Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Kevin Hays Interview

If you aren't familiar with pianist Kevin Hays, you should be. He's recorded and toured with many of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. And those who call him can't seem to get enough of him. His recent projects as a leader on Artistshare have been stunningly beautiful. I've been a fan ever since I came to New York. I heard him with Eddie Henderson's band many times, and I heard him with many other projects, including his own. I caught a bit of his trio set at the 55 Bar in New York in August and asked him if he would do an interview for jazztruth. He said yes and we agreed to meet in Central Park on a lazy summer afternoon. Hays was very insightful about music, in a philosophical way, but also in a very practical way. I found the interview to be most illuminating.(Note: It took a long time to find the time to transcribe this. I had to hide in various rooms of my apartment to focus on it. Sorry, family!)

GC: We are here with Kevin Hays...jazz pianist extraordinaire, composer, vocalist? We might discuss that at some point....

KH: We might dispute that at some point! (Laughter)

GC: I just want to say right off that I'm new at this, so it's pretty loose. I don't edit much and I like to let people talk as much as they want. I think that's what the real fans want, they want the real information from the musicians, not just , "Musician X has a new CD out, blah blah blah...."

KH: PR time!

GC: So be as candid as you want. If you wanna dish, dish! OK.....
 What are your earliest memories of your musical life? As far back as you can remember... what made you want to become a jazz musician?

KH: Well, my earliest memories are of my father playing the piano. He was an amateur pianist. He would plunk through some standards now and then. So I would hear him on the piano we had in the house. I remember watching him. Sometimes he had some broken "stride" piano stuff happening, which I liked. That's probably my earliest memory...the first music I heard. there was also records played in the house ... My parents had some George Shearing records, and they had a Jimmy Smith record, called Organ Grinder Swing...

GC: We were JUST talking about that record with Jimmy Greene!

KH: Yeah, it's so great, I remember "Satin Doll"! Wow! And he had some Oscar Peterson.......So those were the early jazz guys I was into. Now, I didn't immediately get really into jazz. I was into rock, and whatever was on the radio, some Barry Manilow! I was born in 1968, and I guess by the time I was 10, I was into various kinds of music. I'm the youngest of  four siblings. My older brother was into some fusion, some YES, some Jeff Beck.... some prog rock. I started taking piano lessons, some classical lessons, at a local conservatory in Westchester, although I grew up in Connecticut. So I got into it pretty young. And in my early teens I started really getting into jazz.
And then there was a local jazz pianist named Lou Stein who used to play around....he was on some of the Bird With Strings recordings. So he would play at a local restaurant, and my father wanted to take lessons with him, and then finally I started to take lessons with him. So Lou Stein was my first real jazz piano teacher.
And then I went to Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan for a few summers, and I took a "crash course" in jazz piano there, you know, voicings and basic stuff...and this was when I was really off to the races. I really got the bug then. I felt like I really understanding the sounds I was hearing on recordings, you know, left hand voicings like 7/ 3/ 13, and it all started to make sense.

GC: How old were you at the time?

KH: I was around 14 years old. I was playing "Color My World" before that!.. so this was a huge eye-opener for me.
I think one of the things that got me was the rhythm of jazz, the swing rhythm. I played drums a bit in junior high.. and also my brother had a garage band which had a huge drum set, and I used to play on it sometimes.

GC: So you moved to New York when you were around 18?

KH: Well, I grew up about an hour from the city, so I had a lot of exposure to New York in high school. I actually started doing gigs in the city while I was still in high school. Bassist Sean Smith and I are good friends from high school, and we used to come into the city together. We were actually in some rock bands together. And then I heard he was playing upright bass, and getting into jazz.....and we started playing together a bit. He's a couple years older, and there was a crew of guys that he was connected to who were going to LaGuardia School of the Performing Arts. Guys like alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, and pianist Bill Charlap, and some others.....I started hanging out with them, I became really good friends with Charlap, and I sort of followed in his footsteps by studying with some of the same teachers he had, like Jack Reilly, and classical piano teacher Eleanor Hancock. So that was my into to New York. In fact, Charlap was playing a steady gig at Knickerbocker, and he was leaving the gig, so he got me on the gig. So I got to play at Knickerbocker while I was still in high school , which was really exciting. It was great also because Bradley's was right around the corner, and I'd get to hear all these great pianists all the time, like Kenny Barron, Roger Kellaway, Hank Jones. I had to sneak in cause I was underage. I guess I shouldn't have even been allowed to play at the Knickerbocker as well! So it was very cool.
Sean and I used to come into town and play with a guitarist named Dan Rockliss (who moved to Spain). We all went on our first tour of Europe with drummer Tony Moreno. I had been a student at Manhattan School, but when I got this gig, I split.

GC: So you never finished your degree?

KH: No, I never did. I'm a bit of a drop out......

GC: Do you feel like you missed out on something by not finishing your schooling?

KH: I think it's possible that I did. I was pretty headstrong....still am! ... working on it....( laughter). But I wasn't really a focused student, I pretty much did what I wanted to do. And I knew I wanted to play and I really wasn't interested in much else. So I was kind of driven in that way. I sort of wished that I had paid more attention to my classes while I was there. Things like music history...I was so NOT there! All I cared about was "How do I get this feel together?" "How do I swing?" " How do I learn to comp?" No one was teaching me this! I did have some lessons with Harold Danko, which was cool. I was only there for one semester, so maybe if I had given it a chance......I guess you can pay a price if you are myopic and focused on only one thing: that means there's probably something you aren't learning, if you are only zooming in on one thing.

GC:  So many music students now only go to school, and learn that way, because they can't go off to do a tour. There's not much of the apprenticeship system left, so most music students only have their school experiences to draw from. Can we agree that this is not for the best?

KH: I'm not sure if that is really the case! I mean, obviously young musicians can't apprentice with musicians who are no longer here(Art Blakey, etc....). But there are still opportunities. And they can get the information, maybe not from the first guy who created it, but from somebody else who has played with the real cats....

GC: Why shouldn't they apprentice with you?

KH:  Well, yeah, I've played with younger musicians in a way that you could call an apprenticeship.  Learning from somebody who is older, more experienced. There's plenty of those guys around. Yourself included. The information that you got from the older cats you worked with, it just streams right through you.....

GC: Do think that the kids in schools are getting this?

Joe Henderson
KH: It's hard for me to say...probably not if you are really isolated. New York is different because there are so many of those guys around. I was fortunate to have played with Benny Golson when I was 23...Joe Henderson when I was in my 20's. That probably would not have happened if I had not been in New York.
But initially, I wasn't touring that much....! I was just getting together with friends and jamming. I think that's probably missing more than the other things you mentioned. But then ultimately that weeds itself out in a way, because now you have so many guys in school who can barely play with a group, who maybe aren't up to snuff, in terms of being able to play with a group, or keep the form, or play a blues, or whatever. If there's one thing I think is lacking in the schools, it's the vetting process, it's a little's like if you have the money to pay, you can go to music school. Some of these kids just aren't ready...It's hard for me to say how it's supposed to work.
But for me it was playing with friends......Sean Smith coming over to the house......I met drummer Leon Parker at a record store in White Plains, and then he would come over to the house and we would play....I was going to hear a lot of music in the city.....not to sound stuck up about the New York thing, cause there are probably lots more scenes now then there ever were in other parts of the world...

GC: Maybe...

KH: Well, let's just take Europe for instance. Do you think 20, 25 years ago, you could perceive anywhere near the same kind of jazz experience that you have now?
I don't think didn't have the level of guys that could play. There were some, but it kind of exploded!

GC: A lot of those guys studied here.

KH: Yes, but they brought it back home. What I'm saying is that if you don't want to go to New York, you could go to Munich and there would be a scene there. That wasn't the case two decades ago.

GC: When did you start recording for Steeplechase?

KH: I actually did my first record in 1990 for a Japanese label before Steeplechase, a label called Jazz City. That CD was bought by Evidence years later. Then, 1991 through 93 I did three CDs for Steeplechase. Then I signed with Blue Note in 1993.

GC: I had all three of your Blue Note CDs. In reverse order, Andalucia, then Go Round and then Seventh Sense. Which is your favorite?

KH: I don't know, I haven't listened to them in a while. I think they all had something....I think Seventh Sense had a great vibe, the sound was great. It was great to play with Brian Blade. there was something special about that one.

GC: I only played with Brian Blade a few times, but I think that it is easy to underestimate his playing....

KH: (laughs)

GC: What I mean is, and with many jazz drummers, it's not a chopsfest....

