Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2015 award ceremony.
August 2016 Hot House Jazz Guide Now Available!
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
In this age of the MP3 and the downloaded song, the album often survives as little more than a compilation of tracks, neatly packaged for consumers as a marketing strategy. However, some musicians still have more ambitious reasons for creating records. Case in point: the two offerings comprising this Winning Spins.
Both CDs connect music to narrative, creating pieces that tell or suggest a story apart from the music. For his release, Ari Hoenig contructs a long narrative arc and uses the tunes to reveal a connected story. On the other hand, Dominick Farinacci chooses songs that tell or suggest individual tales, gathered together but independent of each other.
Short Stories, Dominick Farinacci (Mack Avenue), finds the 30-something trumpeter fashioning often sophisticated, elaborate versions of tunes culled from the worlds of pop, folk and jazz into distinctive, highly suggestive narrative arcs. The producer is famed pop music auteur Tommy LiPuma who, like the trumpeter, is a native of Cleveland. The production is sleek and lush, recalling the pristine sounds and urbane tastes of mid-20th Century albums from the labels of Creed Taylor, whose CTI brand signaled jazz sophistication.
The rhythm section features not only pianist Larry Goldings, often doubling on organ, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Steve Gadd, but often adds legendary session guitarist Dean Parks and percussionist Jamey Haddad, with Gil Goldstein playing accordion on four of the ten tracks. Six tunes also add a string and woodwind sextet, while two others feature vocals and electronic instruments from Jacob Collier.
A New Orleans R&B vibe infuses the opener, the Gypsy Kings’ “Bamboleo,” Dominick paying tribute to his Louis Armstrong roots, especially in the stop-time breaks, surrounded by churning rhythm and full ensemble sections and echoed by Mark Mauldin’s trombone (in its only appearance). Percussive shakes and rattles add to the south of the border flavor of Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues,” with multi-vocals from Jacob Collier, and the leader’s “Afternoon in Puebla” as well as Dianne Reeves’ “Tango.” Arabic scales and the muezzin-like vocals of Lebanese singer Mike Massy highlight Dominick’s “Doha Blues,” inspired by his time in Qatar.
The most lyrical period of Miles Davis and Gil Evans inspires a lush version of Tom Waits’ “Soldier’s Things,” trumpet caressed by the strings and woodwinds. Another outstanding ballad track is the standard “Black Coffee,” featuring Dominick’s one foray into plunger and muted trumpet. Two songs are appropriated from the pop charts: Cream’s early rock hit, “Sunshine of Your Love,” riding on the original bass riff jazzily swung; and the 2013 Grammy Record of the Year, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” given an electronic treatment and Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies by Jacob. Larry contributes the sly, tongue-in-cheek finale, “Parlour Song.”
The Pauper & The Magician, Ari Hoenig (Lyte Records), finds the drummer’s quintet creating a soundtrack for a fantastical tale he wove for his children’s bedtime story about a magician who takes over the life of a pauper, making him “a stooge for the magician’s cruelest tricks.” While there are some memorable solos along the way from tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, guitarist Gilad Hekselman and pianist Shai Maestro, the music is ensemble-oriented, achieving much of its impact and drive from collective and polyphonal strategies.
The titular opening track builds tension over a martial tattoo from Ari as the others climb chordal ladders to build volume and dynamic tension, solo passages flowing in and out of the overall progressions. A tempo that races and retards powers “I’ll Think About It,” a kaleidoscopic piece enticing with constantly shifting, overlapping solos.
Like Dominick, Ari explores near-East scales and exotic blues riffs on “The Other,” with engaging piano and tenor sax solos moving toward an Arab-bebop fusion. The contrasting tension of double-timing drums and tenor sax in ballad mode makes “Lyric” impressive. Tivon is at his most emotively yearning on the straight ballad “Alana,” the actual lyric highlight of the album. “You Are My Sunshine” closes the narrative on a jaunty note, the leader voicing the melody with mallets on drum skins, then trading licks with tenor sax.
Dominick Farinacci plays at The Side Door in Old Lyme on Aug. 6 and The Falcon in Marlboro on Aug. 7. Ari Hoenig’s Trio is at Smalls Aug. 8 and 15 and he is in Kenny Werner’s trio at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Aug. 9-10.
