Wednesday, October 27, 2010

RIP Billy Ruane

This comes as both a shock and not a surprise, sadly- the Boston Globe is reporting that local music booker, promoter and raconteur Billy Ruane was found dead yesterday at the age of 52. (here and here) To call Billy an oversized personality is a tremendous understatement. I was introduced to Billy in 1999 when I was trying to book gigs in Boston from New York to promote my first CD, with a band that included now Crooked Still bassist Corey DiMario and onetime NYC hots*&t drummer Michael Plunkett. (For better or worse, Michael and I both moved on from New York) I don't remember the content of Billy and I's first conversation, but it was frenetic and heartfelt, incomprehensible except for the passion he had for all music, and that day my music, and sure enough he came through with a date at the Green Street Grille for my band Demodacus. And we had an great gig with an okay door, not amazing, but he made sure we had enough money to get us back to New York. (He didn't bank on the blizzard we drove into, but that's another story. A story I think Billy would've taken credit for if he could've)

Judging by the tributes in the Globe, Billy was a friend to many in different realms of Boston's musical world, and he was certainly a friend to the jazz and avant community. The series he I played that he was involved in included many local and national left-of-center jazz names, and I'm sure that was hardly the only propers he did for our kin. I say not a surprise because the last time I saw Billy was around last Christmas at a Jennifer Kimball gig at the Lizard Lounge. He was his usual gregarious self, but a little out of control, and I was scared from him that night and beyond.

The Boston scene used to be filled with Billy Ruanes- mercurial, difficult people who believed passionately in the music they liked, who would drive you crazy one day and give you the coat off their back the next. I'm lucky to know a few of them. They channel their eccentricities for the good of many artists great and small, and we are a little smaller when they leave us. Billy, I hope your next ride is as wild as this one was!

Monday, October 18, 2010

I didn't get to see

A colleague from my NEC days wrote on his Facebook recently about his disappointment with a recent gig at Johnny D's in Somerville. He was touring with John Tchai, the great and underrated saxophonist who has a huge boosted here in Boston in the now nearly legendary Charlie Kohlhase. My friend (name withheld to protect the guilty) said something to the effect of "I can't believe how bad the crowd was for the gig. Boston is a lame city- no band, in any genre, should bother to even come here."

I was disappointed- in the unnecessary bitchiness of the comment more than a little bit (that's another post), but more that I DIDN'T KNOW THE GIG WAS HAPPENING! I would've hyped it, and tried to get there- Johnny D's is a fun, intimate venue that I've always enjoyed, and Tchai is a great player. And if I, who follows the papers and the blogosphere, who periodically get e-mails from publicists to hype a gig (publicists, feel free, I don't mind the spam), who wants live music in Boston to thrive, doesn't see it, God help the NEC kid who should be at the gig.
Press has gotten harder, no doubt. I read the Boston Globe online now, where I have to hunt out listings instead of just turning the page. And I'm rarely at the music schools or record stores where the signs are up, but still, I feel like it shouldn't be that hard to find me, an excited jazz consumer. And Boston's scene still leaves much to be desired, as I've mentioned before. But that in and of itself isn't a sufficient excuse.

So rather than gnash my teeth, what am I missing here? Are there more blogs I should be reading and don't to get gig recommendations? Thoughts? I'm all ears

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Link Dump- Levine being Manny?

This was too good not to mention- the arts blogger at compares James Levine and his uncertain contract status to... Manny Ramirez? I don't know where to start...

Destination Out has a great set of Steve Lacy/Evan Parker duos, on sale at their new shop! Congrats to the guys on their fantastic new ventures, and buy it already, will ya?

And Ethan Iverson continues his great interview series with the legendary Gunther Schuller. It's worth the long read, even if Schuller is just a name on the sleeve of "Birth of the Cool" to you. I don't know Gunther personally, though Ran Blake still considers himself Gunther's student, and one of my colleagues in my time at NEC, Eric Hewitt, served as his assistant for a number of years. Even now, according to them, his energy is amazing, and he is more impassioned and engaged in his work than most folks half his age.

Reading the interview brought up very mixed feelings about Gunther that I hadn't thought about for awhile. He is, of course, a peerless musician, with insanely good ears, and in his day was probably the best French horn player in the world. As president of New England Conservatory, he probably did more than anyone to try to bring the full spectrum of the jazz tradition to music schools. I continue to be so grateful for the small-c catholic vision of jazz that NEC teaches, where eminent musicians who probably can't agree on anything teach next to each other, and have for years. Personally, I find his writing like Elliot Carter's- clearly brilliant, but inscrutable and often way too dense for my ears.

The but... I remember in a workshop on jazz history at Eastman a visiting musician read a paragraph of Schuller's Early Jazz describing a seminal Louis Armstrong piece, and then a paragraph of Armstrong talking about making music. The language, the tone, the approach were not even on the same planet. In, I believe, an attempt to legitimize the brilliance of the musicians he clearly adores, he placed their music in a context they wouldn't even recognize. It may too have something to do with the patrician world Schuller had to function in as a classical musician. This disconnect between process and study, while almost inevitable in the arts, always struck me as a particularly acute problem in jazz education, and here may be the beginnings of it. (I should note that I think things here are better in many quarters than they were even ten years ago)

I'm not trying to dis Gunther Schuller here at all- for one, I don't have near the requisite credentials, and two, the brilliance and impact of his work is undeniable. But those who read this blog regularly know that the impact of jazz education on the music and culture of jazz is one of my bugaboos, and Schuller is in many ways the first king of jazz ed. Thoughts?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Gigs to see, October edition

Here, after a hiatus, is a completely biased list of gigs you should see in Boston this month. Feedback is welcome.

Monthly events:
First Wednesdays with Jim Hobbs, (10/6 this month), 10:10pm, Lily Pad. Don't sleep on Jim.
Second Wednesdays with Allan Chase, Lily Pad

10/6- Chris Potter @ Regattabar
10/6- Kenny Werner @ Scullers
10/7- Florencia Gonzales Big Band @ Lily Pad
10/9- David Maxwell/Jim Hobbs duo @ Lily Pad
10/14- Joe Lovano's US5, Regattabar
10/15- Hugh Masakela @ Berklee Performance Center
10/15- Mike Reed's People Places and Things, Lily Pad
10/19- Fringe plus 3Play, Berklee Performance Center
10/23- Aubrey Johnson @ Ryles
10/28- Chucho Valdez @ Berklee Performance Center
10/29 & 30- Regina Carter @ Regattabar