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My Jazz Explorations

I'm a jazz enthusiast digging in to find and understand the specifics of the music that moves me. Here is my journey.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Project on Hold
Sorry, but this project has been temporarily put on hold until June. Please check back then for future posts.

Friday, February 18, 2005
Hancock, Brecker and Hargrove
Around this time last Friday, I just got out from seeing Herbie Hancock at the University of Southern California. The show started right on the dot, 8pm, with the Thelonious Monk Institute Ensemble Class of 2005 opening up the show. While listening to the opening band, which was very talented, I thought: Music school has made these musicians love the idea of playing jazz more than the real act of playing jazz. While performing, the piano player wiggled his upper torso in an excessive display of enthusiasm. The trumpet player instructed us to "listen to this music like it's your last time ever." While no one seemed to miss a note or disconnect from the band, there was just NO EDGE to their performance. It was too thought out. It felt over practiced. They were too willing to please and not brave or perhaps mature enough to play something outrageous. Nevertheless, their performance was very respectable. It was also the first time I had ever heard a vibraphone played live. On CD or the radio, the vibraphone is completely out of the ball park of my taste; however, sitting before the live instrument, I could hear more depth to the sound. Perhaps, there were overtones or other subtle resonances that can't be heard on a recording. I am now more receptive to that instrument.

After the opening act, instruments were cleared from the stage. Amrita opened her hidden candy bar and was covertly snibbly away at it. On my left Courtney was threatening to have her escorted out for having the candy bar in the auditorium. Pensive Joe sat quitely while we were giggling and bickering at each other and trying to decide if the guy sitting across the aisle from us was the guy from the show Curb Your Enthusiasm. He had a young little houchy date with him like most old successful men in entertainment. There were at least 300 people in the room. The show was sold out! Unlike the steep price of the shows at the Catalina Bar and Grill, this show only cost $8 a ticket. One thing I did wish for was a glass of wine or whiskey. Whiskey more because it was cold and pouring down rain outside.

After about 20 minutes, the jazz geniuses were introduced and took the stage. My expectations were very high and were met. I was familiar with Herbie Hancock's piano playing. What I love is how he melts into the band and playfully dances around everyone coaxing, teasing, leading, and sometimes following. He becomes a spirit without a body. His chording and notes are spacious and intuitively placed. Such intuitive spontaneity demonstrated a deep sincere conscious feeling for the music and what was being expressed inspiring the rest of the band to let loose too.

I had never heard of Roy Hargrove or Michael Brecker until then. I'm certain their performance will be one I will remember years from now and later recall how I saw them back in the day. Roy was like a magician on his trumpet. The range of tones and sounds he could produce was simply astounding. He made his horn squeek and squeal and played notes that were of an unworldly scale. It felt as though he was blowing into his trumpet and transforming it, physically stretching it with his wind, making it contract and expand to its outter limits and producing solos so dynamic that at times I would feel so estatic I would laugh out loud to release the emotion he inspired within me.

On his turn to solo, Michael would step up with his saxaphone. He looked like a crane with his long skinny legs arched in a straight forward line incline. His demeanor was like that of a technically logical geek with such a profound spiritual intelligence that made him very "hip and cool". Like Roy, he seemed to expand the range and capacity of his saxaphone. His instrument was animated like a cartoon character that can do and withstand more than the real.

The more subtle foundation of the band, the magical ether, was Scott Colley on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums (yes, a woman!). They were both amazing. Bass and drums in jazz are like that unknown component of chocolate that would explain why you love it so much if you could only put your finger on it and name it. The subtle something that moves you and the soloists.

Good jazz may or may not start on time, but good jazz never ends on time. After the last song of their set they all left the stage, but unlike all the previous shows I had seen, these guys were burning to come back out and give us more. And so they did. Another 3 more songs! Long songs too!

This was definitely one show that will be hard to top! Chick Corea is next. He comes to the CBG at the end of the month. Also Wayne Shorter is coming to city soon too.

Sunday, February 06, 2005
Pat Martino
So far every jazz musician I have paid bucks to see has come out on stage at least 15 to 30 minutes late. And not once has any of them offered to play one extra song at the end to compensate. They start late and end right on the dot. Don't jazz musicians like to play? Pat Martino was a good 30 minutes late before he showed up on stage. He looked like a scientist with his glasses, sober expression and waves of grey hair. He dedicated his set to Wes Montgomery who was his role model guitarist.

