Saturday, May 31, 2014


Luka and my son Liam getting ready to perform
During one of our student performances, one of our loyal community supporters leaned over and said, " You must be kvelling right now, no?" I said, " Absolutely!" She smiled, " Do you know what kvelling means?" I said, " Yes I do!" I'm not fluent in Yiddish, mind you, but I know the words that have infiltrated every day conversation (at least in New York City, bubelah). It means, " bursting with pride." When you teach students for an extended period of time, they almost become like your children; you want the best for them and you want to see them succeed. So when they do, you feel pride, and it's a joyous occasion. Hence, the kvelling( I'm a little verklempt over here....).

It's recital season at Portland State University, so we are seeing a lot of students present finished products, or close to finished products. While there is always room for improvement, it's nice to actually step back and listen to the music the students are playing and enjoy it. Sure, train wrecks happen and wrong notes occur. Guess what? It happens to professionals as well. While I want to hold students to as high a standard as possible, I don't want anyone to become so worried about performing that it sucks the enjoyment out of the experience.

 It's interesting for me to observe how students really put a lot of effort into their recitals. It's a special occasion; people dress up(for Portland, anyway), they put lights on the stage, they invite their families, they make food. I have fond memories of getting geared up for big performances when I was in high school; as a professional, even playing with greats and getting paid, a gig is a gig is a gig. I'm a bit jaded after being a professional for almost 25 years. It's great to see folks at the beginning of their careers who are full of promise and energy.

Last night, I went to a different sort of performance; my son Liam performed at his pre-school with all of the other kids. He played one of the dragons. He really enjoyed getting up and "roaring" in his costume. Most people had a good time, but one little girl who was playing one of the fairies got nervous and started crying. It made me think of how being a musicians and being an actor are similar yet different. We are both "performers," yet, musicians can hide behind their instruments. Actors tend to be people that "love the spotlight," that feel comfortable getting up and jumping around in front of everyone. Musicians spend so much time alone in the practice room and can oftentimes end up being introverts. As comfortable as I feel being on stage with an instrument, I don't know how comfortable I would be getting up to do acting. I definitely couldn't be a dragon as well as Liam!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Search Of Rhythmic Humanity

Although I've had more than my share of luck and success as an accidental jazz pianist, I was very interested in the drums. I recall that during my frustrating freshman year at Peabody Conservatory, I had secret fantasies of transferring to Berklee College of Music or The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and switching my major to drums. I did graduate from Peabody with a degree in Trumpet and Music Education, however, by that time, I was pretty much on my way to playing piano full time. ( I actually sold all of my trumpets upon graduation in 1991, and didn't own a trumpet again until 1998.) Even so, I still maintained a fascination with drums and drumming. I believe that rhythm is the essential and distinctive element of American music. It's the most primal and universal regardless of simplicity or complexity. ( I have a great memory of hearing Steve Coleman's group at the Jazz Gallery many years ago. I had ingested a large quantity of Nyquil, as I had a terrible cold. I didn't know what meter Coleman's music was in, but I really enjoyed the grooves and the angular improvisations. Coleman's music is based on drum chants, which are essentially complex "claves" similar to African or Afro Cuban music, and it gives the music a foundational structure from which to expound upon. I remember thinking that people could have easily danced to this music if it wasn't a "jazz club.")

I'm still interested in developing my skills as a drummer. One thing that drummers spend a lot of time
doing is practicing rudiments or exercises with a metronome. The metronome is a device which we use to set a mechanically consistent tempo and play selected passages along with the device so as to make our timing as consistent as possible. Although there were earlier attempts to invent such devices, the metronome as we know it was invented in Amsterdam in 1814 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel, although someone named Johann Maelzel may have lifted the idea and patented it himself in 1815. Beethoven was the first famous composer to write "metronome markings" in his music ( for example, Quarter Note= 150 and so forth). Now, stand alone metronomes are quite advanced; musicians use things called "Dr. Beat" to program odd meters and other complicated rhythmic training exercises. Furthermore, the use of computer software has given a whole new meaning to the idea of rhythmic precision. Studio drummers are expected to be able to play along with "the click," or "click track." (I've had to do this in various studio settings as a drummer, and it is not easy. Many "jazz" drummers have a hard time with this.) In fact, the use of virtual software instruments has gotten to the point where if you want your drum track to be absolutely 100 percent precise, you can just program drums that sound almost exactly like real drums, thereby eliminating the need to make a drummer sit there and try to "play with the click."

