Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Jerome Harris Interview

 Jerome Harris is a highly underrated musician. Just the fact that he's a proficient doubler on bass AND guitar; he's been a regular on the former with Jack DeJohnette and the latter with Sonny Rollins. Add to that he's got a wonderful singing voice, and has also recorded 4 albums as a leader. Harris initially went to Harvard with the intent of being a psychiatrist, but ended up being swayed by the call of professional music. He's a native and resident of Brooklyn, N.Y. When we toured Europe last year with Mr. DeJohnette, I had the opportunity to sit down with Harris to pick his brain a bit about music.

GC: How do you approach playing bass with Jack DeJohnette, if you had to explain it to somebody?

JH: (laughs)

GC: Because I don’t think it’s conventional, I don’t think it’s avant-garde necessarily but I don’t think it’s conventional…is it something that you could explain to somebody or do you just use your instincts?

JH: I can certainly explain it to an extent… I am fairly conscious, there is certainly some instinct and unconscious stuff going on too, obviously. I’ll preface it with this… there as a period, some years ago, when I had run into Jack and we had done a little bit of playing with Sonny Rollins and he has a thing for trying to find out what some newer people on the scene are up to, so he would call folks and have them come up to his place and play. And he did that with me for a while, maybe like once a year, and it would be with different musicians each time. It took me some years to feel like… I mean, every time I would go up there, I would leave and say “man, I’m the saddest motherfucker on the planet, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I’m mad, I can’t play with this cat!” (laughs). I realized, partially consciously and partially unconsciously, how to listen better to him. How to hear into what he’s doing a bit. And one thing was…you know how some drummers play in easily countable phrases and everything is kind of squared off and some people are even kind of gymnastic with that? There like, okay, this is going to be a 4, and this is going to be a 6, and everything is obvious like that. And there are other people, like Elvin, who do that to an extent but also are playing feel and shapes and phrases that are not so squared off and so obvious. And sometimes it might be more like a feeling, like they might play some fill that has 9 in the time of 4 or something, but they’re not necessarily counting it to be metronomically precise, they’re just kind of feeling this gesture, but it’s all in the time. Jack does that a lot. So I had to relax and keep my counting going but relax my relationship to it. I also had to learn to really trust that he was playing it where he wanted it and that 90% of the time it was actually metronomically correct in terms of the meter, but on a micro level it might be more free. So I noticed that I was originally really holding the ONE TWO THREE FOUR, really holding onto that, and he would play something that didn’t feel like it was so easily countable in that way and I would get scared and then I would stop counting, and I wouldn’t trust that he wasn’t going to come in on one, but he would, but I wouldn’t be there! Being aware of the metric frame or grid but knowing that there’s some degree of play, of looseness, in how Jack interprets that and how he manifests it. And thinking about that and noticing that and trying that stuff consciously allowed me to get more of a sense of “oh I kind of feel what he’s doing, hear what he’s doing” and so it made it much easier for me to play with him. And that realization came over time, some time of feeling like “oh I’m not making it, what the hell am I doing” and really thinking about what I was doing. And there was some unconscious process of learning to hear someone, learning to feel what they’re doing. And that’s with everyone – soloists, rhythm section. So I had to go through a certain amount of that too, and I’m so thankful that Jack heard something in me enough that he would furnish opportunities for me to play with him, to learn that stuff, to go through that experience.

GC: I was noticing last night, the tune we play called “Miles”, it’s a funk tune, but the way that it ends up being played is not in a way like Parliament Funkadelic where there’s one thing happening over and over and it’s pure repetition. There is a decided lack of repetition yet there is this running theme and a groove, but it’s more like the groove of bebop where there’s this continuous conversation and continuous change, it’s shifting over time. How do you think about that as a bass player? If you had to explain that to a student? Don’t play the same thing all the time, but still groove. What advice would you give?

JH: Well I’ll tell how I think of it and things that I would say to a student grow out of how I think of this stuff. I think about a lot of stuff in continuums. So we’re talking about this kind of thing, a funk groove – maybe towards one end of the continuum you’ve got some bass figure that repeats (sings repetitive bass line) and other things are happening but it’s pretty much a static phrase that’s repeated. Towards the other end of the continuum, you could say it’s a melody, just a stream of ideas and a lot of change. I try to choose – and this, again, is partially conscious and partially unconscious – to pick where I think the music needs to be along that continuum. How much to repeat? What to repeat, and how much to not repeat? So instead of playing some figure, like a 2 bar long figure that’s repeating, maybe think in terms of like a 4 bar or 8 bar thing. That might be just enough repetition just to give a sense of the bass part supporting the groove and establishing some cycle feeling but to not be stuck in that “every bar must be the same” thing. And it could be different pitches but a similar number of notes. If I repeat it, you could hear that it’s a cycle, but it’s this 4 bar thing. And you can take that principle and say “okay, instead of the repetition being at the 1 bar level, it could be at the 2, 4, 8 bar” and you could have all kinds of variation in the elements that do repeat so you’re approach more the melody type structure of having less repetition and more new material or variation happening. And on that tune “Miles” I definitely try to find what feels good right now. I’ll play something, and if what everyone else is doing is such that I feel like it needs some anchor, then I’ll repeat something. It might be the rhythmic figure, it might be pitches, it might be register, because the bass functions differently in it’s lowest octave than it does two octaves above that. So I might drop down and play some root stuff down  low, and then go back up high and then come back down – that kind of repetition can set up enough feeling of anchored-ness and rooted-ness that it feels like a groove in the way that we normally think of groove. And so that’s a lot of what I do and choosing to do some interacting, jumping into the conversation, and then throwing some gravy in the mashed potatoes – something to give some anchor to it. And it’s really how much I do the anchor thing versus the melody thing really varies from moment to moment over the course of the tune, what section of the tune. Certainly when we’re playing the melody, that’s kind of a composed thing so I reel it in there because that’s the way that section functions in the whole span of the tune, it’s a refrain. So I make that refrain feel like I refrain. Sometimes I’ll come up with some other little figure but I do keep it more typically supportive for that section because it seems like that’s part of what that section is about, is laying that signature figure down.

