Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Concert Experience- NEC Jazz Lab

This past week I had the pleasure to see many free jazz concerts at the New England Conservatory's Jazz Lab, a one-week intensive program for students ages 14 - 18. I went to Jazz Lab last year, and had a lot of fun, so these concerts were a great way to see some of my friends and listen to great music! I went to three of the five free concerts at Jazz Lab.

A Concert Experience- NEC Jazz Lab

o Monday, June 23rd - Dave Holland solo plus Dave Holland-Dominique Eade duo - 8 pm Jordan Hall

Meeting Dave Holland after the concert! 
Dave Holland is a Grammy award winning bassist, was a member of Miles Davis's group in the late 60s and 70s, has been a sideman with many top jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock, and has led a successful career as a leader with many groups such as "Prism".   

Dave Holland quoted Miles Davis and said "I'll play it first and tell you what it is later", and started with a series of improvisations to see where it would take him. This was especially enjoyable, because Holland would go from thought to thought, even quoting jazz standards such as "Someone to Watch Over Me". Holland then moved on to play Charles Mingus's song, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat", where he made the bass sing, playing the blues with special techniques to make it sound like multiple instruments were playing a sort of call and response. 

Watch Dave Holland play solo bass on "Goodbye Porkpie Hat":

Holland then played his own composition, "Jumping In", with fast runs, and glissandos. Dominique Eade joined him for the next half of the concert, starting with a heartfelt rendition of "Equality", a tribute to the late Maya Angelou set to music. Eade impressed the audience with her impeccable diction, pure tone, and impressive range. Her scat solos were fresh, and mimicked a horn, while Holland would compliment her style by responding to her unique phrases on his bass.

Holland and Eade then performed a fresh interpretation of the standard, "Yesterdays", and original "For the Dancer", and the standard "Daydream", which conjured a sense of unity between Eade's soaring voice and Holland's soaring bass solos. Holland and Eade ended the concert with a tribute to the late Don Cherry with "Remembrance", with stunning rhythmic intensity and power from both of them. It was truly a treat to watch these two greats perform- they seemed completely in sync, and both emanated a true love for every note and gesture within the musical conversation. 

o Tuesday, June 24th - Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra - 8 pm Brown Hall

The Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra (AIJO) is a big band based in Boston that performs originals and arrangements of Ayn Inserto, who is highly influenced by Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Jim McNeely. Inserto thrives to make her music swing with a modern twist, producing a thrilling performance for the audience. 

Watch the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra play "Clairvoyance":

The Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra started with the songs "Eshel Sketch" and an arrangement of the Joe Henderson song "Recorda Me". The orchestra produced a full, vibrant sound, with strong overlapping melodies propelled forward by energetic solos.

The orchestra then continued with a lovely waltz, "Dear John" and a haunting ballad for Steve Lacy, "Laced with Love". It was enjoyable to hear the cascading mix of layering melodies and space, which created a waterfall effect. The combination of smooth melodies and sharp rhythmic hits created a sort of hypnotic state for the audience.

Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra

Next, the orchestra performed "Vinifera" and "Hey, Open Up!", both characterized by a dark edgy ensemble sound as well as flying solos that provided contrast from the ensemble sections. The last song, "Subo", was especially enjoyable for its fresh, latin inspired rhythms and broad solo sections. The song made the audience want to dance, and Inserto even started dancing while conducting! It is always inspirational to see a modern take on the big band sound, and Inserto's ensemble had a great mix between strong section parts and wonderful individual solos.

o Wednesday, June 25th - The Ken Schaphorst Ensemble - 8 pm Jordan Hall

Ken Schaphorst is a composer, performer, and educator currently chairing the Jazz Studies department at the New England Conservatory. The Ken Schaphorst Ensemble plays original songs by Schaphorst, and featured ten musicians, including Schaphorst on flugelhorn. 

The ensemble started with "When the Moon Jumps" and "Checkered Blues". These songs set the tone for the concert, creating a cohesive sound between all the members of the ensemble. The audience couldn't help but notice the camaraderie between the musicians, which definitely helped create an enthralling experience. 

Ken Schaphorst Ensemble

Next, the ensemble continued with "Take Back the Country", written and inspired by the late Bob Brookmeyer, and "North Mountain". Schaphorst noted "Take Back the Country"was by no means a political piece, although Brookmeyer himself was quite political.

