February 8, 2012, 9:20 am
SOME UPCOMING GIGS -- PA / NYC / CA
Here are some upcoming gigs you may want to check out:
11 February -- SPATIAL EDITION II: Quartet w/ Uri Caine, Ralph Bowen, Steve Varner @ The Deerhead Inn (Delaware Water Gap, PA)
10 March -- THE ALEMBIC TRIO: Dave Liebman, John Patitucci @ The Deerhead Inn
16 March -- MICHAEL COLLINS QUARTET w/ Jim Ridl, Evan Gregor
@ The Deerhead Inn
14 April -- THE BENNIE MAUPIN ENSEMBLE @ Cal Tech Jazz Festival, Pasadena, CA (performance time TBA)
21 April -- LARRY GELB QUARTET @ Small's, NYC, 4-7 p.m.
28 April -- ALAN BROADBENT TRIO @ The Deerhead Inn
Note: All Deerhead Inn gigs are from 7 to 11 p.m.
January 21, 2012, 11:36 am
WATCHING THE SEASONS CHANGE...
Sitting here, watching the snow fall lightly but steadily in this, our second snow storm of the winter. So far, so good. Last one was at the end of October, so we've been blessed so far with a relatively mild winter (fingers crossed that this good fortune continues!).
One of the things moving to Pennsylvania has taught me has been that every day is different, not only weatherwise, but also in terms of life itself. Out in California, where I spent three decades, each day often felt the same: blue skies (or white or brown, when you consider the layers of heat and smog that hang over much of SoCal), and not a great deal of variance in temperatures, depending on where in LA one might live. And often times, the humdrum, quotidian "feel" of the place made the days, months, and years sail by pretty quickly. Maybe a little too quickly...
I've learned to slow down and observe what goes on around me a little closer. And that's more than the age factor talking. Living out here in the PA woods, our changing seasons are very noticeable -- and most welcome. They definitely slow things down a bit, allowing time -- at least in one sense -- to move more slowly.
"To every season, turn, turn, turn..."
And during this season of life, there have been a lot of changes in my life as well. Sameness doesn't seem to happen around here! Several years ago, my daughter Jen and her husband Kylen gave birth to a sweet angel of a child, named Paige. Almost three now, she is a bundle of joy and almost indefatiguable energy, and guess what? The kid loves music -- dances, sings, plays kiddie instruments. Yay, genes!
Another milestone has been writing a book on jazz for a well-respected music press. The book is called Experiencing Jazz: A Listener's Companion, and I am over 80,000 words into it at this writing. So far, so good -- although I wish there were enough hours in the day to get this done in a more timely fashion. Not really possible, while teaching four classes at Bloomsburg University -- a gig I very much enjoy; but one that demands much of my time.
One of the best reasons for relocating here to the East Coast has been the music scene. The Poconos area is well known for its high profile jazz community: We've got Dave Liebman (a true friend and sometimes bandmate), Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, Bill Goodwin, and others who are very prominent worldwide as jazz artists. And the musical opportunities both here and in New York (only an hour and a half away on a good day) have been exciting. I've played at the Blue Note, The Jazz Standard, The Kitano, and other NYC venues...a dream come true. And even though we live on this coast, I continue to travel and play with the great Bennie Maupin, my friend and musical brother for many years. Finally, the great (and Grammy winning) pianist Alan Broadbent, has relocated to the NY area from LA and we played together for his NYC debut this past autumn. Alan is a virtuoso who plays directly from the heart and it is always special and transcendent to play music with him. I hope there'll be more to come this spring and beyond.
As with all changes, some are not changes we'd like to experience, even though they are inevitable. About a month ago, we lost Bob Brookmeyer, one of jazz' true iconic geniuses, right up there with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. But beyond that, "Brook" was my close friend and mentor. He literally shaped my musical life and inspired me to work my craft until it approached the level of art. I idolized him, beginning somewhere in my mid-teens, and that idolization morphed into a true and lasting friendship and musical partnership. I was lucky enough to record two CD's with him and we were planning a third, when Bob succumbed to a variety of illnesses four days shy of his 82nd birthday. Our last conversation days before was warm and humorous, as always. Even though he's not here any more, he is still very much here as a musical force, and of course as a guiding light -- quite literally, now.
Also RIP: Two good friends and colleagues: pianist Tom Garvin and bassist Joel DiBartolo -- great musicians whose voices were stilled much too soon.
Bob would be pleased top know that I have some good gigs coming up with some incredible musicians, notably a quartet session with pianist Uri Caine, saxophonist Ralph Bowen, and bassist, Steve Varner; a power trio with Dave Liebman and my old friend, the great bassist, John Patitucci. And in April, it will be off to LA and the Cal Tech jazz festival with the amazing Bennie Maupin Ensemble. Some other stuff with other great players as well. "Blessed" seems to be the right word here.
The snow is starting to let up some and pretty soon, Kathleen and I will be outside, all bundled up, snow shovels at the ready...then after that, a fire in the wood-burning stove, and back to work on the book.
Wishing you all -- old friends and new -- a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year. May we survive the politics of greed and avarice that seem to be in plentiful supply out there, and find some measure of sanity in the world.
August 22, 2010, 9:18 pm
SO LONG, SUMMER...
Fond adieu to a great summer:
Kayaking on promised Land Lake, teaching talented young musicians at the Celebration of the Arts (COTA) Camp, assisting at Dave Liebman's week-long Master Class sessions and playing with some great saxophonists from all over the US, Europe, and Australia; Going to LA to play two great concerts -- and while there, visiting with family and old friends; seeing my beautiful grand-daughter, Paige; and a myriad of other delights.
But summer is coming to an end and the autumn promises to be memorable as well:
University begins on August 30th, and I'll have four new classes to attempt to engage and inspire. Considering the qualities of Bloomsburg University students, it should be a fine experience. (hopefully for them as well as for me).
Upcoming gigs for my SPATIAL EDITION quartet include The Annual COTA Festival, as well as gigs at the Deerhead Inn and the Lafayette Jazz Bar. We will also be actively attempting to raise funds to release our new CD, Open Spaces. More on that soon...
Other music news: A "new" CD featuring SEVENTH AVENUE, a great band that I led in LA in the mid-80's (vinyl only at that time) will be released sometime in the next several months on Rhombus Records. It features the great Tom Garvin (piano) the amazing John Patitucci (bass), the exciting Bob Sheppard (saxes) and my old friend and co-conspirator, Bob Ojeda (trumpet). The CD will be called SEVENTH HEAVEN and the music sounds as fresh today as when we recorded it back in the day. I'll post info here once it is (re)born.
And of course, there's a lot of writing to do. As usual, tasks and activities outnumber the hours in the day needed to pull them off...
Kathleen and I wish you all a good "end-of-summer," and a lovely autumn. Speak to you all again soon.
April 15, 2010, 10:14 pm
Moving back east certainly has its perks: Four seasons, lots of communion with the natural world (our house in the woods), the greatest urban vibe anywhere, just about 90 minutes from here (Manhattan); and of course, the music...always within reach.
The coming months promise to be musically stimulating and certainly memorable, considering all of the creative artists I'll be rubbing elbows with.
Here are a few for your consideration:
May 1st: A trio concert at Wesleyan University in Connecticut with two giants of the music: woodwind virtuoso Bennie Maupin and the brillaint bassist, Buster Williams. Both of these men have really heavy musical credentials that would fill three of these screens. For example, they were both charter members of Herbie Hancock's memorable Mwandishi sextet; individually, both have recorded with many other jazz masters -- too numerous to mention here.
