Saturday, March 31, 2007


I try to avoid American Idol at all costs- I always thought it's musical cotton candy at best. At worst, it discourages any kind of musical creativity or inventiveness among it's contestants (the winners always seem to be students of the Michael Bolton/Celine Dion school of power balladry, only with weaker voices) and rehabilitates bad songs that probably shouldn't have been recorded in the first place. And then there's the indentured servitude part.

But when you teach 30+ teenagers it's hard to completely avoid. So I actually watched about 20 minutes of it this week. It's even more annoying for me in person. They cut up the songs, rarely good in the first place, into 1'30" chunks, which limits the agony but does nothing for the music. The lighting gives me a headache. And worst of all, the singers also seem to think pitch is limited to somewhere you play soccer.

I watched because the kids were talking about the contestent Sanjaya, the first person of subcontinental descent (he's Indian) to make it this far on the show, and by many accounts the worst contestant (period) since the infamous William Hung. Apparently in addition to his actual fans (there are some), and some folks in the Indian community prodded by ethnic pride (understandable), he's been buoyed by Howard Stern (!) and others who want to sabotage, or at least further camp up, the show. Salon's blog How the World Works picked it up yesterday, and the NY Times ran a fuller piece about it today (making it officially old news).

First, based on the performance I saw and the clips on the Idol website, Mr. Malakar is easily that bad. But I think I'll go vote for him this week. Why didn't anyone think of this before- the best way to get rid of these shows is to take them to their logical conclusion- if anyone can enter and win, then we might as well get anyone, and remind people why we pay to go to concerts and pay professionals to play at our events. I don't want to be a music snob, and I'm certainly all for amateur music. I'm just praying for better quality control. (And no, Simon Cowell doesn't count) Anything that will bring ink and attention away from these twits in the long run gets my vote. And this might do it.

That said, I can't believe I'm agreeing with Howard Stern.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sodom was filled with flatted fifths...

via Lindsey at Majikthise: A sermon/PowerPoint on music that does and doesn't praise God. The first little sax solo is priceless.

And my parents ask me why I stopped going to church...

P.S. title reminded me- did you know that more evangelicals think that Sodom and Gomorrah are a fornicatin' couple than a pair of cities? (sigh...)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

white to be wrong?

Interesting find today, relating vaguely to some of the conversations about jazz and race on the web recently. Hitting another side of black music and cultural appropriation, Salon solicited responses to the question "Does Joss Stone sound too black?" (Personally, I think Stone, who I like but don't love, is in the same lineage as Janice Joplin, blue-eyed soul, and pretty good at it) Reader responses posted today run the gamut, and are for the most part intelligent and informed. My favorite:

It all comes down to this: if a reviewer (or anyone else) hates the music that he is writing (ranting) about, or if the music is just too uncool for him to like (as Stone is in some hipster circles), then the musicians responsible "stole" the sound from someone much more brilliant who came before them. The audacity!

But if the reviewer actually likes the music, then those same musicians were merely "influenced" by artists of the past. How wise of them, how creative, to use the sounds of yore in the creation of their unique, modern vision.

-- Heidi

That sounds familiar...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

stay alive

Through my affiliation with CD Baby, I get e-mails from an outfit called JPF (just plain folk), a sort of crunchy/poppy netroots music marketing/advocacy group. I usually look it over and throw it away, but the following essay from the founder Brian caught my eye. I don't share his love for Boston's music, and don't know a thing about Brad Delp, but I share his sentiments otherwise (italics are mine):

"It was reported that fellow JPF member and Boston lead singer Brad Delp committed suicide at his home in a fairly planned out and awful way. Though I never had a chance to meet him in person, he had entered the JPF music awards with his duo Delp and Goudreau and I actually planned to try and make direct contact with him and Barry this year because I've been a long time fan and Boston was a seminal group for people my age (42). His soaring vocals are forever burned into my musical DNA. Sadly, his end wasn't as unusual as it should be. Suicide and the thoughts and emotions that lead to it are all too common in our industry. We often focus on the major names due to celebrity factors. While this may bring some attention to the issue briefly, once the news cycle runs, it disappears again quickly. I was very disappointed that the mainstream media made no attempt to use this tragic end to discuss resources for others out there facing the same illness. I am no doctor and I am no mental health professional. But I feel like I can't just move on from this topic while I know some of you reading this are suffering. Help does exist. Though I've had my share of health problems, I am fortunate that suicidal thoughts have not been one of them. My Grandfather, however, was not as lucky and killed himself when I was an adolescent after a series of debilitating strokes. For those of us lucky enough NOT to personally have these feelings, we should educate ourselves because it's likely someone in our family or friends are already or will some day be suffering from this. We all suffer at one time or another. All we can hope is that when we're not suffering, we're helping those who are and when we are, they'll return the favor. So here's my attempt to do some of that now.
If you are having suicidal thoughts (or have had them in the past), please call this toll free number 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you have transportation, you can also go to the local emergency room. Even if you don't have health insurance you can go and get treatment at any emergency room.
Here's a Q&A about Suicide and Depression that everyone should read:
Here's what you should do if you know someone else is suicidal:
You can get all sorts of information and help at these sites:

