Friday, June 24, 2011

Tour Diary June 2011: Birmingham Conservatoire with Jeff Ballard

So, after my three whirling weeks in Europe in May, it was nice to be home to see my family and do some laundry. However, there was still traveling to be done: this time, Birmingham, England was the destination. I was asked to teach and perform at the Birmingham Conservatoire with drumming phenom Jeff Ballard. I was thrilled and honored to be thought of in the same company as Ballard, who is known for his work with Chick Corea, Joshua Redman, and Brad Mehldau. We were scheduled to do a four -day stint at the beginning of June; and so, I packed my bag once again, headed to JFK, and boarded the Virgin Atlantic flight to London Heathrow Airport. At least this time, I would be mostly in one place, although I would have one extra day in London; the extra stay-over made the airfare a lot less.

The planning of this little excursion was actually two years in the making, thanks to the efforts of two English gentlemen: Jeremy Price, who is the head honcho of the Birmingham Conservatoire, and Tony Dudley-Evans, who is a promoter in the region, and also curates the great Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I knew Dudley-Evans from when I played in Birmingham for the first time with clarinetist Don Byron years ago. Dudley-Evans booked my quartet at Cheltenham in 2003, which was a blast. I met trombonist Jeremy Price at a week-long clinic in Denmark, where Ballard was also an instructor. Price and Dudley-Evans thought that Ballard and I would make a good teaching combination.

The theme of the week was "improvising interactively". The focus was somewhat on the rhythm sections; Price asked Ballard and I to talk about how to play while listening to others in the band. I thought this was a great idea, and this sort of theme always leads to other themes and tangents. So, with this in mind, it wasn't hard to come up with things to say. The first day in Birmingham, after a bus ride from Heathrow to Birmingham, checking in to my hotel and getting a long nap, I headed over to the school for a masterclass. I was alone on this one, due to Ballard's flight being delayed in Lisbon. (He was on a gig with Joe Lovano.) Right away, I was impressed by the attentiveness and humility of the students. And the overall musical level was pretty high. Clearly, most of these students already had a good feel for jazz, and could play well over basic tunes. I played with the students and answered questions; it was pretty smooth and it got us off to a positive start.

One thing that was interesting about the week was hearing so many different English accents; the students were from all over the U.K. At times, it was actually hard to decipher, but eventually, my ear adjusted. And I started to think my own accent sounded weird (I'm not sure if I have a distinguishable accent. Most people can't tell where I grew up, past the United States. I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, while my Mom and Dad were from East Orange, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York, respectively. But I think if I lived in England, I would probably, much like Madonna, end up sounding British after a while.)

Jeff Ballard finally arrived the next morning, and so he ran the morning masterclass, while I merely played piano. After only playing one tune with Ballard, I lamented that over the years we had not played together much(we did play with Mark Turner once and then he subbed in my organ trio at the Cork Jazz Festival years earlier). Ballard is one of the most musical jazz drummers out there; he plays very organically, and has great control over dynamics and sound. He's always listening and reacting; it's a very pure approach. It can be unpredictable, but in a good way, because Ballard always has an open mind as to what can happen next in the music.

Ballard is a natural teacher as well. He has a lot to say and is very passionate about the music. He knows the history and also knows about world rhythms and different genres. He's also aware of the harmony and the melody. The students were very receptive to Ballard's comments and ideas.
Jeremy Price was trying to make sure that as many of the student as possible got the chance to play with Ballard and yours truly. I think it can be meaningful for students to get a memorable musical moment with very advanced players. Hopefully, it will be a sort of "A-HA!" moment in a player's development. I know I've had a lot of those moments over the years...

Ballard and I rotated listening and playing with the small ensembles later in the day (and more over the next few days). The plan was to narrow down the ensembles that would get to perform on the final concert. There were six ensembles, but only three spots. I actually thought that everyone should get to play, but that probably would have taken up too much time.(We ended up with four ensembles in the end.) Again, there were a lot of talented, hard working students, but we were able to narrow it down based on the ability of each group to play together in a mature, musical fashion.