KH: It's a musicfest!

GC: Right! It's about putting everything in the right place...and his interpretation, and you get the sense he has total commitment to the music.

KH: And the drama factor with Blade, he's got this simmering quality....

GC: And Billy Hart on Go Round, and Jack DeJohnette on Andalucia...

KH: I love playing with great drummers!

GC: And you worked a lot with Al Foster and you played with Bill the bar has been set pretty high for drummers. Did you ever play with Art Blakey?

KH: No, I never did. I'm not sure I would have fit in with that scene. I was a little freaked out by that whole thing. I didn't identify with playing with him.

GC: As opposed to Geoff Keezer, who I think really fit that band.

KH: I did have a chance to play with Roy Haynes for a bit, and also Joe Chambers. The drummer thing in New York is a big thing. You get such an education with drummers.

GC: Do you think the fact that you played the drums when you were young helped you to play with these great drummers?

KH: Maybe...

GC: A lot of my students always ask, "How can I play and not turn the time around and keep the form" and so forth. I always say, "Listen to the drums. Listen to their vocabulary. You can't just count."

KH: Hear the have to take that leap of faith...yeah, listen instead of's weird, because lately I've been playing with Bill Stewart so much, but I've been playing with some different drummers lately, and I'm so used to Bill that it's weird...I've been playing with Jochen Ruckert and Rodney Green, some of the younger guys, and I find I have to get used to their phrasing so that I don't have to think about it too much.
Playing with drummers...It's much more important to listen to their phrasing, then to be uptight and worried about getting it wrong. It's not about NOT screwing up, It's about SCREWING up and learning from that. If you are too tight about it, it's no fun. Of course, this is years later talking about it! I'm talking from the experience of being uptight....I mean, you don't want to get lost in the form when you are playing with Roy Haynes! (laughter!) Cause you might be lost for a while!

GC: I remember the first time I saw you play was  at the Visiones jam session, which was led by Eddie were playing with Ed Howard on bass, Greg Bandy on drums, Joe Locke on vibes, and I remember there was a tall female singer that guys played one of your hits, "El Gaucho" by Wayne Shorter, and then Eddie said,"I wanna change the color a little bit..." and then you and this singer did a duo, I don't remember what tune it was, but I remember being VERY intimidated and thinking "Man, I gotta learn how to comp like THAT!" Many that know you speak about your great comping, and it seems as though the people that hire you are sort of enamored with your comping, they continually hire you for that......Is it something that you could always do or did you study it?

Donald Harrison
KH: But it's funny because I felt like I had no idea! I used to tell Billy Hart,"I don't know what to do, how to do this..." And Billy said, "But this is what you are known for!" I think that because I wasn't sure what to play, it made me leave more space. I realized that I needed to listen before I played. And I also had guys telling me...when I played with Roy Haynes, Donald Harrison used to always turn around and tell me, "RESPOND!" or "REACT"! I guess I wasn't comping the way he thought I should be...In other words, he was saying, "Stop TRYING to comp. Stop trying to be clever and just listen." And I was just nervous about playing with Roy Haynes!
Also, when I played with Joe Henderson...apparently, I was getting in the way with my comping, so Joe clued me in, saying "It would be great if you comped for ME the way you comp for YOURSELF." So that was a bit of a clue. So now when I teach pianists how to comp for themselves, I say," Don't play your left hand and right hand at the same time! Just play in the holes!" And when you comp for yourself, which is kind of the joke of what happened with Joe Henderson, is that you know what you are going to play...I said to Joe, "Yeah, I KNOW what my right hand is going to play!" It began the process of me listening better.
But I was also obsessed with the great compers, like Herbie, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans....Herbie really had that shit together. I think he was the best comper, for my taste.

GC: This is why he worked so much!
I've only had one student who actually asked me about "how" to comp. It's so abstract in a way, that at first I didn't really have an answer, but I started to get some ideas on how to explain that. Did you ever "practice" comping?

KH: I did, I listened to records and I played along and I would try to "cop" their comping. It's such a big part of our gig, being able to comping. There are certain things that I realized had to happen, based on my listening and playing along. One thing is that these guys are not just plunking down voicings that they pull out of their library of voicings; a lot of times there is a melodic line going on at the top of these chords. So there is a direction. I wish I was at the piano, I would give a musical example. I think that a lot of people think it's just rhythmic...and you can't divorce that from the melodic element, you are missing something. That's something I realized when I started checking out Herbie's comping, or Chick Corea's comping, or Wynton Kelly's comping. It's not just, " I know this voicing for this chord and I'm going to play it in this rhythm and so forth....". So that's when I think my comping improved, when I realized.
It's not just for comping, this is applicable to any playing, just knowing basic voice leading. I find that's something that students have no idea about. They always want to know, "what voicings should I play?" And instead of giving them a book of voicings, I ask them , "What is the scale?" Which they often don't know, and then I tell them," You take the root, 3rd and 7th, and then you add one other note besides the melody, and you have to voice lead. And pretty soon , the voicings appear on their own, you don't need a library of voicings.

GC: You have more options...

KH: Yeah, and they reveal themselves, and it comes from a more musical place, rather than saying, "I know 25 dominant voicings...."

GC: That's an education for me because I find myself frustrated with students. They seem so lost sometimes, I give them voicings just so that they are playing something.

KH: Well, what I prefer to do is to show them the process, so that they can find it for themselves. For example, we figure out which scale the we are dealing with.....and the thing is, the problem is we are always looking for the voicing for one chord, we need to think about where it's going. You have to know where you are headed. That determines the voicing.
It seems like if a student is playing the melody and having trouble finding voicings, I tell them, "Pick one note out of this scale", let's say the first chord scale of "Stella By Starlight," E F# G A Bb C D E. Pick a note that isn't the root of the melody. You'll find, all of a sudden, that voicings come out of nowhere that you didn't think of. Let's say that you pick the D and you don't go to the obvious third on the A7 chord, you go up. So you go to the Eb for the A7 chord... and then you have a quick chromatic F going up to the C minor 7 chord, and then you go to a Gb on the F7. All of a sudden, there's a line that's happening, and I ask the students, "did you ever play that voicing before? "And they say "no!" I then say, " Pick another note...." You can go up or down.
And students tend to see these chords as static entities.Like the A7 in that piece, the 13th is always altered. I like to see these chords as a stack of options, that ultimately get distilled down to where I just think A Dominant, and you could have both the altered 13th and the natural 13, and hopefully at some point you could have access to all twelve tones of the scale on any given chord. But they have to go through the process of learning the scales.

GC: So do you start with scales?

KH: I do, I do! Surprisingly. I used to always get annoyed because people used to always say, " What scale do you play over this chord?" And I would say," No, what chord are you going to play over this scale?" Pick a scale...if you have to ask that question, you don't know what the SOUND is. If it's a diminished scale sound, and you are thinking say C, Eb, Gb, A, then you are missing a bunch of other notes. And also if you are thinking a diminished sound is C, E, G, Bb, Db, meaning a C7b9 sound, you are still missing a bunch of notes. What scale are you thinking about? For me, I like to have all the notes laid out in front of me, all 8 or 9 notes, then I can pick and choose what notes I want.

GC: What about the shape of the line and phrasing? What would you say to a student who already knows the scales and chords and needs to make it sound like jazz?