One of the best resources to deal with musicians and mental health I have ever come across is a grassroots facility in Athens, Georgia called Nuci's Space. It's an amazing facility created by the mother of a 22 year old suicide victim named Nuci. We've written about them before, but it's worth repeating here. They offer mental health and other medical support services for musicians without health insurance. I haven't come across anything else like it in the 9 years I've been running JPF. Visit their site at
Most of us can't really understand how you might be feeling, but it doesn't mean we don't care and we don't want to help you. Just as we'd want to help you if you had cancer or heart disease or alcoholism. All these things are physical illnesses and though not everyone can be cured, everyone CAN get treatment and help. Please don't hesitate to seek help. All of us need a little help now and then. We can't afford to lose another musical genius and more importantly, we can't afford to lose another friend.

If you are having suicidal thoughts (or have had them in the past), please call this toll free number 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you have transportation, you can also go to the local emergency room. Even if you don't have health insurance you can go and get treatment at any emergency room.Here's a Q&A about Suicide and Depression that everyone should read:'s what you should do if you know someone else is suicidal: can get all sorts of information and help at these sites: of the best resources to deal with musicians and mental health I have ever come across is a grassroots facility in Athens, Georgia called Nuci's Space. It's an amazing facility created by the mother of a 22 year old suicide victim named Nuci. We've written about them before, but it's worth repeating here. They offer mental health and other medical support services for musicians without health insurance. I haven't come across anything else like it in the 9 years I've been running JPF. Visit their site at of us can't really understand how you might be feeling, but it doesn't mean we don't care and we don't want to help you. Just as we'd want to help you if you had cancer or heart disease or alcoholism. All these things are physical illnesses and though not everyone can be cured, everyone CAN get treatment and help. Please don't hesitate to seek help. All of us need a little help now and then. We can't afford to lose another musical genius and more importantly, we can't afford to lose another friend."

On a note more along recent lines, JPF have a much different take on the internet radio rate increase that I mentioned last week. Again, from them (italics mine):

"I planned to cover this in more depth, but I just want to let all JPF members know that the hysteria over the new Sound Exchange Internet Royalty rates are no reason to panic. I was initially shocked, but then I had a talk with Jenny Toomey of the Future of Music Coalition and I understood what was going on. This rate is a GOOD thing. Many of you many not realize that in the US, Radio Stations do not pay a Performance Royalty like they do in nearly every other Western Civilization in the world. That means that all the income that ARTISTS make from Radio in other countries for Radio Play isn't paid to US Artists. And because of that, no foreign artists get paid either for US Airplay, so those countries retaliate and don't pay the US Artists for airplay in their countries either! It's unfair but Radio was able to get away with it many years ago and it stuck. If Madonna does a song she didn't write and it goes #1, she doesn't make a dime from airplay. It sucks. But the good news is that as music shifts to Digital/Satellite and Internet Radio, everyone will now get paid who performs on a song or owns the copyright of the recording. (You'll also still get your songwriter royalties from the PRO's). In the next decade, that is going to start becoming a major source of income for every artist who get's airplay. This is setting the foundation for that. So why the panic? Small hobby level or non commercial Internet Radio stations can't possibly pay the new fees. Small commercial operations are also in danger. But Jenny explained to me that it's likely there will be waivers for non commercial stations or at least a small blanket license fee. There may also be options for small broadcasters to share a % of their income so it's affordable to keep going. It's not in anyone's interest to shut down the little guys (except perhaps the major players who want less competition) and fortunately we have a representative on the Board of Sound Exchange from the Future of Music Coalition (and he's a brilliant guy and a good friend of the JPF Organization). I am confident a reasonable resolution will be made and it will allow folks to continue playing music they love, exposing new and developing writers and artists and helping nudge everyone into the next generation of the music industry. So take a deep breath and be a little patient while the details come out."

I don't know what I make of this yet, and I think we need to be very alert to the details that follow. Especially with this administration's aversion to the little guy, I'll believe the waiver rhetoric when I see the piece of paper. If "likely" doesn't get written into the new rules unambiguously and clearly, this is a bad idea IMHO. So let's stay diligent, and noisy, and work to see a win/win solution here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tweek my tweeters

Odds n'ends from music heard on a Monday morning:

- My god Paul Desmond does play beautiful. The radio this morning was playing some Brubeck I didn't recognize (which is most of it). I've never liked Brubeck's music; I think his touch is terrible, his time on this recording was suspect, and Joe Morello couldn't swing from a tree- but there on top of it is Desmond, every note perfect, redeeming every track he's on. Every time I hear him I'm reminded of Coltrane's comment about Stan Getz- "Let's face it, we'd all sound like that if we could."