One night, after some spicy Thai food and Thai beer(well, there was no spice in the beer), we headed over to an Irish bar called The Spotted Dog, in a neighborhood called Digbeth. There was a pretty intense jam session, which was organized by a saxophonist named Michael Fletcher and a jazz enthusiast (and actor) named Miriam Edwards. (Fletcher and Edwards are also involved with something called Rhubarb Radio; I ended up doing an interview for their show at the end of the week.)The bar was packed to the gills. Ballard and I played trio with a local bassist. The level of enthusiam was quite high, from the musicians sitting in as well as the listeners.

The final day of teaching, we selected which groups would perform. Some of the groups had their own originals, while others learned some arrangements that I had made up on the spot. It was shaping up to be a satisfying concert. Before the show, I went back to my hotel to change clothes; unfortunately, the mechanism on my hotel room door ceased to function! Hotel employees were forced to drill into the side of the wall in order for me to enter the room and get my concert attire. I cut it close, but I was able to shower, change, and still make the concert on time.

After the concert, there was another jam session at a little bar next to the hotel called The Yardbird, which was another fun hang; I sat in on drums and keyboard, and I jammed a bit on the melodica as well. I was impressed at the vibrant nature of the Birmingham scene. Some of the students remarked that Birmingham as a jazz city doesn't get the proper attention, since it is so close to London. I suppose it would be like comparing New York City to Baltimore, in terms of size and music scene. And much like New York, London is so expensive to live that it can prove daunting for young musicians to try and move there to seek their fortunes. Still, many of the young players in Birmingham were ambitious, and I hoped that they were inspired and gratified by the week's lectures and musical interactions.

I had two extra days in the U.K.; on Friday, Fletcher and Edwards showed me around Birmingham a bit, and we returned to the Spotted Dog for a quiet evening of getting hammered on beer and Irish whiskey. The next morning, I took a train to London, and a friend of mine, who I previously knew only from Facebook, offered to show me around Hyde Park. It was a leisurely end to my British excursion, and I anticipated a return visit in the hopefully near future.
Jeff Ballard Masterclass 1

Ballard Masterclass 2

Ballard answering questions

Ballard playing with the students

Pick a pint, any pint!

dessert cart at Thai restaurant

Interesting wall hanging at Thai Restaurant

Spring rolls and such

Birmingham 1

Birmingham 2

Birmingham 3

Birmingham 4

Birmingham 5

Birmingham 6

Pie AND Mash? WOW!

this is a Spanish favorite

This is a Dutch favorite....I think.....

Ballard playing the shite out of the cajon

Men trying to open my door 1

trying to open my door 2

Final concert 1

Final Concert 2

Proof that my blog is not a hoax


Park in Birmingham

they call this part of town the Bullring.....

And this is called the Custard Factory....

Custard Factory 2

Custard Factory 3

Custard Factory 4

Hyde Park 1

Hyde Park 2

Hyde Park 3

Hyde Park 4

Hyde Park 5

mmmm, Ice cream.......

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jazz For Humanity: Interview with Rayannah Kroeker

Can jazz save the world? Most jazz musicians are just trying to save themselves from having to get a day job. But, while I was teaching in Winnipeg, I met one jazz vocal student who wanted to make a difference and started her own charity: Jazz For Humanity. Rayannah Kroeker, now a graduate of the University of Manitoba, combined her musical talents and humanitarian inclinations to raise funds for victims of Rwandan genocide. I was impressed, and I thought my readers might be interested in hearing more about it. Perhaps, in the future, more musicians will be inspired to start similar organizations.

 GC: What exactly is Jazz For Humanity? Why is this recent concert significant?

Curtis Nowosad performing for Jazz for Humanity
RK: Jazz for Humanity is a volunteer-run project which strives to serve two communities : the community of Kimironko (Rwanda), comprised mostly of widows of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and their families, and the Winnipeg arts community. We do this by putting on an annual benefit concert of which all funds raised go towards supporting development projects by Ubuntu Edmonton (, our partner organization in Kimironko. Since 2007, the project has grown to involve over eighty musicians, dancers, visual artists, culinary artists and volunteers and has sent over $38000 to Rwanda to contribute to Ubuntu's efforts. What began as a small jazz concert run by three high school students is now a massive production which has brought hundreds of people together. It's been very exciting to see so much original art born in our city as a result of this project. It seems that when inspired by the need for social justice and equality, art reaches and moves a wide variety of people. 