GC: You are known as a bassist and a guitarist, it’s a rare double. It’s almost like if you had someone who ran the 200 meters and also did the mile. It’s so different. How do you separate the two, or how do you see yourself in that sense? When you’re a bassist, do you just play the bass? How do you negotiate that?

JH: It’s funny, some of it is really easy and some of it is really hard. Even though I started on guitar before I started playing bass, playing guitar has a bunch of different challenges that I find physically daunting and part of me feels like “man, I should only be play guitar” to have a shot of doing that stuff well. And part of it is if you’re playing in different styles, different genre languages… they’re all so specific and call for really different skills if you’re going to do them at the level of people who do them professionally. I mean, just playing chords on the guitar in the way I’d like, being able to have flexibility and spontaneously and accuracy in voicings and harmonic material – I mean, that alone is like a lifetime. You know, you’ve got Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Metheny, Alan Holdsworth, it’s like, what the hell! So I do what I can. The easy part I guess is that I kind of think of it all as just music. Okay, so you’re soloing, you play single lines on the guitar, you pay single lines on the bass, there’s some physical difference of course. I play guitar with a pick mostly, bass guitar I almost never play the pick unless it’s some metal gig or something (which nobody ever calls me for that). I like the sound of fingers. So there’s physical difference, but you’re still trying to construct melodies. I think about what a pianist plays. Pianists, particularly if they have some experience playing solo, know how to comp for themselves, how to play supportive stuff in the bass register while they’re playing melody and chords, so when I’m playing bass I’m thinking about playing bass. I’m not playing the guitar, I’m not in the guitar’s register, and there’s role stuff in the ensemble that is fun to do and I enjoy doing that so I play the bass. And when I’m playing guitar, you’re doing more chordal stuff and often soloing more, although in a way the bassist is soloing all the time. So I’m doing that. And certainly they inform each other. Experience of playing with inner voicings moving, voice leading that you deal with when you’re playing a chordal instrument certainly informs how I play bass. You know, melodic thinking and such. And certainly when I’m playing guitar I like to hear and feel the bass player. Part of my ear is just kind of drawn to the low registers because I do that, I spend a lot of time doing that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bobby Broom: Upper West Side Story

I am constantly being made aware of the major holes in my knowledge: I'm pretty ignorant about opera, I haven't seen "Predator", and I couldn't explain the Bosnian War if you offered me a million dollars. And also  I've decided that I'm not as up on the great jazz guitarists as I should be. I've only recently been digging Charlie Christian, and I saw Pat Martino live two summers ago. I know a little about Wes Montgomery, Metheny, Scofield, Holdsworth, Grant Green, George Benson, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Russell Malone, Kevin Eubanks, Emily Remler, Stanley Jordan, Joe Pass, just off the top of my head. I've played in the past with with David Gilmore, Tom Guarna, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Adam Rogers, Marvin Sewell, David Fiuczynski, Jerome Harris, Robben Ford, Cheryl Bailey, Paul Bollenback, Nathan Page, Oz Noy, Sebastian Noelle, Mark Whitfield,  just to name a few(not to leave out Portland's Dan Balmer and J.B. Butler). That's why I feel like I should have been more familiar with the outstanding guitarist Bobby Broom. His new CD, " Upper West Side Story", is a real listening pleasure.

Bobby Broom
Broom is clearly comfortable in the trio setting. He knows when to fill it up with chords and knows how to make solo lines speak authoritatively. His sound is sans effect pedals, but it doesn't sound old fashioned; it's almost a blues guitar sound, yet Broom plays with a lot of contemporary creativity. The CD is an impressive set of original compositions which showcase Broom and his trio in various states of intensity.

Dennis Carrol
"D's Blues" is a bold opening; the trio hits an E minor 7 chord, embellished by bassist Dennis Carroll, before he and drummer Kobie Watkins set up a grooving swing latin feel. Broom states a soulful blues theme before launching into a soaring display of inspiration. Broom seems to have a million musical ideas, one hipper than the next. At times, there's a little reminiscence of Kevin Eubanks' music, especially when drummer Watkins plays flurries of notes which make me wonder if he's influenced by Marvin "Smitty" Smith (one of the great drummers in jazz who nobody seems to heard of since he moved to L.A. to play on the Tonight Show.)

Kobie Watkins
The title track, "Upper West Side Story", is a cool straight eighth vehicle; lots of power chords and open spaces, filled nicely by drummer Watkins. "After Words" is a nice jazz waltz, where we get to hear a nice yet brief solo by bassist Carroll. "Major Minor Mishap" has a african 6/8 feel at first, but then switches into a more up tempo vibe. It has a very playful feeling, throughout. This track is one of three which features another fine drummer, Makaya McCraven. Broom again seems to have chops for days and never lets up.

It was nice to see that somebody wrote a tune for the late, great bassist Charles Fambrough. "Fambroscious(for Fambrough)" is an uptempo burnout tune. I like the approach of the trio in the beginning of the solos, which is keeping the intensity without being uptight - it's not like "HELP, WE ARE PLAYING FAST!" Especially bassist Carroll nods to Jimmy Garrison with a more open feel.

Makaya McCraven
I hope guitar players won't think this is strange when I say I enjoy this record as much as I would a piano trio record. I'm only trying to say that Bobby Broom's new project is more than just a guitar trio record. It's a really intriguing collection of tunes and excellent performances. "Upper West Side Story" is on itunes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Human Spirit: Dialogue

 Human Spirit is a Seattle based jazz group which I have had the pleasure of performing with a handful of times in the past year or so. Their new CD entitled "Dialogue" was recorded during a weekend gig at Tula's (one of the great jazz clubs of Seattle). The core members of the group- drummer Matt Jorgensen, trumpeter Thomas Marriott, and alto saxophonist Mark Taylor- invited two special guests from New York: pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Essiet Essiet. The group is a slam dunk combination and it's a great live "blowing" date. It's all original tunes, however, the tunes are mostly simple and sketch-like, which leave a lot of comfortable room to interpret and improvise. The tunes feel like standards; in fact, some of them are based on standards. ("Ridgecrest" is based on Monk's "Green Chimneys" and "Pelham Gardens" is based on Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap.")

