Friday, September 28, 2012

Tour Diary: JackDeJohnette European Tour Fall 2012 Part 1

Greetings, jazz fans! I'm here in Bergen, a lovely town on the western coast of Norway. This is our first stop on a two and a half week tour with the Jack DeJohnette Band. In addition to DeJohnette on drums(if you aren't familiar with Jack DeJohnette, PLEASE "google" his name. He is one of the living legends of jazz drumming.), we have Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, David Fiuczynski on guitar, Jerome Harris on bass, and your truly on keyboards and pocket trumpet. We haven't had a real tour since May of 2011, so I'm looking forward to the musical development that extended tours seem to bring. I remember the last tour, when ninety minute sets seemed like ten, and every concert was more intense than the last. I also love to be in Europe in the fall; I have many fond memories of my first tours in the 90's, and they always seemed to be in October and November.

Although I've been all over Europe, we are going some places where I've never been. Norway is actually one country in which I have never been until yesterday. I was extremely jet lagged(three flights:Portland to Toronto, Toronto to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Bergen. Luckily, my luggage made it fine)so I've mostly been asleep since 2pm yesterday. Everyone says that Bergen is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Hopefully I will have some time today to take a look around. It' a little colder than I had expected; I hope I brought enough layers.

It seems like it gets harder and harder to pack for these trips. These days, I'm very careful not to make my big suitcase overweight. It seems like the airlines will find any excuse to charge you extra money. It took me several days to narrow down all the stuff I wanted to bring; I put my suitcase on the scale over and over to make sure I was within the 50 pound limit. When you are doing one nighters, flying and driving every day, it's tough to have the time to find a laundry. FORGET having your laundry done in the hotel; that's one of the biggest rip-offs in history. Unless you want to pay 5 Euros PER SOCK. (You always see those little price lists in the room for laundry. "Slacks-$12. Men's Shorts-$8. Who comes up with those prices? I wish more hotels had coin laundry.)I remember back in 1999, I was on a 7 week tour of Europe with Cassandra Wilson. We were staying at the Hotel Rey Juan Carlos in Barcelona. There was no laundry in site, so I asked if they could do it at the hotel. I incorrectly thought that the housekeeping was going to be cool and not charge me those outrageous prices. Surprise! I think it was over 100 bucks; however, each article of clothing was brought in a fancy box, expertly folded and smelling like perfume. They REALLY washed my clothes! Was it worth the astronomical price?I guess the 1% must have their clothes washed like that all the time......

We are also going to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, another place I haven't been before. Add the Azores Islands(Portugal),Slovenia and the Ukraine and it's definitely some new territories for me. I always say that it is a privilege to be a musician and  to get to travel to exotic locals not only for free, but actually getting paid to see the world. And don't take this the wrong way, but in this way,we are fortunate that jazz isn't appreciated in the United States. We have to travel outside the country to work, so we get to have an international experience more than, say, country musicians.(I'm guessing there's not much of a Toby Keith fan club in Romania. But I could be wrong.)

I'm looking forward to getting to play some music! For the past few years, I've been mostly teaching and helping with my son. I do get to play the odd gig here and there, but it's so different from when I was in New York in the last two decades. I felt like I was playing all the time, whether it was touring, or playing gigs around town, or making rehearsals. Or actually PRACTICING! I used to practice a lot. There doesn't seem to be enough time for that these days. Unfortunately, I'm one of those folks who has to practice in order to sound good. (My wife Kerry Politzer is one of those people who doesn't seem to have to practice in order to sound good. She's obviously spending a lot more time with our son Liam than I am, so she's never able to get to a piano. However, when she plays gigs, her chops never sound deficient. )

It's great to get a chance to play with musicians who are on such a high level, and who are pushing against musical boundaries. DeJohnette and Harris are a wise rhythm section; it's interesting how locked the groove can be without playing groove patterns that are particularly repetitive. It's consistent yet flowing. Fiuczynski has a whole micro-tonal world which I would love to be able to really explore. I have experimented with alternate tunings on my keyboard set-up, but it's an entire world of possibilities, regarding which I think I'm just barely scratching the surface.

I've really been inspired by getting the chance to play with Rudresh Mahanthappa. His melodic vocabulary is quite startling. He plays the kinds of things that made me wish I played the alto saxophone. I spent a little while this morning transcribing a ferocious double time lick from a solo he did on a video of the David Fiuczynski group at the Iridium. It probably lays better on the alto than a keyboard, but it's pretty cool to look at how Mahanthappa thinks about A minor. I'm posting the video and what I think is an accurate transcription of what he plays starting at 4:25. It's pretty wicked!(BTW, I don't know the tune they are playing; is it a Meters tune or something? If you know shout it out! Or, I'll ask David later today...)

Stay tuned for more from Europe...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Don Byron Interview

I got my Bachelor's in Music Ed and Trumpet from Peabody Conservatory. I got my Master's in Jazz from Queens College. But I did my REAL graduate work playing with clarinetist Don Byron. My first gigs with Byron were playing Stravinsky and Raymond Scott. We also played Ellington, Earth Wind and Fire, Herp Alpert, Klezmer music, the music of Junior Walker, and we even did some performances of music from the Sugar Hill Gang! Byron is a walking music wikipedia. He's into such a wide range of music; he's also a really unique composer and arranger. I was able to get a quick interview with him recently for jazztruth.

GC: In terms of your musical scope, all the things that you are into and that you have explored as an artist, is that something you are conscious of or just how you’ve always been, into different musical avenues?

DB: Well, I always had a few different things that I was into. When I was an undergrad, I kind of thought what I wanted to know was how to play classical music of a certain ilk, how to play jazz of a certain ilk, I was playing a lot of Latin music, and I was starting to play with the Klezmer Conservatory band. When I first started being interested in being a jazz musician, the job of being a jazz clarinet player was really very limited. Most musicians my age, black musicians especially, were not really interested in the instrument. So I guess my idea of jazz clarinet really kind of evolved out of trying to keep a theoretical thing going and a technical thing going on the instrument but that I would have one foot in the classical thing and one foot in the jazz thing. And certain ethnic traditions that I came upon that I might be playing authentically. Like I played even as an undergrad Latin music authentically, Klezmer music authentically, that there were traditions other than jazz and classical music where the clarinet was a well-used instrument. And at that point a lot of people that played good clarinet were not willing to play music like Klezmer music. They weren’t willing, they didn’t want it to drag them down. Maybe some of them came from Jewish backgrounds, they weren’t going to go backwards.  Now-a-days, any underemployed clarinet player plays some Klezmer music, it’s just normal. But my thinking was more to have an awareness of these ethnic avenues where the clarinet was going, where it was vital – in Colombia, in Trinidad, in Brazil – these are places just in the Western Hemisphere that at this point, not even in the past but currently, have moving clarinet traditions that were moving ahead. Whereas I didn’t see the jazz clarinet tradition moving ahead. I saw more “traditional jazz”, pseudo-New Orleans whatever, that kind of thing, and then the swing era stuff. Then all of a sudden, there’s very little clarinet. There’s Jimmy Hamilton, there’s Tony Scott, there’s Buddy DeFranco, but in general there’s not a lot. Basically whatever it is, I kind of fashioned it out of feeling like there wasn’t a real clarinet job, I was going to have to make this job, and the job that I made was kind of a collection of skills.

