Thursday, May 30, 2013

R.I.P Mulgrew Miller

A few days ago, sadly, Mugrew Miller passed away due to complications from his recent stroke. There was much confusion on Facebook as to whether or not he had passed. I believe he was in a coma for a while. Miller was much too young to pass. I know so many musicians who were inspired by his presence in the jazz world. I regret not having a chance to interview him. I was lamenting yesterday regarding a transcription of "Pressing The Issue" I did a few years ago; I had always wanted to call Miller and ask him if I had gotten the chords right.

Much will be said about Miller in the days to come; indeed, there is an article in the New York Times about his career. Even so, in some ways, Miller had really faded from the limelight of the 80's and 90's; Miller was teaching at William Patterson University in New Jersey, which I can imagine took up a lot of time. Furthermore, it seems as though the jazz mainstream press isn't all that interested in players if they are between the ages of 30 and 70. I saw this from the great guitarist Russell Malone:

A lot of musicians, who ought to know better, have gone on to co-sign and endorse a lot of substandard music, played by substandard musicians, just so they can give the appearance of being open minded, hip, and "down with it". Mulgrew Miller was never about any of that. The man is all about integrity. He never allowed certain individuals, who run the industry, use him validate any mediocre player that they were trying to push and elevate, at his expense. He never let anyone dictate to him who he should have in his band. Instead, he was forever loyal to his sidemen. If they were on the road with him, road-testing the music every night, then they would be on his recordings. I know that now that he is not well, all of the magazines like Downbeat, and JazzTimes are probably going to give him some "love". But where the hell were they when the man was healthy, strong, and playing great? To my knowledge---and I hope I'm wrong--- Mulgrew Miller has never been on the cover of either one of these magazines. I've seen a few articles where he was featured, but never a full-blown cover story. How can they justify that? But I've seen other piano players get cover stories. Some of them more than once. And a few of them can't even play, in my opinion. But through all of that, the man kept his head up and continued to do what he was put here to do. He never lost his cool, he never let his standards drop, and most of all, he never lost his integrity. 

I think Miller, like so many great jazz musicians, didn't get enough credit. Sure, he had a solid career and I'm guessing a somewhat comfortable life, which many musicians never attain. However, Miller was never the darling of the industry or the press. This could be attributed to his style, which was arguably conservative compared to some contemporaries and younger players. Nevertheless. Miller was undeniably part of the music and the more recent history. Miller made some great recordings and influenced countless pianists. Why can we not appreciate folks like this when they are alive? 

It's not a new thing for artists to labor in obscurity and then once they reach a certain age, or are gone, all of a sudden there is interest in their work. Theolonious Monk is a good example; he wasn't appreciated until he was much older. I wonder if this will ever change. Maybe this might influence the jazz media to be more aware of folks who are making viable music sans the industry hype. Well.....probably not. I guess they have to sell magazines. 

Here's a very insightful quote from Mr. Miller himself, regarding the state of jazz as he saw it:

I maintain that jazz is part progressive art and part folk art, and I’ve observed it to be heavily critiqued by people who attribute progressivity to music that lacks a folk element. When Charlie Parker developed his great conception, the folk element was the same as Lester Young and the blues shouters before him. Even when Ornette Coleman and Coltrane played their conceptions, the folk element was intact. But now, people almost get applauded if they DON'T include that in their expression.

While I think that art should always move forward, I do think that you can't go forward unless you understand that which has come before you. Therefore, as a musician and an educator, I agree with this. Also, as a listener and observer of the jazz scene, I think he's right in that a lot of things which are fairly watered down, or lacking in what Miller is discussing, seem to be lauded as the next great thing. I don't consider myself a traditionalist or conservative, but I don't think that newer is always better. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, as jazz moves more into the educational realm, the folk art aspect is getting obscured.  

