Tuesday, December 31, 2013

R.I.P. Dwayne Burno

I remember the first time I heard Dwayne Burno playing the bass; it was at Augie's(which is now Smoke) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This was the mid 90's. I was very new to New York. Also playing was Dave Kikoski on Hammond Organ( of all things) and Joe Farnsworth was playing drums. (I'm trying to remember who was playing horns-could have been Eric Alexander on tenor and Jim Rotundi on trumpet...) What was amazing to me was that Burno was playing acoustic bass without any amplification and you could hear him just fine. He was driving the band like gangbusters. I remember Burno had a very determined look on his face; indeed, Burno always looked very serious, and his imposingly large frame combined with his intense visage might make you believe that he was completely unapproachable. However, the more I got to know Burno over the years, the more I realized he was a gentle, soft spoken, sweetheart of a guy. This is not to say that he didn't have some very deeply held opinions about jazz and the state of the music, which could result in some very, shall we say,  honest verbiage. Dwayne Burno was a guy who basically didn't like to bullshit; he spoke up about what he believed, and played the music in which he believed.

Burno was indeed the first bassist I played with to really play lines using extensions of the harmony in a very sophisticated way. The first time we worked together was around the same period (early 90's) with a band  trumpeter Kenny Rampton had put together. It was a quintet, and it featured Rampton's original music(Kenny Rampton is another highly underrated musician and composer.) I remember it took me a minute to understand what Burno was doing, because he wouldn't play the roots on the downbeat of each measure. Once I figured it out, the concept was really intriguing to me. I realized later that you can hear this approach from players like Paul Chambers and Ron Carter and many others. I always felt that Burno played great walking lines, great time, and also great solos, which were also harmonically advanced. Burno also seemed to have almost photographic memory, as well as perfect pitch, and also it seemed impossible to stump him when it came to calling standards.

I played with Burno quite a bit in the 90's. When I luckily stumbled into getting the opportunity to record my first CD for Steeplechase in the Fall of 1995, I called Burno and Ralph Peterson on drums.
The CD is called "Activism", and for a trio that hadn't rehearse and for an extremely green 25-year old me, it's really not bad.
Burno also joined me for my sophomore recording date entitled " The Newcomer." (If you haven't heard it, you should check out our version of "Evidence" to hear Burno and drummer Billy Drummond play time at at real "New York" pace! I may post that later.)There were a bunch of other gigs, recordings, and so on. We both played on Ingrid Jensen's "Here on Earth, which featured Gary Bartz and Bill Stewart.

I have to admit, I was oftentimes musically  intimidated by Mr. Burno; when you spend time with someone who is very knowledgeable but also opinionated, you can begin to wonder what they think of you! However, Burno was very supportive, and I even subbed in his band at Small's a few times. Furthermore, we did a European tour together during a time when I was experiencing some personal turmoil; Burno was my support through the entire tour. I don't think I would have made it without his empathy. ( I also remember he played an Ampeg bass on that tour; also, I remember how every time drummer Howard Curtis would play some great licks, Burno would give me a look as if to say, "Man, that was killing!")

I hadn't gotten to play with Burno much in recent years. I had heard that he was having kidney problems. Then I saw him in New York at a rehearsal studio, and we had a brief conversation; the kind of "two busy musicians passing like ships in the night" kind of conversation. He mentioned that he had heard my CD called "Blood Pressure" and was impressed. I was really touched by the compliment. Since I was just starting to develop the jazztruth blog, I thought that Burno would make a great interview; indeed, he is the kind of musician I'm truly interested in- ones who are amazingly talented and virtuous and yet for some reason stay off the radar for years. I'm really happy I was able to get this interview for my blog; Burno had a LOT to say on many subjects, so I broke it into Part I and Part II, respectively. It's really quite deep and Burno speaks with absolute candor, to say the least.

The news of Dwayne Burno's sudden death on December 28th has sent shockwaves throughout the Jazz community. Dwayne was way too young to pass like this. It's sad to know that you'll never get to speak with or play music with someone ever again. My heart goes out to his wife and son. I'm particularly saddened and  frustrated with the fact that Burno apparently stockpiled original music and never recorded a CD as a leader. I'm not really sure why at least a small label, if not a larger one, would not have ever approached him, or why they never asked him to do something? It can't be because he never met anyone in the Jazz recording industry? I mean, he played with Betty Carter, Roy Haynes, Donald Harrison, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, and so many more. I suppose that's what makes the video that accompanies the site where you can donate to Burno's family all the more totally heartbreaking; Dwayne was finally going to do a recording, and was starting a Kickstarter campaign.