I wasn't very familiar with Pat's music. I learned a few of his guitar licks in jazz guitar class and was told that Pat's trademark was his very long steady licks. I recognized what was his and what belonged to Wes Montgomery. Wes was known for playing octaves in his licks. Perhaps, I was unable to appreciate Pat's skill because overall I found his solos to be too busy and lacking dynamics. The tone of his guitar was very flat too, which is also a hallmark of Pat's style. There was nothing edgy about him. He came off as a "straight A" jazz student, who finished all his homework on time and never did anything spontaneous or risky.

I sat too close to the stage for this show. I wanted to see Pat's fingers on the guitar. I saw them but was blown away by his guitar amp. The drums were too loud also. For a couple of songs I moved to the back of the room. There I could hear the piano and bass and how they all blended in together.

Patricia Barber and Ron Carter are the only two jazz artists playing at CBG who took responsibility for the bands overall sound. In those two bands, you could hear all the musicians playing no matter where you sat in the room. No one was drowned out!

Sunday, January 30, 2005
My Discoveries
After two months of listening only to jazz radio and collecting songs that have moved me, here is what I have now:

1. Oliver Nelson's Stolen Moments- And here are some interesting notes about the song I love best. I just realized three seconds ago that Roy Haynes is playing drums on this particular song. In my previous post, I was just bitching about him and his performance at the CBG. Also on this song, Bill Evans is playing piano. I didn't realize that until this past week, when the song came on once again on my jazz station and the DJ mentioned Evan's piano playing. I love Bill Evans! On this song is Eric Dolphy (flute) and Freddie Hubbard (trumpet). This song has a very haunting dark feeling like that of a soul caught in a slightly chilly wind storm on an early spring sunset evening. It has the feeling of something precious lost but that of moving on strongly alone against that chilly breeze with little hints of hope. Paricularly in the third solo chorus, which I assume is Nelson on sax, the instrument moans, cries and at one point just rips a note in half like a broken heart and then picks up in the climax of the solo and releases it to Bill Evan's piano. Then Bill blows the chilly wind with his fast runs of minor notes that sound like little dark funnels of wind. Throughout the entire song, there is the hint of spring, new growth and beginnings, and hope.

2. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers- A la Mode- Like Oliver Nelson, I found Art Blakey categorized in the jazz genre of "Hard Bop". I'm not sure exactly what sets this genre apart from others but I must like it since my two favorites so far are Hard Bop. I've been downloading songs from i-tunes and one thing I do not like is that the other artists are not accessible on these downloaded songs. So, I can't mention them. Art Blakey is a drummer and it is exactly the swinging, tingin' drums that I love in this song. The song is upbeat, fast and driven by Art swinging on the ride cymbols and pushing it with little accent hits here and there. After the first round of the melody is played, the soprano saxaphone comes in sounding like a snake charmer.

3. Cannonball Adderley's Autumn Leaves- First, I am sentimentally attached to this particular song Autumn Leaves because I spent one whole year playing it over and over in guitar school during my attempt to learn to play jazz. I know the melody by heart and can really appreciate how close the soloists stay to it as they elaborate on it. There are a few notes in this song that at first sound very off and just wrong; but, having the melody stuck in my head, I can hear how those off notes really do belong and are not really that far off. Now, if I could only listen to other songs as I can Autumn Leaves, how much more pleasing they would all be!

4. Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage- Looking at my album, I see I have another song with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. Also, Ron Carter is on bass (saw him too at the CBG, excellent performance. see previous post). What I really love about this song is the wide spaces, the openness, and interaction between the musicians. Herbie Hancock is playing piano and his comping during the solos is like a gorgeous dance between him and the soloists. His chording and arpeggiating fits neatly into each pocket and groove of the soloist. Like two people talking and both affirming with their notes and timing that they are not only listening and hearing each other, but intuitively understanding the soul of each other. It is very clear to me why this song is considered a master piece.

5. Phil Ranelin's Horace's Scope- I love the melody of this song, in particular the dissonance. Similar to Art Blakey, it is a fast and upbeat song that really swings. Trumpet, then Sax and then piano take solos spinning fast and twisted notes.

Of course there are more than five songs. In the past two months, I have purchased 87 jazz songs off i-tunes, plus 10 albums that i-tunes did not have. More song and album reviews to come. Also, I have tickets to see Herbie Hancock and Pat Martino in the coming week.

