2011

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!

 

Bob and Russ’ Excellent Adventure

Bob and Russ’ Excellent Adventure

Sometimes musicians do crazy shit that defies explanation in the name of

playing music, and in the process. experiencing new places and situations.  Russell Ferrante and I had such an experience on December 2nd 2011.  We traveled a total of 72 hours round trip to play a 75 minute concert in northern Brazil in a small former fishing village called Jeriquaquara. Most people I’ve recounted the story to think that I’m totally out of my mind, and they are probably right. But never the less, we had an amazing adventure, played wonderful music, and saw an enchanting place that I never in my wildest dreams imagined existed.

We boarded a Continental flight from Los Angeles to Houston, about a 3 1/2 hour flight. It is great to have an elite card on an airline. (The way to facilitate this is to always fl on one airline, or at least on the same alliance of airlines. Build up those miles!) ) Russ and I got exit row seats and were able to pre-board the flight thanks to our elite cards. He brings a keyboard as carry on, and I have my tenor sax. We’ve developed a system whereby I can put my horn on top of Russ’ keyboard in the overhead space so that we minimize the space taken, and avoid the “knucklehead jamming something into either instrument” routine.

Went directly to the next flight, which was headed to Sao Paulo, and did not have much time to do so. We had a bulkhead pair of seats in coach on this flight, which felt like being in a little room of sorts. Comfy as far as coach goes. Nice to not have a person with arms the size of watermelons spilling over into my seat. This flight was roughly 11 hours. Slept a bit, read my kindle, and generally grooved through the flight.

Arrived in Sao Paulo, went through customs, and then met the former wife of the promoter who was very helpful in getting us to our next flight and set up for the arrival in Jeriquaquara. The next flight was from Sao Paulo to Fortaleeza, a fairly large city in the north east of Brazil, about a 4-hour flight from Sao Paulo.

Arrived in Fortaleea and were met by people from the festival. We were directed to a truck that was to drive us the 5 hours to Jeriquaquara. The driver Louis, was an interesting character and we were grateful he spoke fluent English. He had his daughter with him and informed us that he had to drop his daughter at home before we departed for Jeriquaquara. At this point we had already traveled 30 hours, were pretty dinged, and pretty much took the “whatever” approach that works so well in Brazil.

We drop off the daughter and then Louise’ cell phone rings. He finds out that we have to return to the airport to pick up a package. Whatever!  Grrr!  So one hour later we are still at the airport.

Off we go to Jeriquaquara. Most of the way we were in total darkness. There were little or no streetlights, and the roads were fairly narrow. Louise engaged us in interesting conversation, which helped ease, the pain a bit. Thankfully he had made this trip hundreds of times, and he knew where every pothole and twist and turn in the road was. We were making good time, which was fine with us.

About 4 hours into the drive Louise suddenly veers off the paved road onto a dirt road and the bumpy ride takes on a new dimension. I thought I might lose some or all of my fillings in my mouth and the pads from my saxophone keys. This went on for about 40 minutes. Pretty psychedelic after 35 hours of travel.  Whatever! I must say that Louis was an expert on navigating this road. He gave a command performance!

Suddenly we are driving along the ocean on the beach! We were in deep sand, and the truck is fishtailing all over the place. Louise explains that he has to drive this fast so we don’t get stuck. Nice! I figure we are all going to plunge into the surf ant any minute. To compound matters, there are wild donkeys scattered all over the beach, and we are driving around the ones that are sleeping in the sand. Is this really happening? We’re not sure!

20 Minutes later we arrive at this small charming village with small bed and breakfasts, interesting looking shops and restaurants, and a large stage with a band playing on it in the middle of the town. It looks totally amazing, and we quickly forget the ordeal of getting there.  The promoter, Capucho is at the hotel to greet us. HE looks like an interesting character and we feel very welcomed and comfortable.  Right to bed

after that kind of travel, even thought Capucho offered to take us to dinner. It was 1 in the morning, and we had traveled for 36 hours.