May 3rd: A radio concert by my Spatial Edition Quartet at WVIA-fm studios in PA. This will be a live concert and part of the station's Home Grown Music Series. May 13th will find us recording our first CD at Tedesco Studios in NJ; and May14th we'll be at the Deerhead Inn. This group is two years old and growing stronger with every gig. It features violinist Zach Brock, pianist Jim Ridl, and bassist Steve Varner -- impeccable, beautiful musicians, all.
June 18th, 19th will find me working with my friend, neighbor, and all-around heavy-bizness legendary saxophonist Dave Liebman and, for want of a better name, the Old Guys/Young Guys Quartet. In the second category are pianist Bobby Avey and bassist Evan Gregor, both in their mid-20's. Both are brilliant young players and we keep each other on our collective toes.
August Dates in L.A.: These are shaping up as this is being written; however, locked in at this point are 8/11 at Charlie O's with a great band which will include saxophonist Rob Lockhart and bassist Edward Livingston, so far. The next night, a reunion concert for The Bennie Maupin Ensemble at the Armand Hammer Museum. The group features the maestro, as well as the creative bassist Darek Oles, and my rhythmic and spiritual buddy, the extraordinary percussionist Munyungo Jackson. Other L.A. dates to follow...
I am really blessed to be playing with so many great musicians on both coasts. So, as the title indicates, I have NO COMPLAINTS!
January 5, 2010, 10:40 pm
NEW YEAR, NEW POSSIBILITIES
How did that happen? Seems like yesterday that...
NAHHH-HH...Let's not go there. "Forward, not backward" is a good mantra to embrace as we move into the new decade. I don't know about you, but I no longer make new year's resolutions. I just visualize and plan projects, and hope I can complete at least 50% of them.
Among this year's plans:
** More gigs for my quartet, including the opportunity to complete the recording we started this past year in Brooklyn. We're at the point now when a CD is not only logical, but also necessary to be able to open more doors.
** Another recording with Bob Brookmeyer, God willing.
** Bringing more technology into my classes. the podcasting has been a great success, but now I need to expand into other areas, such as Wikis, blogs, and the use of my webcam.
** Expanding all of my writing/publishing efforts. This rough economic climate has slowed the publication of my Duets for One; however, it's still very much on the radar. Also am hoping that some publisher of repute will consider releasing The Jazz Experience: A Listener's Companion. I believe that there is a real market for this book and hope that someone else might see eye-to-eye with me on that.
** Perhaps another duo or trio recording with some of my favorite New York players.
As we begin 2-0-1-0, I want to wish each of you the best new year possible. May it sustain your level of common sense, your sense of humor, and your compassion for yourself and for others.
November 1, 2009, 10:05 am
A BRIEF HIATUS? THE LAZIES? TMGO?
Which is it? Probably TMGO, or rather "Too much going on."
I've been working feverishly on my book, The Jazz Experience: A Listener's Companion, since late summer -- writing, re-structuring, fussing as I do, over paragraphs, sentences, even word choices. What an ordeal! But writing is always good work and I'm happy to be doing it.
Speaking of writing, my writing classes at the university have been quite invigorating this semester. Some very bright and inquisitive students, who also happen to be excellent writers. And a bonus is that I am learning from them as I hope they are from me. These are the millenials we've been reading about and what a group they are! Many are so computer literate that it's astounding how great a command of technology they have. And there are very few supercilious attitudes among them. These are good students, each different from the other (as it should be), but still a pleasure to teach.
My grand-daughter Paige continues to grow and gets prettier every time I see her. And now, with the aid of Skype and a good webcam, we get to see her on a regular basis, bouncing up and down on Mom's knee.
Some great gigs recently, with more to come. For all intents and purposes, I "lead" two very different ensembles. Spatial Edition is a quartet that features burning violinist Zach Brock and a great rhythm section with the amazing Jim Ridl on piano, and bassist Steve Varner, one of the the most consistently interactive and inspiring bassists I've ever had the pleasure of playing with. Zach, Jim, and I have contributed original compositions, and we also play lots of other peoples' work as well. This group stretches further every time we play and I just hang on for dear life. I hope that early this year,we might be able to finish a recording begun last spring. Anybody looking for a tax write-off?
The second group, Trio Frio, features two virtuosi: Guitarist Vic Juris, who to my mind, is one of the unsung heroes and innovators on the instrument; and the incredible bassist, Francois Moutin. This group does a lot of "in the moment" improvising and moves effortlessly from post-bop to avant garde to Hendrix, and each gig is an adventure.
Gigs in the immediate future are with two great woodwindists: Dave Liebman and Marty Ehrlich, both innovators and jazz icons.
More to come soon. I hope that you and yours are enjoying the autumn as much as Kathleen and I are, here in the Pocono woods.
Blessings to all.
August 3, 2009, 10:25 am
GIGS AND GARDENS!
It's been a great summer thus far, even with the enormous amount of rain we've had (ark building, anyone?).
SOME GIGS OF NOTE:
My band, Spatial Edition, continues to draw near capacity crowds at the Deerhead Inn, and elsewhere. Violinist Zach Brock, pianist Jim Ridl, and bassist Steve Varner are brilliant, sympathetic souls who always push the envelope and give 100% of themselves every time. It's an honor to create music with them.
Other recent gigs have included two lovely reunions: In L.A. several months ago, I had the pleasure of playing with old friends Theo Saunders (piano), Jeff D'Angelo (bass), and Bob Sheppard (saxophones) -- world-class musicians, all. Last month in Miami, I was re-united with the great saxophonist, Gary Campbell. We hadn't played together since our UM college days, so this was a very special gig. Gary is on Miroslav Vitous' new ECM disc, "Remembering Weather Report," and toured with the legendary bassist in Europe this summer. Also in the Miami group were a fine young saxophonist, Matt Vashlishan (be on the lookout for his forthcoming CD called "No Such Thing" on Origin Records), and a remarkable bassist named Chuck Bergeron. Goes to show you that you don't have to go to NY or LA to play with great musicians!
Last week, I worked with the students in Dave Liebman's 22nd annual Master Class at East Stroudsburg University. Lieb is a world-class musician and teacher and it is always a pleasure to work with him and these fantastic players. This time around, there were participants from Germany, Italy, Quebec, the UK, Australia, and the U.S. These musicians are highly motivated, gifted, and open people, and being at this event with them (both on and off stage) was a great experience. The world is indeed a global village for improvising musicians, and it has been an honor to make music with so many of them in recent years.
GARDENS OF EARTHLY DELIGHT:
Kathleen is a notoriously good gardener and I am her erstwhile (and completely humble) assistant. As a result of her efforts along with those of our new friend, Chris Bryant -- garden/fence builder extraordinaire -- we have a really lovely vegetable garden this year. Zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, Romaine lettuce, and lots of tomatoes have sprung up this summer, and so far, we've enjoyed sauteed zucchini and some great Caesar salads, thanks to Gaia and some decent weather!
Likewise, the flower and herb gardens have taken on full and fragrant blooms and our grounds are resplendent with daylillies, cat mint, forsythia, black-eyed susans, coreopsis, cone flowere, geraniums, lavendar, salvia, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and two extraordinary butterfly bushes and their sweetly fragrant flowers. Kathleen just seems to look at the flora and it springs up out of the earth!
Speaking of beautiful, growing flowers, my grand-daughter Paige is getting more beautiful every time I see her. Of course, this from a totally unbiased G-man. yeah, unbiased...right...sure...
Until next time...
