Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Concert Experience - Leslie Pintchik Trio

This past Wednesday, August 27 I went to Scullers to see the pianist Leslie Pinchik perform with her trio at Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge. Pintchik's trio consists of Scott Hardy on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. This concert showcased music from Pintchik's new release, "In the Nature of Things." Listen to Pintchick's trio play "Luscious" here.

A Concert Experience - Leslie Pintchik Trio

Pintchik started the concert with "Overeasy", which features catchy melodic statements repeated to form a cohesive sound. Hardy, Pitnchick's husband, often sang while he was soloing; this got me to thinking what comes first, the singing or the note on the bass? 

The next piece, "Luscious" could be described as mood music in the way that its coolness emanated across the club. Each song seemed to focus on a pulsating rhythm, with a laid back yet forward propelling beat. I enjoyed the way Hardy on bass and Sarin on drums comped in order to bring out the natural line in Pintchik's playing. 
Pintchik and Hardy

Pintchik amused the audience by recounting a documentary she watched on the dust bowl, and how the grass that makes tumbleweed was one of the only things that could actually grow in those conditions. Pintchik named her own composition "Tumbleweed" to correlate with the way that the song 'rolls around and changes key'. Sarin provided counterintuitive drum hits, creating a sense of surprise. 

Pintchik's strong point is in her time feel, and the way she can manipulate the beat in order to shape a phrase. Pintchik's piano touch is light and understated, and she playfully mixes melodic single voice lines with denser chords to create contrast within a phrase. Though her sound is calming, her rhythmic feel is driving. In addition, Pintchik's compositions are laid back and understated, yet they have a twist full of polyrhythms, shifting harmonies, repeated motivic elements, and trio interaction to provide the underlying excitement that could be forgotten in 'cooler' sorts of jazz. 

"Sparkle" was an audience favorite, which was Pintchik's reflection of a club she worked at. Just like the title would guess, this song was full of energy and pizazz, and was more up tempo, featuring spontaneous drum crashes, and open sounding chords. "Let's Get Lucky" featured Hardy's pulsing rhythmic drive upfront, bringing in cursing drums, and a fluid piano, changing moods frequently through use of dynamic contrast. 

Pintchik chose "For All We Know" because of her love of the profound lyrics. Through use of this ballad, Pintchik's trio illustrated honesty in their playing, showing sincerity in their faces. Pintchick's two hand technique on the piano created thoughtful countermelodies, creating an internal conversation to match the subject matter of the piece. I could follow the logic of every solo, with a clear focus to melody, rhythm, and energy development. 

Meeting Pintchik after the show
"Terse Tune" ended 'with a wimber, not a bang'. This tune showcased Pintchik's humorous, lighthearted personality and Pintchik claimed her trio provides the 'colors of an orchestra'. "How About You" highlighted the trio playing conversational, bluesy lines, with Sarin stretching the time. The next song, "I'd Turn Back if I Were You", 'has to do with a career in the arts' snickered Pintchik. The song reminded me of the Danny Fox Trio and the Bad Plus, which I have seen recently. 

"Completely" was a subtle tune which led into the last song, "There You Go". The phrase, 'there you go' can be used as either a way of agreeing or disagreeing, which was showcased in the way the trio acted with and against each other in a humorous, playful fashion. 

Final Thoughts:
My taste in jazz is very much dependent on my sort of mood. Sometimes all I want to listen to is the loud thrashing of Albert Ayler, and sometimes all I can stand is the calm sounds of Chet Baker- but it is all jazz. Pintchik's show at Scullers 'In the Nature of Things'  came at a time when its subtlety and nuance calmed my spirits. 

Check out my new jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Book Club - Sidney Bechet

This past month I read two books about the great clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. I read John Chilton's biography, "Sidney Bechet The Wizard of Jazz" and Bechet's autobiography, "Treat it Gentle".

Listen to this NPR Jazz Profile to learn more about Bechet's life and music.

A Book Club - Sidney Bechet

What I enjoyed about Chilton's biography of Bechet was the historic thoroughness, and the ability to examine Bechet's life from different angles. In an autobiography, the text is more personal and is often full of humorous anecdotes, yet you only receive Bechet's point of view. Chilton received accounts from various sources, adding to a full view of Bechet's personality- gentle and sweet, or mean and ferocious. 