The next songs included "Mbira", inspired by a Southern African thumb piano, and "Bats", inspired by the motion of bats. These two songs were especially enjoyable because the amount of energizing solos by each member of the ensemble. Each soloist seemed to give energy and inspiration to the next, creating a rise and fall effect to the music. 

Concluding the concert was a tribute to the late Horace Silver, "Silver Serenade". Schaphorst explained how important Silver's influence was to his compositional growth, claiming he can pinpoint exact places in his music that came directly from analyzing Silver's own music.

Listen to "Silver Serenade":

Final Thoughts: 
A week full of concerts is always a treat, especially when every concert is a unique experience.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

6 Pieces of Silver- Celebrating Horace Silver's life

This past Wednesday June 18th jazz great, pianist, and composer Horace Silver passed away.

And I have to say, for the jazz community, and for music in general this is a huge loss not only because Silver was great, but because his music inspired other people to want to be great too.

Silver's music has inspired me, and there have been many a day where all I can even think about listening to is Horace Silver. His music provides solace when solace is unfathomable, and for that I will forever be grateful for his contributions to this wonderful world of music.

Check out this NPR article and Horace Silver's website to learn more about Silver's prolific life and career.

6 Pieces of Silver
Celebrating Horace Silver's life with 6 of my favorite Silver songs 

I love this song! The harmonies are what some would call "crunchy", but I think this song is just absurd in the best way. During my junior year of high school I went to a Birdland Big-band concert, and during the intermission the band let audience members vote for a few songs they wanted the band to play. Well,  I saw "Nutville" was a choice, so I voted over 25 times for that one song, and well, the leader Tommy Igoe announced the song was disqualified because someone voted an astonishing amount of times...What can I say? 

This song is my jam! It's groovin' to the extreme, has great personnel, and is so catchy. If you could bottle up sunshine, I am pretty sure this song would be the sound of it. It makes you feel like you are on vacation, in the sun, and even at Cape Verde! 

I have raved about this song in a previous blog, Peaceful Jazz Songs, and for a reason! This song is beyond- beyond beautiful, beyond relaxing, beyond compare! This song is elegant, and I don't know many songs I would describe as elegant. But this song...elegant

This song is hilarious, and I believe it was my first experience with Horace Silver- my high school jazz band played it when I was a freshman. I was overcome with the hilarious introduction- I remember laughing uncontrollably- as well as the pure bluesyness and groove of the song. If someone asked me to define "swing" I'm pretty sure I would just turn on my iPod and put this song on- no words needed. 

I don't know if a song can be more beautiful or relaxing than this. It was a top pick in a previous blog, Relaxing Jazz Songs, where I explained this song makes me picture carefree people flying their kites on a clear, lucid, windy day in New York with families having picnics, and people walking their dogs- I don't know of many songs that create such a full picture in my head like this one. 

Personally, I do not go to church, but this song sure makes me want to go to one! It sounds so fun, and no matter who or what you believe in, you have to believe this is one of the most swingin' songs out there! This song makes you start bobbing your head, and saying "Yeah! Yeah!", like you are actually at church. I'm not kidding- give it a listen and you'll know what I'm talking about! 

Final Thoughts: 
When I was first starting to really learn about improvising I remember playing many a Horace Silver song- so when I think about it, I have really grown up as an improviser by listening to and playing Silver's music. Silver's music is such a part of the jazz world, and now it's part of my world- and what a world it is to have had such a genius play music before us! 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Concert Experience- Danny Fox Trio

Check out "Wide Eyed".
This past Friday the 13th I did not stay inside watching horror movie marathons. For one, these movies always seem to scare me a little too much, and secondly I decided to take this opportunity to go out to hear some live jazz! I went to the Lily Pad in Cambridge to hear the Danny Fox Trio celebrate the release of their album Wide EyedThe band, features pianist Fox,  bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman.

Formed in 2008, the Danny Fox Trio is a true working band from New York. Though rooted in jazz, the three versatile musicians are also active in chamber music, bluegrass, Afrobeat, electro, and New Orleans funk. With such varied influences, the band challenges the traditional roles of the piano trio instruments. 

A Concert Experience- Danny Fox Trio

I have been to the Lily Pad before, and each time I go it always looks a bit different. It is a small understated space, with glittery modern art hanging against the stark white walls, flickering neon lights reminiscent of a night light, and a couple rows of benches. It looks quaint, but everyone happens to fit, and some great music comes out of such an unlikely place. 