April 30, 2009, 8:39 pm
Hey, out here in the woods, spring has sprung and is beginning to show her pretty face all round. After a particularly rough winter, we've been enjoying milder temperatures (except for the occasional 90+ degree days), and are returning to the outdoor activities that come, once the snow and ice disappear for the season. So, we're at work planning (and soon planting) our garden, taking longer walks in this lovely area, and generally opening our lives to the beauty of our surroundings.
Here's some of the news of the season:
I'm now a grandfather! As of April 4th, Daughter Jen and her husband Kylen are the happy and proud parents of a little girl. Her name is Paige and she is a real beauty! Of course, I'm biased as it gets...Anyway, J and K (and little Miss P) are adjusting well to their new lives together out in LA.
Speaking of birth, My new duo CD with saxophone great Dave Liebman is now out and will be available soon on this site, as well as via other venues. It's called NOMADS and is on the ITM label out of Germany. The production is stunning and the music...well...you have to hear it to believe that so much music can come from only two guys on seven instruments each. No overdubs, thank you very much. Anyway, you can hear three tracks on my MySpace site (www.myspace.com/michaelstephans). Hope you enjoy.
Will be in CA this month to hang out with family and friends, to visit some old haunts, and to play a gig with three LA comrades. We'll be holding forth at Charlie O's, one of the best jazz joints anywhere. My old friends pianist Theo Saunders, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, and bassist Jeff D'Angelo -- great musicians all -- will be joining me on 28 May for an evening of musical conversations. If you're in the area, please drop in and give a listen. For more info, check out www.charlieos.com. Clubowner and Jazz Grandma, JoAnn Ottavio will take good care of you.
MULES AND ORPHANS
Finally, if you get the chance, check out Mule Variations and the three-CD set, Orphans, by Tom Waits. That's just for starters. The guy is a true American musical genius. One part Captain Beefheart, one part roots music, one part folklorist, one part John Cage, 100 parts everything else! Mule Variations has so many great songs on it, that you can listen to the thing dozens of times and hear something new with each spin. Can't recommend this guy enough to everyone.
Wishing all of you a wonderful season. Get out there, take a deep breath, and enjoy what the universe has so generously given.
January 20, 2009, 11:05 pm
JANUARY 20, 2009; HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
I've no doubt that many of us ring in the new year by paying homage to the old as we usher in the ninth year of the new millenium. Of course, sometimes we send the old year into the ether of memory by simply uttering a big "WHEW!" because we're so happy that it's over.
I waited this year until today's inauguration to save my deep breath. And what a "WHEW!" it is -- eight years of self-absorption, greed, sadism, ignorance, and bad play acting -- all whisked out the door like so much dust and dirt. We have all paid a heavy, heavy price, from the deaths of so many brave and innocent people, to the loss of jobs, the rape of Mother Earth, and the blatant disregard for anyone down here on the ground who has tried to feed a family and to practice right living.
Yet, even though the last eight years have left us holding a really large bag, today we are relieved, celebratory, and more than a little frightened. John F. Kennedy said "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Barack Obama needs our support and help as he attempts to unravel the mess of the last two terms of office. If we remain attentive to our country during this time of need, by supporting the Obama team and by being involved and engaged Americans, then it is my guess that we will work our way out of the morass we find ourselves in.
Finally, as I listened today to Aretha Franklin's breathtaking rendering of "My Country'Tis of Thee..." I took time to remember the dearly departed who I wish could've been here to bear witness to this great and monumental day: My parents, Ruby and Sam, Louise Pearson, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Ossie Davis, Malcolm X, and so many others. Bless you all...
Straight ahead and to the light!
November 16, 2008, 11:55 am
A FEW MID-AUTUMN MUSINGS
Well, the leaves are down and the riot of fall colors has been consigned to memory. Two cords of firewood are stacked and the kindling has been cut down and boxed. The tea kettle has been put on the stove, and the Remy is ready to spread its fingers of warmth at first sip. Kathleen and I are ready for the coming winter. In fact, last week, we fired up the wood-burning stove for the first time this season; sort of like welcoming back an old friend after its year on vacation.
This has been an active and happy autumn. Highlights include a trip to Vermont and the Inn at Weathersfield (always magical), a successful appearance at this year's COTA Festival with TRIO FRIO (we opened the festival); and two trips to Florida (attending a conference on diversity in Tampa, and teaching / playing a jazz forum at the University of Miami). Also had the opportunity to re-unite with some old college friends and family at a memorial service for my mother at that same time in Miami.
Continuing to make music with two great bands: TRIO FRIO with Vic Juris and Francois Moutin; and some concertizing with the NYC violin virtuoso, Zach Brock (www.zachbrock.com) and my SPATIAL EDITION TRIO, featuring some amazing musicians: pianist Jim Ridl and bassists Tony Marino and Steve Varner.
NOMADS, my duo project with the great Dave Liebman, is being released by Westwind Records early in 2009, and NO SUCH THING, a terrific debut CD by Matt Vashlishan, will be out in '09 as well.
Other BIG news is that my daughter Jen and her husband Kylen are EXPECTING! They are very excited and will be delivering the goods sometime in late March or early April. YIKES! That means that I'll be a...(choke...gulp...) grandfather. Who woulda thunk it? Does this mean I have to go shopping for big, stinky cee-gars, "Depends," "Geritol," etc.?? Will I now be lapsing into Yiddish every five minutes? I hope not. Oy vey...
Some cool new photos up on MySpace, if you're interested in checking out some of our recent work at the COTA Festival and elsewhere.
* Volume 8 of Dylan's rare bootleg stuff. Includes demos, previously unreleased tracks, and a few old chestnuts.
* Anything by the precociously original drummer, Jim Black, who is to my mind, the most inspiring, original player on our instrument out there today. He is part of the great group, DIFFERENT, BUT THE SAME, which also features Dave Liebman, Ellery Eskelin, and Tony Marino. Their new CD, "Renewal" (hatArt) is simply one of the best things I've heard recently.
That's it for now. Wishing each of you a wonderful T'Giving (give thanks every chance you get, not just on November 27th). ...A new president, a new beginning, and a completely new vibe. May you approach each day with faith, hope, and a big fat smile!
August 11, 2008, 10:44 pm
SING, SING, SING
A while back, I wrote a poem called "Memorandum," which was was basically a poem in "memo" form, complete with "To:" and "From:" and "RE:" formatting. It is a rather intriguing piece, one that has some mystical heft to it that I cannot explain. Apparently, it grabbed ahold of a very gifted gentleman named Larry Lapin, who decided -- quite to my surprise -- to set the words to music; not as one would create a traditional song that you or I might sing; but as a choral work composed and arranged for a mixed chorus. Soprano, alto, tenor and baritone voices weaving contrapuntally through one another, fusing my words into an atmospheric, melodic tapestry of sorts.
Larry has been the vocal guru in the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami for quite some time and has unleashed many a fine vocalist upon the world -- folks like Gloria Estefan, Jon Cicada, and many others. In addition to being a much loved teacher, Larry has also been a prolific and original composer and arranger of choral music, and his works are known in both national and international music circles.
At any rate, I have just received word that the new "Memorandum"
is slated for publication this year by a major publisher of modern choral music. This is such a wonderful honor for me and I would sing Larry Lapin's praises, if I wasn't so shakey in the intonation department.
If or when the piece is acually recorded, I will let you all know where it can be heard. I wouldn't mind hearing it myself.
June 27, 2008, 8:00 pm
THE END OF CD'S?
I read an article recently in which the author suggested that liner notes, that is, those miniature essays which have accompanied both vinyl and compact discs for years, would soon be a thing of the past. With all of the MP3 downloading and file sharing going on in cyberspace, there may, according to this gentleman, no longer any need or suitable space for liner notes, or for that matter, cover art. One simply need download the song or "album" from iTunes or another source into an iPod, and voila -- instant music.
All well and good, I suppose; however, if liner notes and CD covers -- and actually, CD's themselves -- are going the way of cassettes and vinyl, then I have to lament their imminent passing. I have always enjoyed great album covers and liner notes (and interior artwork), in the case of both records and CD's. Basically a tactile guy, I enjoy holding the jewel case (or LP) in my hands and reading the notes while listening to the music.
In the jazz world, the great cover art of labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse, Verve, Riverside, and others always offered a slice of attitude and art. And liner notes by jazz critics and writers such as Nat Hentoff, Ralph J. Gleason, Ira Gitler, and Leonard Feather, were informative and often entertaining guides to what we would be hearing on the disc.
In the realm of classical music, labels such as Deutsch Grammophone, Sony, and notably Hyperion in England, reproduced beautiful miniature works of art for their covers, and educational liner notes often translated into two or three languages. Listeners not only experienced the music of Haydn, but also were treated to a miniature history of the composer and his music, as well as a lovely CD or album cover. A lot of bang for your buck!
Needless to say, the art and layouts for rock projects from the '60's through somewhere in the '80's were often astounding and both provocative and evocative. Have look at CD's or albums by Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and many others; you'll see what I mean.
So where's all of that going to go once everyone is downloading everything? It's my hope that we will be able to find a way to include both art and listener notes with downloads as part of the tariff. I would very much like my listeners to enjoy my music; but I would also like them to experience Paul Harryn's lovely cover art, as well as my program notes. Call me a luddite, but I believe that liner notes and accompanying artwork serve only to enhance our enjoyment of the music. As a recording musician, I believe that these things also serve to illuminate the humanity of our effort and not detract from it.
Great music, accomanied by good writing and lovely visual art, creates such a pleasing and fulfilling experience. It would be a shame to see something that positive fall by the wayside in the name of corporate commerce.
May 17, 2008, 1:29 pm
FOR BOB FLORENCE
Google that name and you'll come up with a man who was very, very gifted. I say "was," because Bob passed away several days ago as a result of complications from pneumonia.
Bob Florence was a brilliant composer, arranger, and keyboardist. He was nominated for a Grammy over two dozen times, was the recipient of a Grammy for best big band CD; also, Bob won several Emmy awards, and achieved iconic status in the world of big band jazz.
But the way I knew Bob best was as a pianist. He had a great touch on the instrument, and played some of the greatest chord changes you'd ever want to hear. Bob was also a superb accompanist, and singers loved working with him, because of his near-telepathic empathy in his support of their vocals. Because of Bob, I had the opportinity of working with some phenomenal singers, like Tierney Sutton and Sue Raney. Also, because of Bob, I had the chance to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival. And thanks to Bob's faith in me, I wound up playing drums with him on some lovely recording sessions as well (Jack Jones, Julie Andrews, and others).
Come to think of it, the first in my string of liner-notes credits were several of Bob's CD's. It would be an understatement to say that Bob Florence was an integral and important figure in my musical life for many years.
On top of all that, Bob had a sense of humor like a dry martini. His jocularity would sneak up on you. He was great with song titles too. Like Bob Brookmeyer and Alec Wilder, Bob's song titles were laugh-out-loud funny, with "Afternoon of a Prawn" (roll over, Debussy) and "Nobody's Human" being two of my favorites.
While we drifted apart over the years, I will always be grateful that I had the chance to enjoy Bob's company, both as a musician and as a person. I offer my condolences to his lovely wife, Evelyn for her sad loss. Her sadness is ours as well.
March 10, 2008, 12:12 pm
PLAYING/TEACHING/WRITING = BEING
Some random thoughts:
There is a wire-thin line between what happens on the bandstand, at the writing desk, and in the classroom. All involve risking, letting go, listening.
Drum sticks, pad and pencil, the human voice as messenger for the mind and heart -- tools for being.
Whether it's playing with a great ensemble, writing a really good line of verse or prose, or connecting successfully with and engaging students -- all are interwoven gifts that I continue to be thankful for.
Every day is Thanksgiving.
February 29, 2008, 6:53 am
ENDINGS & BEGINNINGS: LEAP YEAR THOUGHTS
Well, it's Leap Year and time for my quadriennial (is that right?) riffs entry. Why it should be different than any other entry is beyond me -- it just sounds good. So here goes:
February was eventful in a number of ways. The sad one comes first: On the 4th, my dear mom passed away. Ninety-two years young, she entered the hospital a number of weeks earlier with what appeared at that time to be a minor infection. One thing led to another and she began spiralling downward. I flew out to L.A. and visited her in the hospital. It was at that time that my sister Barb and I decided that Mom should return to the comforts of the house out in Thousand Oaks -- to at least live out the remainder of her days in familiar surroundings. After I returned east, Mom was transported back to the house. Thanks to my sis' loving care, and some great support (notably from Bennie Maupin, who visited Mom and played alto flute for her), Mom had a peaceful death. She passed away, holding hands with my sis and a wonderful caregiver friend.
Mom's funeral was held the following week in Miami, where Dad is buried. Many friends and family members were in attendance and it was a fine tribute to a woman who, throughout much of her life, put others before herself. Also, Mom had a ... presence...that's the only word that seems to fit, you know. Right up to the end. A unique energy that was all her own. She was quite a person and i'll miss her in ways I've yet to come to.
Other February news: the 23rd saw the birth of a new trio that had its premier gig at the Deerhead Inn. TRIO FRIO came about as I was thinking about bringing two very unique players together and forming a little group that would be able to create some very intimate genre-bending music. Guitarist Vic Juris, along with L.A.'s Larry Koonse, is one of the most original plectists I know. Like Larry, he has developed his own language on the instrument.and like Larry, he is a well-kept secret. Why that should be, I don't know! Check him out at www.vicjuris.com.
Bassist Francois Moutin is an amazing musician and person. First of all, he and his twin brother Louis (a great musician in his own right) have a quartet called "The Moutin Brothers Reunion Quartet," which is a wonderful and exciting group.. Both Francois and Louis hold advanced degrees (doctorates, I believe) in physics. As a bassist, Francois in in a class by himself. He plays with a visceral intensity comparable to Mingus, and a technique that at times, seems to defy gravity -- or any other law of physics you care to name. You can read about Francois and the Reunion Quartet by visiting www.moutin.com (when you get to the site, click on Francois' name).
So I put these two guys together and we did our first gig a week ago. We had a big crowd and played three beautiful sets of originals, standards, and free imrovisations. TRIO FRIO will be back at the Deerhead in May and hopefully, in New York sometime this spring.
So this has been a month of endings and beginnings. Both events have been blessings, in that I celebrate my mother's long and fruitful life, as well as the birth of a new band.
I wish you, dear readers, the best on this Leap-Year day. May your next four years be filled with love, peace, and wisdom.
February 1, 2008, 9:21 pm
Those of you who know me, know what value I place on integrity and pure feeling, especially in the creative arts. I've been thinking a lot lately about musicians who have brought a wealth of beautiful moments into my life. I've mentioned some of them previously here in RIFFS; however, here are some others who I hope you will check out:
(In no particular order)
CHARLIE HADEN: Great bassist/composer; leader of "Quartet West" I think that Charlie is a major romantic. He has written and performed some of the most moving music I've heard in recent years.
ROSA PASSOS: Absolutely wonderful Brazilian singer. Check out her solo CD ("Rosa") or her CD with Ron Carter. A voice like the fluttering of butterfly wings.
BONNIE RAITT: Always from the heart, no matter what. Listen to her sing "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate" from the "Glow" CD. You'll hear exactly what I mean.
MYRA MELFORD: An intriguing pianist/composer whose music is moving, heartfelt, abstract, audacious, humorous, ruminative...in short -- it exudes life!
GILBERTO GIL: Brazil's national treasure! Now the Minister of Culture in Brazil. Electric energy, rhythmic wackiness, lovely songs. We worked together in the late-70's, playing percussion with the Rolling Stones for a week. Always the smile...
PAT MARTINO: The master jazz guitarist who, in my estimation, recorded one of the most moving ballad albums in the history of jazz. It's called "We'll Be Together Again," and is Pat and Gil Goldstein (on Fender Rhodes) all the way. No other musicians. This is late-night music that might just break your heart. Recorded in the late 70's, it is finally available on CD.
You can google any of these artists for further information. While they come from very different musical genres, the one thing they have in common is the passion and truth they bring to their music. Believe me, in this day and age of music-for-profit, there appears to be very little of the real deal floating around. It certainly isn't being played on the radio -- except on a smattering of small, committed music-driven stations here and there on the blue highways of America.
These (and other) wonderful artists may well open your ears and your heart if you invite them into your lives. Up to you to give them a try. I'd be happy to recommend their work more specifically if you'd like to contact me.
January 21, 2008, 9:37 pm
UK JAZZ CRITIC NAMES OM/ShalOM TOP CD OF 2007!
In the most recent issue of JAZZWISE magazine (December-January), the UK's most widely read jazz journal, critic Tom Barlow not only listed OM/ShalOM as one of the top ten CD's of the year, but he listed it as #1. Of course, there were other critics with their favorites as well, but Tom's choices were the first ones listed. I appreciate Tom's wonderful bow in our direction!
I hope that more listeners in Europe -- as well as here in the states -- get to experience this music, especially given the limited distribution of the disc both here and abroad.
If you haven't heard OM/ShalOM, please go to www.CDbaby.com/michaelstephans, and give it a listen. You can also hear a bit of it on this site and on my myspace site as well.
Thanks for listening!
December 27, 2007, 7:25 am
ASSORTED NEW YEAR'S BON-BONS & BRICKBATS
As '07 draws to a close and '08 comes knocking, I've been thinking about a few things and a few people. I'll spare you most of them, but here are a few to toss out into cyberspace:
ANN COULTER, MON AMOR
I don't recall seeing a hate-monger get as much media attention as this woman (maybe Michael Savage comes in a close second). TV stuff, a fat book deal, lots of income. I wonder if Coulter is derisive like that all the time. I wonder if she is capable of lovingkindness, tenderness, or compassion. I imagine the two of us sitting in a small French (yes, French) cafe on Rue St. Germain, sipping armagnac. I imagine looking into her hard, accusing eyes, and saying earnestly, "Annie...give it a rest. Love something other than extremism for a change Smell a flower, plant a tree, fight global warning -- anything; just lighten up, dear." At which time she smiles, looks dreamily in my eyes, then kicks me in the shins, throws her drink in my face, calls me a blankety-blank liberal, and storms out into the humid Parisain evening, knocking over passersby as though they were bowling pins. In her next book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Liberals are from Hell," Ann describes the incident and accuses me of undermining truth and the American way.
No holiday card for her next year...
As with every year, this was a year of some losses -- only these were closer to home than usual:
ALLEN DAVIS: Al typified kindness and selflessness in action. He was a sweet and decent man, who was much loved by students and colleagues alike at Pasadena City College. Al helped me draft the final arrangement of "OM/ShalOM," the title track of my recent CD, and would accept no payment in return. He was just that kind of person and will be sorely missed by many for a long time to come.
KURT MCGETTRICK: I've written about Kurt elsewhere on this page, so no need to elaborate, other than the fact that he was one of the greatest musicians you never heard. Seek out his recordings and you will be flabbergasted, shocked, surprised, and I hope, delighted.
DR. ART DAVIS: I came to know Art relatively late in the game and had the pleasure of playing music with him on numerous occasions. A great bassist who broke the color line in New York in the '60's, Art was one of the most important and gifted bassists of his time -- so much so, that he played and recorded with the great John Coltrane at various times. A large, quiet man with sweet, sad eyes, Art played bass in every imaginable setting -- and did so with authority and passion.
Rest in peace, dear friends. It was a blessing knowing each of you.
BROOKMEYER, POLL WINNER
Congratulations to my dear friend and mentor for winning the Downbeat Magazine Readers' Poll last month as best trombonist. Ironic, given the fact that Bob spent most of last year composing and bandleading, rather than playing. But hey -- who cares? Brook has always been on the cutting edge of individuality, and his "voice" on the valve trombone is virtually inimitable. No one, in my estimation has been more deserving. Check Broomeyer out; he is a national treasure: www.bobbrookmeyer.com
My old friends Uncle Don Fanning and his wife, Chapparal sent some bumper stickers to me from their mountaintop home in Arizona, that offered the above exhortation.
How much more cogent this seems in light of the fact that moments ago. Kathleen informed me that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber in Pakistan. When will it end...?
A SPECIAL NEW YEAR WISH
Peace is like an ephemeral jewel that we hold in our hands. One minute, it seems to be there and the next minute it is lost to us. I wish you all a peaceful new year, and want to send these wishes out specially to my daughters, Jennifer and Melissa. Please know that you are loved, no matter where you are in your lives. Embrace that and pay it forward...
December 13, 2007, 9:28 pm
HAPPY HOLIDAYS !
As it usually does, Halloween crashed into Thanksgiving, which is speeding relentlessly toward Christmas. Of course, living in a woefully out-of-control consumer society, we have had some insidious help from the mega-chain and big-box stores which put up the Xmas displays BEFORE T'Giving -- earlier and earlier each year. Soon, we'll hear Eartha Kitt cooing "Santa Baby" as school starts in September.
"Getcher Santa Jack o' Lanterns here!"
In the face of all that, I wish each of you a splendid, relatively mall-free holiday season. It is my hope that in 2008, we will regain a measure of sanity sorely needed right about now in this beleagured old country of ours. In the face of a darkly surreal situation, perhaps we can pull together as a nation, left and right, and have the courage and humility to find a way to get back on course, to once again become wise and compassionate. So get involved, do good work (as Garrison Keillor would intone), and listen to your heart. The rest will follow...
Wishing you A Love Supreme during this holiday season,
October 22, 2007, 10:27 am
(my)SPACE IS THE PLACE !
Greetings and Happy Autumn to All!
The leaves here in Pennsylvania are in full regalia and are putting on their annual show. The colors are brilliant everywhere one turns, especially out here in our woods. Even though the weather is unseasonably warm (75 degrees in mid-October!), it's still not as warm as lots of places -- notably out west. While I miss my CA friends, I absolutely DON'T miss the heat and smog that often delays the cooler weather out there this time of year. Anyway, I hope that there is lots of color and autumnal joy for all of you, wherever you are out there in cyber-land.