- Say what you want about ECM records, but do they ever know how to record a piano. This morning I had the luxury of the yoga studio to myself for an hour, so I listened to the Gismonte/Haden Magico record and some of Michael Cain's Circa. The speakers we have are really great Bose surround numbers, and it really drove home to me how good a piano can sound on record- it captured the whole instrument, the variety of the attacks, etc. I know Manfred is very good and very particular, and not every record should sound like an ECM record, but can it be THAT hard to record a piano effectively?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rolling on, and on, and on...

The previously mentioned Matana Roberts blog is now on the blogroll. Also added is the Improvising Guitarist blog, which I have to check out more fully. Darcy, in his last post before hiatus, gives a nice roundup of some of the highlights. I'm sad to see Darcy hit the pause button, but glad there's so much work for him. (And that, since he has a weekend gig in May, I can go down and hear some of it)

Another post also touches on (or is it pokes at) Wynton Marsalis' new album and press appearances of late. I've been happily surprised by how little I've seen about Plantation to the Penitentiary on the blogs; I think the non-response is a good sign. I've heard only a little of the album (you can preview it via Blue Note's site), so I shouldn't say to much. But that won't stop me... the track that has gotten the most attention in the press has been "Where Y'all At", where Wynton (gasp) raps. Except he doesn't really rap per se- the sprechtima (sp) he gives on the track has much more to do with the black preaching tradition or black freestyle poetry than it does with hip-hop. That's not a criticism- let's just call a spade a spade. Or- to paraphrase Jack Black- it's a Cosby rapper, a COSSBEE rapper.

That said, what I've heard of the album, including that track, strikes me on first glance as high-quality, low creativity, and ultimately too heavy-handed to be effective. (Wynton doesn't share as much with his idol Ellington as he'd like, but he definitely shares his inability to write an effective lyric) Current listening is that other heavyweight Monette playing trumpeter, the one I'd much rather hear, Ron Miles, and his recent "Stone/Blossom". Review is forthcoming.

the black Irish

As has been mentioned elsewhere, Matana Roberts is blogging about her current music/geneology project at Shadows of a People. At her gig at Stone she told the story in her first post (handsome man at Whole Foods)- I have to admit at the time I found it disconcerting and uncomfortable on the gig, but fleshed out on the page it makes a lot more sense.

One story tangentially related to the post about her connection to a Irish judge in Tennessee. As one who grew up in a fairly Irish community, "black Irish" actually means something pretty different. (By American standards it's a bit of a misnomer) The story goes that when the Spanish Armada lost to the British in the 18th century (?) several ships landed/washed up on the west coast of Ireland, and the sailors settled in those villages. So, on the west coast you have a fair number of folks who have much darker hair and eyes (and tan better) than the rest of their brethren. My grandmother had jet black hair and dark brown eyes, features I inherited; my grandfather was much more stereotypically redheaded and freckled. (My grandfathers other two prominent features were premature baldness and a healthy very old age- I know I got the first, I'm rooting for the second.) I think the Irish (at least Irish-americans) like to think that that's as far as blackness got on the Emerald Isle (there's another essay there), at least until the last decade or so. But as Matana mentions, if you shake the tree hard enough...

But I know that's not what she was talking about... The most recent post is a doozy, I'm still wrapping my head around it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Celebrity stalking the celery

When I lived in New York, celebrity sightings were no big deal; in fact, in my experience New Yorkers seemed to pride themselves on leaving people alone if they saw them on the street. I tried to do that, probably because I only seemed to bump into B-grade celebrities. In Boston, since seeing stars in person is less common, it's a little different...

Last night on my way home from teaching, I stopped at Whole Foods in Hingham for a bite. On walking in, there comparing carrots is Steven Tyler, Aerosmith frontman and famous local. (He lives three towns away from Hingham) It was just fairly... incongruous. I thought the two of the clerks (in suburban Whole Foods, apparently, they hire normal teenagers, not the twenty-ish hipsters you get in Boston) were going to faint. The third was blase: "Oh, c'mon, he and (football coach and local hero Bill) Belicheck are here all the time. Get over it."

Two observations- he's actually more normal looking in person than he is on television, not quite as drawn. And the way he stalks around on stage- that just seems to be the way he walks. He walked that way (pardon the allusion) back and forth across the produce aisle.

If this is excitement, I clearly need to get out more...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

drops in the bucket

My rececnt reading:

Salon picks up the story on internet radio, a little late but very thoroughly. If you haven't called your congressperson (and I admit, I'm slow too), please do it. This one may need an act of Congress, which is a long shot without a lot of noise.

Mwanji on being black and playing- and listening- out. (2 parts) Heavy stuff right here.

On a happier note, happy spring! (12 hours away in this time zone) Can't come soon enough- as soon as the snow melts I start gardening- a new plot of land this year, which will probably change things, but the soil is so good around here it's hard to screw it up. Won't stop me from finding a way...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Do they give grants for indie cred?