We wake up the next day and find ourselves in this beautiful seaside village that is a true paradise. Many Europeans as well as Brazilians are there relaxing and we dive right into the laid back vibe. Russ and I have a nice lunch on the beach and we cool out for the rest of the day until sound check, which is at 7PM. We do a quick sound check, which goes very well. The crew has it together, and the sound is really great. This is the first time Russ and I play duo with Russ using a synthesizer to enhance toe piano-tenor format. The textural and sonic possibilities suddenly seem very broad, and I’m really looking forward to playing the concert.

We play our set around 11 PM, and play for roughly 75 minutes. The crowd seems to dig it, and we have a great time. Playing duo is such an interesting and challenging format. You have a lot of space in the tambral spectrum due to the absence of bass and drums. It is kind of nice to leave things implied in the time rather than stated.

Playing duo always humbles me. You really have to play with good time, phrasing, and keep your ears wide open!

After we finish our set we say hello to a bunch of fans, and then go into the audience to listen to the next band (there were 2 or 3 bands 4 nights in a row).

The bandleader of the next band is 91 years old! He plays guitar and banjo like someone who is 30.  We are inspired by the music we are hearing, which comes from the choro tradition. The music is almost classical in nature, and has a great energy and sound.

About 2AM I throw in the towel, and head back to the hotel for a few winks. We are leaving to go back home in 6 hours.

8:30 AM comes really fast, and we check out and find that Louis is driving us back to the Fortaleeza airport.  He informs us that we have to pick up another passenger at another hotel. We drive to the other hotel and the guy we’re picking up is still asleep.

I start to get a bit agitated, as we have a 32-hour ravel day ahead of us, and do not want to miss our first flight. The passenger eventually shows up and off we go.  Russ can’t find his customs form that you need to exit Brazil, so we go back to the hotel to look for it.

IT is nowhere to be found, so, very much like the trip to Jeriquaquara, here we are leaving one hour later than planned. Again a resounding “whatever”!

This time we are somewhat prepared for the fishtailing ride along the beach, but not quite prepared for the faster speed to make up for the lost hour. We avoid hitting any wild donkeys, and the dirt road segment doesn’t seem quite so bumpy. Finally we get on some paved road, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we will make our flight.

About two hours into the drive our driver informs us that he and his passenger want to stop for lunch. I ask if there is time, given our late departure. He looks at me with an expression of “you gotta learn to cool out!”, and says there is plenty of time. So we stop at a little ma and pa restaurant where the driver and passenger eat what looks like a great lunch.  I must say that “easy does it” is a high priority amongst our truck-mates.

It actually begins to rub off on us, and we relax into whateverness.  Russ and I share a bag of fresh picked cashews that had been roasted on a grill at the restaurant. They were unusually delicious.

Back in the truck and headed for Fortaleeza airport. About an hour out our driver informs us that we have to divert to drop off the passenger at his brother’s house.

Whatever!  I hope we make the flight.

We arrive at the Fortaleeza airport just in time to comfortably board the flight,

Fly 4 hours to Sao Paulo, change planes, fly to Houston (12 hours) , go through customs,

And board the final flight to L.A.

37 hours later I arrived at my home, comfortably exhausted, and marveling at the great adventure we had just experienced. Here’s what I came away with from this experience: 1. In order to get the full jolt of an experience you must surrender to whatever the tempo and direction of the experience takes on. Freaking out gets you nowhere, and you may very well miss some amazing things along the way. 2. Being grateful for every breath you take, and every experience you encounter assures that you will come away from an experience like the one we had in Jeriquaquara with beautiful memories and a sense of growth and joy of life. We just as easily could have focused on the 72 hours of travel to play for one hour, and focused on, to our way of thinking perhaps, the lack of predictable timing on the sequence of events. 3. Accentuating the positive, which in this case, was the fact that we had the experience of playing a set of inspired music for an appreciative audience in a beautiful place, a place that most Americans would never know about, much less visit.

 

Kaunas, Lithuania

 

 

Writing from Kaunas, Lithuania, the first former Soviet to declare independence from Russia, most recently in 1990, where I spent 5 days with the Kaunas Big Band.