KH:  Oftentimes, even though we know the scale, we seem to always go to our comfortable notes. Like we always go to the 9th on the minor 7th chord . II want to get all the notes in the scale to have equal importance, so that you always have the full palette of colors available to you. Sometimes I will have a student play a chord in the left hand, and then play the chromatic scale against the chord to hear how each note sounds against the chord. I might have them play a major chord and then play the chromatic scale, and so you have b9, 9, #9, 3, 4, you can hear the relative dissonance with each note against the chord. And then we might do that on a dominant chord, or an altered dominant....
But then what I suggest is, take the first three or four measures of a tune. I then have them play from the top part of the keyboard through the chords and play eighth notes consistently down the keyboard and connect the scales depending on which chord, in this case E-7b5, A7#9#5,C-7, F7. But if you do it from a different note each time, you end up coming up with some very interesting note choices just using scale tones. Then I have them add one chromatic note in each measure, anywhere in the scale,and that makes for some very beautiful lines. Of course, this is a very systematic way with just eighth notes, but if you start to use different rhythms, and go different directions on the keyboard, you start to have more options than, you know, just your favorite arpeggio on a given chord.
I always wanted to avoid patterns and licks. I got into them for a second, and was sometimes impressed with licks, but I always got bored with those sort of things quickly. The players I liked never sounded like they played licks, they always sounded spontaneous. I liked the guys who surprised me! So that's how I wanted to play. And its interesting because when you play an exercise like the one I just mentioned, as structured as it is, you are surprised!
GC: Last question: You lived in New York for years, and then you moved out to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few years. Why did you move out and why did you move back?
KH: I was dealing with some depression issues, some personal issues...I was struggling with that in New York, and I just need to get away for a while and sort that out. I ultimately came back because there was not much of a music scene out in Sante Fe, and my roots are all here, so I felt like it was time to come back. But it's something I'm still struggling with...self searching, trying to find out what's important, how do I live healthfully and creatively, and not lose my shit. As you know, musician's lives are rather unstable. It's still difficult. I haven't been playing much these days. I love playing , of course,
but I'm trying to put it together. I feel like most of my growth as a musician has not come from practicing. I remember coming from Sante Fe, where I was not practicing much at all, and I did a gig with Nicholas Payton, and Nicholas said, "Whatever you are doing out there in New Mexico, keep doing it!"
Sometimes it's just about getting out of your own way. It's about taking stuff away, rather than adding to it. Getting out of the way of the creative flow. The challenge for me is to not block the creative flow.
GC: But are you happy to be back in New York?
KH: Absolutely, I have some projects coming up, a two piano thing with Brad Mehldau, a performance and recording, and I'm playing some with Tim Ries, some Indian musicians. It's an abundant time. I'm not touring much, but I'm just thankful that I'm still... playing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Whatever You Are Smoking, I Want Some!"

Buster Williams
I was recently reminiscing about my travelin' days as a sideman with various jazz bands. I used to play quite often with the Buster Williams Quartet in the first decade of the new millennium. If you aren't familiar with Williams, you should look him up on he has an extensive discography as a sideman and a leader. To me, Williams is part of the old guard of musicians who payed dues in the clubs and traveling the world with people like Miles Davis, Betty Carter, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, and so forth. He's the type of musician who, although continually excited about music and making music, is difficult to impress because he's already played with EVERYBODY! If I play something I think is really hip, well, Buster heard Herbie Hancock play it while I was wearing diapers. But I think it's important for young musicians to mix with older cats on the bandstand; it's that sort of apprenticeship system that's sort of disappearing and being replaced by jazz academia. Such is the state of things, but I digress.....

Lenny White
Holding down the drum chair was usually the great Lenny White. White is most known for his stint in the 1970's with the pioneering fusion band Return To Forever.  However, he has major jazz credentials, and is clearly part of the lineage of drummers like Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams. I remember my first hearing of RTF's " Hymn of The Seventh Galaxy" when I was in high school and being enthralled by White's grooving interpretations. Back then, I never imagined I would actually play with Lenny White someday in the future.
Steve Wilson

Our man on alto and soprano saxophones was the distinguished Steve Wilson. (Hopefully, you already read my interview of Wilson in an earlier post. It's quite extensive...) This was pretty much the core group for years, with some variations, depending on scheduling. Sometimes we would have Stefon Harris or Steve Nelson on vibes, sometimes we would have Vincent Herring on alto, occasionally Carl Allen would sub on drums. But Williams, White, Wilson, and Colligan was the norm. Lenny would always say he thought it was a great mix of age groups; Buster is mid 60's, Lenny was late 50's at the time, Steve is mid to late 40's , and yours truly mid to late 30's. Oftentimes nowadays you see either an entire band of young cats or an entire band of older cats. Unless someone can give me a good example, I think it's rare to have that kind of mix.

I'm trying to set the stage for what I think is kind of a funny story. Hopefully it's at least as funny as your average Reader's Digest anecdote, or maybe some story about the 40's that your Grandma tells every Christmas. ("And would you believe that I ended up with an overcooked turkey? And in those days, we couldn't get turkeys so often because of the war, so sometimes we would eat bologna on pumpernickel bread...." " Ha ha ha, that's hilarious, Grandma....")Anyway, this was a tour of the U.K., and we were finally at the last gig of the tour. We were in a small club in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was also a radio broadcast for the BBC, although the piano was pretty sub-standard and the sound in general was not ideal (as is often the case in these small clubs). This was the second set of the gig; the first set had been pretty exhausting as usual, but in a good way. Our sets always seemed to be quite epic, as if we were trying to best ourselves every time out of the gate.

We were playing a mix of Buster's older hits, like "Dual Force", and "Christina", and his great arrangement on the old standard " I Didn't Know What Time It Was." But we were also playing tunes from Buster's "Griot Liberte" CD that came out a few years back. Much of the music from that CD was inspired by the illness and near death of Buster's wife. It's a wonderful album, recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio; I found recording there was quite an interesting experience in and of itself.(Van Gelder has a main piano that is in a recording booth, and a rehearsal piano outside of the recording booth. This actually makes sense because you minimize wear and tear on any one piano. However, if you have to go back and forth, and you are rehearsing a bit before each take, then it gets confusing. I was running back and forth between the rehearsal piano and the recording piano for hours! Also, once I was in the booth with the recording piano, the headphones were picking up a frequency of a very right-wing radio station. Basically I was forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity for hours while we recorded! If you know me, you know that right -wing talk radio is my Kryptonite.......)

So we began the second set, and the second tune was "The Wind Of An Immortal Soul". This tune has basically an AAB form, where the A sections are in 4/4 and the B sneaks into 3/4. Sometimes, we would obscure the 3/4 with various forms of musical trickery. On this night, however, during my solo, we had a rare rhythmic miscommunication. During the B section, something happened where I just couldn't hear what was happening with anything:rhythm, form, harmony, you name it. Plus, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was half in the bag at that point. (That's a old slang terminology for excessive alcohol consumption. Hey, we were in Scotland. Did you know that they don't call it Scotch in Scotland, they call it whiskey? Boy, I sure did!)

"Use the get acting work!"
On the verge of having a musical panic attack, I remembered something attributed to Joe Henderson: "Sometimes, the best music music is made when you are lost and you are trying to find your way BACK!" (I heard this in my head the same way Luke Skywalker could hear the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he fought the Dark Side:" Use the force... Let go of your feelings...Save your money, cause your career sucks after Return Of The Jedi....") I figured, well, this is the time to put that wisdom to the test. I pressed on, lost as I could be. I maintained a pretty good poker face, in fact, I lowered my head as to give the impression of deep, deep inspiration. I played and listened, trying to find my way back to the top of the form. Still nothing. I began to sound like a cross between Cecil Taylor and a Elephant sitting on a piano.

I really started to sweat: however, I figured eventually I would figure out where I was in the song. Time stood still, and I started to have serious doubts about my musical career. Visions of law school crossed my mind as I flailed away at the keys. My head was down even further, my eyes closed. This is it, I told myself, I'm done, washed up, I'm fired, this is my last gig with this band. And then all of a sudden, a cheer rang out from the audience. It seemed that my ploy had actually worked! I tricked them into thinking I was having a keyboard revelation only by a commitment to conviction. I'm telling you, the crowd went nuts! And then, Buster played a single note signaling the B section, and the world rushed back and I could finally breathe again. I neatly wrapped up my solo and we moved on to the next song amidst wild applause and adulation. (Keep in mind that this was recorded for the BBC, so a recording of this is out there somewhere...oy vey...)

I looked up, rather sheepishly, and looked at Steve Wilson, who yelled across the bandstand, "Whatever you're smoking, I want some!" Of course, after the set, Lenny White's comment was something to the effect of, "I really thought that George had snapped and we were going to take him  to the hospital after that solo!"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time To Call Jazz Something Else....Like Syncopep?

Wu Tang is comin thru, to a jazz festival near YOU!
I'm noticing more and more that, on many of the international so-called jazz festivals, there is an alarming lack of jazz being booked. Now, I'm not a purist, and I'm not here to get on a soapbox about "the tradition" and "swing" and so forth. However, I think it's just illogical to call something a Jazz Festival and then refuse to book anything even remotely related to jazz. I don't know, I guess Eric Clapton is related to jazz by the fact that he's a blues guitarist? But when you have Lionel Richie and the Wu Tang Clan as headliners for major JAZZ festivals, then I think it is at least worth questioning. Let's put it this way: If there was a hip-hop festival, you wouldn't see Bucky Pizzarelli as the headliner! You wouldn't see Junior Mance at a rock festival! So why is everything besides jazz squeezing out the music for which these festivals are named after?