Rayannah Kroeker(left) performing for Jazz for Humanity
This year was particularly significant for our organization as it was the fifth and final edition of our annual benefit concert. For our executive committee (mostly recent university graduates), it's time to make big changes in our lives, which means the scale and shape of Jazz for Humanity has to change. This being the case, we wanted to host our best benefit evening yet. In my eyes, the most exciting element of the 2011 event was that we featured two artists from Kimironko for the first time. Two pieces were shipped over the ocean for our art auction (which took place before and during the intermission of our concert), and Rodrigue Pageau traveled all the way to Winnipeg to dance and sing on stage with us. To me this truly illustrates the partnership between our communities. This isn't a one-sided charity project, it's an exchange between equals. 

GC: What made you interested in humanitarian work?

RK: I've always loved working with people. Largely thanks to my parents, I had the opportunity to meet, play and work with all kinds of them as I was growing up. Some of these people were well-off individuals, and others came from circumstances I was starting to understand were vastly different from mine. I was lucky to have many teachers in high school which helped me see the injustice which had lead to these circumstances. There was an opportunity to get involved and it was easy to make that choice.

This eventually lead me to travel to Rwanda in 2008. While I had already started Jazz for Humanity a year before this trip and felt strongly about volunteering for charity, I didn't understand much about the complexities of poverty and development work itself. Most importantly, I hadn't fundamentally realized that still, I was working with people. Real people. Looking back now, I don't think its possible to do a good job with development work if this doesn't click inside you. It seems simple, but I see many projects where this real and honest human exchange is lacking. Good development is not charity, its partnership. Its not about donations but about working together and enabling each other to find creative solutions. Charity is the foundation of continued hand-outs and bare subsistence, while partnership is the bedrock on which transformation is built. I find the second really exciting. 

Most of what I've learned from my trip to Rwanda in 2008 has come as a result of reflecting and discussing throughout the following three years. I've slowly formed a more realistic idea of what humanitarian and development work is, and I know its going to be something I participate in for the rest of my life. 

GC: Is it possible to expand Jazz for Humanity beyond Winnipeg? What if other musicians in other parts of the world wanted to model what you have done?

RK: As I mentioned, June 10 2011 marked the last edition of our annual Jazz for Humanity benefit evening. However it certainly doesn't mark the end of our team's involvement with the Kimironko community and development in general. I think there's a lot of room for Jazz for Humanity to take on a new life in the future, perhaps even within Kimironko itself. We are in the process of archiving all the information and resources we've created throughout the past five years, and I hope it can be useful not only to us but to others who want to see how the project ticked. 

When it comes down to it, Jazz for Humanity was a relatively simple idea : raise funds by using your musical and artistic talent, and donate these to an organization you feel is doing good work. Its been done many times and there are many ways to do it. Ours is one of them. There are only two things that absolutely need to be accounted for when doing this sort of project. The first is to really check-out the organization you want to support and do some thinking about where your efforts are best used. The second is to treat the project as a partnership, and to remember that in the end, you are working with real people. 

GC: Do you believe it's possible to end world hunger in our lifetime?

RK: I hope so, but I'm not waiting for a grandiose crossing of the finish line. Nor am I waiting for a sudden decision by a select few in power to flip the switch. Poverty is an incredibly complex thing. Because each community or country we would consider 'hungry' is different from one to the next, we can't address poverty with one global blanket solution. While much has to change in the social, economic and political relationships between regions worldwide to tackle these issues, many organizations have found a way to do spectacular work within these circumstances. We have to challenge poverty within the context we've been given, whether that means lobbying our governments or contributing to a worthy organization. Its important to realize that there are choices in the answer to this question. Communities fundamentally need to develop themselves, and so the choice is in large part theirs to make. However the other part of the choice, the part that rests on the rich fifth of the world, is our choice, not the choice of a few people in the corridors of power. Making it means a lot of work, readjustments, and sometimes failure, but ultimately it will lead to a healthier world. We can choose to be informed or not, to have compassion or not, to act or not. We decide. 

GC: How can my readers donate?

RK: The Jazz for Humanity team will soon be making its 2011 contribution to Ubuntu Edmonton's projects in Rwanda. Help drive Kimironko's community initiatives! Visit and download our donation form. 