Much good chatter continues on the web about "the audience problem", or whatever you want to call it. See Darcy's recent post and the comments, prompted by Ben Ratliff's review of Zorn and Taylor at Lincoln Center.

One problem, it seems to me, is that there is an urge among many "jazz" musicians to be pulling in two directions at once. On one hand, we want the grants, institutions and funding that comes with "highbrow" culture, since on some level we know that our ambition for our music most often can or will not be supported by the marketplace. On the other hand, we play a music that, moreso than most "art" musics, has been tied intimately with pop culture from the get go, and indeed WAS the pop music for periods of its history. So we want Taylor Ho Bynum and Charlie Kohlhase and Jane Ira Bloom getting grants, but we want to be at the pop clubs opening for Tortoise and Arcade Fire too.

I'm not sure it's really a problem, and I certainly don't think that the two goals are mutually exclusive, but I hear both conversations tied together, and I think untangling them is useful.

When Roscoe Mitchell came to Boston he talked some about how the AACM started in Chicago. Two things struck me: 1. he made it sound fairly organic. Muhal Richard Abrams had a rehearsal large ensmemble, and groups started to grow out of that larger group. They shared common interests and common needs, and eventually started to put on concerts, etc. It was very much a bottom up enterprise, which of course later did win grants, make records, etc.
2. It started very specific to Chicago, as did the BAG (St. Louis) and other groups of that type. Thirty years later the Jazz Composers' Collective, coming from a very different esthetic, did the same thing in New York, with some real success. But again, there was a specificity of time and place.

This point is so obvious that often we miss it. You can't approach the audience in a suburban/ex-urban landscape of, say, Jacksonville or Rochester the same way you approach a hipster hot spot like Brooklyn or Berkeley. The venue in Albequerque that Doug Ramsey sites recently in his blog is a lot easier to get off the ground someplace where real estate prices are reasonable. In Boston, owning a space, even a fifty or seventy seat space, is a seven-figure investment just to secure space.

My point, if there is one, is that I don't see a "movement" coming the way many of us pine for one. Rather, if success is going to come, it's going to come one small organization, one concert series at a time. Hopefully, the web can serve as a center of communication, a display case for best practices, and a library for old and new musical ideas, but by itself it can't fuel the movement.

This conversation is more than theoretical for all of us, obviously. I look at the particular problems of the Boston scene. There is a local jazz blog, Brilliant Corners blog, that spills many words, not always coherent, about problems and bright spots of the Boston scene. I don't share his antipathy for the schools, but they do eat an overwhelming amount of the attention (Berklee) and artistic activity (NEC) that other artists want to (and deserve to) see.

I'm at a point where I'm thinking of ways to contribute beyond simply playing- I don't intend to move back to New York, and simply teaching isn't enough. My enduring feeling is that we badly need more venues, and more accessible venues. I love the Lily Pad, but Inman Square is a pain to get to, and I don't want to deal with pay for play forever. And I agree completely with Darcy that the best way to get a young audience is to show them that the music is very much alive, not a museum piece. I'm starting to kick around ideas, business plans, etc- advice and encouragement is appreciated. More soon.

Friday, March 16, 2007


One of the joys of working with kids is you pick up their energy, their enthusiam... and their viruses. I am recovering from an ugly little stomach flu. At least it's the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball tournament, always a pleasant waste of time. (Go, Holy Cross!) Blogging will resume by Monday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

imagining Mumbai

Seane Corn, a favorite yoga teacher of mine who I've blogged about at length in the past, is currently in India working with YouthAIDS, a remarkable global initiative for AIDS prevention, care and education. She is blogging about it for Yoga Journal- her first long post details her sort of backing into this work by volunteering to teach yoga to child prostitutes in California. I look forward to reading more.

An opinion about what?

First, my sincere apologies to Doug Ramsey for spelling his name wrong in my last post. I'm embarrased, but the error is corrected.

I thought about the quote below when I read Vijay Iyer’s piece “Uncertainty Principles” last week. Vijay's article has really been really making the rounds in the blogosphere. Below is an excerpt from an less recent (1997) interview with one of my mentors, pianist Michael Cain, for the site (The full interview is no longer there, sadly) Michael has toured and/or recorded with Jack DeJohnette, Stanley Turrenting, Bobby Previte, Robin Eubanks, Carlos Ward, Steps Ahead, Meshell N’Degeocello, and many, many others. He has released several CDs under his own name, notably Circa on ECM in 1996. He has taught at CalArts and Eastman, and is currently on faculty at New England Conservatory. Some has changed since he said this, but a lot hasn't

Jazz Online: How would you describe the American attitude towards jazz?

Michael Cain: I don’t know how to answer that question for several reasons, but first would be because I don’t exactly know what jazz is… I wander through the “jazz” section of my local record store. I often wonder what binds all these different kinds of music together. Kenny G is in the same section with Cecil Taylor, who is also in the same section as Dinah Washington, John Zorn and Fats Waller. What is there to have an attitude towards?

