Thursday, August 29, 2013

Short Story

Rainy and dark. I quickly headed from the security gate at the Baxter Music School to my favorite restaurant down the block and across the street, the Buttered Potato. Well, it wasn't really a restaurant, as much as a greasy, unpretentious diner can pass for a restaurant. And it wasn't really my favorite; I just happened to eat there a lot. There were much better places in Eastville, much fancier: the Brass Giraffe, the Chopped Rib, Uncle Chow's Peking Garden…but, being a twenty year old student, I couldn't afford those sort of places often. The Buttered Potato was close to school, and you could get a Hamburger Platter with Fries, Large Coke, and a colossal Ice Cream Sundae for six dollars, including the tip. Most of the time, you would find Baxter Music School students eating in a booth, while maybe some Eastville locals might be sitting alone at the counter, eating and reading the paper, or making small talk with the hardened waitresses. I don't remember what the decor was, because I don't think there was any. Like I said, unpretentious…

Usually, I would park myself in a booth with my trumpet playing, wise cracking roommate, Bill Providence, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Jane Panomoya, a small, unassuming, but quietly sexy flautist of Filipino descent. The three of us were frequent partners-in-hang. But this time, it was late on a Friday, and I had been practicing hard and lost track of the time. It was pretty late on a Friday to try to figure out what to do besides practice. And no one was around. (This was long before cell phones, so if you didn't know where somebody was, you stayed not knowing where they were for a while…) No doubt there was a party somewhere; I just didn't know where. Don't get me wrong, there were many students at Baxter who were considered practice robots; the Korean kids seemed to live in the practice rooms. And there were hard working American kids as well, however, when the weekend rolled around, it was Miller Time and then some. I remember seeing kids, who were the most pretentious classical music snobs by day, by night passed out on the carpet under a pile of sucked-out beer cans. And as I hurried down the street to the Buttered Potato, I imagined that this was in the works somewhere that night. But that wasn't always my scene, and I was still in music mode, so I figured, let me grab a quiet bite and call it a night, for a change.

So I sat at the counter, which was unusually under-populated. One other solidly middle-aged man with white hair and a tan trenchcoat, who was eating fried eggs, reading the paper, and trying to talk to one of the possibly approaching middle-aged waitresses all at once, was seated at the counter near the front door, near the cash register. I sat closer to the far wall, to insure my solitude. While I wasn't what one might consider anti-social, I did like eating alone now and then; it allowed me to think about music, hear melodies in my head, and just keep inventory of my inner emotions. The other waitress on duty, plumped up and polite, speaking in a typical Eastville accent, asked me what I was having. I had no need to consult the menu. "Hamburger Platter with Fries, Large Coke, and Ice Cream Sundae, please", I confidently stated. I knew the plate would not take long to appear before me, yet I was slightly impatient. I needed to use the time between ordering and chow time wisely, and I had no book, newspaper, or sheet music to study. And mentally, I was drawing a blank. I looked around the diner for a familiar face, or a pretty girl to inconspicuously stare at and get some ideas flowing.

Within seconds, a middle aged black man was sitting next to me at the counter. He seemed to appear from nowhere. He was wearing a big grey wool coat, damp and tattered. His hair was not as grey as the coat, but it was getting there. His odor was pretty rank, though I've witnessed worse smelling men in my years. I wasn't sure if he was homeless, but if he wasn't, then he was surely not in the best of shape. He spoke at first like homeless people tend to do; he spoke, and didn't seem to care if anybody was listening. And nobody was listening; not the middle-aged white haired man, not the two on-duty waitresses. I wasn't really listening either; I was more in a mode of trying to figure out why he sat right next to me- when there were so many other empty places to sit. I wasn't afraid of him, but I was kind of curious. The homeless problem in Eastville was still somewhat of a surprise to me. Having been raised in the nearby suburb of Howard Lake, I never really was exposed to beggars and vagrants until I started at Baxter. Although Howard Lake was pretty racially diverse for a suburb; my street was adjacent to Subsidized Housing, which is a progressive suburban version of The Projects. Some of the kids in the Subsidized Housing were tough, and got into fights and things, but there were no beggars and people at various levels of down-and-out and so forth.