It's interesting that when I looked up "metronome" on Wikipedia, I discovered this controversy:

Human beings seldom play music at an exact tempo with all the beats exactly the same. This makes it impossible to align metronome clicks with the beats of a musically expressive performance. This also has led many musicians to criticize use of a metronome. "Metronome Time" has been shown to differ from "Musical Time". Some go as far as to suggest that metronomes shouldn't be used by musicians at all. The same criticism has been applied to metronome markings as well.

And there were several interesting quotes which were against the metronome:

The metronome has no real musical value. I repeat, the metronome has no value whatsoever as an aid to any action or performance that is musical in intention. [...] refer by analogy to the sister art of drawing. Graphic artists understand well enough the essential and generic difference that exists between mechanically-aided drawing on the one hand and freehand on the other. Similarly, musicians ought to distinguish between (1) the sort of timing that results from dull, slavish obedience to the ticking of a soulless machine, and (2) that noble swing and perfect control of pulsation which comes into our playing after years of practice in treating and training the sense of time as a free, creative human faculty.
The Amateur String Quartet by James Brown III
 ... this series of even, perfectly quantized, 16th notes, is no more evocative of samba, than a metronome would be. In fact, this representation neglects what makes up the samba essence in the first place — the swing!
Understanding the Samba Groove by Pedro Batista
 [...] using the metronome as a constant guide to ramp up the speed or to keep the rhythm. This is one of the worst abuses of the metronome. [...] If over used, it can lead to loss of your internal rhythm, loss of musicality, and bio-physical difficulties from over-exposure to rigid repetition
Fundamentals of Piano Practice by Chuan C. Chang

Reading these quotes makes me very conflicted; one of the first things I ask my students who are having trouble with rhythm is, "Do you practice with a metronome?" (It's also weird because I don't practice with a metronome very often, although I did when I was younger. I used to spend a lot of time recording seqence tracks on keyboards and then in the computer program Logic, so I spent time "playing to the click," so to speak.) My students will say that they use the metronome, but It's hard for me to tell. I think you should use the metronome for practicing certain grooves or passages, but it's true that you also have to develop your own sense of internal time; you can't use the metronome as a crutch. You can't(well, you shouldn't....) have a metronome on stage while you play( I realize some bands play to a click....). You need to develop your sense of how to play with others. This might be actually more important that having good time. Bands that sound good fluctuate TOGETHER; they shift with each other as they play. I also suggest playing along with recordings, which I think can be highly beneficial for young musicians.

I found something called "In Search Of The Click Track" which really blew me away. The site shows various drummers performances with the tempo fluctuation interpreted by a graph. The real human drummers had lots of fluctuation, while the pop songs with "The Machine" were flat-lined. Stewart Copeland, the drummer from The Police, had a lot of fluctuation, as did Bernard Purdie on James
Bernard Purdie, one of the most recorded drummers
Brown's "Say It Loud(I'm Black And I'm Proud)." It just made me think about whether we want our music to be metronomic or just have a good feel and not worry about it so much. I think if you are rushing or dragging enough to where it's really noticeable, then it needs to be addressed. However, I think having a little bit of wiggle room is good for the future of music made by humans rather than by computers. Computers and metronomes are tools for humans to create music. We shouldn't be slaves to them.

On that note, I leave you with a decidedly human track from a forthcoming album I'm working on. This features my band Theoretical Planets, which is Jon Lakey on bass, Nicole Glover on tenor and soprano saxes and Joe Manis on tenor and alto saxes. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Shouldn't We Have A Country Music Program?