Unlike the usual routine of doing one-nighters, this time I was able to get a good look at

this wonderful country, and get to know several people here. I stayed in a lovely hotel in the “old town” part of Kaunas, where architecture ranged from 13th century gothic buildings to Bauhaus style from the early-mid 20th century,

The Kaunas Big Band is a spirited group of musicians who, through government and private support, manage to play every week and do a variety of projects.

They worked very hard on the music prior to my arrival, which allowed me to come in and deal with the fine points in a detailed way. We played concerts in Kaunas and Vilnius, which were well attended and enthusiastically received. I find real joy in being able to convey the experience I’ve garnered playing in the big bands of Buddy Rich , Thad and Mel, as well as working with the guys in my big bands in NYC, By the second concert the band was really playing well, and a great time was had by all.

As is the case with most of the big bands I work with, the key ingredients to have the band sound really great rests on a few key points: 1. The winds must play with clean, clear, accented attacks (preferably attacking at the same time). The sustained

notes should be softer than their attacks (ala sforzando-piano). 2. The rhythm section should play in an unobtrusive way, supporting the groove and staying out of the way of the written ensemble material.  and generally make the music feel good.  3. Big bands need not play loud! If they play softer with accented attacks and softer sustains the music is more transparent, players can hear one another better, and the blend winds up sounding much better.

After the concert in Vilnius we went for some dinner and conversation at a great restaurant in the center of town. Tomas, the bandleader, his wife, a criminal and civil lawyer, one of her colleagues, and the colleague’s dad were at the table.  This gentleman had been a former Lithuanian diplomat to the US, and had also been a member of the delegation that negotiated the secession of Lithuania from Russia in 1991. It was so very interesting to talk about music, life and politics with these folks, and get their perspective on things.

While I talked about how our President Obama was having a tough time working with the Republican majority in congress and how much more I preferred Obama’s approach to foreign policy, the consensus at the table was that George Bush’ tough stance on the” axis of evil”, and his unequivocal support of Lithuania independence was preferable in terms of keeping Russia in check. It had only bee 20 years since Russia had occupied Lithuania and made everyone’s lives there quite miserable. Russia sending troops into Georgia a few years back was further evidence that expansion of power is still very much on Russia’s mind.  I asked why George Bush had not stepped in at that time to support Georgia’s autonomy. This former diplomat commented that a world war could have resulted if the U.S. had come on too strong with Russia.

Where we wound up with all this was that whether you label a society as democratic, socialist, or autocratic, there are varying degrees of freedom and lack of freedom involved. To the Lithuanian the term socialism has a terrible connotation that harkened back to Soviet domination. To Sweden and Denmark socialism means a humane caring for all citizens. While democracy in the U.S. stands for freedom for all,

It is unclear if in fact the same freedoms are extended to all.  The one common denominator is that there is corruption and misuse of power in every government of every country on earth.

This is why far more time should be spent on music and the arts, where people of all countries can collaborate in a joyous experience of harmony and spirituality. Funding of the arts should be bolstered in tough times, not cut. For it is this involvement in the arts that will provide hope, a feeling of connectedness, and a common bond to all peoples of the world. I see this time and time again.

\                I am grateful to have the opportunity to, be a musical ambassador, to play music all over the world that reaches people in a profound way, and circumvents the differences between countries and philosophies. In the end it is all about love, giving, and gratitude.

 

 

 

9/11

I will never forget September 11th 2001 and the effect that day would have on life as we know it. I was living in New York in a small town called Hastings on Hudson  just up the Hudson River from NYC. On that particular morning I was on east 20th street and 3rd avenue at a doctor appointment. While sitting in the waiting room I noticed that the staff was playing the radio news over the sound system. People were reading their newspapers and, by and large, not paying attention to what was being said. What I heard was that a “small plane” had hit one of the world trade center towers. I looked around to see if anyone else had heard what I had just heard. No reaction.