After a minute or so, I started to tune him in, as it seemed like he was talking to me. "Boy, it's rough out here, I'm telling' you," he admitted. " Sometimes, I don’t know how I make it through the day…"

"Yeah, life is hard sometimes", I agreed. We were now in kind of a small-talk-mode, where someone makes a banal, obvious statement and the other agrees, just to fill the silence. But this had a dark undertone; it wasn't like we were talking about the weather, or sports; obviously, this gentleman had problems, problems that were embarrassing for a man twice my age to be admitting to some random white boy sitting at the counter- but problems, nonetheless, that he needed to get off of his chest. I didn't mind listening, but I knew that at some point, my empathy might run dry. After all, I was raised lower middle class; and while we never had the same abundance as many of my friends in the wealthy sections of Howard Lake, I never went hungry, I never lacked clean clothes, and I always had some kind of roof over my head. My instinct was to lend a sympathetic ear to this troubled stranger, but what did I know about " Yeah, life is hard sometimes"? I was a scholarship student at a moderately prestigious music school, and this guy was obviously closer to "being out on the street" than perhaps I would ever be.

"I'm telling you, sometimes you don't even realize how good you have it 'til it all goes down the drain," the man continued. "I actually had a good thing going for years; wife,kid,job,car,house. Not bad for a guy born and raised on West Avenue." (He was referring to possibly the worst neighborhood in Eastville. West Avenue was one of those areas that people were always saying that "Oh, you can't go there." I always wondered what that really meant, because obviously, people go there all the time: people that live there…) "I had a pretty good life, and I was happier than I really knew. But I was in denial, deep in denial….", the man trailed off, and looked upwards, as if watching the replay of his tragic downfall. I was starting to feel uneasy, as we journeyed from chit chat into testimonial territory rather quickly.

"Uh, what were you in denial about?" I was pretty direct, considering I didn't even know this guys name.

"I had a drug problem," the man stated, with little shame. "Heroin…"  His voice on that word was soft but intense, and it was the first time he actually looked at me directly. " I thought I could manage. I thought I could hide it. Nobody knew, cause I could get high and function. Seriously. I would get high and then go to work. For a while… But then I started nodding out and missing work. Lost my job, of course. I couldn't face my family. Plus, I was still strung out. So I started pawning stuff to pay the dope man. Then I sold the car. My wife's bank accounts, I drained. She eventually figured out what was going on….I didn't even care, I was gone…She took my daughter and moved out to Northbrook. Yep, I really fucked my whole life up."

He paused and looked around the diner. I felt that I should say something. "That's a sad story…" Something blocked me from being overly sympathetic. After all, I didn't know this guy, and even with his admission of fucking up his whole life, he seemed pretty stoic, as if he still had dignity. It was a sad story, but neither one of us was crying; we were handling it like men.