Fanning the Creative Flame by Elzy Kolb
It’s getting to be an annual tradition: drummer Cindy Blackman Santana and her husband, guitarist Carlos Santana, have played the national anthem at one of the NBA finals games two years in a row. Performing for huge crowds is nothing new for the veteran drummer, who has done stadium tours with Santana and Lenny Kravitz for decades. But still, the viewership for the NBA finals is “crazy big, there are people all over the world watching that,” she says.
It’s interesting to wonder how many of them are aware of Cindy’s other life as an innovative jazz drummer, mentored by the great Tony Williams, and an alumna of bands fronted by Don Pullen, Cassandra Wilson, Joe Henderson, Pharoah Sanders and others.
“I’m a jazz musician; jazz is my love, it’s who I am,” Cindy declares. “I love the intelligence, spontaneity and freedom jazz affords for the musicians and the listeners. It’s inspiring as an individual; it promotes spirituality, creativity and individuality.”
The drummer thrives on the wide variety of projects she is involved in; they fuel her creative flame. “I find joy in doing a bunch of different things,” she explains. Besides playing a variety of musical styles and meeting a range of musicians, she travels to locales and works at venues she wouldn’t hit when fronting her own band. “It’s all intertwined and I find good in that.”
Lately, she’s been working on a couple of recordings, one with soul icon Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers, produced by Carlos Santana and another of her own music, both set for fall release. The new albums will mark Cindy’s vocal debut on a tune she wrote for the Isley session. After listening to a demo she brought in, everyone encouraged her to sing it for the album. The finished take includes a duet section with Ronald.
“I love what happened between Ronnie and me,” she says. “There will be a slightly different version on my own recording; it won’t be the same on both.”
Cindy describes having a fun time in the studio working on her CD, which includes special guests John McLaughlin, Vernon Reid, Santana and Matt Garrison, plus her own electric band. “It was a different process this time; I usually go in and knock out some tunes. But since there were a lot of guests, we were vibing the music on the spot versus doing something preconceived,” the drummer says. “Everyone came in with sketches and ideas and left a lot to creativity. It was an on-the-spot kind of thing.”
In advance of her CD release, Cindy is playing Jazz Standard this month with her electric band, consisting of Aurelien Budynek on guitar, Zaccai Curtis on keyboards and Felix Pastorius on bass.
“I’m lucky to be surrounded by beautiful people who are great musicians,” she notes. “Aurelien is keyed into the music and wants to make it happen. He has great ears and no ego when he plays. He allows the music to grow and speak. Zaccai is understated; he's such a subtle guy. His playing isn’t brash or loud; it’s transparent and beautiful. It adds a nice texture that can get intense. Felix is a fantastic musician, helpful and wonderful and humble.”
Cindy predicts the quartet will play some originals, plus material by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. “That’s stuff I always love playing,” she says. “I also always like to leave caution to the wind and have time in a set where we just improvise. That adds a twist, spontaneity; we do something completely new and it gives another kind of edge to our thinking, there’s a whole new song, a whole new structure on the spot.”
The New York date is followed by a gig at the Hollywood Bowl with Marcus Miller, Carlos, Herbie and Wayne on Aug. 24. Though Cindy is matter-of-fact when talking about playing packed arenas with superstars, she sounds practically star-struck in discussing the California gig.
“This is the most exciting thing I have coming up,” the drummer declares. “This is the kind of thing you frame and put on your mantel: Herbie and Wayne, the innovators! It’s going to be fantastic to play with them, not only to be inspired by the music, but it’s also elevating—if you play one note, you’re going to learn from it, you’re going to be lifted and elevated.”
Who can ask for anything more?
Cindy Blackman Santana plays Jazz Standard Aug. 9-10, with her electric band: Aurelien Budynek on guitar, Zaccai Curtis on keyboards and Felix Pastorius, bass.