Bechet was a self taught musician. His brother played trombone and clarinet, and when his brother was at work Bechet would often go into the attic when no one was home and start playing the clarinet. One day his mom caught him there, and tried to convince Bechet's brother that Sidney should have the clarinet since he was so naturally talented. Bechet received his brother's clarinet for Christmas, and practiced constantly. Yet, Bechet never chose to learn to read music because he thought that reading got in the way of truly feeling the music. 

Listen to Bechet playing "Petite Fleur":

One story I found particularly humorous was that Bechet would often keep a clarinet in his back pocket, enter a bar, size up the band, and 'duel' with the house band. 

Once the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins made a claim that people from New Orleans couldn't really play. This upset Bechet, who grew up in New Orleans, and he challenged Hawkins to a 'bucking contest' where the two musicians would 'duel' to see who really was the top musician. Bechet came up with so much rhythmic, diverse, and original content that Hawkins couldn't keep up, and he put his horn away and started walking out of the club. Bechet followed him out of the club and continued playing all the way down the street! 

Bechet's playing has influenced an entire legacy of musicians, from Johnny Hodges to Wayne Shorter. 

Bechet's autobiography was not only thought provoking, but it was profound, with many memorable quotes. Bechet weaved stories from his ancestors, childhood, and touring with stories of his friends and fellow musicians. Bechet claimed, "I wouldn't tell all this in a story about the music, except that all I been telling, it's part of the music. That man there in the grocery store, the Mexican, the jail- they're all in the music. Whatever kind of thing it was, whenever it happened, the music put it together." 

Listen to Bechet playing "Si tu vois ma mère":

Bechet's life was centered around music, and he continuously emphasized the importance of making the music sound human with growls and bends to create the human voice.  Bechet is known for his vibrato, but even against critics panning his vibrato he kept it because it was his own voice. 

Bechet claimed that he enjoyed how people look up to him, but admitted that he is a product of his environment: "Most people, they think they make themselves. Well, in a way they do. But they don't give enough credit to all the things around them, things they take from somebody else when they're doing something and creating it." 

Bechet summarizes why music is so important to him: "No matter what else is happening, the music is the thing to hold to, and it's all mine in a way of speaking: I can be off alone somewheres, I can be sitting here and I can be sad and lonely, but all I got to do is think of some melody and I'm feeling better off."

Bechet explained his thoughts on music: "But you know, no music is my music. It's everybody's who can feel it... You got to be in the sun to feel the sun. It's that way with music too." Listen to Bechet playing "St. Louis Blues": 

Final Thoughts: 
When I read biographies I realize that these jazz musicians are not just 'important figures', but they are quintessentially human. Bechet said, "Me, I want to explain myself so bad. I want to have myself understood. And the music, it can do that. The music, it's my whole story." "You gotta mean it, and you gotta treat it gentle".

What is your favorite jazz biography or autobiography?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jam of the Week

Nowadays people always say that social media is taking over our lives. And I would say yes, I do spend too much time on social media. Yet, I do not think every part of a site like Facebook is destructive. In fact, lately Facebook has been educational for me.

"Jam of the Week" is a Facebook group dedicated to sharing personal musical interpretations of jazz songs. The group has over 22,000 members, and highlights a jazz song or set of songs to choose from each week. Jazz standards like "All the Things You Are" or "Cherokee" become the topic of the week, and musicians from any experience level, from beginner to professional, all over the world, can submit a one chorus improvisational solo over the chord changes to the song. Submissions can be A Cappella or accompanied, solo or with a group- everything is up to the individual. People are encouraged to listen to various posts and comment on them; critiques are requested on an individual basis to create a positive, supportive environment.

The group description states: "This Group is not to see who has the greatest chops, who can play the highest, etc. It is a place to have fun, learn some new licks, network with fellow musicians and to promote the simple fact that we are all learning and striving to be better."

To learn more about Jam of the Week, visit the website

Jam of the week

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Bryan Murray, a professional musician from the Jam of the Week group, who commonly plays a balto! saxophone. I have listened to his videos on a weekly basis, and they always make me laugh. To learn more about Murray, visit his website

1. Describe how you first heard about Jam of the Week, and why you decided to join the community. 

One of my saxophone students told me about it and I immediately thought it would be fun to join and play only balto! saxophone. I love seeing how people react to the instrument.  

2. How would you describe the Jam of the Week community? Would you say the group is more for entertainment or educational purposes?

