Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer Jams 2013?

Wow, haven't been here in a minute.  (Not loving the look Google has brought to Blogger, but I digress)

A few summers ago, I solicited ideas for THE summer jam of the year.  Y'know, the one you love to love, even after it's been on the radio too many times.  For me, the all time winners are Prince's "Raspberry Beret", and the Fugees cover of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You".  Not because they're my favorite tunes, but because they feel like that particular time and place for me.  And, they happened to be huge hits.  

I have to say I'm not loving this summer's early entries, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines".  (As I write this, I hear "Get Lucky" coming out of someone's car.)  "Get Lucky", I don't know, I have a tough time getting with something so blatantly, self-referentially retro.  (this video says it all)  And "Blurred Lines", I'm sorry, I find both the message of the tune and the video misogynistic.  Not borderline, not wink-wink nudge-nudge, but flat out.  (when your song gets called out as "rapey" in Cosmo, that's probably not a good sign...)  And Robin Thicke is no JT, never mind a real soul devil.

So, I'm looking for alternatives- please share here, or on Facebook or Twitter.  Here's my summer jams:

Janelle Monae has been my musical crush since "Archandroid" came out.  And this makes me even more excited about the new record...

Imagine Dragons "On Top of the World"

This isn't a single (hence this video by my friend Wari)), so maybe I'm cheating, but I much prefer this to their actual single.  And this has the carefree summer vibe- I want this with me at a beach.  Or in Colorado doing yoga...

This one has started to make the radio rounds.  Catchy as hell, and the video is so cute...

Okay folks- thoughts?

(Oh, by the way, I don't have a summer jam, but I do have a new record I'm trying to release, and a Kickstarter to get it out.  Please check it, pre-order, help me make it happen!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the awkward Mitt Romney

And now, a word on politics.  If you know me at all, or read either of my blogs, you won't be the least bit surprised to know that I plan to vote for Barack Obama for president, as I did in 2008.  I'm not thrilled with his performance as president on many fronts, but he has faced unprecedented opposition, and has done some big things despite it.  That said, I am terrified of the prospect of a President Mitt Romney.  Not so much on policy grounds, though I don't like his policies either for the most part.

I had the opportunity to "meet" Romney twice at public events.  (I put that in quotes because I don't think one really meets a politician the way I might meet you at a coffeeshop.  But we shook hands.)  One was in 1998 at a City Year fundraiser (to their eternal credit, both the Romneys and Bain have been big City Year supporters since day one), and once in 2002 at an event for inauguration of the Senate at the Massachusetts State House.  The first time Romney wasn't running for anything, the second he was running for reelection as govenor.  I was performing on both occasions, so I had a chance to be the proverbial fly on the wall for much of the events.  

I've thought about both these days a bit since it became clear Romney would be the nominee, and what stands out to me to this day is how ridiculously awkward he was at both events.  He seemed to lack even the most basic "shmooze" skills that are central to politics at every level.  he was stiff, smiliing a forced smile and holding himself at somewhat awkward angles.  And when his presumptave opponent for govenor came into the room in '02, they had an almost comically odd exchange, laughing too big and not exactly sure how to handle the cameras that were there.  

All of this came to mind last night when the clip surfaced that dominated the news this morning, with Romney saying basically that 47% of the American public are moochers.  It's not that he believes this that shocks me- a lot of Republicans do.  It's that he said it, and how he said it.  It was so coarse, so impolitic, not to mention so wrong.

And here lies my greatest concern with a President Romney- if he can't handle a roomful of small-time Massachusetts politicians with any semblance of grace, and if he can't open his mouth at a fund-raiser without putting a size 16 foot in it, what would he do negotiating with Democrats in Congress, or even worse, with the leaders of Russia or China or Pakistan, where there are clearly lives on the line?  For whatever reason, I don't think he has even basic people skills, and on that ground alone, regardless of his ideology,  he shouldn't be president.  Thanks for reading- thoughts most welcome.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Bob Brookmeyer

We lost a master yesterday. Bob Brookmeyer, who was a tremendous teacher long before I met him, and an even bigger influence when I got to work with him, passed away a few days from his 82nd birthday. There will be lots of worthy tributes in the press and the blogs this week, but I wanted to write the story of my relationship with Bob the musiciain, the teacher, and the man.

First, Bob was the first musician to make me care about big band music. I hadn't played with a big band until I got to college, and we were fed the usual diet of Basie, Thad Jones, Bob Mintzer, and (stiffly played) Duke Ellington. I got why it mattered (and see my hubris in hindsight), but I didn't care. Then, in my sophomore year in short succession, I heard “Hello and Goodbye”, “Ding Dong Ding”, and most importantly for me “KP '94”. In Bob's hands, the big band was as cutting edge a tool as a ginsu knife, and easily as relevant as the Lovano and Steve Coleman I was gorging on. (Of course, I found out later they both played for Bob in the Vanguard band...) To the end, his music was both careful and ecstatic, swinging hard and smart.