Obviously, some of the problem stems from the fact that jazz has always been a hybrid sort of music. Much like the way tofu takes on the flavors of whatever seasoning is around it, jazz can easily absorb new styles and approaches and it can still be called jazz. This is probably why there are so many sub-genres of jazz. And more than other styles of music with their own sub-genres, jazz has almost as many sub-genres as their are individual jazz musicians . Since we are all trying to "develop our own sound", this makes for jazz which always has the possibility of some new addition or subtraction to the recipe. Unfortunately, this makes for many misconceptions about the music.
Kenny G. Get a haircut, you hippie......

Because it's so hard to define jazz in a "pure" sense, I think it's easier to lump other styles of music into the "jazz" bucket. For example, the whole Smooth Jazz phenomenon is confusing: the wonderful, talented, superbly-coiffed Kenny G is a great saxophonist in the category of Instrumental Pop (if there is such a about Highly Sophisticated Elevator Music....). But judging from what I hear at the dentist office, his "music" is not very jazzy to me. But because of the " Smooth Jazz" label, it gets thrown into the public's consciousness as some form of "jazz". However, David Sanborn, who might also not be considered a jazz musician by many, to me sounds much more like jazz than much of the Smooth Jazz that accidentally permeates my ear canal while I wait for my prescription at Shoppers Mart.

Kirk Whalum
I think it's ironic that some of those supposedly smooth jazz musicians don't even consider themselves to be that. I was on a recording date recently where Kirk Whalum was a special guest. He was a super nice guy, and he confided that he considered himself a " R&B and Gospel saxophone player." He also talked a bit about the "powers-that-be" of Smooth Jazz Radio, consisting of a panel of judges who decided whether or not one's music was "smooth" enough to play on the radio. "I'm considered a smooth jazz player," Whalum testified," but now it's become so controlled, that even I'm considered too jazzy to be on the smooth jazz format!"

 Many discussions have endured regarding the name "jazz", by critics and fans and musicians alike, since the beginnings of the music. Originally spelled "jass" some say it comes from an African word, others speculate that it comes from the French jaser ( to chatter). Some say it refers to the sex act in various ways. Apparently the first evidence of the word comes from a newspaper article about baseball, in which the columnist used jazz as a synonym for "energy" or "pep". In fact, one early contest was held to "rename" jazz, the winner being "syncopep" which thankfully never caught on as a new word to replace jazz.

Often I am asked about my profession. " I am a musician, " I say. After the required "Are you in a band?" they inevitably ask, " what kind of music?" "Jazz" I say, waiting for that confused look on their face. " Oh, I love jazz. Spyro Gyra is my favorite band...." or  "Have you heard the new Sade CD?", or
"My grandfather likes jazz." or just blank stare...." Do you want me to trim your sideburns?"

As the interest in jazz seems to be slipping from our grasp, I think it's time once again to consider renaming our old friend jazz. Perhaps it will have the re-branding effect which Madison Avenue marketers look for when they try to do P.R. for some big mega-company,which needs to re-make their image after it comes to light that they gunned down some of their employees during a wage strike.

How about RHYTHM MUSIC? or Rhythmic Music? Many jazz schools in Europe are now calling themselves Rhythmic Music Schools (There's at least one in Denmark).

Or Contemporary Improvisational Music? Too long? Too pretentious?

What about American Classical Music? Too "Jazz -At -Lincoln -Center-esque"?

What about Instrumental Improvisation? But then people will call it I I for short, and then you'll feel like your in the Navy or something. " What kind of music shall we hear?" " Aye, Aye, Captain....."

What about naming it after one of the greats? What about Gillespie Music? or Coltrane Music? Obviously that would spark a debate.

How about Future Bop? or JamBop? Ugh.....

What about combine all the elements into one colorful word. jazzbopswingfunksoulbluesimprov.
It might come out as jaboswifunsblupov. And then jaboswulbov. And then jwapov. This is clearly not working!
Feel free to post your own ideas. And no profanity or euphemisms for sex. That's why we're in this predicament in the first place!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blast from the Past: Stuart Nicholson's Article and My Insane Response...

Hey everybody? Well, I must admit, I was very ambitious when I created this blog. I knew that with a ten-month old son, a wife, and full time teaching job, that things would get hectic. I have a lot of things on the back burner for this blog, for sure. But it's really hard to find the time. At the moment, my son is trapped in his exer-saucer, which gives me a chance to do something on my computer, while he pokes at big red and blue buttons, and songs like "London Bridge" and "Pop Goes The Weasel" incessantly invade my brain.

I found this post on a Vancouver Jazz website about 5 years ago. Someone put up an article that a British writer named Stuart Nicholson had written for the New York Times. The article was from 2001 and called "Europeans Cut in With a New Jazz Sound and Beat". He later made the premise for the article into an entire book called " Is Jazz Dead? Or Has it Moved To A New Address?". Although I have huge problems with the article and the book, I ordered the book and read it in order to see how a more in depth excursion into Nicholson's premise would look. Some of the information here is kind of irrelevant, because the scene, heck, the entire world, has changed a lot in 5 years. But I'm reprinting the article and my reaction to it as a young, dumb 35-year old (who should have started a blog then when he had more energy and had fewer 10 month old sons. Anyway, keep in mind that this was a while ago, but I welcome your comments as to how you think things may have changed and whether or not you think anything I or Nicholson says is valid. As always, anybody who gets out of line will be deleted. It's ok to be passionate-just don't call me names. 
Bombs away!

June 3, 2001

Europeans Cut in With a New Jazz Sound and Beat


LONDON -- FOR years Americans have regarded European jazz with the same tolerant smile they reserve for Japanese baseball. But something is stirring in the Old World. A generation of musicians is emerging from Europe's jazz underground, and now they're raising a tolerant smile at the mention of American jazz. Talk to them about the current state of the music, and it's as if an old and dear friend has passed away. They believe American jazz is retreating into the past while Europe is moving the music into the 21st century.

The highly praised Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft spoke for many recently when he said: "I think American jazz somehow has really stopped, maybe in the late 70's, early 80's. I haven't heard one interesting American record in the last 20 years. It's like a museum, presenting stuff that's already been done."

In the past, European musicians largely marched in step to whatever developments were coming out of America, striving to keep abreast of successive shocks announcing the new beginning with ragtime. But now a small group of musicians, most notably in France and Scandinavia, is taking the creative initiative and going its own way with the music. These musicians are embracing the liberating potential of jazz as dance music, taking elements from the European house, techno, drum 'n' bass and jungle scenes, and in so doing are re-establishing jazz's long lost links with popular culture. It is unlikely, however, that the new music will be in evidence at this year's JVC Jazz Festival, which begins in two weeks.

The music, called the European new jazz by musicians and critics, is not strictly acoustic, like much of mainstream American jazz, yet neither is it completely electronic. Bending improvisation around familiar and unfamiliar sounds and rhythms, this European jazz is moving out of the jazz club and into club culture, and young people are willing to line up around the block to hear it. While there have been experiments by American jazz musicians in combining jazz and hip-hop, like Miles Davis's "Doo Bop," Gary Thomas's "Overkill" and Don Byron's "Nu Blaxploitation," the results merely confirmed the seeming incompatibility of jazz and rap. In contrast, drum 'n' bass is not too far removed from driving jazz rhythms and can easily accommodate jazz improvisation. This reliance on specifically European club-culture styles differentiates the new music from the kind of experimental jazz coming from the Chicago underground and the New York downtown scene.

A feature of the European jazz is that the rhythms are a mixture of acoustic and sampled sounds. Electric basses are out, upright basses are in, and drum kits are pared down to snare, bass drum, high-hat and cymbals. Turntables and samples create haunting, often ambient backdrops against which the improviser plies his craft. The Norwegian trumpet player Nils Petter Molvaer, who has studied North African styles, makes music that is a mix of ethnic roots and modernity. In his playing, the minimalistic grooves of European house easily relate to African music. Similarly, some accents in rhythms like 7/8 and 9/16 are based in an old tradition of North African ethnic music; when played with electronic delays, they appear to make the rhythms float within the ambient soundscape.

Not surprisingly this new European music has raised cries of "is this jazz?" from purists both in America and in Europe. That question always greets experimentation in any artistic genre. Fans of New Orleans traditionalism similarly railed at the popularity of the big bands in the 30's and be-bop in the 40's. Even today, free jazz and Miles Davis' electric music, for some, hold a tenuous place in jazz history.