I think it’s a really cool way for people to get heard by their peers and get instant feedback. I love the idea of everyone being on the same level, posting on the same page whether it’s a young student or a professional. For the most part, people are very supportive.  You can ask for critiques or comments on your playing. It’s an open forum so you’re going to get an occasional bad comment but you also get lots of good ideas to make you a better player.  

3. How do you go about preparing your videos for Jam of the Week? Can you explain what a balto! is? What kind of sound do you want to achieve?  

Sometimes i just throw on a play-along CD and use my iPod to capture video and sound and other times I record to garage band with a mic and mix it with the video to get better sound quality. It mostly depends on how much time I have.  

The balto! is an alto sax with a bari sax mouthpiece and plastic reed. The thing I like about it is that it’s unpredictable, like a wild animal that you can’t tame. The sound is disgusting to most people and I like that. It’s not pretty. I’m sick of pretty. I never know if the upper notes are going to come out right and it’s kind of impossible to play exactly in tune.

4. What has been your favorite experience on Jam of the Week? What has been your favorite video to post?  

My favorite experience is hearing new players and finding people that are actually into what I’m doing, because I’m nuts and if people like it then there are other nut jobs out there too! We are all out there looking for support and to feel good about ourselves. That’s what social media is about. We all want to feel good. If you see something you don’t like, you can hide it, or unfriend or block. It’s an escape from your daily grind. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but I enjoy it. I’m a social media addict. If a million people “like” your post, then you feel awesome! I also really like it when people get pissed off at what I’m doing. If everyone liked it, then I think it would be time to do something else. My favorite video to post was “The Preacher” because I had my 2 year old daughter play drums. We did a bunch of takes and she had a blast.  

5. Please describe your performance experience outside of Jam of the Week, such as your group Bryan and the Haggards. 

I toured for a year with David Byrne and St. Vincent and that ended last September. Now I’m back to playing with my band, “Bryan and the Haggards” and also Jon Lundbom’s “Big Five Chord”.  Both bands have basically the same musicians (different drummers), but the material is different. Jon’s band plays his songs and my band plays the music of Merle Haggard. We play here and there and make albums for Hot Cup Records, which is the bass player Moppa Elliott’s record label. It’s a big musical family. I’ve been playing with these guys for years and it’s been great. 

6. Who are your musical influences? Who is your favorite saxophonist? 

Right now, I’m way into hip hop. I’m making a balto! hip hop album so I’m checking out tons of bands. My current faves are Chance the Rapper (my wife thinks his voice is as annoying as the balto!) and Jay Z but I’m checking out all the classic stuff too. I also love country music, Merle Haggard being my favorite. As far as jazz and saxophone goes, I’ve been freaking out over Albert Ayler. Can’t get enough of it. They didn’t play that for me when I was in music school so I heard about him really late, which was probably a good thing because I wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Back then I wanted to be Joe Lovano. I bought every freaking album he was on. In high school I wanted to be Branford Marsalis. He came through town with his quartet and it blew my mind. Also Sonny Rollins, Coltrane and Joe Henderson were a big influence on me when I was in school and still are today. Other guys I like that maybe don’t get as much recognition as they should are Rich Perry and Chris Cheek - two amazingly humble guys and great players. Rich has the best live sax sound I’ve ever heard.  

7. What kind of advice do you give to young musicians starting out in the jazz world? 

Listen to everything.  Don’t worry about what music everyone else likes, or what is the hip stuff now. Just keep an open mind. There is beautiful music out there. The more influences you have the more unique you’ll sound.  

Final Thoughts: 
Jam of the Week astounds me with the ability to see so many levels of playing and interpretations to one song. People from all over the world come together to help each other learn jazz- that kind of open mind is what I love about jazz. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Festival Experience - Newport Jazz Festival with Shelly Berg

I was fifteen the first time I went to the Newport Jazz Festival. I was so amazed by the music, I vowed that by age thirty I needed to play there. Now, at age eighteen, I am grateful to say that my wish came true thanks to Natixis Global Asset Management and MMEA. On Sunday, August 3rd at 11 a.m. the MA All State Jazz Band played at the festival under the direction of conductor Shelly Berg.

MA All State Jazz Band with conductor Shelly Berg
A Festival Experience - Newport Jazz Festival with Shelly Berg

Our conductor, Shelly Berg, steps into a room and immediatly captures everyone's attention because of his sheer enthusiasm for life. While under his direction, I found myself not only focusing more on the music, but I felt the music more. Shelly would tell us stories and infuse his own into the music to give us a goal to reach for. And with his leadership we not only sounded better, but we were all smiling and genuinely happy. Shelly taught us that good music takes hard work- but it's completely worth it. To learn more about Shelly, go to his website.

