Sunday, September 28, 2014

What day is it?

Ambrose Akinmusire 
The author A.A. Milne may not use the most complex words in his notable 'Winnie the Pooh' works. Yet, what I realized is that he uses the right words. And this simplicity along with the mastery of language gives a narrative with such comfort and thoughtfulness that you can not help but smile. 

“What day is it?"
It's today," squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day," said Pooh.” 
And with this past week came many favorite days because each day was new. Consequently, this past week was a great week for live music in Boston. Wednesday, September 24 I went to see the John Hollenbeck Claudia Quintet at the Lilypad in Cambridge. Thursday, September 25 I saw the Kenny Werner Coalition at Regattabar in Cambridge. Saturday, September 27 I went to the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival in Boston. All these events were musically rewarding as well as exciting. 

What day is it? 
A week of living in 'todays'

  • John Hollenbeck Claudia Quintet 
The John Hollenbeck Claudia Quintet consists of Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, John Hollenbeck on drums, Red Wierenga on accordian, Drew Gress on acoustic bass, Matt Moran on vibraphone. They played a mix of music including original compositions "A List", "Somber Blanket", "Wayne Phase", "Lemons", and "Pure Poem". 

John Hollenbeck Claudia Quintet 

What struck me about this group was the unique blend of sounds resulting from a diverse set of instrumentation. Members even used special techniques, such as using a cello bow on the vibraphone, in order to obtain a certain sound. Above all, this group seemed to blur the line between composition and improvisation - the compositions seemed improvised in nature, and the improvisations worked as their own compositions. 

To learn more about this band, watch the song "Arabic", and go to Hollenbeck's website

  • Kenny Werner Coalition
The Kenny Werner Coalition consists of Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, Ferenc Nemeth on bass, Kenny Werner on piano, and David Sanchez on tenor saxophone. However, Chris Potter replaced David Sanchez on tenor saxophone for this show. The group played a variety of original compositions including "R Tune", "Wishful Dreaming", "April Blue", "Phonetics Folk Dance No. 2", and "Humility". 

Kenny Werner Coalition
The improvisation level of this group was astounding. Every member seemed to feel each moment strongly, and improvise cascading lines as a result of the group sound. For example, Werner's improvisation did not seem to be dictated by large technical leaps for show, but rather by the rhythms communicated to him by the rhythm section. In this way, Werner acted in response to the sounds around him, as well as communicating thoughts back to the rhythm section. Werner joked that he was 'on his best compositional behavior' because his mentor, the great Gunther Shuller was in the audience. 

Kenny Werner with his mentor Gunther Schuller 

To learn more about Werner, visit his website

  • Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival 
The Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival is a free annual event showcasing some of the biggest names in jazz for all ages to enjoy. 

1. Ambrose's band consists of Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Walter Smith on tenor saxophone, Justin Brown on drums, Harish Raghavan on bass, Sam Harris on piano. His song selections were mostly based off of his new album The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint. To learn more about Ambrose, visit his website

Ambrose has one of the most beautiful trumpet tones I have ever heard. It is lush, warm, and full of bends and jolts, emulating a human voice. The improvisation of the group was very conceptual in the way I heard shapes rather than lines through the musicians's phrasing of a string of notes, creating circles, spirals, and stars. 

Ambrose Akinmusire and Walter Smith

2. Miguel Zenon's band consists of Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, Eric Doob on drums, Luis Perdomo on piano, and Hans Glawischnig on bass. To learn more about Zenon, visit his website

Zenon performed selections from his upcoming album Identities Are Changeable. This album is full of touching music, exploring what it means to be a Puerto Rican American today. Zenon was fully immersed in his music, wading back and forth while improvising from the energy of the moment.

Luis Perdomo, Hans Glawischnig, Miguel Zenon (L to R) 

3. Snarky Puppy is a jazz/ funk/ fusion instrumental band. They played a mix of songs, including new songs from their album "We Like it Here". To learn more about the band, watch "Lingus" and visit their website

Snarky Puppy has a sort of cult following. Their music is funky, and gets a giant crowd of people up, swaying back and forth, and even dancing. This sort of audience energy was uplifting to me. 

Snarky Puppy

4. The Yoron Israel/ Bill Pierce Quintet presented a tribute to pianist James Williams.

Bill Pierce has a large, impressionistic tone in the way that it molds and shapes itself through the contour of a line. Yoron Israel bursts with energy with every rhythmic hit and accent exploding across the venue. 
Bill Pierce, Yoron Israel (L to R)
Final Thoughts: 
Just like A.A. Milne chose the right words for a moment, these jazz musicians chose their own right words to create a bounty of 'todays'.

