Monday, March 25, 2013

Calling Them Out: Cornelia Street Cafe

I wish I had two more hands so I could give this place 4 thumbs down

Last year, I heard an amazing classical pianist named Adam Tendler perform at Portland State University. Tendler played a stellar interpretation of John Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano." Tender was also gracious enough to speak with the audience afterwards. He answered questions, and gave the small crowd many thoughtful insights into his musical career and his approach to preparing Cage's work. Tendler is quite busy as a performer; however, he finds the time (kind of like yours truly) to blog about music.

I recently saw a post on his blog which really struck me. Tendler wrote about recently attended performance at a venue in New York called Cornelia Street Cafe. This club is known to most jazz musicians and fans. I've played there a number of times over the years. The small club is in the heart of Greenwich Village, in the basement of a restaurant. They are known for presenting jazz and poetry, but sometimes they present other things. In this case, Tender was at Cornelia to see a fellow New Music minded classical musician. Unfortunately, the performance went horribly wrong. What follows is an "Open Letter To Cornelia Street Cafe", reprinted from Tendler's blog The Dissonant States:

“Awful.” “Shitty” “Shocking” “Horrifying.” “Gross.” ”Unbelievable.” “Outrageous.” “Disgusting.” “Despicable.” 

Those are some comments already posted on my various social media platforms after I informed my friends and followers about last night’s experience at Cornelia Street Cafe, where I witnessed a performer humiliated onstage by manager Angelo Verga, who then proceeded to verbally assault a fellow audience member and me. 
Let me continue: “That really sucks.” “Yelp here I come!” “Good to know.” “They don’t realize how fast word gets around.” “Insulting.” “The owner would be ashamed…” “A fucking nightmare.” “What?!” “Retweeting.” “Sharing this now.”
Okay, you get the point.
I’ve frequented Cornelia for years, and even visited multiple times last week for various concerts and a CD release party. I have no personal bone to pick with Cornelia Street Cafe. But after seeing Andy Costello, who came from Montreal to perform his 6pm recital Sunday evening, humiliated onstage by your manager because of a poor turnout and an apparently confounding program, and then, after being forced to cut his set short—he had two pieces left, fifteen minutes, and Angelo insisted he “make it ten” because “they needed the room” (the next performance was in an hour and a half)—and then, once offstage, guilt-tripped even further for having not drawn a crowd and lectured about how much money was lost… well, I was stunned. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Never.
When I brought up the fact that I paid a full price, plus drinks, for the performance, and would have liked to have heard the whole program, Verga dismissed the objection, saying “he didn’t give a shit.” Wow. Okay. As one of my friends said: “Good to know.”
Does Cornelia, as a venue, not understand the risk in presenting music in New York City (especially a modern program at 6pm on a Sunday)? The New York classical music scene is either like high school, dominated by popular cliques, or like conservatory, where friends come to their friends’ recitals in solidarity. It’s mostly the latter, honestly—every performance I’ve attended at Cornelia has been populated mainly by acquaintances of the performers—and mostly a New York phenomenon. Someone can sell out a show out of town, have a following on the West Coast, and then play to an empty room in New York because they don’t have a devoted following of local friends. It’s reality, and it’s unfortunate, but most of all, it seems to be news to you! Anyway, Andy did his best. He marketed online (that’s how I heard about the show) and sent you posters. Where were they? Not in the front window, to be sure.
As a performer who has sold out venues nationwide but who has also suffered the misfortune of playing to virtually empty halls, I urged Angelo to understand that these things happen, that it’s no one’s fault, but that interrupting a recital and tossing out a paying audience (of any size) is unacceptable and an unwise move for a presenter. His response, again, that he “doesn’t give a shit,” came as a shock from which I’ve still not totally recovered. Maybe it’s just that I’m not used to being cursed at, especially by a host at a restaurant where I just paid a bunch of money. The fact that my friend wasn’t paid his cut of the door (it would’ve been $20, but who cares, right?) only adds insult to injury. So my money, for this catastrophic experience, went straight to Cornelia and to no one else. I couldn’t be less pleased. 
But at least I learned something. I learned that if a small audience attends a Cornelia Street Concert, Cornelia pockets all the cash, pays the performer nothing, and audiences are asked to leave early with no refund on their ticket. Got it. It goes without saying, but I also learned that Cornelia Street Cafe “doesn’t give a shit” if its patrons have a good night or not, or if performing artists have a pleasant experiencing presenting work in their space. It’s about money, after all—performers bring their friends to deliver revenue to Cornelia Street Cafe—and if that means ejecting an audience and humiliating the performer to teach us this lesson, so be it. Andy, a real class act, behaved graciously throughout, even though inside he had to have been crumbling, or fuming, or regretting having ever stepped foot in your establishment. I know I was. 
It’s my duty as an artist to inform people about this experience. I think it’s very interesting, honestly. My friends and allies in the arts community, as you’ve seen, continue to find other, more imaginative words.
I was sad to hear this story. I am impressed with Tendler's assessment of the situation, and I agree with everything he says. I was not, however, surprised to hear this story. Although, like I said before, I performed at Cornelia a bunch of times over the years, I had a similar experience back around 2004. I had been looking for venues to present a band I had formed called Mad Science. This fusion organ trio had featured guitar wizard Tom Guarna since the start in 2000. But we hadn't settled on a drummer.  I had secured a night at Cornelia for the band, and I decided to give drum virtuoso Rodney Holmes a chance to play some of my music. 