Matt Jorgensen
Matt Jorgensen plays with driving time and musical authority. He's a solid accompanist, but is never afraid to "hit the drums" as some say. I hear a lot of Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, and Bill Stewart in his playing. As a composer, I would compare him to Tony Williams, because Williams' tunes seem like they leave a lot of room for the drummer to make them into something, rather then having a complete melody and expect a submissive drumming approach. "In Unity", the first cut of the CD, could be a tune right out of the Tony Williams band of the 1980's (the band with Wallace Roney, Mulgrew Miller, Billy Pierce, and Ira Coleman).

Thomas Marriott
Trumpeter Thomas Marriott has a bit more harmonically to say in his tunes, but his compositional aesthetic is not far from Jorgensen's; his tunes are very melodic, but not overly burdened with harmonic obstacle courses. This makes for some great soloing, and the tunes almost play themselves. My personal favorite from Marriott is "Reversal of Fortune", which starts with a dark, funky vamp, but them opens up into  a feel good Keith Jarrettish Americana vibe. "148 Lexington" is a little Kenny Wheeler-ish, or maybe like Wayne Shorter's music from the second great Mile Davis quintet. It's a dark waltz; here Marriott takes a beautiful solo, showcasing his dark, full sound and great sense of melody and drama.

Mark Taylor(shown here playing tenor)
If alto saxophone sound had a spectrum where David Sanborn was on the right and Paul Desmond was on the left, Mark Taylor's sound would be smack dab in the center. Every once in a while, he plays with the bite of Kenny Garrett, which always wins points with me! He plays expertly throughout the CD, and his two compositions, "Stepford and Son, " and "After Hours" are probably the most harmonically complex on the date. (Overall, the mix of originals gives contrast yet consistency within the hour of music.) "Stepford and Son uses a lot of pedal point harmonies, which can be tricky in terms of soloing and comping. I must say that pianist Orrin Evans sounds undeterred by the complexity. He takes a wonderful Herbieish/Mulgrewish solo here, and his comping sounds very inspired.

Orrin Evans
Orrin Evans has been one of my favorite jazz pianists since the 90's. He has grown by leaps and bounds since then. On this date, his touch is muscular without sacrificing beauty. He comps maturely, and blends well with the group. Some of his solos are extremely forward thinking; his solo on "Song for Samuel" is so good it made me want to transcribe it! Evans has a lot of jazz foundation in his playing, but I like that I can hear him trying to stretch beyond the "known" in his solos.

Essiet Essiet
On a date like this with so many strong soloists, it's hard to find space for the bass player to solo, even a great soloist like Essiet Essiet. His spot on "Ridgecrest" shows his skill at rhythm and also "thumb position" playing (think Eddie Gomez or Miroslav Vitous). Essiet is originally from Portland, and when he came out last year to play a few local gigs, many of my students were stunned at his technique and inventiveness. He is a master soloist, but on "Dialogue", he does a great job of holding it all together.

"Dialogue" sounds great for a live recording; the mix is great, and the piano is very present(which also wins points with me). I wouldn't call this straight ahead jazz. I would call it "Straight To The Point Jazz!" As in " Hey, let's cut the B.S. and play some JAZZ!" Pick up a copy today, I promise you'll love it!

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Musician's Reputation

There's an old musician joke: two jazz greats bump into each other on a street in Manhattan. "Hey, man, I haven't seen you in ages! Where have you been? I haven't heard about you for so long!"

"Well, I was signed to Columbia, and I won 7 grammy awards! My last CD went triple platinum!"

"Wow, I didn't hear about that...."

"Well, I lived in Japan for about a decade, and I became a movie star! I was in some very popular movies!"

"No, I didn't hear about that."

"Then I moved to Hollywood, and started directing. I've won 6 Oscars and 7 Golden Globes for my directing. My last film made $500,000!"

"Wow, no, I didn't hear about that......"

"Uh, well, I played at the Vanguard last week on a Tuesday night. I showed up two hours late AND I forgot the changes to "My Shining Hour...."

"Actually, I DID hear about that!  EVERYONE is talking about THAT."

This joke, while hilarious, actually illustrates a good point about music career development; your reputation is more important than you think. And as weird as it might sound, people will be talking about you. They might be talking about how you play, but also, whether you are ready to be in a professional situation....or not. And you might THINK that you are really a professional guy, that you always show up on time, you're always prepared, etc.....Think back; really? What's your true track record?

I have to admit, as I've gotten older, I haven't been as much of a perfectionist in regard to timeliness as I used to be. As a high school student, I was completely intolerant of lateness from others, or even myself. I would throw fits if people were late to rehearsals, and, when I was a student at Peabody Conservatory, I once  was late to a brass quintet rehearsal, and I  broke an alarm clock with my foot because I was so angry it didn't go off! I was pretty uptight, I must say.

As time went on, I have been able to be a little more accepting of human mistakes. I DO, however, understand that there are always consequences, especially in circumstances where it's risky to be late. For example, being five minutes late to a rehearsal probably won't cost you any money. BUT, being late for a flight to a gig WILL cost you a LOT of money. (Trust me on this.)Being on time, being consistent,  and being dependable are actually some of the most important things you can do as a musician. You might know a thousand tunes, but if you are always late, then the bandleader might call the guy who only knows 200 tunes- but he shows up in a timely fashion.

These are the kinds of things that can go beyond the musical. They are simple, common sense things, but careers are made or broken because of them. And unfortunately, you might be perfect 98 percent of the time, but the 2 percent that you miss might be the part that gets the most noticed. (Like the guy in the joke, see above....)

