Sunday, May 31, 2015

We're not preserving jazz; we're playing it

Today, May 31st, is my 19th birthday. With birthdays come a lot of celebration, cake, fun, and reflection. How will I develop myself this coming year?

Recently I watched a livestream Q&A where a teenager asked Wynton Marsalis what he thought about the state of jazz. Wynton simply exclaimed, "We're not preserving jazz; we're playing it." And I think this is what I want my 19th year to be about: advocating by simply doing.

We're not preserving jazz; we're playing it

Dr. Billy Taylor

Recently I came across the video Billy Taylor: A Life in Jazz. Dr. Billy Taylor was a jazz pianist, educator, and advocate. To learn more about Billy Taylor, visit his website

Dr. Billy Taylor encapsulates all the qualities I wish to be as a young adult: articulate, kind, intelligent, compassionate, musical, honest, humble, unselfish, and charismatic. This video highlights his skills as both a musician and an educator for the world. 

Watch Dr. Billy Taylor perform, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free":

I think the the main takeaway from Dr. Billy Taylor is that you can educate the world without ever dumbing material down. Jazz is a music of equality - and I want to share the positivity and strength of it on this platform. 

Watch Dr. Billy Taylor perform, "In a Sentimental Mood":

Final Thoughts: 
With this next year of my life, I wish to take away these lessons from Dr. Billy Taylor. Because, after all, we're not preserving jazz; we're playing it.

This year I am a student ambassador for the Newport Jazz Festival. I have been to this festival every year since 2011, and I can honestly say this festival is the highlight of every year. The diversity of people, music, vendors and scenery is remarkable.

Student tickets to the Newport Jazz Festival are $20 this year

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Jazz songs for when you're feeling blue: part 2

My second post on this blog was, "Jazz songs for when you're feeling blue", which I posted on January 5th, 2014. I wanted to go back to this idea, and share more songs that help take away the blues.
My oil painting of Thelonious Monk

Jazz songs for when you're feeling blue: part 2

1. My Foolish Heart - Bill Evans Trio

Bill Evans has been a favorite of mine these past few months. His playing has an immense sense of melancholy and purity. And I think, in an odd way, hearing a musician that can share this sense of melancholy is refreshing and helps me when I am feeling the same way. There is something peaceful and clear in every note Evans plays as if to say, "it's okay".

2. Lil' Darling - Count Basie 

Sometimes when I am feeling down I just need to go slow and appreciate the simple things in life. This song is a quintessential reminder to go slow in life. It's a light walking tempo with a relaxed beat. This makes me walk a bit slower and relax a bit more with just one listen. How can you be stressed when Count Basie is playing?

3. My Funny Valentine - Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker

I have to say, I play the baritone saxophone for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was obsessed with "The Simpsons" when I was little, where Lisa Simpson plays the baritone saxophone. Secondly, I heard a recording of Gerry Mulligan when I was an early teen, and thought it was the most beautiful sounding instrument in the world. So this recording helps me refocus in life. Why do I love what I do? It's all here in this recording. 

4. You've Changed - Sarah Vaughan 

I can't think of a jazz ballad that gets me like this one. The lyrics seem to narrate a life. Every time people get to me, this song will be on repeat. If I feel let down by a person, I will go to my instrument and play this song, and that becomes my therapy. It's a way of getting feelings out. 

5. Lover Man - Charlie Parker

"Lover Man" is such a gorgeous song, and I love this particular recording of it. Charlie Parker had many troubles in life, and this song was recorded at an extreme low point in his life. Nonetheless, it's as if when I listen to this I can see Bird across the room. I feel an immense sense of closeness to this recording, his sound, everything.

6. Blood Count - Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

This song can make me weep. Billy Strayhorn wrote this as he was dying; it brings a sense of detachment and a great passion for life at the same time. Johnny Hodges brilliantly narrates these feelings through the alto saxophone. The giant shout chorus in the middle of the song seems to be fighting fate.

7. Glad To Be Unhappy - Paul Desmond

Paul Desmond has an unmistakable sound - dry and birdlike. Paul Desmond, much like Bill Evans, has a very melancholy sense to his ballad playing. And I think that feeling can only come from a human - that's why I love jazz. Humans create and improvise this music - it's personal and raw and unapologetic. And this unapologetic quality helps me when I am feeling down. 

8. Blue in Green - Miles Davis

This song is the reason I started this blog. It was Christmas break, I was alone, I was sad, and I was misunderstood (in my own mind). Then this song came on my iPod and I felt a jolt. I jumped up and told my dad I needed to write about jazz and tell everyone how much I love it and why kids my age should listen to it. I rushed to set up a blog without knowing anything about blogs, and I couldn't stop writing. I didn't know what I was getting into, I just kept on playing this song. Now it seems to bring me back to that moment of energy. 

