Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Concert Experience - Laszlo Gardony Quartet

The Laszlo Gardony Quartet
This past Thursday, January 22nd, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Regattabar to watch the Laszlo Gardony Quartet perform.

Laszlo Gardony's Quartet consists of Gardony on piano, Stan Strickland on reeds, Yoron Israel on drums, and John Lockwood on bass.

Laszlo Gardony is a pianist, composer, bandleader, and an educator at Berklee College of Music. To learn more about Gardony, visit his website here.

A Concert Experience - Laszlo Gardony Quartet

As soon as I sat down I heard the word, "PoemJazz" from the table next to me. I turned around to realize I was sitting next to the former United States Poem Laureate, Robert Pinsky! I have spoken about his influence on my poetry in former blogs including, "A Concert Experience - Vijay Iyer and PoemJazz", "There Are No Rules", and of course as an inspiration for my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem". To learn more about Pinsky, click here.

Pianist Laszlo Gardony

As the concert started Gardony introduced the band, and explained that he wished to put the audience in "a trance-like state". Songs of the night included, "Break Out", "Out on Top", "Ever Before Ever After", "Hidden Message", and "Elanor Rigby", among others.

Gardony's solos throughout the night shared many characteristics. Notably, Gardony utilized a strong sense of motivic development, which would be heard throughout the arc of each solo. Gardony would play a phrase, and oftentimes repeat this phrase three or five times but with different rhythmic or melodic inversions, such as displacing a note or moving a phrase up in register. This melodic sense, coupled with a blend of two handed chordal and single line melody playing, helped to build each solo in the shape of a mountain - starting out relaxed and building to a buoyant climax.

Yoron Israel playing drums

Yoron Israel's playing throughout the night showcased the joy and vibrancy of each tune. While other performers were soloing, Israel would listen intently and respond to their phrases with a similar rhythmic pattern. This allowed the soloist to expand the melodies, by creating a conversational tone. During his own solos, Israel exuded energy, and you could hear the original tune over his solos through the cymbals, toms, and bass drum.

Listen to Laszlo Gardony playing, "Bourbon Street Boogie":

Stan Strickland playing bass clarinet
Stan Strickland's solos were diverse in nature. Just as Gardony, Strickland employed a motivic sense, with a focus on call and response. Strickland - on saxophone, clarinet, and flute - had a unique voice, and used many extended techniques, such as growling, multiphonics, and altissimo notes in order create a vocal quality to each line. Extending on the vocal approach to improvisation, Strickland's use of space in the melodic line allowed for the rhythm section to respond to each phrase. I especially enjoyed Strickland's warm, wooden tone on bass clarinet. 

Stan Strickland playing alto flute

Listen to Laszlo Gardony playing, "Heavy":

John Lockwood playing bass

John Lockwood is an incredibly versatile musician. Within one week I had seen him perform with Phil Woods, The Fringe, and Gardony's group. Lockwood's solos highlighted the peaks and valleys within the harmony through creating a melodic line that reflected on the intent of the song. While others were soloing, Lockwood created a strong bass line that blended with Israel's groove.

Listen to Laszlo Gardony playing, "Three Minute Mile":

Stan Strickland playing tenor saxophone

Final Thoughts:
Meeting Laszlo Gardony after the show

Laszlo Gardony's music has an immense sense of joy that permeated through the audience. And I think this sense of joy, more than anything, is the reason I love jazz.

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also have a song and drawing of the day, so stay tuned!

A picture is worth...

This past week was an amazing week for concerts in Boston. I saw Jerry Gergonzi and The Fringe at the Lilypad on Monday, the Laszlo Gardony Quartet at Regattabar on Thursday, Bill Frisell at Scullers on Friday, and The Bad Plus at the Berklee Performance Center on Saturday. 

With all of these concerts, I wanted to share some pictures and music of different artists instead of a traditional review for all five of these concerts.

A picture is worth...

Jerry Bergonzi's group at the Lilypad
Listen to Jerry Bergonzi playing, "Bye Bye Blackbird":

Jerry Bergonzi
Listen to The Fringe playing, "Angela":

Stan Strickland
Listen to Laszlo Gardony playing, "Out On Top":

John Lockwood

Listen to Laszlo Gardony playing, "Bourbon Street Boogie":

Laszlo Gardony
Kenny Wollesen

Listen to Bill Frisell playing, "Surfer Girl": 

Bill Frisell
Listen to Bill Frisell playing, "Telstar":

Bill Frisell's group at Scullers

My sketch of Bill Frisell

Talking to Ethan Iverson

Listen to The Bad Plus playing, "Smells Like Teen Spirit":

My sketch of Reid Anderson

Listen to Ornette Coleman's "Science Fiction": 

Final Thoughts: 
A picture is really worth a thousand words. All photographs were taken by Paul Burega. All drawings were done by me. 