The Great Never Late Ron Carter
When I was an adjunct professor in Jazz  at The Juilliard School, I sat in on juries on year; bassist Ron Carter was on the panel. A young bassist came in who allegedly had gotten a rep for showing up late. Mr. Carter spoke to him. "Young man, the most important things for being a working musician are being on time and knowing the band book," he stated. " In my career, I have been late to ONE gig. They had closed 5th avenue for a parade and I couldn't get across." I and I believe some of the other panelists were stunned. " I don't think I have to explain to you how many performances, recordings and so forth that adds up to, over 50 years.....". That was a pretty heavy realization, that Ron Carter had been late ONE TIME in his whole career.

That might be a tall order for some people. Maybe you're juggling 2 day jobs and a family and trying to make rehearsals and gigs too. It's interesting that in this modern world with all of the time saving conveniences, it seems as though there isn't enough time in the day to do all the things we are trying to do. As a university professor and a father and a professional musician, I'm lucky if I can spend 10 minutes a day really practicing. I'm usually on time for gigs and classes, which I should be, since I live right across the street from school! I have NO excuse, unless the elevator is broken.......

But perhaps this article is meant more for students who are hoping for a future career in music. My point is that it's about more than just being a great player. Check yourself: Am I punctual most of the time? Do I return phone calls and emails in a timely fashion? Do I dress appropriately for the gig? Did I learn the music for the gig? Did I have a good attitude? Did I work well with others? These are the things that might seem intangible, but they might be more important than whether you can play Giant Steps in 12 keys.

Sometimes, we are just victims of bad luck.(Like Mr. Carter, whose one late mark was beyond his control when they closed 5th avenue!) I had a bad luck experience which may have cost me a major gig. It wasn't my fault, in my view. But it's an example of how one screw up can have lasting effects.

I was booked with a big band to play the New Year's gig at a prominent New York jazz club. I went to the soundcheck/ rehearsal in the afternoon. The bandleader drove me back to Brooklyn so I could change into my tuxedo. "The gig starts at 9, so be there by 8:30," the bandleader remind me as he dropped me off. So I changed and got back on the subway, making it to the club by 8:20, thinking I had plenty of time. When I arrived, the hostess said, " Mr. Colligan, they are waiting for you." Turn out, the gig started at 8! I and a couple others were late. The bandleader apologized for the misleading information. However, while they were waiting for me, some people at the club had panicked; they went up to the adjoining restaurant, where it just so happened that a major name in jazz was having dinner. "CAN YOU HELP US? GEORGE COLLIGAN DIDN'T SHOW UP FOR OUR NEW YEAR'S GIG AND WE NEED ANOTHER PIANIST!"

So of course, the fact that I had showed up and that my lateness wasn't my fault was never relayed back to this prominent jazz musician. And all that was unbeknownst to me. A few years after, I arranged a session (that was sort of an audition for his band) with this prominent jazz musician. When we met at the studio, the first thing he told me was that story. " ....Yeah, they said that you didn't show up for the gig! What happened?" I can't say for sure if this was why I didn't ultimately get hired by this prominent jazz musician. It could have been my playing, of course. But I'm sure that incident didn't help.

Of course, if you are without a doubt the best player on your instrument, or your presence on the bandstand guarantees a draw of 15,000 people, then maybe these things don't matter. However, for us mere mortals, attention to professionalism and consistency might be more important than you think. Bottom line: you want your reputation to be as good as your musicianship.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Jeff Ballard Interview

I recently did some teaching in the U.K. at the Birmingham Conservatoire; I was the lone guest clinician/guest performer. Last year, roughly around the same time of year, I teamed up with drumming great Jeff Ballard. I had kind of forgotten that I had recorded an interview with him. So it's over a year late, but hopefully my jazztruth readers will forgive me. 

Jeff Ballard is really what jazz drumming is all about: MUSIC! He really colors and drives the music and the musicians; it's never about "look at me!" It's about making the music go forward. Ballard has technique, but it's ultimately not as important as the team effort.(Although I saw Ballard do almost 40 minutes of solo drumming in Denmark a few years ago, and that was astounding.) This is why he's been so in demand for years, having played with the top names in jazz, including Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau, among many others. I was lucky to sit down with him and pick his brain a bit during our stint in Birmingham.

GC: Can you talk about the difference between technique and music?

JB: I figure technique is a way to play music so it’s understood. That’s what it’s for. The technique is not something for itself. It’s something to have so you can play music very clearly. It’s a tool, it’s not an aesthetic. And I think maybe in there is what you were asking about, in a way. There’s a difference between… and I think that some folks confuse them. And I think it comes from the fact that in this day and age we have accessibility to lots of technique. It’s not something, in a way, that you kind of earned. Before, I think you earned technique, you earned it by discovering secrets…  like how does Dizzy get some sort of fingering, or Art Blakey’s got a certain kind of flick, a certain kind of way of playing a shuffle that no one else plays. And that’s his technique of how to play, and that’s his own, so he’s developed it to get it to sound the way he wants the music to sound and do what it’s supposed to do. And so someone has to go out and earn it, and that means they’ve got to go and check out Buhaina, and look at it that way, rather than just get it from a book or a Youtube video. I think there’s something in the effort that you have to give to get that technique, which connects it to the making of music rather than just getting the ability to play something. The technique is to make it all clear and understandable. To me, that’s what that is.

GC: Do you think a lot of drummers get hung up on technique?

JB: Yeah, I think it’s kind of the nature of the instrument. Same with saxophones or the guitar, maybe, those kinds of things where the technique is not so difficult to get to. You can sound impressive just by having some technique on those instruments. It’s a hazard area.

GC: How would you advise a young drummer to get past that? To think more musically?

JB: That would be the answer. If they can think more musically, then the technique is at the mercy of what’s musically asked for, it’s not reversed. The music is not choked and pushed and pulled into shape by the technique. The technique is not dictating how the music is, the music is dictating. Like Art Blakey coming up with a shuffle, the way he felt it is dictating what his technique will be so that he can achieve what he wants. So if you can keep at the forefront of your mind that this is at the service of the music you’re playing, not at the service of your ability. You’re not trying to prove your ability, you’re completely surrendered to the music. It tells you what to do. And I think cleaning it up, and playing it as well as you can is the technical aspect of it. Rather than think of technique as how many beats per second can you play multiple strokes in one hand, for example. Or if you can play one time against another time. I don’t care. I tell a lot of people this – I don’t care what you can do, I care why you do it. That’s to me is what’s most important.

