Sunday, March 29, 2015

Identities are changeable

This past Wednesday, March 26th I had the pleasure of seeing Miguel Zenon at the Regattabar in Cambridge. Zenon played music from his recent CD, "Identities are Changeable".

Miguel Zenon

MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow, Miguel Zenon, is an alto saxophonist originally from Puerto Rico. Inspired by his upbringing, Zenon blends Puerto Rican folk music and popular songs with jazz music. "Identities are Changeable" sheds light on the PuertoRican-American experience, blending his quartet, a twelve-piece big band,  and spoken word interviews from fellow PuertoRican-Americans. To learn more about Zenon, visit his website.

Watch this video explaining, "Identities are Changeable" here

Identities are changeable

I was very excited to attend Zenon's concert. I have seen him on a few occasions, playing with Kenny Werner, at the Beantown Jazz Festival, with SFJazz, and at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival. "Identities are Changeable" is my favorite of his albums; in the summer I listened to it every day! At the Regattabar, Zenon performed with his quartet consisting of Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Henry Cole on drums, and Zenon on alto saxophone.

Luis Perdomo

Watch this interview with Zenon here:

What I really got from the above interviews, is not only Zenon's concept for the album, but also how he communicated that concept through music. Zenon interweaves different rhythms to create this concept of a duality of identity. In his music, you can hear different melodies going in and out from each other. In this way, his music is constantly shifting and moving. One thing about this is that even though the music may look complicated because of the rhythms, Zenon keeps this sense of dance throughout his melodies.  

Hans Glawischnig
Zenon has an extremely unique sound on the alto saxophone. Light and buoyant, yet energetic and fierce, Zenon's lines are full of vocal style inflections. In the upper-register, Zenon flies like a bird, and creates textures through rhythmic placement and density. 

Listen to "Esta Plena" from Zenon's album "Esta Plena":

Throughout the concert, I noticed that Zenon's music over anything communicates this sense of joy. Zenon bounces back and forth while he plays, as if he is leaping into each phrase. The band communicates as one, and you could tell everyone was enjoying playing by their smiles. 

Recently I went to a masterclass where Kenny Werner said a good band feeds each other ideas during solos; seeing Zenon's band really illustrated this concept of back and forth communication. At one point in the music, Zenon was repeating this rhythm, and the entire band seemed to anticipate this by leaning in to the phrase with him.

Henry Cole 
It is interesting how the album incorporates the big band and spoken word interviews along with his traditional quartet. Both the concert and the album contain the same music, but I think anyone that enjoys the music will especially enjoy the addition of the spoken words. As someone who loves poetry, I enjoy the interweaving of words with music because it sounds as if the band is responding to what each person says. In fact, it reminds me of when I saw PoemJazz with Robert Pinsky and Vijay Iyer.

Listen to "Silencio" from Zenon's album "The Puerto-Rican Songbook":

Final thoughts: 
Meeting Zenon

The same day as this concert, I went to a masterclass where Joe Lovano talked about how where you are from affects your sound, and comes in to your music. One thing he said really struck me:
Ornette Coleman was from Texas and you can hear that in his playing. You approach music from your influences. You have to have a drive and passion to not do anything else. No one asked them to play like that
And this idea that no one asks you to play like your self really shined a light for me. Individualism becomes your identity. You are never just one thing, but you are always one person. And at the end of the day, identities are changeable.

My sketch of Miguel Zenon

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also have artwork and music to accompany the poems, so stay tuned! This week inspired my haiku, "Identity".

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jazz for studying

These past couple of weeks have been filled with midterms at college. With all of this studying and preparation I thought I would share some jazz albums that help me study.

Jazz for studying

1. Workin with the Miles Davis Quintet

Some of my favorite jazz albums are 'Relaxin', 'Steamin', 'Cookin', and 'Workin'. These albums all came out around the same time and contain mostly standards. 'Workin' is great for studying because, besides the name of course, it has a low key vibe that won't get in the way of you focusing. I love the track, "It Never Entered My Mind", because of the repetitive piano part that Red Garland plays. 

2. Ahmad Jamal Trio At The Pershing - But Not For Me

Ahmad Jamal has such an understated way of playing piano. His music seems to leave blank spaces for the listener to fill in. This particular album features Jamal's trio and is perfect background music for anything from homework to chores.  

Listen to "But Not For Me":

3. Highway Rider: Brad Mehldau 

I saw Brad Mehldau and his trio last December at the Berklee Performance Center. What struck me was his light touch on the piano, and the way he cumulates different sounds into his music. "Highway Rider" doesn't come across as any one genre, and it has this sort of energy that clears my mind. 

Listen to "Highway Rider":

4. Crystal Silence - The Complete ECM Recordings 1972-1979: Gary Burton and Chick Corea

I have been taking online jazz education courses by both Chick Corea and Gary Burton. I absolutely love their collaborations, because it is a chance to reflect on both of their lessons.  This album is very calming to listen to while I read books. 