Photo Credit: Chad Tasky
Organ Blues by Seton Hawkins
In the 1950s, the role of the Hammond B-3 organ in jazz began a slow but monumental shift. Although Swing Era masters like Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis had been, and were still, duplicating the sound of the big bands through an orchestral organ aesthetic that provided the heft and swing of a dance band, new talents like Jimmy Smith were on the rise, elevating the organ to a fresh role as a horn-like instrument and applying a soloist virtuosity that had previously only occurred on the instrument in glimpses. It was into this environment that a young Reuben Wilson entered the scene in Los Angeles and began a shift from piano to organ.
“I didn’t start listening to organ until the attitude of jazz to it had shifted and people saw what it could do,” Reuben reminisces. “I found that once I was listening to jazz organ, there was a lot of control it could offer beyond what the piano could do. You see, an instrument like that allows you to play a song in many different fashions.”
Indeed, that versatility served him well and, ultimately, he relocated from Los Angeles to New York, where he became a primary figure in a rising approach often dubbed “soul jazz.” Once in New York, Reuben began building a relationship with Blue Note Records, where he would go on to record classic offerings of jazz, notably Blue Mode and Love Bug. Interested in reaching a broader audience and working with new composers and genres, Reuben drew on standard jazz repertoire while also nodding to pop institutions like Memphis’ Stax Records. Indeed, his works stand as towering achievements in the form of soul jazz.
“As an artist, you have to be ready for many styles,” he notes. “I wanted and I want audiences to feel good when they hear my music, and I wanted them to understand what I was doing. Soul jazz has a kind of pop effect to it, and I found it was interesting to play things in that manner. As a child, I was playing things like boogie woogie and that was something I never lost, this idea of incorporating styles in order to express oneself.”
While Reuben’s career and recordings slowed down in the 1970s and 80s, a unique revitalization took place for him. Newcomer artists like Geoff Wilkinson of US3 and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest began to rediscover the soul jazz catalogues of Blue Note and began to incorporate samples of the music into both hip-hop and the burgeoning acid jazz genre. For Reuben, this marked a renewed period of work, recording extensively and covering a wide range of music in his albums and performances.
“It was a really pleasant surprise when it happened,” he says. “When we did the originals, it was novel and new. And it turned out to be something people liked! I think the new generation responded to it because there was a unique approach to it and there was honesty to the music we were playing. I think the new artists responded to that.”
As Reuben’s classic recordings began to be heard again, albeit in an often-sampled format, the world realized that Reuben had never really left, and was playing music as vital and extraordinary in the 1990s as he was in the 1960s. Reuben took full advantage of the revived interest and his recording resurgence holds up to anything else in his career.
“I’ve had some interesting times in developing new sounds,” Reuben notes. “We’ve been playing music that, while not incredibly popular broadly, is very popular in the vein of jazz. So I went in that direction: I got to play a lot of music I enjoyed; and I was very happy to see that the audiences were liking what we were doing.”
At 81, Reuben stands as one of jazz’s living legends and one of its most consistently swinging, funky and enjoyable proponents. This month Reuben leads a quartet on two evenings mixing swinging standards and funkier original compositions.
“You watch your audience to see what they are reacting to and responding to,” Reuben says. “And the goal is to make everyone happy: your audience, your musicians and—believe it or not—yourself! The better your audience feels, the better you’re going to feel.”
Reuben Wilson brings his quartet to Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on Aug. 10 and 11 and is joined by saxophonist Ray Blue, guitarist John DeFrancesco and drummer Glenn Ferricone.
Photo Credit: C. Andrew Hovan
Fresh Takes by Nathan Kamal
Vocalist and actor Judi Jackson surfs the waters of young ambition with great ease. Only 22 years old, Jackson has opened for major acts like Mavis Staples, and her collaborators include Snarky Puppy.
Judi is frustrated by those who categorize her explicitly as either a jazz vocalist or theatric performer. Instead, she allows each of these creative modes to inform and inspire the other. “If we’re not growing we’re dying,” she says. “There always has to be evolution.”
Judi’s evolution has led her to combine elements of musical theater and R&B into her music, while staying firmly rooted in the jazz and soul standards she loves. “My writing recently has had a fusion of influences from the jazz I grew up with, and also soul and folk music.”
After an outing of European performances, including shows in London, Barcelona and Geneva, Judi makes a triumphant return to New York this August with a two-evening residency at Smoke. “It’s going to be like a homecoming show. I’m playing with cats who I played with when I first moved to the city.”