Although Burno's death is a real tragedy for his family and for the Jazz community, I'm learning something from it. I'm going to appreciate the things I have and the people I know and the time I have on this Earth. I'm going to strive to be a better musician. ( I still have Mp3s Dwayne gave me that I haven't listened to- a ton of Duke Pearson....)I leave you with some clips of Mr. Burno. I'm sorry, Dwayne, that we didn't get to play at least one more gig together. R.I.P.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Miracle: My Review in the New York Times

I'm still in shock; I recently found out that my CD, "The Endless Mysteries"(Origin Records) was reviewed by Nate Chinen in the New York Times. Furthermore, it turns out it's a really positive review. It seems like most of the reviews have been positive far, but this is a little bit different. The review in the Times is potentially important for a number of reasons. First of all, it's very hard to get the attention of the Times, and with all of the jazz musicians in New York, there is certainly no shortage of material that deserves to be written about. Secondly, I have noticed that certain artists seem to get a little bump of legitimacy after a Times article.( Now, if I were to get a feature article by either Chinen or Ben Ratliff, I would be planning a world tour.)Thirdly, it's THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES. (Even my accountant saw the review!)

Whether or not this review is a game changer for my career is unknown; as I said, a weighty piece in the paper of record has helped many artists to get more recognition. I'm hoping that this, as well as a forthcoming feature in Downbeat, will give me a boost with promoters and bookers. However, it might just mean bragging rights and not much more. The jazz business is still tough. I am still very pleased, and hopefully, all of this will at least be promotion for my New York CD release at the Jazz Standard on April 30; at this writing, the band on the recording (DeJohnette and Grenadier) has agreed to make the date.

In case you missed it, here is the review:

GEORGE COLLIGAN“The Endless Mysteries”(Origin)
One of the finer piano trio albums of 2013 —  released too late in the year, or on too small a label, to make a dent in the critics’ polls —  is George Colligan’s “The Endless Mysteries.” It’s a program of original compositions, most of them sensible and sturdy. And because it was recorded in a few hours with no rehearsal, it’s the product of rough-and-ready postbop expertise, rather than the lived experience of a steady band.
At least, not any band led by Mr. Colligan. A pianist of deep harmonic and rhythmic assurance, and sideman credits all over the map, he works here with the bassist Larry Grenadier and the drummer Jack DeJohnette. Each is a long-running member of another piano trio: Mr. Grenadier has been in both editions of the Brad Mehldau Trio, going back nearly 20 years; Mr. DeJohnette has spent the last 30 with Keith Jarrett.
Whatever the sum of all that experience is, Mr. Colligan made it work for him. Some of his pieces on “The Endless Mysteries” seem designed for these specific partners, especially Mr. DeJohnette, in whose band he has played. “Song for the Tarahumera,” a scrappy modal tune, becomes a roiling drum incantation. “Liam’s Lament,” a beautifully restrained ballad, features empathic rubato work by Mr. Grenadier. (It also features a theme played on melodica, an instrument that Mr. DeJohnette has favored on his own albums; I had to check to be sure that it was Mr. Colligan doing the playing.)
Mr. Colligan, who turns 44 next week, favors an earthy, assertive style, putting him in a lineage that includes McCoy Tyner, John Hicks and Mulgrew Miller. But he has other affinities, as he shows in a pair of spontaneous inventions provoked by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the daughter of a friend and sometime band mate. “Thoughts of Ana” is a softly chiming solo reflection, with a touch that brings Mr. Jarrett to mind; it leads into “Outrage,” which borrows a page from the Cecil Taylor playbook.
None of these moves feel calculated or rigid, because Mr. Colligan and his partners work so fluently. And while some titles sound like the sort of exhortations that Mr. Colligan might use with his students at Portland State University in Oregan —  see “It’s Hard Work!” and “If the Mountain Was Smooth, You Couldn’t Climb It” —  he doesn’t seem to be straining in the slightest. He’s past that point by now. NATE CHINEN


Monday, December 23, 2013

Hanon, Czerny, Johnson

Allyn Johnson
When I lived in Washington, D.C., there were a number of great pianists on the jazz scene: Ruben Brown, Bob Butta, Wade Beach, Lawrence Wheatley, Peter Edelman, Louis Scherr, and many others. When I left D.C. for New York in 1995, I kept hearing about pianist Allyn Johnson. Not only has Johnson made his mark on the D.C. music scene, but he's also Director of Jazz Studies at the University of The District of Columbia. As a musical force, Johnson is a triple threat in that he's a true jazz musician who comes out of the Church, but also has the academic credentials to help pass the torch to the next generation. Johnson is constantly busy as a sideman, but also has a successful group called Divine Order, which features vocals and combines jazz, gospel, classical, and contemporary music.