Certainly, European new jazz is not what jazz was but is a vision of what it can be. Nor does it compete with jazz's past achievements in the way today's jazz mainstream is doing. If jazz history tells us anything, it is that the music, until the last decade or so, has always been a reflection of its time. The new European jazz is unmistakably music of today.

"European jazz has liberated straight- ahead jazz from its harbor and has sailed away," said the French pianist Laurent de Wilde, who played on the New York scene for several years. "Keeping tradition is a great thing, but it's not the only thing. You have to keep tradition but at the same time keep evolving."

Therein lies a fascinating European paradox. At the turn of the 20th century, many European artists blamed "the tradition" of Western culture for stifling creativity, particularly in classical music. The composer Darius Milhaud and other French artists of his generation, including Ravel and the Paris-based Stravinsky, looked beyond European traditions to the vitality and exuberance of jazz . Milhaud's 1923 ballet "La Création du Monde" was hailed for its strong jazz influences. Now jazz itself is looking beyond its boundaries for a new vitality and exuberance.

In France, the enigmatic Ludovic Navarre's group, St. Germain, has had considerable success in combining French house music and jazz. Released last year, the group's album "Tourist" has already sold more than 600,000 copies, mostly in Europe. To put this figure into context, sales of 10,000 in the jazz world represent a hit record. In bars, restaurants, clubs and clothing stores across Europe, St. Germain's "Rose Rouge" has become ubiquitous with its insistent 4/4 vamp and the now-famous sample of Marlena Shaw singing "I want you to get it together."

With fluent, lively improvisation from the trumpeter Pascal Ohse, the saxophonist and flutist Edouard Labor, the keyboard player Alexander Destrez and the guitarist and reggae pioneer Ernest Ranglin, St. Germain is reaching young audiences in a way that has relevance for them, through dance — just as jazz did in the Swing Era. This idea was not lost on Jazz at Lincoln Center, which presented the "For Dancers Only" tour last year. But the title of the tour says it all: it was taken from a 1937 hit record by the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.

The flute virtuoso Malik Mezzadri, who has occasionally played in St. Germain, said recently: "St. Germain has changed the way the public thinks about jazz in France — don't put it in a box. You listen, you dance, this is what my generation wants, the dance."

Mr. Mezzadri is a charismatic figure on the Paris jazz scene. Mere mention of his name is enough to fill any club there, and the makeup of the musicians and the music on his latest album, "Magic Malik," reflect the racial diversity of Paris, that most cosmopolitan of European cities. "In my band, I have South American, African and Cuban musicians," he said. "I grew up in the West Indies, in Guadeloupe, and this is a population that came from Africa, with slaves." His music is rhythmically unambiguous while bursting with pan-ethnic frissons.

Something of the excitement of the current Parisian jazz scene is captured on "Candombe" from the saxophonist Julien Lourau's album "Gambit," which was recorded live at the New Morning Club last year. With Mr. Mezzadri as a featured sideman, the music is intense and compelling as Mr. Lourau's tenor sax riffs mediate the ebb and flow of the powerful drum 'n' bass- influenced grooves. "I want to play for people my own age and even younger because I think jazz is not elitist," Mr. Lourau said.

The new crop of Scandinavian jazz artists was inspired by an earlier generation, particularly the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who achieved international recognition on the Munich-based ECM label run by Manfred Eicher. In the mid-90's, young musicians like Mr. Wesseltoft, Mr. Movaer, the drummer Audun Kleive and the guitarist Eivind Aarset, all of whom are Norwegian, rejected the contemplative calm of what Mr. Eicher called the "Nordic tone" and began experimenting with dance-based grooves. Mr. Wesseltoft formed his own record label, Jazzland, and his album, "New Conception of Jazz," sold more than 40,000 copies across Europe — remarkable sales for a small independent label. "Jazz is American, of course," he said. "But I feel the techno and electronics scene is more European. The beats I'm using, the grooves, I feel I'm not stealing from the black American music scene."

In 1998 Mr. Aarset recorded "Electronique Noir" and created one of the best post- Miles albums. "My approach has come out of the Nordic jazz thing inspired by people like Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal, and the serious ECM approach to music mixed with techno beats," he said.

Mr. Molvaer's 1997 album, "Khmer," has sold more than 100,000 copies in Europe. It led to Mr. Molvaer's nomination for the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize 2000 and several awards, including the annual prize of the German Record Critics, and was voted Jazz Record of the Year by LA Weekly.

One of the most talked about groups currently on the European circuit is the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (or E.S.T., as they call themselves), which saw its latest album, "Good Morning Susie Soho," shoot to No. 15 on the pop album chart in the group's native Sweden, alongside the likes of Madonna and Radiohead — a significant achievement for a jazz piano trio. Highlights of this album, along with those from his 1999 release, "From Gargarin's Point of View," are to be issued by Sony Jazz in the United States in August as "Somewhere Else Before."

Curiously, British jazz musicians have only tentatively embraced the club-culture rhythms that largely emanated from London. The saxophonist Courtney Pine is the best-known exception. His album, "Back in the Day," shows that he has moved a considerable distance from the 1980's, when he was seen as Europe's Wynton Marsalis. (He even recorded with Mr. Marsalis's father, Ellis). His latest album uses samples and computer-generated rhythm tracks, underpinning some torrid soloing on soprano and tenor saxophone.

ALL these Europeans readily acknowledge that jazz is America's gift to the world. But what impact will this fast-changing European scene have on American jazz? Initially, the effect is most likely to be felt financially. Money, as Cyndi Lauper once famously sang, changes everything. Europe has historically been a key market for American jazz in album sales, in its extensive festival circuit and in year-round gigs. Just how important was once highlighted by a comment made by George Wein, the producer of the JVC festival: "No Europe, no jazz."

If American jazz remains fixed in the certainties of the mainstream, European jazz musicians may move into the space long occupied by Americans. Indeed, Mr. Svensson is doing just that. Recently he was on the cover of two major German jazz magazines as well as the influential French magazine Jazzman. He was also hailed by the German news weekly Der Spiegel as "The Future of Jazz Piano" (along with the American pianist Brad Mheldau), and his "Good Morning Susie Soho" was named album of the year in a poll conducted by the critics of the British magazine Jazzwise, an award that has hitherto been the province of American jazz albums.

The emergence of the European new jazz poses the intriguing question of whether American jazz can maintain its stance without lapsing even further into high-art marginality, given its dependence on the European market. As the American saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore, who now lives in the Netherlands, put it recently: "In America there's more pressure to be conformist, and players can work a lot more if they play tunes in a traditional way. In Europe there's a larger audience that grew up listening to experimental jazz over a 25- year period, and they appreciate not hearing the same thing all the time."

Suddenly there is real possibility that the stewardship of the music may no longer remain exclusively American. "Europe is going to be the place for jazz," Mr. Svensson said. "We're ready now. We like to sound different."**

Stuart Nicholson is a London-based music critic and author. His most recent book is ``Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington'' (Northeastern University Press).
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information

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Don't Believe The Hype! of Stuart Nicholson

OK, for those of you who have read the piece by Stuart Nicholson and also may have read the November Jazziz piece on E.S.T., this is my opinion about the whole issue of Europe v America in terms of innovative jazz. I think Mr. Nicholson is highly misinformed and his piece is , well, I want to say he has oversimplified to the point of spreading propaganda. At the worst, the article is complete BS. To imply that there have been no interesting CDs released by Americans since the 80's must mean that Mr. Nicholson just doesn't seek out any new artists. Hey, Nicholson. Here's a partial list of American artists who aren't named Wynton Marsalis who are doing stuff that doesn't "retreat into the past".
Kurt Rosenwinkle
Mark Turner
David Gilmore
Steve Coleman
Jason Moran
Tyshawn Sorey
Robin Eubanks
Greg Osby
David Binney
Dave Douglas
Ralph Alessi
Lonnie Plaxico
Gary Thomas( while I'm mentioning him , in the article, it says that" While there have been experiments by American jazz musicians in combining jazz and hip-hop, like Miles Davis's "Doo Bop," Gary Thomas's "Overkill" and Don Byron's "Nu Blaxploitation," the results merely confirmed the seeming incompatibility of jazz and rap." I appear on Gary Thomas' Overkill, and we had 3 sucessful tours in Europe.The Europeans SEEMED to like it. Why are Jazz and Rap incompatible but Jazz and Drum and Bass compatible( as N goes on to say)? It seems arbitrary to me.I doubt N knows about the artists that influenced that particular CD, they are as diverse as Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Billy Harper, not to mention Messian.)