But all is not lost; when you have programs where one could study with those who practice the art as a folk art, then you are at least getting exposed to the music from a real source. Which is why it's a great thing that William Patterson had teachers like Mulgrew Miller and James Williams. Books and recordings are great; however, we still have people around who are actually connected with the lineage of great jazz musicians. Let's try to appreciate them more while they are here. R.I.P. Professor Miller.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

HIgh Intensity Practice

I remember back in the early 90's when I was just a lad; my only responsibilities were show up to my gigs and make rent. It wasn't any more complex than that. I had 4 to 8 hours a day for heavy practicing, and I was play constant gigs, so I always had a chance to try out the stuff I was working on at home. I was writing a lot, and listening, and transcribing. I was very methodical. I barely ever missed a day. If I wasn't practicing, I was thinking about practicing, much to the dismay of my girlfriend at the time! Even before that, I was into practicing in middle and high school(although I was mostly practicing trumpet). 

Cut to twenty some odd years later; I barely remember what it's like to touch a musical instrument for longer than a few minutes. But when I do get the chance to actually play a gig or a concert or even a rehearsal, I'm expected to perform as if I've been shedding and playing all the time. Well, maybe more of the expectations are coming from me, but even so, you always want to sound as if you are at the top of your game.

So, the dilemma is as follows: how do I maintain my responsibilities as an educator, administrator,
father, husband, and homeowner while still growing as a musician? It's really not easy. In fact, it's darn near impossible. If I get two minutes of practicing a day, it seems like a lot. Ten whole minutes of practice is an occasional luxury. And a free hour of solid practice? Wow, that would be amazing! and unfortunately, quite rare to occur.

One of the issues is that now, with such limited time, when I do finally sit down to play an instrument, I don't really want to play anything REALLY challenging. I want to just PLAY; play tunes I know and play stuff I know. Well, this is most definitely NOT practicing, it's just playing my instrument for fun. Even though it might just help to maintain a touch on an instrument, it's still not going to push you enough. You have to force yourself to practice something hard, something that you will NOT sound good on, or even feel good playing it. I would call this HIP(groan....), or High Intensity Practice. (I'm sort of joking with this....but hey, if it catches on....then I'm not. Anyway, it's an analogy.)

Yes, I believe that this type of approach is much like the difference between doing LONG SLOW CARDIO and HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING. Yes, going out for a long run on a beautiful day can be relaxing, but it's the fast, shorter sprints and hard running alternating with slow running that will boost your fitness and burn more fat. (Hey, at least that's what Men's Health Magazine says. And they say it every month. In fact, every month is almost the same magazine. "Flatten Your Abs" is the cover story almost every or every other month. What a racket.) My point is that intervals, while difficult and unpleasant, really do your training a lot of good. What's great about them is that you don't have to slog about for hours; you should be done your workout in 30 minutes or less. (This is why I like the analogy, because Interval training, like short bursts of practicing, both appeal to people like me with very little free time.)

In this way, practicing REALLY HARD, at a sort of all out intensity, for a short period of time,
followed by rest periods of varying degrees, will be more beneficial than having a general sort of "play" for 6 hours. Not to say that even just playing anything for 6 hours wouldn't have benefits; hey, if you played the Enya Songbook on trumpet for 6 hours a day, you might have an embouchure of steel!(Actually, trumpet is perhaps a different issue, and honestly, because I play trumpet even just on occasion, I find myself looking for time "just to get the horn on my face." Maintenance is a huge part of trumpet playing. If you don't play trumpet everyday, you are kind of screwed. Which is maybe why trumpet can be so unmusical; we spend so much time with long tones and lip slurs and exercises that we forget how to make music. No offense.)

We always have to ask ourselves, "Is this really practice or just playing?" Believe me, there is nothing wrong with just playing. Much of being on the bandstand on a jazz setting is about that. However, if you only had 10 minutes a day to practice and grow as a musician, what would you do? Play a song you know, or work on something really difficult which would stretch your capacity? For example, working on "Freedom Jazz Dance" in every key is something which will be difficult. That's not the easiest thing in the world. 10 minutes of that will not be fun at first. BUT, if you worked on that for
10 minutes a day for 2 might be having more fun with it at that point. 

Sight-reading is something we can all stand to work on. If I decided to spend my 10 minutes on sight-reading, I would pick something either moderately difficult and try to read it in tempo, OR I would pick something extremely difficult just to stretch the brain. The good news is you're only doing it for 10 minutes! As with High Intensity Interval Training, you don't do it for hours on end. You do it in short bursts. 

