Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bill Evan's Influence

Reading Peter Pettinger's biography of Bill Evans got me thinking about how much of an influence Bill was on me early on in my musical development.  I listened to Bill, transcribed his solos, and learned his repertoire all through high school and for most of my undergraduate years.  You might say I was obsessed.

Strangely, I haven't listened to those records in a very long while --- probably because most of my Bill Evans collection is on cassette tape or LP.  Maybe its time to bring them out of storage.

It was a nice surprise to see how much video footage there is of Bill on YouTube.  I hope you will enjoy this concert as much as I did.  It's from October, 1966, with Eddie Gomez on bass and Alex Riel on drum set.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Man, Thad

To ease myself back into blogging after an exceptionally busy period, I think I'll reinstitute "Wordless Wednesdays", where I post a video that has captured my interest.

Before the advent of YouTube I often wondered about Thad Jones' big band leading.  (I never got to see him live.) Did he conduct in a traditional sense?  Did he conduct from scores or by memory?  Did he stand in front of the band or play within the section?  Was he a stern taskmaster?

Thankfully we now have plenty of video examples to answer these questions and more.  I could watch Thad all day (and have to practice self discipline to refrain from doing so)!  With simple gestures and a big smile on his face, he engages with the musicians and elicits a fun, swinging atmosphere that is sometimes missing from bands today.  He and the band exude joy.

Jazz ensemble directors (myself included) can learn a lot from watching Thad.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

UCONN Brass and Percussion Day

I will teach a session called "Jazz Improv and Lego Building: They're One and the Same" this Saturday, September 13th, at the UCONN Brass and Percussion Day.  My session is from 2:30 - 3:30PM.  If you're planning to attend, please bring your instrument (or some Lego if you wish). 1295 Storrs Rd., Storrs, CT.

The UCONN Music Department's open house event is on Sunday from 9AM - 1PM.  It will be a busy and hopefully productive weekend of recruiting fine young musicians.

Monday, August 4, 2014

26.2 Miles

I came very close to completing my first marathon this past weekend, by accident.  I was scheduled to run 20 miles (my furthest distance yet!), but at mile 9 the running app on my phone started acting up.  It jumped from 9 to 14 miles and said I was running at a 6 minute per mile pace, when I was running closer to 9:30.  At that point, I turned it off.  The problem was, I didn't map out my run prior to starting.  Based on the mileage indicator on my app, I had planned to either take a shortcut as I approached mile 20, or do an extended cool down walk at the end.  I ended up estimating my distance which turned out to be 23.5 miles when I clocked it afterwards with my car's odometer. 

For the most part, I felt good throughout.  Around mile 18 my feet were tired, but my legs felt fine.  I "ate" 3 GU energy gel packs along the way (1 every 60 minutes, approximately).  Prior to running I dropped 3 water bottles, two of which I would visit twice on the running route. So I stopped and hydrated at miles 6, 9, 11, 15 and 19.

The route had several tough hills.  At the 4.5 mile point there is a steep 1/2 mile incline on Bousa Rd.  At mile 8, Horse Barn Hill is another brutal 1/2 mile ascent.  Then, at about mile 16 the hills on Hunting Lodge Rd. present a bit of a challenge to tired legs.

I'm training for the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 11th. At this point, I'm feeling strong, and know I can do it, provided I stay injury free.  I have been following a training plan on the RunKeeper app, and now plan to reset the schedule to correspond with the race.  My mileage will decrease and I'll focus more on building speed.  I may be dreaming, but I'd like to try to complete it in under 4 hours.  This tortoise has a ways to go. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tinkle, Twinkle, BAM!

I was going through old videos and stumbled upon this 7-second gem.  It gives a fairly accurate glimpse into daily life in the MacDonald household.

Against my better judgement I feel half-inclined to start a new blog called "Life With Logan".

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cadence Magazine Review - Mirror of the Mind

This time last year, boxes of my new CD had just arrived and I was busily mailing copies to reviewers.  In truth, hundreds of copies were mailed along with a press release I had written (and a personal note to each reviewer).

In all, this yielded 13 written reviews (to my knowledge), which isn't bad considering how many musicians are vying for critical attention with new discs.  Nevertheless, I hope never again to act as my own publicist; the whole process took a serious toll on my soul.  I hope to delegate promotion to the pros from now onwards.

This week I received notification that Cadence Magazine will publish the following review in their October Issue.  This was a nice surprise when I thought the lifespan of this disc's promotion had lapsed.  Here's the review:



Kris Allen (ss, as, ts), Earl MacDonald (p), Christopher Hoffman (clo), Rogerio Boccato (perc); Westwood, MA, November 2-3, 2012.

