
A. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy E
B. David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, Sammy Hagar
C. Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan
D. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart

2. What was the name of Dave Brubeck's very popular album from the 1950's?
A.  "Thiller"
B. " No Jacket Required"
C. "Time Out"
D. " The Chronic"

3. Which of the following is NOT considered a Cool Jazz musician?
A. Lennie Tristano
B. Chet Baker
C. Paul Desmond
D. Ryan Seacrest

4. Which of the following is TRUE about the "Birth Of The Cool" sessions?
A.  Original album title was "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan"
B. First recording to have "Warning: Explicit Lyrics" Label
C.  First documented recording of Yamaha DX-7
D. Featured Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, and Gerry Mulligan

5. Which of the following would NOT be considered a jazz version of a tune?
A. Lester Young performing " I Cover The Waterfront"
B. Charlie Parker playing "Laura"
C. Karen Carpenter singing " The Rainbow Connection"
D. Wynton Marsalis playing "Caravan"

6. Which of the following is NOT true about trumpeter Clifford Brown?
A. Died in a car accident at age 25
B. Practiced constantly and was known for his huge sound and near perfect solos
C. Sold heroin to make money; was one of the biggest drug dealers on the Eastern seaboard
D. Was from Wilmington, Delaware

7. Which of the following is TRUE about Miles Davis?
A. When traveling in Europe, referred to as "kilometers" Davis
B. Went to study at Juilliard, but was more interested in learning from Charlie Parker
C. Came from abject poverty, grew up in a small village in Romania
D. Was known for his ability to tap dance while he played the trumpet

8. Which of the following is NOT a tune written by Thelonious Monk?
A. "Well You Needn't"
B. "Round Midnight"
C. "Blue Monk"
D.  "Macarena"

9. Which of the following styles was Dizzy Gillespie NOT known for?
A. bebop
B.  Latin Jazz
C. Bossa Nova
D.  Progressive Speed Metal

10. Which of the following is NOT considered one of the important bebop musicians?
A.  Charlie Parker
B.  Cyndi Lauper
C. Thelonious Monk
D. Dizzy Gillespie

11. Which tenor saxophonist influenced many cool jazz musicians and invented many hipster expressions, like "how does the bread smell?" (meaning how much does it pay)?
A. Boney James
B. Kenny G
C. Lester Young
D. Clarence Clemmons

12. What 1939 Coleman Hawkins recording is considered an antecedent of bebop?
A. " I Wanna Hold Your Hand"
B. "Body and Soul"
C. " Ice, Ice, Baby"
D. "Devil Went Down To Georgia"

13. What is the term for a new melody composed over an existing chord progression?
A. serendipity
B.  proscenium
C. supercalifragilisticexpiadocious
D. contrafact

14. Which of the following is NOT true about bebop?
A.  Some black musicians wanted music that "the white cats couldn't play"
B. Music was not for dancing
C. Many bebop musicians used heroin
D. Invented by Philo T. Farnsworth

15. What style of jazz includes fast tempos, virtuosic improvisation, and difficult harmonic structures?
A. alternative country
B. bossa nova metal
C. bebop
D. dixielandcore

16. Raymond Scott's music is known mostly for it's use in which of the following?
A. Theme music for "Charles In Charge" and "Joanie Loves Chachi"
B. the films of Brian DePalma
C. classic Warner Brothers cartoons
D. played at the beginning of the 7th inning of every baseball game

17. For which Big Band did Russian composer Igor Stravinsky write his "Ebony Concerto"?
A. Lawrence Welk
B. The Harlem Globetrotters
C. The One O'Clock Band at North Texas State University
D. Woody Herman

18 Which musician was known as the "Sentimental Gentleman of Swing" and had 286 Billboard chart hits?
A. Tommy Lee
B. Courtney Love
C. Kid Rock
D. Tommy Dorsey

19. Which bandleader was an important innovator of swing, featured Louis Armstrong in his band, and ended up being an arranger for Benny Goodman?
A.Mitch Miller
B. Grandmaster Flash
C.David Byrne
D. Fletcher Henderson