Sunday, January 16, 2005
Roy Haynes
Last week my attention turned from the guitar and bass to the drums as I had the opportunity to see the "once" world class drummer, Roy Haynes. I emphasize "once" because I was very disappointed by his performance. The music was completely distorted and overpowered by his arrogance. Yes, Roy has a resume of which he can be proud. Throughout his 60 year career he has played with a number of jazz giants: Coltrane, Monk, Chick Corea, and most notably Charlie Parker; but from his performance and the sound of his band last Sunday night, such a history was hard to believe.

On stage, the two men within Roy, the simple everyday man and the talented extraordinaire drummer, were warring for admiration and respect. Almost 80 years old, Roy could still tear up the drums with speed and force inspiring awe. His drum kit was set up center stage with the bass behind him and everyone else off to the side. The bass was barely audible; the piano was muffled; and the sax player was the only one who could cut through the noise of the drums. And yes, at that volume, Roy sounded like noise. All the special hits, accents and rhythm patterns that perhaps made him famous passed unnoticed because they were out of context with the band. The connectivity or musical conversation between the band members that distinguishes jazz as music instead of chaotic noise was just not there.

For most of the evening, Roy gave us more drunk babbling than music. After the first song, he got up from the drums and walked up to the mic with his drink. He looked like something the cat had dragged in from the 80's with his tight black tappered velvet pants, cowboy boots, and untucked cow patch print shirt that came down to his thighs. He lifted his drink to the mic and then took his straw and started blowing bubbles. He said, "Now that was in the key of D." Charlie Parker's ghost must have prodded him back to the drums as he recalled to us, "Charlie used to say we don't need to talk, the music will speak for itself." We got a couple more songs out of him before he got up from the drums once again to babble more. A guy from the front row shouted, "play! play!" That got us one more song, but because we didn't clap loud or long enough, Roy came back to the mic to berate us for our lack of enthusiasm: "What's the matter with you people. We've been touring all over the world and in Europe they just eat this up. Maybe you guys just get too much of it here." At that point I was beginning to feel very irritated. On top of the expensive venue (Catalina Bar and Grill), where the waiters are very rude, Roy was slinging insults out to the audience! I was almost up to my feet to shout back to him- I can't hear the bass; you're too loud; you're drunk and all you've been doing is talking- but I remembered that he was 80 years old and yes, drunk. So, I refrained.

He went back to the drums again and they played the Coltrane tune, Giant Steps. The young black male on soprano sax, the only one who could be heard above the drums, seemed to be a rising talent. Roy introduced him by his name only once and I can't remember it. The bass player and the piano player were two of a kind, dressed in very similar geeky attire of plain tan pants and pull over T-shirts with a collar. Both didn't care to take responsibility for the sound of their instruments or lack of it. They seemed to just be doing what they were told, standing in Roy's shadow. The bass player hid behind the drums. As he slouched over the side of the upright bass and played, his eyes blinked out of control. He looked as though he was being electrocuted. His short white stubby fingers seemed to be busy on the bass, but hardly any sound was reaching the audience. The only audible contribution the piano made was the muffled sound of the chord changes. Perhaps, he was a great piano player, but if so, he couldn't be heard over the drums.

After getting chewed out by Roy for not clapping, on the last note of Giant Steps, the audience hopped to their feet to clap. I remained sitting. I wondered if Roy had recorded Giant Steps with Coltrane; perhaps that was what brought them to their feet. It was enough to coax Roy on. During the next song, the band sat out and Roy played all by himself. After a few more songs, the show ended. Roy gave us a headache and the waiter gave us a big bill for the show and two drinks we were forced to buy. We happily got up and made our way out into the pouring down rain and back home.

Sunday, January 09, 2005
Surfing for Jazz Bloggers
Surfing the web for new jazz bloggers, I found one who went to the same Ron Carter show that I did at the Catalina Bar and Grill here in Hollywood. Checkout what the Jazzcat wrote about the show:

Plus the Jazzcat took his camera and got a shot of Ron playing. He also made it to the Jazz Conference in Long Beach that I missed and has posted some photos and notes.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Jazz Conference in Long Beach 20 minutes away...
The International Association for Jazz Education Conference is taking place in Long Beach (20 minutes away)...for $183 dollars for 3 days.

uhmmmmm! I want to go, but those are work days!


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