Judi Jackson sings original material and standards at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on Aug. 3 and 4.
Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb
Ayana Lowe always knew she could sing. From childhood, her impressive pipes earned her important roles in school events and church choirs. She went on to classical voice training and even sang professionally for a while. Though Ayana ultimately didn’t pursue a full-time career in music, it remained a constant throughout her life.
She met fellow vocalist Libby York in a church choir in Brooklyn a couple of decades back. The two hit it off and when Libby mentioned having a gig, Ayana decided to attend to support her friend. She didn’t think much of it in advance, admitting, “I thought I was the star,” because of her lifelong choral experience.
Ayana was totally unprepared for the impact Libby’s performance had on her. “I never heard anything like it,” she recalls. “It was so different—she was better than me! She was doing something I couldn’t do; she sounded so refined, her interplay with the band, singing behind the beat. In church and in classical music, everything is big: big sound, big vibrato, you’re on the beat, you’re not groovin’. I knew I could sing, but Libby was way ahead of what I could do.”
One listen was all it took for Ayana to change directions musically. Until then, “I hadn’t heard much jazz. Louis Armstrong—that name I knew. But I couldn’t tell you one jazz artist or another.” Though Libby left town soon afterward, her influence lingered. “I spent years chasing Libby,” Ayana explains. She describes taking “baby steps” toward singing jazz, listening to records, learning more songs, how to scat, how to work with a band, playing around with the beat, eventually studying with Mark Murphy and Sheila Jordan.
Since shifting musical gears, Ayana has become a regular on New York’s jazz scene, enjoying a monthly gig at the 55 Bar for most of this century. When Ayana heard Libby would be in town this summer, she invited her to join her at 55 on Aug. 6. This reunion gig is their first time singing together since their days in the church choir, with each doing a few songs alone and together. “We’re going to do ‘Sunday’ songs, since we met in church,” Ayana reveals. Think: “Sunday Kind of Love,” “Come Sunday,” and “Sunday In New York,” the title tune from Libby’s 2003 CD.
Sharing the bandstand with Libby is a “dream come true” for Ayana. Back in the day at Libby’s gig, “I was glad I had an ear where I could tell I was listening to something different; it brought my music to a more sophisticated place. Now, I want to see if I can keep up with what she’s doing. It’s going to be a master class.”
Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins
Contemporary Jazz Cruise Artist Spotlight: Robert Glasper
Few names loom as large or as dominant in today’s jazz scene as Robert Glasper’s. As a pianist, composer, producer and bandleader, Robert has risen to incredible acclaim in the past decade as a genre-defying maestro whose varied projects include stints not only with Russell Malone, Roy Hargrove and Christian McBride, but also Maxwell, Jay-Z, Common, Kendrick Lamar and Bilal. Leading a number of his own groups, notably his trio and the larger Robert Glasper Experiment, Robert has traversed and incorporated these many musical worlds into a strikingly unique vision.
While Robert’s trio records (especially Canvas, his 2005 Blue Note debut) first brought him acclaim among jazz audiences, his 2012 Black Radio and 2013 follow-up Black Radio 2 projects with the Robert Glasper Experiment caught much wider attention.
“I was playing trio and we were getting a crossover audience and I wanted to take that further,” Robert recalls. “You can only take that so far with the trio format and I wanted to change up the vibe. So I brought in a band that was leaning even more into the hip-hop and R&B concept. With them, I came up with Black Radio to bring in these artists I had been working with—I had always straddled the worlds of hip-hop, R&B and jazz—and mesh the worlds together.”
Purists were nonplussed, but Black Radio and Black Radio 2 were undeniably exceptional and unique, offering a musical portrait of an artist who refuses easy categorization. Finding new fans and a larger audience after those projects’ successes, Robert made even more changes.
“After I had acquired this new audience, I wanted to do something different, so I went back to the trio,” he explains. “What was interesting was that some of the hip-hop/R&B audiences began buying my trio records and so I wanted to do a different trio approach. I didn’t want to do a standard jazz trio, so instead I did an album of cover songs, but done in a jazz trio format.”