If you want to get involved in development in general but have some questions and aren't sure where to start, contact

(photos by Miguel Yetman (Chrestos Photography)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Jazz Pianists of Baltimore, Maryland, Part 1

Every jazz musician has their influences. Many musicians talk fondly of their favorite recorded music. However, if you go back to earlier generations, you find that musicians talk more about the players that they heard live and the players that they knew, or even studied with. Jazz started as more of a folk tradition, with information being handed down to the next generation, and each generation adding to the tradition. I believe that has changed somewhat, due to the lack of local venues, and our increasingly isolated society. After all, it is a great thing to take from recorded music; it's actually essential. But what about hearing people live? Don't you think music has more of an impact when you can actually see the musicians and feel the vibrations?

Gary Bartz

I feel lucky that I was in Baltimore when there were still a lot of gigs going on, although many of the
piano gigs were in hotels or restaurants. I missed the era of The Closet, a great jazz club that closed not long after I arrived at Peabody Conservatory (I did see one performance of Gary Bartz and his quartet before they went out of business, but the Closet used to be the spot where New York musicians would come down and play with the top local rhythm sections). But I did spend a lot of time at the New Haven Lounge, which had New York players and top local players every weekend. I also used to go to the One Step Down and Blues Alley and Twins in Washington D.C., which had even more name acts. Baltimore and Washington D.C. are so close that, at least in the 90's, it was considered the same "market" and musicians would frequently drive back and forth between both cities.

Tim Murphy

One of the pianists who was a huge influence on me was Tim Murphy. I first heard Murphy at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Baltimore in 1987. My friend and fellow Peabody classmate, trumpeter Alex Norris, took me down there to hear the house trio, which featured vocalist Shelia Ford, pianist Armen Boyajin, bassist Larry Kinling, and drummer Jim Hannah. But Boyajin was not playing piano this time, he was playing violin, and Tim Murphy was playing piano. I remember hearing Murphy play some harmonies that sounded like Hindemith on absinthe! And I wasn't yet serious about the piano as my main instrument, but the more I listened to Murphy that night, the more I had the inclination that "I want to do what HE is doing...."

It turned out that Tim Murphy is actually very studied in the jazz tradition: he can show you two
handed Oscar Peterson blues licks for days, and he's transcribed a lot of Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. But he also happens to be a virtuoso classical organist, and he has performed many works for pipe organ by Oliver Messian. Messian had his own system of harmony based on "modes of limited transposition", which includes what you might know as the diminished scale. Murphy urged me to look at Messian's book entitled The Technique Of My Musical Language, which I did, although it was kind of advanced for me at the time, in retrospect.

Murphy and I ended up playing together in the Baltimore-based Latin Jazz band called Rumba Club; I was playing timbales in the band, if you can believe that! But I used that vantage point to check out what Murphy was playing, and any time he played a chord I wanted to steal, I would yell from the timbales, "What was that chord?" and Murphy would shout back,"I'll tell you later!" And eventually, Murphy couldn't make a lot of the Rumba Club gigs, so I ended up subbing for him, and trying to basically sound exactly like him, which of course I couldn't.

You might know Murphy's playing if you are a Gary Thomas fan; Murphy is on many of Thomas' recordings, including Code Violations, By Any Means Neccessary, 'Til We Have Faces, Exile's Gate, and The Kold Kage. Unfortunately, Murphy has not to my knowledge recorded as a leader, and at this writing he is still in Maryland,  teaching in the Peabody Jazz Program and also at Towson University. I think Murphy is one of the most unique players that remains in obscurity. Murphy never had the desire to move to New York and join the Jazz Rat Race, which is unfortunate, because I think he is deserving of wider recognition.

Bob Butta
Another big influence on my decision to switch to jazz piano is another Baltimore native named Bob Butta. The only time I ever went to The Closet, Butta was in the rhythm section backing Gary Bartz (with Geoff Harper on bass and Steve Williams on drums). I remember thinking at the time that that was first time I ever heard a band that sounded close to what the John Coltrane Quartet must have sounded like live; they played with so much intensity, and they really stretched out. Butta is a forceful accompanist, channeling the likes of Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner, and Horace Silver all at once. And Butta has the "right hand of doom"; he took the Tyner pentatonic idea and put his own stamp on it.