GC: Can you talk about what you were saying in the masterclass the other day about, say, taking an African rhythm or some other folk rhythm and making it your own? That’s what you were talking about, right?

JB: Talking about trying to get out of “style”. If you are thinking in “style”, it’s kind of a box. You have to play a certain way, a certain pattern. To me that’s kind of superficial, it’s a label of the style is what’s first looked at. Rather than look at what’s the nature of all these musical elements inside of this thing you’re calling a style, what are those elements and how do they relate to each other? How do they behave towards each other? For example, I was using a rhythm from Argentina, it’s called a Chacarera, and it’s in 3. Basically we talked about tonal order, so you have low tones and high tones – break it down to the most simple aspects. And in Chacarera you have beat 1, beat 2, beat 3. On beat 1 you have a high, dry sound, and on beat 2 you have a low, muted sound, and on beat 3 you have an open low tone. The open low tone is the most resolving sound, tone. That its characteristic. So if it’s muted and it’s low, it’s kind of the same resolution, but it’s a little less than if it’s open. And a dry tone or a high tone is not a resolving tone in comparison to the low tone, so we’re only dealing with two tones and their characteristics. Then you also have the characteristics of each beat, and it ¾ the strongest beat is one. The next least is beat 2, and the lesser strength beat is beat 3. It’s going home. So if you look at Chacarera, it’s kind of reverse character roles for the tones and their placement in space. So beat 1 has a high dry tone, beat 2 has a muted low tone and beat 3 has the “sit”. So you’re sitting, tonally, on beat 3, but the space is asking to go to one. One comes and you answer it with a dry tone which doesn’t sit so well like a low tone. So you have these inverted characters in activity relating to each other, pushing and pulling with a kind of gravitational pull. I think of it like that, so you’ve got gravitational pulls or characteristics with tone and where they are in the bar, in the space. So basically, if you look at a Reggae tune, or a samba tune, or a James Brown tune, there’s tonal order to these tunes. By tonal order, specifically right now, I’m referring to the tones of the drums, how they’re sitting. So for funk, basically you have the bass drum on 1, beat 2 you have the snare drum, beat 3 could be one or somewhere around there, beat 4 can be backbeat as well on the snare drum. So those characters and those spaces kind of line up evenly. And in the world of reggae, it’s kind of upside down. So instead of saying “I’m going to play funk”, I’m going to say “I’m playing this kind of rhythm that has this tonal order, has this kind of characteristic, this way of dancing.” And the same with reggae – I’m not going to play reggae ‘cause it’s got this pattern to it, I’m going to play this groove that’s got this tonal order, and it dances this way. For me that was a door out of a dilemma, a kind of modern-day dilemma, I feel, when we have so many kinds of musics that’s available – again, like technique, all of this is available to us now. So it’s a dilemma because there’s too much and we don’t have enough time to really do it justice, living it and understanding it very very well. So I think the first thing to try to get very close to the nature of what it is is by analyzing, taking it apart, in this sense – you see tension and release in the groove sense. And that’s a big step towards capturing the nature of a tune or of a style without calling it a style and leaving it at that – you really get into the music then, and start playing the music, and… “ooh wow! I see where this comes from!” because of the way the weight is, the gravity is playing in the groove.

GC: But do you feel like that’s the way to make anything your own, to say “these are the guidelines, but this isn’t the script”?

JB: Yes, I think so. It was my open door out of… as long as you keep the integrity of the location of these tonalities, you’re keeping the integrity of the groove in a sense. A rhumba sits a certain way with the bass player, he sits on 4 often. The weight isn’t sitting on one. If someone walked into a room and they didn’t really know that rhythm, the way that thing dances, they might think it’s one. It’s a funny thing. Or like in Chacarera – ONE two three, ONE two three. if someone walked in they might hear “oom oom BOP, oom oom BOP” or “oom OOM bop, oom OOM bop”. Depends.

GC: That rhythm reminds me of the Tanguios, I think it’s called.

JB: It’s another [rhythm] in flamenco.

GC: Yeah.

JB: Yeah, I mean, it’s in three. There’s a lot of this rhythm. It’s 2 over 3. There’s another rhythm in Colombia. (claps 2, sings 3 on syllable “boom”)

GC: Would you say that comes from Africa?

JB: I would say it’s an African thing, yeah. Two over three.

GC: Have you traveled any place to study world rhythms?

JB: Not really. Somehow I have a connection with it. I’ve been to Brazil, I’ve been to Argentina, I’ve been to Peru. I haven’t been to Cuba, haven’t been to Africa. But I have the most experience with bands from Cuba and Africa, actually. And Brazilian as well. But I have not been there, and I’ve been dying to get there. I want to go with someone so I can cut to the chase and get right in there.

GC: Right. What do you think about paying dues as a musician? What were the dues that you paid?

JB: I’m a dues-paying-dude, I tell you. I paid a lot…I dig, you know. I think it really gives you a better appreciation of the gift that you have, to be able to play. I was lucky in the beginning, I had a good feel so I could play with some good players, but a lot of the music I was playing was weddings, conventions, we’d play dance music. We’d play jazz standards as well but it was all for a function. And then later, some more gigs, and that was cool, but – that was work for a while, I was making more money doing those kinds of gigs. Then after I went on the road, I was paying dues another way – traveling 7 months out of the year and not coming home, and that’s old school trench work, in a way. It was the best, you know – it was really great. But it was dues in that sense – you get on the bus, next day you get on the bus, next day you get on the bus, next day – sometimes you don’t even sleep in the hotel, you hit and you run. And that’s some dues. Then another kind of dues…you’ve got to keep your energy. It’s the same show every night (almost) but it’s different every time. Same music, but it’s like it’s the first time. Then there’s other dues, like [being] in New York and starting off and it really not working much at all – working as a bike messenger, a bus boy, and not having much money, borrowing money from my friends or my parents and just kind of scraping along – it took me a few years, took me about 4 or 5 years before I was working and able to survive off of my playing.