"Yep, but I'm clean now, been clean for 6 months. I even see my daughter sometimes. I know I'll never get my wife back, but my daughter….I'm telling you, people take family for granted. People don't know how far they can fall. Drugs, gambling, it's all out there trying to get you. I go to meetings, to keep myself out of trouble. I don't go to certain neighborhoods…" He took a deep breath. "It's hard, hard to stay on the straight-and-narrow, I'll tell you what…" I was still kind of amazed at how this man was revealing his whole world to me so casually.
“Yep, I’m cool, now,” he went on, “but this damn economy! I wish I could find a job. Nobody’s hiring right now. Especially a guy like me…”
“What do you mean?” I was still pretty bold, surprising myself. I thought maybe he meant because he was black, or because he was an ex-junkie. Although I mused that you wouldn’t have to put “Ex-Junkie” on a job application.
“Well, I was picked up for possession. Only once. Since I had no priors, and fortune was smiling on me when I went before the judge, I got a suspended sentence. But still…” While the story was spiraling downward, I was inwardly marveling at the fact that here I was, a suburban white kid, relatively straight- laced, rubbing elbows with convicted heroin users. I wasn’t making light of this man’s plight; I just thought it was probably not what my mother expected when she drove me to the Baxter Music School auditions. Sure, most of my classmates and teachers were from the right side of the tracks. But this was life in Eastville, perhaps most big cities: the disparity. Ever since the Conservatives took over the government, and ran their less-means-more crock of dogshit economic policy game on the hapless citizens of a once great nation, the disparity only expanded.
As I said, I did not know many folks like this down-and-out Eastvillian, but I saw folks like this every day walking around the city. And if one reads the paper, or watches the news, you see these people and their issues. The drugs, the gangs, the murders, the homeless. Most people want to act like these people and their issues don’t exist. What I could never understand is that, in this country, when there was a war or a perceived national crisis, we were all supposed to rally around the flag, and say, “we’re all in this together.”  But what about these citizens? Why aren’t we rallying around the flag to help our troubled brothers and sister citizens?
I was jarred from my mental morality monologue by the clack bang of the Hamburger Platter with Fries, Large Coke, and Ice Cream Sundae being shoved in front of me by one of the near middle aged waitresses behind the counter. I was starving, yes, but somehow, no longer hungry. Well, I wasn’t sure. I was quiet. The down-and-out Eastvillian sitting next to me was also suddenly quiet as he stared at my dinner; he had the stare of a lion whose prey has just come into view. I wanted to eat, but I felt like I should show some manners to this man, who was a total stranger, yet he had revealed more of himself to me than most of my schoolmates ever had.
“I’m sorry….what is your name?”
“…Jerome. Jerome Watson.”
“I’m George. Nice to meet you......” . There was still something not right about this situation, and it hung in the air like a mosquito buzzing in your ear on a hot summer night. “ Do you want to order something?”
“……uh….what do you want?”
“I’ll have what you’re having…..”
Somehow, I was relieved. Jerome and I didn’t talk much after that had been cleared up. And when his food came, we both ate in relative silence. I thought nothing of the bill; I had cash from my work as a jazz pianist, and food like this couldn’t be expensive. I wondered if Jerome enjoyed his food, or if he was too preoccupied with his Greek Tragedy of a life. I finished eating, and though I was in no rush, felt as though I should leave, as if on a blind date going wrong. As I got up to pay the bill, I was at a loss for words. Jerome was eating and staring into the distance (which was actually the kitchen). I mumbled something stupid like, “Take Care,” and moved towards the counter, cash and check in hand. Jerome didn’t really thank me for the meal, and how could he?  Yes, I heard his story, but to me, it was only a story. It might as well have been fiction. And who knows how much of it was true, and maybe there was more to the story, maybe chapters with more tragic turns and twists. I felt somehow good about helping a hungry person eat, but, as I paid the waitress and walked out of the Buttered Potato, I wondered what Jerome would do tomorrow.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

RIP Marian McPartland

Wow, we certainly have lost a lot of great pianists in the last month or so. It seems as though the ink was barely dry on my Cedar Walton post when I heard about the death of Marian McPartland. A marvelous player for decades and still quite active well into her twilight years, McPartland is probably best known for her long running NPR series "Piano Jazz." In a sense, she was doing something that I aspire to do; she gave a us a way to get to know the great pianists by making them at ease. She interviewed them as a peer rather than as a journalist. And of course, it was just an informal hang that happened to be edited and broadcast on the radio! McPartland and her guests taught a lot of otherwise indifferent folks about jazz piano in a comfortably, engaging, classy way.

I considered it a high honor to be a guest on "Piano Jazz" about 10 years ago. It was so funny to here her unmistakeable voice over the phone after hearing it on the broadcast for so many years. She was super friendly and easy to work with, although don't let her slightly upper class British accent fool you: she could swear on a level that even Brooklyn natives might be impressed with. I was relieved to find that the show is actually heavily edited and pretty well thought out beforehand; you might think from listening that it's all completely spontaneous. McPartland was definitely old school in terms of her musical background; at one point, she called a whole bunch of tunes that for all I know could have been from the 1860's. And yet, she was really interested in free playing, and we even did a free duet, which may have been the highlight of the session. In fact , the playing we did together was really fun and I was impressed with her musical generosity and professionalism.