I could go on listing musicians unknown to Nicholson, but I think now is a good time to discuss the notions of what is "new" and "different" and what really isn't, and why it even matters.

I was unfamiliar with Bugge Wesseltoft and Laurent De Wilde, two musicians mentioned in the piece who feel that European jazz musicians are
pushing the boundaries more than American musicians in general. I searched them out on the web and listened to a few sound samples. Since we are all over generalizing here, I will say first that I think Wesseltoft and De Wilde are obviously fine musicians, but essentially they are playing a form of fusion( some call it jazz rock), Which is a product of the American music scene of the 70's. Which was 30 years ago. So who is really living in the past? Fender Rhodes is not new. Playing hip jazz lines over funk beats is not new. Synthesizers are not new. What Nicholson should say is that these Europeans have more recent point of departure than SOME American musicians. Namely the Wyntons and Marcus Robertses. ( I'm not bashing them either, I think they have their place and a right to their stylistic preference and belief. Marsalis and Roberts inspired me in my early days.)Furthermore, the use of electronics and turntables and hip hop or techno beats, without there being a foundation of quality improvisation or composition or performance,is just gimmickry. Chick Corea, Stanely Clarke, Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul( an Austrian)all had serious roots in the JAZZ TRADITION. Yet they were all forward thinking, and they had a foundation in their approach which made their musical concept strong, regardless of what instruments or electronics they used. Herbie can swing and play over chord changes with the best of them.
Can the aforementioned Wesseltoft and De Wilde? Maybe nobody cares, and I don't expect them to sit down and wail on Stablemates.And if they can , cool. But this article is so black and white and I felt the need to present a different side. Playing angular lines over beats in not new, whether Europeans or Americans are doing it. But how well is it being done? is the question.

I think part of what's going on here is that since Europe truly has supported jazz more than the U.S. in terms of festivals, touring, and funding, that European musicians want more appreciation. And I am not saying that they don't deserve it. I have made 4 recordings of my own with various European musicians(2 duo recordings on Steeplechase with Jesper Bodilsen, a great Danish Bass Player, and 2 CDs for Fresh Sound with Perico SamBeat,Mario Rossy, and Marc Miralta from Spain. These labels don't do any promotion, so you probably didn't hear about it, and I'm sure Nicholson didn't get any free copies, so he doesn't know anything about it either. It's to bad he didn't mention these European musicians, who to me know the tradition and are also forward thinking as well).

I think there is some nationalism , some snobbery, and some deluded thinking going on here. Not to mention possibly some anti Americanism due to , what's his name, I think it has a W in it somewhere. (I talked to one European Jazz Producer who didn't want to come to New York anymore because of the invasion of Iraq. I had to explain to him that I seriously doubt that any musician recording for his label could possibly be in favor of the war. He had a hard time with that.)
Don't forget that European musicians have it a lot easier than American musicians who move to New York.Yes, musicians in Europe have tons more funding and I imagine it's a lot less competitive on a local or national level. Can we help it that New York continues to be the Mecca of Jazz musicians, despite dwindling audiences, funds, and support from Record Labels? I remember a great Danish saxophone player who moved to New York in the late 90's. He had already won the equivalent of a "grammy" in Denmark, yet wanted to try his luck in the Big Apple. Well, the only gig he did was a gig I called him for at Smalls, and I paid him a grand total of 30 U.S.Dollars. Within 6 months, the Great Dane said,
"Screw this"( How do you say it in Danish?)and moved right back to Copenhagen, and jumped right back into touring and making award winning recordings. Yea, the support sucks for Jazz here, is that our fault?Also, Is it our fault that many of the musicians really doing some innovative, or at the very least not super straight ahead, don't see the light of day due to the Diana Kralls and Jane Monheits blocking the view? ( I've considered moving to Europe considering how bad it is for creative music in this country.)

I may explore my displeasure with the lack of fairness in Nicholson's article at a later time, when I have a chance to do more research. But finally, I must mention the Esborn Svennson Trio, who I think are good players, but hardly worthy of the "future of Jazz" award. Again, here we are led to believe that because you draw from influences later than 1960, that you are an innovator. Poppycock! It sounds like Keith Jarrett from the 70's(30 years ago) to me. Which is fine in and of itself. So I don't but the last paragraph-"Suddenly there is real possibility that the stewardship of the music may no longer remain exclusively American. "Europe is going to be the place for jazz," Mr. Svensson said. "We're ready now. We like to sound different."----Sure, you don't sound like Oscar Peterson or Earl "Fatha" Hines , but innovative and different, hardly. Electronics, Schmelectronics! What's really going on in the music?(By the way, I always find it funny that artists who are so over hyped always sound really arrogant when they are quoted in articles. Why is that?) Anyway, my point is, don't pee on my leg and tell me that it's raining.

By the way, if you had mentioned Christof Schwitzer, or Akamoon, or Nils Wogram, these are some Europeans who I think are doing something possibly innovative- Or a least with an even more recent point of departure.

And Don't Believe the Hype! There are plenty of forward thinking Jazz musicians from the USA.
George Colligan
PS Don't get the wrong idea. I love Europe and Jazz musicians form Europe. I think anybody can learn to play. But just the notion that Europeans are forward thinking in Jazz and Americans aren't reminded me of going to Discos in Germany and Switzerland in the late 90's. People were still dancing to ABBA and Culture Club. Doesn't that say it all?
PPS I do think socially Europeans are way ahead of America. Check out a book called THE UNITED STATES OF EUROPE and it will change the way you think about World politics.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Joe Locke: " Practice!"

The Great Joe Locke

Joe Locke is one of the busiest vibraphonists on the scene today. I've known Locke since I moved to New York in the 90's, and he has been a good friend. I've been lucky to share the stage with him a few times. He is truly a dynamic performer. Nobody has more chops or energy on the vibes, and Locke's
depth of musical knowledge is really staggering. My personal favorite albums of Locke's include Live In Seattle (featuring Geoffrey Keezer and Terreon Gully, who will be on the Asper concert) and Moment to Moment, which features the music of Henry Mancini. But he has many more-at least 20 CDs as a leader. Locke is highly capable in any situation, whether it be fusion, ballads, straight-ahead bebop, latin, or movie themes. Locke can do it all. He is highly respected by his peers. Do not miss the opportunity to see his band when they come to Winnipeg!

Joe Locke was nice enough to answer some of my questions...

1) Why the Vibes?

 When I was a kid I played drums and piano. I didn't really want to become a pianist, with all the work that entailed, but I liked the idea of playing melodies. So when I discovered the vibes, it was the right fit for me - a percussion instrument I
could play melodically.

2) Who were your influences in Rochester, and what made you want to move to New York?

   Rochester, NY was a good place to grow up in the '70's if you were an aspiring musician. I had the benefit of being close to the Eastman School of Music and got the chance to study with some brilliant students and faculty alike.  Pianists Phil Markowitz and Bill Dobbins were very helpful to me at that time.   There was also a vibrant jazz culture in the Rochester community. I played quite a bit in jazz clubs with drummer Vinnie Ruggerio (who had played in NYC with John Coltrane and Bud Powell, among many others) and bassist Steve Davis (who had been a member of Coltrane's first quartet), learning quite a bit in the process.  After playing around Rochester and touring with the Spider Martin Quintet (in formations which at various times included jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Pepper Adams, Mongo Santamaria and Billy Hart) I moved to NYC at the age of 21. I needed to be in a city where I would be constantly challenged and forced to grow. For me, that city was New York.

3) What have been your favorite gigs, including Eddie Henderson's Band?
Eddie Henderson

  There have been so many. Of course my 12 years in Eddie's band was important to me. I have good memories of you and I playing together in that quintet! I also had some wonderful experiences working with Kenny Barron, George Cables, Walter Davis, Jr., Bob Moses, Cecil Taylor and  John Hicks in their groups.  I'm happy to say that some of my favorite gigs have been in recent years with different projects of my own.  My Four Walls of Freedom quartet with Bob Berg was very special to me.  My Force of Four quartet  and the chamber trio Storms / Nocturnes (with Geoffrey Keezer and Tim Garland) continue to inspire and challenge me in the best possible way. 

4) Describe the trials and tribulations of being a bandleader in the new millennium.

  For me, one of the difficult things is synchronizing the schedules of the busy musicians with whom I'm working.  That, and making tour dates line up in a logical way. That is always challenging. Considering the current economic climate in the world and the fact that live music seems to have less importance in the current culture, I consider myself very fortunate to be as busy as I am, engaged in creative work with great collaborators. The music business has always been tough. But I think the music itself is in great hands in the new millennium, with wonderful musicians coming along every day who are breaking new ground and giving a lot of beauty to the world.