20.What event is considered by most jazz historians to be the beginning of the Swing Era?
A. 1453-Constantinople Falls To The Turks
B. 1607-Jamestown Colony Founded
C. Benny Goodman's performance at the Palomar Ballroom on August 21, 1935
D. 1543-Copernicus Claims That Earth Circles The Sun

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Mike LeDonne Interview Part 1

Mike LeDonne
I have a lot of respect for Mike LeDonne. I've been aware of  LeDonne for years; I used to see him at Augie's back in the 90's. I heard him with Benny Golson and some other various groups around New York City. He's worked with many of the legends, including Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, and Sonny Rollins. LeDonne is a perfect example of someone who plays both piano and organ exceptionally well. He's a man with serious artistic convictions, as you will see in this interview. I'm posting this in two part because it's pretty long. We talked a lot of shop, but a lot about the past, present, and future of jazz. Please enjoy Part 1.....

GC: When I saw your performance at Smoke, I was impressed with the sound of the band, the presentation and your technique as an organist. How long have you had this residency at Smoke, and how has it contributed to your musical development?
ML: Well, let’s see, I think it started in 2000, so I guess about 11 years. It’s really been an incredible boost to my organ playing. It’s amazing what a gig every week does for your playing. I wouldn’t even have thought about it before I got that gig. Plus, I play other places, obviously, and do other things besides organ. But it’s that solid, that consistent thing that not only boosted my whole understanding and hearing of the sounds of the organ, but also the writing for the organ and how to write for a group like that. We never get to rehearse, because it’s just a once a week steady gig, and I want to bring in new stuff all the time, so it can never be too… tricky. It’s sort of, got to play itself down, because you just got to bring it right in and play, it’s got to be one of those and that’s challenging, to try and come up with those kind of arrangements that still sound arranged but don’t need rehearsal.
Smoke Jazz Club
And that’s been a good discipline for me, to sort of simplify some things and how to make judgment calls on parts when you’re composing. So many ideas pop into your head; you can go in so many directions, and so this thing really helps focus me on just really editing out all the little things that could screw up and really get to the meat of the matter quicker. So in that way it’s been great. Also, I have to say, I think my left hand has improved tremendously just from pumping bass like that all the time.
GC: It sounded great to me. That was one of the things that really struck me was the left hand. I mean, you guys played some serious up tempos, and it just seemed like your left hand never faltered. It was smooth, like a bass player.
ML: Well, thanks. That’s what I’m definitely trying to go for. It’s not only the organ playing - I’m talking about my piano playing.  Actually, my left hand has improved. On the piano, because of pumping like that, I mean you’re just….. for three hours, you’re just relentlessly pumping away at that left hand, like you said, with some fast tempos and whatever tempos. You’re just constantly playing down there in a way that you don’t ever do on piano.
So suddenly, doing double octave lines and things like that are actually coming out without me having to sit here and practice and practice it. It’s just more spontaneous because the hand is just working better.
So, I guess most people think that organ technique is easier than piano technique, and I kind of see what they mean as far as the muscle power. You don’t need the muscle control as much, but you certainly need muscle to get through. Especially at a gig like Smoke because it’s three hours. It’s not just a little one-set or two-set gig, it’s an old school three-set one-hour set thing. And that third set, you can go hard down up there if you don’t have the technical abilities to maintain your thrust to that third hour. I often look at that third set and think, how am I going to do this because, you know, playing organ - how much energy you put out.