I went in to see the doctor and we casually chatted about the bizarre occurrence (still thinking it was merely a small plane that had hit the tower).  When I exited the examination room and was settling up at the front desk the nurse said that one of the towers had fallen down. She had a pretty strong accent and I just figured that I had heard her wrong. In any case, I left the doctor’s office and walked out onto 20th street. The sky was full of smoke, and there were hundreds of people walking up 3rd avenue, some covered in white dust.  At this point I went into a restaurant to grab some breakfast and watch the news.  It was at this point that the 2nd tower came down. They kept playing this scene over and over on the television.  There was talk of more planes in the sky that were potentially going to crash into something. It felt like the world was ending.

I left the restaurant and went to the lot where my car was parked. On the way I passed Cabrini Hospital. A triage area with stretchers and medical supplies was set up on the sidewalk. What was so telling was the fact that there was no one being treated. This was a tell tale sign that there would be very few survivors from the WTC event.

The parking attendant said that Manhattan Island had been sealed off and all public transportation had been shut down. My only thought was to get home to my family before the world ended. What would normally take 30 minutes wound up taking 5 hours? I slowly drove north through the middle of Manhattan, picking up people as I went along who needed a ride.

At one point a woman and her 4 year old were in my car.  The radio was on, and they were describing people jumping out of the world trade center and falling to their death. The woman placed her hands over her child’s ears. I then turned off the radio. None of this seemed real.  Thankfully the bridge from Manhattan to Riverdale in the Bronx was still open, and I was able to drive out of NYC and complete the drive to Hastings.

We were hearing stories about families who had lost loved ones, about people who worked in or near the WTC barely escaping with their lives. My brother’s wife, who works for Goldman Sachs, was running north when the huge cloud of debris from the second tower began to envelope her. She had to duck into a bank and sit there for hours until the cloud subsided.  A son of two of our good friends in Brooklyn was in Stuyvesant High School next to the World Trade Center that morning, and was told to run north and don’t look back. A neighbor spoke of running down the stairs of tower 2 and feeling the building sway when the second plane hit the tower. One of his office mates asked, “Are we going to die?”

For the next year it seemed like the New York area was under siege. There were roadblocks at all entry points into Manhattan, and daily reports of possible terrorist attacks. Every possibility from dirty bombs to biological weapons to mysterious letters with toxic white powder actually being sent to people in government was cited as justification for the lock-down of NYC. My 20-minute ride from Hastings into Manhattan was now taking 2 hours. The world had changed.

Scare tactics?  It felt a little like the doctor who runs a million unnecessary tests (like radioactive CT scans) to cover their ass should a dire illness arise?

At first flying became a much more pleasant experience. The planes were empty. People were afraid to fly, hence the life of the traveling musician got considerably easier. This all changed once the heightened security measures were put into place, far fewer flights were offered, and the airlines were able to fill up all the planes. At this point everyone was placed under careful  (or maybe miss-directed) scrutiny at all airports. A lot of this made very little sense to me. Old people were being frisked. Our 12-year-old son was frisked. A TSA official took my saxophone away from me at a checkpoint and would not let me help her open the case. She almost dropped the horn as things were falling out of every pocket on the case.  When I tried to explain that this was a delicate and valuable musical instrument two large goons surrounded me and threatened to remove me from the airport.

As we look back over the last 10 years many questions arise.

Why were we duped into believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was somehow in cahoots with the Taliban in order to justify the major U.S. military build-up in the Middle East?

Why do we always take the presumptuous stance that assumes the best thing for countries we invade is a similar form of democracy to what we practice in the U.S.?  How can we presume that this will even work, or that the citizens of that country are comfortable with that way of life? Again, to make an analogy to American Medical Association practice, the policy is to kill the disease even if you wind up seriously compromising or even killing the patient. Is this the best option for all concerned?

To our government’s credit there have been no subsequent terrorist acts on U.S. soil since 9/11. The extra security measures seemed to have worked, although the acts of terrorism did move to Spain and the U.K.  Was torturing the enemy really necessary? Did it exacerbate the problem?

In the Mel Brooks film History of the World Part 1 (I’m still waiting for part 2). King Louis XIV is depicted in his palace being informed that his people are getting ready to start an uprising. “Sire, the peasants are revolting”. The King replies,  “Revolting, they are disgusting!”