Recently I was fortunate enough to interview Shelly about his experiences at the festival, as well as his philosophies on teaching and performing. 

1. Describe your experience conducting the MA All State jazz band at the Newport Jazz Festival. Were there any moments that really stood out to you? 

The most exciting thing about the Newport concert was the connection the group made with the audience. It is important for young musicians to feel a wildly enthusiastic response, as this is what makes all of the effort and determination worthwhile.  

2. What is it like working with younger musicians? Do you find that you approach teaching younger musicians differently than teaching college musicians? 

I love working with younger musicians. I consider it an honor to instill ideas about music making, and the unique role and power of music in the world. These concepts are the same whether working with beginners or professionals. Obviously, I spend more time on fundamental concepts with young musicians. Fundamentals are the “fuel” for expression, so I am happy to help provide those insights as well.

3. With such a limited amount of rehearsal time, how do you maximize the progress in each rehearsal? 

When rehearsal time is limited I take an approach which begins with the  “abstract”, and then moves as far towards the “exact” as possible. In other words, it is important for the musicians to understand the context and inspiration of each piece. Once they have “fallen in love” with the music, they have the tools and motivation to drill down through the detail. If I start with the detail and focus primarily on that, we could end up with a concert that is more technically “perfect” but far less inspiring and relevant to the audience.

4. How do you go about choosing pieces for a group to play? Who are some of your main influences for composition? 

MA All State Jazz Band with conductor Shelly Berg
I choose repertoire with a few things in mind. First of all, the arc of the concert should be a journey, so the pieces should reflect a variety of contexts. I want the music to have depth and purpose, and I want it to be fun for the players. In an all state situation, I want there to be teachable moments in what it takes to master music from the various styles I select.  

I have more compositional influences than I can name. In big band music alone, I have been influenced by many, many great writers and arrangers.  Robert Farnon influenced Johnny Mandel, Nelson Riddle and so many orchestrators. Duke Ellington influenced everybody. Thad Jones has left his mark on all of the writers of the last 40 years. The music of Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer are transformational.  Vince Mendoza, John Clayton and so many others are continuing to compose and arrange some of the greatest music ever. The more I go on, the more I will leave some out who should be included in this list.

The band played John Daversa's "Don't Jive the Hitman" at Newport:

5. Do you approach performing, composing, and teaching all from different angles or do you find the same philosophies carry over and influence the others? 

Performing, composing, and teaching are all reflections of the same ideals. We practice to fill our “technical wells” with proficiencies. Along the way, we need to understand the power and context that the things we know convey. We perform, compose, and teach through our “spiritual wells”, so that our music can be honest and transparent, conveying universal emotions and values.

6. In your opinion, what is the most important thing to teach people about jazz music? 

The most important thing to teach is that music is endless, so there are no shortcuts. Music is a spiritual journey, and everything we practice and learn helps us remove barriers to pure expression.  

7. What kind of advice do you give to young musicians starting out in the jazz world? 

See #6! I believe that a talented and dedicated musician can have a career. Each of us must find, cultivate, nurture and maintain our own audience. If our music is resonant to our audience, that audience will grow, support us, and stay with us throughout our careers.

Final Thoughts: 
I am so grateful that the world of jazz has allowed me to meet so many kind, warmhearted people. I certainly had the experience of my life at Newport, and this moment inspires me to continue to put in hard work to make good music. 

A Festival Experience- Newport Jazz Festival Day 2

Sunday, August 3rd was an incredible day at the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management. The weather was much better; the clouds simply covered the sun for a cool day. 

MA All State Jazz Band with conductor Shelly Berg
First, I had the amazing experience of playing a set at the festival with the MA All State Jazz Band under the direction of conductor Shelly Berg. 

Meeting Ron Carter
Following the set, I saw guitarist Russell Malone again, and turned around to meet Ron Carter! 

Meeting Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly was also behind the set, and came over to talk to a couple of us. 

Meet and greet with Oran Etkin
The All State Jazz Band had a meet and greet with a jazz artist, Oran Etkin, who kindly answered some of our questions. 

With my brother at NJF
I was very happy to have my brother JP come to Newport and spend the day. Although not a huge jazz fan, JP likes John Coltrane's "Giant Steps"and Sun Ra's Arkestra- and after Newport he now loves Vijay Iyer's music! 