GC: Well, that's another thing I wanted to ask you about, because I find that the way that piano sits in a jazz band is very different from the way organ sits in a jazz band. I think I mentioned, on the first piece I did about you, that the Hammond B3 in a band is like half the band or more. You know, there’s the bass, there’s the rhythm, there’s the chords, there’s the melody, that’s like the real heart of the matter. On piano I think you can kind of, and maybe you’re expected to float just a little bit more, and sort of just comment every now and then and not necessarily be so prevalent, I mean unless it’s a trio.
ML: Yeah, right, I know what you mean… you can stroll a lot on the piano and you never get to stroll on the organ.
GC: Exactly.
ML: It’s just constantly… it’s relentless, is the only word I can put to it, it never lets up. Sometimes I like to let my right hand stroll for the comping and just do the bass. That’s a nice textural change sometimes, under the guitar player or something, just to lighten it up a little bit. But basically, the difference is the left hand and the foot, and the volume thing because I never realized how hard that was going to get.
I don't know what you think, but one of the hardest things for me to pull together was the volume pedal, believe it or not… not physically but hearing it, just hearing the volume pedal. Because you get so overwhelmed with all the other things you’re doing that sometimes that foot on the volume pedal can just be pressing that thing to the metal. And before you know it, you're just overpowering and so loud people are holding their ears and wondering why the groove has gone away…. and then you realize, oh my god, the volume pedal! Then you back it down, and then the groove comes back, and you’re like, oh my god I have to keep that thing together! Or some people tend to pump it too much, because we tend to pump the volume pedal on all four beats sometimes, I don’t know why… sometimes it makes it sound nicer. I think sometimes it’s just an absentminded kind of a thing that's going on in our body that’s keeping time with our foot with that right foot. It’s pumping, and it can make the music sound really bad if it’s too much.
GC: Yeah, I’ve heard differing opinions about that. Some people dig it, some people don’t…
ML: I just know when I listen, when I hear guys sit in and suddenly you can hear the pulse coming through the volume pedal, and even when they’re playing their solo there’s this swell and decay of the volume all through the solo, it doesn’t sound right. I mean, I never heard an organ player that I liked play like that.
GC: I hear you.
ML: I usually base things on that kind of thinking… and it’s just that the playing just doesn’t sound that good to me. I really think it’s just not a thing they are doing on purpose. It’s sort of an autopilot for the foot there, they’re just not paying attention. Because I don't think anyone would want to hear a solo with every beat getting loud, soft, loud, soft, loud soft, you know.
GC: Exactly,I hear you. Let me ask you something just about the left hand. I mean, cause there’s difference, I find that the biggest difference between piano and organ is just the amount of weight that you have to use. I mean, to me organ is maybe more about the fingers, whereas piano is more like you actually put your arm weight into it. Do you find that you have a little bit more arm impulse, like if you’re trying to get a real clear bass? Do you have any thoughts on that?
ML: I do. I use my arm. I don't think many organ players do, and I’m just a self-taught organ player. I actually play the keys like they’re weighted on both hands. I mean, I like my touch to a degree, and I change my touch rhythmically because of the different sound of the organ. I tend to play straighter eighth notes in my right hand than I probably would on the piano, but other than that I put my arm into that sucker like the bass lines. Not much, just a little, but there’s a little arm in there, just to separate the notes, because the whole problem with the bass on the organ is that if you just play with fingers and connect the notes there’s no clarity to the feel at all, to the beat.
So you need to disconnect those notes a bit, and you also need to add the pedal as sort of a percussive tap… almost like a bass drum to separate the time too… and all of that together can create a really good feel from an organ bass. But I find that the guys who just play really light on the bass line - like just fingers - I don’t really feel that feel as good.
GC: Yeah.
ML: And the same with the right hand. Some of the classic organ sounds, you got to hit those notes! You don't just play with fingers… you got to put your arm into it. Like, you know the thing where you play a fourth and you tremolo the fourth?
GC: Sure.
Jimmy Smith
ML: The classic Jimmy Smith thing…. if you just play that it just sounds “ack” but if you hit it hard with your hand, it gets  a different bite. It gets a different sound altogether.
So there’s a real body-physicality to the organ, as far as I’m concerned. And not as much as the piano to me…. Actually, the thing that separates the piano from the organ is really the amount of muscle control you need with all the variety of sounds you can get out of the piano. You can’t get the variety, obviously, out of the organ, and the piano is just so unforgiving in that way. You have to have a touch and that touch has to have a sound, and with the organ you don’t really have to have the touch.