GC: So it was really motivated by your relationship with the instrument rather than an all-encompassing desire to embrace many styles?

DB: Well in my undergrad days, I knew guys like Greg Osby and Donald Harrison and those guys, and being a jazz saxophone player was much more of a job. There was just a job. And it wasn’t a job that you never saw black people doing. So they went to New York and they pursued that job, whereas I kind of prepared myself for many jobs. On the classical tip, I never thought I was going to be chosen to deliver the Mozart and Brahms stuff that’s the center of clarinet literature, but I did think that I had grown up seeing a lot of people on a lot of instruments who only played really contemporary new music. And they were good players, but they seemed kind of stylistically dedicated to that sound. And so I decided that, if I was going to keep preparing myself as a classical player, that’s the way I would prepare myself. I would make sure I played some Schoenberg, some Stravinsky, some Messiaen, Bartok…those things that I considered modern, I would prepare myself in that way. On the jazz tip, I found swing era playing very triadic compared to the way that a saxophone player or trumpet player would approach playing a chord. The difficulties of even thinking harmonically on the instrument made people kind of thing in very structured ways, and it was hard enough to play things like that. So what I was trying to do with my jazz clarinet playing was look at what Coltrane was doing, and Joe Henderson, and Gary Bartz, and try to translate that somehow technically. So I just worked on different kinds of things. I was really into Eddie Palmieri, I was writing out Eddie Palmieri solos as an undergrad.  I was studying Stravinsky’s music, I was studying with George Russell a bit, studying with Joe Allard a bit, just trying to make sense of all the things that I enjoyed hearing, the things that excited me.

GC: When we get into things like the Sugar Hill Gang, Herb Alpert, Earth Wind and Fire, that seems like that’s going pretty far from what you’re talking about, and in some ways you would think that in today’s society that we have so much access to all different kinds of music, it wouldn’t be considered weird that somebody would present concerts of all different kinds of things. And yet, don’t you think that’s kind of rare? Most musicians do what I would call “sticking to their genre”, not really going outside of certain territories. You seem like you’re not only willing to go outside of certain territories, but it doesn’t seem like a gimmick – you genuinely know and care and have studied widely differing things. Do you see a connection between all of them, or is that just your nature? Why isn’t everyone else doing that?

DB: Well everyone else has become a lot more like me in the past 10-15 years than when I first started out as a solo artists and I was completely weird. Now a lot of people do a lot of different things. I think when I started people just thought it was weird that I was playing the clarinet, that I was playing Klezmer music. I will say about Earth Wind and Fire that, as a member of the Third Stream department, we all knew all about Earth Wind and Fire. Ran Blake, even though he is what he is as a player, he loved Earth Wind and Fire. That was official Third Stream music. There was a group of things in the Third Stream that were really promoted as stuff that you should know about, amongst them was Greek music, Jewish music, Indian music…the stuff in the Third Stream was a collection of things that the people who taught there [New England Conservatory] were into. It was a kind of department where either people did a lot of things pretty good, or they did one thing that was neither jazz or classical music very well. So you combine that environment with the fact that you could take anybody who would take you as a student to be your teacher. So that allowed me to study composition and study my instrument. You could take a semester and use that to study chamber music with somebody. Because the Third Stream only had like 3 faculty members at certain times, they were open to you studying with different people. And you could split your 4 credits amongst more than one teacher even, so over that time I just managed to study a lot of different things with a lot of different people and I was just really doing the music that I was interested in in the scope of what was happening in the Third Stream. The Third Stream was not particularly Latin friendly, but that’s what I was doing so that was a part of it. I think a lot of my framework really comes from the Conservatory, where before I got there Gunther [Schuller] was the guy who introduced people to ragtime or made an orchestral take on country fiddle, and those kinds of things were all happening at the school before I got there. So there was a kind of environment where people were exploring very specific kinds of things. There was a woman there who was a few years ahead of me in the school and she was putting on Bulgarian women’s choir music, putting that together before any of that got famous. She was just studying that, she was doing it, and she was doing it with people who knew nothing about it. She was teaching them! She wanted it to happen, so she made it happen. And then there was a lot of activity around singers singing Indian music at the school. It was just a real interesting moment.

GC: In a way, you say about the instrument that you wanted to have a relationship with classical clarinet and jazz clarinet. Somebody might look at Wynton Marsalis and see the same thing. What would you say to someone who might say “well that’s just like Wynton Marsalis, that’s what he did?”

DB: Well Wynton actually went further in classical music than I did. I studied it, I really just couldn’t see myself feeling relaxed playing that kind of music but I really felt like I needed to know the instrument in that way. Which is a different thing that wanting to be an orchestral musician. But I did want to know the instrument in that way. There was a real set of beliefs, and still when you encounter classical clarinet players they think nobody outside of classical music can really play clarinet. So my idea was just to keep studying clarinet. Even when I first was an artist, people would say “why are you into classical music?” There’s no other way of learning how to play that instrument. There really isn’t. There’s lots of trumpet players who never really study classical music. And they’re good trumpet players, they can play in a band and play in tune, all of that. I just don’t think that’s really possible on the clarinet. You can’t learn the clarinet on the street. And you can’t learn the clarinet just from learning jazz. You have to deal with written music, there’s certain technical things on the instrument that you have to be exposed to, and right now you cannot do it. Alvin Batiste studied with the same teacher that taught Richard Stolzman. I studied with the same teacher that taught Stanley Drucker who also taught Jimmy Hamilton. In terms of learning the instrument at a certain level, the clarinet is just not an instrument that you can kind of learn without having a relationship with classical music. You have to have a relationship with it, and as much as people used to vibe me about it, every clarinet player has that. Paquito has that, Anat Cohen has that, we all have that. Or else you wouldn’t be able to play chromatic music! You would be able to do it unless you had studied a bunch of written music.