My senior year of college, we got word that Bob (a favorite of our department head, of course) was coming to perform with us for out last big band concerts of the year, playing two concerts of his music, mostly fairly recent material, including “KP '94”. All of us in the band were thrilled... and terrified. Bob's genius as a musician was nearly matched by his reputation as a, well, curmudgeon is a nice word. And none of us wanted to be embarrassed.

I remember the first rehearsal to this day- we had been shedding the ^$&# out of this music for months, and thought we were ready. Our director introduced Bob, he said something pithy, and then got up to conduct the first tune. His count off (we're used to the standard “1, 2, 1-2-3-4) went something like this: “va-da-va-DUH-ba-da DAH-ba-da-duh-va, DAHT, ZAT, ZUUUH- DAT!” By the end, he was shouting. We were so confused we didn't play. He counted the tune off with the sound and the intensity he wanted, and didn't let up for the rest of the run. We thought we were tight before he got there; we weren't close. He whipped us into shape in five days; I've not been the same musician after that.

I got to play for Bob in a small group during that run; he loved the tune we played and how we played it, so we became friendly. (The tune was by James Carney, and Bob and James became friends soon after that, helping set up Bob's 90s west coast quartet) I did a summer workshop with him, and we were in touch occasionally. In my last year in New York, I went to Bob's 70th birthday gig at the Vanguard with the big band there. Bob and I chatted, and I said I wanted to study with him at New England Conservatory. He said something like “we can make that happen” and he did; I enrolled at NEC, with a fair amount of scholarship money, that September.

This was the real beginning of my work with Bob as my teacher. I was anxious to get at all of what I saw as Bob's innovations, but all he wanted to talk about was “craft”- chord voicings, line resolutions, finishing phrases, the nuts and bolts of any kind of writing. I was frustrated, and I know he started to get frustrated too, but ultimately he was right. I wasn't nearly as skilled, or as ready, as I thought I was, and Bob firmly (but not meanly) reeled me in. I worked with him for two years; what I wrote in year one ranged from okay to crap, but in year two I wrote what I still feel is some of the best musical work I've ever done. And it wasn't just the stuff I brought to him for big band (when you worked with Bob, that's what you did)- it was small group tunes, music for voice and strings, even pop tunes. Bob made everything better.

In this time I got to know Bob the man; more than once I would go up to his house in New Hampshire to take a lesson, and after the lesson we would spend the rest of the afternoon and into the evening together. Mostly, Bob just told stories: of his days standing in awe of the Basie band, of playing with everyone (except maybe Duke Ellington, who I think he turned down when he called- long story). Of letting his vices get the better of him, landing him in rehab, and he thought, out of music forever. Then of his road back, both from his demons and into the world of music and then teaching music. In the 70s, finally clean and sober, Bob started from scratch and re-imaginied himself as a composer and player, listening to everything that had happened while he was in a haze- Coltrane and free jazz, but also all kinds of contemporary classical music, including Lutoslowski and Feldman, the two he mentioned most often to me. What came from this was perhaps his most fertile period as a writer. (My friend and fellow Brookmeyer buddy Darcy James Argue wrote eloquently about this period when we were working on what became the Behearer project) That by itself demanded my respect.

And as a teacher, he kept that restless quality control; he was opinionated, no doubt, but would listen to everything and try to make it better. And he was the consumate professional; no matter how hard he rode you in lessons or rehearsals (and he could be vicious), in concert he made everyone sound like the cat's meow.

I feel very blessed to have known and studied with Bob. The alumni of his studio are legendary at this point: Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, Ted Nash, Darcy, John Hollenbeck, and on and on. But whether you went on in big bands or not, Bob changed you, no doubt.

After Bob retired and I stopped seriously writing music, I sadly lost touch with him, hearing things occasionally from friends and peers. That said, there was something nice about knowing that he was around and working, and that eventually I'd catch him again. More the fool me. I don't know the circumstances of his death, but I grieve for and with his fantastic wife Jan and their family. Bob certainly made me a better composer, but I find myself calling on his skills, his demands, his wisdom in many other places too. I hear Bob in how I coach my saxophone students, and his demands on me the composer and improviser unwittingly helped me prepare to create and sequence yoga classes, and to improvise my way out of jams there too. I am beyond grateful for the many ways that Bob Brookmeyer made me a better musiscian, and a better man. Godspeed Bob.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Newport 2011, part 1

After a long hiatus, here hopefully is the beginning of a short burst of activity. I was at the Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday, and will be writing in detail about it soon. In the meantime, you can read the various reviews, or you can listen to it online at NPR's music site. This is so cool. I highly recommend starting with Miguel Zenon's Puerto Rican songbook set, which was beyond fantastic, and then tickling whatever fancies you have. More soon...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Grammy's makeover?