Mad Science is an organ guitar drums power trio much like Tony William's original Lifetime band. It's not a quiet piano trio. However, it's not the loudest thing you've ever heard. I will admit, we started out on the loud side. Regardless of the volume, I was really digging the music; Holmes' freakishly good time and precision and Tom Guarna's exciting solos were giving me new hope and inspiration for the project. 

Unfortunately, during the second song, the bartender walked up to the stage and placed a note on the keyboard, which read as follows:
This wasn't putting me in a great mood to play music, although it offered a solution with the ultimatum. So when the tune was over, I told Guarna and Holmes about the note. We cut our volume in half; Holmes played the rest of the night on brushes. Sadly, our dilemma didn't end there. After another tune or two, which I reiterate, was at half the volume of the first two songs, someone who may have been Mr. Verga, but he never introduced himself, so I have no idea. He did act like he was an authority figure, so I guess he was the owner, or something. As we were trying to figure out which tune to play next, Mr. Authority approached us, or rather, me. 
Mr A: Can I talk to you for a minute?
GC: Sure.....
Mr A:  Take a break and come out and ......
GC:  Uhhhh, we're in the middle of a set. These people came to hear us. 
Mr A: Ok, listen, you need to turn it down or we shut it down. That's the deal.
GC: We turned down....we are playing at half the volume now.
Mr A: Ok, fine but you are still too loud. If you don't watch the volume, we shut it down. That's the deal.
So it went like that for a minute. Before I started the next tune, I asked the audience, "Are we too loud?" "NO!" was the unanimous reply. Then Mr. Authority started yelling, loudly:" We get noise complaints from the EPA, I get fined......" The point is- we did turn down but it didn't seem to matter to this jerk. We played the rest of the set so softly that I could actually hear people's conversations over our music.  
I didn't play at this club for a long time. Why would I? Cornelia Street Cafe has never been a lucrative place to perform, at least for me. Cornelia, like many jazz venues, has failed to cultivate a regular audience. They expect whomever is performing there to bring in their own crowd. Mr. Tendler spoke to this phenomenon in the previous paragraphs. Even when I started playing there again, I would be lucky to be able to pay the cats and maybe have enough bread left over for a taxi ride to Queens. Even so, musicians like to play, and since I've never been able to book my own band at the Vanguard, I had settled for places like this. 
There were a few times where I did have a good turnout at Cornelia Street. So I did start playing there more regularly. However, not surprisingly, another depressing incident occurred with Cornelia Street. I actually blogged about it right after it happened; I had chosen to keep the name of the venue a secret so as to not potentially burn a bridge forever. Since I have decided that not only will I never play there or set foot in there ever again, I no longer care about being a gentleman about it. You may go back and read that blog entry in it's entirety, but here's a clip:
I have played at this particular venue for 15 years, dealing with a succession of bookers, most of whom were friendly and easy to deal with. Not so with a recent exchange. My wife and I played a double bill there this past spring, and we had a respectable, if not terrific, turnout. But when I contacted the booker to ask about another date, I was dismissed with comments to the effect of: "Feedback I got from the bartender and waiters about your show was not too good, to say the least. Your turnout was way below average, I was told that your sets did not start on time, the whole evening was poorly run, and you didn't even know what instrument you were going to be playing the second set."