Although it's common knowledge that when it comes to making money in music, jazz doesn't seem to be the easiest way to do it; although there are people who make a good living as jazz musicians, the majority of professional jazzers have to augment their living with teaching at the very least, if not a full time day job or outright separate profession altogether. We know that the market share in the United States  for jazz is around 3%, if even that. Despite the doom and gloom, college jazz music programs chug along, churning out musicians who, if they are talented and work hard, will face challenges, and if they are less talented and work less hard, are going to be in for a rude awakening.

Meanwhile, south of the Mason-Dixon line, another style of music (which shares some common heritage
with jazz) is flourishing: Country Music. Although not as popular statistically as Rock or Pop, according to the Nielsen Soundscan Sales Records, you can see that Country is moving up faster than other categories. For example, in Digital Album Sales, Jazz was down by 3%( the only genre that went down in this category, sadly.) while Country went up over 37%! That's more than any other genre.
Genre Total Album Sales Genre Digital Album Sales
(In Millions) (In Millions)
Genre 2012 2011 % Chg. Genre 2012 2011 % Chg.
Alternative 52.2 54.6 -4.30% Alternative 26.7 24.4 9.50%
Christian/Gospel* 22.9 23.7 -3.40% Christian/Gospel* 5.3 4.8 11.10%
Classical 7.5 9.4 -20.50% Classical 2.6 2.3 14.60%



4.20% Country


8.1 37.80%
Dance/Electronic 8.7 9.9 -12.00% Dance/Electronic 4.9 4.8 1.20%




Jazz 2.5 2.6 -3.60%
Latin 9.7 11.7 -17.60% Latin 1.4 1.1 23.20%
Metal 31.9 31.9 -0.30% Metal 11.2 9.6 16.30%
New Age 1.7 1.9 -12.90% New Age 0.6 0.6 13.60%
R&B 49.7 55.3 -10.20% R&B 16.3 14.8 10.20%
Rap 24.2 27.3 -11.40% Rap 10.7 9.3 14.70%
Rock 102.5 100.5 2.00% Rock 43.1 36.3 18.80%
Soundtrack 12.3 13 -5.20% Soundtrack 6 5.4 12.70%

Country has been doing so well in the past few decades that SESAC (the Performing Rights Organization which I utilize to collect my royalties for airplay and so forth), which used to seek out indie jazz musicians in the 90's, put a halt to that and moved their offices from New York to Nashville( Music City U.S.A. and the center of Country music recording).

If we care at all about whether our students are able to earn a living in music, is it not within the realm of possibility to consider that perhaps we are leading them down the wrong path by pushing jazz on them? I say this because many of my students have a sort of vague idea of what they want to do in music when they graduate. It ranges from , "I wanna teach," to " I wanna do studio work," to " I want a job like the one you have, " to "I wanna be in a sweet-ass rock band." I find that many young jazz students don't automatically have an ingrown love of jazz music, or much of a relationship with it outside of playing in their high school big band and maybe a few youtube videos. Many students, even ones who diligently practice, still have trouble playing jazz authentically because they don't listen to it on a regular basis and don't hear the nuance in the rhythm and phrasing. Furthermore, the skills required to be a really great jazz musician take hours of practice and even then the goal of being able to play something like "Giant Steps" can still be somewhat elusive for some.

I know some of you are going to think I'm insane, and I probably am( it was the CRNs that pushed me over the edge, ha ha) but why should we not have a Country Music program? Indeed, whether you love country music or not, you have to admit that there is a demand for it. It's certainly way more popular than jazz. It's probably a lot easier than jazz, in terms of technical skill( no value judgement, by the way.) If students don't have any predisposition for any particular genre, why not steer them towards one which will give them more possibility of financial gain?

I was thinking about this because I am actually fairly ignorant regarding country music. This is in part because, being an East Coast College Educated Liberal Elitist whatever you wanna call me, I have a probably unfair prejudice against country music; I associate it with white people in cowboy hats, pick up trucks, voting for Republicans and terrorizing minorities. Although it would be naive to think that many country music fans don't fall into the Conservative- Pro- Gun -Anti- Abortion -Hate- Non -White- South- Will -Rise- Again box, things have changed and it's not as cut and dry geographically. Look at Austin, Texas; it's almost as weird and liberal as Portland. Heck, the entire state of Texas, in political terms, could potentially be a blue state by the next election(due to the rise in the Latino population, and maybe because white folks are waking up? Maybe because Governor Rick Perry is so embarrassing?).

It's unfortunate that my own political prejudice kept me from listening to certain music. It's interesting to note that Johnny Cash, considered one of the greatest heroes of Country Music, would probably be considered a bleeding heart liberal in today's climate. Here's a quote from an article from The Daily Beast:

A few years after he recorded Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1965)—a record filled with references to Native Americans being marginalized—Cash performed at the St. Francis Indian
Johnny Cash
Mission in South Dakota to help raise funds for a new school. He clearly related to the economic despair he saw, but could not understand why the government had not stepped in the way it had intervened to help his family during the Great Depression. “I wonder where in the hell’s the federal aid, the state aid, where’s the funds the people’s supposed to have for things like this?” This was an artist whose politics came from the gut.

Another interesting thing to note about Country Music ( white as we believe it to be , and which before the 1940's was referred to as hillbilly music), is that Wikipedia claims it owes a debt, just like every other form of American music, to the African American experience:

Country music is often erroneously thought of as solely the creation of European Americans. However, a great deal of style—and of course, the banjo, a major instrument in most early American folk songs—came from African Americans. One of the reasons country music was created by African Americans, as well as European Americans, is because blacks and whites in rural communities in the south often worked and played together, just as recollected by DeFord Bailey in the PBS documentary, DeFord Bailey: A Legend Lost. Influential black guitarist Arnold Shultz, known as the primary source for thumb style, or Travis picking, played with white musicians in west-central Kentucky.

I also found this tidbit about another God of Country Music, Hank Williams, interesting:

Rufus Payne(an African American street performer) met Hank Williams Sr. when Hank was eight years old and according to his Jr., Rufus would come around and play Hank Williams Sr. guitar. Tee Tot(Payne) is best known for being a mentor to Hank Williams, Sr. His influence in exposing Williams to blues and other African American influences helped Williams successfully fuse hillbilly, folk and blues into his own unique style, which in turn expanded and exposed both white and black audiences to the differing sounds.

I'm starting to open my mind towards country music. I spent all weekend with a Johnny Cash CD in the CD Player in my car. It's a "Lost Session" album; I bought it at Starbucks. It's not bad; I and my 4 year old son found Cash's bass -baritone voice to be soothing(my son said, "This is relaxing music!"). Meanwhile, my jazz pianist wife kept begging me to turn it off!( I think she believes I've gone batty. Blame it on the CRNs.....)

Clearly, I'm no expert in Country music. If we were going to add country music to our curriculum, I wouldn't, at this point, feel remotely qualified to teach a class on it, much less teach a class on melodic metalcore( so many types of metal, bro....). So where would we look to find a model for our new Bachelor of Music in Country Music Studies? Yes, I did a search for this, and all I could find was at East Tennessee State University, they have in their Department of Appalachian Studies a Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program!

Founded 30 years ago in 1982 by Jack Tottle, Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies at East Tennesse State University is the oldest established program of its kind at any four-year institution. This unique program has thrived on the philosophies of preserving the musical traditions rooted in Appalachian culture while at the same time encouraging creativity and development of prevailing styles. Students from around the globe come to ETSU exclusively to study the music of the mountains in the rich cultural hearth of Northeast Tennessee.

If you are serious about pursuing a full-time career in music we suggest you look closely at our new Bachelor of Arts degree in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies – the only degree of its kind in the world.

If you look at the alumni  page and see how many "Album Of The Year" awards their graduates have won( including Kenny Chesney), then maybe you might start to wonder if we should change our tune, literally. Maybe, although I believe that success in any musical genre is not guaranteed. A graduate of a jazz program might wanna think about moving to New York City, whereas a Country Music person might want to consider Nashville; both are almost impossibly competitive. Check out this article on what NOT to do in Nashville. It's clearly not a walk in the park. It seems as though musicians on both the jazz scene and the country scenes experience a lot of paying dues more often than overnight stardom and success.

I actually asked my Guitar Heroes class the other day, " If you had a choice between a country music program and a jazz program, which would you choose?" Well, they all said jazz, and the reasoning was that studying jazz gives you the skill to learn any genre of music. Ok, Cool!
I suppose in theory this is true. I don't believe you can play jazz on a high level if you don't really commit to it. Do we want to graduate an army of musicians who, because they look at jazz as a stepping stone to some other unnamed genre of their choosing, play jazz only well enough to pass their classes? I'm not really sure. My gut says no. (But this is already happening, unfortunately.)

But what is the definitive answer to my original question? Should we add Country Music to our program at PSU? Well, if you read this article, the answer is a resounding NO! While browsing for information on Country Music, I happened upon this by Steve Slack of Wayne University and Jim Gundlach of Auburn University; they have done extensive research on " The Effect Of Country Music On Suicide." ( I am not making this up!)

In this article, we explore the link between a particular form of popular music(country music) and metropolitan suicide rates. We contend that the themes found in country music foster a suicidal mood among people already at the risk of suicide and that it is thereby associated with a high suicide rate. The effect is buttressed by the country subculture and a link between this subculture and a racial status related to an increased suicide risk.

Holy Waylon Jennings! It's an 8 page article which links Country Music airplay to white suicide. I guess we might want to hold off on changing our curriculum. Perhaps Country Music albums should come with a warning label? We don't want to lead anyone to suicide, that's for sure. I guess I'll have to put a hold on my outline for a Norwegian Black Metal ensemble as well.......

Monday, May 12, 2014

Portland Prime: Pianist Tony Pacini

This past Saturday night, my wife and I went out to hear some music. We didn't have definite plans, but after having a nice dinner, but we wanted to hear something good. We ended up at Portland Prime, which is right in the middle of downtown Portland. Since we had already eaten, we decided we would split a dessert and have (non- alcoholic) drinks. Our bill came to about 15 dollars without tip; we split a Berry Cobbler, I had a ginger ale and Kerry had hot tea. However, the music we heard for essentially free was amazing and an incredible bargain; The Mel Brown Trio featuring pianist Tony Pacini and bassist Ed Bennett is truly a Portland gem.

Most Portland jazz fans know who Mel Brown is; he plays at Jimmy Mak's three times a week with
Tony Pacini and Mel Brown
various bands. He's a wonderful drummer and has the history of playing with some of the great Motown acts. The driving force behind this trio is Mr. Pacini, who is impressively steeped in the old school jazz piano tradition and puts his own refreshing stamp on everything he plays. One thing that was really refreshing was to hear some different repertoire; not only did Pacini call some more obscure jazz tunes, like Duke Ellington's "Love You Madly," but he played a Monty Alexander tune and a Michel Petrucciani tune. ( Some people like to hear tunes they know. I also like to hear tunes I don't know; why play the same tunes all the time? There are so many- if you get bogged down in the same tunes all the time, you'll never learn any!) Pacini has fluid chops and a dynamic touch; it reminded me of Amhad Jamal and Oscar Peterson with perhaps some George Shearing and Milt Buckner and Errol Garner thrown in for good measure. He's truly a virtuoso. It really inspired me and my wife(also a pianist); I spent some extra time practicing this weekend thanks to Pacini's dazzling performance.

This trio of Brown, Bennett, and Pacini has been playing every week for 18 years. They really have some stuff worked out! Jazz happens on the bandstand and this is a perfect example of when it's happening. I urge jazz lovers and especially students of jazz to take advantage of Portland Prime on Saturday nights; I felt like I got a lesson for 15 dollars that should have cost hundreds. Go hear the music!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mantras and Other Ideas

Naturally, musicians love to play, and I still enjoy playing music live and touring now and then. However, I've been a full time educator for the last five years. In this time, I believe I have made progress as an educator. However, the infinite universe that is music always seems to throw new challenges our way. I was teaching a class at the start of the week and I thought we had somewhat of a epiphany. It's not that the concepts are new, per se, it's that the way I was able to present it and the way we worked on it as a class seemed to gel better than previous efforts to introduce said concepts.

Many jazz educators and students would agree that we can easily get bogged down in the land of chord scales. I'm not trying to contradict previous posts! It's important to know basic jazz chord scale theory. But it's just theory. Theory is not music. Chords and scales are not music. They are a means by which to make music. I find that some of my students, in an effort to, admittedly, listen to my constant whining that "you guys are not MAKING THE CHANGES," will try to make the changes the best they can; unfortunately, if all you are focusing on is connecting the dots, then it's likely you aren't concentrating on making compelling music. I recall in Victor Wooten's marvelous book, "The Music Lesson," there is a discussion of all the parts of music that aren't "notes." And yet getting bogged down in notes is a huge problem in terms of being artistic. The "notes," or in jazz, "making the changes," is like English
Pablo Neruda: Famous for his conjugation of verbs in Spanish, and something else.......
class; you learn vocabulary, grammar, syntax, spelling, and so forth. However, this is not poetry or fiction. It's THE BASICS. If you can't speak Spanish fluently, you cannot write poetry in Spanish on the level of Pablo Neruda!

That being said, since we only have but so much time, and many of my students come in to music school being behind the curve( I blame our educational system for banishing the funding and the priority for music education, not to mention the lack of anything besides crappy pop music on television). So, I believe sometimes it's important, or at least worth a shot, to say, "OK, I know we don't all have our ABCs and 123s perfect, but in any case, let's pretend we do and try to be creative." So in an effort to not forget about why we want to make music( self expression, creativity, artistic impulse, etc..), we throw caution to the wind and just play. But then the question is, what are we working on?

I like to think in terms of having a mantra. In meditation, a mantra is a word or sound which is believed to clear the mind and develop spiritual focus. If improvising jazz can be seen as a meditation of sorts, then having one idea which helps one to focus on improvising can help to make one's improvising more musical. I have suggested this to students before; if your mantra, or single focus during improvisation is something like "RHYTHM," imagine how different your approach to a song like "Moment's Notice" would be! Or if your mantra was "MELODY" on a tune like "Giant Steps"; it would hopefully not just be endless 8th notes and so forth.

Now, I believe that great jazz solos are made up of a variety of techniques, be they melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, compositional, what have you. However, I think much is to be gained in terms of developing these musical reflexes if you were to say, take "Confirmation" and practice it continuously using different mantras. For example, you could take from 1 to 100 choruses using the idea of "SPACE" as a mantra. Next, you could use the idea of "DISSONANCE" as a mantra, for 1 to 100 choruses. Next, you could use the idea of "MOTIVIC DEVELOPMENT" as a mantra. There are as many mantras as there are artistic concepts, so that is an infinite world. Also, this makes playing through the form less boring; meanwhile, you are learning how to play the changes better in the process of repetition.

The eventual goal is that through the idea of focus on any given chorus, eventually you will go from one mantra to the next as you see fit while you improvise. You might think "SPACE" for the first chorus, "BUILD" for the next, "ENERGY" for the final, etc.... At a later date, you might not need to even be so conscious about it. We tried this in my Guitar Heroes class and it yielded some really cool results. When I told guys to make half of their solos space, it really made the musicality higher. It's something really basic to good phrasing, and yet so many of us aren't conscious of this.

As the class continued, we went further into conceptual mode. " Rhythm section, I want you to TIP(play good time and not much else), and soloists, imagine that 'Confirmation' is based on a Tin Pan Alley tune, and you are writing that tune right now!" It was a little more specific than a MANTRA, but it also yielded musical results different from the usual constant stream of eighth notes. Then, we started to get into trying "Confirmation" at different tempos, in different grooves and suggesting different rhythmic feels or even other genres. We tried the tune as a slow Count Basie swing groove; it brought a whole new life to the piece! We tried it as a Stadium Rock tune; "50 percent Def Lepard, 50 Percent Led Zepplin..." I suggested. I told the bassist just to play F pedal. Again, this was interesting. I was amazed at how much time we spent on one piece of music. I got the impression that it was enlightening for the students, although sometimes the overall mellow vibe of Portlanders can leave me wondering. Still, the point of the day was that music is limitless; don't forget that art is equal part creativity as it is skill. Don't be afraid to experiment, even with material which is very familiar. You may surprise yourself!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

New York Then And Now

I just got back to Portland from my trip to New York. It was sweet but definitely short. My Wednesday night engagement at The Jazz Standard with bassist Linda Oh and jazz drumming icon Jack DeJohnette was sold out for two shows. This is something to be pleased about for three reasons. The first is that sold out is always good; I've played in New York and elsewhere for undersold houses( read as more people in the band than in the audience) and it's depressing. The second is that is was raining cats and dogs all night; it was so bad that on the ride home, the streets were so flooded in places that I thought we would be swept out to sea! Thanks to those who braved the weather. The third reason is that there were tons of other great gigs going on that night in New York. Jason Moran and Eric Harland were at the Blue Note, Steve Kuhn with Eddie Gomez and Joey Baron were at Birdland, Marcus Strickland was at the Zinc Bar, French Hornist Mark Taylor was at Cornelia St.....anyway, you get the idea. I keep telling people in Portland that when you consider the magnitude of the PDX Jazz Festival, consider that New York has that many things going on every single night of the year.

I had a few extra days to hang, so in addition to visiting with old friends, I did get to hear some music; I caught a set of saxophonist Samir Zarif at the Bar Next Door in Greenwich Village. Zarif performed some intriguing original music with an all star trio of Henry Cole on drums and Fima
Joe Martin
Ephron on electric bass. Later, I walked over to Small's to catch bassist Joe Martin's quartet with Kevin Hays on piano, Steve Wilson on alto saxophone, and Jeff Ballard on drums. New York is amazing in that you can find the best players in the world playing in these tiny venues. I'm finding the longer I am not a New York resident, the more I appreciate my short trips to the city and the live music that I get to hear. It's also cool to bump into friends and great musicians who are also out hanging; I saw Dave Kikosi, Peter Zak, Xavier Davis, and Jerome Sabbagh just hanging out at Small's, and then I bumped into Jaleel Shaw just walking to the F train! I miss the energy of the city; I feel like perhaps my last years in New York I took it somewhat for granted.

When I first moved to New York, I didn't go to public jam sessions as much as the private sessions at people's apartments. The first two apartments I lived in were big enough to have rooms for music, so we would have a lot of "sessions" there. I remembered doing sessions with people who are superstars now: Bill Stewart, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, Brian Blade, and tons of musicians who aren't household names but are incredible nonetheless. On this trip, I was glad to be included in a session with bassist Jim Whitney, drummer Rob Garcia, saxophonist Kenny Brooks, and vocalist Debbie Deane. Sometimes it's more fun to organize an informal session than go through the arduous task of booking a gig; oftentimes it's more worthwhile, and more stimulating. Music is music, and in this case, we played some hip Kenny Wheeler tunes and standards. It made me very nostalgic for the late 1990's when I was doing this sort of thing all the time.

Walking around Manhattan and Brooklyn, I got even more nostalgic. It's been almost 20 years since I moved to the Big Apple, and the city has transformed itself in some ways good and in others not. It's arguable safer, however, it's also impossibly expensive. When I look at people renting a tiny one bedroom in the East Village for 3000 a month, and probably the same for Park Slope, Brooklyn, I wonder how my students would be able to afford even a security deposit for a place if they decided to take the plunge. It seems as though New York is even more of a playground for the ultra-rich than ever before. Is it viable for jazz musicians to pursue their dreams here? Regardless, folks are doing it by hook or by crook. New York and the jazz scene is still there, and probably will be for a long time. I appreciate the comfort of my home in Portland, but I hope to continue to keep figuring out ways to get back to the Apple just to stay inspired.