Was it this chasm between the aristocracy and common people in the world that set the stage for the extremism that led to 9/11 and the years to follow?  When all is not well on main street is the tendency for frustration and hatred more likely to fester and cause conflict?

My contribution to the situation in the world is to spread love and inspiration through music. In some small way I would like to think that this could make a difference.  In the process I hope to inspire people to seek the truth and do the right thing.

 

Bob’s Excellent Lunch-time Salad

I am constantly on a quest to find things that are healthy and incredibly gratifying to eat. As the result of my many trips to Italy I’ve come away with an appreciation of a dining experience where the food is really great and you wind up being incredibly thankful for the experience. Here, then, is a quick and easy recipe for a wonderful salad that will have you thanking your lucky stars.

Anyone can make this salad, and in fact, change almost any of the ingredients to suit your particular tastes.  It helps to have the best quality ingredients you can muster, particularly the olive oil. California is really great for produce, so we have a bit of an edge out here. But where there is a will, there is a way.

Start with some nice romaine lettuce. Wash and dry it well. Shred or finely chop two carrots and add to the salad. Add 1/4 of a cucumber,  5-8 cherry tomatoes, 1/2 of a ripe avocado (or a whole one depending on how hearty you want this salad), a small amount of chopped cilantro,  a small amount of walnuts (based on your preference), 2 tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese, and one good sized ripe fig cut into small bite-size pieces. Peach is a good substitute!                                                                                                                                                                                   Put all these ingredients in a wood salad bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar.  Believe it or not, Costco has great olive oil and balsamic vinegar at a very reasonable price.  Toss the salad, and you are ready to rock!

You can also add a few pieces of another cheese, like manchego. or a good swiss cheese if you want some more protein. I put in edemame (cooked soy beans) sometimes. You can also throw in some brown rice to fatten up the salad. Sometimes I’ll throw in some leftover chicken or steak if it is here.

The point is, this is an incredibly nutritious, tasty, and low-calorie salad that is crazy-good.  When I eat this salad I don’t feel like I need bread, or anything else for that matter. It holds me until dinner very nicely. Add a nice green tea and some almonds and dark chocolate for dessert, and life is good, baby!

If we all gave more thought to our diets we wouldn’t have the magnitude of health care issues in the U.S. simply because we wouldn’t need all those doctor visits.  Strive for tone!!

 

 

Bobby McFerrin

This summer the Yellowjackets had the great pleasure to do some concertizing with Bobby McFerrin as an honorary Yellowjacket. Bobby’s tremendous artistry and big heart were incredibly inspiring to us all.  We played concerts in New York, Los Angeles, and two dates in Oregon.  Hopefully there will be more opportunities for this collaboration in the future.

What was most striking about Bobby’s presence on the Jacket’s bandstand was his total commitment to being in the moment, seemingly without any concern for sticking to any set plan or protocol. Things would change at the drop of a hat, always with a sense of purpose and momentum. In a sense, this is what jazz music is all about. Playing note one, then note two, and then considering the direction implied by the first two notes in deciding what note comes third.

For those of you who have seen McFerrin live you know how intimate his connection with the audience is. I’ve never seen any other artist carry on this level of dialogue with an audience in such an artistic and sincere way. It is so full of good will, creative energy, and humanity.

In New York at the Highline Ballroom Bobby asked if anyone in the audience wanted to come up and sing Lullaby of Birdland. The McFerrin fans were out in force that night! Frantically waving hands were everywhere. A young man came up and proceeded to sing something that somewhat resembled the tune, but somehow changed key and meter every few bars.  Bobby then proceeded to duet with this cat. Only an artist of his caliber could pull such a thing off. It was incredible! All done with a good-natured and generous approach. He weaved around this guys less-than-stellar rendition of “Lullaby” and turned the whole thing into a work of art.

What I’ve taken away from this experience is a new awareness of how important it is to be in the moment, be generous of spirit, and the importance of listening to the other person without passing judgment on them, in the name of making every encounter. and every moment the best it can be.

