Jazz Life @61

Just turned 61 2 weeks ago.  Grateful to have made it this far. Just celebrated my 40th year in the music business. It was 40 years ago I left Manhattan School of Music and joined Eumir Deodato’s band to tour the world. It’s been quite the wild ride, to say the least. Many things happened that were unexpected, and lots of things are different now than 40 years ago in terms of what a musician does to sustain a career in music.

What has most noticeably changed is that there are less live music performance and recording situations now than in the 70’s. Back then there was an abundance of recording dates involving live musicians, frequently in large ensembles, for the purpose of making records, underscoring for television and film, and even live concerts that were televised. I played the Tonight Show, Mike Douglas Show, and Parkinson show in London with the Buddy Rich band. There were a multitude of touring big bands as well as house bands at many hotels. The recording studios in New York and Los Angeles were cranking out music day and night.

The record date of today is a vary different animal, at least for me. More often than not, I go into a small studio and overdub saxophone onto one or more tracks. Occasionally I get to make a live recording with a band.

Back in the 70’s we tried to procure a deal with a recording company who would provide some sort of advance to make the recording, produce artwork, and promote the music in the press and at radio. Even the smallest jazz labels had the wherewithal to get your music out there. Artists were selling lp’s and eventually cd’s, and one could make a respectable living in jazz as an artist/writer/publisher. Today there are many fewer labels. Those that are still around are very frugal with their budgets and cautious about who they work with. The Yellowjackets sold cd’s in the 6 figures back in the early eighties into the 90‘s, and today sell in the low 5 figures.  Downloads have cut substantially into cd sales, and the income from downloads is not nearly what cd mechanical royalties used to be.

What is still the same is the fervor with which we work on music, writing as a vehicle for our playing with the people we love to play with. The music is as good as it ever was. It’s just the vehicle for getting the music out there that has changed. Youtube, Kickstarter and Facebook have picked up where record labels have left off.

It is more critical than ever to have a focused vision as far as what you want to present musically, and the fortitude to follow through with conceiving the music and presenting it to the public. It is much harder to make a living being a jazz artist. Hence we supplement our income stream with teaching, writing/arranging, and doing whatever we can.

Why do we do this? No choice, really. It is our passion to write and play good music with our partners. Passion is the key to a good life. After 61 years I can look back and say I’ve stayed true to my passion. What a gift!

I am grateful to have developed a way of living that is healthful through diet and exercise. What I realize is that we develop a better grasp on how life works as we age. It really means a lot to be in good shape to enjoy these insights as we get older.

So take care of yourselves, cats, and do whatever it takes to be able to spend time on your passion!

 

 

William Kennedy

I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play/record with some very good drummers over the years. Mel Lewis, Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Tito Puente, Peter Erskine, Pete Laroca , John Riley, Steve Gadd, and Jack Dejonette to name a few. Will Kennedy is right up there with the best of them. In many ways Will encompasses what all these gentlemen have done, and then gone on to develop a sound and style all his own.

It is said that Tony Williams was able to sit down at a drum kit and emulate the playing of Baby Dodds, Max Roach, Sonny Grier, Art Blakey, Joe Jones, Philly Joe Jones, and Elvin Jones in great detail. He then would  turn around and play with a totally distinctive approach we all know so well as the integral part it was in the Miles Davis recordings of the 1960’s and later with his band “Lifetime”.  Will is a similar kind of artist, whose sound is so very recognizable, and a big part of the sound of the Yellowjackets.

Will is from Oakland, CA, home of the “East Bay Grease”. There is a particular kind of groove up there that has given flight to Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Larry Graham and Graham Central Station (Will’s brother Hershel play keys in that band). He grew up with the funk in his bones as well as being exposed to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and other jazz legends by way of his dad’s record collection, and later playing around the bay area. As a result of these disparate influences Will is one of the most well rounded drummers I know. He is equally at home playing funk, straight ahead, afro-cuban grooves, african grooves, hillbilly music, whatever! And he always plays just the right thing, nothing more.