I probably saw Butta play more than anybody in Baltimore. I followed Butta around so much that he
started joking that "Yeah, he's my son!" I tried to absorb his techniques. Butta really knows the history; in his playing you'll hear Red Garland, Bill Evans, Cedar Walton, and Theolonious Monk. Butta is a real " jazz pianist's jazz pianist". It's unfortunate that he, like Murphy, never moved to New York. Although, there is a legendary story about Butta being in New York at the Star Cafe jam session in the 80's and while he was playing, bassist Lonnie Plaxico ran in and said in Butta's ear, "Art Blakey needs a piano player, we are driving to Canada tonight!" And Butta replied, "Can I finish playing this tune first?" And then when the tune was over, Plaxico was gone, and Blakey had driven off. (At least that's how I recall Butta telling me the story, I would accept some corroboration....")

For more on Tim Murphy, click here. For more on Bob Butta, click here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Ralph Peterson Interview

Ralph Peterson

I was recently in Athens, as part of my tour with Jack DeJohnette. Shortly after arriving, I'm sitting in my hotel room, and I get an unexpected call. "Colligan!"
And then I hear one of my obscure compositions, "Reaction", being sung by a gravelly yet pitch perfect voice. It could only be one person….
"Ralph? What are you doing here?"

Ralph Peterson is one of the greatest jazz drummers there is, period. Originally from Pleasantville, New Jersey, and also originally a trumpeter (I can relate to that…), Peterson rose to prominence as one of the great young drummers with a band called Out Of The Blue, more commonly known as OTB. (Indeed, I had a record, actually a cassette, of OTB called "Live At Mt. Fuji" that I listened to constantly in the early 90's.) Peterson also played as the second drummer with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers (that's a pretty high honor).

He has played with most of the greats in jazz, and has a long discography as a leader. Some of his Blue Note recordings were favorites of mine, albums like "Triangular", "Volition", and especially "Art", a tribute to Blakey. (Unfortunately, these are hard to find, since Blue Note destroyed a lot of their catalogue, for some reason. This was before Itunes….) Peterson recently started his own label, which is called Onyx Music; the first release is called "Outer Reaches" and features a fabulous organ quartet called the Unity Project ( I heard them last summer at the Iridium and was blown away. Organist Pat Bianchi was serious!)


I was personally fortunate that Peterson played on two of my CDs as a leader; "Activism"(Steeplechase) and "Ultimatum" (Criss Cross), respectively. He also performed in a series of quartet concerts featuring a suite I composed entitled Post 9-11, which was funded by Chamber Music America and the now defunct Arts International. There is a recording, but for now, it remains unreleased. 

What I love about Peterson's playing is what I would call passionate precision: the swing and energy is like a hurricane, but the time is consistent and grounded, and the form of the tune is always being addressed. Peterson has huge ears and is a quick study in terms of learning new compositions. He's also still pretty killing on the trumpet, and not a bad pianist and bassist. Furthermore, Peterson's passion for the music has translated into becoming a renowned teacher. He's been full time at Berklee for the better part of a decade. 

Peterson was in Athens performing with some Greek musicians. I told him I wanted to get an interview and we agreed to meet the next morning out by the pool. As expected, he was candid and articulate.

GC: What do you think is the state of the jazz music business these days?

RP: The nature of the business is exploitative.  So, once you’ve realized that, as an artist, you fall out of favor with those who have the power. The "chosen ones" are just getting younger and younger now to where all the guy has to do is get into college and he’s trying to get calls for gigs. I think that the cats who are now teaching in the colleges should be the development network. It should be, for example, that I could call Mulgrew Miller and say, “Ok, Who is the killing piano player out here? ” Or I’d call you and ask “Who is the killing piano player I should know about? ” And then, musicians can determine who is the next great player. Unfortunately, now it’s competitions and record labels that are determining who is the next great player.

Sometimes it’s not even the professors. It’s the administrators and the trustees and the Board of Directors deciding to put the weight and full force of support at a program behind a particular individual. You dig what I’m saying? When on the other hand, there are young students who are trying to go through the process and come out credentialed as well as experienced; like pianist Victor Gould...Yeah, Victor Gould is a cat that you should hear.  He would leave you feeling encouraged about the future of your instrument...