Some of the "Piano Jazz" episodes have been released on disc; in fact, many of the episodes with the more famous pianists are available on itunes. I'm downloading her "Live At Maybeck" CD and hope she's in a better place.

Monday, August 19, 2013

RIP Cedar Walton

We've lost too many of the great masters of the keys recently. I was very surprised when I heard about Mulgrew Miller's untimely passing, and then more recently, to hear about the death of the great George Duke. Yesterday, jazz lost another legend; Cedar Walton was found dead in his home. Walton was 79. Hearing of Walton's passing naturally made me think about his influence on my music; when I was coming up in Baltimore, Cedar Walton tunes were the badge of hipness; if you called "Bolivia", or "Firm Roots", or "Fantasy In D", or "Hindsight", or "Cedar's Blues," other musicians would immediately have more respect for you. This is why "Bolivia" was one of the first tunes I learned on piano. When I would sit in around town, I would always call "Bolivia". It's interesting to note that this tune is a favorite of some of my better students in Portland. In fact, come to think of it, I don't believe I have ever turned down the opportunity to play this tune; something about "Bolivia" (and many other Walton tunes) makes you just want to play them forever.

I had been meaning to present a blog on one of Walton's piano solos, which alto saxophonist Steve Wilson called "the perfect solo." It's from Eddie Harris' recording "The In Sound"; on the tune " The Shadow Of Your Smile," Walton takes the first solo, and it's truly one chorus of brilliance. I had learned it by ear, but I hadn't gotten around to entering it into Sibelius. This recording inspired my to record my own version of the tune on my "Come Together" album. If you have a chance, check it out:
And if you have more time, here is my version. 

I actually got to meet Cedar Walton one time. It was not exactly how I pictured meeting one of my heroes. I was working with vocalist Vanessa Rubin a number of years ago, and she mentioned that she had gotten Cedar Walton to write some arrangements for her upcoming recording. So she wanted me to come over to Walton's apartment to hear the material. Walton at the time lived in Park Slope; we met and walked over to his place. Walton answered the door shirtless; apparently, his air conditioning was busted and it was one of those sweltering New York summers. Walton was totally down to earth. He put his arrangements up on his piano, played through them, and then looked at me and said, "Now, why don't YOU try?" (It was interesting also because we ended up having drummer Billy Higgins on some of the recording; Higgins didn't seem to need any charts for the tunes which Walton had arranged, probably because they played together for so many decades, he could predict the flow of the arrangement quite easily.

Cedar Walton was an indisputably great pianist, bandleader, sideman, and composer. For some reason, possibly because he never became a superstar in the fusion-filled 70's ( much like Woody Shaw and others), he seems to not get mentioned as often as other pianists. I believe Eric Reed organized a tribute to Cedar Walton a few years back at Lincoln Center. Walton's passing reminds me that we need to appreciate the masters while they are still alive. Don't take the older musicians for granted; we can learn way more than we realize from the older generations. Energy and youthful vigor can be appealing, however, much of playing jazz is about wisdom. Seek wisdom when you can.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jazztruth gets 1,000,000(one million) hits

I started jazztruth in the summer of 2010; I remember sitting in a rented apartment in midtown, watching my newborn boy, listening to the sounds of tourists and native New Yorkers outside the window as I typed furiously about Jazz then and now. Well, it hasn't really been that long, and yet, noticing in my stat count that I've received over one million hits feels like a milestone of sorts. I honestly don't even know if that is a good amount of hits? Is it all from one person? Is it one hit from one million people? Is it mostly from spammers? Is Brent Black stalking me again? Well, the important thing is, it seems as though some people like what I'm doing. Hopefully, my writing will help to keep jazz and creative music alive a bit longer.

