ECM Listening, Day 1- Miroslav Vitous, “First Meeting”

Like many jazz musicians waking up this morning, I’m eternally grateful to ECM for opening their catalogue to Spotify.  This is a double-edged sword for me, as I recognize that individual album sales may drop for the company, but am thoroughly excited and inspired by the amazing music that has become available.  I’m also inspired to share some of the recordings I’ve encountered, and will encounter, in the hope that doing so will encourage more plays for the albums, for whatever that’s worth.

I’m starting with an album I haven’t heard until today, but which is really blowing me away.  Miroslav Vitous’ playing has always been great, and I’ve always been a fan.  This album wasn’t released in the US, or at least not until recently, and I’m just now finding it.  It’s great to hear Kenny Kirkland in this environment, and Vitous’ arco playing is sending me back to the shed.  Please take a listen!

Contrabass Conversations

I had a great time talking with Jason Heath from the podcast Contrabass Conversations this summer!  Check out the episode below!


“Middle Game” Release

Hello all!


Middle Game_cover

I’m very happy to announce the release of my latest record as a leader, “Middle Game.”  The album features my own compositions played by Andrew Bishop, Kris Johnson, Michael L. Jellick, and Jesse Kramer.

If you’d like to purchase a physical CD, you can do this at CDBaby here.

Or, iTunes has the downloadable tracks here.

I hope you enjoy the new music!

Sailing, Part I

A portion of every one of my summers as a child and teenager was spent with my family on Long Beach Island, New Jersey.  My grandparents, George and Edna Katz, owned a modestly sized, boxy house located at the mid-point of the eighteen-mile long barrier island just north of Atlantic City, and just south of Seaside Heights.  Every year, my mother, a speech pathologist and school district administrator would count the minutes until 3:00pm, June 24th, when she, my sister, and I were free from the previous nine months of early morning alarm clocks, cold bus stops, and treacherous drives on dark, windy, and snowy upstate New York roads to begin our journey south, towards a beachy paradise, or at least the New Jersey version thereof.  My father joined us too, though often he had a gig that would delay his departure, and Mom, Randi, and I would go before him, anxious to catch a whiff of the briny air rising from Manahawkin Bay that signaled the end of a long car ride from Ithaca to Beach Haven Crest, and the beginning of our summer rituals.  We knew these days would be different from the monotonous but necessary one-hundred-eighty that we had endured since early September after Labor Day, and the sibling bickering and bad blood that had accumulated during the day’s sticky commute blew away with the Atlantic Ocean’s eastward winds.

Our trips to Long Beach Island were our summer holiday getaways, but they were also opportunities to reconnect with our summer neighbors from West Lavenia Avenue.  The MacPhees, the Hasans, John in the backyard, and Rosemary across the street were kind and familiar people who enjoyed listening to our wintertime lives, or so we assumed.  Eddie MacPhee, a boy from Nutley, was my age, and we spent almost every day together playing Nintendo games, boogie boarding at the beach, and playing whiffle ball or street hockey after dinner.  Omar and Jennifer Hasan, from Delran, were my summertime older brother and sister.  Omar was my guide to Star Trek, Star Wars, and Ferris Bueller quotes, and I could count on Jen to go back into the ocean with me, without fail, and no matter the temperature.  They were, and still are, the only people I knew who owned ferrets for pets.

The back story here is really to set the scene for my infatuation with watery adventures and the people that helped me explore them, particularly of the sailing variety.  Mom and Nanny (my grandmother) weren’t hesitant about taking me to play in the water, either on the bayside across the street from Bayview Park in the mornings, the sun-warmed kiddie pool in the back yard, or the oceanside three blocks from the house.  These were my happiest summer memories; the snails between my toes in the squishy bay beach sand, the skin-peeling enslavement of yellow swimmies, the wild hunt for sand crabs between encroaching and receding ocean waves, playing jellyfish hop-scotch, and burying my Star Wars figurines in the sand in a purgatorial stasis to await their watery liberation and Trans-Atlantic journey to Old World Portugal.  I wonder if Chewbacca ever made it.