I mean, a baby could sit down and play the organ and it sounds just like Jimmy Smith because that sound’s just going to come out, so to me it’s more about the subtleties of the sounds more than the power. But on the piano, it's the whole gamut of dynamics with the arms and the fingers. But in answer  to your question, yes, I do use my arms on the organ as well, and I like that kind of thing.
I remember years ago talking to Joey DeFrancesco…. he’s somebody who really was an organist first.
GC: Oh yeah, he’s a natural born organ player. I think he’s a really good pianist too, but he doesn't do it a lot, and he was saying that he felt like his piano playing was suffering because he just didn’t do it enough. He just didn't have the time…
Charles Earland
ML That’s right, you cannot screw around with that piano… even though you can get away with more on the organ, I think. I mean, a guy who doesn't really learn to play… well, look at some of the great organ players. Charlie Earland was a saxophone player.
GC: Oh, I didn't know that.
ML: And then he sat down and he just had that thing with that bass line, and suddenly he was an organ player, but if he played on the piano, I don’t think he’d have survived a week. But on the organ, he was just killing with that bass line and… you got to practice. The piano is an instrument you’re on your knees to, whereas the organ just puts you on your knees because it’s a merciless beast. But the piano, that’s a subtle instrument. and you got to really practice the hell of out that thing to get it under control… and there’s so much to control… the organ is a lot, too… there’s switching between sounds, coming up with new sounds. and controlling all of your limbs – each has its own challenges.
GC: Yeah, of course, just the coordination…. and I mean, I find it fascinating, all the different parameters you can manipulate on the organ. I mean it’s obviously different from the piano in that way but …
ML: Right, it’s incredible the scope of the organ, although really I don't hear a whole lot of guys except for Lonnie, even Joey, I don't really hear him using like the big sounds that much, like the full draw bar sound, I mean everything out. I’m sure that Joey does it, I just haven’t heard it that much, but there’s not too many guys just going to rip with that big sound out because it is kind of a… you got to commit… once that thing’s out and you just go for it, you got to commit to it. If you back off it sounds ridiculous.
GC: I totally agree.
ML: And it’s hard to do.
GC: But that was what was very impressive about your set, and also listening to your record. Those kind of things, that attention to putting the right sounds in the right place.
ML: Yeah, well, that's the orchestrating that you do on there…. and to me that's the fun of the organ. You've got this whole huge orchestra that you deal with. It can be this little, nice, quiet thing or you can just blast on it. I know it's not considered to be cool to blast on it anymore I guess. If you look at the history, even Jimmy Smith stopped doing it by the time he was really recording a lot for Blue Note and Verve and everything… you don't hear him take too many big blast-off moments in his solos.
Larry Young
GC: Well, maybe somebody like Larry Young… he’s sort of changed the vibe a little bit.
ML: Larry really changed the vibe. He never would play that particular style; he played all kinds of other different sounds but … I always relate that sound, and I guess other people do too, to Wild Bill Davis, the original guys. Jimmy Smith was doing that thing when he first started, and I have some live records of him from the 60’s… and he’s doing incredible things with that and so does Lonnie. To me Lonnie and Don Patterson took what Jimmy Smith was doing and updated it with that big-sound thing, so there are ways to use it so it doesn't have to sound like just a big band arrangement, and I like all of it. I love Wild Bill Davis… have you ever heard the record he made with Ella Fitzgerald?
GC: No.
ML: Oh, man! That record is off the hook! His playing on there is so incredible! You know, he was a great accompanist for singers on the organ, and Ella hired him for a while… I’m trying to think of the name of the record, you just got to check it out, George, you will love it… it's called “These Are The Blues.” Check that shit out, it’s so swinging, and I don't think people would realize what a great blues singer Ella Fitzgerald is because she’s not known for that kind of thing.
GC: She’s not thought of that way.
ML: Right, but she sings her ass off on “These Are The Blues” and Wild Bill Davis is incredible on it. Back in the day when I was younger, I collected all these records, because I was into collecting records anyway, and I got a whole bunch of his stuff. He made a whole bunch of records with Johnny Hodges, and he even made a record with Louis Hayes and Sam Jones on it. He recorded with Duke, and there’s just a lot of great, really swinging stuff with Wild Bill Davis and a lot of stuff with upright bass with organ, like George Duvivier playing with Wild Bill Davis and Arthur Edgehill…. that's incredible stuff with Lockjaw Davis, Arnett Cobb. That's some rompin’ stuff in organ music; I guess it could be considered- old fashioned, but I just love it. It’s swingin’ as hell so you might want to check it out.
GC: Yeah, definitely.