I feel like I write this post every year, but here goes...

I made a joke yesterday, before the Grammy awards, that the more cynically I call the awards, the more likely I am to win any pool I'm in. That said, my cynicism was rocked by jazz bassist Esparanza Spalding winning the Best New Artist last night. Like most of my jazz friends, I'm delighted- she is a hip, talented, unapologetic black artist playing jazz, and anything that brings that to the mainstream can't be bad. Her work doesn't move me particularly, but woman can play, so by all means go!

However, my cynic still says that in a way that this was completely predictable, as Herbie's win for "Gershwin's World" was a few years ago. (I can't find it, but the Times had a great breakdown at the time of why he won, much like the following.) My thought- Drake and Bieber split the commercial vote, and Mumford and Florence split the hipster/alt vote, leaving Esperanza to get the old guard vote, which here was enough to win. (She is, after all, a favorite of our current president) This isn't to diminish her award, but let's put it in context. Same goes with Arcade Fire winning- not enough people were willing to vote for Eminem in the big category, Gaga and Katie Perry split the pop vote, "Need You Now" got the record, so Boom, it's "The Suburbs", album of the year. (Full disclosure, I've tried hard to warm to Arcade Fire, but I still don't like them. After multiple listens and passionate pleas from friends I respect, I still found the first two records bombastic and whiny. I'll give "The Suburbs" a shot, though) I'm happy for both acts, but I don't think this is some kind of game changer by any means.

That said, the rest of who got the awards was more than a little depressing. My gambling instincts were right on the jazz awards- Moody got it because he dies, Vijay and Danielo, thanks, come again! Maybe. Darcy lost the big band category because it was his first rodeo, despite having the best record in the category by a long shot. And does anyone else catch the irony of Esperanza winning on a night when the Best Record goes to Lady Antebellum, a generic-sounding country band named after southern Civil War nostalgia? (I've heard "Need You Now" dozens of times without knowing who it was, and honestly until last night thought it was a collaboration between Taylor Swift and some Keith Urban type. Or maybe I don't relate because I've never drunk dialed anyone) I was even disappointed by Eminem's performance- he's traded the clever sneer of "Slim Shady" for bombast, in both delivery and production, which makes him sound like every other rapper to me. Yawn...

That said, give me Cee-Lo any day. I'm remember one time Meshell N'Degeocello said onstage "D'Angelo, man... he can just lay across the cover of a record and I'll buy it!" I'm beginning to feel that way about him. Find the video on Youtube while you can. (I can't promise this link still works) I loved it!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

looking back, I see you smile...

As 2010 comes to a close, I've been thinking back to the year in music (and blogging) for me. It's been the quietest in years- while the album I recorded in 2009 has gone from rough cuts to mastered entity, it'll be a few months before it sees the light of day, and what focus I've had on music has been on teaching. Clearly, not blogging, but we'll see what 2011 brings. In the meantime, favorites from 2010. (I said this a couple of years ago, I don't feel comfortable about claiming any bests- I just don't hear enough these days.

Favorite Album- "Ten", Jason Moran Trio. It's the critic's darling for a reason. Compelling from beginning to end. If you haven't heard it, go now.

Honorable Mention: "Never Stop", the Bad Plus. Their best yet- though I feel like almost every record has improved upon the last.

Favorite Gig to hear, local: The Bad Plus at Berklee. Again, the best I've heard them live. Any kitch that the band may have relied on in the past is giving way to a more seamless communication. And some of my favorite free playing in a long time.

Favorite Gig to Hear, elsewhere: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at the Newport Jazz Festival. Readers know how much I love Darcy and his music, but something about playing Newport took the band to another level, a combination of excitement and determination. (And ego, I'm sure, a lot of folks in the band had husbands/wives/kids in tow on an amazing August day, something you don't always get to do.)

Favorite Blog Post- Ethan Iverson on Herbie and Wayne. (I think this one is from this year- it's the third one down. So well thought out, so well said.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Listen to THIS

Alex Ross very casually announced on his blog today that he'll be in Boston tomorrow, hosting Afternoon concerts on WHRB from 1-6, and then speaking at the Harvard Bookstore. I'll be tuned in for a good part of the afternoon, but sadly can't make the talk. I do have the new book, Listen to This, and am happily digging in. Even if you don't think you care about classical music, go check Alex out- he's more than worth your time.