Well, we’ve made it through another year. Grateful to still be here on the planet, reasonably healthy, productive, and engaged.  The spirituality of musical activity is a powerful antioxidant, giving one a level of activity that is boundless, both from the perspective of listener/student and player/composer. Music joins the people of the world together and enriches the minds and spirits of young and old alike. Health care has got nothing on music as a healing endeavor. My dear friend Michael Brecker recorded some of his best writing and playing shortly before he passed. The music sustained him well beyond the time someone else might have thrown in the towel.  Let us be grateful for music, the arts, humanity, science solely for the wondrous possibilities it implies, great literature, thinking, questioning minds, being passionate about something in life, and spreading love and tolerance any way we can.

It’s been quite a year! Sonny Rollins won a Kennedy center award, honoring him for his contributions to the American art form called jazz. This was the only time I saw any jazz on network television all year. Never the less, it was heart warming to see this great man acknowledged by our country, Sonny Rollins is not only a great musician, but also an informed and evolved human being. At the age of 81 he still practices every day, and is very much aware of what’s happening in the world.

This year we’ve had several incidence of extreme weather. A blistering snowstorm hit the northeast in October knocking out power up and down the east coast. Torrential rains and flooding decimated pasts of Vermont. 100 mile per hour winds ripped through Los Angeles county bringing down trees, blowing over trucks, and disrupting power for a week in some areas. Both New York and Los Angeles have experienced some of the warmest weather for December. Global warming/climate change is upon us. The glaciers at the poles continue to melt. Yet most of the Republican candidates for president still proclaim that there is no evidence that global warming is caused by man, and is a problem at all.  YOU GOTTA BE F**KING KIDDING ME!

Our government has been in a state of gridlock for the whole year, neglecting to pass important legislation that would help us out of the financial slump, provide protection for our citizens, and move the country forward. Instead the Republicans in congress have blocked every move the president has made towards progress. We’ve seen lots of finger pointing and no legislation, rhetoric and ideology abounding, but no meaningful legislation.  It seems like what’s best for our citizens is last on the list. What comes first is who winds up looking the best (or worst), and who gets to keep their job. This reminds me of some of the crappy bands I played with in the Catskill Mountains back when I was a kid. Not acceptable!

Looking back over the year I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had to perform, create new music, and share information with aspiring students of music. I’ve managed to play and teach all over the globe, and collaborate with musicians from many different countries.

They Yellowjackets had a pretty busy year, released a new cd (Timeline- Mack Avenue) to commemorate 30 years as a band.  Timeline was nominated for a Grammy in the narrower jazz category (contemporary jazz no longer a category). We did productions with the Frankfurt Radio and Stockholm Jazz Orchestra in the spring, did a series of dates with Bobby McFerrin in the summer, and nice summer and fall tours in Europe. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to experience the level of music that results from a long-standing relationship of this magnitude.

My big band recorded a new cd for the MCG label in Pittsburgh, PA in September with Chico Pinhiero as special guest. We recorded two of his compositions and Chico played and sang on the project. He is a remarkable musician from Sao Paolo, someone who is in the next wave of great Brazilian artists. My long time collaborators Peter Erskine, Russ Ferrante, Lincoln Goines, Scott Wendholt, and Michael Davis were all on board. The cd will be released June 2012.

The USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra had a noteworthy year. We won first place at the Monterey Next Generation festival in the collegiate division, and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The band also won top honors in the Downbeat Student Music Awards.  We did a concert of Vince Mendoza’s music (faculty USC) on campus.

I am enjoying teaching at USC very much. It is humbling, challenging, and inspiring. I like working on the curriculum, and refining and tailoring what we work on with the current student body at hand. The goal. As I see it. Is to help students become well-versed players, composers, arrangers, instigators, philosophers, team players, and decent people.  When I was out touring during the school year I had Bennie Maupin, Vince Mendoza, Roy McCurdy, John Beasley, and Bill Cunliffe come in and provide another perspective to the students in the areas we were working on. What a great opportunity for the students to get to hang with some of these jazz luminaries.

As a grand finale to the close of 2011 my wife Carla went and picked up a 9 week old jack russell terrier from a breeder in Georgia.  He is adorable and feisty as can be. We have a lot of work to do with him and are looking forward to the task. We are quickly learning that you must impose intense regulation on a puppy in order to wind up with a calm, collected pet later on. If regulation and order is not implemented, all hell will break loose. He protests vehemently with heart-wrenching yelps, but we do not give in. Perhaps there is a lesson here. Perhaps government regulation done in a sensible, non-biased way could result in a more relaxed and productive way of life, better for all concerned. It is certainly easier to succumb to unreasonable protests, and give in, de-regulate, but in the end it is not a good thing for anyone. Someone winds up having the upper hand in some unhealthy way.

All that said, I wish you all a happy, healthy. poignant, and productive new year, with lots of bright moments and nice notes!


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