GC: You said Wynton went further as a classical player, and certainly he’s had a lot of success, winning Grammy’s and so forth, but don’t you think that your interest in classical music as a way to understand composition has gone further than Wynton Marsalis? Maybe we don’t even want to get into that…

DB: I don’t want to compare myself to Wynton Marsalis… I will say that one of the reasons that I had a really hard time being a classical music was that I was trying to understand it while I was playing it. And I would really get distracted fairly often. I’d be counting rests and I’d say “wow, that’s some bad shit…oh! I just missed something!” It was always my assumption that if I saw orchestra cats were playing, they understood all the chords and all the stuff. That was always my assumption, I had to get involved to see that that really wasn’t true. When I left New York and went to New England, all of the stuff that I worked on I felt like I could play better if I understood it theoretically. So I studied it. We’d get groups together and throw together ……? But I’d be looking at it. We’d throw together Contrast, but I’d be looking at it. We threw together whatever we threw together and put on performances but I’d be looking at it and we’d be rehearsing cooperatively based on looking at the score and seeing structurally what the individual lines meant, which is something beyond being able to look at a piece of sheet music and playing the right fingering at the right time. So I became a composer from learning the music the way that I thought that I could learn the music.

GC: So let me ask you this… if you do a concert of the music of Earth Wind and Fire, or a concert of Stravinsky, is it going to be a jazz concert or does it even matter at this point? Does it ever matter?

DB: No, it’s not a jazz concert, I’m just a black guy. That’s basically it. Deal with it! It’s really classical, and I’m a black guy. It’s really Klezmer music, and I’m a black guy! That thing that I wrote that doesn’t sound straight-ahead and sounds like Satie? It’s really classical! And I’m a black guy! It seems like there was no way that that’s not jazz. There was no way that what I did in Klezmer music wasn’t jazz to people. But it wasn’t!

GC: Don’t you think that part of the nature of jazz is kind of to absorb a bunch of different things?

DB: Yeah, but it wasn’t necessarily in my intention to coopt Eastern European music as jazz. It was my intention to play that music in a way that interested me. And the things that interested me were not necessarily the jazz-like things about them. If you have a kind of music, there’s moves you can make and move you can’t, there’s scales you can play and scales you wouldn’t play, rhythms that you would play or wouldn’t play, ornamentation - which is a very important thing in my world – ornamentation that you would play that you wouldn’t play in other musics. And unless you’re willing to think separately about these things, you’re not going to really learn that much about any of them, unless you’re able to objectify what makes something sound like Chardash? What makes something sound like a Bolero. Unless you’re really willing to sit down and look at the difference between what makes certain musics sound the way that they sound, you can’t really learn anything. I was never really interested in doing a “jazzy idea” of things or fusing jazz with Klezmer music…that idea, you don’t really get the idea of how a thing works, unless you’re able to bring a certain kind of alertness – the same alertness that maybe enabled you to play jazz, but it’s an alertness about difference elements. It’s not to say that once you played some jazz you can’t go back. That can’t be.

GC: Obviously you’ve done a lot of teaching, do you think that young musicians should be exploring lots of different types of things, or do you think that young people today have this mindset?

DB: I have to confess, I’ve never really taught at a super jazz school. I’ve done residencies at super jazz schools, but in terms of teaching full time, the schools that I taught at were not the kind of schools where everyone was thinking about a central non-classical ideal. So for me, those kids were more open to what you told them. At one school I had one kid who had only played Mariachis, and I had him writing out Freddie Hubbard stuff. I was really trying to get him to understand the note choice involved in what Freddie was doing.  The kids that I taught had either very specific goals…one kid wanted to be a producer, but he also played bass, so I was trying to get him to learn a bunch of James Jamerson lines, and then learn them on the piano with the chords that go with them in the correct space. It’s not like he did those things for me…(laughs)…but those kinds of things were more the kind of kids that I had. I had one kid who was into high-tech Bluegrass. But he couldn’t play his instrument! So I tried to turn him onto a book about fingerings so that when he got into certain situations, he’d know how to get around. So the kind of kids that I taught were usually into one kind of thing. On the other hand, they weren’t necessarily as technically dedicated as someone who goes to a Berklee sort of place, or a conservatory…they didn’t have that kind of time. A lot of times they were doing other things.

GC: Personally, in my experience, I see that if you study music at a college-level, you’re sort of herded into a very narrow scope. Classical musicians study excerpts, and the three B’s, in jazz you study the swing era up through the 60s. What is your take on that? Is there any way to fix that?

DB: I tend to think there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, if that’s what you want to know. If somebody says to me that they want to play like some middle of the road kind of player, that’s really cool But if you decide to say that you want to play like Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock… that decision to latch on to all of the aesthetic elements that go along with that…I think it’s the best guys in jazz, especially the ones who’ve got kind of an out side and an eclectic side…focusing in on those players will kind of elevate a lot of things about the way that you’re thinking. The question is, in a jazz kind of place, how are you thinking about the players?  Are they great in this unnamed kind of way? Are they completely reduced to their technical elements? Is a certain amount of dealing with the impulses of playing free music, is that discussed? If all of those things are discussed, then I think you’d kind of come out with a well-rounded version of whatever it is that you’re doing. But if you only focus in on a technical element, or the free part…I think that when you focus on that level of player, you see so many different kinds of streams of study in one person. Joe Henderson to me has like five or six different ways of playing. From Middle Eastern playing, to straight bebop, to superimposition, to real gut-bucket blues…if you really think about all of the things that go into some of these great players, studying the really great ones and not mincing words about what makes them great, or not aggrandizing them to the point where you’re not seeing how many things are involving. Some of those things that are involved are things that are discouraged. In the great players, they’re there anyway.

GC: That reminds me, a long time ago I remember you saying that you feel like the downtown cats need to play more traditional, and vise versa.

DB: Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve always thought that. When I look at the way I play downtown gigs…I play harmony that they were used to playing with. When I play with more traditional cats, I play more scronk than they’re used to.

DB: Well some of these older players really think of themselves as free players, some of the really straight-ahead guys. I mean…you know, like [Sonny] Rollins has such an “out there” streak, when you hit that East Broadway Run Down kind of period, Alfie, the stuff that he does with Cherry, you can really see it. And then you look back at the super straight-ahead stuff that’s got all of this harmonic information, but what’s really driving the engine of that is some real outness. There’s some real outness in the way that he approaches things. Whether he has enough technique to carry it out, there’s some impulse there that’s a little left of center to very left of center. I guess I’ve never been that interested in free music as an occupation. In my life, I’ve tried to show aspects of both all the time, usually where they don’t belong.

GC: You brought the Eb clarinet to the last gig with Jack [DeJohnette]. Are you going to bring it on the next tour, and do you want to say anything about that instrument? It seems like you were gravitating towards it, really getting into it.