If you are young and have lots of time, try practicing high intensity for 10 minute intervals and then either rest or do something else; watch TV, mess with your phone, etc....then do another 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn't have another 10 at this point in my life....although when this school term is over......ah, please make it be over......oh, sorry, what was I saying? 

See how it works for you. Whether you have endless time or a tight schedule, try to ramp up your intensity. And by the way, you aren't going to sound good during those 10 minutes. You shouldn't! This is something which prevents us from getting better: worrying about sounding good! 

It's fascinating watching the Ken Burns documentary on Jazz and watching Artie Shaw talk about the Glen Miller Band during the Swing Era.

And I didn't like Miller's band, I didn't
like what he did. Miller was, he had what you'd call a Republican band. It
was, you know, very straight laced, middle of the road. And Miller was that
kind of guy, he was a businessman. And he was sort of the Lawrence Welk of
jazz. And that's one of the reasons he was so big, people could identify with
what he did, they perceived what he was doing. But the biggest problem, his
band never made a mistake. And it's one of the things wrong, because if you
don't ever make a mistake, you're not trying, you're not playing at the edge
of your ability. You're playing safely, within limits, and you know what you
can do and it sounds after a while extremely boring.
Artie Shaw

Friday, May 24, 2013

Prayers for Mulgrew Miller

I am hearing via Facebook that yesterday the great jazz piano legend Mulgrew Miller had a massive stroke. He is in intensive care and in serious condition. He apparently had a stroke a few years ago and recovered well. I hope we can all send good thoughts and prayers in his direction.

Mulgrew Miller is truly one of my piano heroes. The first time I heard him on recording was on "Introducing Kenny Garrett". I also had a recording of him with Art Blakey where he played an amazing solo piano rendition of "Old Folks." I remember his solo album called "Work" which I had on vinyl back in the 90's; I basically wore it out. There's countless other recordings; if you like jazz after 1980, you almost can't avoid hearing Mulgrew Miller. He shows up in surprising places- like the Steve Swallow album "Real Book" and Gary Thomas' "Exile's Gate," to name a couple.

I've always thought of his touch as having the perfect roundness. His balance of sound is impeccable, as is his rhythm. If you listen to enough Mulgrew Miller, you can hear that, although influenced by a variety of sources(including Herbie Hancock, Bud Powell, Chick Corea, and McCoy Tyner, to name a few), Miller has his own identifiable vocabulary. As a jazz piano accompanist, he's one of the greatest, and his discography as a sideman definitively proves that. From Art Blakey to Woody Shaw to Tony Williams to Wallace Roney to Cassandra Wilson to Ron Carter to Gary Bartz to Tom Harrell, to almost everyone in jazz, Miller has shown us all how it's done.

I've not only been fortunate to see Miller live on many occasions, but I've also spoken to him as well; Miller was always friendly to me and was also generous with words of encouragement. I remember one time in Spain, I chatted with Miller, and he had great stories about Tony Williams. Another time, I happened to wander up to Miller after a gig at Sweet Basil's; he was still sitting at the piano, going over some licks. He showed me this hellacious Woody Shaw phrase which really gave me some great melodic ideas to practice.

Mulgrew is tragically underrated as a composer and a bandleader. Sadly, the jazz industry tends to ignore guys who aren't under 25 or over 80. Miller, not an artist easily swayed by passing fads, is a true master of jazz piano and should be studied by anyone wishing to pursue mastery of jazz piano.
As we keep Professor Miller in our thoughts and hearts, here are some clips you might want to check out:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Warren Wolf Part II

GC: I'm trying to remember the first time I met you. You were playing drums, it was a jam session. I showed up with Tim Warfield, I don't even remember why I was there...but I think we showed up and played Solar or something.

WW: Was it Wally's?

GC: I don't think it was Wally's, was there another place?

WW: I thought the first time that you and I met was with Tim on a New Years gig.

GC: Yeah, a New Years gig with Rodney Green in Pennsylvania. With Chris Bacchus.  I remember that, that was a while ago. Alright, so when did you start playing with Christian McBride?