I think what bugged me the most was that this booker was judging me by what the host and bartender said about the performance. (This to me is akin to getting a review of the New York Philharmonic from one of the ushers in the concert offense to ushers.) I wanted to ask him if they were musicians or not, but my wife stopped me. I really had to hold back some choice words. Anyway, It's not like I need to play there to make a living; on the contrary, I usually tried to hold back booking stuff there in fear of a conflict with a tour or better paying gig. So as I was saying, it's not about the money, it's about the respect. And this is from a fellow musician, who is probably struggling as much as we all are. Where's the sense of community? 
So now, you know(although many of you knew it was Cornelia Street already). 
I think Mr. Tendler is right. It’s also my duty as an artist to inform people about these experiences. I think at a certain point we need to use social media to let people know. We can choose not to patronize these venues. We can choose not to perform there. We can urge others not to go there.We do have more power than we realize.

The sad thing is, it's not as if we are even asking for more money, or even for these venues to take more responsibility for their business. It's that we are asking for a decent amount of respect as artists, and as human beings. And even as customers! That's all I really hope for these days. I know it's hard to make it work presenting creative music. But when the venues make us jump through hoops to even GET a gig, make us do all of the promotion, don't guarantee any money, and EVEN THEN treat us like scum, it's no wonder jazz venues are hurting. I think we are all in this together: if you treat us with respect, it will make us not only want to play there, but it will make us feel like we are in this together. It will make us feel like we want to HELP your venue. We will recommend it to our friends and fans. We will eat there. We will drink there. We will pay to hear music there. It's just plain old common sense. It's common sense which the management at Cornelia Street seems to lack in spades.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jazz History Final Part II: Electric Boogaloo

This is my classroom when it's empty
This is my second year as a professor at Portland State University. This term was my second pass at teaching a huge lecture class in Jazz History. Last year, I had 191 students. This year was slightly less; however, more than 10 is a challenge, and any class over 30 students is a nightmare. Fortunately, this year I got a better lecture room. Last year, I was in a huge space used for biology classes; I was up on a huge podium towering over the students (I felt like the Wizard of Oz or something). This year's classroom was more conducive to discussions, questions, and general interaction. It was also better for the in-class performances. Although it's nearly impossible to teach jazz history effectively in 10 weeks, I got the impression that the students, mostly non music majors, really learned a great deal. Hopefully they will continue to learn about jazz on their own.

Keeping in mind that most of the students were not musicians at all, I thought that it would be best to make the tests on the easy side. However, some observers thought that perhaps my tests were a little TOO easy. You'd be surprised at how many people even miss the giveaway questions because they don't read the question carefully, or maybe didn't come to class, or maybe even overslept the final! Well, now that the final is over, I'm posting the test for you to take it yourself and test your jazz knowledge. (Keep in mind that this actually a JOKE version of the Final; the type of questions are very similar, but just for you, I'm taking some comic liberties.....actually, a LOT of comic liberties....)Let me know how you do!

(Warning: taking this test on your own does not entitle you to college credit.)

1. Which famous Jazz Composer was born in Washington D.C. , and titled his first composition "Soda Fountain Rag?"
A. Kenny G
B. Duke Ellington
C. Yanni
D. Vangelis

2. Which of the following were NOT written by Billy Strayhorn?
A. Take The A Train
B. Lush Life
C. Achy Breaky Heart
D. Blood Count

3. Which of the following was NOT a popular white swing band?
A. Tommy Dorsey
B. Boyz To Men
C. Benny Goodman
D. Glen Miller

4. Which musician was part of Bebop, Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, and Fusion?
A. Slim Whitman
B. Liberace
C. Miles Davis
D. Lady Gaga

5. What is the term used to describe the symbol where the top number tells you how many beats are in a measure and the bottom note tells you which type of note gets 1 beat, as in 4/4?

A. stethoscope
B. paleontologist
C. Time Signature
D. Allegro Molto Non Troppo

6. Which of the following is NOT true about bebop?
A.  It's constantly played on the radio and kids today love it even more than death metal
B. Music was not for dancing
C. Many bebop musicians used heroin
D. Some black musicians wanted music that "the white cats couldn't play"

7. What music includes fast tempos, virtuosic improvisation, and difficult harmonic structures?
A. Japanese Speed Metal
B. Japanese Death Metal
C. bebop
D. Japanese Power Metal

8. What event is considered by most jazz historians to be the beginning of the Swing Era?
A. George Colligan's Birthday, December 29, 1969
B. 1066 AD: The Norman Conquest
C. Benny Goodman's performance at the Palomar Ballroom on August 21, 1935
D. George Colligan's graduation from Centennial High School, June 15, 1987

9. What is the term for a new melody composed over an existing chord progression
A. Didaskaleinophobia
B.  hemidemisemiquaver
C. floccinaucinihilipilification
D. contrafact

10. What 1939 Coleman Hawkins recording is considered an antecedent of bebop?
A. " Flesh for Fantasy"
B. "Body and Soul"
C. " Wango Tango"
D. "F#*$ Da Police"

11. Which of the following is NOT a tune written by Thelonious Monk?
A. "Well You Needn't"
B. "Round Midnight"
C. "Blue Monk"
D.  "Gin and Juice"

12. Which of the following is TRUE about Miles Davis?
A. Was partner in a law firm for most of his music career
B. Went to study at Juilliard, but was more interested in learning from Charlie Parker
C. Invented a time machine in order to go back in time and kill Hitler, although he accidentally killed someone who looked remarkably like Hitler. (The Hitler mustache wasn't Hitler's invention, I'm just sayin.....)
D. Was known for his ability to break dance while he played the trumpet

13. Which of the following would NOT be considered a jazz version of a tune?
A. Ice Cube singing "Lush Life"
B. Bob Dylan singing Happy Birthday
C. Karen Carpenter singing " The Rainbow Connection"
D. Bob Dylan singing any song
E. All Of The Above

14. What is another name for "Fusion" music?
A. Sushi
B. Jazz-Rock
C. Donnie and Marie Osmond
D. Norwegian Grindcore

15. What was the name of Herbie Hancock's band before he came out with the Headhunter's Band?
A. The Mamas and The Papas
B. Peter Paul and Mary
C. Mwandishi
D. Captain and Tenille

16. Which of the following would be true about "Free Jazz?"
A. It just sucks, dude
B. I would just rather listen to Christian Grindcore than have to hear that Free Jazz BS! Jeez!
C. Oftentimes used be bop rhythms and instrumentation without adherence to chord changes
D. Free Jazz? What about Free Mumia? What about Free Shipping?

17. Which of the following are NOT considered important bebop musicians?
A.  Neil Diamond
B.  Charlie Parker
C. Thelonious Monk
D. Nelson Rockefeller
E. A and D

18. What is the name for jazz which avoids fast chord changes and uses "scales" to create more introspective moods?
A. Scale Jazz
B. Modal Jazz
C. Avoids-Fast-Chord-Changes-Type-Of-Jazz
D. Introspective-Mood-Jazz

19. Who is considered the first great tenor saxophone soloist?
A. Coleman Hawkins
B. Nicole Glover
C. Tip O'Neil
D. Al Gore

20. Which famous event is credited for revitalizing Duke Ellington's career in 1956?
A. Portland Farmers Market
B. Lollapalooza
C. Portland Gay Pride Parade
D. Newport Jazz Festival

Extra Credit 1. Name three jazz musicians. For example: Lester Young, Chick Webb, Ron Carter. (You can use those three.)

Extra Credit 2. If a jazz musician leaves Chicago at 10:35 am , scheduled to arrive in Dallas at 2:37, but his flight is delayed because it's on Delta and Delta sucks ass as an airline, but then the flight gets re routed to Pittsburgh, how angry in the jazz musician going to be on a scale of one to ten?