5) What advice would you give a young musician, including what to practice, how to get on the scene, how to stay motivated...

I can't make a blanket statement about what to practice, but what I CAN say to a young musician is, "PRACTICE!!!".
If you really want to make music your life, put the work in now. It pays off later.  The amount of knowledge you acquire and how much work you put in will serve you well when you try to break into the larger music scene. The way to do that is to, once you feel ready, move to a place with an active music scene and try to put yourself in as many playing situations as possible.
   6) How did you pick your current band (which will perform at the Asper Series in Winnipeg)?

Geoffrey Keezer
My latest recording is called "For The Love Of You" and features vocalist Kenny Washington. We will be playing music from the new CD in Winnipeg. I was on vacation in San Francisco  a few years ago and heard Kenny sing for the first time. He blew me away! I think he is one of the greatest male vocalists to come along in quite some time. He has a beautiful voice, exquisite taste and a whole lot of soul. I'm excited to introduce him to the Asper Series audience. The pianist in the group is Geoffrey Keezer, with whom I've collaborated many times.  Geoffrey started playing with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers when he was 17 years old, and has gone on to do some amazing things in music, as a player, composer and band leader.  The drummer will be the fantastic Terreon Gully. And I'm really looking forward to playing with bassist Steve Kirby for the first time. This is going to be a really fun concert!
For more info on Joe Locke, please go to

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bill Milkowski: Drop The Needle...( as in the needle for a turntable...)

Bill Milkowski
In one of the previous blogs, I did a short review of a book about bassist Jaco Pastorius, written by Bill Milkowski, one of my favorite jazz writers. Bill really knows his stuff and is highly respected in the field. I thought it would be cool to have him do a blindfold test(although I want to call it something else because Downbeat probably has that trademarked)for my blog. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, it's where I select music and the other person has to tell me who is playing without any prior knowledge, or hints about it("this drummer's name rhymes with Fax Coach.....duh!"). I came up with 10 tunes from the jazz and R&B world to see if they were recognized or not. Mr. Milkowski did not disappoint and I think this yielded great results. Thanks, Bill! Also, I have included youtube links where possible so you can listen along while you read. How's THAT for being thorough?YOU'RE WELCOME!

Frank Zappa
1. (“Peaches En Regalia”: Frank Zappa-Hot Rats- released in 1969)(Bill knows right away.)
“Peaches En Regalia” from Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats – I had a cassette of this
album which I used to play at full blast volume in the cassette deck of my brown
Chevy van as I tooled down Lincoln Memorial Drive along Lake Michigan during
my Milwaukee youth. I was a huge Zappa fan, primarily for his extraordinary
guitar playing but also because of his subversive streak, which came out more
blatantly on Freakout! and We’re Only In It For The Money. Hot Rats was unique
in Zappa’s discography at the time it came out because it was not a Mothers of
Invention project, it was essentially a Zappa solo project done in conjunction with
multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood and a few special guests soloists, like Jean
Luc Ponty on the jazzy “It Must Be A Camel.” Also, it was primarily an
instrumental album (Captain Beefheart was featured bellowing on the
nasty “Willie the Pimp” which featured some great, wailing violin work from
Sugarcane Harris and a brilliant extended wah-wah guitar solo from
FZ). “Peaches En Regalia” had a chamber-like exactness to it, as did “Son of Mr.
Green Genes.” There were some very interesting allusions to jazz on this record,
like on the soulful rubato number “It Must Be A Camel,” full of odd intervals from
Underwood’s overdubbed horns. Zappa would continue to explore this straddling
of jazz and rock on his next album with the Mothers of Invention, Weasles Ripped
My Flesh, particularly on avant garde pieces like “The Eric Dolphy Memorial
Barbecue,” “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask” and the
title track. For me, Zappa is an under-recognized pioneer of fusion music and
these two brilliant albums – Hot Rats and Weasles Ripped My Flesh – are
landmarks in bridging those disparate worlds of rock and jazz.

2.(I Should Care:Abbey Lincoln and Hank Jones from When There Is Love-released 1994)(Bill knows again right away...) That is unmistakably the late, great Abbey Lincoln doing the Sammy Cahn
standard, “I Should Care.” Such a spell-binding, heart-wrenching quality in
that voice of her. Dig that little break in her voice toward the end when she
goes, “Oh!” Goosebumps. This is more intimate and revealing than the Betty
Carter version of this tune, which I also love. It’s a sparse piano-voice duet with
Hank Jones from a great early ‘90s Verve album, When There Is Love. Hank had
played on Abbey’s previous Verve recording, You Gotta Pay the Band, which
also featured Stan Getz and Charlie Haden. I have great memories of seeing
Abbey perform at Fat Tuesdays during the ‘80s. I actually did a Blindfold Test
with her in the late ‘80s at her place. I remember playing her an Aretha Franklin tune,
one of her early John Hammond-produced tracks, “Blue Holiday.” Abbey
was sitting on her couch, listening and as the song progressed she started
talking back to Aretha, “Sing it, girl!” and “Wooooooo!” At one point she got so
animated, she started laughing out loud at how baaaaad Aretha was that she
nearly fell off the couch. Abbey was an incredibly soulful, beautiful spirit, genius
lyricist and commanding presence on stage. Last time I saw her in concert was
when she opened for Ornette Coleman at Carnegie Hall as part of the 2004 JVC
Jazz Festival. It was a riveting performance that ripped the heart out of everyone
in the audience. And then I was totally knocked out by her last Verve recording,
2007’s Abbey Sings Abbey, which featured some radical reinventions of her
tunes by arrangers Gil Goldstein and Larry Campbell. She’s one of the all-time

3.(Outa Space: Billy Preston released in 1972)
You gotta be kidding me! I was JUST THINKING ABOUT THIS SONG
YESTERDAY!! It has deep connections for me on a number of levels. Billy
Preston’s “Outa Space,” which was an instrumental pop hit in 1972. This tune
was all over the radio during the summer of ’72 and one of my high school pals,
Bruce Guckleberg (who is now an evangelist preacher in Upstate New York),
actually adopted this as his personal theme song and developed an elaborate
choreography for it that involved perfectly-timed forearm smashes that were in
synch with Billy’s funky clavinet accents (a kind of homage to his boyhood hero,
Green Bay Packers middle linebacker Ray Nitchske). Guck, as we called him,
was a big animal of a football player himself and he used to literally ‘lose it’
whenever this song came on the radio, like a trance would come over him. He’d
go into this kind of robot dance and then forearm anyone or anything in his
vicinity when those downbeats came. I was on the receiving end of many of those
forearm smashes back in those days. My other memory of this tune was seeing
Billy Preston in concert with the Rolling Stones that same year, 1972, at
Milwaukee County Stadium (former home of my beloved Milwaukee Braves, who
moved to Atlanta in 1965 and then home of the brand new Milwaukee Brewers
franchise). The Stones gave Billy a featured spot in the show in which he came
out front with a portable clavinet strung around his shoulder like a guitar and he
played “Outta Space.” And Mick Jagger worked out some intricate choreography
with Billy, but unlike my pal Guck it didn’t involved well-timed forearm smashes
but instead involved Jagger coming up behind Preston, grabbing him tightly
around the waist and executing some deep thrusting hip-grinding into Billy’s
backside. Whether it was violent forearm smashes or simulated ass-fucking, this
catchy clavinet-fueled funk number never failed to trigger movement. Hell, I’m
dancing right now! This tune may have been one of the first to prominently
feature the clavinet. Stevie Wonder followed later that year with “Higher Ground”
and of course Herbie Hancock layered on some funky clavinet in 1973
on “Chameleon.” Some of the baddest clavinet ever is on an obscure track “A
Little Love’ll Help” from an obscure 1978 Paul Jackson Jr. album, Black Octopus,
which he recorded in Japan. Yes, that’s Herbie on clavinet. He’s the

4. (Household of Saud:Charles Tolliver, from Paper Man, recorded in 1968, released in 1975. Charles Tolliver, trumpet; Gary Bartz, alto;Herbie Hancock, piano;Ron Carter, bass;Joe Chambers, drums)Sounds like John Hicks on piano. Not sure who is playing the very tight
trumpet-alto sax unisons on the head. Sounds kind of like Woody Shaw, but not
as wild and commanding in the chops department. This sounds like an older
recording…not a particularly great mix. The piano seems way too prominent
in the mix (even when comping) and the trumpet solo, though killing, is buried
somewhat. The drummer doesn’t sound particularly hip in terms of cutting up
the beat in unpredictable and creative ways (a la Roy Haynes). Sounds like
more of an old school time-keeper with that incessant ride cymbal work. Maybe
Jimmy Cobb. It’s definitely not Louis Hayes, who is more interactive on an upbeat
swinging tempo like this. Can’t hardly hear the bass player. Man, that piano is
brittle-sounding. Hey, that’s a Herbie riff on that solo. This is very energetic stuff,
Charles Tolliver
like something from the India Navigation or Strata-East labels from late ‘70s.(Editor's Note:Charles Tolliver was part of Strata East...GC)
It’s not Don Pullen. Is it Stanley Cowell? It’s a brisk neo-bop kind of tune with a
challenging arrangement, but I don’t know who the trumpeter is. He lacks the
chops of Freddie or Faddis or Woody Shaw, but he’s a stellar player. Sounds
like something that David Weiss’ band The Cookers (with Eddie Henderson, Billy
Harper, Craig Handy, Cecil McBee, George Cables) would play. But it’s definitely
an older recording. I’m stumped.