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also have a song and drawing of the day, so stay tuned! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's a gift

Phil Woods
This past weekend was truly a gift. On Friday, January 16th I went to Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge to experience Phil Woods and the Greg Abate Quartet. Then, on Saturday, January 17th I went to David French Music to attend a masterclass by Phil Woods.

Phil Woods is a bebop saxophonist, an NEA Jazz Master, and a four time Grammy award winner, among many other accolades. His career of over fifty years has been marked by sideman recordings with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Billy Joel; as well as leading many successful groups of his own. If you want to learn more about Phil Woods, visit his website here.

Listen to Herbie Mann and Phil Woods playing, "We Will Meet Again":

My sketch of Phil Woods

It's a gift

I was very excited to go to Scullers because I could sense that this concert was going to be one in a million. For one, the band consisted of Phil Woods and Greg Abate on alto saxophones, Mark Walker on drums, John Lockwood on bass, and Tim Ray on piano. And to top it off, when I found my seat I noticed that I was sitting next to the great Gunther Schuller! Listen to Gunther Schuller's "String Quartet No. 2" here

Listen to Phil Woods and the Greg Abate Quartet play, "Roger Over and Out": 

Phil Woods and the Greg Abate Quartet

The band played "Steeplechase", "Lover Man", "Strollin", "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise", "Roger Over and Out", "Windows", "I Heard You Cry Last Night", and "Cedar's Blues". 

During the course of the show I was struck by how much energy the entire band had in their playing, connecting wide bebop lines with crisp articulation. The set was sold out, and you could really feel the enthusiasm from the audience, yelling, clapping, and whistling at the end of each song. 

My sketch of Greg Abate and Phil Woods (L to R)

My favorite song of the set was the ballad, "Lover Man", which took my breath away. The band played the original intro for Sarah Vaughan written by Dizzy Gillespie. I think what made the song so breathtaking was the way it seemed to stop time with its genuine emotional intensity. At the David French masterclass, I asked Phil Woods if he thinks like a vocalist when approaching a ballad. Phil remarked that he always thinks of the lyrical intent and the intent of the composer: "What was this song written to express?"

Listen to Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie play, "Lover Man":  

Each song of the concert had a classic bebop sound, but wasn't stuck in the past. Every moment felt in the present, expressing the now, and each interaction of the band solidified this idea. 

At the masterclass, Phil Woods talked about having Emphysema, saying it was nature's way of saying he was playing too many notes. Now he searches for one whole note that means something, rather than a typewriter of notes. This reflectiveness, and resilience not only gave me perspective, but it helped me realize what I was hearing in the music - I heard resilience.

Phil Woods

At the masterclass, Phil recalled many stories from his own life, and took us all through the time when he first found a saxophone in his house (he wanted to melt it to make toy soldiers), to playing with Dizzy Gillespie, to leading numerous bands, to the present. Phil stressed the need to be a cultured human being, saying, "Read a book. Go to a museum. Learn about other cultures. Listen to everything. Listen to music you don't even like and find out why you don't like it." When approached about various awards and albums Phil noted, "There's no secret - hard work!" 

Listen to Phil Woods playing, "Stolen Moments": 

Final thoughts: 
Meeting Phil Woods
I was able to speak to Phil Woods, and we talked about being a cultured, well rounded human being that learns from things other than music. Phil also talked about how to be yourself, and quoted Dizzy Gillespie: "If you can hear it, take it. It's a gift." 

These experiences inspired me to write my poem, "Lovin", on my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem each day. I also added a drawing and song of the day as well, so stay tuned! 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A jazz book club

Building off of my recent "Resolutions" post, I recently finished reading some autobiographies by jazz musicians. I read "As Though I had Wings" by Chet Baker and "Possibilities" by Herbie Hancock. Just like in my Sidney Bechet book club post, I wanted to share some thoughts about the books as well as some music by these two artists.

A jazz book club

1. "As Though I had Wings" by Chet Baker 

"As Though I had Wings" is Chet Baker's memoir, and was published posthumously by his wife Carol. The book takes you through short segments of Chet Baker's life and reads like a diary. In this way, Chet recounts tales of his musical career, but also the downsides of his life, notably his long term drug addiction. 

Listen to Chet playing, "My Funny Valentine":

Chet Baker has always been one of my favorite jazz artists, and his album "Chet Baker Sings" is among my favorite albums. I think what makes this book a good read is the fact that it shows Chet Baker as a person, not just as a musician. The book reads as a conversation, instead of a history book. In fact, in the introduction to the book, Chet's wife Carol explains, "All too often celebrities are reduced to one-dimensional caricatures...Chet cannot be described as merely a musician, drug addict, husband, or legend. He was all of these and more, and this book is a testament to the fact."