DB: I don’t think I’ve played any Bb clarinet on that gig. The last time I played with Alan Tucson I didn’t play any Bb clarinet. I can’t even believe that I never played Eb clarinet because I feel so comfortable on it, yet I’m still learning technically and the intonation is just…you know, anybody’s who’s ever played that instrument knows there’s this struggle that you’re used to. You have a million fingerings for the same note, and in certain situations you use one and not the other…it’s a separate instrument. A lot of the way the great bass clarinet players, they don’t even play regular clarinet, or some of them don’t play good Bb clarinet. Bass clarinet is really a separate instrument, you can go to a school and major in it. I don’t know if you can go to a school and major in Eb clarinet but it certainly is an instrument with very limited repertoire, you can buy one book and pretty much see all the major stuff which is mostly orchestral. It’s not like there are millions of things but the things that are in there are really major and when you play through the excerpts for "The Firebird" and "The Rite of Spring", you can see that a lot of the sound of those ensembles emanates from the Eb clarinet. There’s so much important Eb clarinet – Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Berlioz – it’s just an amazing instrument. And it’s an instrument that is very melodic-related, the things that you play on it. You don’t play whole notes, you play melodies. And it’s just lovely! And it’s improved my clarinet technique because everything you do on it, you have much less room for error in terms of fingering and finger position, so it really makes you play very strictly.

GC: It seemed to fit in with Jack’s music very well.

DB: Well it’s a little more like a soprano, it has a little more of a hard edge to it than normal clarinet. Normal clarinet, even amongst good players, the middle register is kind of like the way a subwoofer inundates a room. It doesn’t come at you like a laser beam, it’s a little lazy. It can be a little…”over creamy”. And there’s something kind of hard-edged about the Eb clarinet that reminds you of soprano, but it has a flute-like quality too. It’s a cool instrument, it’s very difficult to play. Extremely difficult…I was just practicing "Daphnis and Chloe" , "Symphony Fantastique", "Bolero", "Shostakovich's 5th Symphony"… It’s not like clarinet, where there’s a million Sonatas and things written for it. It’s really just this stuff.

GC: Speaking of Stravinsky, how did you first fall in love with Stravinsky and how has he influenced you?

DB: Well when I was a kid, my junior high school band teacher played in the New York City Ballet, which was the Stravinsky ?. That’s where all of that happened. I heard some Stravinsky back then, but I didn’t really get into it until later. Somehow I just really understood bi-tonality, I just really understood on some level what he was doing harmonically. And it was my curiosity about the chords that he was writing that made me want to look at music more closely. That and Gustav Mahler’s music, the chords in there. I would just hear something and go “what is that?” Because in the kind of harmony that I was getting taught in the schools, we were just writing Roman numerals under the steps of the major scale. That sounded like a V chord, but it didn’t sound like the kind of V chord that I knew. So with Stravinsky’s music you didn’t even need someone to explain that it was bi-tonal, you could see it. You could look at a score and you could see it. But there was something really magical about his intelligence, the intelligence that came off in the way that he arranged his stuff, the way that he rhythmically varied things. So you’d have a group of 5, then a group of 3, then a group of 4, then a group of 7…just kind of mixing up seemingly random rhythmic groupings. There’s a lot of stuff like that in the Rite of Spring. So once I started getting into his amazing cleverness, and that somehow he’d make all of this stuff that was really weird but would sound right. Like what else would you want there except a whole bunch of measures that aren’t the same length? I just had never heard any music like that. And then what was really crazy was that at the same time I had discovered him, I really got into Eddie Palmieri and I could see the same elements in his music. For me, it was Stravinsky and Eddie Palmieri for a long time, that’s what I was really looking at. I love Eddie Palmieri. He really managed to do what Stravinsky did only in one music. He had kind of a skronky thing, a very traditional sense of harmony, he mixed and matched them and pitted them against each other. He had the kind of complexity that Stravinsky had in his music and yet people were dancing to it. What could be better? Not professional dancer, but normal people would sit down and they were dancing to some of the wildest music that I had ever heard. So I think the moment where the Stravinsky really sank in was around the time of "Sentido", and "Unfinished Masterpiece", and those kinds of records that were really kind of out there. Those two artists, one dead and one living, they really fueled my standards for what music was supposed to have in it. What kind of innovation or playing with the elements or rhythmic and harmonic trickiness. It was really around those two artists.

GC: What’s next on the list for you in terms of projects? I know you have the Gospel project. Is there anything coming down the pipe?

DB: I’m doing some research in Banda music. Banda is vocal music, but it features large Mexican instrumental groups. A banda group like the ones that travel, they might have a section of four or five clarinets. I saw this group called Cuisillos that had four clarinets and they could all play! There’s a bunch of these groups. I just started doing research on them and I think the Cuisillos guy, the founder, is a clarinet player. I’m always interested in what’s happening on the instrument outside of the two big musics. What’s happening on Banda is really exciting as a wind player because the groups play with this kind of wide vibrato that sounds very idiomatic, like if you hear a Mariachi band. There’s that big wide vibrato on all of the instruments, all the wind players play with it. When I first started listening to salsa groups, at first I kind of liked it, and then I could hear the sophistication in the writing. Guys like Luis Perico Oritz, or Luis Cruz… you can see the potential for that kind of growth in Banda. They’ve got a lot of troops that can really play their instruments. And with or without that vibrato, you could do a bunch of crazy stuff and every once in a while you hear these groups and they’re playing really instrument lines behind singers. So there’s a parallel to the salsa stuff even though rhythmically it’s very different music. But you get a sense that that music could really explode really soon. There’s really a potential for growth because the average person is hearing these high-level instrumental groups as pop music. When I first started really studying Latin music, I couldn’t believe that normal people could sit around and hear some stuff as out as what Eddie Palmieri was doing in a dance music contest. I couldn’t believe that people were enjoying it. If you did those things in other music, people would cringe and leave. But once you really got into the music and you could really see (..) is putting Woody Shaw to use in this different way. These guys really could take this information and apply it. I could really see that happening in Banda. I’m trying to put together some kind of Banda collaboration with an established group.

GC: If you had unlimited budget, what would be a dream project?

DB: I’d probably do some stuff with some famous singers. Have different groups behind different singers. I made a record years ago called “Fine Line” and the way that it started was that I was trying to get some famous voices to be on that record. Not because they were famous but because I wanted to work with familiar voices and also singers that meant something to me. At that time we asked Phoebe Snow to be on that record. I really wanted that. I was really happy that I got Cassandra [Wilson] to sing Stephen Sondheim. But I really want to experiment with different singers because some of the stuff that I’ve been talking about about studying ornamentation and phrasing and things like that…as an instrumentalist, I always feel like we need to get closer to what the singers are doing, and vice versa. And there’s probably some singers that I would like to work with just for a tune or maybe for a whole record, I don’t know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Open Letter to Brent Black Two(Electric Boogaloo)

 Dear Mr. Black-

Wow, I was alerted to how out of hand this has gotten by Billy Childs, after I interviewed him this morning(will be forthcoming on jazztruth). Anyway, I'm hoping that this will fizzle out and we can get back to the music. Hey, Brent, BTW, just to set the record straight, I've recorded I think 22 CDs as a leader. 2 of them are solo piano. I wasn't sure what you meant by "solo". Anyway, I'm pretty sure it's around 22. The first one was in 1995 for Steeplechase: I've done maybe about 10 for that label, I did 2 for Criss Cross, three for Fresh Sound New Talent, One for Sirocco, and a handful of self and sort of self released CDs. I have 2 in the can for Steeplechase, and a bunch more things in the works. I have the urge to offer to send you some of my music; not to review, just for your own listening pleasure, or maybe to help you more clearly decide whether I'm second rate or not (ha ha?). However, I think I'll pass at this particular juncture.Many of them are on itunes. If you type in my name, they should come up. For some weird reason(ha ha?) I think you probably wouldn't like it! But hey, most people don't like jazz, so the idea of somebody not liking my music is not really a new idea.

But you know, you aren't the first "critic" to suggest that I should not attempt being a bandleader, that I was really more of a sideman. I was even told by a promoter once, after I played three shows at a festival-one with Benny Golson, one with Al Foster, and one as a leader-that I "was one of the best sidemen out there, but it's just not the same when you are a band leader". Something to that effect. He had bought me a drink, so I was civil. I actually wanted to throw the drink in his face!
I've been struggling to be a bandleader for years, facing numerous disappointments and frustrations. I've submitted material to promoters and booking agents and club owners over and over only to be ignored. ( I realize I'm not the only. I'm always amazed to talk to name cats and have them tell me how hard it is out here to get gigs.)

Be that as it may, there is something -call it ignorance, being stubborn, or just a desire to express myself and have my music be heard-that has kept me going. I realize that it's too late for me to be an overnight superstar. But if I can get one gig at the Earshot Jazz Festival every 5 years, hey, that's something to celebrate! I'm in it for the long haul. I think most of us are.

In this way, I want to be an inspiration to my students. Most of my students may never get the opportunities I have, but if they are really serious about music, I want them to observe what their life might be like when they are my age(42). Maybe they will be teaching, and playing when they can. Maybe they will become name players, or get to do a lot of sideman work. Few get rich in music, and lots of folks can't even make a living. But if you can have some kind of life in music, and get satisfaction from making your own music or getting to collaborate with others, that might be more valuable than driving a Lamborghini or belong to the country club.
I'll never be rich in terms of money, but I have the joy and satisfaction of a life in music, in the past and present. Plus, I have a really wonderful family-a loving, talented wife and a son who is an endless source of delight. And I am extremely lucky to have a teaching job and in Portland, Oregon, no less.

Brent, I really hope you can find some peace in your life. Hate is really toxic. I have myself held grudges for years. Letting go of them is something amazing. Here's a quote from , who was that guy.....he was President after Buchanan....oh yeah, Abe Lincoln:

"Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"
Offer still stands-if you are ever in Portland, coffee is on me. Maybe even a bagel.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Open Letter To Brent Black

Dear Brent Black:
First of all, hello. How are you? I hope you are well.

Secondly, thanks for reading my blog. I struggle to keep up with posting new articles; I'm a full time professor and father of a two and a half year old, so with all of that going on, and playing the occasional gigs, it's hard to find the time to sit down and write.(At this very moment, my son is watching "Wibbly Pig" on TV right now, so that's a little distracting at the moment. But I shall press on.....)

I have also read some of your writing. As you know, I was critical of your review of Nicholas Payton's "Bitches" back in December of 2011. I believe you have the right to your opinion; however, I felt you were a little bit harsh regarding Payton's singing.(It seemed more like a personal attack than an objective review, which is why I felt the need to defend Payton.) However, at that time, I read many of your other reviews, and I admired your good taste and solid writing. I think, even if we disagree over some things, I think we could find common ground on quite a lot of music.

Your recent post, entitled "Amanda Palmer:Who Cares?"(September 18th, 2012), refers to what I said on my latest blog post ("Amanda Palmer:Musician, Nude Model, Scientologist, D#&*hebag"). The main point of my article was that Palmer, after getting 1.2 million dollars from a Kickstarter campaign, published a call to have local musicians join her on stage in every city of her world tour for a couple of songs. However, instead of offering to pay the musicians in actual money, she offered the following:

we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make.

Palmer went on to insist that the musicians should actually know "HOW TO PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT!" before showing up to not only an unpaid performance, but an unpaid rehearsal as well. As a professional musician, I felt that this was wrong. And I'm glad to see from your update that Palmer is now planning to pay her musicians. As I said, it's a tax write off; and with all that dough from the Kickstarter, she will need to see a good accountant.

But what I am having trouble trying to figure out is the correlation between my negative description of Palmer's music and the fact that I have hired a publicist on two occasions. In your words:

The irony here being that George Colligan admitted on the same blog that he once paid a publicist 3k in hopes of getting a good review. Take a long hard look in the mirror George, before you trash an artist that you are seemingly not familiar with or fork over another 3 large remember this...

When you point 1 finger you have three coming back at you...A second rate pianist at best should know when he is over stepping his reach. You did not hesitate to attempt to try and trash me and my reputation over my review of Nicholas Payton's Bitches and now you are doing the exact same thing...

Pot meet kettle...Kettle meet pot...

First of all, I checked out enough of Palmer's music to have an informed opinion. I admit, I was probably harsher than I should have been. However, if you check out some of her videos, you might get the impression that she is more of a performance artist than a songwriter. And the fact that she wasn't paying musicians really bothered me. But I will say that she is, considering the genre, not the worst singer I've heard. At best, I'll just say I'm not a fan of her music. Maybe she's really serious about music. Judging from her nude and semi nude videos, it seems like she's more concerned with her image. Unfortunately, as I alluded to in the blog, I think that musicians almost have to be visually shocking these days to become famous. You can't merely come out on stage and play; there has to be something OUTRAGEOUS. This is why most jazz doesn't get much attention. There's no sideshow; it's merely music.

Now, to be clear, I have no interest in shifting my own focus to nude videos and a shocking image in order to gain more notoriety as a jazz musician. However, I feel the need to explain to you the way publicity works. You make it sound like I am the first and only jazz musician who ever paid a publicist. I must inform you that this is the norm; most jazz musicians who want to publicize their CD have to hire a publicist in order to get reviews in major publications. This is absolutely a fact. And unfortunately, publicists don't work for free. Whether it be hiring a publicist, or buying ads, or whatever, the more you spend, the better your chances in getting reviews and articles. There's just no way to break through the massive amounts of CDs being released without some kind of marketing. One might have created the greatest music that has ever been heard; without some kind of campaign, it won't see the light of day. A CD without some kind of publicity is like a presidential candidate without any advertising and campaign appearances. They raise millions of dollars for the sole purpose of publicity. This seems to be how our society works now, much to my dismay.

I guess you thought I was trashing Palmer, but you think I shouldn't have because I also want good reviews for myself? I don't really see the correlation. I guess you thinking is that, since I'm the only musician that ever paid a publicist, that I must be desperate for positive reviews. Sure, I'd like some positive reviews-who doesn't? And maybe the fact that I'm a musician also makes it unfair that I should judge Palmer so harshly. That might be true.

Perhaps, in fairness, I should let Palmer blog about my music. I can see her review now:

 "....Colligan sounds like he knows how to play the piano, but I imagine that he would look terrible if he appeared naked in his videos."

(I have my doubts that she knows anything about jazz.)

Also, I really never intended to "trash your reputation". I took issue with your comments on Payton; I have nothing personally against you as a human being or a writer. Unfortunately, the entire "Bitches" incident really got out of hand; I think that things got a little too heated in the comment section of my blog. Sometimes, when people feel strongly about certain things, they tend to get defensive and stand their ground. (Some of the issue is that the internet is not the same as talking to someone; I wonder if you and I, and Nick Payton and Dwayne Burno were all in one room, would it really be as contentious as it was in cyberspace?) If you think I trashed your reputation, then I am sorry.

Finally, in regards to your labeling of me as a "second-rate pianist": part of me wonders if you have ever heard any of my music. If you have, and you still feel like I'm second rate, then I'll accept that. I've recorded a bunch of CDs as a leader and a sideman, and there are many clips of my music on youtube, so it wouldn't be impossible to find an example of my piano playing or composing. I don't think of myself as second-rate. Maybe I'm more second-tier, or third tier. Honestly, when I hear all the great pianists out there, living or dead, I think of myself as not even close to fourth-rate. Any jazz pianist who has sat at Bradley's and heard two or three sets of Geoffrey Keezer, or Mulgrew Miller, or Kenny Barron, or James Williams, or Dave Kikosi, or Harold Mabern, or Benny Green,  would probably just want to cry rather than rate themselves among the first tier of pianists! And you might not want to hear this, but I believe Nicholas Payton is actually a better pianist than I. (I subbed in his band about 10 years ago, and during one of the sound checks, he played so much piano that I wanted to quit. It's true. I know you don't like his singing, but he can play instruments!)

After all, those who can't, teach. And those who really can't get tenure track jobs at universities! Ha! So in a way, you are right. If I was first rate, maybe I would have more gigs!

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I don't hate you, and I actually would hope that if you were ever in Portland, Oregon, you would look me up, and maybe we could have a civilized conversation. I think we probably could find a lot in common.

I wish you all the best with your blog and your future endeavors.


George Colligan

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amanda Palmer: Musician, Nude Model, Scientologist, D#*$hebag

Amanda "No Respect For Musicians" Palmer
I realize that there is a lot going on: the Middle East is in flames, our Presidential election is coming down to the wire, the economy is sputtering, magazines are publishing nude photos of British royalty....let's talk about something important.

I was recently made aware of the Amanda Palmer phenomenon. For those of you who haven't been paying attention to important cultural matters, Amanda Palmer is someone who I suppose, much like Lady Gaga, started as a musician and ended up as an attention whore. A brief bio of Palmer: born in 1976 in New York, she grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. She was part of a duo called the Dresden Dolls, and according to Wikipedia, she is sometimes known as "Amanda Fucking Palmer". I guess her parents had a sense of humor. Here's a sample Dresden Dolls song:
Palmer decided to strike out on her own with "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" in 2008. I checked out some of it on much as I could stand. (While I was listening to the sample below, my 2 and 1/2 year old son Liam ran into the room and said,"Daddy, STOP THAT! That was very scary...." Out of the mouths of babes.....)
For reasons I will explain in a moment, I would consider giving Palmer's music a chance, in order to figure out why I loathe it so much. I admit, I am a recovering jazz snob, but I like and have always liked a lot of different kinds of music. What I've heard so far, combined with these silly videos, seems like novelty music which takes itself too seriously. It's like Cyndi Lauper on crack...except that Cyndi Lauper is actually a decent songwriter.

I wish that I could say my only issue with Palmer is that her "music" seems like it's nothing more than sensationalism with a beat( and not a particularly great beat at that.). She released an album last year called "Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under" (Wow, hilarious double meaning, as in not merely how we refer to Australia as "down under", but also as in oral sex! Comic genius! How did she think of that? What, are we in 10th grade?) Again, maybe I'm just out of touch with what passes for "music" today, but I think what's sad about Palmer's music is that it's "edgy" without any sense of class or being clever. Lenny Bruce went to jail for obscenity: the difference is he was a great comedian, widely regarded as one of the greats in the medium. He made it possible for those who followed him to use "honest" language in the name of their art. Palmer seems as though she's only attempting to shock us without any artistic merit. This is kind of like the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity. (Warning: this video doesn't actually show genitalia, but a sort of "representation" of genitalia. It's pretty juvenile. You could just skip it....)
Now, I am fully aware that Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, King Oliver, and go down the list of jazz, R&B, rock, Hip Hop, and country artists, and the like, who have make sexual innuendos in their songs(some more explicit than others, and as a concept, I'm not against it). This is nothing new. It's just that it seems to have become less about the music and more about the "controversy" as time goes on. It's not enough to be sexually suggestive; these days one must be sexually blatant, basically appearing nude (which Palmer does in another video) or having multiple gratuitous crotch shots. Elvis was controversial for his pelvic gyrations. These days, Elvis would  have to expose himself in order to get any "exposure" at all!

Palmer got more of the attention she so clearly craves from her Kickstarter campaign. Palmer had set out to raise 100,000 dollars from the popular crowd funding site. Apparently, her fans went completely overboard and gave her 1.2 MILLION dollars. No musician has raised more. As much as I don't love her music, I think that the idea of Kickstarter is great for indie musicians. I myself have donated to Kickstarter projects, and I'll probably do one myself at some point next year. However, there is some whisperings about whether Palmer was truly "crowd funded" or perhaps "Scientology-funded" (Palmer is married to Neil Gaiman, who is the son of David Gaiman, who was HEAD of the U.K. branch of Scientology.)I don't have any proof other than comments I've seen on the internet. But the idea that all of that money came from Scientology wouldn't surprise me.

But this still isn't my problem with Palmer. I would be willing to forgive her mediocrity, her obscenity, her Scientology, if she would pay her musicians. That's right, after getting 1.2 MILLION dollars from fans, she had the nerve to issue an open call for musicians to join her on tour FOR NO PAY. Or as she puts it:

we said we'd do it, and we're DOING IT! the GRAND THIEVING IS UNDERWAY.
we're looking for professional-ish horns and strings for EVERY CITY to hop up on stage with us for a couple of tunes.

the deal:
you'd need to show up for a quickie rehearsal (the parts are pretty simple) in the afternoon, then come back around for the show!
we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make.
CHAD is going to be in charge of sorting the horns, JHEREK is going to be in charge of gathering the strings, and they'll also be CONDUCTING you on stage.
you need to know how to ACTUALLY, REALLY PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT! lessons in fifth grade do not count, so please include in your email some proof of that (a link to you playing on a real stage would be great, or a resume will do. just don't LIE…you'll be embarrassed if you show up for rehearsal and everyone's looking at you wondering why you can't actually play the trombone.)
we've had a blast putting people together this past summer….COME JOIN THE FUCKING ORCHESTRA.
it's almost as good as the circus.
After getting 1.2 MILLION dollars, Palmer didn't want to pay 35,000 dollars for trained musicians. There is really no excuse for this( Isn't that a tax write-off? Who the hell is her accountant?). Obviously, the internet lit up with comments from angry musicians. Here's how Palmer justified her position to the New York Times:

"If you could see the enthusiasm of these people, the argument would become invalid. They're all incredibly happy to be here … If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where's the problem?"  