WW: I started in 2008. I got a call from a woman in this office, somebody he was working with at the time. They said, "Mr. Wolf, Christian McBride would like to have you in his band for one week at the Village Vanguard." He had these things called the "Christian McBride Situations." I think a lot of people knew how badly I wanted to play with Christian so I thought it was a prank call. I was like "man, stop playing" and they said "no we really want you to play, we'll take care of everything, we've got the hotel." So I went up, and we all thought it was just going to be a week. So it was me, Steve Wilson, Carl Allen, Eric Reed. So after the show's over, people were raving about that band. Keep the band together, keep it together. So he said okay, and booked a gig somewhere in South America, and then we did Monterey right after. I thought that was going to be it. At that point, I was in Houston, doing many gigs here and there, I've never actually been in a band. As a matter of fact, I didn't even think bands existed in jazz anymore.

GC: Wow, that's really telling.

WW. Yeah. But then they were saying we're going in the studio and doing a record. I still thought it was like no big deal, I mean how many cats go into the studio and release records and then go off and do something else? But after we released  the record, we got some gigs. Again I was like "okay, a couple gigs, I'm used to this." But they said "no, we're going to keep it going!". That record was Kind of Brown, and we've been touring that record even up until today, 4 years later!

GC: Does he have a new record coming out?

WW: We just recorded it back in Spring of this year. So hopefully it will be coming out at some point next year, when he's done with this Monterey All-Stars Tour.

GC: I don't know how much time we have before we hit... there's so few people here, I wonder if they'll delay it... anyway, in closing: what are your thoughts -  I would deduce that, because you have probably very few memories of life without being a multi-instrumentalist (and you play bass too, we don't even have time to talk about that) - what are the benefits of being a multi-instrumentalist for you?

WW: For me it gives me the knowledge to know what I want to hear in my band. There's so many times where I'm doing my own gigs, and if the piano player isn't doing something right, I can get on the piano and tell you "try this". Same with the bass player. I could at least show them something, what I'm hearing. Also it helps with teaching. I'm teaching now at Baltimore School for the Arts, as the jazz instructor. I can always sit down at least with the rhythm section and tell every one of them to try this, try that. At least from the rhythm section perspective. When it comes to horns, I could tell you how to solo but I can't work on sound much. It just helps me be a complete musician. It gives me knowledge; I don't want to have to say "okay, I know vibraphone stuff". I like to know it all.

GC: Speaking of vibraphone, legend is that you don't even own a vibraphone! How do you feel about that?

WW: I feel fine. (laughs) I actually sold my vibes about 5 years ago on eBay.

GC: Because you never use them?

WW: Nah it wasn't that, I was playing gigs on them. I just needed some money because I was trying to finish a CD of mine. The thing is, my dad has a set of vibes, I can use them... which I do, when I need it. I just don't have one in the house. I live almost 30 miles from my parents, I just don't feel like driving down there all the time.

GC: Where do you live?

WW: I live in Owings Mills. They live in Baltimore City. The way I practice nowadays - people ask "do you practice?" and I say "no" and they don't believe me, but I really don't. I tend to do a lot of mental practicing. And it's not even just jazz, it could be whatever. The more and more I can hear stuff, it's like I have the ability to hear stuff and it goes through my head down to my arms or fingers. I'm not saying I don't practice at all, there are certain times where I might want to work out little kinks. I feel fine though, if I don't have the vibes. I mean there's been times where I try to practice, then just get bored. I mean, it could be because I practiced so much as a kid. A lot of people just don't do that nowadays. I ask the kids in my high school how much they practice, the answer is "hardly ever". I did it a lot! And that's not trying to say I'm the best...I just don't really know what to work on physically. When I hear stuff on record though, I hear it and go "oh that's nice! I like that." And that could be from the worst musician! I could pick up something from the best musician or the worst musician. I'll take their ideas and ball it up and out comes... what I heard.

GC: I mean, I should be practicing. But I don't have the time. Because I spent a lot of time in the 90s practicing, I feel like on piano I can get away with it... trumpet is a different story, but I feel like I can still play at a certain level without practicing. It would be nice to have time, but I have a child and a job. And you have three kids?