ML: So that's the stuff you know… I think Jimmy Smith came out of that thing, but he took it in a whole-nother direction and to me, Lonnie is the great guy that's around now. He’s the great exponent of Jimmy Smith, or the next logical step after Jimmy Smith as far as keeping all the stuff that Jimmy Smith did and doing something completely of his own with it that's true to the organ. Its’ really about the organ, what Lonnie does. I think what I do is, I wouldn’t say it’s all organ specific. I like to keep all the organ stuff that I know and love from records and stuff. I like to do just do what I hear in my writing, and so that’s kind of where I would hope my own voice comes in.
GC: Yeah, I feel like that's the cool thing about jazz is you eventually want to do your own thing. I wanted to ask you, as a jazz educator… and I’m somewhat of a jazz educator… but it’s like, how do you explain to students that you know they’re supposed to be improvising, but at the same time they’re supposed to develop certain skills and they’re supposed to check out certain recordings?
ML: How do you do it? You just said it… you got to tell them recordings to listen to, whether they’ll do it or not, how do you get them to do it? I don't know, that's actually the question.
GC: Well, you said it yourself. You were a record collector and…. I probably don't have nearly as many recordings as you do, or knowledge of recordings, but it’s something that I’m always interested in or curious about. I mean, you and I had to actually go buy records or even buy CD’s. I find that a lot of students these days, even with all the stuff that’s for free on YouTube or…
ML: Yeah, I know, they don't have to do anything. They can get the entire collection for free somewhere on the Internet, but I think that’s actually detrimental to their focusing. You know, nobody can focus.
There’s no focus anymore on anything. Everybody’s just collecting. You want every Jimmy Smith record and boom, you get every Jimmy Smith record in one file or something. You download it for two days and it’s on your computer… do you listen to it? I don't know… how do you listen to it? How do you tackle… how do you really get into that record? I remember buying a record and it only had five or six cuts on it and you just listened to it every day, like two or three times, and suddenly you memorized all the solos and you knew every great little moment that came up. You went along slowly, getting that record digested, and I don't think you would do the same if you had every record by that guy right away in your entire collection. You’re just going to get into a little bit of it and maybe you’re going to start… you have so much you might just start skipping through it like, listen to the first few moments and what’s next, what’s next. And the next thing you know, you didn’t listen to hardly anything all the way through.
And this is what I find is happening in every direction today… it’s like everyone is texting and talking on the phone and watching TV at the same time. It’s like… people go out to dinner and if they come into Smoke, they’ll be eating dinner, listening to us play, and texting. And never talking to each other… it’s an incredible amount of (sigh) I don’t know what do you call it? Stimulus? Stimulation? It’s overstimulation, I think.
GC: Yeah.
ML: People are overstimulated. They just can’t focus in on anything anymore, and that’s a problem I think with jazz music because you have to focus in on it. You can’t just put it on and clean your house. I mean, you can do that too, but for the student, the musician, you’ve got to really focus in on it and you’ve got to digest it and get it inside of you. It’s not just in your brain… you got to take the whole thing and just breathe it in, and you’re not going to do that if you’re just listening to two cuts of this record and two cuts of that record and not even all the way through…. and then you’re going to go and get on the computer and look at YouTube or whatever… which can be great too because I’ve been finding unbelievable stuff on YouTube.
GC: It’s amazing.
Ahmad Jamal
ML: Now, I’m a Ahmad Jamal freak, I love him, and I thought I had most of his records but I must have found at least six or seven last night on YouTube that I never heard of, like more contemporary. He’s playing great Fender-Rhodes, and I’m like, wow, here’s a whole new pile of Ahmad Jamal I can listen to on YouTube!
So there’s a great aspect to it; it’s exciting, really, but, getting back to your question about students; it’s a difficult task, plus not only is it the idea of how automatically they can get so much for free, but, also, what are they listening to? And how are they listening to it? When I was a young guy, all we were listening to were the masters like Hank Jones, Cedar Walton, McCoy Tyner… you know, you bought those records, Jimmy Smith, whoever, you knew the cats you went out and you got Miles Davis records… but now, I don't think young guys are doing that anymore. You know what I’m talking about? It seems like they’re more into the guys just above their generation now.