9. Ruby My Dear - Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk transcends music to me. He is one of the voices of jazz that whenever I listen to him he seems to be talking to me. Thelonious embodies so many things I wish to be - fearless, passionate, full of integrity, unapologetic, fierce. I love drawing him because Monk is a symbol of jazz - an icon. And his music, with all its jagged lines and punches, embodies life.

10. They Say It's Wonderful - John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

This entire album is pure bliss. I particularly love the lyrics to this song. Hartman's rich voice inflects the melody with such beauty with his subtle phrasing. Coltrane solos with such an attachment to the melody in this recording. His tone is striking, direct, and full. This song is a conversation: comforting and calming.

Final Thoughts: 
I think what makes music such a strong force is its ability to bring humanity to the world. Sadness can come from stress, loss, detachment, disappointment - but whatever you are feeling can be cured by music. Jazz has helped create positivity in my life; from the thrill of festivals like Newport or Montreal, to the excitement of live concerts, to the relaxation of CDs and podcasts - jazz is joy.

Student tickets to the Newport Jazz Festival are $20

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Destination unknown

Esperanza Spalding

This past week I had the pleasure of experiencing a lot of live music. On Monday, I saw George Garzone at the Lilypad. On Thursday, I saw Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano's group 'Soundprints' at Scullers. On Friday, I saw Kurt Elling with special guest Anat Cohen at Sanders Theater. On Saturday, I saw Esperanza Spalding at the Paradise Rock Club.


From all of these experiences, I wanted to share some music of each of the artists as well as what I learned from watching them.

Destination unknown

1. George Garzone

Every Monday night the Jerry Bergonzi Quintet and The Fringe perform. This past Monday night, Bergonzi was away, so George Garzone from The Fringe performed with the rest of Bergonzi's Quintet.

Listen to George Garzone and Joe Lovano playing, "Have You Met Miss Jones?":

I always love seeing both groups, and it was a pleasure to watch this new group perform some standards that I have been learning, such as 'Equinox'. I think what I learned from this group was to take chances with standard songs and to always play with fire.

Listen to John Coltrane perform, "Equinox":

2. Soundprints

I remember going to see Soundprints four years ago at Scullers. This time the group came back and paid tribute to Wayne Shorter through various arrangements of Shorter's songs as well as original compositions. Their latest album is Sound Prints - "Live At Monterey Jazz Festival".

Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano (L to R)

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas are a perfect pairing in this group. Joe's light tone and driving rhythmic force combines flawlessly with Dave's powerful tone and phrasing. The group captured Wayne Shorter's spirit through their creative freedom and collaborative energy.

Watch Soundprints perform, "Destination Unknown":

What I loved most about the concert, was how when Joe Lovano wasn't playing, he seemed to be philosophizing and deeply listening to everything happening. I think this is what I really learned from the concert: to listen with intent to other band members.

My sketch of Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano (L to R)

3. Kurt Elling and Anat Cohen

I have seen both Kurt Elling and Anat Cohen perform at the Newport Jazz Festival. Kurt Elling's concert at Sanders was part of his tour for his new album, 'Passion World', which takes influence from numerous countries around the world.

My sketch of Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling sang with his group for a few songs, then Anat joined midway through. Kurt paid tribute to Frank Sinatra by reinterpreting such songs as, "Come Fly With Me". Kurt's rich vocal tone is amazing at reinterpreting standard songs by changing the melody, displacing rhythms, and phrasing the lyrics in a new way.

Watch Kurt Elling perform, "Nature Boy":

When Anat soloed, she had such interesting and powerful ideas that worked within the context of the group, that when she was done, the audience erupted in some of the loudest cheering I have ever heard for a solo. Her tone and vocal phrasing make the clarinet come alive.

Watch Anat Cohen perform, "Swing That Music":

I think what I learned from this concert was to always relate my solo ideas to the group. Anat and Kurt both soloed amazingly, but what made them work was the group commitment. Both are virtuosic, but they never hesitated to repeat a line if the group was playing off of it.

My sketch of Anat Cohen

4. Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza's concert at Paradise was part of her tour for her new album, 'Emily’s D+Evolution'. To learn more about this CD, read this Philadelphia Tribune article. Esperanza combined theater, poetry, political and social statements, movement, funk and rock, and more into a whirlwind concert. 

Esperanza Spalding

I had seen Esperanza play at the Newport Jazz Festival with her 'Radio Music' group a couple years ago. It is amazing to see Esperanza's diversity as a musician and performer. There are no boundaries. I think what I gained from this concert was Esperanza's confidence to commit to what she is doing wholeheartedly. She commands the audience, and she lets the music speak for itself. 

Watch Esperanza perform 'Black Gold' from her previous 'Radio Music Society' album:

Final Thoughts: 
Seeing live music is one of my favorite things. This summer I cannot wait to attend various jazz festivals including the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival. This year, the Newport Jazz Festival has $20 student tickets, making it affordable for students to attend this historic festival. I encourage everyone to make the trip down to both of these festivals - you won't regret it! 