Watch Burton and Corea perform "Crystal Silence":

5. Concert in the Garden - Maria Schneider 

Maria Schneider is one of my absolute favorite composers, and I have seen her big band live numerous times. "Concert in the Garden" is a gorgeous blend of classical, flamenco, jazz, and other world music. This music creates a perfect atmosphere to type a paper or do research.  

Listen to "Danca Illusoria"

Final Thoughts: 
Even with so many tests and midterms, music can help create relaxation and focus. 

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also have artwork and songs of the day, so stay tuned! This week inspired my haiku, "Highway rider". 

My sketch of Brad Mehldau

What music helps you study? 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's all there

I have previously written about individuality in jazz on my posts "Individuality in Jazz" and "Finding a Voice".

This past week I went to a masterclass with John Patitucci and he talked about this idea of individuality. At one point he exclaimed,
Find your voice? You already have it. You speak everyday. Why don't you think you have it? It's all there. You have a character in your own voice and it comes out on your instrument when you are at your best.
I remember this idea of 'gold within you' from Jason Moran, but Patitucci's way of phrasing really opened my eyes. To think that your intrinsic voice is your musical voice - that spoke to me.

To demonstrate individuality, I wanted to share different versions of the standard "Body and Soul", which is also one of the most recorded jazz standards of all time.

It's all there

Coleman Hawkins

1. Coleman Hawkins

This is one of the most famous versions of "Body and Soul". This recording really showcased the tenor saxophone as a solo voice in jazz at the time. Hawkins brings out the harmony "vertically" by playing phrases that go up and down, rather than a "horizontal" approach of playing notes closer to each other. Hawkins builds in intensity towards the end of the recording, making a wonderful climax.

John Coltrane adds many embellishments to the melody and harmony, and plays at a faster tempo. By doing so, Coltrane adds his personality to the way he is playing the melody, different from Hawkins. Even with a jazz standard, Coltrane shows you can reinterpret and 'customize' the arrangement. Notice how Coltrane also has a different tone than Hawkins, even though they both played tenor saxophone. 

In this vocal version, Holiday has a sparser sound than Coltrane's band. In this way, Holiday focuses on the lyrics and flow of the lyrical statements, while Coltrane focused on the energy of the piece. Holiday injects a lot of emotion, and Ben Webster on tenor saxophone demonstrates the "horizontal" approach I mentioned. 

Like Holiday, Fitzgerald's version has a clear focus on the emotional impact of the lyrics. However, these lyrics clearly mean something different to Fitzgerald, as she inflects them in her own way. Fitzgerald has different diction, phrasing, and embellishes the melody by placing emphasis on different words. 

In this video, the pianist Oscar Peterson performed with the Boston Pops. He starts out by playing solo, improvising over the harmony of the piece. Then, when Peterson comes in with the melody, the Boston Pops join him. This combination with strings adds a completely different character to the piece, than the versions with Hawkins and Coltrane. Also, by virtue of playing piano, Peterson finds different approaches to playing his solo, from denser chords to sparser melodic lines. 

Chet Baker combines his singing and trumpet playing in this version. What I admire about Chet Baker is that his singing voice translates to his trumpet tone. It sounds like he is playing trumpet when he sings and he sounds like he is singing when he plays trumpet. The vocal, lyrical quality is present in every line, and even though he is part of the more subtle 'cool school', he brings the emotional language of the lyric through his understatement. 

The combination of the string section, along with Armstrong's vocal trumpet tone, creates an emotionally charged melody. Even though both Baker and Armstrong played trumpet and sang in their versions of "Body and Soul", Armstrong has a completely different voice on both instruments. Chet sang the melody in a cool, detached way, while Armstrong seems confrontational and heated in his lyrical interpretation. 

Final Thoughts:
Even with the most recorded jazz standard, there are infinite ways of interpreting a song. This is done by utilizing your own voice. This voice is how you would speak or say something naturally, and builds on what something means to you. The lyrics, "My heart is sad and lonely/ for you I cry/ for you dear only" mean something different to everyone.

And what I think is most comforting in what I learned this week, is that you don't need to go through life 'searching' so to speak for your own voice. It's all there. So, to find our authentic self is to find our voice. 

Oscar Peterson

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

What is your favorite version of "Body and Soul"? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fountain of Youth

The first time I saw Roy Haynes perform was consequently one of the first jazz concerts I ever went to. I had just started listening to jazz when I was 14, and I saw an event in the Boston Globe for a jazz concert at Harvard. So I excitedly told my dad we had to go. The lineup included Roy Haynes, Eddie Palmieri, Benny Golson, among others. I was so taken by the energy and complete joy of these musicians. One particular moment I remember was that Roy was drumming and his stick just flew out of his hands - and he didn't even look concerned - he just picked up another stick from behind him and kept on going!