Re: MS on MySpace:
Because it has become rather costly to add/change pictures and videos here on this site, I have instead added lots of new photos to my mySpace site. I am also planning to add two videos soon, including a taste of The Bennie Maupin Trio at the Knitting Factory in L.A. (we did this a while back for BET), and last summer's astonishing concert of Coltrane's "Meditations," featuring Dave Liebman, pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Evan Gregor, and me -- with nine young saxophonists from all over the world (who were invited to participate in Dave's 20th annual saxophone master class). Once I can figure out how to upload these vids, I'll let you all know. In the meantime, please feel free to visit me at www.myspace.com/michaelstephans for some new pix.
August 6, 2007, 7:56 pm
KURT McGETTRICK, IN MEMORIAM
The music world lost a giant this past May with the passing of the multi-reed genius, Kurt McGettrick.
Newly arrived from Miami in late 1969, I walked into a club in Washington, DC and heard a burning trio comprised of the unlikely combination of baritone sax, electric bass, and drums. That was how and where Kurt McGettrick and I first met. We began playing together almost immediately during that time; a fertile and exciting period for creative music. After playing a lot of zany and surreal gigs with Kurt (and our mutual friend, drummer Steve Larrance), I moved out to L.A. in ´76 – a little later than Kurt – and stayed with him for a while in the world´s smallest apartment, where we talked music, reminisced about the east coast, and ate a lot of Japanese Yosenabe, one of Kurt´s gastronomic specialties. We resumed our musical relationship, and played together for many more years in all manner of musical configurations.
In L.A., Kurt became well known for his virtuosity on the low woodwinds and was a large presence on the studio scene. He also logged in time with all manner of great musicians, most notably Frank Zappa.
Our last "band" was a duo in the early to mid-90´s, and we played in performance spaces and at art galleries. The experience (particularly our last gig – videotaped, no less) was amazing. Kurt loved everyone from Harry Carney to Eric Dolphy and beyond. His sound on all of his instruments was enormous, sweepingly lyrical, raucous, funky, and always swinging. He played things that you´re not supposed to be able to play on the low winds, popping, chortling, shouting, then whispering; and his playing on the difficult Japanese shakuhachi was nothing short of stunning. The last time we played together, McGeet played everything from piccolo to EWI and made it all work – with passion, humor, and a visceral quality that even the most jaded listener could relate to.
Google his name and check him out on YouTube and other sites. You´ll see what I mean.
Musicians like Kurt McGettrick don´t come along too many times in a lifetime. I am blessed to have known such a great musical associate and such a warm, honest, and genuine friend. He will be greatly missed by all who heard him.
July 20, 2007, 9:41 am
N OMAD S
Last month, Dave Liebman and I went into the studio and recorded a series of duets; not your usual saxophone and drums stuff, although there is certainly some of that. We call this project N OMAD S, simply because we wander over a whole bunch of interesting and evocative musical terrains.
Dave plays tenor and soprano saxes, c-flute, wood flute, piano, drums, and even recites one of my spoken-word pieces. I play drums, pocket cornet, Tibetan singing bowls, piano, percussion, and also sing on one cut and rap on another.
We do original compositions, as well as songs by Keith Jarrett ("The Windup"), Sonny Rollins ("Doxy"), Duke Ellington ("Dusk"), and even a few old chectnuts from the great American songbook.
In retrospect, it strikes me as amazing that two musicians can traverse so many musical landscapes and genres, from be-bop to avant garde to world music to impressionistic pieces to hip-hop and spoken word. It was a great experience, and once we mix and edit and order the music, we hope to find it a home on some label in the not-too-distant future, so we can bring it to you.
Stay tuned to this site for further information.
June 11, 2007, 12:37 pm
In the creative music world, one can't be too complacent when it comes to audiences. Some audiences -- notably in concert situations both here and abroad -- are remarkably attentive; others, mostly in clubs, saloons, and restaurants, often think of musicians as wallpaper, that is, providers of background music suitable for eating, posturing, and other non-listening agendas. Of course, these latter kinds of gigs are abundant in your town and mine; we musicians just charge ahead and play for ourselves as well as the small number of folks who might happen to be tuned in to the music. That's always been the reality of it. One minute, you're playing for 700 + attentive listeners at the Barbican Theatre in London, and the next, you're stuck in a small club in Jersey where patrons are talking so loud that you can't hear yourself think, let alone get something happening on the bandstand.
We as musicians accept these things and move straight ahead. However, even though we know how audiences receive what we have to offer (or not), our own cognizance of how to treat audiences is -- to my way of thinking -- just as important. For instance, the other night, I went to the Jazz Standard in New York to hear a great trumpeter and his group. As accomplished as all these musicians were, the entire set fell flat. There was no welcome, no announcements of songs, nothing. And each composition so resembled the next that, in the words of my fellow listener, " It all sounded like one song." Now, while I don't think it is desirable or even necessary to pander to an audience, I do believe that if we musicians acknowledge the presence of our listeners by welcoming them and inviting them to partake in the experience that's about to happen, we stand to better promote our music -- in both the short- and long-run.
Cannonball Adderly was a master of how to deal with his listeners. Dizzy Gillespie was too. Both were genuine, gracious, and yet completely unpretentious. Bennie Maupin programs his sets in a way that keeps listeners on ther edge of their seats, wondering what's going to happen next. Even when an audience is woefully tiny, Bob Brookmeyer reminds them that they are "small, but significant." These kinds of considerations bring listeners back each time for more.
In short, the relationship between a musician and his/her audience is symbiotic. In the best situations, musicians reach out to listeners with positive grace and dignity, and listeners respond in kind by being both appreciate and attentive. It's not rocket science...
March 26, 2007, 5:44 pm
OM/ShalOM CD NOW AVAILABLE!
At last -- one month after a memorable CD premier gig at the Blue Note in New York, the OM/ShalOM project is finally available on CD to listeners everywhere. Released on the ENDEMIK! label, the disc may be purchased through me via an email to this site, or at www.cdbaby.com, the well-known nationwide distributor for independent music. Just click on the CD cover below:
I sincerely hope you enjoy this musical offering.
March 9, 2007, 1:52 pm
The CD premieres at both NYC's BLUE NOTE and PA's DEERHEAD INN on February 25-26 were memorable. The music was transcendent; each piece was -- as is often the case with live performances -- fully expanded. We had lots of time to develop motifs and fully explore many musical nooks and crannies. This was the right ensemble for such explorations. Dave Liebman is one of the most fearless and adventurous improvisors I know. Lieb dives right in and takes each composition apart in his solos; and the intensity with which he does this is astounding. Listening to and playing with him is often like riding piggy-back on a comet as it arcs across the night sky.
No less adventurous is Bennie Maupin, who to my way of thinking, exhibits a number of distinct musical personalities: his bass clarinet work is both dark and wistful; his tenor and soprano saxophone solos are both lyrical and edgy; and his lovely alto flute voice adds warmth in both ensemble and solo contexts.
It's easy to understand why bassist Scott Colley is in such demand in the New York jazz community. He plays with such authority and energy. Like Bennie and Lieb, he is not afraid to let the music evolve any way it sees fit. And everything Scott plays is right. He is the master of understatement and moves way beyond the realm of technical virtuosity into a much more spiritual place.
The New York and Pennsylvania audiences turned out in force and responded enthusiastically to both performances. They were with us all the way.
In sum, It was a pleasure and a thrill to play with this ensemble, particularly for such attentive listeners. I look forward to the next time.
August 15, 2006, 7:31 pm
A LOST ART, FOUND
The other night, we went to a concert at a soulful old place called the Ice House in Bethlehem, PA. The event was part of the yearly concert series known as Musikfest, a week-long celebration of many different kinds of music, held at venues all over this small steel town.