Another good thing for jazztruth is that some of my past interviews are being re-cyber-published on My interviews with Buster Williams, Zach Brock, and Billy Childs are already posted. I'm glad that they liked my interviews so much. I have many more coming down the pike, and there's still a lot of musicians that I'm hankering to interview.

It's good to feel as though you are doing something important. Some of us feel ambitious about our legacy; we want to know that we have accomplished something, and want to feel as though we leave something important for which to be remembered. (If you are from Portland, you might be confused at this point. Just know this:  winning the award for most bong hits in one night is not a "legacy".) However, when you consider Dinosaurs, it makes you pretty insignificant. Why am I considering Dinosaurs, you ask? Well, I am reminded of Dinosaurs daily by my son; all he talks about are Dinosaurs and the planets of the Solar System. ( Earth is pretty small next to many other planets in the Solar System. The fact that you can fit 100 Earths into Jupiter should make you feel insignificant. Well, I should add that there aren't exactly 100 Earths lying around to insert into Jupiter. Would they even fit inside Jupiter? You'd be surprised, since Jupiter is mostly made of gas. However, I have a feeling that Jupiter wouldn't appreciate 100 Earths inserted into it's airspace.Or should I say, gas space. Also, who's going to have the strength to put 100 Earths into Jupiter? And these are 100 Earths in present day; with the population explosion and the North American Obesity Epidemic, Earth is as heavy as it's ever been. So it's gotta be somebody strong. What about God? Believe me, God's got way more important things to do than find 100 overweight Earths lying around and then put them into Jupiter just to make a point about how freaking big Jupiter is. Why, God has
Earth compared to Jupiter
Kim Kardashian's career to tend to......)

When you consider the fact that the dinosaurs dominated the Earth for 135 million years, and died out 65 million years ago, you realize how insignificant the measly few thousand years of man's recorded history seems to be. ( Just think about one million years, and how long that is. If you went to Portland public school, think a little harder. You'll get it eventually.....) We are a blip on the radar screen. Think about how much importance we put on the complete works of J.S. Bach. In comparison to the millions of years of history of dinosaurs, or even just  the mere fact that Earth has existed for over 4.5 billion years, Bach is not even a speck of dust in the cosmos. What does that say for the significance of my forthcoming CD?( "The Endless Mysteries", on Origin Records, featuring Jack DeJohnette on drums and Larry Grenadier on bass, coming out in late November, by the way...) I think it's a great way to
keep things in perspective. Although if you are ambitious, don't let it bring you down too much. (And if you are in Portland, just hit that bong again...)

"Now let's see, where did I leave that humanity I created?"
Thanks to my dinosaur-obsessed son, I can't help but wonder if our perception of God is correct. I mean, we think of God as an all knowing, all seeing, all loving deity. But I question his awareness of humanity. If he created the Universe billions of years ago, and dinosaurs ruled the world for 135 million years, and when you consider man's insignificance in all of that, God might not even remember that
he created man. Let's face it, human history is like this: when you consider your entire house and everything in it, furniture, electronics, appliances, toys, etc.., and that's the history of Earth. Human history is like a tiny dirt covered Frosted Flake that you find underneath the stove.

"Honey, how did this Frosted Flake get under here? I don't even eat Frosted Flakes! Did somebody have Frosted Flakes in the kitchen?"

"Yeah, when my friend Sarah stayed here back in December, she had her own box of Frosted Flakes. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I had forgotten. Well, I put it in compost. This kitchen is filthy...."

Sometimes, we wonder if God hears our prayers. Some think that, considering the state of the world, perhaps God has forsaken us. I think God probably just forgot about us, in the same way that you forgot about that 10 dollar charge you had on that Macy's Credit Card that you never used after you bought that shirt 8 months ago, and then you find the bill in the bottom of a huge box of receipts and unopened bank statements. "Oh, drat, I should have paid this. Now it's 15 dollars...."

Humanity to God might be like if God is the CEO of a company and humanity is this one dude who works in the basement in maintenance and God sees him every now and then on the elevator, and doesn't ever remember his name. "Good morning......uh.....Frank? Bob? Oh I'm sorry, Humanity?..."
God the CEO has a lot on his mind, so if he forgot our name, we should cut him some slack.