However, if by “jazz” you mean young males playing music which sounds, on its surface, similar to black American music of the 1940s, 50s and mid-60s, I think America is fine with that. I don’t know if that’s “jazz” or not but it seems to have been the defining paradigm for the last fifteen years or so. In my thinking, the associations I have of jazz contain some qualities such as inventiveness, courage, uniqueness, etc., qualities which I tend not to associate with what’s often marketed as jazz these days. For me jazz requires some personal statement beyond a cliché. It requires the musician be willing to enter into unknown terrains. It means not just having a sense of what came before you but who you are now, at this very moment. It means following the creative impulse wherever it goes and really no matter who digs it or not. If we are talking about jazz having those qualities I would say that America is very hostile towards that… Creativity seems to provoke hostility and fear in people who have not themselves connected with that element in their own lives. That is not just an American condition but a human one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is the IAJE bad for Jazz?

For quite some time, I've been meaning to write a contrarian piece about the IAJE, probably since the annual conference in January, but never got around to it. So I was grateful to see notable jazz critic Doug Ramsey pick up the idea in his blog Rifftides, from his recent experience at the Lionel Hampton Festival in Idaho. His basic question: how is it that jazz education is booming by seemingly every measure, but the jazz audience continues to decline? Mae sure to read the comments there is much of value in both his post and the responses, but I want to step back and take a different tack to the question.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I think it's safe to say that at some point in the 1980s, maybe earlier, the center of gravity in the jazz world, financially and intellectually, though not musically, moved from clubs, record companies and musicians organizations like the AACM and BAG to educational institutions, with the International Association of Jazz Educators (or IAJE, the umbrella organization for now thousands of primary, secondary and collegiate jazz programs) and later Jazz at Lincoln Center the two largest. It's not simply a jazz neo-con phenomenon, either- Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, and Roscoe Mitchell among others are now based at large universities, and the School for Improvised Music in Brooklyn is a decidedly left-of-center alternative/addition to young players' options. In many ways, we now have something of a patronage system for jazz much like the classical world had in the 18th century, with the schools replacing the aristocrats.

One major, and/or related consequence of this shift is now most of the up and coming young players have come through some sort of jazz academic program. Most of the great players under 40 on many of jazz's mini-scenes- from Brad Meldhau to Ralph Alessi to Taylor Ho Bynum to Darcy Argue to Wynton's hot young drummer Ali Jackson to (insert name here). This is a very real shift from even twenty years ago, when most of the hot up and comers- Wynton, Kenny Garrett, Dave Douglas, etc. were still mostly getting their training on the road. (people seem to forget that Dave toured with Horace Silver, but I digress...)

There are two related but not identical issues here- what this institutionalization of jazz does or doesn't do for jazz's popularity, accessibility, etc, and what two generations of academized players (of which, of course, I'm one) does to the music and its audience. Vijay Iyer says some interesting and very provocative things about #2 in a recent piece I highly recommend. I'll come to #2 later, but want to focus in this post on #1.

There are certainly advantages to this move to academia, and I don't want to downplay them. A college teaching gig offers stability and fair wages (often, not always) for the musicians who teach at these schools, the opportunity for unusual and creative programming that clubs and even festivals don't allow (evenings of new music by student big band composers, album concerts of Mingus or Hemphill, concerts that juxtapose Bird with his classical idols, etc.), a safe space for young players to work out ideas and identities, etc. And through high school and now junior high music programs, a lot of kids are exposed to some form of jazz that may never be otherwise, especially with the current state of Big Media.

There are also, obviously, obvious drawbacks to this system, drawbacks that have more than a little to do with the disconnect that Doug Ramsay calls out. The first is not limited to the IAJE, or J@LC, or jazz- any institution's first priority becomes the survival and success of the institution. If there were a choice between the health of the IAJE and the health of jazz (as if you could measure such a thing), the IAJE would win every time. This is the nature of organizations. The IAJE's first priority is to its board and member organizations, who may or not be active musicians. This lessens the incentive, even subconsciously, for the IAJE to address the commercial decline of jazz, lack of real-life performance venues, etc. as long it can point to its own growth and programming as a sure sign of jazz's health.

As jazz gets more institutionalized, it becomes less connected to the real commercial marketplace. This is important- as long as the fulcrum of a music is a commercial label, then finding an audience, communicating and developing and marketing talent is important to that fulcrum. When the music is not beholden to a popular audience, but to academic bosses and grant boards, is there any wonder that it's not selling as many records. Alex Ross spends much time and space in his blog cataloguing new and interesting approaches to presenting and subsidizing classical music, and building new audiences. There is no equivalent to that kind of innovation (or certainly not on that scale) in the jazz world. Partially, I think, because the IAJE and its ilk wants to believe that everything is OK. (See Peter Breslin's deconstruction of the NEA/J@LC's recent "curriculum advice" if you need further evidence.)