We came specifically to see and hear Jonathan Edwards, a singer/songwriter whose work I have admired for many years. Admittedly, my musical tastes are quite diverse (in addition to jazz) and run the gamut from Bartok and Cage, to Stevie Wonder and Delbert McClinton; from Ken Vandermark to Shawn Colvin and John Prine; in other words -- all over the map!
Anyway, Let me share with you something about Jonathan's music. I suggested in an earlier entry on this page, that JE was, along with Delbert, one artist that was and is hard to comfortably compartmentalize into a single musical style. He approaches singing with the intensity of our greatest jazz artists. The art of making a joyful noise is a powerful one for him and for us, his listeners. He brings a genuine jazz and blues sensibility to his music, even though it is couched somewhat in the folk/country genre. The man sings every song as though it were his last. He exudes emotion -- not the phony Michael Bolton/Mariah Carey type pap you hear in better supermarkets everywhere; with Jon, you hear the real deal. He makes us laugh, he makes us weep, he regales us with images of everyday life and raises them to almost transcendent levels of irony. And he does all of this alone, with no band to take up the slack. Just Jon all the way -- voice, guitar, harps, and occasionally, some piano. The other night, for his encore, he even came out and sang a stunning a capella version of an original that he multi-tracked in the studio a number of years earlier for a CD called "One Day Closer."
It's taken me a while to realize just what the attraction is here.
What it was that hooked me so many years ago, when I first heard Jon sing a song called "Sometimes," was his unerring sense of committment to his art. I could hear how much of himself he put into that song as well as countless others over the years. Most jazz fans know that the best jazz musicians are the ones who do the same thing, time and time again. This is what 'Trane talked about when he spoke about how the jazz musician often shares the many wonderful things he knows about the universe, through his music. That wise observation can be equally applied across musical genres too numerous to name.
Jonathan Edwards is a modern-day troubador, criss-crossing regions of the country, bringing his powerful and positive musical visions to folks everywhere I encourage you to visit Jon's website (www.jonathanedwards.net) and support his music, either by attending one of his concerts, or by purchasing a CD or two. Or do both. It will be well worth it.
August 11, 2006, 8:38 pm
LOST IN (my) SPACE
Well, As of tonight, I've joined the ranks of some very prominent musicians and artists, as well as ten billion teenagers (give or take a million here and there). My webmaster, the fantastic Judy Frisk (check her wonderful work out at 2worldsinteractive.com), was kind enough to set up a site for me on "myspace," the biggest club this side of lower andromeda.
Turns out I'm in some good company. Among the musicians with pages on myspace.com, you'll find Jack Dejohnette (one of the first to take the plunge), Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Gretchen Parlato, Pharoah Sanders, Lewis Nash, John Clayton, and many others. Even the dearly departed have THEIR own pages as well, including Clifford Brown, Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, and Elvin Jones. For the life of me (no pun intended), I can't imagine who answers their fan mail.
Anyway, my space on "myspace" can be viewed at:
Welcome to Tomorrowland.
June 18, 2006, 9:01 am
WEST TO EAST
Well, it's official:
As of the beginning of July, I'll be taking up residence in Pennsylvania -- more specifically in a beautiful area called The Poconos. Even more specifically, in a lovely little house situated in the woods. There's even a stream running through the backyard, and birch, pine, dogwood, and pear trees all around. Best of all, it's only an hour-and-a-half from New York City, and two from Philly.
This has been a huge undertaking. I have resigned from Pasadena City College, and am leaving the frenetic pace, the perpetual rush hours, the smoggy air, and the rest of the L.A. rat race behind. Unfortunately, I am also leaving behind a loving family and many good friends as well. In retrospect, I have been blessed with many great (and I hope, lasting) relationships with fellow musicians and college folks, Thank goodness for tenacity and e-mail. I hope to remain in touch with as many of you who care to do so, as possible.
On the other end of the road, We are fortunate enough to have Dave Liebman and his family as neighbors and new friends. And Bob and Jan Brookmeyer aren't too far away. They have all been terrifically supportive for Kathleen and me through the move. Played a great gig with Lieb on my birthday, and Kathleen had Key Lime Pie flown in from Miami!
Also, there are old friendships to rekindle in New York, Washington, DC, Maryland, New England, and Florida. I look forward to all of that, as well as to the peace that often accompanies life in a bucolic setting.
Once I am settled in our new home, I shall keep you posted on all manner of musical and other endeavors, should they come my way.
That's it for now. Blessings to you all.
February 24, 2006, 10:15 pm
Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing the rough mixes of Bob Brookmeyer's new project called SPIRIT MUSIC, written for his amazing New Art Orchestra. It was recorded earlier this winter in Germany and will hopefully see the light of day in a month or two. With the exception of Bob and drummer John Hollenbeck, the NAO consists of some great European musicians, all of whom bring a special, inimitable quality to Bob's music.
Brookmeyer's approach to composition is unlike any other. The music is at once, dense and featherlight. It takes twists and turns like a roller coaster and is endlessly thought provoking. It is kaleidoscopic and ever-changing from track to track. It moves vertically and horizontally at the same time. In short, it is breathtaking.
For me, the best thing about Bob has always been his remarkable playing. His valve trombone solos are so lyrical that each solo sounds like it could be a song unto itself. He has the gift of an immediately recognizable style. I believe that this uniqueness has found its way into his orchestral and big band compositions as well. Brookmeyer is 76 years young and more vital and imaginative than ever -- certainly a standard for all creative artists to aspire to.
Bob was named a Jazz Master recently by the National Endowment for the Arts, and was recognized as such in New York last month at the IAJE Conference. I know that I echo the feelings of many when I say it's about time!
You can explore Bob Brookmeyer's many musical dimensions by visiting his web site, www.bobbrookmeyer.com. It will be a trip worth taking.
December 25, 2005, 5:32 pm
DANCING ON THE EDGE
Playing duo is a risky proposition in any instrumental setting where improvisation is involved; however, it becomes particularly harrowing if the two instruments doing the pas de deux are the saxophone and the drums. It's all about bouncing the sounds off the silences (and vice-versa), and about knowing when to play and when to resist the temptation to fill the space; truly like a conversation between two people. You listen some; you talk some; you bounce ideas off each other and see where the dialogue goes. And in this kind of duo playing, there are no chordal instruments present to offer harmonic hiding places. You're pretty much out there on your own.
When your duo partner is Dave Liebman (http://www.upbeat.com/lieb/), the journey becomes even more interesting. I had the fortune of playing several days ago with Lieb in his home studio in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. We played for about two hours and it sailed by as though it were two minutes. Lieb is a no-holds-barred improviser; totally unafraid to navigate the waters of this kind of playing. He does not attempt to give the music any immediate sense of direction, as so many others are wont to do. Dave just lets it happen, lets the music go wherever it's going to go. And best of all, he listens intensely to what is happening and builds upon it to create some really amazing music. We did find our way to some tunes, including Monk's "Bemsha Swing," and the old standard, "The Night has a Thousand Eyes." We even played a ballad from the great American songbook -- although at the moment, I can't remember which one. We concluded our duo-logue with "Hava Nagilah," and played it much faster than we did on my forthcoming CD, "OM / ShalOM."
It's experiences like these that I find most inspiring and rewarding. And it's people like Dave Liebman who re-affirm why those of us who love this music do what we do. We dance on the edge, without a safety net. We move ahead, using the past as a springboard into the future. Krishnamurti spoke of the importance of freedom from the known. I would further suggest that it is the embracing of uncertainty that is essential to making any art. It means, as always, keeping your eyes, ears, and heart wide open to new possibilities, new ways of using the language of whatever art form you embrace -- either as artist or audience. Such openness offers freedom and can make life richer and more rewarding if we allow ourselves the latitude.
