Monthly Archives: January 2012

Days 294, 295, and 296

294:  Friday night I played at a nice little restaurant near 8 Mile and Livernois called 1917 American Bistro.  Jellick hired me for the gig to play with Brandon and Greg, who played drums and percussion respectively.  Nice vibe, and nice music.

295:  Last night I played a really fun Trad gig at the Elks Lounge in Mt. Clemens.  It’s been a long time since I played that kind of music, and it was really refreshing.  The band was killer, and I think people had a good time, although I would have like to see a few more folks dancing.  This gig reinforced my belief that there’s nothing more important than groove, and that early jazz is one of the hardest styles to reproduce accurately.  The band leader, Ron, did open my eyes to a few stock combo packs that are pretty accurately arranged.  Definitely gave me food for thought for the combos for next year.

296:  Today is Sunday, and Jenine is throwing a baby shower for our friend Alta Dantzler.  My performance today will consist of imitating a disappearing magician upstairs while my house is being babified.

Day 293

This is not going to be a long post.  Not Facebook worthy, not Twitter worthy, barely even writing worthy.

EXCEPT, I’d like to document a fun Percussion Faculty concert we had last night. It featured African drumming from Mark Stone and Paul Schauert, Sam Jeysigam on Murdungum, Dan Maslanka on vibes and marimba, and Sean Dobbins on drumset.  It was one of the most varied programs I’ve played in a while.

This was an Arts After Work series, and despite a light audience, the music was successful.  In the future, we have to be sure not to schedule concerts that conflict with Basketball games.


Day 292

Alarm Will Sound is my band.  To know that I’ll have a good musical experience on every gig not only makes me look forward to it, but also inspires me to play the best I possibly can.  Everyone in the group is kick-ass in some way or another, and when everything really comes together, there’s no better feeling in the world.  Although AWS has been the most steady band I’ve been in in the past decade, it’s not the only one that has made me feel this way in my life.

They have been few and far between, though.  One really special band I’ll always be proud to have been a part of was Beyondo, formed by my old roommate Eric Biondo.  Eric took the band to the Banff Workshop in  May of 2000, which was one of the best experiences of my life.  Some of the people I met and worked with during that time have gone on to have really awesome careers.  There were too many awesome times at Java’s in Rochester to mention here, but trust me when I tell you the shows were always packed and always unpredictable.  Eric, if you read this, you gotta get that original band together again someday.

I’m discussing this because I feel this way about the Northern Lights Trio with Mike Jellick and Jesse Kramer.  It’s extremely liberating to play with these guys and I’m honored to be asked to play with them.  I’m hoping it turns into a long-standing collaboration.  We had a great time as usual last night.

My recommendation for those of you studying music, and jazz especially, is to seek out this kind of musical camaraderie.  You’re not really playing music until you’ve felt a special connection with a group.  When the music makes you smile, you’ll know you’re doing something right.

Also, thanks to Mark Johnson for the record!

Day 291

Busy day yesterday, but not terrible.  Teaching jazz theory, Mark’s lesson, and Big Band.  Then, Jenine took me out to the Rochester Mills Brewing Company for dinner and a milkshake stout.  Yum!

In terms of Jazz Theory, I’ve realized that my historically-based approach to learning improvisation is not applicable to an academic environment.  There’s no way to reproduce the hours of exposure to jazz that our  Great Masters needed in order to learn their music.  Some educators, including myself, often say that the real place to learn jazz is on the bandstand.  This is true.  However, Jenine pointed out that many of the students in my Jazz Theory class are not going to be jazz musicians, and in this sense, they’re not learning the information to be a cutting edge improviser, but more likely learning pedagogy to pass on when they themselves become teachers.  That is not to say that the students in the class want to be the best they can, but they are not jazz majors, and have other obligations within their primary concentrations.

Eventually, I’ll have a jazz major in place, and some of the students will need these courses for these degrees.  For now, the students are steadily increasing in number, and many of them are becoming more skilled at improvising.  I’ve just got to keep plugging away!


Day 290- Some deep thoughts from Charlie Haden

Tonight I worked with a student who may be one of my new favorites.  You can tell he’s into the bass, and he responds well to teaching.  I like when they come into the first lesson “tabula rasa.”  I get to create habits rather than trying to undo them.