Vijay Iyer Sextet 
I have seen Vijay Iyer on multiple occasions, but this concert with with the Vijay Iyer Sextet with Graham Haynes, Mark Shim, Steve Lehman, Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore. The set was like one giant jam, which was really exciting to hear the complete spontaneity of the group's interactions.

Vijay Iyer Sextet 
Mingus Big band 
Afterwards, I watched the Mingus Big band from the balcony of the main stage. This was an amazing view, and allowed for a full sonic experience. I was completely surprised when the Mingus Big band played "Fables of Faubus" and included the lyrics (which were originally banned when the song came out!).

Meeting Ravi Coltrane 
Following this, I went to see part of the Ron Carter Trio's set. While backstage, I met Ravi Coltrane and Danilo Perez. 
Gary Burton with Julian Lage
I was feet away from the stage for the Gary Burton with Julian Lage concert. The group blended seamlessly, creating an exciting vibe. Following the concert, I met Gary Burton, who also went to Berklee College of Music. 

Meeting Gary Burton
Danilo Perez Panama 500

I was very excited to see Danilo Perez's Panama 500 because Danilo is a teacher at Berklee. The best moment of his show was when Perez invited his young son to the stage to play percussion, and he had the biggest smile on his face.

Bobby McFerrin Spirit-you-all
Capping off the day, I watched Bobby McFerrin's Spirityouall from the balcony on the main stage. I had seen the sound check for this act at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and I listen to this concert  on NPR constantly, so it felt quite relaxing and familiar.

Final Thoughts: 
The Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Assest Management is always a thrill, but this  60th anniversary was especially enthralling. Life is marked by special moments, and this festival contained many unforgettable ones!

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Festival Experience- Newport Jazz Festival Day 1

Saturday, August 2 at the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management was definitely an experience. It was pouring buckets of rain most of the day. George Wein, the festival founder, declared with a chuckle that everyone at the festival "crazy" for coming out. You know you love jazz when you stand in the pouring rain, seemingly freezing, but energized by the music that surrounds you. 

A Festival Experience- Newport Jazz Festival Day 1
Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band
I arrived at the festival, and headed over to hear Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band. Every young jazz listener seems to be obsessed with Blade, and for good reason. His music is edgy, energetic, and exciting. Listen to Brian Blade on NPR Live at the Village Vanguard.

The Robert Glasper Experiment 
I have talked about Glasper's music on my previous blog, Hip Hop in Jazz. I really like how modern and groove based his music is. The band utilizes a lot of electronic technology and effects to produce interesting sounds. 

The Robert Glasper Experiment plays "Lift Off":

The Robert Glasper Experiment

Meeting guitarist Russell Malone
Afterwards, I met guitarist Russell Malone while waiting for Kurt Rosenwinkel's show to start. I saw him, and realized that he looked familiar, and then I remembered that I saw him when I went to see the Ron Carter Trio at the Regattabar a while back!

Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet
I saw Rosenwinkel perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra a couple of months ago, and enjoyed his clean sound and modern sensibilities. His New Quartet seemed to meld really nicely together as a cohesive unit. Listen to Rosenwinkel on NPR Live at the Village Vanguard.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
I have seen the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform at Boston's Symphony Hall as well as at Lincoln Center. I really enjoy the fact that each member of the orchestra is not only a world class performer, but also an excellent composer and arranger. The set they played at Newport showcased classic songs from throughout the sixty years of the Newport Jazz Festival. My favorite part of the show was when two saxophonists picked up piccolos and started trading on "Cape Verdean Blues" by Horace Silver. 

The orchestra performing "The Mooch":

Dave Holland Prism
Dave Holland is an incredibly versatile musician. From playing acoustic bass with the most tender approach, to playing with the most buoyant fiery sound, Holland supports and carries any group he is in. "Prism" is a blazing new project by the bassist. 

Dave Holland's Prism plays "A New Day":

Trombone Shorty and New Orleans Avenue
Lastly, I rocked out with Trombone Shorty. His music is punchy, mixing rock and New Orleans music to create a party atmosphere. Everyone in the audience started dancing when Trombone Shorty started playing. Listen to Trombone Shorty on this NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Final Thoughts: 
Throughout the poor weather, everyone still seemed to be walking on the "Sunny Side of the Street", with an excitement for music and life.