October 22, 2005, 12:03 am
There's always something special about autumn. Whether it's the first chill of the season, the smell of woodsmoke and damp leaves, the panopoly of colors which ignites the trees that beautify our lives; or the coming holidays that seem to tumble into one another (Rite-Aid began it's Halloween blitz in August, and Cost Plus is pulling out the Christmas ornaments right about now.)...Autumn just plain feels good to the senses.
Musically, autumn also brings us the gifts of newly discovered treasures by Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane (live at Carnegie Hall in 1957) as well as Coltrane, Elvin, McCoy, and Garrison captured blisteringly live in NYC, circa 1965. The first disc is simply amazing, and Monk actually has a great piano to play on. 'Trane is nothing short of astonishing on both recordings. Dave Liebman hipped me to the fact that this music was going to see the light of day this month; he also expressed a great deal of excitement about it, and now I know why!
So, as the fog rolls in here in the San Gabriel Mountains above Altadena, California, we hunker down with some Pinot Noir, some Monk and 'Trane, and some thanks for all of the blessings that continue to come our way. And I wish the same good things for each of you through this magical season.
August 17, 2005, 10:21 pm
ERIC DOLPHY DAY
[Originally written on June 27, 2004]
Yesterday was a special day here in Los Angeles – one that should´ve been celebrated by lots of jazz musicians and listeners alike. Thanks to virtually no media coverage and no apparent support from any immediately recognizable source, Eric Dolphy Day in South Central L.A. went almost completely unnoticed. Dolphy, the seminal innovator and woodwind master, died at the much-too-young age of 36 back in 1964 – a tremendous loss to the jazz world. In his all-too-brief career, Dolphy played and recorded with John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Ornette Coleman, and many other great musicians. His wondrously free alto saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet solos were (and are) immediately recognizable, and his legendary virtuosity, remarkable.
So with all that being said, where was everybody yesterday, as the new $5 million Denker Community Center was being re-named the Eric Allan Dolphy Memorial Center? Where was everybody when Bennie Maupin´s Ensemble (of which I am part) performed, or when Clora Bryant, Dr. Art Davis, and other legends of the Central Avenue scene which gave us Eric Dolphy, stood up to share personal anecdotes and memories about Dolphy that very few musicians and fans are rarely, if ever, privy to? Those who comprised the small audience yesterday were most appreciative, and the vibe in the gymnasium where this beloved event took place was a sort of microcosm of the way it should´ve been with an audience ten times its size. LeRoy Downs, one of L.A.´s finest jazz DJ´s (sadly, no longer affiliated with KKJZ), was there to emcee and to also write a review of the event for his own website. For some reason, he was the only representative of the city´s various jazz media who attended this celebration.
A larger question that looms over all this is, if the L.A. jazz community didn´t know about the Eric Dolphy Day celebration, why didn´t it? On the other hand, if it did, then where was everybody? How can we expect the perpetuation of this music if we ourselves don´t support it? Is it that we leave that to someone else who, in turn, leaves it to us? If that´s the case, then NOBODY shows up and you have a typical L.A. jazz event: a pitifully small, but spirited audience, reaping the treasures of some excellent musicians – and in this case, some fine poets and artists as well. Commitment to change and change itself begins with each of us in our communities. Want to preserve America´s only true art form? Then, whenever you can, support jazz and the many gifted musicians, poets, and artists who give so much of themselves to both music and audience. Jazz after all, is about filling up an empty world with the sustenance of song and spirit…THAT´S what Eric Dolphy was all about. And it´s up to each and every one of us who love this music to help keep the lamp lit and burning.
August 17, 2005, 10:00 pm
This actually happened. No lie. As things go, it was not much more than a little blip in the universe; however, I believe in retrospect that this happened so I´d be able to share it with you now.
Twenty or so years ago, I had gone from L.A. to Atlantic City to play a one-nighter with composer and sometime singer, Anthony Newley. The day after the gig, I planned to take a cab to Philadelphia and from there, catch a train to Washington, DC to visit old friends. My cab driver was an imposing, yet soft-spoken and amiable gentleman who popped the trunk and helped me in with my suitcase and my cymbal case. He seemed to take an interest in the latter, but didn´t really say anything. We got underway and about ten minutes into the trip, he asked about the kind of music I played, the kind of music I listened to, and who some of my heroes were. I told him a little about myself, described some of the music I was currently listening to, and identified mentioned major musical influences that have meant a lot to me as a player. He responded by saying, "Well, I´m a drummer too." At that point, I asked him what kinds of music he enjoyed playing and listening to, and who he had played with. To be honest, I don´t completely remember his answers to my first question, largely because of his answer to my second question. That exchange went something like this:
Me: "So who have you played with?"
Him: "Oh lots of people – Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry..."
Me: (just this side of shocked) "Wow! – who are you ?"
Him: "I´m Sunny Murray…"
Me: "THE Sunny Murray ??"
Him: "That´s me…"
Me: "Pull this cab over, please."
Me: "Shit…I´M the one that should be driving YOU, not the other way around!"
Sunny laughed heartily. "You know the music, then?"
"Oh yeah," I replied. And from there on out, Sunny mostly talked and I mostly listened. One of modern music´s pioneers was taking me to Philly in his cab, sharing his thoughts with me about Ayler´s music, European audiences, and most touchingly, this country´s overall neglect of its own musical innovators. I remember feeling sad for Sunny, sad for a music that, to this day, struggles to survive in the face of insurmountable corporate odds. But survival is what jazz is all about; and if the rise in the number of indy labels presenting jazz is any indication, we´re doing OK out here. Things could be better; but they could also be a hell of a lot worse. The music will survive as long as there are people out there who are willing to approach the listening experience with an open mind, an open heart, and hopefully, [a little support from] an open wallet.
Even now, looking back on that remarkable morning, I still wished that I was driving and that Sunny was relaxing in the back seat. It seemed only fitting.
August 4, 2005, 8:39 pm
MUSICIAN <----> LISTENER
Recently, I came across a lovely quote from the late Elvin Jones, considered by many musicians and jazz listeners to be one of jazz´ greatest drummers:
"I feel very, very gratified when people are complimentary to what I have done or appreciated it with sincerity…It makes me feel that maybe I did do something that was proper and that was right."
Elvin´s sentiment, to my way of thinking, speaks volumes about the importance of the bond that can develop between musician and listener. The art of jazz is a deeply personal one for both! It has been said that jazz gives voice to emotions that can´t be put into mere words (although many poets would probably disagree with this). When you are witness to a great jazz musician at work, s/he is sharing so much on so many levels with you, the rewards are often beyond measure.
As a college professor and the creator of a very different kind of jazz appreciation course, I have discovered that it´s not that people don´t want to listen closely to jazz; it´s that they don´t know how to listen or what to listen for. The listeners who get the most out of our music are the ones who are able to understand their part in the aesthetic transaction and who work to develop close listening skills. And when you open yourself up to the music without a whole lot of pre-conceived should´s and ought´s, you do appreciate what you´re hearing, as Elvin said it, "…with sincerity."
Elvin Jones understood the importance of the listener in the creative process and he honored his listeners with the best music he was able to offer. He did do something proper and right. And his audiences often rewarded him by being open to his music.
When musicians and audiences work together to create this kind of positive environment, everyone benefits and jazz can continue to thrive as America´s indigenous art form.
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