Pianist Earl MacDonald has assembled an interesting cast of characters for the Creative Opportunity Workshop on this rewarding and largely enjoyable release. The assertive and hard-swinging saxophonist Kris Allen has recorded with fellow reedmen Chris Bryars and Loren Stillman and as a member of the Illinois Jacquet orchestra. Cellist Christopher Hoffman has worked with Henry Threadgill’s Zooid and Matt Holman’s Diversion Ensemble, and the exceptionally tasty drummer Rogerio Boccato has been heard with John Patitucci, David Binney, and the Curtis Brothers. The use of cello instead of bass pushes the band a little outside of a typical post-bop mindset. The different range of the instrument moves the rest of the group to a higher state of mindfulness to accommodate it. And Hoffman is adept at shifting from the usual function of bass in a band to become a forceful solo voice, which in turn gives MacDonald more to work with. Most of the tunes are originals by MacDonald. The title tune starts things off with a mid-tempo groover, with Allen on alto. From layers of carefully organized melodic patterns, the arrangement carves space for convincing solos by Allen, Hoffman and Allen again to take it out. A repeated piano figure is at the core of the first theme of “A Thousand Memories,” followed by a release that gives MacDonald his first solo of the date. His piano skips and dances attractively, setting the stage for a gruff tenor solo by Allen. A jittery Hoffman playing arco glides in for a solo, then slips back into the ensemble. It’s all over by 3:33, a refreshing change from sessions where everything seems to last too long. MacDonald makes a point of keeping the songs under control; only “Where Thinking Leaves Off” exceeds the six-minute mark. “Beneath” is funky and stark at first, opens up quickly into mid-tempo groove featuring Allen on a fine-sounding soprano. He seems to be equally at home on all three of his horns, widening the band’s range even more. While you might not think of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” as a useful vehicle for improvisation, MacDonald’s reharmonization and tempo shifts work quite well and features a warm soprano sax solo by Allen, a bouncy piano break by the pianist, and a typically spry solo by Hoffman. That’s one of two covers on the disc. The other is the seldom-played “I Never Told You,” by Johnny Mandel and Arthur Hamilton. Premiered on a Quincy Jones orchestra date in 1969, it’s a lovely dark melody. MacDonald’s arrangement puts Hoffman’s sweet cello out front to excellent effect for one of the highlights of the session. I was also quite taken with “Disillusionment,” with its twisty melody and wide-open solos by a snake-charming Allen and Hoffman. The fractured melody of “It Was Whispered” makes for another standout performance. Boccato sounds great on this one, nailing every sharp twist and turn in the atomized, out of tempo middle section. Certainly the weirdest passage on the disc is the theatrical laughter that greets the saxophone solo on “Where Thinking Leaves Off,” followed by a section of random noises and squeaks plus the odd grunt or two. Eventually, they settle into a groove that breaks down quickly, only to reestablish itself before dissipating into a series of overlapping solo statements that converge into a crescendo. At least there’s no more laughing. The album ends with the straight-ahead upbeat groove of “Bottom Feeders,” a satisfyingly bluesy way to wrap things up. A playful MacDonald is followed by Allen, in a mood to explore the full range of his alto while Boccato and Hoffman keep pace. It’s the kind of tune designed to put a smile on your face and leave the listener with a good feeling. At least that’s the effect it had on me. This Creative Opportunity Workshop is well worth hearing.
– Stuart Kremsky

Mirror of the Mind can be purchased at the UCONN Co-Op Bookstore at Storrs Center and through CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

New Big Band Composition Debuted by the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra

My latest composition for jazz orchestra, "It Was Whispered", was debuted on June 27th, 2014 by the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra.  The concert took place at Christ and St. Stephen's Church in New York City.  Here is the video footage:

To a degree, this piece was inspired by Ornette Coleman. I am fond of the short, folksy, poetic melodies he writes, and wanted to capture this aesthetic within the context of a fully-developed large ensemble piece. My challenge/balancing act was evoking the essence of "free jazz" while retaining enough compositional control to avoid the chaos of mass, collective, free improvisation.

The soloists were:  Satoshi Takeishi (drums), Marc Phaneuf (alto sax), JC Sanford (trombone), Dave Smith (trumpet)

The band roster is as follows:
Woodwinds:  Marc Phaneuf, Ben Kono, Dan Willis, Rob Middleton, Alden Banta
Trumpets:  Dan Urness, John Eckert, Steve Smyth, Dave Smith
Trombones: Tim Sessions, Pete McGuinness, JC Sanford, Jennifer Wharton
Rhythm:  Sabatian Noelle (guitar), Deanna Witkowski (piano), Dave Ambrosio (bass), Satoshi Takeishi (drums)

This was a fun, celebratory way to wrap up my yearlong affiliation with the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop.

Here I am, posing with the workshop's director, one of my strongest musical influences, Jim McNeely:

Earl MacDonald and Jim McNeely.
...ever up and onward!

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