The first song "Adult Joe" was dedicated to one of Fox's friends. His friend was named "Joey", but saw that name as too childish, so he switched it to "Joe" to be viewed as a more professional adult. From the beginning of their set I was stuck by the catchy, hip, urban vibe the trio obtains. Oftentimes melodic phrases would repeat, but change throughout their course. It was similar to a microscope going in and out of focus- you are always looking at the same thing, but you can focus on a certain element. 

The second song, "Fat Frog" was energetic from the start, and reminded me of the dance music of Fats Waller. The trio seemed to create pockets for each instrument  to come into focus and to rise and fall in intensity. "Tumble Quiet" created a relaxing, trance-like atmosphere. This trance state would change into a searching quality with forward motion from various mallets on the drums. I enjoyed the unexpected element of this song- I never really knew where it was going to go, and just when I thought it was calming down in the piano the bass and drums would rev it up. 

"Autumn Gold" interspersed pockets of sound and silence, as well as chord and discord to create a head-bopping tune. The trio seemed to communicate through a breath or a small head movement. You can tell the trio really knows each other through this sort of intrinsic communication. "Wide Eyed", the title track to their album, was a moody piece, characterized by the repetition and unison lines, as well as the bass and drum hits that happened precisely on cue. 

"Sterling" sounded like a dream, with a sort of march-like quality from the repeated bass and left hand piano parts. This piece struck me as very modern. Many people think of jazz as music for older people, but by combing multiple influences, Fox's trio creates their own sound that younger people could latch onto. The sound is fresh, hip, cool. 

Check out the trio's stop-motion video to their song "Sterling": 

"Preamble" seemed to come out of a haze, and made everything feel in stop-time. The drummer created slide effects by sliding his finger against the drums. This song  elicited a sort of patriotic vibe through its repetitious groove. 

I believe the next song was called "Croon". This song has a bluegrass, fiddle influence, and created a very "home" like feeling. I especially enjoyed when all the instruments dropped out, and the bass began a solo. The bassist had many fresh ideas, and though a cappella, he seemed to create his own sort of call and response between overlapping ideas. When the rest of the trio came back in it was like a firecracker, so much energy was built up. 

The trio ended with "Funhouse Memory", which, like the title suggests, was quite fun. The combination of dense chords as well as singular melodic lines on the piano created a variety of textures. It was especially energizing to hear how the bass and drums would line up to create a popping sound. The drums solo utilized various portions of the drums, and built up so much energy that when the groove came back in everything and everyone seemed to be jumping. 

Meet the Danny Fox Trio by checking out "Funhouse Memory":

Final Thoughts: 
The Danny Fox Trio definitely widened my eyes to what I imagine a piano trio to sound like. What's so exciting about live jazz is that it happens in the moment, and the energy comes from the music, musicians, audience, venue, everything. And I think the combination of all of the above led to some exciting music! 

A CD Experience- Shiki and DuDu

Lately I have been listening to a lot of contemporary jazz, music that is currently on the scene. And whenever I listen to new albums, or go to concerts, I am always amazed by how well music can describe the current moment- and how fearless this moment is. 

A CD Experience- Shiki and DuDu 

Recently I have heard fearlessness from pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and trumpeter-composer Natsuki Tamura, one of the most boundlessly creative husband-wife teams in new jazz. The exceptional avant pianist/composer Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura have two new CDs. Shiki is the ninth release with Fujii's New York Orchestra to appear over the last 18 years.  DuDu is the fifth release Tamura's Gato Libre, his working quartet since 2005.

Check out "DuDu".
"DuDuis the title track that opens Natsuki Tamura's new Gato Libre CD. I was very fortunate to be able to interview Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura, and ask them about these CDs and their influences. 

> 1. What was your inspiration behind your new release DuDu?
Natsuki: I wanted to make music which I usually play with Gato Libre
before. When I start making music for Gato Libre, my brain
automatically would be set for it. I think I have enough experience working with this band.

> 2. What was your inspiration behind your new release Shiki?
Satoko: I wanted to make music which is beyond something....I mean I
wanted to draw picture that is bigger than canvas. "Shiki" means four
seasons in Japanese. I think our life also has four seasons and I
wanted to express life's four seasons.