 

Tribute to Pete Yellin

About a month ago my good friend and colleague Pete Yellin had a major stroke. He found himself paralyzed on one side and unable to speak.  I can only imagine what this must feel like to someone who was accustomed to playing all the time and leading an extremely active life. Pete is currently in a rehab fighting for whatever recovery he can muster. We’re all routing and praying for Pete.

I met Pete on Tito Puente’s band in 1974, although I had heard him play with Joe Henderson before that in 1972. In 1975 we both joined the Buddy Rich Big Band and quickly became hanging buddies. Pete was 10 years older than I, and had valuable experience and information that I wanted to hear about. We used to play music, talk music, and even play basketball together.

When I started my big band in 1984 Pete was there, and he stayed in the band until 2007 when I moved out to Los Angeles. He played on every one of my big band recordings during that period.

Pete Yellin has only to play a few notes and you know that it is Pete who is playing. He is of the generation where each player had a distinctive sound, and spent more time developing a personal vocabulary than copying other players.  Granted, Pete came out of the Bird, Coltrane, Rollins school. But the majority of Pete’s sound is his own. The best way to describe his playing is free flowing, expressive, quirky, and personal.  There is only one Pete Yellin!

Aside from being an active player on the jazz scene, Pete ran the jazz program at Long Island University in Brooklyn for many years. He did quite a lot of teaching out in Oakland, California after he moved out there in 2004 (not sure about this date).

Pete is one of the nicest cats you will ever meet. He will freely offer information about what he is doing musically at any time, and is quick to take an interest in whatever it is you are doing.

Let us all send positive vibrations towards Oakland California and wish Pete Yellin a speedy recovery.

 

 

Words of Wisdom

 

There are little tidbits of information that wise people sometimes lay on you

in passing that wind up having a profound effect on the way you think about things.

Here are a few of those ideas that were passed on to me. Maybe you can use them.

 

Jerry Chamberlain, trombonist and philosopher, was doing the Broadway show Cats (We were also on Buddy Rich’s and Eddie Palmieri’s band together, as well as doing studio work together). He went through a phase where he was writing these little proverbs. The one that really caught my attention was: “Make sure your mind is in gear before you let out the clutch on your mouth”.

Rudy Rutherford, saxophonist with the Count Basie Orchestra dropped this on me during a jazz cruise we were both on back in the mid 70’s.  He said “Always play pretty”. I took that to mean that one should have a sound that draws people in rather than frightening them away. Sometimes as improvisers we focus too much on the choice of notes and fail to consider the treatment of those notes.

Buddy Rich was known to be a gruff bandleader who was prone to fits of rage. While this was true, Buddy had a good heart and vast knowledge of music and life. He used to yell at musicians he was playing with to “get up on it”. I took this to mean not to lay back on the time too much. After many years of band leading, working with big bands all over the world, and teaching music I know what Buddy was talking about. Every musician in a band must be the drummer. It is their responsibility to keep the time moving forward with energy and consistency. There is a misconception out there that you can lay way back behind the time all the time.  Laying back is fine provided that you have an implied quarter note pulse that is up on the time, and you refer to that quarter note pulse in strategic places. If you lay back in the wrong way, it is simply slowing down.

Here’s just a couple more:

Don’t play like Albert Ayler when doing a wedding gig.

Always show up on the bandstand with a positive attitude, no matter what the circumstances. Bandleaders like having musicians around that are “on the team”. This is far more important than how great you play.

Dave Carpenter had a great saying: “Always be sure to play with the people you are playing with.”   That about sums it up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Sense

After some 58 and 1/2 years of life in this cosmos the concept of common sense is finally kicking in. I believe we arrive at this place via living our lives, making lots of mistakes, discovering new approaches, and try to do what’s best for human kind. So I thought I would share a few common sense thoughts with you. Please feel free to add to the conversation!

Take care of yourself: Develop a 20-30 minute exercise regimen that you do every morning no matter what. Combine stretching, push-ups, sit-ups, and any motions that get to all the muscle groups. Get your heart pumping! Run in place as part of the routine. If the body is working well the mind works well. Staying fit is the least we can do for ourselves and the people around us.