In some ways, we have it all backwards. Human history is so insignificant compared to the infinite history of the cosmos. Even Dinosaur History is way more significant than Human History. And yet we just lump Dinosaurs into species. Yes, we know about the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Brachiosaurus. But what about individual accomplishments? Who was the dinosaur equivalent of J.S. Bach? Or the Triceratops equivalent of Galileo? The Stegosaurus counterpart of Ashton Kutcher?

I realize that Dinosaurs had smaller brains, but maybe they had more capacity for thought than we give them credit for. We can't know for sure, right? Maybe there were some dinosaurs who had ambition, who wanted to leave a legacy. " Everyone's going to remember me as the Tyrannosaurus Rex who
Jerry, the T Rex
killed the most Triceratops in all of Tyrannosaurus Rex history. Me, Jerry Tamblowski, the T Rex."
I think if Jerry Tamblowski the T Rex could see that his contribution to Dinosaur Society has been completely glossed over, he would be very, very disappointed to say the least.

This makes me also wonder about, yes, that's right, Dinosaur Ghosts. Why do we think humans are the only ones that can have ghosts? Why not the Dinos? Maybe the ghost of Jerry Tamblowski the T Rex might come back to set the record straight. I imagine a group of people might be having a seance, sitting around a ouija board, attempting to channel the spirit of a loved one. All of a sudden, the medium starts channeling Jerry in a ghostly dinosaur voice. "This is Jerry the T Rex, I killed the most Triceratops of any T Rex, you must tell the world...." And the people who hired the medium would say, "Hey, Miss Medium, stop clowning around. We are here to try to make contact with our dear cousin Herschel, who died suddenly, and forgot to tell us where the key to the garage is..."

Our view of dinosaurs is so unfair; it's as if some unknown future Earth species would learn history like this:

"A long time ago, humans walked the earth. They were the dominant species for a few thousand years. Their reign ended when someone named Glenn Beck got a hold of a nuclear device. OK, let's move on...."

So the moral of the story is, one million hits is nothing to get too excited about. One million bong hits: that's another story......

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Jaleel Shaw Interview

Jaleel Shaw has been one of my favorite young alto players for about a decade. We first played together with the Mingus Band, and we kept in touch over the years. I've worked a few times in his band and he's worked with me a number of times. You might know him from the Roy Haynes group, which he has been working with for a long time. Shaw has that amazing balance of depth and innovation in his sound and his improvisation. He's on my latest CD on the Steeplechase label, entitled "The Facts" and we just finished a great weekend with a quintet at the famed Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. I was glad to catch up with him and get an interview with one of the baddest cats on the New York jazz scene.

GC:OK. What's your earliest memory of music?

JS:Wow! My mom told one of the first movies she took me to see was"The Muppet Movie"
and that I came home and was singing the music days later. I guess that impressed her!
Then she had me in these music theory classes for children around 5 or 6. 
My mother always had lots of recordings laying around; She checked out a lot of late Trane, Alice Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Prince...
so I heard a lot of that as a kid.

GC: Do you believe that alto is your instrument, and if so, why? Some guys double or triple, but other focus on one. And when did you know that alto was the one?

JS: I originally wanted to play drums and trumpet. I think my mother thought both were too loud! So I ended up picking the saxophone. Maybe she secretly wanted me to play saxophone now that I think of it. There were no saxophones available when I signed up, and I had to start off on clarinet. But a year later, I got an alto sax.
I honestly didn't think of playing anything else for a while. I don't really remember having the opportunity to switch, but I think the alto stuck to me like a glove. I really got into it and started checking out as many alto saxophonists as I could almost immediately.
Today I play soprano as well and I'm really into it. I've been thinking about baritone too. There's something in that sound that I like. But ultimately, I think that alto is a very difficult instrument and I'm still working out my sound and I feel like I'm always trying to find better set ups... better mouthpieces, etc...

GC:Who are your saxophone heroes? Who are your non-saxophone playing musical heroes?