The result, Covered, incorporates songs by John Legend, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, and more alongside Robert’s originals in a CD that, while on paper is a return to his trio format, in sound is a melding of the trio and the Experiment’s aesthetics. “I’ve never been one to make the same record twice,” Robert explains.
Indeed, Robert’s commitment to following his unique vision led to one of this year’s wonderful surprises: Everything’s Beautiful, a Miles Davis-driven offering inspired by Robert’s work on the Miles Ahead soundtrack and featuring a singular take on the notion of a tribute project. Drawing at times on Miles’ playing in sample, as well as Miles’ literal voice in spoken moments, the album manages to pay tribute to Miles and celebrate his work while still remaining a unique statement on Robert’s part. Such an achievement is no easy feat, but is also one entirely appropriate for a CD released on the trumpeter’s 90th birthday.
“I didn’t want to do a ‘remix’ project. I wanted this record to be about more than Miles’ trumpet, so the way I did it was bringing in people who had a genuine love for Miles, and I wanted to bring in his compositions, his speaking voice, his swagger, everything about him. He is so much more than the muted trumpet.”
Robert Glasper performs in the Contemporary Jazz Cruise in February 2017. To make a reservation, visit www.thecontemporaryjazzcruise.com. For more information on Robert Glasper, visit www.robertglasper.com.
The Latin Side of Hot House by Emilie Pons
Jorge Continentino: When music becomes a natural expression
If you have dreamt of romance or Brazilian beaches while listening to Bebel Gilberto, you may have been listening to the sounds of flautist and saxophonist Jorge Continentino, who has played and recorded with the singer for ten years. And if you would like your dreams to feel a little more real, you can go and see him perform live in New York City this summer since he is a special guest at the Django Reinhardt festival at the midtown venue Birdland. But don’t expect improvisation to not be part of the experience, since for the Rio de Janeiro native, “it’s good not to predict what you are going to do. Your influences will come out naturally.”
And Jorge’s first influences came from “what was surrounding me,” he explains. “So it was of course Brazilian music since I’m from Brazil. My parents listened to a lot of Jobim, Joao Donato…” And on his mother’s side, it was Gilberto Gil, Jao Gilberto, he says. But “I [also] grew up listening to Bill Evans, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond,” the Rio native adds. “All of that jazz repertoire and heroes.” And during the 1980s, Jorge’s father, himself a jazz musician, used to run the jazz club Pianissimo, in Belo Horizonte. That’s where the flautist started playing with his brothers.
This may have been the preparation for Jorge’s 2012 collaboration with The Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Jorge has also recorded the album Momento and the DVD Live in Rio with Bebel Gilberto.
The flautist moved from Rio de Janeiro to New York City in 2004 and played with gypsy musician Dorado Schmitt for the very first time in 2011. This year is his third time performing at the festival. “The festival is very nice: they play for a week,” Jorge explains. “And they have one featured guest each night — every night a different one. I am going to be one of the guests for two nights this year.”
Gypsy music has taught Jorge to “think fast without losing the lyrical aspect of making music on the spot,” he explains. And in the process, he embraces his background. “I am a jazz musician and I am from Brazil and I play Brazilian music, so when I play Gypsy jazz music, of course I’m connected to jazz, and of course I can’t get away from my Brazilian influences so it will show up in my melodies and rhythms.”
That said, Jorge also knows that balance is key: if he is playing Brazilian music and if the rhythm section is playing Brazilian music, he knows he has to swing with Brazilian rhythms and melodies. “And if I’m playing straight ahead jazz,” he adds, “of course I will be swinging more with the concept that’s going behind me.”
Jorge Continentino performs Aug. 5 and 6 at Birdland with bassist Itaiguara Brandao for the 17th Django Reinhardt New York Festival.
Bridge Crossings by Cary Tone
Joe Morris has established his voice on guitar in a free jazz context for over four decades. His influences range from Miles Davis to the AACM, from West African string music to Messian and Ives. He is on the faculty of the New England Conservatory and tours extensively as a leader and sideman on both guitar and bass.
Q- You came of age in the era of iconic rock guitarists. Which ones have stuck with you?