Case in point, the IAJE's world headquarters is in Manhattan... Kansas. In a college town, yes (Kansas State), but a college with, according to its website, a full-time jazz faculty of... one. A little town an hour from any real city (Kansas City), and three hours from any town with a scene to speak of (St. Louis). Miles away, and light years in headspace, from any real center of music or musical thought, by any measure, in America- NYC, Chicago, Denver, LA, Boston, Miami, you name it. In other words, about as far away from the real successes, problems, and struggles of the average jazz musician as you can be.

(An aside- I was talking to one of my fellow yogis- a sharp, hip twenty-something woman- at a studio yesterday, and we got to talking about what I do. When I mentioned "jazz" or something similar, she got very excited, and mentioned Mehldau's Radiohead covers, Dave Douglas' "Infinite" album with the Bjork and Wainright covers, and a project called Radiodread. Partially since I was in the middle of writing this post, it really struck me. I'm not saying that Wynton needs to run out and make his Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tribute album, but this woman will buy records, and go to concerts, and wants to be engaged...)

And if you're far away physically, it allows you to be far away philosophically. I'll borrow (again) from Darcy's comment on Ramsey's piece:

"Most of these students learn that jazz is something that happened in the past, and in fact the way to do well at these competitions is to faithfully recreate historical styles. A lot of talented high school and college band directors never program anything more adventurous than Thad Jones -- or worse, third-rate Thad Jones knock-offs. [This is not to knock Thad, of course -- I love Thad.] Many of them are completely unaware of any developments in jazz since, say, 1967, and aren't even aware of what's going on locally."

Nate Chinen's aforementioned Times piece talks about the fact that the Gordon Goodwin band, never seen on concert tours or mentioned in jazz magazines, are celebrities at these youth jazz festivals. His charts are well written and well played, but are mostly warmed over, more jocular versions of Basie or Herman charts. This level of disconnect, that jazz is something you do at school, rather than something you listen to or talk about with your friends or, God forbid, see in concerts, is what allows this great disconnect between education system and audience to persist. I think historical recreation of great jazz charts is a worthwhile enterprise, especially in school. (I think the J@LC's best contribution to the music world is making original, accurate Ellington charts widely available) But it can't be ALL they do, as is too often the case.

Most jazz teachers that I've met at the high school and junior high are pretty good to very good musicians, and heroically hard-working educators, who are teaching jazz the way they had it taught to them in high school. Which is driving sideways. (I talked some about this on one of my degeneration x posts. Skip to the last third, which starts with "The rise of jazz education...) And I have worked with and know some educators who present a wide variety of music, including commissions (Ned Corman's Commission Project is wonderful, even when I hate some of the product. We need more like it) A couple have even played my music, for which I'm very grateful. But I fear too many students are taught to view jazz as a museum piece, fun to visit for a few hours a week, but not someplace you live.

And I don't think the IAJE does much to combat this problem, and often contributes to it.

I'll pickup on Vijay's piece, and the fallout it's produced- related to this in my head at least- next time...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

cleaner communiques

I am working on a (much) longer post at present, and transcribing the first round of Behearer interviews. But in the meantime...

I have recently been having problems with my e-mail, so I just changed servers. My address remains pat (AT) visionsong (DOT) com. Hopefully this will work better. I am also reachable via the comments section here- I do screen comments to weed out spam. It hasn't been a problem lately, but there was a while where more than 50% of the comments were selling something I don't think most of my readers really want. I try to get things up within a day of receiving them.

A belated welome to Soundslope on the blogroll, a nice collection of essays in and around the Chicago scene. One of these days I'm going to spend a month out there- it seems like such a happening place...

My next gig as a leader will be on April 23 at the Lily Pad in Cambridge. Details forthcoming...

Friday, March 09, 2007

John Hollenbeck @ the Lily Pad

Briefly, John Hollenbeck kicks a*@! I saw the sold-out hit in Cambridge tonight, a split between the Reufge Trio with Gary Versace and Theo Bleckman, and the Claudia Quintet (Chris Speed, Ted Reichman, Jon Hebert, Matt Moran) and everyone was mezmerized. The Refuge trio is a gem, understated without being too floaty, and driven without ever feeling heacy. Versace switched back and forth between piano and Nord, and his Impressionistic, arpeggio heavy approach contrasted beautifully with Hollenbeck's very focused drumming (and melodica playing). And words can't really describe Theo Bleckman- every sound you think the human voice can make, and a few you didn't think of. Anyone who thinks "out" paying can't be straight up beautiful (and pretty) needs to hear this group. His setting of a short poem about a silo burning down was especially haunting.