However, none of these memories were viscerally equivalent, or as formative, as the sensation of sliding down the face of a steep wave on my boogie board or surfboard, or feeling the cool summer ocean water rush over my feet for the first time that season.  There were no natural sounds as exhilarating as the sshhSSHHHssshhh of the ocean waves as I walked towards the beach, and no sights as enticing as the first glimpse of blue-green as I sunk stepped over the dune to our street’s pseudo-exclusive jettied stretch of LBI’s eighteen-mile long oceanfront.  The water was all-consuming, expansive, comforting, limitless, exciting, beckoning, and homey.  It had forever become part of my identity, and its influence on my life subtle, but persistent.  It was on those waters of Long Beach Island that my interest in sailing began, with the help of my uncle Herb Katz, his friend, John Whitehall, and John’s Catalina 22 sailboat.

Sailing stories and self reliance

In an episode from “Furled Sails- The World’s First Sailing Podcast,” Noel Davis, one of the show’s hosts, mentioned a quote about how sailors go sailing not just to sail, but to tell stories about sailing.  The world has no lack of sailing stories, and I suppose this makes sense given that once a sailor, (especially a single-handed sailor), is on the water, with sails set to a far-off destination, eventually he or she will turn to writing to pass the time.  The most famous of these stories, particularly those by Joshua Slocum, Sir Francis Chichester, Bernard Moitessier, Robin Lee Graham, Webb Chiles, Tania Aebi, and Laura Dekker attract me because they describe a life so foreign to my own, yet somehow their philosophies and practices resonate with my own life.  These are stories of people who are self-reliant, adventurous, open-minded, and dissatisfied with the status quo.  In many ways, these are the exact qualities I look for when I meet and play with a musician for the first time.  From a musical perspective, however, there is no way for someone to teach you enough about music for you to be successful.  All the theory in the world will amount to very little when you step onto the stage unless you’ve spent your own diligent hours perfecting how to apply that theory to the shared repertoire of the musicians you play with.

That being said, it is very difficult to be totally self-reliant.  Of course there are people in the world who try, and some are good at being solely dependent on themselves, but ultimately, isn’t that kind of a lonely way to live?  It’s ok to rely on people for things sometimes.  There’s no doubt that I have in my life too.  For an aspiring jazz musician, the most obvious form of musical reliance comes in the form of your teachers and mentors from whom you are seeking knowledge.  There have been several in my life, and I trusted that if I made a mistake here or there, they’d let me know.  Sometimes their criticisms stung, but those criticisms shaped how I play, write, teach, and live today.  I still have mentors, but increasingly over the past few years, I feel like there has been a subtle shift, and I’m often put in a mentoring position.  It’s been wonderful, but does that mean I have to be more self-reliant now?

There are things I feel self-reliant about, including my first single-handed sailing excursion the other day.  However, I am certainly not self-reliant when it comes to being a parent.  Even as I write this right now, someone is watching my daughter.  How could I be considered self-reliant?  Frankly, it’s impossible to be self-reliant as a parent, yet still be a person with career goals and life interests.  That’s ok with me, though, because I mostly really like the people I’m reliant on!  As the school year approaches and my wife begins the process of her work commute, it’s becoming more and more apparent how many people I depend on in my life.  So for whoever reads this, THANK YOU!!!!!

So my mantra for today is: self-reliance leads you to a greater sense of accomplishment, complexity, self-worth, and fun, but appreciate the people who you are meaningful in your life and help out!

And thank you to all the sailors who go sailing, for the sailing part, but especially for your inspiring stories!


OU Jazz Band

OU Jazz Band

Photo taken at the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival. They killed it!

Back to writing…soon.

June 8th of last year was my last post.  That’s a long time not to write on my own website, so I’m going to try to get back into writing.  Possible forthcoming topics:

1.  Chess and Jazz

2.  Parenthood

3.  Practice regimen

4.  Composition/Arranging topics.

Thanks for checking in!