I think if you looked at Palmer's music and tried to get a sense of her politics, you would think that she would be fiercely liberal: artistic, bisexual, a really rebellious radical chick. Unfortunately, her decision to con musicians into playing on her concerts for free smacks of the most greedy supply-side conservatism; make profit by getting others to work for you for as little as possible. (I wonder if Palmer actually has an MBA.) Palmer's own justification is akin to how slave owners in the 19th century south tried to excuse slavery. "These slaves are happy! Look at how they sing and dance!" Everybody's happy? Here is a quote from a historical archive from a former slave named John Palmer:

They say slaves are happy, because they laugh, and are merry. I myself and three or four others, have received two hundred lashes in the day, and had our feet in fetters; yet, at night, we would sing and dance, and make others laugh at the rattling of our chains. Happy men we must have been! We did it to keep down trouble, and to keep our hearts from being completely broken: that is as true as the gospel! Just look at it,-must not we have been very happy? Yet I have done it myself-I have cut capers in chains. 

Now, I realize that being a freelance musician and being a slave are obviously very different. However, Palmer is essentially asking musicians to be her slaves. for a night. It's adds insult to injury that not only does she want people to come and play for free, but that she insists that "you need to know how to ACTUALLY, REALLY PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT!". Yes, no pay, AND you better be able to do what we say, or risk humiliation. And the idea that TRAINED musicians would actually be happy to play for free is amazing. I'm willing to bet that even some musicians, who were angered by the idea of showing up for a rehearsal and working for nothing, probably thought that it might be a good career move or something that they could put on their resume. Maybe they hadn't had a gig in a long time and just wanted to play. Indeed, I admit that I do gigs for much less compensation than I should only because I love to play. (This is the plight of the musician. We work on a sliding scale. I've made thousands for one gig. I've also played gigs for a plate of food. Our scale is sliding......right into the abyss! Musicians, unless every gig you do is a union gig, will play for less than is proper just for the fun of it. How many times have you gotten this call: "Hey, I have a gig Friday night. It's not much bread, but it will be fun. Plus we get a half price dinner." Try that next time you need heart surgery: " Hey Doc, I need heart surgery. I can't pay you much, but it will be FUN! Plus, I'll pay for half of your dinner.")We aren't slaves, but sometimes it feels like musicians have little choice. And so we play and like John Palmer,  act as though we are happy.

Lord, I hope not......
Based on her music, I had a hard time calling Amanda Palmer a musician. Based on her treatment of other musicians, I really could not in good conscience accept her into the brotherhood. I think Palmer and others need to be called out as charlatans, slum lords, and slave drivers. Here is a link to a petition which I have signed. I urge you to sign it too. If Amanda Palmer has any shred of decency, she should pay her musicians. Indeed, her music has very little decency, so I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cutting Contest: Romney and the Arts

"I don't know Art, but I know what I hate....and that's the NEA."
I think I would be correct if I said that over the past two years I have somehow kept my political leanings out of this blog. There may have been a few asides, but mostly I've tried to deal with things related to music. My Facebook page? Well, that's a completely different story, and a completely different venue. It's not every day, but every once in a while, I get so riled up that I have to post something on Facebook regarding John Bohner's latest fake tear-fest, or Michelle Bachmann's latest phony outrage, or something else that we are just now discovering about the dreaded Bush presidency.

You might have guessed, if you didn't know already, that I'm a liberal. Well, I'm a human being, but I tend to favor liberal policies, politicians, and ideas. As someone who favors these ideas in America, I refuse to be demonized by the right wing as someone who is un-American. If I was un-American, I wouldn't be so sad that the country is slowly going down the drain! Furthermore, I really identify culturally as an American. I love Europe and Japan, and even parts of Canada. But even while I lived in Winnipeg on and off for two years, I still felt out of place at times. 

I'm liberal, and sometimes I'm embarrassed to be American; but that's because of our politics, and when a select few numb nuts get a lot of attention for doing something stupid- NOT because of our overall culture. After all, without America, you wouldn't have JAZZ! (You're welcome.)

I think America COULD be the greatest nation on Earth. But it isn't just because some dumb reactionaries SHOUT it out loud! "U.S.A.! We're number 1!" Yeah, you say we're number one--- because you didn't learn any numbers HIGHER than one, because the education budget was slashed, because we sent troops and billions of dollars to Iraq for no reason, etc......Anyway, I could go on like that for days. My point is we should try to fix the problems so that we can be the greatest nation on Earth again. (Also, so I don't have to move again!)

I believe Obama and his administration are trying to do that. Unfortunately, in some ways, our system might be broken beyond repair. Also unfortunately, Romney wants to do the same things that got us here in the first place. Anybody remember the 8 years of W? Lower taxes for the wealthy and deregulation and subsidies for corporations were his specialty...

I realize you might not agree at all.  Ideologically, our nation is extremely polarized. It seems as though we are divided right down the middle. Current polls for the upcoming presidential election are a statistical dead heat, even though Obama is a few points ahead since a few days ago. So, for as many people that think like I do, there seems to be an equal number who would vote for Mitt Romney, a guy who was born with an oversize silver spoon in his mouth. Considering the problems we are facing in this country, and considering what caused many of them, Romney seems like the worst candidate you could have on the ticket; not only is he super rich, and a friend of Wall Street, but he's not a terribly charismatic guy. At least the right got the impression (whether it's true or not) that George W. Bush was a guy "you could have a beer with." Romney, as a Mormon, doesn't drink alcohol, but I don't get the feeling that even sitting and having a glass of water with Romney would be fun. He seems like a cold fish. And he shifts his positions on policy constantly; almost as if he really wants to be liked at any cost.

Believe me, if it really made sense that Romney and all of his "experience in the private sector" could turn the country around, I would want to know what he is proposing. But something NEW. Cutting taxes on the wealthy, deregulating Wall Street, and cutting social programs are not the things I want to hear about. (Romney's so-called private sector experience was as head of Bain Capital, a company which made millions with leveraged buyouts; sure, they helped some companies, but a lot of companies went out of business while Bain made enormous profits. Do we really want someone who made his money like THAT as President?)