JS:I could be here all day with this one! My first alto saxophone hero was Bobby Watson;
I was really into his playing and compositions and I got to meet him. When he came to Philly,
 he became a close mentor and I still consider him a very close friend. Then, I started checking out lots of Cannonball Adderly, then Sonny Stitt, then Johnny Hodges, Bird, and Lee Konitz.
Of the younger alto saxophonists I was checking out Antonio Hart, Kenny Garrett, Myron Walden.... Since I'm a Philly native, I got to be around Grover Washington Jr, and a man named Byard Lancaster. I was studying with a great saxophonists Robert Landham and Rayburn Wright. I also checked out lots of Maceo Parker.

In terms of non-alto players, I'm a huge fan of Mark Tuner, Chris Potter...I also came up under the wing of Tim Warfield, and got to play with him in Philly. Of course Trane, Sonny, Dexter, Getz, Branford, Lovano....Steve Wilson for alto and soprano
and I'm really into Sam Newsome on soprano.

GC:Ok, maybe a few guys who aren't saxophone players who are really big influences?

JS:Oh right! Mulgrew Miller was a big influence...Kurt Rosenwinkel....Mccoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones. Lennie Tristano as well as Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.

GC:When did you know that you wanted music to be your life?

JS:When I was 12 probably...I came up in a jazz ensemble that was run by a man named Lovette Hines. He's a well known jazz educator in Philly and he's responsible for Christian Mcbride, Joey Defrancesco, Johnathan Blake, Bilal,.. a bunch of people.....and he'd have these rehearsals every Saturday, and we'd all get together and learn standards. I joined that when I 
was around 10 I think. So, being with so many young people that were into the music really helped.It naturally became my life. The kids in the band became my best friends and we'd spend hours on the phone playing records to each other...and we'd perform whenever Mr. Hines had gigs for us.
Have you seen this?

(Jaleel shows me a video)

GC:I did see that actually.....

JS: So that was kind of the environment I was in. It was great!

GC:It's actually inspirational because you can see what an educator who cares can do for students and for the preservation of jazz. Without Mr. Hines, maybe we wouldn't have McBride and maybe we wouldn't have YOU!

JS: I honestly don't know how much I'd love music if it wasn't for my mom and Mr. Hines...
Mr. Hines made it fun.

Do you feel like you have a lot to live up to being from Philly? Was it a big deal to move to the New York area?

JS:I honestly think about Philly lineage a lot, especially when I see Christian McBride. That show on that video was one of my first performances. So I've always looked up to him ever since then....and he's amazing....but I mean McCoy came out of Philly, Kurt Rosenwinkle is from Philly, Lee Morgan was from Philly....that alone is insane to me! All of them were great musicians AND great composers. There's definitely a vibe from philly that I'm proud to be part of. I shouldn't say I feel like I have a lot to live up to... I definitely want to do my thing, but I think it's amazing to be from Philly. That energy is amazing.

I used to be afraid of New York ...but once I moved to Boston and experienced that scene, I don't think I was nervous about NY anymore. Boston was intense...there were a lot of great musicians there,most of whom are in NY now. And these cats just kept me on my feet, kept me influenced and motivated, so that fear I had wasn't the same after Boston
I can say that as far as gigs go and my actual future goes, I was scared to death about moving to the city! But things kind of fell into place

GC:Which sideman gigs have been your favorite? Don't feel any pressure to say The George Colligan Quartet!

JS:(Laughs)Someone just asked me a couple days ago! It's really hard for me to pick one

because I'm always thankful to play new music and learn new changes
I'm really into challenges, .even if it means I fall on my face and end up embarrassing myself.
So it's really hard to first gigs were with the Mingus Big Band and the Count Basie Big Band, which were two completely different musical settings.
I couldn't play the things I played with the Mingus Big Band in the Count Basie Big Band and vice versa, of course. I learned so much about time, swinging, and the blues from the Basie Band, and so much about being open and more free in the Mingus Band. With Roy Haynes, I've learned more about playing time. Roy has a more loose ride beat so he's not playing ting ting a ling: he's accenting what I play! So I really had to get my time together. Roy's  always talked about Trane and Bird and how they both had impeccable time.

But I've learned something from everyone... I'm playing with Tom Harrell's group "Colors of Dream" now, and to play with Tom, who's so lyrical and melodic is amazing. His phrasing and sense of time... are just.. perfect! I just can't pick a favorite, though. Your session , "The Facts",with the quartet was the first session I did where I went in the studio without a rehearsal... (I don't remember rehearsing... did we?) I was scared to death! But when I listen to it, I realized as much as it was a challenge, there's something fresh about recording music like that... I later read a book about Lee Morgan that spoke about how he did that sort of thing pretty often. I hope to try that someday!

GC:Do you think social media/technology is helping the jazz scene, or hurting , or both?

JS: Maybe a little of both. I often wonder what Trane or Bird would tweet if they were alive now, or if they would even do that sort of thing at all. It's clear that it took lots of time and dedication for them to get where they got ...I mean.... we're talking about days when there were no TVs, and in some situations no phones, certainly no cell phones or smart phones. Now there's so much going on. so many distractions, and sometimes too much information. I wonder how much imagination and mystery is lost. On the plus side, as an independent artist, it's helped me a lot. I've put out two CDs on my own and I know it's REALLY helped to get me out there. You couldn't make a post on your facebook page 50 years ago to let people know your new CD was out. It's amazing that you can do that now.

GC:Any upcoming gigs or projects we should know about? Or past projects which we didn't hear enough about?

JS: I'll be performing at the Charlie Parker Festival on August 24th with my quartet, and at the Philadelphia Art Museum with my group on the 23rd.....oh and with Roy Haynes at the Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday the 4th. I'll be with  EJ Strickland's band at Smoke on the 7th of August.

GC: Do you have any advice for the multitudes of young jazz students who are sitting in practice rooms around the globe, wondering what their next move should be?

JS: I would say practice like crazy, but get out.. go check out the artists you're into and try to get to know them. Ask questions, ask for lessons when cats come in town. I think it's important to get as much information as possible. Learn standards and get out to the sessions when you can AND get together with your friends to play your originals. Start a separate bank account for your recordings and try to put a little bit of what you make into this account if you can. Don't sit around waiting for  record  labels to sign you! Try booking your own gigs and getting venues that may not normally have music to feature your group. I think it's time to try to open the scene up a bit more and try new things and create new opportunities.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

RIP George Duke

I just heard via Facebook that the great pianist, keyboardist, composer and producer George Duke has died. George Duke's musicianship defined versatility; he played jazz piano with Cannonball Adderly, analog synthesizers with Frank Zappa, funk with Bootsy Collins, and Brazilian music with Milton Nasciemento. Duke enjoyed a 50 plus year career. He recently released an album called "Dreamweaver", which was a tribute to his wife, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

I met Duke in Japan in 2010; a friend brought him to my performance at "Body and Soul" jazz club in Tokyo. We briefly hung out after the show; Duke was extremely down to earth and super nice. I asked him about playing with Frank Zappa; Duke smiled and spoke about how challenging it was to work with the analog synthesizers of the 1970's. "I would have to play all this crazy music AND switch sounds AND sing at the same time. The problem was, you couldn't save patches on synthesizers the way you can these days. These machines were very temperamental. I would try to do all this stuff during the concert, and Frank would turn around and say, "That's not the sound you had last night!" And I would say, "Frank! Give me a break!"

Duke was kind enough to get me a free ticket to his concert the next evening at The Cotton Club. It was quite a show; he had the whole place singing and rocking. I found it interesting that Duke seemed so humble, unquestionably a serious musician, and yet also quite a showman. Duke sang hits from his own book and others, and played amazing solos and grooves effortlessly. It was really quite a privilege to see that show.

It's interesting that many of today's young musicians are rather unfamiliar with George Duke.I'm truly inspired by Duke's openness and variety. If you are curious, here are links to some of his works.