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also include art and music, so stay tuned! 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Resolutions revisited

I recently finished my first year at Berklee College of Music. In celebration, I wanted to go back to my musical New Years Resolutions post and reflect. My resolutions were to listen to new music, read books every month, and to continually learn new things.

This past weekend, I watched the "Essentially Ellington" competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center on livestream. Wynton Marsalis was in charge of this event, and he eloquently put my my feelings about jazz into words: "Jazz has space to find yourself in."

So to build off of my resolution to listen to new music, I wanted to share artists on this page that I have not highlighted before.

My sketch of Carla Bley

Resolutions revisited 

1. Lawns - Carla Bley and Steve Swallow

Carla Bley was recently named a 2015 NEA Jazz Master. Back in my freshman year of high school, I was fortunate enough see Carla Bley and Steve Swallow perform at the New England Conservatory. I also remember being able to go to a rehearsal where she was playing and sitting ten feet away from her. And honestly, at that time, I had no clue what was happening. I just remember how I thought her hair was funny, and how she played a song called "Lumpy Gravy". But now, when I hear this music, it's solace.

2. Oscar Groove - Terence Blanchard E-Collective

I saw Terence in concert with this particular group last month at the Berklee Performance Center. The show was a double bill with Ravi Coltrane, so I didn't know what to expect. And I have to say, I was blown away from this group! The combination of electronic elements with jazz reminded me of late Miles Davis. Terence is an incredibly inspirational person, as both a film composer and bandleader.

3. Cycling Through Reality - Kendrick Scott Oracle

I happened upon Kendrick's music on NPR one day, and loved the sound of it. This music is modern, cool, hip - whatever you want to call it, it grabs your attention. This kind of music reminds me of the music Robert Glasper is playing by combining hip hop and jazz. Kendrick's drumming on this song has such fire and intensity, you can't help but groove along to it. 

4. Wise One - Jack DeJohnette Trio featuring Ravi Coltrane & Matt Garrison 

Jack DeJohnette is one of jazz music's great drummers. While I have heard many albums with him on them, I haven't listened to much music that he has led. I stumbled across this video, and enjoyed the freedom of communication within the group. Jack can harness a wide array of tonal colors on the drums, and every time he takes a solo I can hear melodies. 

5. Tailgate Ramble - Preservation Hall Jazz Band

This New Orleans style of jazz, Dixieland jazz, is especially fun to listen to. I've seen the Preservation Hall Jazz Band several times in concert, and each time I see them I am amazed at how much fun they have. The smiles on their faces could light an entire city! With this kind of enthusiasm, you can't help but get up and dance! 

Final Thoughts:
This summer break I plan to explore different jazz music to share on this blog. Because jazz isn't just one thing - it's a community of sounds. And hopefully within that community, we can all find our own space.

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

What new music have you been listening to?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A jazz book club - Mingus

Recently I read Charles Mingus's larger than life semi-autobiographical novel, "Beneath the Underdog".

Mingus's music has always had a special place in my heart. His compositions evoke pictures, moods, and stories inside of my head. I have seen the Mingus Big Band twice at the Newport Jazz Festival, and the amount of fire and passion put into Mingus's music sends me so much joy. In fact, my greatest wish would be to play with them!

The Mingus Big Band at the 2014 Newport Jazz Festival

My 'jazz book club' series of posts include: Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, and Sidney Bechet. Instead of doing a traditional book review, I wanted to share some of Mingus's words and music.

A jazz book club - Mingus

One Mingus quote I came upon exclaimed, "Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity". I think this quote describes Mingus's music so well. Underneath the catchy, buoyant melodies, you'll hear layers upon layers of golden complexities.

1. Orange was the color of her dress, then blue silk

Not many songs make me feel like time is suspended, but this version of Mingus's moody ballad always feels like a dream. Eric Dolphy has always been one of my favorite jazz musicians, and his bass clarinet playing on this track is superb.

This song was written to remember Lester Young, the great tenor saxophonist. This song is solemn and respectful, yet still brings forth energy and love for Young. This song is especially amazing to hear the Mingus Big Band play live, as the energy of a live band is beyond anything. 

What I love about Mingus's titles is that they allude to the entire character of the song. "Nostalgia in Times Square" just as a title gives a feeling that as a listener helps us attach to the music. You even start to place your self in Times Square while listening to this song! 

This up-tempo song is incredibly fun and energizing! What's great about a Mingus album such as "Ah Um" is that there is such variety between each track, that you feel transported through different emotions, places, stories. 

This fun song relates the joy and ecstasy of meeting the, "girl of my dreams". Mingus's music is full of hills and valleys, overlapping horn sections with varying rhythm section hits. I feel like the amount of articulation and emphasis to different notes is what really makes even a simple phrase come alive in this music. 

Final Thoughts: 
Though over the top at times, "Beneath the Underdog" was a powerful book. It is definitely an adult book in language and subject matter, so be warned! 

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! 

What is your favorite Mingus song?