My sketch of Roy Haynes

Then, the next time I saw him perform was at the the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival. At one point Roy just got up from the drums and started tap dancing with a lightning bolt of energy. Now, Roy is turning 90 years young this year, so when I saw him tap dance a couple years ago I was blown away! Here was a man with enough energy to power a city nearing 90 years old - and it gave me some perspective on how aging is what you make of it.

Watch Roy Haynes play and tap dance here

Watch Roy Haynes playing with the Stan Getz Quartet:

To learn more about Roy Haynes, read these pieces from Drummerworld, this AllMusic, NPR.

Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth Band

On Friday, March 6th I went to Scullers in Cambridge to once again see Roy Haynes perform. This time he performed with his "Fountain of Youth Band". This band consists of Roy on drums; Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone; Martin Bejerano on piano; and David Wong on bass.To hear their music, listen to the Roy Haynes Fountain Of Youth Band On JazzSet

Roy started the concert by playing the Pat Metheny song, "James". "James" is an energetic, extremely catchy song that Roy would go back to between songs. 

If I had to describe Roy, I would call him a true comedian. Roy would get up between songs and tell stories. He told the audience that when he was twenty years old in Boston he got a telegram to come to New York City, and that changed his life. Also, several times between songs Roy would go over to his bandmates with the mic and ask them to introduce themselves. This got to be a comedic bit, since they had already introduced themselves. 

Roy Haynes

Roy commands audience attention by interacting with the crowd. Once he asked someone how old he was, and someone said, "89 turing 90 in a few days," and Roy just responded by saying, "Can you say that in English?". Also, people would request the song, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", and Roy would just say, "I'm sorry to hear that". At one point an audience member said something that caused Roy to spontaneously sing, "The Gambler" by Kenny Rodgers and get the whole crowd to sing along. 

My sketch of Jaleel Shaw

One standout moment of the concert was when Roy asked for requests for songs for him to sing and play. My dad requested his favorite standard, "Autumn Leaves", and was lucky enough for Roy to pick his request. It was a really great request because Roy started off by singing and vamping on the lyrics then everyone soloed for a really long time - everyone's ideas were really fresh and lively on this song. My dad was overjoyed, and everyone was shocked at how amazing this song choice was. It's always exciting to hear something so spontaneous that it wasn't even on the set list! 

Jaleel Shaw and Roy Haynes (L to R)

At one point, Roy did his famous solo drum improvisations. He played mostly on the hi hat with mallets for a long time, building up his rhythmic momentum. This was definitely a visual and aural spectacle. For one, Roy was going so fast, my eyes couldn't keep up with it, and the mallets became one big semicircle blur. Also, the sound was unlike any drum solo I've ever heard. It was a waterfall of sound. At one point Roy even hit his hi hat loudly and put his face next to it, yelling, "hey!". 

Meeting Roy Haynes

Roy also played, "Take the Coltrane". This was enjoyable because I had just recently learned this song, and hearing a master play it live gave me a real lesson. If only Roy played every song I was learning!

Listen to Roy play, "How Deep is the Ocean":

Final Thoughts: 
Fred Taylor and Roy Haynes (L to R)

I think what I learned most from Roy is having humor in life. This show was one of the best shows I have ever seen hands down, and I think this element of humor made it that way. Roy may be turning 90, but he exemplifies a fountain of youth with his spirit. I am so grateful that his concert when I was 14 inspired me so much to want to play jazz. And I am so grateful that he can continue to inspire me every time I have seen him since.

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem every day. I also have drawings and jazz songs to listen to, so stay tuned! This show inspired my poem, "Drums", and my haiku, "Dreaming of autumn". 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lively Jazz Songs

In the midst of winter, anyone is sure to lack energy. Because of this, I wanted to compile some jazz songs that bring me energy, and make the days come alive.

My sketch of Dexter Gordon

Lively Jazz Songs

1. Fried Bananas

Jazz at Lincoln Center has free streaming of concerts on Livestream. They broadcast many of their concerts, so most weeks you can watch two or more concerts - all from the comfort of your home! Last night I watched, "The Music of Dexter Gordon", and the band played "Fried Bananas". Dexter's full tone combined with the swinging rhythms can liven any day!

The soulfulness and energy in this song can feel like a party or even a trip to church! Cannonball and his brother Nat build the dynamics from soft and soothing to booming and electrifying. 

Thad Jones and Mel Lewis made an extraordinary big band team. This song has a tight horn section, and a roaring rhythm section. I love the mix of solos and full band sections. 

4. Birdland

Weather Report was a major "jazz fusion" band, that combined jazz with rock, funk, electric music. "Birdland" have a heavy groove, and repeating melodic figures that get your toes tapping!

5. Dancing in Your Head

Ornette Coleman is a major innovator in free jazz music. "Dancing in Your Head" has Coleman's signature sound, blended with an extreme jubilance conveyed through a repeated melody. This live version really shows the intensity in Coleman's demeanor.

Final Thoughts: 
No matter how tired the week can get, listening to some lively music brings joy and renewed energy to everyone.

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

What songs bring liveliness to your week?