GC: What year was that?

JB: I lived in New York in ’90. I started playing in ‘94, starting playing a little bit more in ‘95, started playing with people like Danilo [Perez] in ‘94, something like that. So paying dues, I think - I guess you could say it’s very important, but you could also say it’s not absolutely necessary. But I do think it makes you better rounded, more humble, a greater awareness of what it is that we’re doing because you can appreciate it more, maybe. It’s a tremendous gift that we have, to be able to do this. Play what we feel, and have someone say “please come and do that, and let me give you some money for it, and we’ll treat you well.” That should never be forgotten. I think, in a sense, dues would help hammer that home. I think it helps. It brings maturity to your playing, it brings value to what you do. In that sense, it’s a vital thing. It’s great.

GC: Can you talk about some of your favorite sidemen gigs over the years? Are there things that you feel like you do differently depending on the situation? Are there things that you feel that you do the same regardless of who you’re playing with?

JB: Yeah. I used to say I play the same, but I don’t, really. I do play differently in different situations. Great sidemen gigs for me are the last great ones that I’ve had. Danilo Perez was a good one, Chick Corea was another good one, playing with Ray Charles was tremendous, Joshua Redman – playing in the Elastic Band with Samuel Hill was really fun, different kinds of music I could play. And then with Brad [Mehldau] as a sideman was great too, it opened my ears up and having someone to have so much interaction with – I’d never played with anybody that had so much interaction. Everything I did was used and thrown into the…Josh does the same, Mark [Turner] does the same, a lot of guys do the same. But with Brad it was really, really intense and I really grew to prefer that way. So… what was the other part to that question?

GC: What things do you do the same and what things do you do different?

JB: Okay, so I got to play with Lionel Loueke’s trio with Massimo Biolcati, and we played his music and rehearsed it and then went to the gig, played the gig. And the tunes were…not easy to digest, you know? So at a certain moment, whoops, I’m like “where are we?” because they’re really stretching it out. And then I realized that, actually, it didn’t matter, he didn’t mind being lost, he was digging it. And when I realized that, I played what I heard without worry, ‘cause he wanted it. So it felt like a wash, a big shower, because I used to play a lot of that music where you play what comes to you, and I enjoy that a lot. And to have it so immediate, every reaction connected to what was going on, that it could go anywhere. It was going somewhere. Once I got to play with another guitar player, Jeff Parker. He plays with Josh Abrams– great bass player. I call up Jeff, he came from Chicago, both of them came from Chicago… and I said “do you want to get together, run through some stuff before we hit? I’m open.” He says, “nah man, let’s just go and play.” So we go there and it was literally that, from the first note to the last note nothing was predetermined. And it was truly – I went through like a car cleaner, you know, I went through this thing… I ended up getting from the drums and walking and stamping my feet, and just pulling out shit that I hadn’t gotten to in a minute. “What else can I do to make a sound or an emotion?” And it never got tired, we were playing for an hour straight. A couple of things stopped, but maybe three episodes of just open music. And I felt so refreshed afterwards. So those are memorable moments, memorable gigs. There are others that are in time, and high moments of playing on top of form, and playing that way as well. But this was special to me because I felt cleansed afterwards. Others are like wow, this was powerful and great, and I’m proud in a way that it happened and worked, or amazed at the magic of it, where it takes you. It all worked really well, the music’s talking to you. In this way, when it’s free, it’s new, it’s something new and moving, so those are memorable.

GC: Would you say that basically now you do the gigs that you want to do?

JB: Basically I get to do the gigs that I want to do, I can choose. And what’s the best, what’s the blessing for me is that I’m asked to do what I do. I’m not asked to come in to do like somebody else. They ask me to come in and do what I do. And I can’t ask for any more than that.

GC: How would you advise a student to make it through the gigs that are not necessarily a “spiritual experience”?

JB: Pick elements in the music that you can work on. Like if it’s a dance beat or something, make it the most exact, baddest, super funkiest backbeat that you can, with the best intention of playing that way. If you’re playing "Have You Met Miss Jones", and they’re playing in a very straight way, don’t try your stuff. Make that tune, the way it’s being played, as best as you can, as you feel it to be in that way. You can learn from that. If you always try to put your own spin on it, I think it’s – I don’t know. I don’t agree with that. The music’s not really asking for it in this situation that we’re talking about. If you know that that’s the way these guys play, you must make the music like that. If you don’t then you’re outside of the music and you’re in your own band, it’s like you’re a different band up there. It’s very often that I hear young groups of four or five people and it sounds like four or five different bands up there. Everybody’s got their own agenda, or everyone’s worried about making sure they get their agenda taken care of, when really it’s all together. It should be all together. Like eighth notes, when they’re swinging their eighth notes, that could be very close to being the same. And horn players, you’ve got to leave room for the rhythm section to comment on what you’re playing. That will give you ideas. If you’re playing a solo and you want to be solo, okay, well we’ll stop playing. You’ll be “solo”, you’ll be alone. There’s your solo. You’re not alone. So don’t forget that. I don’t care what you’re playing.

GC: So when you get onstage, you have no agenda?

JB: I hope not. I try not to do. I think I do and I try not to have it. And when I find it getting there, meaning I kind of smell a rat somewhere, I would definitely stop that. I’ll stop it. Go to the music, it will tell you what to do. If you try to tell it what to do, I can’t get behind it as much. I can’t get behind it with as much faith. If I think of something, if something comes to me, I can get behind it much more easily than if something comes to me and…“I’m going to put it in”. If I think of something beforehand then I should not play it. If I find something to play, if I encounter the thing to play, I can really trust it because it came to me without preconception, without ego needs, without limitations. It’s just there, right there, one hundred percent, clean of any kind of attachment or anything. You encounter it. Then you do. The thing with this music is velocity. Speed of thought. You’ve got to be so fast. And you’re only going to be fast when you’re super focused.

GC: Would you say, too, that there’s a certain amount of fearlessness that you need to play that way?

JB: Yeah. Fearlessness and faith. You’ve got to trust the other guys, that they’re able to understand that thing that you’re doing, or trust that the music can take what’s going on, trust yourself that you can make it come out. But you should really be clear – the more abstract in a sense, or the more complex you’re going to play, the clearer it should be. So it’s understood what you’re doing. It occurs to you when you do it…(intelligible)… you’re not going to understand what I just said, because I kind of just… you know… you left it up to the ear. Sometimes it’s good, but we’re talking about making a statement.

GC: Because we’re talking about all these things that are very important musically,  do you feel like there’s a point when you don’t really need to practice?

JB: I’m not so sure, man, I’m not so sure. I mean, I go through stages when there’s time and I can practice, I practice. If I don’t have the time, I’m hoping I’m playing. But I regret not having the time to practice sometimes. When I haven’t been playing and I haven’t been practicing and I start again, the first thing that I notice that’s lost is my velocity of thought. Imagination is not all hopping and springy, it’s kind of lethargic and a little sleepy. So sometimes the technique is actually better for the first few days. I’m not so sure, man. I still feel like I have some stuff to practice myself, and I’ve been doing it for more than 25 years. I’m not done, so therefore I have to practice.

GC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Or 10 years?

JB: Hopefully with maybe more gigs behind me. (laughter) At this time right now, I really want to play every day if I can – I work a lot, and I go home and chill for some weeks, and I come back… I want to as much as I can, and a variety of stuff. I’d actually like to try some other genre. I’d like to play with a singer again - in fact specifically I’m kind of digging Leon Russell, and some Southern Funk, swampy tunes that have a message, some guide tunes, in a way… I don’t know. That’s kind of where I’m thinking at this point. I’m not really sure exactly what I want to do. The jazz that I’m playing now is great, I mean I’d like to play with a couple other guys… like Wayne, Herbie… but I can’t really complain about the jazz, but I would like to try some other stuff. With this trio with Lionel and Miguel that I have, that’s some other stuff and I’d like to explore that a bit more.

GC: In this trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon, are you the leader?

JB: I’m the leader. But it’s an equal thing musically speaking. I put it together, I get the gigs, so I put my name on it. I did the same thing with Fly in a way, but I gave that up. It’s a collective, I don’t want to be the leader.

GC: Right. Are these your first efforts leading?

JB: Yeah. I did something years ago when I first got to New York, some quartet work, but nothing as a regular thing.

GC: I see. And do you find it to be very different from being a sideman?

JB: The only difference is that I know am concerned about taking care of the guys, whereas I didn’t have that concern being a sideman. As far as other things like talking on the mic or getting the set together… I can do it or we can together, I’ll ask them. So it’s still kind of collective. The only thing I need to know is that they’re cool, they get their money right, they get their rest, the travel isn’t so bad, and the food is good, and that’s at, basically. If they’re happy with that and they’re happy with the music, then they’ll play great.

GC: Anything coming up that you want to mention?

JB: Well Fly is going out on tour in July, all through Europe. Got some teaching done at La Spezia, we’re teaching in Lugano, in Switzerland, and some various gigs in between. Apart from that, just various gigs…September my trio goes out, first part of September, end of August. January I’m playing with Brad at the Vanguard. New Fly record coming out in January as well.

GC: Did you find it was hard to play with Brad after he used Jorge Rossy for so long?

JB: No, no, ‘cause he asked me to play as me. Nah, it was like a glove, I just came right in. “Give me more of what you’re doing.” Okay, fine. He was really embracing, it was really great. Really great. Yeah…I mean I’ve played with Larry for 25 years more or less, so that’s easy. I think when you get to a level, where we’re at, we can play with each other and the communication is really very good. Sometimes, no, but I think more often than not the communication is really good. With Brad it was like a house for me, like a big couch, and it just worked well. I think one thing that makes it work well for us is that all three of us really dig the older music as well. In what we play, we play a ballad, we really play a ballad like an old-school ballad, in a certain sense. Like I’m playing four-on-the-floor on a ballad. It’s a walking ballad, we try to play it like that, don’t try to change it and make it new. The “newness” comes because we are young, or new in this sense, so it’s going to be young. You don’t need any extra work in that way. Swinging, we feel the same way – we’re going to play an arrangement, drum and bass kind of thing. I think it still has old school to it as well. I think that’s why slipping into that band was easy for me. Brad has a healthy respect for the old-school, as does Larry.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jazz History Spring Final(Not Really)

I'm sitting here writing as my spring term jazz history class takes their final exam. This was a class for mostly music majors, so it's supposed to be more in depth than the class of 180 which I taught in the winter term. It's still a pretty tall order to teach jazz history in 10 weeks. Almost impossible. Although I suppose if you just watched the Ken Burns video the entire time(10 episodes= 1 episode a week), that would be one way to do it. Still, I'm hoping that the majors know the modern stuff already, so it's not as crucial to cover it.

One of my students just put down his paper. I asked him how he felt about it; he replied, " It was easy!" Hmmm, how can I make it more challenging next time. I wonder.........

Jazz History Final Spring Term
Instructor: George Colligan

1-10. Drop the Needle. For the first 10 audio examples, write the name and artist of the selection that is played. Also, write the album from which the selection is from. Also, write the entire personnel of the entire album. Also, write the names of all the other selections on the album, including any alternate takes from versions released later in time. Also, put the year which the album was recorded, the year the album was released, and dates of any further reissues. Write the name of the record label and the catalog numbers for the original and the reissues. Write the name of the producer, the engineer, and at what studio was it recorded. Say whether it was recorded analog or digital. Write the chord changes of the tune, and write the melody and solos. Analyze the solos in terms of form, motivic developement, harmonic relevance, and numeric analysis of each note in relation to the chords. Write out the melody and chords in all twelve keys. Give a brief biography of each performer on the recording, and analysis of their improvisational and compositional style in relation to all of jazz history.(Use the back of the paper if more space is necessary.)