The young guys are into who I consider to still be young guys, and they’re very talented and they got a lot to say and there’s a good reason to be into them. However, the thing that’s getting lost is that kind of focus. The focus is much more spread out now. You’re trying to tell these kids, “No, you go listen to this one, listen to this record, that’s what you got to do, you know?”
And then it’s like you’re giving them an assignment where… I don’t know, when I was a kid, we couldn’t wait to get somebody to tell us, go listen to this record, and then once you heard the record you were like, wow, this is the greatest record; we’re going to hear it a hundred thousand times, and then I want to buy every record by this guy. That's how it went… it was never like a chore, like we had to discipline ourselves to do it or something. It was enjoyment… it was the enjoyment, like to sit around with your friends and listen to records; that was big fun.
GC: Do you think people do that anymore?
ML: I don’t know… I tend to doubt it, although I think some people must, but I mean, back in the day… I’m 55 now, and I remember very well before there was even a cassette player. Never mind computers. There was no such thing as computers for everybody, so things have really, really changed radically in that direction. So I’m just saying, all we had was records to have fun with. It was either records or TV, so if you were hanging out with your friends and you didn’t watch TV, you listened to records, and it was a little easier because there weren’t that many choices. Now it’s just ridiculous how much stuff people can do in their leisure time. So I guess part of the bad effect is that I don’t know if kids are sitting around in their college dorms listening to recordings like we did back in the day. I don’t know, how old are you, George?
GC: I’m 41.
ML: So you’re quite a bit younger than me. How was it when you were going to school?
GC: Well. I remember in my younger years, the 70’s and 80’s, my parents had a small record collection and we actually had an 8-track tape player.
ML: Right, I remember those.
GC: They only had a handful of 8-track tapes. They had some records but at a certain I started signing records out of the library, because my parents only had some…
ML: Your parents were into jazz?
GC: Not so much. My mother was into Judy Garland and some classical music, which was cool, and some pop things, some Stevie Wonder. But some of my band directors turned me on to Clifford Brown and Herbie Hancock and Coltrane and I would go to the library and sign out records. I tell my students, I had to walk to the library, sign out these records and then I had them for a couple weeks and really listened to them as opposed to, “Oh, now I have everything Trane has ever done or everything Herbie Hancock has ever done.” I really listened to those recordings that I had and got into them. People don’t understand… I tell students now that they should take advantage of what they have now, they have access to all this stuff.
ML: That’s what I was saying about how they’re listening or what they’re listening for. It’s amazing… I do a jazz for teens program. I’ve been doing that since the 90’s out in Newark at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. I’ve had quite a few students who have gone all the way through college and are now out here… and are some of the new cats that are getting record dates and doing all that kind of stuff ….and they come and sit in with me at Smoke. I’ve been keeping in touch with a lot of them. Some of them start there at 14 years old, so I get them in my ensemble when they’re maybe 15.
Billy Higgins
I don’t really run my ensemble in a democratic way, I just tell them, you do this, you do that. The drummers- I tell them look, you listen to whoever you want, Bill Stewart, Brian Blade, whoever you like, but you got to listen to Billy Higgins. I want you to transcribe his comping and I want to see it next week. And I force them because they’re like, “Billy Higgins? Aww, come on!” And this kid, this drummer who’s in New York now who’s playing really great, he’s only 18 now, but he told me that my ensemble changed his life, once he started to get into Billy Higgins and Louis Hayes and people like that. Because they all know Philly Joe Jones, the top names, but they don’t listen to Billy Higgins, and I see him as a key figure in drumming. So I get them right into that thing that Billy Higgins does. This drummer said that it changed his whole thing. Now he’s playing his butt off, and he swings like crazy and he knows how to comp.
Because I just enforced it. I was just like, “No, bring it in, I want to see  the whole thing transcribed next week- all the comping,” and they bring it in and start playing like crap, and the next thing you know they’re starting to get it, and by the end of the year they’re sounding much better just from that. But you got to force feed it.