> 3. How much inspiration do you gain from the musicians within your band?
Satoko: I have gotten tremendous inspiration from the musicians in my
band. I have been playing with my New York orchestra for 18 years. When
I write music I hear their voices and that helps my compositions.

Natsuki: I have gotten very big inspiration from the musicians in my band.
I can easily imagine their sound and character. My imagination can help

my compositions.

> 4. How much of your music is composed versus improvised? When you compose
do you think in an improvisational way or vice versa?
Satoko: I always make music both written and unwritten, I mean composed
and improvised. I would like to blend them seamlessly. For me both
composition and improvisation are very similar. When I improvise I
think I compose instantly.

Natsuki: It depends on the song. Sometimes my music has 50%
improvisation and other times 95%.

> 5. Fujii's Shiki is the ninth release with her New York Orchestra to appear
over the last 18 years. In what ways did you want this new album to relate to
and differ from previous recordings?
Satoko: When I plan new recording, I would love to try something new.
The last CD of New York Orchestra is "Eto" which has many short pieces
that featuring each musicians. "Shiki" is made to feature all players
in one long piece.

> 6. Fuji has stated her ultimate goal: "I would love to make music that no
one has heard before." How exactly does one go about making music that no one
has heard before?
Satoko: My grand mother who passed away almost 20 years ago lost her
hearing for her last 10 years. She told me she started hearing very
beautiful music in her ears after she had lost her hearing. I asked her
to sing it, but she couldn't do it. I am very curious what she heard.
We probably hear too much things and that is why we cannot hear
something very beautiful. I would love to make music like the one my
grand mother heard. I don't know what that is though.

> 7. Shiki is dominated by the 40-minute title piece, a vast, eventful
composition on which Fujii reaches for "something beyond." How do you go
about reaching for "something beyond"? Is it a spiritual, artistic, or
musical journey? Is it based on a personal or a group mentality?
Satoko: Refer back to question #2. I wanted make music
"something beyond" musically, spiritually, artistically....etc.

> 8.  Who are some of your musical influences? Are you influenced by many
different genres?
Satoko: I think I have been influenced by all of the music that I have heard in
my life.

Natsuki: I often gain influence from fairy tales and paintings.

> 9. How does being a husband and wife team affect your musical
Check out "Shiki". 
Satoko: We are already musicians when we got to know each other so it is
very natural thing for us making music together. We make very different
music but our musical value is the same and that makes our collaboration

Natsuki: I agree with the Satoko's answer.

> 10. What kind of advice do you give to young musicians starting in the jazz
world, either performing or composing?
Satoko: First and last thing to tell them is to just continue to make
music. If they keep continuing, they will be able to make the music that they

Natsuki: Do not listen to adults too much. Follow your own voice in

your heart.

Final Thoughts: 
Sometimes when I listen to jazz I am astounded because it all sounds so different, yet it is all is all music. And sometimes in a world of commercials and constant repetition it is very nice to hear "music that no one has heard before". 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Graduating thoughts

Friday June 6th I graduated from high school and that got me reminiscing about what I have learned throughout these past four years. High school was the place I learned of jazz. Before high school I did not know who Miles Davis was, I didn't know what chords were, I didn't know how to improvise- everything was foreign and new to me . But in high school I learned the beginnings of all these things, and because of that I have grown not only as a musician, but as a person.

Graduating thoughts

1. Jazz has taught me to take risks and go out of my comfort zone. Sometimes you don't even get chord changes, and you are told to improvise by ear. But, the best solos are the ones that you reach for something, even if bumps occur along the way. Courage is the name of the game. 

The first time I was given chord changes I was terrified. I didn't know what they were, or what a "half-diminished chord" was! I was shy, and mumbled a few notes, because I was afraid of playing "wrong notes". Yet, at the end of the day, the next note you play determines if the one before it was "wrong"- you can recover, you can resolve, you just need to be sure of yourself. 

"Yardbird Suite" was one of the first songs I improvised over:

2. Jazz has taught me to have fun and enjoy the moment. After all, each moment only happens once. 

Maybe someone plays a lick, and you play something similar back to them just to get a reaction out of them. I think because of jazz I do not want to overly structure everything I am doing. I like to go with the flow and just see what happens. Whether I am playing jazz or hanging out with my friends the most fun I tend to have is when I do something spontaneous. 

3. Jazz has taught me to never take yourself too seriously. Keep calm and solo on. Mistakes are inevitable, but you can recover, and even make a joke out of it.

Personally I can't stand when people take music too seriously. Maybe it's just me, but if I am going to be so serious and devote my life to something, I think it should be fun or if it isn't fun I should make it fun. And people tend to play music better when they have the freedom to laugh and joke with the people they are playing with. 

Music should make people happy. If I can make someone happy, I think my mission has been accomplished, both musically and personally. 

Dizzy Gillespie playing "On the Sunny Side of the Street"can summarize what I'm talking about: 

4. Jazz has taught me how to be patient. Sometimes you work hard and see no immediate results, but everything eventually falls into place. 

Sometimes practicing gets lonely, and stressful, and even boring. You are playing an instrument, which is basically a piece of metal, in a cramped practice room, or some room of your house by yourself for hours on end sometimes late into the night. Sometimes you keep on trying to play something, but it just isn't coming to you. And you can't give up- you have to be content with where you are in the moment, and tell yourself to just slow down, try something new, or take a break. 

5. Jazz has taught me the merit in hard work. Basically practice makes perfect. As I said, you need to be patient, but eventually all that you have been working for works itself out for the best. 

As freshman at my high school we wrote letters to ourselves that we received the day before graduation. So, after these four years, I was nervous to see what I wrote as a freshman. Would it be weird? Did I change a lot from what I used to want for myself? And you know what I wrote in my letter? I talked about wanting to go to music school, and I talked about wanting to go to Berklee College of Music- I didn't remember that I wrote this! And what do you know?- Berklee College of Music Class of 2018! 

"There is No Greater Love" was my college audition song: 

Final Thoughts:
Now that I am moving on to the next chapter of my life, I am happy to think about how I have grown. I am thankful for everyone that has been a part of my life and that has helped me learn to love life more than ever. 

I entered high school knowing nothing about jazz, and will enter college devoting my life to jazz. And no matter how much high school hurt me or stressed me out I have to remember that each moment in the past has led up to right now. And well, right now is looking pretty good

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Inspiration- looking back

I was inspired to write something based on Vijay Iyer on Q2 Music's "Spaces".  This video interviews Vijer Iyer in his own house, and shows you his studio.

Inspiration- looking back

What inspired me about this video was Vijay's bookshelf. This may seem weird- to be inspired by a book shelf- but if you watch the clip you will see just how many books Vijay owns. And these books show the depth of Vijay's knowledge- from biographies to textbooks.

When I listen to Vijay, I hear depth in his playing. And sometimes when I hear depth in people's playing I really start to wonder where exactly is this coming from? But when I see the bookshelf, and his enthusiasm for books, it shows me the depth comes from a full investment in the music. He knows what to play not just from experience, but from learning about the greats, their lives, and their history.

In this way, I think learning about history is a huge source of inspiration. On my previous blog, "Finding a Voice", I shared Wayne Shorter's advice to read books to gain inspiration, because when you improvise you should be making stories. You can play a lot of notes, but if there is no internal story or plot there is no depth. So when Vijay shared his books I made this connection- great musicians read, or at least know great stories and how to tell them.

Check out this great jazz autobiography! 

One jazz autobiography I enjoyed reading was "Music is my Mistress", by Duke Ellington. This autobiography shares many of Ellington's experiences from his prolific career. I enjoyed how he would have sections dedicated to other musicians, and he would talk about his experiences with them. These sections provided humorous anecdotes, as well as some heartfelt thoughts- you start to learn about the musicians beyond the music. You learn about Harry Carney's actual personality and how he was very quiet when he drove, or Duke's strong relationship with Billy Strayhorn and how he felt like they were two parts of a whole- and you start to admire musicians for who they were as people.

"Mood Indigo " is one of my favorite Duke Ellington songs! 

I feel like when you can look back on history, learn about the greats, and delve into who they were as people in addition to being musicians, you start to understand their music a lot more. I am not saying that you have to read textbooks to enjoy Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk, but if you did read a bit about them you start to enjoy them in a new way. Duke used to always say "I love you madly" to his crowds, and knowing this small tidbit changes how I hear his music- I can feel the love, and his strong connection to everyone in the crowd.

Final Thoughts: 
I have heard that reading teaches you to empathize, and I think this is true. Just like when a teacher tells you to learn the lyrics to your jazz standards, reading gives you the background for why and how something came to be. And personally, that inspires me.

Share what inspires you in the comments!