Listen to Chet playing, "Minor Yours":

"As Though I had Wings" does bring Chet out of just stereotypes - through the text you can hear a deeply personal voice. What I love about Chet's music is the subtlety, melodicism, and a deep sense of relaxation. I feel patience and space within his music.  

Listen to Chet's version of "Just Friends": 

2. "Possibilities" by Herbie Hancock

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Boston Book Festival when Herbie first released his book. Herbie is an incredibly inspiring person, and this book isn't just for jazz fans - this book is for anyone that wants to be inspired by another person's life. Just as a teacher may read Bill Gates's autobiography, I believe "Possibilities" can be read by anyone.

Listen to Herbie playing, "Watermelon Man":

Then listen to Herbie playing, "Watermelon Man" with the Headhunters:

Even though I heard Herbie talk about Buddhism in his Harvard Lectures, I was still surprised about how Buddhism has impacted him. Besides being deeply spiritual, Herbie is very wise - his book gave me many life lessons. Notably, Herbie talked about how he has dealt with frustration since a young age - instead of letting it consume you, you can concentrate deeply on another task such as reading. This sort of simplicity of action and focus has helped me already.

Listen to Herbie playing, "You'll Know When You Get There" with Mwandishi:

What also surprised me about Herbie was that much of his music that is now loved, was initially taken with skepticism and criticism by record companies. This really put his music into perspective for me - he was doing something new, and you have to believe in the future of your music. Just as Miles Davis's 'Second Great Quintet' with Herbie was searching for a new sound, Herbie has always moved forward, even if that meant it would be difficult.

Listen to Herbie playing "Gingerbread Boy" with Miles Davis's 'Second Great Quintet':

I also enjoyed learning about how Herbie utilized music technology throughout his career, from programming synthesizers to using drum machines. He is always creating and using new technologies, which influences music today. I had not listened to much of his electronic music before reading the book, so it was nice for me to immerse myself in it.

Listen to Herbie playing, "Rockit":

Lastly, what I respect about Herbie is his willingness to collaborate with so many musicians. He won the 'Grammy of the Year' in 2008 for "River: The Joni Letters". Herbie has shared the stage with countless musicians from all different genres, which really shows that music is a tool for joy, above all categories.

Listen to Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell play "River":

Final Thoughts: 
I am very grateful that both Chet and Herbie wrote autobiographies. Being able to realize their life through their own eyes gives perspective, empathy, and a deep sense of empowerment. Through reading you start to see how other people deal with obstacles, allowing us all to see our own limitations diminish.

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem" where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also added a drawing and song of the day, so stay posted! 

Sunday, January 4, 2015


Happy New Year everyone! With the new year comes new resolutions for all of us. I wanted to share some musical resolutions that I made that I think we can all do.

Mary Lou Williams

1. Listen to new music

I was looking through a deck of jazz cards that I got as a present, and noticed that I didn't know much about certain jazz artists such as Mary Lou Williams, J.J. Johnson, and Lionel Hampton. Also, I am currently reading Herbie Hancock's autobiography, "Possibilities", and I realized that I had not listened to much of Herbie's more electronic music or many of his collaborations with other artists. So I am going to make it a priority to listen to new music, which I will definitely share on this blog. 

To start this resolution, let's listen to Mary Lou Williams playing "Willow Weep for Me"; J.J. Johnson playing "Laura"; Lionel Hampton playing "Flying Home"; and Herbie Hancock playing "Rockit". 

2. Read books every month

Previously I have written a "jazz book club" post on "Treat it Gentle" by Sidney Bechet. Since then I have read Chet Baker's "As Though I Had Wings", and I am currently reading "Possibilities" by Herbie Hancock. Instead of going on the computer so much, I am going to make a point to read more of these biographies and autobiographies. I plan to finish reading Miles Davis's "Miles", Count Basie's "Good Morning Blues", and Charles Mingus's "Beneath the Underdog". I will definitely share my experiences on this blog! 

To start this resolution, let's listen to "Watermelon Man" by Herbie Hancock's group Head Hunters. 

3. Continually learn new things

This past fall I took an online poetry class and I shared my experiences here. This experience of delving into something else that I love has not only given me knowledge in writing, but also in jazz. I think exploring creativity and other interests benefits us all, giving us perspective and insight. 

To start this resolution, I am going to take an online  Edx class on Entrepreneurship. If you want to learn more about jazz, Edx is offering a Jazz Appreciation class as well. These classes can be audited for free and are at your own pace, extremely helpful, and free of pressure - so let's all learn something new!  

Final Thoughts: 
I hope we can all continue with our resolutions and make them a part of our everyday lives. 

Please check out my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also have a drawing and song of the day, so stay posted. 

I was very happy this week to finish an idea I wanted to pursue for a while - setting one of my poems to music. I hope to combine more music and poetry this year, and even finish some of the short stories I have been writing. Watch "Guardian" here. Read "Guardian" here

What are your resolutions?