Eat the right foods!  Fruit, plain yoghurt and a sprinkling of granola make a slamin breakfast. I drink green tea instead of coffee. There is plenty of vitamin C in green tea. Have a salad with avocado, walnuts, mushrooms, and a small amount of a good blue cheese for lunch. (or find the ingredients that turn you on).  For dinner have meat or fish and vegetables. Chill on the pasta and bread! If you eat this way and exercise you can have a dessert every now and then.

Take some quiet time. Some people meditate, some pray. Whatever you want to call it, try to connect with a power greater than yourself (you didn’t create the world so it would stand to reason that some other power or entity outside yourself  had a part in this endeavor). Be thankful for another day on the planet.  Make a gratitude list. Pray for people in your life who may be facing challenges. Put positive energy out there during your quiet time.

Be considerate of others: Put the people in your life first. Think of them often. Be grateful for the friends and family you have. Reach out to these people even if you don’t feel like it.  Be courteous, kind, compassionate, and cognizant of other people’s space. Perform an act of kindness every day.  Don’t cheat on your wife, unless you don’t want to have a wife. Be honest and forthright with people, but consider what you say to them as to not cause unnecessary hurt feelings.

Follow your passion and develop other interests: Find the thing that most interests you in life and hammer away at it until you can’t help but be noticed. I believe everyone has the innate ability to achieve this.  Music found me, and then I pursued music with a vengeance. I also love to read about current events, history, and how great people followed their particular paths. I love to hike in beautiful places, cook and eat interesting foods, and write about life experiences. Our son Paul is passionate about fashion and clothing. He found a stylist in L.A. by chance, asked to be an intern, and after displaying an intense passion for the work at hand, was hired to be an assistant.

Do the research: Keep your research very broad when exploring current events, medical and health issues, religious and philosophical implications. There is a big world out there, and many interesting people have found compelling ways to deal with life. Don’t believe everything you hear and read. Do your own research! Be sure to check the motives of the researcher carefully. I used to get chronic sinus infections. An AMA doctor wanted to do surgery (bad idea). I went to a Chinese medicine doctor who gave me a garlic spray that got rid of the sinus infections.

I wish I had arrived at these revelations earlier in life. It would have saved me a lot of hardship and unnecessary toil. But like it is sometimes said, you are ready when you are ready.

Keep the faith, Bob

 

 

 

The deletion of 30 Grammy Categories

This year the NARAS organization has deleted 30 categories of Grammy awards in the name of streamlining and downsizing the Grammy process.The end result is the dumbing down of music as an art form, and the emphasis on music as a strictly commercial entity. You will not see pop music lumped into one Grammy category any time soon. There is too much money involved. Three chords and a cloud of dust (dressed up in outrageous attire) win out over content and quality once again.                                                                    The word  “jazz” has become the moniker for a broad scope of music that, in my way of thinking, has some level of improvisatory elements as a major part of it’s makeup, has a foundation in the blues, and draws upon a variety of musical and cultural influences. The two Grammy categories that have existed up until now, “traditional jazz” and “contemporary jazz”, just barely provided a forum for the multitude of styles of improvised jazz music that exist.                                                                                                             Now that the “contemporary jazz” category is going away artists as disparate as Sonny Rollins, Winton Marsalis, John Scofield, the Yellowjackets, and any number of artists who wish to put a contempo slant (electric?) on the music will be lumped into one category. And, oh yeah, lets not forget, that as the result of the latin-jazz category being done away with, artists such as  Eddie Palmieri, Oscar Hernandez and  Poncho Sanchez will be thrown in there too.                                                                                                   The world I choose to live in focuses on detail, acknowledgement of the past, and a reverence for  an enlightened view on the arts and culture. It appears the Grammy organization has entered the “reality tv” world the rest of our country lives in. I’m not totally shocked, though. When was the last time you heard any jazz or classical music performed on a Grammy telecast?  There was none of either last year, except for a high school jazz group (Grammy in the Schools band) playing behind the presidential speech.