And all of this is coming from me, a guy who was thought of as un-credentialed and unexperienced when I first hit the scene. Okay, so it ironic that I’m even saying it.
Michael Carvin

Back in ’85 and ’86 when OTB happened, they were saying the same shit about me.  But I finished school.  Under the loving threat of physical violence from my teacher, Michael Carvin, saying to me, “You can quit school and go to New York…. but don’t let me see you in the streets” …..(laughing)

GC: Let's go back a little.  Talk a little bit about Alan Dawson and the Rudiment Ritual.  Why you think it's important?

RP: There are a group of fantastic drummers at Berklee who studied with Alan.  Alan and Joe Hunt started the program (When I had my back surgery, Joe Hunt subbed for me- I was out on medical leave ). Alan’s body of work is a teacher’s would speak for itself in his students, right?  So, I was always talking about my philosophy regarding any kind of musical information: take what you need and leave the rest. And don’t buy in lock – stock- and- barrel to any philosophy that is not based in your own experience.  Because then you are not living your life.  You are living somebody else’s. And so, to the extent that the program is now moving back towards a complete embracing – of every idea that Alan had, every idea that Alan has is not going to work for everybody, and what Alan taught , he lived, and he might have taught it differently to Kenwood Dennard, and then differently to Terri Lynne Carrington, and that might have been different from the way he taught John Ramsay. Because Alan is making you do three rudiments at a time, and you don’t get anymore rudiments until you come back for the next lesson.  Maybe it's because he doesn’t think you can handle any more information than that. Maybe another student who has either a better work ethic... or ability to absorb information at a greater rate….they might get more. You can give information many different ways. But I‘m personally not going to hold somebody back based on a pre-described formula.

 I have looked at the ritual and found a way to develop it, using the principles of three-part writing, to do the exercises using parallel, contrary, and oblique motion. You apply those rules to your hands and the Rudiment Ritual and you come up with some very interesting things around the instrument. But I refuse to teach any drummer the motions on the ritual until they have memorized the exercise in their body. Because I don’t want him read it while he’s trying to expand it.  So if you teach that way, it’s kind of like peeling an onion in reverse.  You stuff a layer and then you make sure that, that layer is internalized and then, once you are sure that layer of information is internalized; you put the next expansion on top of it.  Like in the Navy Seals….talking about the next evolution. When you go to a Navy Seal’s training, they talk about how it ratchets up in intensity. Each ratchet is called an evolution.
Alan Dawson

That’s my approach, and I think the power and greatness of the Berklee Program is the fact that these are maybe 37 great drummers there all with different approaches to teach you.

GC:  Well,  the way you play, the way Terri Lynne plays, the way Kenwood Dennard plays, these are all completely different.

RP: Completely different. And Neil Smith as well. But each has its own value. There are times  at Berklee when Neil will come over and just bring his student and sit in the room , while I’m working with my student. And vice-versa. Although truthfully, there are some union restrictions at Berklee with so-called "team teaching" …but informally, this is collaborative education. Where the individual components, when combined in the right way, offer a better education experience for the students than sitting in the room with me by myself.       

GC: Is there a lot more to playing jazz drums, than just playing the instrument?

RP: Well,  yeah, and that’s been the niche I've  kind of carved out for myself at Berklee.  When I got there and I realized that, even the best drummers there, the ones that were playing with Gary Burton didn’t know how many bars are in the “A” Section of  Benny Golson's"Stablemates".

GC: "Stablemates" can be revealing for a drummer….

RP: You know what I’m saying! Oh! Didn’t know the tune at all! It became the "AHA!" moment when I realized why I was there.... that this is what I have to contribute.  This is why I’ve kept playing trumpet – even when I was studying drums. This is why I survived Ted Dunbar's class, as opposed to quit it or be failed in it.  I kind of side-stepped by taking an independent study on it on a graduate level.  Because when I was a student. I loved Ted for what he stood for, and what he taught- but we were just like oil and water, with regard to the drums, to be melodic. So once he found out that I played trumpet, I had to play trumpet in the class!

So, my experience as a student cast the metal for what I teach now. Drummers have to learn tunes. The other thing I teach is break your dependence on the Real Book.  First of all, 60% of the Real Book is wrong. The other thing is  if you only learn repertoire out of the book? Then you won't learn application.  You won't learn the syntax and the language.You will learn the syntax and the language by listening to the recording. And you can learn the melody, but, to hear how the melody was..... most creatively improvised on, you have to listen to the records .