If you want to learn more about jazz in the Boston area, visit Jazz Boston.

Chris Potter
Check out my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem. I improvise a new poem everyday, without editing, imitating the improvisation of jazz in words.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn Leaves

With autumn changing the landscape, I decided to celebrate one of my favorite jazz standards, "Autumn Leaves" by Joseph Kosma. To learn more about this song click here.

Building off of my previous post, "Individuality in Jazz", I wanted to share different versions of "Autumn Leaves" to illustrate how one standard can morph into so many different sounds, just like how the seasons change.

As Herbie Hancock said, "Life is not about finding our limitations, it's about finding our infinity".

Autumn Leaves

A classic version with an all star ensemble including Miles Davis. This version is laid back and driving, with singable solos. 

A hauntingly beautiful version with strings. The way Hawkins phrases really brings out the lyrics: "Since you went away the days grow long and soon I'll hear old winter's song."

A heavily rhythmic piano trio version. The feel of the song is very bouncy, with broad chords. 

This version has Ray Nance on violin and a vocalist. The mixture of sounds and textures provides a fresh take on this well known standard. 

Bobby McFerrin is not only an amazing vocalist, but he is a comedian in the way he plays with the melody and the audience. Chick Corea is a great accompanist in the way he truly listens and responds with complimentary musical statements. McFerrin said playing with Corea taught him musical trust. 

John Coltrane is one of those musicians that can bring intensity and purity to any recording he played. This version has the high energy, harmonic depth, and rhythmic zeal characteristic of Coltrane. 

I am a huge fan of Keith Jarrett's trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. This trio has such original and creative ideas, and each member makes the next member even stronger. 

Nat King Cole's charismatic voice brings forth the nuances within each line. The way he emotes the lyrics sends instant nostalgia to any listener. 

This version brings forth the vibrant sound of the Hammond B-3 organ. Smith makes the organ soar as if he was singing each line, letting each note resonate and build to the next. 

Zoot Sims seems to be an under appreciated saxophonist. His tone is sparkling and full, and his sense of time feel and space within his lines adds a breath of fresh air to his playing. 

Final Thoughts: 
Meeting John Patitucci 
This past week I went to a masterclass at Berklee, met John Patitucci, and really reflected on the individual experience of being a jazz musician. He spoke about how he approaches practicing, improvisation, inspiration, and communicating within a band. His wise words really spoke to me and left me with a different perspective on this music. His entire personality was such a shock to me, and the way he narrated his life highlighted the transitions in his life. 

It was just strange to see one of the great bass players speak so openly and honestly about his insecurities when he was young, and offer genuine advice to kids my age. I guess with top tier musicians I always just see where they are at now, never realizing the struggles and time it took to get there. Just like in this JazzStories podcast with Wynton Marsalis, Wynton points out that Eric Clapton doesn't see himself as a star, but as a young kid going through his parent's record collection. 

And through these stories Patitucci shared, a common theme rebounded: to be genuinely you; finding your own sound and pathway through life. 

So as the autumn leaves start to fall I think working towards being comfortable in our individuality, whether it be arranging a new version of "Autumn Leaves" or just living our own life, is a goal we should all reach for. 

This week inspired me to write my poem "Autumn" on my jazz poetry blog "Without a Poem". 

Comment below your favorite version of "Autumn Leaves"! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Are you there?

Pharoh Sanders, Odean Pope, James Carter (L to R)
Blue Note Jazz Club entrance 
The program for the show

Saturday, September 13 I traveled with my dad to experience an unforgettable concert featuring Odean Pope, Pharoh Sanders, James Carter, Geri Allen, Reggie Workman, and Jeff "Tain" Watts at Blue Note Jazz Club for a Half Note Records live album recording. To learn more about the artists, listen to this WGBO interview.

Are you there? 

I have never travelled to New York City for the sole purpose of attending a concert. My dad and I scheduled train tickets and everything in advance and looked forward to this concert for weeks. On the day of the concert my dad was traveling back from Vermont and his car broke down on the highway. Instead of calling to be towed, my dad drove over a hundred miles in his broken car so that he could be back in time for the train to go on our trip. If that isn't dedication to jazz, I don't know what is. 

After this scary moment, we arrived at the train and took our six hour ride. We took a taxi to Blue Note and arrived at 6:40. The concert was scheduled for 8:00, and the venue was packed at 6:40. 
Reggie Workman and Odean Pope (L to R)

James Carter 
The first set started with a bang. The members boarded the stage with fierce enthusiasm. The concert started with Odean Pope, James Carter, Geri Allen, Reggie Workman, and Jeff "Tain" Watts. The sound electrified the room. I have listened to a lot of jazz, but I can honestly say this concert was a sound I have never heard before. It was so energizing and new.  Every moment made me smile and so thankful for music. The CD of the concert will  be released closer to May.

Geri Allen
Right from the beginning I was in awe of the individual talents as well as the ability for the group to mold together. Everyone was friends and you could tell that by the way they smiled at each other, hugged each other, responded to each other's musical statements. Sometimes a member would be playing 'sheets of sound', and everyone else would lay out to give space; and other times a member would sit on a note while the rest of the band responded with accented hits and cascading runs. 

Jeff "Tain" Watts

The band played a couple songs called "Out for a Walk", "Family Portrait", and "Framed in a Picture". Odean Pope prefaced "Framed in a Picture" as a dedication to his wife that passed away in 2012. He emphasized that they were joined at the hip and when he was on tour in Max Roach's band, she came everywhere with him. And the way Odean Pope prefaced that song sent chills through the audience. You could physically see the pain he went through and the pure sadness he still feels. Pope played one note, and I couldn't help but cry. That one note was so beautiful, real, genuine, and full of emotion. All of a sudden in the middle of Pope's solo he stopped the band and insisted on praying for his wife. Then he told the story about how after his wife passed away he went into a nervous breakdown. And you could hear those stories in his playing- the way he held a note, bent a note, squealed in the upper register, and moaned with coarse articulation in the low register. And that's the thing I wish more people saw from jazz- the empathy you gain for and from other people. 

Pharoh Sanders
Then, Odean announced Pharoh Sanders, and everyone in the audience clapped. Pharoh was quiet and frail, but his sound was the complete opposite. The first note he played was with the most electrifying, raw, abrasive tone full of overtones and harmonics. That kind of sound was so intense, Pharoh could play one note and it would aggressively cut through the entire room.

Odean's sound was fiery, harsh, and fierce. Odean would squeal in the upper register then jump to a honk on his low register, filling the gaps with multi-phonics and cascades of notes. After finishing a solo, Odean would yell, "Yeah!" and look over the audience exclaiming, "Are you there? Can you hear?"

James Carter's sound has such a broad, powerful range. From the softest whispers to most pushy squeals, Carter not only has complete control of his instruments, but knows how to use this control in the most musical way. Carter would often quote songs as a joke, such as "Take the A Train", "Carmen Fantasy", and "Rhapsody in Blue".

Geri Allen was the calmest member of the band, but still played with observance and fire bringing together single and chordal lines seamlessly. Reggie Workman's solos were wild, with jumping registers, bending notes, and sure fluidity. Jeff "Tain" Watts was having a blast, and played intricate drum patterns under the guise of simplicity.

All three horns played together, complementing, questioning, observing, and responding to each other. And the beauty of the moment was that they were all improvising, everyone in the band. I did not catch the names of any other songs, but in some ways that ambiguity enhanced the night. 

The band members "getting low"
I attended both sets of the night, and although there were similar song choices, the sound changed. Through improvisation, and the mood of the moment, solos became more drawn out, and everyone seemed to be getting even deeper into the music. 

The band members would dance during each other's solos, often physically "getting low" and crouching down. Everyone was so funny and connected, and the audience really responded to that and understood the inside jokes.

Final Thoughts: 

Meeting James Carter
Meeting Reggie Workman 
The moments that frame a life are experiences. I am so grateful to jazz as a music and culture for shaping my life in a positive way. This entire experience really inspired me not just musically, but personally. Meeting James Carter and Reggie Workman really proved that some of the most talented people are also the kindest people. Reggie Workman even came up to me and exclaimed, "You have some ears, you were really listening. I saw." So to answer Odean Pope's question, yes, I was there. And being there in that moment was out of this world. 

This experience inspired me to write my poem, 'Present Tense' on my jazz poetry blog 'Without a Poem'.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jerry Bergonzi and Phil Grenadier

A couple weeks ago I went to the Lilypad to see the Jerry Bergonzi Quartet. The group consists of Bergonzi on tenor saxophone, Phil Grenadier on trumpet, Luther Gray on drums, and Will Slater on bass. The group performs every Monday at 7:30 at the Lilypad in Cambridge. 