Speaking of cuts, Romney wants to cut all federal arts funding in America. Well, he said he would cut PBS, NPR, and the NEA. They would essentially be eliminated. If you are a musician, or anyone who likes art and culture, you should be outraged. Romney said this in a recent interview in Fortune Magazine:

"Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own."

This completely misses the point of funding for the Arts. If you think that only worthy arts are the arts which can "stand on their own", meaning survive in the modern marketplace based on sales or voluntary philanthropy, then you must not think jazz or classical music is worth having around in the next century. If we only judge our culture based on commerce, then the music of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry is the best music in America. I'm not saying that those, ahem, "artists" don't have the right to exist. I'm saying that if we really based all of our music on commerce, then we would have no real art. Artistic expression is by nature not commercial: it's using the skill of a medium to express some kind of feeling or idea in different levels of abstraction. Sure, artists would love to make money, but look at how many of us do it for NO money! There's a lot of art that is really great, but it's not loved by millions of screaming moronic teenagers. Does that mean it should drop off the face of the Earth? According to Romney, yes.

I think that a certain level of commercialism is ok, and even essential for art to survive. But at what level? For example, can you imagine watching a television program that was ALL commercials? Even with the rise of reality TV and some of the crap that has always been on TV, there is still some great comedy, writing, and acting which exists. Advertising helps TV and the movies survive. But where do you draw the line? Would you want to hear this?"Honey, make sure you TIVO that half hour Doritos commercial....". Or this, "Hey, baby, I'd love to take you to that new Coca-Cola movie at the Cineplex." (And yes, when you consider how commercial movies and TV have become, I think we are getting close to that already.)

And consider this: if the playing field was really level, then perhaps things like PBS and jazz music could "stand on their own", as Romney believes. However, the fact remains that art only does but so well in a vacuum. People have to come and pay to see or hear it; otherwise, the artist or musician has to get a day job. The so-called "art" and "music" that becomes successful has to have some kind of backing eventually to be successful. When you have major companies with millions of dollars to begin with pushing crap on the American public, then that's unfair competition. If PBS and jazz musicians had the same kind of promotion as NBC and pop music, they would be able to compete. But they are starting with less. So they get less. 

I think that this is in some ways analogous to Romney and the ruling class way of "thinking" about everything. "People shouldn't need handouts, etc...Stand on your own two feet, etc....I worked hard, don't hate successful people, etc....". Romney is FAR from self made: his father was Governor of Michigan, for crying out loud! Life was not a level playing field for Mitt Romney. It's as if someone like him were to tell a poor kid from the projects; "You've got to stand on your own." (Sure, people can work their way up the ladder, but these days, it's more the rare talent and opportunities combined with luck than simply working hard.) In the marathon of life, Mitt Romney started at the 26 mile mark, ran the .2 miles to the finish, and declared himself the winner!

(By the way, if you have extra free time, you should read the wikipedia entry on Mitt's father George Romney. He was Governor of Michigan, and was actually in favor of Civil Rights in the 60's. He was born in Mexico, and campaigned for President; however, he dropped out before his birthplace became an issue(OHHHH THE IRONY). He actually did spend his early years in poverty, and when he became rich, he gave 4 percent of his money every year to charity. He also released 12 years of his tax returns during a campaign (OHHHH THE IRONY).)

Also, consider the fact that cutting federal arts funding(as well as the funding for Amtrak) does not save that much money, when you consider the entire federal budget. According to the Washington Post:

Here’s how it breaks down: In fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $1.42 billion on Amtrak, $444 million on PBS, and $146 million on the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Getting rid of all these subsidies would have saved the government about $2 billion this year — chump change relative to the scale of cuts that Romney wants.

 I think that Romney, like most conservative politicians, likes to give lip service to things that sound good to their potential voters. Cutting the arts, while not actually making a dent in the budget, sounds like wasteful spending to red state conservatives, especially the ones who love Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, and can't possibly understand why their tax dollars should go to some East Coast Liberal choreographer who wants to put on a ballet inspired by the The Bay of Pigs incident.  

In all seriousness, it was the tour of a publicly funded Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit which sparked a debate on whether our tax money should go towards "filth", which is how Mapplethorpe's art was seen by some. From Wikipedia:

Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio series sparked national attention in the early 1990s when it was included in The Perfect Moment, a traveling exhibition funded by National Endowment for the Arts. The portfolio includes some of Mapplethorpe's most explicit imagery, including a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus. Though his work had been regularly displayed in publicly funded exhibitions, conservative and religious organizations, such as the American Family Association, seized on this exhibition to vocally oppose government support for what they called "nothing more than the sensational presentation of potentially obscene material."As a result, Mapplethorpe became something of a cause célèbre for both sides of the American Culture War. The installation of The Perfect Moment in Cincinnatti resulted in the unsuccessful prosecution of the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati and its director, Dennis Barrie, on charges of "pandering obscenity".

 (In a way, Mapplethorpe sort of ruined everything for those of us who make a bold statement with Major Seven Sharp Eleven Chords, rather than Bullwhips Inserted Into Our....well, you get the idea.)

So, since all of that, the NEA has been a target of conservatives.

Furthermore, I happened upon an article written by William Osborne called "Marketplace of Ideas: But First, The Bill." Osborne puts it in incredible perspective:

Germany’s public arts funding, for example, allows the country to have 23 times more full-time symphony orchestras per capita than the United States, and approximately 28 times more full-time opera houses.  In Europe, publicly funded cultural institutions are used to educate young people and this helps to maintain a high level of interest in the arts. In America, arts education faces constant cutbacks, which helps reduce interest.....

If America averaged the same ratios per capita as Germany, it would have 485 full-time, year-round orchestras instead of about 20. If New York City had the same number of orchestras per capita as Munich it would have about 45. If New York City had the same number of full-time operas as Berlin per capita it would have six. Areas such as Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx would be nationally and internationally important cultural centers. The reality is somewhat different.

I've spent a lot of time over in Denmark. The Danish pay from 40 percent to 70 percent of their income in tax. They don't mind, at least my Danish friends don't: medical care is free, all school is free, mothers get 2 YEARS paid maternity leave(fathers I think get a YEAR). Plus, they seem to be able to get funding for jazz concerts as easily as we buy lattes from Starbucks. Yes, it's easier for Danish people to put on jazz concerts than it is for Americans to put on concerts here. They get paid for playing jazz, we play for tips. Or we "pay to play."

Conservatives love to call Obama a "socialist". Well, I've been to all the so-called "socialist" countries. Why? Because that's where the jazz gigs are happening. I've barely toured the U.S. in 20 years of being a touring jazz musician. I've been everywhere else. Maybe it's because there is money for culture in all of these "socialist" countries. I think Obama recognizes the importance of music and art and education in our society. Does Mitt Romney? If there is no profit margin, then I doubt it.