Sunday, October 26, 2014

Affirmation

Jason Yeager

This past Friday, October 24 I went to see the Jason Yeager Trio featuring several special guests at the Regattabar in Cambridge. Jason Yeager is a jazz pianist, composer, and educator based in New York City. Yeager recently released a CD entitled "Affirmation" featuring Matt Rousseau on drums, Danny Weller on bass; as well as special guests Noah Preminger on tenor saxophone and Aubrey Johnson on vocals. To learn more about Yeager, visit his website.

Affirmation
The Jason Yeager Trio featuring special guests 
Noah Preminger and Aubrey Johnson

The first song of the night was a new composition dedicated to Yeager's violinist friend Jason Annick entitled "Harlem Hoedown". This song had a bluegrass tinge to it. Right off the bat I noticed the collaborative sound of the group, and how each member focused on call and response of different motivic phrases. 

Following, special guest Aubrey Johnson sang a sensitive ballad "Achi". The vocals did not have lyrics, instead most of the words were produced using pure vowels such as "ahh" and "oh". Johnson's vocal quality reminded me a lot of Astrud Gilberto from "The Girl from Ipanema". Weller's bass solo fit into the open spaces between the piano comping, carving out a line within the contour of the harmony. Rousseau comped with light hits on the strong parts of the beat. Yeager's piano soloing was quite light, mirroring Johnson's vocals by quoting the melody. 

Aubrey Johnson

Yeager showcased his arranging skills with a cover of John Lennon's song "Julia" from the Beatles "White" album. Yeager arranged the song by changing the rhythmic feel, phrasing of the melody, and adding some new re-harmonizations of the chords to provide a different atmosphere to the piece. "Julia" was based widely around Johnson's vocals, which provided clear, precise diction and a pure tone to enunciate each lyric. 

Following, Yeager slimmed the group back down to a trio, with "Twelve Etude", dedicated to Jerry Leake, a music teacher at Berklee and New England Conservatory who "gave exercises that did not feel like exercises; it was learning by discovery." "Twelve Etude" was largely nonlinear, and Yeager's piano solo was based on heavy chords and syncopated rhythms. In this way, Yeager focused much of his energy on complimenting Rouseau's drum patterns by utilizing different polyrhythms.

Yeager then brought out special guest Noah Preminger to play "Blues for Billy P." inspired by the main protagonist in Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five", Billy Pilgrim. The work centered around the idea that Billy Pilgrim is left "unstuck in time" in the novel. Preminger's style reminded me of Lester Young in "Blues for Billy P." by his simple melodic ideas played with soft vibrato. 

Noah Preminger

After, the trio was again joined by Johnson for the Gershwin standard, "But Not for Me". This tune is one of my favorite songs on the album "Chet Baker Sings". Johnson sang the verse and the chorus, interpreting the melody by bending and holding notes, while also adding a bit of acting to the lyrics. Johnson's scat soloing was influenced by Ella Fitzgerald in the horn like quality of her lines, while utilizing a broad range. Yeager was definitely influenced by the melodic material, and quoted the melody in his solo. 

The trio played the title track, "Affirmation", which was an introspective song. "Stumble Bop" was my favorite song of the night, and reminded me of the Thelonious Monk song "Epistrophy" with its almost childish spiral quality to the lines. Everyone in the band emulated a singer by playing with bounciness and expressiveness. "Smiled First" was a tune inspired by Yeager meeting his partner Julie at a Starbucks; Yeager claimed she smiled first. This song had a mysterious shape to it, just like the subject matter, and seemed to flow like a film score, because the audience could piece together the events surrounding the song. 

Danny Weller

Finally, Yeager ended the set with "Keep the Fire", in honor of Danillo Perez. Perez wrote Yeager a note telling him to keep the fire, and that his spirit inspired him. This moment led Yeager to write an energetic, vibrant piece much like Perez's own music. Each member of the band used space within their solos in a way that ensured each line was building off of a group consensus in the moment.  

Final Thoughts: 
The Jason Yeager Trio
Every time I go out to hear live music, I see the excitement and pure joy within each crowd. This jubilance is an affirmation that live music is where jazz lives.  

As always, please read my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem, where I improvise a new poem everyday without editing my thoughts!



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jazz Podcasts

Previously I wrote about Jazz Apps. Since then, I discovered the abundance of helpful and informative jazz podcasts.


Jazz Podcasts

1. JazzStories
JazzStories is a podcast series from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Most podcasts are ten to twenty minutes, which is good time frame in order to listen in between classes. The podcasts combine music, short interviews, question and answer segments, and historical information.

My favorite jazz story has been the Wynton Marsalis one, where he recounts that he liked jazz because he never saw people hug, but he saw jazz musicians hug - a sentiment I admired.

2. A Noise From The Deep
A Noise From The Deep is a podcast series by trumpeter Dave Douglas and bassist Michael Bates. These podcasts ranger from half and hour to an hour, and go in depth with the jazz musician they are interviewing.