During the concert I was taken aback by the cohesion of the group. Each member seemed to instinctively know how to respond to the other members of the group through rhythmic hits, crescendos, and using silence as a tool to compliment. The group played original songs, arrangements, and contrafacts (songs written using the same chord changes from a standard song such as "How High the Moon" and "Ornithology"). 

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Jerry Bergonzi. Learn more about Bergonzi on his website

1. Describe how you formed your group, and how you started playing at the Lilypad every Monday night. 

Jerry Bergonzi on tenor saxophone
I just asked people I wanted to play with to do it and it happened. People change if someone moves or different situations arise. 

2. Who are your musical influences? Who is your favorite saxophonist? What is your favorite jazz album? 

I have many musical influences but I would have to say they come mostly from Jazz and classical music. Biggest influences are Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Philly Joe Jones and Tony Williams, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Stanly Turrentine, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Ben Webster, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and many more. My favorite saxophone player is the last one I heard. I love them all. I don't have one favorite jazz album. I could name about ten but won't. 

3. How do you approach musical composition? Is this different or similar to your approach to improvisation? 

Musical composition to me is another improvisation.

4. How do you approach jazz education? Do you approach teaching, composing, and performing from different angles or do you find that the same philosophies carry over and influence others? 

I teach what I know and what I have discovered. I try my best to empower people to believe in themselves and cover all the bases.

5. In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing to teach people about jazz music? 

The most important thing is to listen. So many players and not enough listeners. Live music, if you can. Jazz is being in the present tense.

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

Music is the master,  Everyone is a student. If you have this thing called music in your blood, it is a disease. Terminal.  You die with it. Give into it and give it everything you have.

The Jerry Bergonzi Quartet

I was also fortunate enough to interview Phil Grenadier. To learn more about Grenadier, visit his website

1. Describe your experiences playing every Monday night at the Lilypad with the Jerry Bergonzi Quartet. 

My experience has been a fantastic one. Getting to play with Jerry every week is a tremendous learning experience for me. We have been there for more than three years now and it continues to be a wonderful opportunity to grow as a musician and band. We develop new material and play hard each week. The audience continues to grow as well which inspires us further.

2. Who are your musical influences? Who is your favorite trumpeter? What is your favorite jazz album? 

My musical influences are vast. If you saw my vinyl and CD collection you'd see I love all periods of Jazz and many styles (Dixieland to Free Jazz) as well as classical music and rock music. I have a particular love of 70's funk.

So many trumpeters have influenced me, it's hard to pick one, but forced to choose, it would probably be Miles Davis as I love his sound and approach to music; his note choice and phrasing. Greatly admire his fearlessness and his tireless search for newer music that expressed the "now".

My favorite Jazz album? Whew! Too tough! Maybe John Coltrane- "Crescent" or Wayne Shorter - "JuJu".

3. How do you approach musical composition? Is this different or similar to your approach to improvisation? 

I honestly don't write much these days. On my albums, I have recorded a handful of my compositions and I'd say that most of them are very related to my improvisation. I write what interests me, at that time. Sometimes inspiration hits me and I write a tune from that, but often I have to just sit down and put effort into creating a composition which can be challenging, but very rewarding as well.

4. How do you approach jazz education? Do you approach teaching, composing, and performing from different angles or do you find that the same philosophies carry over and influence others?

Phil Grenadier on trumpet

I teach often these days. Kids to adults so there are different approaches for them. I try to be encouraging and meet the student where they are at, musically speaking, and look for what I feel they need to get better. It's all a path; a road to bettering ourselves, which is beautiful in itself, and I try to be a positive influence in their quest, whatever that may be. I am probably harder on my own music making than my students, which might be a downside.

5. In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing to teach people about jazz music? 

Jazz music is a personal expression, the key word being personal. I love the amazing tradition of Jazz and all the beautiful musicians that have contributed to this beautiful art form, yet I believe it is our job, the current musician, to strive to find our own personal voice, expression and point of view. In effect, the tradition of Jazz IS to innovate.

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

Listen to all types of Jazz that you enjoy. Keep an open mind and listen to music that challenges you, even if you don't love it. Something that you don't initially like, you may love someday, hence the open mind outlook. Practice and play as much as possible. Study the music and the players that you love. There is a time to take in information and a time to digest it and make it your own. Keep in mind that we're heading toward our own expression, but this takes hard work, mental discipline and time. Love what you do and keep your head and heart into making the music you love.

Final Thoughts: 
It is reassuring to know that there are many kind, generous jazz musicians that are willing to share their knowledge and insight into their own music. 

This concert experience actually inspired me to start writing my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem.