Sunday, December 28, 2014

A retrospective

I started "Kind of Pink and Purple" December 29th, 2013.  It was winter break from school, and I was listening to Miles Davis, and "Blue in Green" came on. After one note I was struck with such an emotion that something told me I needed to tell everybody about it - about jazz. It was simple, it was calm, relaxing, emotional. My first post was, "Reasons why I love jazz", which I explained through songs that changed my life. Through these songs I wanted to show the real human connection between jazz and people, and break down stereotypes on 'who listens to jazz'. If I could show one person one jazz song that they liked, then I would be happy. 

So after one year of writing every week, even multiple times a week, I wanted to look back once again on the reasons I love jazz. And I wanted to explain it through the people that have changed my life.

A retrospective
Reasons why I love jazz shown through people

1. Lonnie Smith: It's Changed

Because it's so relaxing. Because when I met him at the Montreal Jazz Festival he was so supportive. Because he was genuinely kindhearted, and told me that I was an old soul that came back to complete an unfinished task - to spread my love of jazz. Because he told me to surround myself with people that lift me up instead of naysayers that only want money. Because in his music I hear his heart, and I am forever grateful for his words of wisdom.

Meeting Lonnie Smith

2. Herbie Hancock...Dolphin Dance

Because it's so absolutely gorgeous. Because at his Harvard Lectures he told me that in order to be happy, I should encourage and help others. Because at the Boston Book Fair he told us that in Miles Davis's band if you did something for applause you got fired, which stuck with me. Because his story inspires all of us to keep on burying our heads and ears into the world of life. Because his music illustrates humanity - and we are all humans before musicians.

Meeting Herbie Hancock

3. Reggie Workman and Pharaoh Sanders...Colors

Because this song captures music and life at another level. Because the Blue Note concert went beyond life into spirituality. Because the band loved each other, and you could tell with all of their jokes. Because Odean Pope went over the audience saying, "Are you there?", living in the moment. Because Reggie Workman came up to me to say I was a good listener, and encouraged me to share. Because I was so stunned by the sound of it all - I can never forget how truly happy I was in that moment.

Meeting Reggie Workman

Pharaoh Sanders, Odean Pope, James Carter (L to R)

4. Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, Robert Pinsky...Words and Music

Because music goes beyond barriers. Because the PoemJazz concert I attended with Iyer and Pinsky changed my view on poetry, inspiring me to write my own. Because Pinsky's poetry class taught me that learning comes down to finding your own examples of the art. Because words are music in themselves, with rises and falls of phrases. Because at an NEC masterclass with Iyer and Moran, I learned that I should not be so quick to take criticism from peers that are at my same level. Because Moran reminded us that there is gold inside of us all.

Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran (L to R)

5. John Zorn...Saigon Pickup

Because Zorn's music knows no genre. Because when I saw him receive an honorary doctorate at New England Conservatory, he reminded us that music is a platform, and music is about people. Because he taught us about paying our dues, creating intensity in intimate music, and community. Because Zorn exhibits integrity down to his core, and his music speaks for itself. 

Hankus Netsky, John Zorn, Tony Woodcock (L to R)

6. Jerry Bergonzi and Phil Grenadier...Dog Star

Because their music is intensely creative. Because they play every Monday night at the Lilypad in Cambridge. Because when I interviewed Bergonzi and Grenadier, they taught me to keep an open mind and to look at composition and improvisation as two sides of the same coin. Because after attending their concert in August, I wrote my first poem on my blog, "Jazz Club". 

My sketch of Jerry Bergonzi and Phil Grenadier (L to R)

7. Arturo Sandoval...There Will Never Be Another You

Because when I saw Arturo at Scullers, he filled the club with joy. Because Arturo supported each member of his band with smiles and laughs. Because Arturo and Ed Calle were so supportive of my drawings. Because he remembers his mentor Dizzy Gillespie and is so thankful for everyone that listens to him. Because even with all his success, he reminds us all of his humble beginnings, giving us perspective. 

My sketch of Arturo Sandoval and Ed Calle (L to R)
8. Maria Schneider...Hang Gliding

Because Maria captures entire narratives in her music. Because when I saw her speak at the Berklee Jazz Composition Symposium, she spoke against music piracy. Because when I interviewed her for my Artistry, Creativity, Inquiry class she taught me about composing without boundaries or preset expectations. Because she is a role model, and wants her music to capture people. Because when I interviewed Frank Kimbrough for my class as well, he spoke of how Maria has taken him to her childhood house so he can understand the stories behind her music. Because her music makes me feel like I am hang gliding.

Maria Schneider

9. Danilo Perez...New Morning

Because Danilo's music was fiery and full at the Newport Jazz Festival. Because whenever I go to the Berklee Global Jazz Forum, Danilo shares so much insight to each student. Because Danilo always ends the forum by reminding everyone to spread kindness. Because Danilo compared improvisation to a little kid with markers, happy to scribble and draw. Because Danilo taught us to not apologize for what we don't know yet - we should play what we play beautifully. 

Danilo Perez's "Panama 500"

10. Christian McBride...Hamhocks and Cabbage

Because his music is so energizing. Because his entire band was incredibly kind and supportive of my blog about his concert at Scullers. Because McBride spreads happiness with every note he plays. Because his music is catchy, bluesy, wholesome, hearty, and fun. Because McBride shares his love of jazz on radio, "Jazz Night". Because McBride inspires me to be a leader. 

Meeting Christian McBride

Final Thoughts:
This year had its ups and downs, but I have to say jazz and writing have been a rock for me. There are so many people, songs, and stories  that continually reaffirm why I love jazz. And in retrospective, being able to share my own love of jazz in some small way has brought me immense happiness - and what more could I ask for? 

Please read my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", in which I improvise a new poem everyday. I also incorporate a jazz drawing and song of the day too, so stay posted! 

Thanks everyone that has ever read my blog! It means the world to me. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Encouraging Jazz Songs

Pharoah Sanders
Sometimes we all need encouragement. For me, some of the best encouragement comes from music that makes me sit down and reflect on my day. Music can bring forth feelings of relaxation, love, gratitude, spirituality, and more.

Writing also brings me encouragement. Everyday or every couple days I write in a gratitude journal, which combined with music allows me to find brightness in even small things. A gratitude journal is relatively simple - I write three to five things that went well in my day and why I am grateful for them. They can be even small things like saying, "I am grateful for having dinner with my family because we were able to talk about our days."

So for this week I wanted to write about the songs that encourage me, and that I am more than grateful for in my life. You can also read more posts in this series, including: "Jazz Songs for When You're Feeling Blue", "Relaxing Jazz Songs", "Peaceful Jazz Songs", and "Joyful Jazz Songs".

Encouraging Jazz Songs

1. "I'm in the Mood for Love" - James Moody

I love James Moody because each note he plays is so full of the purest sort of love. "I'm in the Mood for Love" or "Moody's Mood for Love" is a sweet, laid-back song that always brightens my day. Listen to this JazzStories podcast and this NPR Jazz Profile to learn more about James Moody.

This song encourages me to put love into my own music, and to share joy and kindness with others.

2. "Look for the Silver Lining" - Chet Baker

Chet Baker's vocals are so comforting, and his melodic sense keeps me humming all day. The lyrics "A heart, full of joy and gladness/ Will always banish sadness and strife/ So always look for the silver lining/ And try to find the sunny side of life" always make me stop and appreciate little things in life.

This song encourages me to find silver linings in every situation, because even poor circumstances can lead to brighter ones in the future.

3. "Mood Indigo" - Duke Ellington

"Mood Indigo" is one of my favorite Duke Ellington songs. I love the unusual arrangement of the instruments, and the tone of the clarinet. Learn more about Duke Ellington by listening to this NPR Jazz Profile. The slow, haunting melody sounds like a good friend talking to me, and the instruments overlapping sounds like a conversation.

This friendly quality encourages me to be grateful for all the people that bring me joy in life.

4. "The Summer Knows" - Phil Woods

One day I was going through my iPod and picked Phil Woods to listen to. This song came on, and I immediately was shocked, and needed to know what it was, and I listened to it over and over because the sound was so new to me. The way Phil Woods holds out each note and bend notes creates such emotional intensity brings a vocal quality to the saxophone that I had never heard before. 

This element of being shocked encourages me to keep on searching within myself. 

5. "The Creator has a Master Plan" - Pharoah Sanders

Seeing Pharoah Sanders at Blue Note was such a life changing experience for me. Everything about the concert was riveting, and showed me how jazz goes beyond into the spiritual. Since this concert, every time I listen to Pharoah Sanders, I am inspired, hopeful, and encouraged to keep on going.

The electrifying energy of this concert will surely inspire me for a lifetime!

James Moody
Final Thoughts: 
Sometimes we all want to give up on something, but just taking a step back and listening to reflective music or writing in a journal can bring us all the encouragement we need to keep on going.

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem and drawing everyday.

What jazz songs bring you encouragement?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jazz Christmas Songs

With the holiday season already here, I wanted to share Christmas songs with some of my favorite jazz musicians. I included links to NPR Jazz Profiles of the artists mentioned, so anyone can learn more about each musician.  

Jazz Christmas Songs

"The Christmas Song" has a lengthy history, with many great jazz singers performing the tune from Mel Torme to Nat King Cole. Listen to these NPR Jazz Profiles on Mel Torme and Nat King Cole to learn more about these great artists. 

Watch this version of "The Christmas Song" with Mel Torme and Judy Garland:

Also watch Nat King Cole perform "The Christmas Song":

"Jingle Bells" is a perennial favorite. The great Duke Ellington Orchestra performed this holiday song, adding instrumental solos for extra excitement. Learn more about Duke Ellington as a composer here.

Listen to the Duke Ellington Orchestra perform "Jingle Bells":

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is a fun, swinging song. Ella Fitzgerald performed this song in her career, adding her signature bright sound. Learn more about Ella Fitzgerald here.

Listen to Ella Fitzgerald perform "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":

"Christmas Time is Here" is a great reflective song. Tony Bennett performed this song with the Count Basie orchestra, bringing intense beauty to a standard. Learn about Tony Bennett here, and Count Basie here.

Listen to "Christmas Time is Here" with Tony Bennett and the Count Basie Big Band:

"White Christmas" is a gorgeous, lush song. Louis Armstrong performed this song in his career, adding his gritty vocals. Learn more about Louis Armstrong here

Listen to Louis Armstrong perform "White Christmas":

Final Thoughts: 
Christmas songs are a great way to start listening to jazz, since they are such a part of all of us. Yet, in this same way, you can start to learn a great deal of history by looking back at who performed each song, and listening to people like Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington's other music as well.

As always, visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also recently added art, my sketch of the day, so stay updated!

Share your favorite Christmas song with a jazz artist in the comments!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dear Diz - Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

Last Sunday, November 30th, I went to Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge to watch Arturo Sandoval. I was especially excited, since I had seen him once before at Scullers, when he played with the Latin Jazz All Stars a couple years ago. This concert was definitely special, full of great memories and exuberance. If you want to learn more about Arturo Sandoval, listen to these NPR segments here, and visit his website here.

Dear Diz - Arturo Sandoval 

Arturo kicked off the night with songs such as Cherokee, Hot House, and Donna Lee. These bebop standards kept the energy up, and breezing through solos. These bebop songs all flowed seamlessly into each other, as an extended sort of homage to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. 

Arturo with Jeanie and his wife (L to R).
The next piece was a stunning ballad called "Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You)". What I love about Arturo's playing is that even with all the technique in the world, he uses his skills to move the audience. "Dear Diz" was a sweet, sentimental ode to Arturo's mentor and hero, Dizzy Gillespie, and Arturo sang and played trumpet. With this, Arturo mirrored the likes of Chet Baker, making his horn an extension of his voice and vice versa. What was especially endearing was that Dizzy Gillespie's daughter, Jeanie, was sitting right behind my table, and hadn't seen Arturo in almost twenty years. So this song was not only to thank Dizzy, but to reunite with an old friend. 

Arturo's band with Jeanie

Watch this video of Arturo Sandoval's album "Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You)":

Then Arturo played the Clifford Brown song, "Joy Spring", making quick lines and octave jumps look flawless. In this way, Arturo's style of playing comes to him as naturally as most people breathe - and with each breath his phrases zig zagged through a fast paced dialogue with his band. I noticed Ed Calle on saxophone would listen with wide eyes to Arturo while he played, and would make motions as if they were actually speaking to each other. 

Ed Calle on tenor saxophone

Following, Arturo hopped onto the piano to showcase what he had been working on, creating lush melodies. Then the classic standard "All the Things You Are" electrified the audience. As a final song, Arturo played the quintessential Dizzy song, "A Night in Tunisia". Arturo would hit high notes on his trumpet I didn't think were even possible! This element of showmanship combined with his extreme musicality allowed for a profound musical experience. 

Watch Arturo Sandoval playing the classic bop song, "A Night in Tunisia":

My sketch of Arturo and Ed Calle. 

Final Thoughts: 
This was the first show I came to with a sketch book to draw the scene. I was overjoyed when I showed Arturo Sandoval and Ed Calle my sketch, and they both loved it and signed their names. This made me very grateful for their artistic support.

This experience inspired a couple of poems on my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", including "Diz" and "To Diz". Every day I improvise a new jazz poem and sketch, so stay posted.

My sketch of Arturo Sandoval