Although there are already countless jazz and piano books in circulation, I believe that Professor Johnson's forthcoming and humbly titled volume, "Things That I Practice," stands out as an invaluable tool for budding pianists. Indeed, we all love Mark Levine's "The Jazz Piano Book." David Berkman has a forthcoming harmony book that is very exciting. However, in terms of raw piano technique, Johnson's book is a great addition to, or alternative to, the things that many pianists already seem to gravitate towards(Hanon, Czerny, Burgmuller). American Jazz Piano and it's practitioners have historically dealt with the European tradition of their instrument, arguably more so than other jazz instrumentalists.( Look at the list of Jazz pianists who seriously studied classical music: James P Johnson, Fats Waller, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans.......it goes on and on.) However, I am in favor of developing more jazz specific methods of gaining technique. "Things That I Practice" fills that void.

Jazz can include impressive technique, but ultimately, jazz is more about creativity. Johnson agrees. Here is a paragraph from the foreword:

"I've compiled these exercises together in order to inspire and ignite the creative "fire" in my students. Because music is not a sport, but yet a healing art of manipulating sound with regard to time and 
space, I believe the best exercises are the ones that spark the imagination of the artist which in turn results in the creation of beautiful MUSIC. You will notice that I have included pieces I have written that began as some of the exercises included. No exercise should be an end unto itself, but
ultimately used as a means to express the MUSIC that lies inside the heart and internal ear of a musician."

Many of the exercises are written in one key, which already means you can spend a lot of time on just moving the exercises into every key(as jazz musicians must be able to do; ask my jazz improv class about it!). The contrary motion exercises include mixing modes in the hands, which already has piqued my interest. Even more interesting are some of the finger independence and rhythm exercises, which already go beyond the traditional "piano technique" books and more into the 20th and 21st century realm. There is a 5ths exercise which is presented over Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" chord progression, which again is about the always important APPLICATION of any idea. I like how some of the chord voicing exercises are presented in a very logical way. The more logical the concept, the easier it is to start to manipulate it on your own.

The more I look through this book, the more I wish I had more time to practice. In fact, I wish I had had this book when I was really practicing ferociously ( 1991 to 1995). There is a cool section which features ostinato patterns in the left hand; it's just something to work on soloing in the right hand. There is another section on patterns, which gives this advice:

You should get into the habit of practicing patterns six ways:

1. Forward Going Up
2. Forward Going Down
3. Retrograde Going Up
4. Retrograde going Down
5. Alternating Forward/Retrograde Up
6. Alternating Forward/Retrograde Down 


"Things That I Practice" has inspired me to try to find some more piano practice time. Indeed, I would have to go on a sabbatical and go hide out in a cabin in the woods(with a Steinway inside) to really get into everything in this book. You can contact Allyn Johnson through his website to order a copy of your own. I wouldn't be surprised if "Things That I Practice" becomes an integral part of the jazz teaching literature in the near future.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jamie Baum's Latest: "In This Life"

Jamie Baum
If you want to make it as a jazz musician in New York, I believe you have to be somewhat versatile; you should know standards and be able to swing and play changes, but you also have to be able to read anything and play odd meters. You should have a sense of how to play "free" music, but you should also be open to playing music that you have absolutely no preconceived notions about! When I worked with flautist Jamie Baum's band, I could tell right away that I was going to be challenged musically beyond the known realms. I had years of great experiences playing with her groups of various sizes. After spending time with Baum's aggressively contemporary music, I knew I could play anything.

Jamie Baum is not only a strong relevant voice as a jazz composer, she is an excellent flautist; her tone, on flute or alto flute, is dark and rich. Her melodic concept is influenced by bebop and post bop but has a certain chromatic angularity which implies harmonic exploration. She's been on the scene for many years; I was recalling that the first time I worked with her was at Twins Lounge in Washington, D.C. in the early 90's. Originally from Connecticut, she's been in the Big Apple for almost two decades. Baum is a standout soloist and a confident bandleader, however, the group with which she seems to work most often is a septet with the instrumentation of flute, trumpet, french horn, alto saxophone, piano, bass, and drums. She features herself but isn't afraid to share the improvisational space.

Her latest recording, "In This Life,"(Sunnyside), is the third of a Septet Trilogy( the previous two
being "Moving Forward, Standing Still," and "Solace"). The CD is as expected mostly original compositions( with the exceptions of "The Game" and "Sweet Pain" which were written by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, an incredibly dynamic Pakistani singer). As Baum's music develops, her comfort with complexity seems to enhance her ability to be expressive. Snarky bass lines("Monkeys of Gorkana"), wildly inventive melody and harmony lines("The Game"), odd meters("Inner Voices", "While We Are Here"), longer unpredictable forms("Ants And Other Faithful Beings") and plentiful energetic improvisations all thrive here, but there are also distinctive, tuneful melodies and quiet moments. "In Another Life" is a beautiful ballad, which is gentle and thematic without being predictable. "Sweet Pain", with low flute and trumpet and exotic tablas of Dan Weiss(who happens to be one of the most unique drummers around) has a very tranquil, mysterious mood. "While We Are Here" is a actually rather positive tribute to Baum's cousin who died in 2010.

Baum's music in the past made much use of the 20th Century European classical music influence. "In This Life" has a more Eastern Tinge than previous recordings. However, this music is brought to life by Baum and her musicians, who are above all New York jazz musicians. Baum's husband, Jeff Hirshfield, has played with virtually everyone in Jazz, and is the skillful glue that holds all of the musical mishagos together. Alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Douglas Yeats has been associated with Baum for many moons, and is one of the most exciting improvisers of whom you probably and sadly have never heard(check out his solo on "Richie's Lament"). I always love trumpeter Talyor Haskins conception; he's rock solid as a "lead" player and here he is featured as a soloist on "Monkeys Of Gorkana." However, another trumpeter named Amir Elsaffar is on the bulk of the CD; on the opening track, "Nusrat" he plays some wicked microtonal lines, channeling the South Asian sound (much like my former bandmate Rudresh Mahanthappa leans towards on the alto sax).  Guitarist Brad Shepik's ferocious solo on "Nusrat" makes me wonder why he isn't a household name.

Many of my students listen to the classic recordings- bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, Trane, what have you. But what about today's jazz? If New York is still the jazz mecca, then what are they playing in New York now? "Jamie Baum's "In This Life" is what New York jazz in the new millennium is all about.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The PSU Youth Jazz Mini Festival 2013 This Week!

Our term is drawing to a close very soon, but not before a boatload of musical events. We have in addition to our "Music Forward" scholarship concerts this Saturday December 7th in Lincoln Hall 175(two shows, 3:30 and 7:00), we have what I am calling the PSU Youth Jazz Mini Festival 2013. This is an opportunity to hear our small groups as well as large groups in a variety of settings. I have heard a lot of improvement from the students this year and I think it will be a great experience for all involved.

We have a bunch of great performances lined up; some are in Lincoln Hall 47, our Large Ensemble night is in 175 on Wednesday, and we have Wednesday through Friday at the Camellia Lounge (510 NW 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97209). We hope to see you there; please come out and support young musicians in Portland!

The PSU Youth Jazz Mini Festival 2013

Tuesday Dec 3
5-6 LH 47
Area recital Vocal Jazz
Free Admission

7:30-8:30 LH 47
Guitar Heroes
Free Admission

Wednesday Dec 4
7:30 LH 175
Large Ensembles: Big Band, Guitar Orchestra, Salsa
Free Admission
7:30-11 Camellia Lounge
The Colligan Men cover 5 dollars

Thursday Dec 5

5-7 LH 47
MUS 194 Combos

7:30-11 Camellia Lounge
Lords Of Justice featuring Mario Sandoval
5 dollar cover

Friday Dec 6

7:30-11 Camellia Lounge
Park Avenue featuring George Colligan Nicole Glover Jon Lakey Brandon Braun
Cover 5 dollars

Saturday December 7

Music Forward LH 175 Two Shows 3:00pm and 7:30 PM