Will’s drumming is dynamic, containing lots of nuance, loud’s and softs, a punchy snare and bass drum energy, a dancing ride cymbal beat, and most importantly,all constructed with lots of space and air between his ideas.  He swings as hard as any drummer I’ve ever played with, and like all these other drummers, doesn’t ever crowd his fellow band mates with excess information. Will’s grooves are electrifying, colorful, transparent, and always make the rest of the band sound great.

It is imperative that in a band setting all members are good listeners. Better to understand than be understood from the St. Francis of Assisi prayer pretty much sums it up. A drummer who does not listen can very quickly create volume and bulk that obliterates the band sound. Will never falls prey to this scenario. He lays down a beautiful bed of groove and waits for an opening to contribute a fill or short response, all done within the context of the greater whole. Being that Will is a good composer and pianist, he understands the big picture and always serves the music.

When I was on the Buddy Rich band I began writing my first arrangements.. First and foremost in my mind was the sound of Buddy’s drumming as the catalyst for the crisp energetic band sound. I tried to think of writing something that Buddy would feel comfortable playing, something acknowledging his style that might perhaps push him to play in a different way. In a similar way, when I write for the Yellowjackets I hear Will’s drumming in the musical terrain. I can hear his sound in my head and readily think of musical ideas  that fit within this context. The great thing is that Will is so very versatile, one could go in virtually any direction in terms of style and groove.

Finally, Will is a great human being, always on the team trying to make things the best they can be. He is a very grounded person who stays calm amidst the day to day challenges of a life in the music. He’s got a sense of humor through it all. I can imagine Will playing on any project I might do as a band leader, in any style and context.

 

Russell Ferrante

I’ve been meaning to write this column for a long time. Russell Ferrante is my band mate in the Yellowjackets for the last 23 years. He and I teach at the USC Thornton School of Music, and as of late, Russ has been playing in my big band. We’ve grown to be good friends, and our families socialize regularly. I write this blog today to celebrate a dedicated, thoughtful, and caring musician, someone who is a role model to us all.

There are different kinds of composers and improvisers in jazz music. Some player/composers tend to play and write in a stream-of-consciousness style, where ideas flow freely and gracefully in no particular order. Other player/composers improvise and write with a strong sense of development and logic that stems from carefully worked out pathways and devices, taking the listener down a road you feel like you’ve been down before, but are experiencing in a whole new light. Russ is the later of the two. He is a master at finding shapes and configurations that are worked into ingenious compositions and improvisations, always spontaneous and fresh sounding, with a deliberate quality that suggests something written hundreds of years ago.

On Yellowjackets performances we frequently play some of the older tunes, tunes that the band has been playing for 30 years in some cases. More often than not, Russ will bring something new to these tunes in his solos or comping, transforming the tune into something fresh and very different from it’s initial intent. He practices a great deal, and is constantly reinventing his playing and writing. We all look forward to seeing what Russ will bring to the table each night.

Russ is one of the best accompanists I know. He is an extremely empathetic person, most interested in seeing what you have to say. This quality carries over to his playing in a big way. Playing with a pianist like this makes you want to leave lots of space, to instigate an exchange of ideas in musical conversation. Whatever you play as a soloist, Russ will back you up, find an appropriate color to compliment whatever you are playing, and make you sound great. Russ is a master at playing that dual role, where he makes the rhythm section feel incredibly great while responding to the soloist with just the right thing.

In this day and age of self-promotion, multi-tasking, multiple projects and “look at all the wonderful things I have done” mindset, Russ is somewhat of an anomaly. He is generally content to practice every day, write when there is something to write for, ride his bike, and help out in the community. He is happy being in a band and has no great aspirations to be a solo artist. In a nutshell, Russ is all about the music. His musicianship comes straight from the heart and the gut, but with an added keen sense of intellect. He has done his homework as far as studying the blues, jazz tradition, gospel music, classical music, and various musics from around the world. Russ likes being in a band, which is in great part why the Yellowjackets has such a distinct personality. It really is a dynamic ensemble with 4 equal parts. It takes the selflessness of a Russell Ferrante to make this work.

Keyboard magazine is not writing feature articles on Russ, although they should. The jazz magazines don’t usually include Russ in the readers or critics polls, possibly because Russ is one of those unsung heroes of his instrument that keeps bringing it under the radar.

I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to work with Russ. He’s helped me become a better musician and a better person.

 

May

May has come along rather quickly, and is the culmination of a year as chair of the USC Thornton Jazz program, numerous writing and playing projects, and the challenge of balancing travel/performing with teaching. This week I’m able to wind it all down and catch my breath before things heat up again.

The year at USC was a good one. The big band won first place at the Monterey Next Generation festival and was invited to play at this September’s Monterey Jazz Festival. The band has never sounded better. Several of the members are out and about working in L.A. There are several very good arrangers in the band as well. I think we have honed a curriculum that preps students for being articulate in the language of jazz while garnering the skills to work in other areas of music (composing, arranging, producing, playing other styles of music). I have been using several of the students in my big band, and they all have done a wonderful job.

A few of our former and current students formed a band called Moonchild and put some music up on Youtube.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q9qUsy6nW4) Their music is heartfelt, well thought out, and sounds great. Stevie Wonder asked them to open for them last December at the Nokia center here in L.A. They are already being approached to do some writing for other well-known artists. I would like to think that the training these students go at USC along with the collaboration they formed as a result of meeting at school was the seed that caused this nice music to emerge and for the members to advance their careers.

Just finished writing a piece for members of the Vienna Philharmonic that have assembled in a big band configuration to do two concerts in Germany end of June.

The Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern outside of Hamburg is Germany’s 3rd largest classical music festival (http://www.festspiele-mv.de) . I’ve written a three movement piece for three soloists: Daniel Hope, violinist from the U.K., Mattias Schorn, principal clarinetist of the Vienna Philharmonicand artistic director of the festival, and myself.

The challenge, as is always the case, was to find the meeting place between jazz and groove music and an orchestral sensibility, where both genres are acknowledged in a respectful way. We will see how it all develops.

The Yellowjackets did two week long engagements in April, one in Berne, Switzerland at Maryan’s Jazz Room and the other at Birdland in NYC. The band is sounding very well, and we have a new repertoire worked up and ready to go. The new Jackets cd “A Rise in the Road” is due out mid June. Felix Pastorius is playing beautifully and we have moved on to the next chapter of Yellowjackets evolution.

Sporadic dates throughout the summer await us.

Still trying to eat right, exercise, and think right. These are issues well outside of most medical doctor’s vocabularies. I had to get the information for myself and develop a regimen that works for me. Medical studies are lacking in the influence of diet and exercise on preventing disease. Worth considering! I could not do the travel I do if I were not in good shape.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Keep striving for tone!

 

 

Buddy

1975, New York City. I’m working with the TIto Puente Orchestra playing 6 or 7 nights a week in and around the 5 boroughs. The take home pay was 100 dollars per week. My monthly rent is 185 dollars for a small loft room on 28th street. The budget is tight, but I’m surviving and paying my bills. Eating beans out of a can some nights, but hanging in there.

One day in March the phone rings and there is a trumpet player on the line who is contracting a new big band for Buddy Rich. He asks if I am available and willing. I ask how much it pays and find out the weekly salary is 300 dollars. Holy cow! I’ve struck pay dirt! I’m rich!  I’ll be there.

First rehearsal at Buddy’s place on 33rd street in late March. The band is in place on the stage waiting for Buddy to arrive. He comes barreling down the stairs in an absolute rage, screaming at Leo, the valet, runs and brings out a rather large board and lays it across two chairs. Buddy lets out a shriek and proceeds to karate chop the board in half. He then jumps on the drums and we play three of the fastest, hardest arrangements in the book at break-neck speed. I look over at Roger Rosenberg (we have both left Tito’s band to join Buddy). His eyes speak what I’m thinking. Maybe we should have stayed on Tito’s band.

We spent the next several months trying to avoid Buddy’s wrath. He had a whole new band, and was in the process of getting to know everyone. Buddy’s stance basically was that you weren’t shit until you proved yourself on the bandstand. I wasn’t proving much of anything being the 2nd tenor player with very few solos. That all changed after I started writing for the band. Everything I wrote had a 2nd tenor solo in it! (you dig?).

At a certain point in time I arrived at the realization that I needed and wanted to be on this band regardless of the leader’s outbursts. It was a great band that performed every night all over the world, and the bandleader was an unbelievable drummer and musician. He was amazing every night. I was awestruck by his level of consistency and wanted to rise to the occasion.

Buddy could see if a musician in his band was there to play. Despite my sometimes unprofessional behavior Buddy never fired me. I even told him that he was starting one of my tunes at the wrong tempo in front of a packed house in Copenhagen Montmartre. He said something like “get your own fuckin band”, and that was the end of it. I actually think if any of the myriad of players who were fired off the band had taken Buddy aside and said “look, man, I really want to be here”, they would not have been fired at all. Much of this was the old school band leader stance of proclaiming who ran the show.

I wrote my first 7 big band pieces for the Buddy RIch band. What an amazing opportunity and learning experience. Buddy was very supportive and encouraged me to write for his band. He gave me free reign of what to write, and I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I thought about all the different ways i would like to hear Buddy play. I also thought about how I would like to play with him.

Bottom line, Buddy was one of the most amazing drummers in the history of music. He was astounding every time he played. He had a big heart, and championed young musicians like myself. He had one of the quickest wits you would find anywhere, and a great sense of humor to boot. All this far outweighed the periodic temperamental outbursts (which were also very funny most of the time). I am forever grateful for the opportunity to play in Buddy’s band.

 

Grammys 2013

When I was doing session work in NYC I worked a few times for an arranger who played in the big bands of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. Most of the guys on the session were 15-20 years older than I. I had some quasi-soloing to do on one of the cues for a soap opera session with these musicians. The arranger commented privately  to one of my friends later that he was perturbed that I did not play more like Al Klink from the Glen Miller band. The guys from my generation were emulating Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Joe Henderson. This arranger clearly heard things differently than I did. Needless to say, I was not called back to work for that arranger again after that. I did go out and did some research on the saxophonists of that era subsequently.

I am finding myself in a similar situation today after having attended the Grammy celebration last night. Only this time I am on the other end of the spectrum.

I feel like we were witnessing the further dumbing down of music, the lack of acknowledgement of so much of the profound music that has influenced what we do today, and disguising the lackluster  level of musicianship we heard in a mass of glitz, special effects, special sets, and camera work.

First the good news. The Grammy bands, comprised of high school students from around the US were by far the best musicians to perform all day. They played with an amazing level of maturity, poise, and spirit that bodes well for the future of refined, informed  playing. Justin Dicioccio and Ron McCurdy did fantastic jobs directing the big band and vocal ensemble. Bravo to them and all the students!

The live band at the pre telecast was great as well. My bandmate Will Kennedy from the Yellowjackets was on board. I couldn’t see him, as we were pretty far away, but I heard one snare drum crack and knew it was him.

On to the telecast which, I’m told, had the highest ratings of any Grammy telecast for the last 20 years. To me (music is VERY subjective and personal, so this is an important caveat) nobody in the whole telecast sang or played their ass off. There were a few nice tunes, but the live versions were far less compelling than the hyper-produced versions you heard during the announcements of the nominees. TO ME most of the music lacked subtlety, interesting harmony or melody, or rhythms for that matter.

There was no James Brown, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, James Taylor, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, or Aretha Franklin anywhere in sight!

One of music’s iconic treasures, Dr. John was buried in a large band with the Black Keys and a New Orleans brass band that wound up sounding like a high school garage band jam session. I did not hear Dr. John play one note! It’s unfathomable to me that musicians would play with such a great musician and blatantly play right over him.

A tribute to Dave Brubeck, an American musical hero, lasted 30 seconds (Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clark), and was such an amazing slight to this great artist’s legacy and to jazz music in general. This made things embarrassingly clear that the Grammys have become all about television ratings and very little about the music.

The so called collaborations (aren’t you supposed to collaborate on a collaboration?)  were very mis-matched, and again the performances were pretty bad.