WW: Yeah, three kids. They live in Boston with their mom. Even when we were all living together, when I was trying to practice, it was really hard to do it. Because my kids would be like "hey could I join in with you?" and I'd be like "no no, leave me alone."

GC: I have the same problem.

WW: Now I'm remarried, my wife is a ballet dancer. And every now and then... I haven't completely just shut off. Like right now, I am practicing the Carnival of Venice on Marimba because I'm about to record it, and that thing is hard. Not so much technically hard but... just a lot of notes. Making sure I just nail them. So I'm practicing that a lot. But other stuff, not really. Because jazz music is so free for me. I don't have a rule, like "make sure you get this note, make sure you get that note". Because everything could be resolved in a certain way, it's just how you execute it, make sure you get your rhythm right.

GC: Does it matter to you what instrument you're playing? Does it all just become the same thing, or do you find that you're thinking about different things on different instruments?

WW: No it really doesn't matter. Me, I like to think as a drummer or vibraphonist. I mean I can play piano, but I don't really like it.

GC: You don't like the instrument?

WW: No. But I'm saying that mostly because it hurts. Also, I don't have the proper technique. People see me play piano, but I play them like I'm playing vibes. I've never had a lesson on piano. But fingerings... if someone said "play the Eb major scale" I'll probably mess it up. I've just never had the training. I'm self-taught, I know what chords sound good. I know about as many chords as any other professional pianist. There are just certain things I can't execute right. But I'll do gigs on piano. Same with drums. It's hard to sit in on drums though because I'm left handed, and I don't feel like making the trouble of making the switch. I could make a living as a pianist or drummer... which I do, sometimes.

GC: I guess for me, I try to tell my students that a certain amount of technique is important, but... like you get drummers that just practice chops all day and all night and they don't really know how to function musically. They can't hear. Do you find yourself trying to relate that to your students? How do you relate that?

WW: I'm not even there yet.

GC: (laughs)

WW: My students... it's a classical oriented school. So jazz is like an elective, but they enjoy doing it. It's not even about chops. For instance, I was telling my bass player - he's just trying to get the right notes in, but he's making mistakes. So when he thinks he hits a right note, he plays real soft. I said "don't do that! If anything, right now I want to hear you maintaining that beat and that pulse. At least figure out what key you're in, but we'll get to the other stuff later." So it's not about chops so much for me. It's more about making sure they're playing in the key with some type of decent rhythm. Playing as a unit, getting an overall sound, making sure dynamics are there. That's what's more concerning me right now. That's a whole other conversation, because the jazz thing just isn't there, isn't present. I'm just trying to help them learn this stuff. And it's not even jazz, just contemporary music. You could play smooth jazz and still play changes. It's more just like trying to get them to understand the concept of chord changes and such. For me I'm like "this is easy, you can't hear that?" But they can't.

GC: Do you enjoy teaching?

WW: Um...(pause) Yes. I think my biggest thing that I have to work on when it comes to teaching is being more patient. I pick up music very easily. Over the years you get better, but it just came very easy to me. And it still comes easy for the most part, I mean there are certain challenges but it's like "okay, that's fine." A lot of my students, I look at them and talk with them, have conversation s with them, but they just don't understand it so much. I always wonder "why can't you guys get this?" I've learned to be more control and calm, let them take their time.

GC: Did you ever want to move to New York?