Marcus Miller
5. ( Nikki's Groove; Marcus Miller from M2, released in 2001.)
That’s unmistakably Marcus Miller. No one slaps with the kind of incredible
facility that he does. I mean, I heard him do a slap version of Jaco’s chops-
busting anthem “Teen Town.” Slapping through that whole head. And those
hammer-ons trills are signature Marcus. I don’t know the name of this tune but
it’s no doubt from one of his recent solo albums. His arrangements are always
so cool because he’s got a lot of Stevie Wonder in him and he layers all kinds
of slick little ear cookies on listeners, whether it’s a well-placed clavinet or bass
clarinet. This is so Stevie influenced. Very virtuosic yet very catchy. I’m not a
particular fan of that alto tone…kind of piercing. But this is a perfectly-crafted
pop instrumental that could be a giant radio play hit, like Billy Preston’s “Outa-
Space” was in 1972, if the whole system wasn’t so fucked up beyond belief. This
would’ve been all over the radio back in the ‘70s.

Chaka Khan
6. (Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most: Chaka Khan, vocal. From Echoes Of An Era; Chick Corea, piano)
 Right away, from the kind of staccato attack on the keyboard, it’s gotta be
Chick Corea. Vocals? And not Gayle Moran? Soul singer. Chick’s flowery
accompaniment behind her reminds me of Leprachaun. Oh, it’s that record he
did with Chaka Khan that Lenny White produced. With Freddie Hubbard and
Stanley Clarke – Echoes of an Era on Bruce Lundvall’s label at the time (Elektra-
Musician). It’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” performed as a duet
with Chick. I’m not a great fan of Chaka. Her screech tones hurt. And there’s too
much affectation in her phrasing here, like she’s trying to ‘do’ Sarah Vaughan
on the low notes. Oy! And the belting! My ears are bleeding already! And
please, someone please turn down the reverb. Jeez! This sounds like a tortured
performance. I would’ve must preferred to hear this done with Abbey Lincoln.

7. (The Windup; Keith Jarrett, Belonging; released in 1974; Jarrett, piano; Jan Gabarek, saxophones; Palle Danielsson, bass: Jon Chistiansen, drums.)Jarrett in his gospel-Americana Impulse phase. No, this is with his European
group with Jan Garbarek. It’s a catchy, familiar theme from one of those ECM
albums from the early ‘70s. Can’t remember the name. The drummer, Jon
Christiansen, sounds great here, like a lighter version of Jack DeJohnette.
Very interactive and swinging and really reacting to everything Keith does,
especially in this free section. They got a nice dialogue going on here while the
bass player is pedaling along in the background. Garbarek’s sax sounds like a
kazoo to me. Wimpy-ass tone, though some of his ideas here – floating in half
time over the churning rhythm section, a la Ornette – are cool. I’m really digging
this drummer. I haven’t listened to these recordings in literally decades. Might
be time to reinvestigate this stuff…or at least get updated to what Christiansen
has been doing. He’s another one of those brilliant European jazz artists that
Americans (like me) seem to overlook. Ah, and they’re back to that catchy theme.
Jarrett is great at creating those great, catchy heads, like on Treasure Island and
Expectations and Fort Yawuh. He’s really brilliant. If only he weren’t such a prick.

8. (Paraphernalia:Miles Davis, from Paraphernalia;Live in Paris 1969; Davis, trumpet;Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone; Chick Corea, Fender Rhodes; Dave Holland, Bass; Jack Dejohnette, Drums.) This is “Paraphernalia” from Miles in the Sky. But it’s not as hip as the album
version that I loved and committed to memory like a Beatles or Stones tune.
Must be from a concert. The Teo Macero-produced version starts out with a
crack from Tony Williams’ snare drum, followed by driving octaves from George
Benson on guitar while Tony heads into a Papa Jo Jones mode on the hi hat. It
has immediate impact and shape and a direction. This version I’m listening to is
meandering, not as focused or punchy as the original studio version. Not sure
what this is. Seems like it starts in the middle of an expansive jam where Herbie
is noodling around on a Fender Rhodes. Spacey and cool, but not as hip as the
punchy original with Benson on guitar. This has gotta be live. Miles’ playing is so
adrenalized here, and that’s definitely not Tony on drums. So it’s gotta be Jack
DeJohnette. Jack is amazing but his approach to the kit is rawer or more Elvin
influenced than Tony, who was so crisp and precise and quick-wristed…some
aspects of Buddy Rich in his playing, just in terms of peerless technique.
Jack is a wildman on the kit. He plays LOUD and forces those around him to
elevate their playing just to hang with him. I recently saw him bring out the more
aggressive aspects in John Scofield’s and Joe Lovano’s playing when they did
an all-star benefit gig together at The Falcon in Marlboro, New York. He’s a force
of nature, like Elvin. The soprano solo sounds like Wayne really opening up. And
that Rhodes player doesn’t sound like Herbie…too spiky and experimental. It’s
probably Keith Jarrett. Is this from the Antibes Festival, 1969? It’s cool and full
of raggedy, risk-taking energy but I much prefer the hipper, tighter studio version
with Herbie, Benson, Tony, Ron and Wayne.

9. ( Black Nile; from Thunder And Rainbows; released in 1995. Kenny Kirkland, piano; Charles Fambrough, bass. Jeff Watts, drums.)
Great piano player. The drum solo sounds like Jeff “Tain” Watts with that amazing metric modulation thing he does and that incredible rolling, off-kilter
Charles Fambrough, who was the leader of this record date!
polyrhythmic thing he does that sounds like his kit is falling down a staircase. So
this could be Kenny Kirkland. Or maybe George Cables. Both are very fiery yet
full of finesse…creative, expansive players. Or maybe even Geri Allen. Clever
use of that quote from “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” throughout this piece. Not
sure who the bass player is.

10. (Vulcan Worlds; Return To Forever, from Where Have I Known You Before; released in 1974; Chick Corea, keyboards; Al Di Meola, guitars;Stanley Clarke, bass; Lenny White, drums.)
Again, triggering deep-seated memories from my impressionable years in
Milwaukee. This is “Vulcan Worlds” from Return To Forever’s Where Have I
Known You Before. It came out in 1974 just as I had turned 20 and it hit me
on a number of levels. The sheer power of the record blew me away and the
funkiness of the rhythm tandem of Stanley Clarke and Lenny White connected
it to a Sly Stone aesthetic, but it also had one foot in the jazz camp. This was
exciting new music to me at the time. I was coming from a Hendrix-Zappa-James
Brown-Sly Stone place, so these virtuosic jazz-rock bands played right into my
wheelhouse. And I ate it all up. Just as Ira Gitler had embraced the music of
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when he was 20, I embraced RTF and the
Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report when I was 20. And I felt especially
connected to RTF in particular because the hotshot young guitarist in the band,
Al Di Meola, was my same age (two months older). For most Return To Forever
fans, Romantic Warrior was their Sgt. Pepper’s. But I preferred Where Have I
Known You Before for its rawer edge and its exhilarating go-for-it energy. Plus,
it was the album that initiated me into the RTF cult. (By the way, I preferred
Revolver to Sgt. Pepper’s for the same reasons).

George, most of this music was right in my wheelhouse. All stuff I grew up with
and was imprinted on my teenage brain for all times.