Out of tune singing and mediocre playing of instruments do not a collaboration make!

The songs were forgettable.

Lots of other little things were disconcerting as well. At the pre telecast an 8 piece faux chamber music group performed a Phillip Glass in odd meter like piece that was not terribly interesting, then went on to win a Grammy. Hard to understand. Jazz musicians do far more interesting things with odd meter coupled with improvisation.

A Gil Evans arrangement from 1949 won best arrangement of a composition over several of the most prominent arrangers of this era. One would think that some note worthy things nave happened since 1949.

Music and art generally reflect some level of what is happening in society.

This year’s Grammys is a pretty good snap shot of the world we live in. Recognition and prosperity for a select few and the dissemination of information that doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth, frequently obscuring view of those who do the best and most profound work.

All we can do is continue to speak out on these issues and keep the flame alive for quality playing, live playing, the craft of musical composition, and informed musical decisions in creating our art.

I think I’ll go listen to some Al Klink!

 

Guns and Self Destructive Behavior

From my experience guns are a drag. They primarily hurt and kill people and animals, seemingly for the sake of sport more than any good reason. To me the argument that it’s not availability of guns that is the problem, but rather the individuals who abuse the privilege, is not a viable argument.

My experience with guns: I learned to shoot a 22 rifle when I was 13 years old on a farm in Pennsylvania we visited during the summer. It was fun to line up the sight with a tin can 50 feet away and try to blast it off the fence.The son of the farmer, whom I learned to shoot with was accidentally shot and killed by his friend with the same rifle two years later.

A guy I went to high school with lost his father in a barrage of gun fire in Umbertos Clam House in NYC in the early 70’s. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was mistakenly executed along with two other innocent people.

A colleague of mine in New Jersey had a neighbor who, in the heat of an argument with another neighbor over something petty, pulled out a shotgun and killed the neighbor.

I had a gun shoved in my face once in NYC at 2 AM down near the jazz club Slugs back in the 70’s. Even if I had been carrying a gun I doubt I would have had time to pull it out and use it. Thankfully I lived to tell the story.

The most recent incident in Newtown is one of 5 major massacres to take place this year. Our brother and fellow musician Jimmy Greene lost his 6 year old daughter along with 20 other families. What the hell was the shooter’s mother doing with a legally purchased assault rifle and two high powered pistols?

I can’t think of one redeeming quality that guns possess. It seems like they wind up in the wrong hands an awful lot of the time and wind up impacting everyone’s  lives. The current policy is not working. Gun control laws are more lax than ever,are dictated by powerful lobbyists in Washington, and in some states you can carry a gun if you are 18! Remember how emotionally stable you were at 18? (or 21 for that matter).

In Colorado you can carry a weapon on university campuses. What the hell do you need a gun for? In case your biology teacher attacks you?

There are too damn many guns out there, and they are too easy to obtain.

“It’s the individuals, not the guns”, claims the right pro-gun contingent, the same group who is advocating massive spending cuts to entitlement programs for services to the mentally challenged, poor and middle class. A disaster waiting to happen!

The only thing I come up with in trying to make sense of all this is that we as a country are in denial about how self-destructive we are. Healthcare costs are skyrocketing because  we are a sickly overweight society uneducated in healthy eating and proper exercise regimens. Fast food is big business and creates huge business for healthcare providers.Our public schools and infrastructure are deteriorating at an alarming rate, yet the main concern from congress is about the deficit our children will face. New York City was half underwater during the last hurricane, and we still refuse to become proactive in some kind of world effort to curb global warming or even acknowledge fully that man has had some roll in the situation.

I don’t know. folks. I knew heroin addicts that took better care of themselves than we are taking care of ourselves in this country. It is embarrassing. We are capable of more and deserve better. The current gridlock in government does not bode well for any dramatic or expedient solutions to these problems. We as a nation are just too divided in the way we look at the issues.  Being a teenager in the 60’s we practiced compassion for our fellow man. Something has gone askew!

Freedom to do, act, and think as we like is fine as long as it doesn’t impact on the rest of society.

On a brighter note, I’ve just returned from a concert/dvd recording in Vitoria, Brazil with a wonderful band of young musicians who are carrying the torch. These guys are sensational! They all play great, write inspired arrangements, and have a sound and concept all their own. The core of the band consists of the 3 Rocha Brothers. They are some of the most resourceful and creative young people I have encountered in a long time. It is encouraging to see young musicians playing music on this level in such a professional and passionate way. Brazil is a happening place, very family oriented, humanitarian, lovers of music and art, and their economy is flourishing. Worth considering.

 

Visiting China/USC

There’s nothing quite like visiting a country to see first hand how things work. Interacting with the people is far more comprehensive than hearing about that country vis a vie the media, which can be highly politicized and biased.   On this recent visit to China (Shanghai and Beijing) with the Yellowjackets we had the opportunity to meet many lovely people and get a good  sense of what life in modern day China is like.

What was most readily apparent was the fact that despite the crowded conditions in the two largest Chinese cities we visited, people seemed generally relaxed, respectful, and orderly. You got the feeling that folks of all economic strata were generally comfortable and had a reasonably decent quality of life. Granted, there are sections of society in China that resemble the poor in our country, but there was no indication of a homeless population, at least in the areas of Shanghai and Beijing we visited.

I read an op-ed column in the local Shanghai english newspaper that commented on the United States blaming China for rigging the trade situation and devaluing the Chinese currency for their own benefit. From what I can see, China does nothing more or less than than the United States as far as  looking out for their best interests. It seems like the United States is deflecting focus on the fiscal mess we are in by blaming China for loss of jobs and the huge deficit in the U.S. This is an over-simplification and does not reflect the true nature of the problem.This finger-pointing at China seems quite rash to me, and resembles the lingering animosity we exhibit towards Cuba, insisting on maintaining an embargo that was initiated 50 years ago based on the supposed threat of the Soviet Union and China to American interests. Perhaps it is time to revamp our relationships with these countries and look for common ties and ways to cooperate. It seems silly not to. The fact is that the U.S. and China are already engaged in substantial commerce. I was driven from the concert venue to the hotel in a Buick that was manufactured in China!

While there are clear differences in the level of freedom between citizens in the U.S. and China, China has made great strides in the last 10 years towards democracy and freedom. We don’t hear about this at all, only about what a terribly oppressive and controlling  climate exists there.  Perhaps the one party system in China allows for efficient and expedient policy change to be instituted without the lovely bickering and politicization we experience in our country. That is why China is making huge strides in infrastructure, education, and their society in general while the U.S. languishes in governmental gridlock, inaction, cutting of services, and corruption.

While we walked from dinner to our last concert in Beijing we passed a large group of elderly women engaged in a group exercise session in the middle of a small street. These folks looked to be in good shape and had smiles on their face. This is an organized national activity that keeps Chinese society healthy , fit, and happy. Quite a contrast to the U.S. overweight population.

As far as the opportunity to play jazz in China, the feeling is similar to going to Japan in the early 70’s. Jazz represents a level of freedom and connection between cultures of the world, and is attracting attention on China right now with ever increasing popularity. I’m happy to be part of this movement, and sincerely hope that through the arts and science the U.S. and china can find peaceful channels of sharing music, all kinds of ideas, and culture.

It’s hard to believe that the semester at USC Thornton School of Music is three weeks away from ending.  The fall session has flown by in great part due to a rigorous schedule and the experience of learning how to chair a jazz department. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface, but off to a good start never the less.

This semester we had a series of faculty master classes that enabled our student body to work closely with illustrious faculty members. Russell Ferrante started off, and laid out his intricate rhythmical slant on things, as well as discussed his composing and practicing habits. Peter Erskine followed Russ, and shared his amazing musicianship with the student body. Alan Pasqua did the last one, and talked about his professional experiences, practicing, developing a style, and general playing concepts. To demonstrate “comping” he played trio and laid down a hypothetical comp without a soloist. It was extraordinary! Alan has such a vast vocabulary stemming from his work with Jackie Byard and George Russell in Boston, and all the other gigs he’s played. I think the students were not only inspired, but had many concrete devices to take home and consider. The next masterclass is January 29th with Vince Mendoza.

It seems like many of our students are out and about working in Los Angeles. There seems to be a good amount of work here, both in and out of jazz. Eric Hughes, senior trombonist, is currently working with Bill Holman’s Big Band (so is Jake Reed DMA drummer). Eric is also playing in my big band (I took him to Japan in June) as well as doing sessions and subbing on Gordon Goodwin’s band.

Jake Reed, drummer, is playing in Bruce Forman’srmans Cowbop band. I’ve used him on some gigs, and he is a swingin mo-fo!

The scene at USC is a great convergence of students and faculty in a relaxed environment, made ever more friendly by the great weather we experience in Los Angeles. Lots of sharing of good information. This is what jazz education should be about. Mentoring by working jazz musicians in a friendly environment where everyone gets to play while learning the language and all it’s inner working parts.

 

 

 

It’s been a while…

It’s been a minute since my last post. Chair duties at USC and traveling/writing have consumed all the hours in the day lately. Life continues to be interesting and challenging in good ways. Grateful to be here!

USC is looking more promising by the day. I’m happy to have the chance to make a difference in my role as chair of the jazz department. We have a faculty of some of the workingest musicians on the planet, and this is turning out to be a terrific conduit for our student’s journey into the world of the working musician. I’ve been using several students in my big band (We took Eric Hughes, undergrad senior trombonist to Japan last June) The faculty trio (Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, Darek Oles) did a concert with doctoral student Greg Johnson for the L.A. Jazz Society in August with faculty member Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. Several of the jazz students have been appearing as extras on the TV show “Glee”. So the cats are working!

We are in the process of forming a larger umbrella department at USC  which combines film scoring, studio guitar, industry, popular music, and technology under one roof. This will enable students of jazz to get a look at other disciplines and acquire multiple skills while honing their jazz chops. This bodes well for the “triple threat” philosophy we have at USC: Writing, Playing, Teaching.

Los Angeles is jumpin’ these days. The recording studios are in full swing, and there are gigs to be had. It is far easier to book a gig in L.A. than it ever was in New York. Our USC students are working around town, and playing in and forming bands. Jazz (and all kinds of live music) seems to be alive and well out here!

I’ve read two great books lately. One is a book about Rubin Hurricane Carter, the professional boxer who was framed for murder back in the 70’s and spent 22 years in jail.  It turns out one of the authors, Terry Swinton, is an amateur saxophonist, and contacted me about my etude books. He sent me a copy of the book (made into a movie starring Denzel Washington) and I was drawn into this story in a big way. It amazed me how racist our society is and how corrupt the justice system can be. But what was most inspiring was how Terry Swinton and a group of Canadians stepped up to advocate for Rubin Carter along with several luminary lawyers who worked free of charge. This is a very hopeful and uplifting story that tells me that we all can make a difference!

The other book I’ve read is called Eat to Live by a Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Dr. Fuhrman lays out a clear and focused approach to eating better and explains why. I’ve always been an advocate of healthy eating, but this book puts a new spin on it and exposes how the media and even the medical community plays a role in perpetuating a sick society by missing the point when it comes to diet.  IF you stop and consider how much money is made by the health care industry in the U.S. you will understand why this is the case. I heard a former health care executive articulate it succinctly the other day: “We don’t want you to die, but we don’t want you to be healthy either, because we need your business”.  One sure-fire way to stay healthy is to eat well and exercise. This book has made a big difference in my energy level and outlook in a short time.

Writing to you from Shanghai, China. I’m here with the Yellowjackets. We’re very grateful to be here spreading a message of peace and cooperation through music and art, a great contrast to all the finger-pointing concerning trade agreements and philosophical differences between countries. Music is the glue that holds us all together!  Keep the faith!  Bob

 

A short Interview

Here is an interview I did for a Greek music magazine:

When your first desire to become involved in the music was & what do you learn about yourself from music?