WW: Couple reasons for that. For one, this isn't the 1940s and 50s anymore. Back then, if you want to play jazz, yes you have to move to New York. Everyone wanted to be seen by Bird and all the cats back then if you wanted to get the gig. But how it is now with the prices in New York, a lot of cats are going to the city fresh out of college and they're playing these gigs in restaurants for very little money. It's like the money that was good back then, except they're still doing it now and the cost of living went up like 5 times. I mean if a person wants to live that life, I'm not hating against them, that's fine. There are plenty of musicians who's plan is to never get married, have a family, they just eat, breathe, and live that shit. That's not me. Me, I had kids at an early age. That's another reason. I had my first child when I was 20. And she's now 12, going on 13. I have three kids, like I said, and I couldn't... maybe I could have, I don't know, but I didn't think I could afford living in New York. My girl is the oldest, and I have two boys. Eventually they're going to get older and I want them to have their own rooms and things like that, so I look at it and think that's either going to be a 4 bedroom apartment or 4 bedroom house combined with the unsteadiness of the gigs... I couldn't afford New York. That's why I came back to Baltimore. I was teaching in Boston at Berklee for 2 years right after graduation, but it just got so expensive in Boston I decided to come back to Baltimore. It's pretty reasonable to live here, you can get to D.C. in 30 minutes, 45 to Philadelphia, New York, and there's an airport and you can get just about anywhere, any major city. And the other thing, I really believe that if you really play your tail off, they'll find you, if they really want you. I mean, people who want to go to New York... that's cool for them, it's just not for me. And besides, I don't really like New York. I like to go there and do what I have to do. I like to go to New York and then come home. I'm a family guy, I like Owings Mills. I have grass! I can see deer running around! I have to deal with buses and shit, I live in a nice quiet neighborhood in a 4 story house. In New York, a 4 story house would be like 3, 4,000 dollars or something...

GC: To rent.

WW: Yeah, and I'm buying.

GC: Yeah, I hear you. Where do you see yourself in ten years? How are you going to get out more as a leader? Is that inevitable, are you trying to work on it?

WW: I'm trying to work on it now, because I've released my first record last year, on the Mack Avenue label. The next one will be recorded February and March, two different bands. It's just about getting the right team together, in order to push me and it takes the promoter of the club to actually believe in that person, give them a chance. So it's a matter of what happens on that end. Then there's another side, there's other sides I want to conquer, I want to get back on the classical side of music. There was a point in time where I thought about moving to L.A., play R&B and pop music because I like that style of music too. I remember about 4 years ago I got an offer to join Ne-Yo's band, playing drums.

GC: Really? Wow.

WW: I got the offer, I'd rather just play straight ahead... at that point in time.

GC: I bet is pays better with Christian.

WW: Probably, because I've heard those R&B gigs pay at the max like 500 bucks.

GC: I've heard that. Because then you can get anyone to do it.

WW: The thing about those R&B gigs... not all, but the majority of them, you get more things quicker. Endorsements quicker, life might be better depending on who you are. You get to travel on your tour bus, you get to wear regular street clothes on the gig, access to a lot of different women, if you're that type of person.

GC: Want me to keep that in there?

WW: Sure.

GC: (laughs) Well I think that's why a lot of young people will do that, because they're still out there having fun. (Signal to go onstage...)Oh, we're ready? Alright. I think that's good.

WW: You sure? We could do more over the break. I've got a lot to say, man.

GC: Actually, my saxophone student has to transcribe this. So this should be good.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Great Shirley Horn

Shirley Horn
I've worked with many jazz vocalists over the years. I would be lying if I said I loved every minute of it... However, I believe that there are musical areas that you can't really explore without a vocalist. I learned a lot as a pianist accompanying jazz singers; not only did I gain experience in comping, playing rubato, improvising intros and outros, but I was exposed to a whole range of music that I might never have gotten to know if I had only worked in instrumental situations. There are certain tunes which come up only with vocalists; most jazz students these days don't even know basic tunes like "Alone Together" and "All The Things You Are", let alone tunes like "Skylark" or "What A Difference A Day Makes", or "Estate", etc...In all fairness, I feel like I'm only on the periphery when it comes to jazz vocal repertoire; although I did work with a lot of singers, I never considered myself a "singer's pianist." Indeed, there were many singers who I was clearly not their favorite(meaning I didn't get called back, or didn't keep the gig for as long as I would have wanted), which is cool because honestly, there's no way you can be everybody's favorite. Still, we can grow amidst failure and success, and whether the singer was great or not, or whether I was great or not, accompanying singers is an art unto itself. In some ways, it's becoming a lost art.

Then there are the singers who just comp for themselves. The late, great Shirley Horn was one of those. I was recently listening to a live recording she did called "I Thought About You", which was her first for Verve Records in 1987. (It's a live recording from the Vine Street Bar and Grill in Hollywood.) Her version of "Something Happens To Me", the opener, is exquisite; her swing and phrasing is a perfect encapsulation of jazz singing in less than 4 minutes. I listened to this track many times in a row, and when you listen to her piano comping, you realize that she is the perfect accompanist for herself, and yet, if you didn't know, you would think it was two people!

Here is a live version from a 1990 Bern, Switzerland performance:

Shirley Horn was born in Washington, D.C. in 1934. She took classical piano lessons from the age of 4, and majored in piano and composition at Howard University; although she was accepted at the Juilliard School in New York, she couldn't afford the tuition. Horn worked in D.C. as a pianist fronting a trio, and was discovered in 1960 by Miles Davis. Davis let Horn open for his group at the Village Vanguard. During the 60's, she recorded some great albums for Mercury and Impulse, but never really achieved stardom. Here's a track from "Loads of Love", released in 1963:
Towards the end of the 1960's, Horn became frustrated with the direction of the music business and trends in popular music. She choose to stay in D.C., spend time with her family, and perform mostly in local venues. It wasn't until the 1980's when she made a comeback with touring and recording; in 1987, Horn signed with Verve Records and recorded for them until her death in 2005 from complications due to diabetes. From this period, there are so many classic cuts; my favorite, and probably yours, is "Here's To Life":
If you don't feel some deep emotion after hearing that track, you might be a robot. Or Mitt Romney.

Horn had the same rhythm section for 25 years: Charles Ables on electric bass and Steve Williams on drums. I got to play with Williams a bunch when I lived in D.C.; I believe that Williams, although having a great career and an indeed special musical relationship with Horn, is rather underrated in the drumming world. If you listen to how sensitively Williams plays on these tracks, you can see how special his musicianship is for this kind of situation. Many drummers would have a hard time holding back their "chops" for the sake of such quietude.

I was fortunate to see one of Horn's last performances before her passing; she had an engagement at Au Bar in New York. She was clearly not well, but her magical powers still came out in her music. I think all jazz vocal students should be required to listen to everything Shirley Horn has ever done. Her phrasing, her delivery, her swing, her taste in material, her piano comping, it's all there. Shirley Horn was indeed a treasure.

Here is also a film about Horn's life that might interest you:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Shed" Second Annual PSU Summer Jazz Camp Featuring Jimmy Greene

Wow. Summer is fast approaching. If you are one of those people who spends the sticky months on vacation from your instrument, then this post is not for you! But if you are serious about using your free time for musical development, then we have just the thing for you. "The Shed" Second Annual Portland State University Summer Jazz Camp is happening. thanks to a partnership with The Portland Jazz Orchestra and PSU. It's July 16-19, and it's going to be even more awesome than last year!

Yes, last year's camp was a really positive experience. The camp is different from many other jazz camps because we focus on specific repertoire for the entire run of the camp. We select a number of jazz standards, from easy to more challenging, so that everyone can get a chance to really familiarize themselves with specific tunes. This way, a more in depth application of various concepts can be achieved. Oftentimes, we tend to look at a tune and then get distracted by other tunes and concepts, and we don't REALLY learn the tune we set out to learn in the first place. "The Shed" is a chance to focus a little more deeply. This is not to say that we don't just call other tunes if the mood strikes!
Alan Jones, one of the many great faculty members

The range of folks who attended last year ran the gamut from raw beginners to more experienced adults and everything in between. Most of the feedback was positive. Some people wanted more instrument specific information; this year, we are adding instrumental master classes in addition to the general masterclasses. We've also added a day, so we will have more time to get to more topics.

The most exciting thing about this year's "Shed" is the presence of tenor saxophone master Jimmy Greene. Mr. Greene is internationally known as a soloist; he spent years as a sideman with Tom Harrell and Harry Connick, Jr. and many others. He has a number of albums out as a leader, and is a really fine composer and educator.We worked together at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada for 2 years. I'm delighted that he can make it out to Portland!

Jimmy Greene
For more information, please go to We hope to see you there!