And Claudia quintet, just go buy one of their CDs now. You owe it to yourself. Or, if you're within 100 miles, they'll be back at the Lily Pad tomorrow evening. Get there early- theres'a duo set with Jon and Djorrit Dykstra and a new trio with Versace and Hebert, then more Claudia. I won't be there, but that's no excuse.

the price of war

Lindsay Beyerstein continues her writing for Salon today with an interview with photojournalist Nina Bermanabout her award-winning photos of a newleywed couple, one of whom was severely injured and disfigured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. I saw the wedding portrait on Lindsay's blog, and it was haunting, distrubing, moving... any adjective you can think of.

Berman comments about how this photo brings the cost of war home, especially to those of us who don't know any soldiers there. In many small towns across America, especially in "red states", this is the reality of coming home- warriors who return without limbs, without faces, and really without anything to show for their sacrifice. Both sides of the war debate have seized on these photos to advance their position, and they'll argue much more eloquently than I can at present. But...

I reckon that Ty Ziegel is the kind of guy I went out of my way to avoid in high school (if berman's description is accurate), and not the kind of guy I'd enjoy having a drink with, regardless of how he looks. But, I have nothing but respect and admiration for his (and his wife's) sacrifice, their courage and determination. And his picture only makes me madder about the war. As I mentioned previously, I do have a neighbor who will be in Iraq soon, a 19-year old Marine. In his pre-war life he was not exactly a model citizen, and probably still isn't, but no one, NO ONE, deserves what Ty Ziegel and thousands of his comrades (and enemies, frankly) got, and the pain he endures, especially for what appears more and more to be a lost cause. I'm scared S*&%tless that that's how I'll see my neighbor a year from now. It makes me more certain that the best way through the war is getting out, NOW.

One link for those who can't wait for 1.20.09- maybe you shouldn't wait that long to start a personal purge...

beck and call

First, happy birthday Ornette Coleman! I didn't know he is also a Pisces. Clearly, there is something fishy about us alto players...

As if last night's hit at NEC, wasn't enough, John Hollenbeck will spend the next two evenings playing music with different groups at the Lily Pad in Cambridge, with three different units. The schedule:

March 9th $15 (or $10 for each set)
7:30pm The Refuge Trio (Theo Bleckmann-voice, Gary Versace-piano/keyboards, John Hollenbeck-drums/percussion)
8:30 pm The Claudia Quintet (Ted Reichman-accordion, Chris Speed-tenor sax/clar., Matt Moran-vibes, John Hebert-bass, John Hollenbeck-drums/composition)

March 10th $15 (or $10 for each set)
7pm Jorrit Dikstra/John Hollenbeck Duo
7:45pm Triple Dutch (Gary Versace-piano, John Hebert-bass, John Hollenbeck-drums)
8:30pm The Claudia Quintet

These days, $15 for this is a steal. I'm planning to be there tonight- the last time I saw Claudia was in 1997 at, when Drew Gress, not old friend Jon Hebert was still on bass. I think it may sound a little different now...

I didn't catch all of last night's big band hit, but what I saw was fun, highlighted by Theo Bleckmans amazing vocalizing and my occasional bandmate Lucy Railton's cello solo on the "Joys and Desires" suite. One thought I had was how integral John is to the big band, as both conductor, conceiver and drummer- unlike Maria Schneider or Bob for instance, I'm not sure how well the music would hang together if he weren't there. (I hasten to add that since I haven't seen scores, I could be blowing smoke.)

Later that evening (11-ish) Lake Street Dive, featuring homegirl Bridget Kearney, brings its folky weirdness to the Milky Way in JP. A (rare) busy musical evening here for me- good times.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Action points

A couple of action points for the day:

(Via Salon) The Wall Street Journal reports today on a change that could all but obliterate internet radio, including Pandora and NPR. The MO of the Republican party regarding media is clear- more consolodation, and less choices controlled by fewer people. Which, of course, equals a less informed, less thinking populace, who is more willing to do what they're told. (I also see this in their solely testing-focused approach to education, but that's another column.) Good for moguls, bad for listeners, and really the nation as a whole. American readers, please call and e-mail your congressperson and Senator NOW- this one can easily get passed by by "bigger issues", to our peril.

Addendum: In fairness, I should not that the current wave of consolidations, especially in media and the like, started in the Clinton Administration, who rarely met a merger it didn't like. It has been made substantially worse, though, by Michael Powell and those who followed him into the FCC. But it's not just a republican thing.

Darcy points to the New York Times piece about bassist Tarik Shaw, jailed for alleged terrorist activities, and his brother Antione Dowdell. I can't comment on the case- David Adler's blog has had fuller coverage- but I am very skeptical of most of the Bush administration's prosecutions of "terrorist sympathizers". Outside the Padilla case, I've yet to see one where there was anything but the flimsiest of cases (and the Padilla evidence is not exactly ironclad either), and the way they manhandled Padilla's rights made that case much more dubious as well. I was working from Miami when the Justice Dept. did a "big bust" down there, and once you got past the headline the case was beyond silly- literally teenagers talking big and playing with matches. It's well past time we demand equal protection for these defendents- if they're guilty, try them and send them far away, by all means. But if this is just more fear mongering, don't waste our time and tax dollars.