I was attracted to music from the first time I heard music on the radio as a young lad. There was a piano in our house growing up, and I would spend hours sitting there trying to play songs I would hear on the radio. I was so curious as to what made music sound the way it did, and what the inner components of the music, vis a vis harmony, rhythm, and melody was. I think music chose me at an early age.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD saxophonist, composer/arranger, big band leader and educator?

Being a good musician is a life-long endeavor, and I’ve committed to spending many hours of each day working on this craft. What makes one a good musician is dedication, hard work, attention to detail, and tenacity.

How do you describe Bob Mintzer sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Your sound is who you are and what you’ve worked on and experienced in life. Being a musician is a work in progress.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?

Anyone and everyone in and out of music. Every time you play you learn something if you are paying attention.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Thankfully I’ve had lots of great moments. The challenging moments make one stronger and you learn to focus on gratitude for getting to play music under any circumstances.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

I’ve had an interesting life in general. A successful 40 year career in music is quite interesting.

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

The music business is constantly changing along with the rest of the world. Musicians must learn to adapt and be flexible so as to weather these changes.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Work hard, pay attention to detail, know why you play what you do and where it came from, work on yourself in general, learn how to “be on the team”, have a positive and cooperative attitude,have a vast repertoire and knowledge of music in general, be well-read and well informed, be a good listener.

Why did you think that Bob Mintzer continues to generate such a devoted following?

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I guess if you work on something long and hard enough in a genuine, honest way, eventually people take note of what you are doing.

With such an illustrious career, what has given you the most satisfaction musically?

I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to work on musical craft for most of my life and be able to play with some of the greatest musicians on the planet, and actually have the music connect with people all over the world. This is an incredible gift.

You have played with many musicians (from Art Blakey, Jaco, and Tito Puente, to Gil Evans, Buddy Rich, and Aretha Franklin). It must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you?

Every gig I’ve ever done has had a lasting impact on me, both the good ones and not so good ones.I’ve learned things from every musical experience and felt gratitude to be able to get to play at all. My colleagues in jazz would always get on me about doing broadway shows in N.Y., wondering how I did not go out of my mind playing the same music every night. I looked at the experience as an opportunity to develop the discipline of playing my best every note of every time, no matter what the music was.

Are there any memories from Yellowjackets, which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many great memories over the last 22 years. It is a joyous occasion every time to play with the band. The Yellowjackets is about 4 distinctly different people hanging and playing with love and respect. It shows me that human beings can coexist and get along beautifully if they have the right mind set and empathy. The music reflects that, I think.

Tell me a few things about your meet with Papa Nebo, which memory from makes you smile?

Papa Nebo was a country-rock band I played with just out of high school. I met the violinist Ann Leathers at the arts high school we went to (Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, US). It was my first experience being an a band with older more experienced musicians, and I had a blast. We did one recording for Atlantic records in 1971. I started to write and figure out how to play in a band during that time. It was very exciting for an 18 year old to experience these things, playing around New York and recording in the old A and R studios in NYC for Atlantic records. I had my first publishing experiences as well as my first dealings with a manager who was less than honerable.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you’ve had?

I’ve sat in with the Dave Mathiews band a few times as well as with Bela Fleck’s band. I sat in with Rhassaan Roland Kirk’s band at the Village Vanguard when I was 17, and not at all ready. I got my ass kicked right out the door of the club. This was a great motivator, and I swore I would never let this happen again!

Do you remember any interesting from the recording time from your solo and sessions projects?

I’ve made 20 big band recordings and 15 small band recordings of my own. I’ve played on hundreds of recordings with all kinds of musicians in every genre of music. It is all pretty interesting!

Some music styles can be fads but the jazz and blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

People are generally looking for the next great new thing in music and art. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t. The music that is from the heart and substantive usually stays relevant for a long time (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington). Music that is a fad, and is acknowledged for surface reasons fades rather quickly.

From the musical (…and feeling) point of view is there any difference between a jazzman and bluesman?

Jazz and blues are two different dialects from the same language. Jazz evolved out of the blues.

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” music DREAM? Happiness is……

Happiness is doing things that are meaningful with people you love and respect, enjoying the moments in life, going through hardships with a positive attitude, helping others, taking a hike in a beautiful place, making a great salad!