Extra Credit 3. Correct the following phrase: "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing."

Extra Credit 4. Give Me Five Dollars.


Extra Credit 6. Listen to the following musical example. Concentrate on your breathing. As you listen, fall into a DEEP DEEP SLEEP. You believe you are a chicken......

Extra Credit 7. After hearing yours truly play the keyboard in class, what superlatives can you think of to describe my musical abilities? Think carefully, because this question could determine your entire grade for the term....

Extra Credit 8. Explain in your own words what happened to actor Steve Guttenbergs career. Because I have no idea. I thought he was ok.

Extra Credit 9. Sing an E locrian scale up 7 octaves using the scat syllable "GACK,", and then sing back down the E locrian double enharmonic majorminor scale on the scat syllable "MFRATZ."

Extra Credit 10. Find out where Ken Burns lives. Knock on his door. When he answers the door, break a chair over his head, and say, "George Colligan says HELLO!"

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Swingin' and Compin' Part 2

This cat is swingin!
I recently posted an answer to a letter from one of my former students regarding swing rhythm and rubato comping for singers/bass players. While I like to write in this forum with a certain fraction of confidence based on having a little bit of experience over the years, I also enjoy exploring other viewpoints. A few jazz celebrities posted some alternative ideas on my facebook page, and I am hoping that these folks and I are cool enough that they won't mind if I re-post their thoughts.

The original question was as follows:

Could you remind me of what you told me when we talked about where the 'swing' feel came from
when phrasing 8th-note lines? Am I correct in thinking it comes from phrasing relatively straight while playing slightly behind the beat? 

My response was as follows:
To answer your first question: yes, you are correct in a sense. The "swing" rhythm in the general "jazz in 2013" sense is straighter than the swing of 1935. My theory is that as tempos became faster in the 1940's, the somewhat "jerky" swing rhythm had no choice but to straighten out a bit. And so, when the players who would play these fast tempos played slower tempos, their rhythm became a little less jerky overall.When you compare the swing of Lester Young to the swing of , say, John Coltrane, or even Kenny Garrett, there's a noticeable difference.

I hesitate to use the phrase "behind the beat" because this kind of thing can lead to dragging. In the same way, "playing on top" can lead to rushing. It's very subtle. My advice is to play along with recordings. Even if you don't know the solo, if you at least know the tune, or even if you sort of know it, just try to tap into the rhythmic feel of whoever you like. I used to play trumpet along with Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", even though I had no idea what the chords or the melodic concept was supposed to be. 

Dave Stoler
Pianist Dave Stoler said:

My belief is that today's relative marginalization of swing as an integral part of jazz syntax was due to the growing popularity of rock in the mainstream, starting in the mid 50's... 

Mike LeDonne always has interesting things to say...

George - while I agree with what you say about swinging I always found it frustrating to "talk" about swing in terms of straight eights vs. swing 8 and where in the time to place your notes etc... That never got the message across.

Mike LeDonne
Swing is all about rhythm and I find that you have to involve your body in your playing and get more into touch. It's all about touch. In other words your arms and fingers and gravity. This is all very natural and involves dropping into the keys and never pushing. What I'll do, and I've had great success with it, is start out teaching a student to begin a phrase by dropping their hand into the first note ( a down wrist). This will create an accent. In a long line I tell them to use use "high fingers" which means keep the wrists down and lift each finger up and let it drop. At the end of the phrase pick your wrist back up and off the keyboard (an up wrist) so you release the muscles and get ready for the next phrase. We'll transcribe a solo of someone with a heavy groove in their notes like Red Garland or Sonny Clark. We go through it listening for all the tiny accents in the phrases. Sometimes they'll come every 2 notes even though it's a long line. So we mark the phrases and start using the touches very slowly and exaggeratedly. Red's 2 note phrases usually have the down wrist on the up beat and the up wrist on the downbeat. When you coordinate the touch so you can get through the whole line with these 2 note phrases you start to hear Red's swing happen. The student's able to get the same "swing" between the 8th's and the up wrists create the same spaces between the 2 note phrases which is an important part of the rhythm. The silences between the notes.

Do this on a medium blues solo. Listen for accents and place the beginning of a phrase mark there. The up wrist will come right before the next accent because the wrist has to be up before it can come down. I call it decoding touch. You can do it for any player just by listening to their accents and making adjustments to things like the length of notes. I've found that most solos are a combination of straight eighths and swinging eighths and there' s no rule as to where they come although a lot of times ascending lines will be more straight. For straight eights I usually teach my students to put a little bit of arm into each one to get more body weight in them. This would be for medium and slow tempo's. It sounds complicated but it all comes from the very natural process of dropping the weight of your arms and fingers loosely and letting gravity do it's thing. To do that you have to stay relaxed which is really the point. I find that after a few solos the student no longer has to think about all this stuff but starts to just hear it. Then they got it. I think everyone can swing, well almost. Some have more than others but more times than not - it's in there.   

Anyone who thinks this sounds interesting and would like to check it out further get in touch with me. I'd be glad to show it to you. For a nominal fee of course (shameless)

David Berkman
Of course, David Berkman then weighed in: 

The faster tempo argument doesn't really fly for me entirely. Especially when you check out how fast some of those tempos that bud played were. I mean half note = 170 is not uncommon.

I like what Jamey Haddad told me a long time ago. Every era has a certain groove. You look at old movies of cats and its in their walk and attitude. So while we can all learn by imitation as M.L.D. suggests, there may be a certain feel that varies over time, but still swings--like the difference between the way Wynton Kelly and Kenny Kirkland swing. I do think things have gotten straighter over time, and maybe that has something to do with straight 8th music influence.

But...I think the physicality is a good point--it's a kind of dance and as a player you have to spend time, in bands you can get it from others, but you have to spend time trying to make it dance yourself.

Sean Wayland
Another brilliant musician, Sean Wayland, posted something on his blog  which is also interesting:

This is in response to George Colligan's post about swinging from his blog "jazztruth". Perhaps my blog could be called " Jazz BS " or something.... 

A discussion ensued on George's facebook page involving other esteemed pianists Dave Berkman and Mike Ledonne. It's an interesting topic and to discuss "how to swing" within the confines of the internet is surely limited but it fascinates many very serious musicians so it's probably valid to try. George was mainly focused on the placement of the notes and transcribing which is surely very important. Ledonne is also keenly aware of controlling accents with your technique and he has spent a great time trying to analyze the technique of some of his favorite "swingin" pianists. Also a great idea well worth exploring. I have thought about this a lot too and experimented with both George's and Ledonne's approach. I spent a fair amount of time memorizing solos and playing them along with the recordings trying to emulate the "swing". Most of the solos where Herbie Hancock's but there where a few Wynton Kelly and Kenny Kirkland ones too. It all happened years ago but I still suggest to students that the memorize and perform Wynton Kelly's Freddie Freeloader along with the recording. 

My teacher Roger Frampton suggested that and it surely was a valuable lesson for me. I don't think you ever get to "swing" it is more of a garden of eden that you can approach. Moving to New York and playing with a lot of musicians with good time helped especially playing organ. That's probably one reason why George and Mike do such a great job rhythmically having had the experience of playing quarter notes on the bass with a great band and drummer. 

I have one thing to add which I often think about and that is that the shape/contour of your lines can make a huge difference. A piano is inherently "blurry" ( the instrument is still resonating even after you take your finger off the keys ) and at fast tempos it can be pretty hard to control articulation especially at the end of notes.  Even at very fast tempos you still have control over WHAT you play as opposed to how you play it. That's really the essence of the page of examples and questions above. Do some things inherently "swing" no matter where they are placed or accented / articulated ? I think so. I often think the mystery of the greatness in Charlie Parker is somewhere in the organisation of the contours and rhythms. His solos seem to swing even on paper. Ditto looking at John Coltrane's great Giant steps solo I often notes how he changes direction when the chords change at that generally the whole thing tends to move downwards through phrases. I suspect that some rhythms going upwards will never swing if continued for too long. 

I find all of these viewpoints fascinating. Even more fascinating is that this intellectual musing is all taking place in a public forum. It's like we are all working on our Doctoral thesis collectively out in the open. I think it's cool.


Monday, March 11, 2013

TWO CONCERTS! Tonight and Tomorrow at PSU

Farnell Newton
I've been enjoying my time with the various ensembles I work with in the Portland State University Jazz Program. This term, we benefited from the PDX Jazz Festival giving us additional opportunities for student performances. We had many groups perform at Ivories as well as the PDX Student Stages on the PSU campus. It's great to get the students performing in real situations.  Additionally, I invited some of our ensembles to perform for my Jazz History class. I think it was good for the jazz students as well as the history students.

Tonight and tomorrow(March 11 and 12) our cup runneth over; we will have TWO performances by our ensembles on the campus of PSU. Tonight's concert will be in Lincoln Hall 75, and feature three different groups: the PSU Salsa Band(directed by trumpeter and PSU alumni Farnell Newton), the Guitar Orchestra (directed by one of our Master's degree students, guitarist Corey Hoeppner), and the Portland State Jazz Saxophone Ensemble(directed by yours truly...). I have heard the Salsa Band, and they are impressive; Newton has done a great job of teaching them the traditional rhythms of Latin Jazz. He also sits in with the band on congas! Similarly, I will be playing piano with the Saxes; they've done  lot of performing this term and they are steadily improving. We are doing a number of great McCoy Tyner tunes and Herbie Hancock tunes, as well as a few tunes arranged by our tenor saxophonist Tristan Weitkamp. Tonight's concert is free and begins at 7pm.

Darrell Grant
Tomorrow's concert is in Lincoln Hall 175. The groups performing will be the PSU Nonet(directed by Assistant Dean of the College of the Arts and famed pianist Darrell Grant), the Park Avenue Group(which I direct and play in) and the Guitar Heroes(which I direct...and occasionally sit in on drums). The Nonet has some of our strongest players in the program, as does the Park Avenue Group. The latter group has done a lot of performing this term, and even more playing without me; tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, bassist Jon Lakey, and drummer Jon Huteson have been playing every week at the Brasserie Montmartre, which means they know how to groove together. The Guitar Heroes are playing many of my songs, and they also know how to groove together, as well as come up with some cool guitar effects using pedals and so forth. This concert also starts at 7pm and is free and open to the public.

I'm leaving you with some clips from a recent performance of the Park Avenue Group from the PDX student stages. The sound isn't optimal, but it might give you an idea of the great things we are doing in the Portland State Jazz Program. Hope to see you tonight and/or tomorrow!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Kerry Politzer/George Colligan Double Bill March 9th 8pm Camellia Lounge

Pianist Kerry Politzer
Tomorrow night, Portland is in for a treat: two New York jazz musicians for the price of HALF of one. (Or maybe a third or fourth of one, considering how expensive it usually is to hear live music in New York City.) This Saturday, March 9th, at 8pm, at the Camellia Lounge
(510 NW 11th Ave, click here for tickets) for 5 DOLLARS(I don't know, maybe that's a lot of money for Portland but you could probably find 5 dollars IN YOUR COUCH CUSHIONS), you can hear the wonderful pianist, composer, and mother of my son, Kerry Politzer. Kerry doesn't get to play often; she's mostly taking care of 3 year old Liam, freelancing as a writer, or doing schoolwork(she's pursuing a writing degree at Portland State University). However, Kerry is so profoundly talented that she needs little effort to bring technical flair and creative brilliance to the keyboard. Joining her tomorrow night will be the great Eugene native Chris Higgins on bass and George Colligan (yours truly) on drums. Kerry will begin the night.

Second set will be something completely different: I will be performing as a singer-songwriter for the first time in my whole life. (Some of you are probably thinking, "What the Freak?") Yes, I've been working on songs with lyrics since 2010. I started by setting some of my sister Dana's poems to music. Eventually, I became confident in my own lyrics to set them to music as well. If you've been following my blog, you might be aware that I've done projects where I used other vocalists to perform my songs. (I'm still working on an album featuring vocalist Debbie Deane. I hope it will come out later in the year.) Although it was amazing to have other singers, really trained vocalists, perform my music, it's actually easier if one sings one's songs oneself. (Say that three times fast...)

During the fall, I was on the road in Europe for a few weeks with the Jack DeJohnette group. Instead of spending my time watching the news in German or reruns of "The Cosby Show" in Norwegian, I spent any down time either running or writing songs. So I have a stockpile of new tunes. Tomorrow night, I will present a small sampling of fresh material. It's not really straight ahead jazz, per se, however, it's jazz influenced and there will be some kick ass grooves and solos.

Helping me out will be two of my top students at Portland State University. Jon Lakey, who will play electric bass, is actually a very talented acoustic bassist, pianist, vocalist, and occasional drummer. Brandon Braun is a very precocious drummer, and has endless potential as a musician. I'm very excited about this gig and I hope you will come by and hear for yourself.

I must admit that I'm not the most accomplished vocalist; however, I have been studying with a wonderful voice teacher in Portland. His name is Daniel Weiskopf and he teaches a method called "Speech Level Singing." It's actually done wonders for me. Weiskopf is highly trained in this method and he's very focused during the lessons. He's also a great musician himself; he has a band called Age Sex Occupation that's done some touring around the U.S.

Hope to see you tomorrow. Come on, y'all, FIVE DOLLARS? Plus, Camellia Lounge has great tea and food. What else are you going to do on a Saturday night? That's right, come to my gig......See you then.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Swingin' and Compin'

 One of my former students in Winnipeg recently wrote to me with a few questions:

Hi there George,

Could you remind me of what you told me when we talked about where the 'swing' feel came from
when phrasing 8th-note lines? Am I correct in thinking it comes from phrasing relatively straight while playing slightly behind the beat?


Also, how did you practice comping, say rubato sections with a singer or for bass players? I am curious because this is something that comes up often; I find transcribing very helpful in this area (I have begun transcribing Herbie Hancock from the "Four and More" concerts like you had mentioned before) and was wondering if there is anything else you found helpful or useful.

To answer your first question: yes, you are correct in a sense. The "swing" rhythm in the general "jazz in 2013" sense is straighter than the swing of 1935. My theory is that as tempos became faster in the 1940's, the somewhat "jerky" swing rhythm had no choice but to straighten out a bit. And so, when the players who would play these fast tempos played slower tempos, their rhythm became a little less jerky overall.When you compare the swing of Lester Young to the swing of , say, John Coltrane, or even Kenny Garrett, there's a noticeable difference.

I hesitate to use the phrase "behind the beat" because this kind of thing can lead to dragging. In the same way, "playing on top" can lead to rushing. It's very subtle. My advice is to play along with recordings. Even if you don't know the solo, if you at least know the tune, or even if you sort of know it, just try to tap into the rhythmic feel of whoever you like. I used to play trumpet along with Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", even though I had no idea what the chords or the melodic concept was supposed to be.

In regards to rubato comping, I guess transcribing would be helpful for voicings and orchestration. However, the most important thing with rubato comping is your ability to follow the vocalist. And it might not just be following; you might have to lead at times. Whatever it is, it can be a give and take. It's hard because, although playing in time is a challenge, playing without time can even be more of a challenge.

My advice would be to find a vocalist with whom you can develop a rapport. Get together and work on some ballads, or any tune which can work in a rubato setting. Maybe you can discuss how it feels to either follow her phrasing, or how it feels to follow each other. The pianist/vocalist relationship, or really any duo setting, is more intimate than other settings. So it might take a little time to see what works and what doesn't. When I worked with vocalist Vanessa Rubin, it took years to truly refine our duo playing. We had been playing Michel LeGrand's "The Summer Knows" for quite awhile, and when we finally got around to recording it, our rendition was light years from when we first started trying to play it. I mostly followed Vanessa, but there were times when she was waiting for me, and all of that subtlety had to be negotiated.

I was looking for a good example of vocal and piano rubato. All I could find in this moment was "Poor Butterfly" with Sarah Vaughn. The verse of the tune is rubato, and regardless of whether or not it's the best example of what I'm talking about, it's an excuse to listen to the magnificent Sarah Vaughn. I'll look for some better youtube examples in the meantime.

I hope this answered your question. Keep them coming!