GC: There are a lot of great tunes that aren’t in the books.

RP: Sometimes the best tunes aren't in the books! The Book covers kind of the basic language. Rudimentary tune knowledge – right? And so I created this class for Jazz Drum Set Repertoire a while ago .They have 15 weeks to learn about 50 tunes. I am still getting pushed back over the number of tunes that I require students to learn.  Out of the 50, 20 to 30 of them they should already know if they are considering themselves in any way shape or form  serious about jazz. So half the class is….what’s the word? Not rudimentary... but remedial in nature. But the other half of the class is with recordings and the Real Book.  I usually disseminate five tunes a week. 5 tunes a week is not a lot.That's one tune a day with two days off!

The practical application of learning tunes quickly is like so: if I get a call today- it's Thursday- for recording on Saturday...  the best a band leader can do is next day mail us the music. Or I suppose with email you could get the music by tonight. Right? Fine. We can see and hear the music tonight.  Right? But the best we have is 24 hours to learn the music. And you need to be ready to record on Saturday!

GC: Right.

RP: And so learning 50 tunes in 15 weeks is just the tip of the iceberg.  You know it's funny, George … I always mention you at the beginning of every semester, as a high example of this skill set. This is a skill set; the ability to learn people’s music and internalize it.  You know if I called you for a gig you’d be playing some of my music from memory……..

GC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.    

RP: Still, that’s one of the thing I love most about you.  It's your commitment to internalize music – which is why you play so well.

GC: But it takes work.

RP: Yeah! You have to want it!

GC:  Let me ask about that. Do you think that, in general these days, the work ethic amongst students is lower?

RP: Yes. And I believe it is so…. because as a culture, we have come to a place where the number of students is more important than the quality of students. Colleges, institutions of higher learning, are now fund raising machines; they’re not instruments of education. And considering we are sitting here in the shadow of the Acropolis, what with Socrates, and all, it's kind of ironic. The Greeks, they were about enlightenment. It wasn’t about funding, it was about the information.

And that pendulum swings back and forth.  Just like the pendulum we were discussing earlier: the need for the credentials. You know, when I started at college, you didn’t really need a lot of credentials to be a college professor.  By the time I finished college, you couldn’t imagine having more than an adjunct position without a master’s degree. And then, by the ‘90’s, it loosened up again.

 Well, now that having money is what drives the schools in a sense... and it's not about having money to pay teachers, mind you – it's having money in the building,  or having money to give away scholarships to people who don’t necessarily deserve them.  It's having money to send students on trips, rather than keep their ass in class, you know? Colleges are notorious for sending students on concert tours.  They say to the students, "Do this this concert  and represent your college. Travel here, represent your college.  And, oh by the way, you are on academic probation – for all the classes you missed!"  It's like a shell game.

The other thing that contributes to the state of me answering yes to that question, is that these conservatory minded music departments departments don't even know what jazz means anymore. When you have institutions trying to position themselves to take credit for the success of anybody who ever ate lunch in their cafeteria, regardless of whether or not they complete the program, then that's a problem. Plus, a mentality on the part of students that, because they came from the McDonald's All American State Band or the All County Band, or what have you, then they should go to music school. And that's in the few communities left in America where music programs are supported at the secondary level.  Which is a whole other issue, the lack of music in the schools, and how to fix that problem.  You don’t even start in high school, but we need to start in grade school, in terms of fixing this problem. Things are so different now, because when I was at school , and when you were in school, people didn’t come to school with guns….

GC: No, no.

RP: No. I don’t think it’s a straight line, but there’s a line from the absence of music programs to the increasing violence in schools. There is an absolute co-relative line: Music teaches people who they are.  It teaches you about yourself. You learn your own limitations. You learn about your ego. You learn about having courage. So, these principles are not being taught in computer stations. And for many kids, both parents are working.  You know, parents working two jobs to send the kid to the best school, but sadly, the parents aren’t around to teach them anything....

 And so, it's an interesting dilemma. I think the first step in solving the problem is admitting the exact nature of it. ( I am slipping into familiar language, based on my life’s experience.) But once you find principles that are universally true, it's one size fits all. So if you're throwing money at the symptom, by installing metal detectors, and increased security, and more video cameras, that's throwing money at the symptom – right?