John Hollenbeck tonight in Boston, and links

First, I will be over at NEC tonight hearing the one and only John Hollenbeck present a concert of his large ensemble music. I've never heard this stuff live, so I'm excited. Theo Bleckman will be helping out by making unusual noises with his mouth. And singing too...

Best of the recent jazzweb- I hope to pick up on some of these strains soon.

Greg Tate on the state of black jazz.

Vijay Iyer talks about the scene.
I don't love everything of Vijay's I hear, but my respect and admiration grows for him seemingly monthly.
Doug Ramsay wonders about jazz education. Doug asks the (multi) million dollar question. The responses are also worthwhile, Darcy's being my favorite, not surprisingly.

Current listening- Mingus, "Tiajuana Moon" and Jason Moran, "Modernistic", courtesy of WHRB. They have a nice habit of playing several songs from a single album at a clip. Mingus is always nuts, never out of control- I love that. I wish more jazz shows, and music stations in general, would.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

pretty stars were made to shine

An aside while working on the heavier stuff- yesterday afternoon I took a yoga class (I won't say where), and one of the young women behind me was wearing a typical yoga outfit, except with a shiny, sparkly, blingy bright green belt. I nearly fell out of my down dog. Initially, I thought this was absurd and a little bit crazy, but then I thought, "why not"? One of the reasons a lot of people do yoga (myself included) is to shine, to (re)create the part of ourselves that glows from the inside. If wearing it on the outside helps it along, who am I to say boo about it? Why not shine in any way possible?

That said, I won't be doing it myself anytime soon... green is just not my color.

I liked Sarah's yoga bit today.

Speaking of green, silly youtube moment of the day, Debbie Harry and... Kermit the Frog. (p.s. I just downloaded the Willie Nelson version of this tune, which in all seriousness is killin')

Monday, March 05, 2007


Thanks to everyone who came out to the hit at the Lily Pad last night. We had a lot of fun, and I think surprised ourselves in the process, which is always a good thing. (Ask anyone who was there- Lucy's stare of death during Ramblin', and the amazing solo that followed, was probably the highlight of the evening.) Hopefully, I'll be back there soon, so stay tuned.

It was also a very pleasant surprise to be followed on the bandstand by old friend and phenomenal singer Sunny Kim. An early morning kept me from hearing everything, but what I saw was, as always, unusual, ethereal and haunting.

We did record the proceedings, and I will post highlights shortly. And now that we've celebrated Behearer, it's time to actually do some work on it.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pat Donaher & behearer band at Lily Pad, Sunday 3/4, 8pm

From the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion:

Pat Donaher and behearer band
with the Dov Manski Quartet
Lily Pad, 1393 Cambridge Street,
Inman Square, Cambridge (near the fire station corner, next to the Druid)
Dov and co. go on at 7. We hit at 8:15 or so.

After our rehearsal last night, I am really pumped about the gig, and the music. We'll be playing a couple of tunes culled from the front lines of the behearer list, most notably Julius Hemphill's seminal Dogon AD. (I hope to write more about the tune soon, as transcribing and rehearsing it was very interesting. We were talking in rehearsal last night- does anyone know what the title alludes to?) We'll also be playing several tunes from "Ear of the Behearer", the Dewey Redman record that the project takes its name from. The album is interesting in the way it bounces back and forth from crazy-free tunes to fairly (but not quite) inside-sounding forms. We'll also play a ballad I wrote for Dewey (still struggling with the title), and "Ramblin'" by Ornette Coleman, Dewey's mentor, fellow Fort Worth native, and hero.

Now, they who will kick my ass on Sunday evening:

Jason Palmer- trumpet. This is my first chance to work with Jason, but not for lack of wanting. He is a fantastic, versitile kick-ass trumpet player, and a beautiful, quite guy. (quiet for a trumpet player, anyway) Best known for his work with Greg Osby and Matana Roberts, he also leads the only jam session I'll frequent regularly, Sunday afternoon at Wally's.

Bridget Kearney- bass. Bridge is one of my favorite local bass players, winner of more awards than I care to think about, and lots of fun at parties. (You can also see her with her more regular project Lake Street Dive next weekend at the Milky Way, in my neck of the woods.

Lucy Railton- cello. I met Lucy through Bridget, but it turns out that she runs in the same circles in London as my old friend (and No Sale Value bassist) Tom Mason. Auspicious company, and a more than worthy constituent. (Did I mention how cool it is to play with a cellist? I'm beside myself in a giddy, not quite age-appropriate kind of way) Lucy is often seen locally with the band Vroom.

Thor Thorvalldson returns from the last hit to hit happily things with wooden sticks. And so I'm not the only bald guy in the band.

It'll be great to hear Dov again as well. He subbed in my now-defunct band Lift a few years ago when he was a mere NEC pup, but I since he's grown into a local A-list pianist.

Tell your friends, warn your enemies, and I hope to see you there,