11. If Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman had an arm wrestling match, who would win, and why? What other swing era greats would you like to see arm wrestle?

12. Jimmy Lunceford's musicians were known for wearing snappy suits; they were known as one of the best dressed ensembles of the swing era. Do you think any of these suits would be available on EBAY? Do you think any of them would be 44R/36 waist?

13. Discuss the recording ban of 1942-44. Can you list the "artists" of today which I bitterly mentioned in class that should be banned from today's music? (Use other side of the page if you need more space.)

14. What is a contrafact? What is a contrafiction? What was Iran-Contra?

15. How did Bebop differ from Swing? Why were so many bebop musicians "strung out on Smack?" Or "have a monkey on their back?" Being a "sleepwalker?" You know, addicted to "China White", "Antifreeze", "Aunt Hazel", "Black Tar", "H", "Charley", "Dirt", "Golden Girl", "Horse", "Jones", "Poppy", "Salt", "The Witch", "Nickel Deck"?

16. Why was Dizzy Gillespie so great, despite the fact that he had ridiculous looking puffed out cheeks and a trumpet that was probably bent when he dropped it on the floor and never could afford to fix it?

17. Besides John Tesh, Yanni, and Elton John, who were some of the greats of stride piano? How many of them actually died during their fierce "cutting contests?"

18. Name 5 banjo players of the fusion era and why they were important in the development of "jazz rock".

19. Compare and contrast the Cool Jazz of the 50's with the Lukewarm Jazz of the 80's.

20. If Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, and Boney James competed in a 5k Run, who would win, and why? If the same group of musicians competed in a kickboxing tournament, who would win, and why? If the same group of musicians were bidding on a reasonably priced condo in Santa Monica, who would place the highest bid, and why? And last, what kind of a name is Boney, anyway? (Use other side of the page if you need more space.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jeff Williams: Another Time

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams is one of the great jazz drummers working today. Although he is a veteran, I think he is Talent Deserving Wider Recognition. Originally from Ohio, he's been in London, England for the better part of  a decade. He played with many of the greats back in the 70's and 80's. He had regular stints with Stan Getz,  Dave Liebman and Lee Konitz, and did a great deal of touring in Europe. Now he is spending much of his time teaching  at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Birmingham Conservatoire. He's also working on the London scene, and keeps in touch with the New York scene. Williams is one of the drummers who in some ways is very traditional (he was a student of Alan Dawson in Boston) but uses that traditional foundation as a jumping off point for expansive musical explorations.(I think of drummers in the same category like Billy Hart or Jeff Hirshfield, two other guys who don't get nearly enough recognition.)

Case in point: "Another Time" is Williams' latest album, and it's anything but traditional, although it is acoustic jazz. But it's quite adventurous and interactive. Williams used what he calls his "steady" band:
Duane Eubanks on trumpet, John O'Gallagher on alto saxophone, and John Hebert on bass. All of these musicians are currently on the New York scene, and they are all top level improvisors. Eubanks, whom I have worked with in his brother Robin Eubanks' band years ago, is very influenced by the great Woody Shaw; he has a modern, angular vocabulary, but also a very streamlined, , un-brassy, subdued trumpet tone. Even when the intervals are thorny, the sound is very even, pure, and direct. His sound blends well with alto genius O'Gallagher, whose solos overflow with energy and original ideas. (I haven't worked with O'Gallagher much, but would welcome the opportunity.) Bassist Hebert has been in much demand lately, probably because he has that magic sound which has just the right balance of thump, wood, presence, and sustain. Plus Hebert is one of the most killing soloist you'll here on the bass. Check out Track 2, "She Can't Be A Spy," if you have any doubts.

John Hebert
Most of the tunes are Williams', except for "Purple, Blue, and Red" by Eubanks(which is a mellow, hollow sounding ballad), and "Go Where Your'e Watching", a piece by O'Gallagher(a haunting waltz which begins and ends with a beautiful trumpet/alto chorale). Eubanks and O'Gallagher sound almost as one when they play unison lines. Much of the harmonic vibe of the album is very haunting because of unison lines and bass; the harmony is mostly implied. ( I always like to joke when  my colleagues tell me about a pianoless band they are trying to book. "What…do …you…mean? No piano? How does THAT work?" I'm just kidding. I actually LOVE bands without piano. I'm paraphrasing Hal Galper when I say that piano in modern jazz is rather superfluous.)

"Search Me" begins, as it should,with a definitive drum solo, which is parts Max Roach and parts Roy Haynes, and all Jeff Williams. The horns seem to float over a
Duane Eubanks
rhythmic bass figure. It's very eerie sounding. O'Gallagher's terrifying lines contrast well with Eubanks more stately improvisations( think Cannonball Adderly to Miles Davis.)"Double Life" is a nice loose 6/4(i'm guessing) which has some nice harmonies between the horns. I love how Williams colors and interprets the music. Actually, in some ways, a piano player might take up the space which Williams' uses to propel the music to the next level.

"Fez" is a real tricky one; a nasty bass line with an obviously Arabic sounding melody. Ah, they do break into swing! This reminds me of Wayne Shorter's writing for some reason, where some of the themes are sort of literally programmatic (like the two note phrases of the melody to "Footprints" are apparently supposed to represent the steps of a monster.)
John O'Gallagher
There's another ridiculous bass solo by Hebert on this one.

"Another Time" reminds me of some of Tony Williams' writing from the 80's. It begins with bowed bass and short phrases from the horns. But it ends up as a light straight eight/ boss kind of vibe. It's a very mature way to end the album. The whole recording has a compelling sound-very open and at times ghostly, but rhythmically and harmonically open to any possibility.  You can find this CD on Whirlwind Recordings(, as well as itunes. Also, check out Jeff Williams website( I know this CD was a long time coming and I look forward to hearing more from this gem of a band.