A- My favorites were George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter. I like certain things by other people back then, but I like everything these guys played.
Q- You say you're mostly self-taught. Can you describe your learning process?
A- I had about eight lessons. I listened to everything, worked hard on my ears and learned a lot off of records. I practiced out of books, read every article and book on the subject of improvisation I could find and spent eight hours a day on the guitar for years.
Q- What was your entry point to jazz/improvised music?
A- My sister brought Coltrane's record Om home from college when I was 15. To me that was the thing beyond Hendrix that I needed. That sent me looking into jazz, which meant that I had to learn about changes, scales, modes, etc. Om also, along with a lot of other input, led me to Ornette, Dolphy, Cecil Taylor, Ayler and the AACM.
Q- When you lived in Boston, early in your musical life, you organized a collective, Boston Improvisor Group (BIG). Tell us a little about that time in your life?
A- I moved to Boston in '75 when I was 20 years old. I was "studying" on my own and playing a bit with some people. Boston was hard for me because I wasn't in a school. I was an outsider with a lot of drive and passion. Eventually I met some great musicians who were like me: a great drummer named Tim Roberts, the bassist Sebastian Steinberg, Samm Bennett the percussionist. There were so many great musicians there and once I got it going I got to know them better. There were a lot of places to play but not many for Free Music and very little support of the kind that would suggest that we mattered. I plugged away regardless and released my first LP in 1983, Wraparound (riti). Although I was living there and committed to the place I always made a point to connect with people in New York and elsewhere. I went to Europe with no work in 1981 and got a gig the day I landed. I was very intrigued by the idea of collectives in Chicago, St. Louis, NY and by the growing scene in New Haven when I left that city to go to Boston. Seeing how well organized the scene in Amsterdam was—a city the same size as Boston and similar in many ways—made me think that I should go back to Boston and organized a collective. Boston was full of musicians doing interesting things, who were competing with each other. Frank London and I put BIG together as an umbrella to pull it all together. It worked for a while, but the competition idea won. Later I regretted going back to Boston instead of moving to NY. I have a weird relationship with Boston. I finally moved out of that city for good in 2001 after a couple of tries. But that same year I started teaching at New England Conservatory in Boston. So I still go there all the time but I've lived in Connecticut for 16 years.
Q- In the past 15 years you've been performing/recording on bass as well as guitar. How did you make that decision?
A- I always wanted to play bass and finally after a couple of failures I bought a bass in 2000 and just started playing it, determined to stay with it. For years my focus as a composer was on what the bass did in the music. I was fixated on how the bass and drums worked in Free Music. My heroes were mostly bassists at that time. I love the idea of just doing what I want to do and I wanted to play the bass. I thought I knew enough from listening to it so studiously for so long that I'd be able to play it. It's worked out pretty well.
Q- Favorite place in the world to play, public or private?
A- My favorite gig ever was a four-night run with my quartet in 2000 at the Hot Club of Lisbon Portugal. I love playing The Stone in NY. I like small rooms. I did a week at the Old Office at the Knitting Factory years ago and that was great. Small rooms fit my idea of sound. I like the intimacy of small rooms. The Stone is incredible and I love playing there.
Q- If you weren't playing music what would be occupying your time?
A- I hope I would be either a painter, or a fiction writer. Both of those things are in my head for the future and part of me thinks quitting music to try both or either of them would be great. I like the idea of walking away from music even though I love making music. It seems that a respectful way of ending my music career would be to walk away and do something totally different.
Q- Do you think playing, appreciating music that is mostly improvised requires a certain kind of intelligence?
A- Not really. If I can do this, anyone could. I reject the idea that there is a correct way to understand improvised music or a standard for how it should be done. I hold to the possibility that the next best, most interesting thing will come from a person who seems to know nothing, but knows something no one else knows. I suppose it would challenge the perception of who is smart, and maybe that's the point. Although I think listening to music that has improvisation and studying improvisation all these years has in fact made me much smarter. It's a route to engagement with formulated abstraction. I don't know if you have to be intelligent to begin or if beginning and going into it makes you more intelligent.
Q- What do you know today that you didn't know 20 years ago?
A- Plenty! I know how to teach. I can play bass. I wrote a book called Perpetual Frontier: The Properties of Free Music (riti pub), it came about from my years of teaching, which started because of my interest in the topic of the book. I feel that it works very well as a new starting point for Free Music. I understand its value as a future forward set of ideas that are based completely on what has already happened, when I work with young musicians who are trying to grasp the enormity of Free Music so that they can participate. And for me, it's like a guide to everything I know and how to get past that.
Q- How have your listening habits changed with technological changes?
A- I listen less than I use to, but I don't think that's because of technology. I think it's because I am mostly focused on the music I make and the music made by the people in my circle. That circle is big and very diverse, but doesn't include what I used to listen to very much.
Q- What do you struggle with in your creative life?
A- Feeling like I am not the kind of musician I'm supposed to be. It's a lifelong battle to feel good about who I am and believe in myself and deal with the expectation to conform. Feeling like a failure. If I spend too much time thinking about what other people do, I get very down. I know who I am and why I do this. And I know that my determination to be myself is my life's adventure, but it's never easy. Otherwise I am very fortunate. My life has been like a miracle. So I'm quite grateful that I found music to frame all of these years. I no longer expect much from music except the luxury of making it and sharing the experience with people. The world is full of horror and sadness, music is a balm for that, and a signal to anyone interested that life is amazing. Imagine if all the intensity that results in violence was turned into music instead. We would all be better off and no one would complain about making money with music.
Q- What's your current impression of jazz education?
A- I teach in a great Jazz Department at NEC. I have a lot of pride in our department, which is extremely open and encouraging to the creativity of our students. I hear people gripe about jazz schools all the time. Most of them studied at one of them, but I never did. There is so much to learn. It's such a deep subject that it makes sense that young musicians would want to study. We can't expect that all of it would be good, great or perfect. You never hear people ask why anyone would study writing, or expect that everyone who does would graduate and be a star author out of school. School prepares you to go to the next place with your craft. It's up to the graduates to assert where they believe the music should go. Jazz education and its critics too often have expectations for jazz students that are restrictive. I feel that students should study somehow, someplace and do whatever they want with that knowledge and those skills. I didn't do what I was "supposed" to do and I've had a very interesting life so far because of that. I did what I believed was necessary. Jazz students should do that even if no one agrees with them, or if they risk failure, or if it's completely commercial and that's the route they feel is necessary. It's up to the new musicians to make their own music.
Q- Is there anything you'd rather be doing than making music?
A- Actually I would love to be a billionaire philanthropist who gives money to poor people. Seriously. What could be better than that?
Q- If there's an afterlife, one piece of music you heard here that you'll remember there?
A- Maybe either "Single Petal of a Rose," Axis: Bold as Love, or "Little Wing"? On second thought "I'll See You in my Dreams" from 1935 Django and the Hot Club of France, Lester Young playing "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" or Charlie Parker playing "Bird of Paradise." Any of those would be fine.
Q- Your favorite musician of all-time? Your favorite playing or composing today?
A- I can't choose one. Either Albert Ayler or Django Reinhardt. My favorite composer is Anthony Braxton. He is continuing to dissect all the bits of sound and process he can and find ways to turn those bits into one gigantic composition.
Q- What are a few pieces of music that made you the person or musician you are today?
A- Jimmy Lyons' "Jump Up," Anthony Braxton "Comp 23-j" and "Comp 40-O," Leroy Jenkins "Chicago," Jerome Cooper "The Unpredictability of Predictability," Ornette Coleman "Science Fiction" and "Body Meta," Django Reinhardt "Minor Swing," John Coltrane "One Down, One Up," Albert Ayler "Spiritual U.nity," Don Cherry "Where's Brooklyn?" more generally, Hendrix, West African string music, Delta Blues.
Q- You're having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who would they be?
A- Ayler, Braxton and Dolphy at one table would be pretty entertaining. Hendrix, Albert Ayler and Braxton? John Coltrane, Braxton, Hendrix? Either group would take the conversation to the deepest place. I'll wait at the table. Surprise me.
Joe Morris brings different bands for a week-long residency at The Stone Aug. 16-21.
Photo Credit: Rob Miller