GC: Right.  That’s not a solution.

RP: That’s like moving a drug addict to the suburbs from the inter city to the suburbs. It's sending him to some country club for some 28 days. It doesn’t work.

GC:  How important is it to have musical heroes?

RP: I think if you don’t know how to play like somebody else first, you can never arrive at what somebody can identify as your own style. That’s another problem with what’s going on right now. All these institutions are pushing kids to have their own style.

GC: Before they are ready.

RP: I’m telling you…. they ain’t got no fucking style.  I don’t have no fucking style.  My style is copying the style of the people I love and the way I combine it and that’s nothing more.

GC: But it has come out as your own identifiable style?

RP: Yeah, the way I combine these musical things is not going to be the way you combine them, even if we study the same guy’s playing. Because it’s art and art is subjective. Subjective means two people standing in front of art and coming away with different things from the experience that’s the nature of art.

One of the phenomenons of the music industry is that art is not necessarily promoting formula.  The formula is copied and redone until it becomes so common that it doesn’t attract any attention anymore! They have to find a way to rework it, right?  I mean anybody that’s old enough to know Madonna, they don't think Lady Gaga is anything new.

 But, it’s a hell of a thing getting old, right? You find  yourselves thinking things and saying things that you remember your parents or  your teachers saying to you and you think, “I’ll never think that way!!”  Well, here we are!  Amazing how different things become. And in that way, life is like a doorknob: everybody gets a turn!

GC: Especially when you have kids.

RP: Man!! And when that happens in your life, as an artist and a musician…it changes what you think to be important. My daughter just graduated from college.  She’ll be 22 in June.  You know….  whether you're in a cohesive type of family or whether you’re in kind of some adaptation of that, it's still family. And so, being a parent is some shit that nobody can prepare you for, and nobody can tell you about.

I'm watching Facebook. Some of the shit people write makes me laugh! Because, you know, they write some shit, and they don’t have kids, and they are talking about parenthood…. or they are talking about what’s wrong with kids.  I say to them: have some.  Yeah, have one.  And then come talk to me.

GC: But there are good things about Facebook, no?

RP: I use it to keep in contact with people that are important to me.  But that’s on the positive side.  It's really a platform that lives up to the old saying my grandmother used to tell me,“ it's one thing to go through life being quiet and having people think you’re an idiot, it's another thing all together to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

 But regarding having kids, I think that having a family redefines our purpose. It redefines the purpose of your life, and when that happens, the purpose of your heart transforms.

GC: What's going on with you lately in terms of your music?

RP: There are times when I feel my musical repertoire leaning towards things like the music that created the “Unity Project”. Then there are times when I think about the Subliminal Seduction recording, where I want to play and write my own music. And then there is this whole venture that I am off into now: being a record label owner. And I really want to make that mean something.  I don’t want to be a guy who only puts out his own records.  Because a lot of people who do that already.  I really want to try to create a platform for other people who go through the process, and are deserving of the platform.  Not because of the way they look or some other superficial aspect of what they present, but just because the cat can play!  He or she does not have to be handsome or beautiful.  They don’t have to play classical.  You know what I’m saying?  They don’t have to sing popular songs…… just you know, be great with your instrument. If we get back to the quality of the music being enough.... and the technology is the thing that’s going to empower us musicians to take over that.That’s why I really believe in what you’re doing here, with your blog, and interviewing the cats. It’s part of taking it back for the musicians.

 Jazz writers used to know a little bit more about the music than they know now, besides recordings.  They actually used to spend sometime trying to play ... Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch... these cats played instruments. But we as musicians... we ought to be defining for ourselves what’s great. We shouldn’t be beholden to people who don’t do what we do for validation, to make us a employable commodity, or entity in the industry. We have the power now through the technology to redefine that.

So, I’ve written some liner notes for some CDs.  I intend to do more. I think cats should write other cats liner notes! Bassist Dwayne Burno wrote the liner notes for Jeremy Pelt's latest record.  This is the thing that need to happen more. Because in doing so, we can reclaim what’s good, and it doesn’t become this subjective, myopic view point of somebody that can’t see past the certain period of music.