On a completely different subject, but one dear to my heart, I’ve found a new mantra, articulated with simple perfection by one of my top-five influential bassists, Charlie Haden.  (If you have Spotify, click here for a blog-post soundtrack).  I had the honor of having an afternoon hang with Charlie in Ithaca a few years ago, which also happened to be the day his bluegrass record arrived in stores.  As I’m listening to his latest gospel-inspired record with the late Hank  Jones,  (recorded 3 months before Hank passed away), I can’t help but contemplate its significance.  If I were to add anything to the quote, it would be that being involved in any musical experience does change my perception of the passing of time, and of “the moment.”  Daniel Barenboim states that music “quickens” time, but I choose the view that music makes time relativistic, precisely in the sense that time is altered based on the viewpoint of the observer (or in this case, the performer or listener).  I feel like my thoughts are drifting into this realm after this weekend’s performance of Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass.  I certainly felt that time was REALLY SLOW watching this opera.  I wonder if I aged ever so slightly faster than the performers on stage. 🙂

This is quickly getting over my head, so I’ll just give you the awesome quote from Mr. Haden:

“I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life. When you’re in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow — there is just the moment that you are in. In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. It is then, and only then, that you can experience your true significance.”- Charlie Haden

Day 289- The OU Sunday Night Combo

One of the benchmarks of my time here at Oakland has been the development of a recently-created “graduate” or upper-level jazz combo.  It’s the first time since I’ve arrived here that each singular member of the group has a decent amount of “jazz experience” and is deeply motivated to progress with their own exploration of this music.  Tonight I got to play bass with this group.

This is not to say that the combos in the past have not done well.  Just the opposite actually.  Under Sean Dobbins’s leadership, many Oakland students have come a long way in their fundamental approach on how to play jazz.  There is one main difference between the upper-level combo and the others, however, and that difference is partly out of the  control of the participants.  The difference is that the upper-level combo generally consists of musicians who have been through the rigors of an undergrad degree, and now have the RAM to study almost solely what they wish as opposed to what is dictated to them.  This is a common occurrence at ANY University and is expressly the purpose of a specialization degree.

Inevitably, these musicians are also older than the average undergrad, and this gives the the advantage of experience, specifically playing experience outside of the University.  This type of requisite playing is more effective than any Professor in learning how to play jazz, and it has been this way since its inception.  Although the last thing I want is to make my appointment superfluous, really, all the academic study in the world won’t give someone the “grit” they need to be successful as a “jazz” musician.

In my opinion, there’s no more positive message than inspiration through example.  My hope is that those involved in the jazz program at OU will aspire to the level of musicianship these guys are demonstrating.  I’m proud of all the jazz students at OU, particularly those who have put a lot of hard work into the Big Band.  I need their help more than anyone to develop the program.  I hope we can, as musicians with a common goal, continue the awesome forward progress.


Day 288

Today the Oakland Jazz Quartet and I had a great gig at the First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham as part of their “Jazz Without Borders” series.  It was the first time that we played a concert in which every member contributed a tune or two of their own.

We played Mark Stone’s “Lullaby for Ellery,” written for his new daughter, and his soon-to-be-a-standard “Gumption Time.”  Sean Dobbins contributed a tune he wrote for his mother called “Sweet’s Revenge” and a tune in homage of his first drumset, descriptively named “Blue Horizons.”  He also brought in a great Wayne Shorter tune (which I may adopt in the future on a regular basis) called “The Chess Players.”

Scott Gwinnell, the consummate pianist/arranger brought in two tunes.  The first was dedicated to Charles Mingus called “Theme for the Underdog” and one of the movements of his Cass Corridor Suite entitled “Legacy.”  I contributed “Midwest Arrival” and “Flash Blues.”  In addition, we played a Kenny Wheeler tune called “Heyoke” from his 1976 record Gnu High.

I can’t speak for the other guys, but I had a great time.  Despite being a little under-rehearsed, we more than made up for it energy.  This gig will definitely be on my list of “Favorite Gigs of 2012.”  (See new blog page)

Thanks to Winn for bringing us in.