Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It's The End OF The Term As We Know It.......

I can feel it in the air; yes, the end of the spring term. I'm seriously ready for a break. this term, I've been teaching two lecture classes, many large and small ensembles, and trying to administrate and do a bunch of things involving the school, in addition to moving to a new neighborhood and trying to spend time with my family when I can. I'm getting adjusted to commuting by bicycle, which is actually exhilarating. I recently mowed my lawn; I don't recall ever mowing a lawn before! Plus, the weather is getting nicer; Portland summers are really something to behold. It's quite pleasant; you don't have the sweaty sticky humidity of the East Coast. I'm now in Southeast Portland, in the Hawthorne-Mt. Tabor area, which is nothing but bungalows and tree lined streets.

In addition to all of these things, I've been attending junior and senior recitals. I've also been playing on some. I played on a double recital this past Sunday that was really a blast. I was still warm from a two night stint at Jimmy Mak's with the great tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence. If you aren't familiar with Lawrence, he played with piano legend McCoy Tyner for about 5 years. We were presenting a tribute to the late great saxophonist and musical innovator John Coltrane. The two nights also featured tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips, bassist Eric Gruber, and drummer Alan Jones. Both nights were packed; the gig was well promoted by Don Lucoff and PDX Jazz. I was thrilled because
Azar Lawrence
Lawrence, especially the second night, really stretched out in a way in which I don't get to do often in Portland. It reminded me of some nights in the 90's playing with Gary Bartz; it's a type of intensity which is of course inspired by Coltrane. In order to really play long solos convincingly, you need endurance, limitless ideas, imagination, energy, and the trust and support of your rhythm section. All of these elements were present on the stage at Jimmy Mak's, and it was quite satisfying for me. I felt that, especially on the second night, drummer Jones and I really hooked up in terms of the flow of the music.

In some ways, I think of the recital on Sunday as a continuation of the Coltrane tribute gig. This has a lot to do with the students who were performing; drummer Brandon Braun and saxophonist Nicole Glover have been studying privately with me this whole year. They are not only talented musicians, but they also work hard and ask a lot of questions. What's most interesting about these two students is the types of music they listen to just for fun.

These days, jazz music is certainly not a part of everyday American life. There are many distractions: facebook, youtube, twitter, smartphones, Angry Birds, whatever. Even when one considers all the jazz that there is on youtube which is extremely accessible; for some reason, the fact that you can dial up so many FULL albums for free(as opposed to walking to the library and signing out a handful of RECORDS and listening to them over and over) makes us take the music for granted. I'm finding that many students just don't do enough listening to jazz on their own to absorb the language. If you don't listen to jazz, you will have a hard time improving and playing the music with any authenticity at all.

This is why my students Braun and Glover are so interesting; the things they check out are extremely hip, and it's not because of me. They figured out that they like these things on their own. Braun came up to me the other day and said, "Man, I've been checking out Max Roach's drum solos. He takes
Nicole Glover
some of the best solos ever." Braun is into Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, and Victor Lewis. Not too many kids his age are even aware of jazz, let alone any trumpeters besides Wynton Marsalis. Nicole Glover is constantly checking out music; she's actually turned me on to some recordings which I wasn't that aware of. She's into Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, but she's also checking out Ornette Coleman, Billy Harper,  Michael Brecker and Gary Thomas. It's students like these which give me hope for the future.

Both recitals were supposed to be junior recitals, but they felt like regular concerts to me. Braun's selection of "Jean Marie" by Ronnie Matthews, "Inner Glimpse" by McCoy Tyner, "Naima" by Coltrane and "Stepping Stones" by Woody Shaw was a very challenging set of tunes. Glover also choose challenging yet meaningful music; her set, which went easily over an hour, consisted of Don Cherry's "Guinea", followed by Ornette Coleman's "Garden of Souls" followed by Mulgrew Miller's "Farewell To Dogma" (Glover attended William Patterson and studied with the recently deceased Mr. Miller). A rousing rendition of Billy Harper's "Capra Black" preceded the closing ballad, Wayne Shorter's "Contemplation." I believe the highlight of the set was "Garden of Souls," which was a gateway to free improvisation featuring inspired drumming by Alan Jones and a passionate solo bass cadenza by Jon Lakey, another fine PSU jazz student.

I believe that Portland needs to have more bands with a mix of age groups. In this way, the older cats can teach the young cats, while the young cats can also keep the old cats on their toes. For me, playing jazz and teaching jazz and learning jazz are all the same, and it really doesn't matter how old or young the musicians are. We can all learn from each other and we can all communicate through the music. This it was keeps jazz vibrant and ALIVE!

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