My favorite podcast from this series is the John Zorn one. John Zorn is known to not do interviews and to avoid media attention, so it is incredibly interesting to hear an interview with him. He talks about times where he would practice over ten hours a day, to the obsessive point where he would still be practicing while he was in the bathroom!

3. Music Magic 
Music Magic is a podcast series in which jazz legend Chick Corea converses with his musical collaborators and friends. Each podcast is between twenty and forty five minutes. The podcasts are filled with Corea's music and insights. They are a behind the scenes look into Corea's creative process.

There do not seem to be new ones coming out, but I enjoyed listening to the "The Making of the Vigil" podcast from March. I enjoyed seeing the Vigil perform at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival.

4. JazzCorner.com
JazzCorner.com presents "InnerViews" with many prominent jazz artists. The podcasts have a strong blend of the artist's music as well as talking. Each podcast ranges in time from around ten minutes to forty five minutes.

My favorite podcast from this series was the Rudresh Manhanthappa one. Rudresh talks about his personal identity as an Indian jazz musician, and how he decided he could be a jazz musician through incorporating his culture with jazz music.

5. Jazz Profiles
I talked about this program in my "Jazz Apps" blog, but I just wanted to emphasize how great this program is. Jazz Profiles is a radio documentary series that showcases the legends and legacy of jazz. There is a perfect blend of music, interviews, and history on the artists featured. 

I have so many favorites from this podcast series, but a few highlights are the Dave Brubeck podcast, the Bill Evans podcast, and the Stanley Turrentine podcast - but I really love them all!

Final Thoughts: 
Even when you do not have much time, there are easily accessible jazz podcasts to listen to in order to learn something new each day about this music.

As always, please check out my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem, where I improvise a new poem every day.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Master class

I have been studying at Berklee College of Music for about a month now, and I am amazed at how much I have learned. Each subject influences the next. Ear training helps harmony, which helps my arranging, which helps me improvise. The connections go on. 

Lately I have been able to attend many amazing master classes, presented by complete masters in the field of music, as well as jazz. On September 29th I attended a masterclass by Patrice Rushen for my Artistry, Creativity, Inquiry class at Berklee. On September 30th I attended a Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer masterclass at New England Conservatory. On October 2nd I attended a Fred Taylor masterclass at Berklee. On October 8th I attended a Fred Hersch masterclass at New England Conservatory. Finally, on October 8th I attended a Keith Lockhart masterclass at Berklee. 


Just like Jazz Week at Berklee, I wanted to share some clips and quotes that I found not only helpful, but insightful.  




Master class
Thoughts from the masters

Rushen playing "Night in Tunisia" 

  • If you're in it for the long run you need all important skill sets. This industry doesn't support specialists. You need a game plan to take advantage of the many skills within your skills.
  • You want to be a contributor to the continuum. The salvation of the music is to be able to do many things.
  • Everything you do ends up being collaborative effort because sharing information enhances the big picture. It’s about a sum of the parts, a network.
  • People support you if you can play a part well. Superficial obstacles are part of reality, and you need to figure ways to get around them. You have to be really good, and own it. Operate from the standpoint of where you want to go.
  • There is no better way to understand something than experience it doing yourself.
  • You need to answer the first question before anything else: why the real why. Why is a belief that at your core this is your life’s purpose and everything you do must resonate with your soul, this truth. There are easier things to do in life, but the payoff is that it resonates with your truth. Integrity should not be eroded.
  • Don't wait to give back. Absorb everything you can right now to teach you how to be a better artist, person, individual. Every performance you're giving back. Treat every moment with respect and give people their money's worth. Every time you perform you're teaching.


  • Keeping time is a shared responsibility. Keep hacking until you have made space to contemplate what's happening around you. You need to hear the space you occupy. It's really okay, the world will not end. 
  • Learn how music fits into culture, into all the other art forms, into society. Music is everywhere, and it is not the end of it. You need to find the applications of ideas that don't seemingly relate. 
  • Dance is power. 
  • You need to view a song from all angles. Let your idea trail off to another land. Follow your intuition even further. Get the same level of propulsion without all the activity. Get us hooked for the story. It has to be a story, it has to evolve. 
  • You don't need to hold onto the baggage of the older generation of musicians - they aren't paying you to lug their baggage around! Use it all as an exploration.
  • Less, less, less glaze. Put it in the oven, pull it out, sand it.
  • A song is a freedom source. It's not about A to B. It's about sound. 
  • Trust. You have to be like water. 
  • You can transcribe and transcribe, but realize there is gold inside of you. 
Iyer and Moran (L to R)
  • Undo assumptions about how you are supposed to function in a musical context. Every sound you make should be a choice in relation to everyone else. 
  • It's about how ideas work in reality, how to respond in the moment. The basic fact is that music is about communication. 
  • An album doesn't need to express the totality of who you are and what your music is about. It's about a facet or idea. 
  • Jazz is like method acting - you have to be vulnerable to the point where you may lose it. Dig into the electricity in the air to find the vulnerable space where you can transform. 
  • Look at anyone's iPod and they have a variety of music - Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Beethoven, Radiohead, etc. Find the identity of your song from the perspective of reaching outside of yourself. 
  • Just sit on a groove and find it for hours. Magnify it to become its own universe. A pulse comes from eternity. Reflect on that. 
  • Get yourself outside of it enough to be detached and to observe. 
  • Remember where music came from. It's from us, people. Something about that is a necessity. 
  • Do something that might not be music, something that you've never imagined yourself doing, or something that you don't think you can do. What are the limits of music? Then take a step over that. That's your own body, your own hands. Do something nobody else's hands can do. It might not be music until you harness it.


  • "Salt Peanuts" by Dizzy Gillespie was the first jazz record I bought. It still kills me. There is such humor in it. Jazz is innovative, leave a little humor in that. 
  • It's about the continuum, from the greats to the arising talents - they all need to be showcased, and they all learn from each other. Diversify. 
  • Jazz is an umbrella and there are so many categories underneath it. 

  • The art of a duo is to share the sonic space. Balance it, shape it. 
  • I'm on the road a lot and one of the things that is so vital is to do a sound check. Make an acoustic sound a little more present. Pan the sounds, and start with less always. This is important because if your sound is correct than the music is easy. If not, then it can feel forced or not so in sync. 
  • Think like a drum set and less like a piano player.
  • Always steal the last phrase of what someone played before you. This creates continuity in the musical conversation. 
  • As an accompanist, you want to give someone a 'warm bath' so to speak, something comfortable to lay on top of. 
  • The job of a singer is to tell a story, and you need to know who you are telling that story to. Is it to one person? The entire audience? Have a pointed view, have more bite. 
  • Give direction of where you are going to others. It all has to be in context. There needs to be a certain uniqueness with each person you play with. 
  • Instrumentalists should always know the words of a song to know the color, flow, shape, contour, and ebb and flow of it all.  
  • You have to act. Let it out of the box and be silly. Jazz singers should learn from musical theater singers. Don't be so internal. Don't shrug that off because, "I'm a hip jazz singer". Give it to the audience. 
Meeting Keith Lockhart

  • Learn the difference between responsibility and power.
  • Always be quick to apologize when you make a mistake. Of course, never make a mistake. 
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate.
  • Lead by example. 
  • Pick your battles, and when and where to fight them. 
  • Accept that since everyone has different visions, you have to be all things. 
  • Be acutely aware of your own actions. 
  • Make sure whatever motivational tools you employ will have the desired effect. Know your audience. 
  • It's lonely at the top. Know the people you work with. 
  • You need to communicate a love and a passion for what you do. 

Final Thoughts:
I put each note in a bullet point format versus a paragraph format to identify individual thoughts, and to realize how hefty each thought is. Each idea is really from a lifetime of experience, and I am so grateful to be able to hear and learn from these masters. 

I can't help but linger on Jason Moran's thought that you can transcribe, learn from the masters, all you want, but realize there is gold inside of you too. 

Check out my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem, where I improvise a new poem everyday! These thoughts inspired my poem, "A Summary". 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monk's Mood

Thelonious Monk. I don't really know how to describe him other than to share the concrete details - he was an American jazz pianist and composer, the second most recorded jazz composer next to Duke Ellington, and he was featured on the cover of Time. 

But if I was to describe Thelonious Monk I would tell you this: he used to get up and dance while other musicians in his band were soloing...just because.

Check out this NPR documentary to learn more about the life and music of Thelonious Monk!



Monk's Mood
Some of my favorite "Nutty" Monk songs

Sometimes I become obsessed with one jazz artist and I only listen to them for a week or more. This happens on and off, but when it does normally I go back to Thelonious Monk and listen to his music for hours. Maybe it's the hypnotic simplicity of his music or the craziness of it all- I don't really know for sure, but I find his music "Sweet and Lovely".

"Monk's Dream" is one of my favorite Monk songs! I remember when I first listened to "Monk's Dream", I couldn't stop listening to it! It's one of those songs that I don't listen to once - if I put it on, I listen to it several times before moving on to another song! 

Check out "Blue Monk" from one of my favorite albums, "Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk": 


"Epistrophy" from "Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" is another one of my favorites:


I was surprised to find out that my baritone saxophone favorite, Gerry Mulligan, recorded an album with Monk, called "Mulligan meets Monk", with the great Monk tune "Straight No Chaser": 


Watch this live video of Monk playing his widely recorded song, "Round Midnight": 



Final Thoughts: One jazz critic dismissed Monk as "the elephant on the keyboard" because of his percussive technique. But I think this "elephant" style is what made Monk and still makes Monk so widely loved - his playing is ruthless and unapologetic, thrashing at times and tiptoeing at other times, but always sincere. And this sincerity is enough "Evidence" for me to conclude that Monk's music is "Decidedly" "Rhythm-a-ning". "I Mean You" can't get much better. 
Share your favorite Monk song(s) in the comment section! Until next time, "Bye-Ya"!

Check out my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem