Friday, November 25, 2011

Yule Be Swingin'

It's hard to believe December is almost here!  With the holidays upon us, musicians around the world are dusting off their seasonal repertoire.

There is a long and wonderful tradition of jazz musicians "covering" holiday tunes, and giving them their own creative twist. Some of my favorites from years past include Dexter Gordon playing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and Oscar Peterson playing "Jingle Bells".

At 3 p.m. on Saturday, December 3rd, the UConn jazz ensembles will continue this tradition at their annual Yule Be Swingin' concert in the von der Mehden Recital Hall.  In lieu of admission charges, donations will be collected for WAIM (Windham Area Interfaith Ministry).  Last year, over $800 was raised for our neighbors in need.

At this year's concert your seasonal favorites will be performed by a variety of ensembles including four different jazz combos, a big band, the 10-piece UConn Jazz Ensemble, and a choir.  Between instrumental selections you will be lead in carol singing by Amanda Hanzlik, accompanied by yours truly.

Kids are most definitely invited.  Being a dad of young children, I know how hard it is to find quality musical events that don't start past my kid's bedtimes and where I won't be hushed (or escorted out) if they make a peep.  This concert was designed to appeal to all age groups, and it is guaranteed to put even the most curmudgeonly of scrooges into the holiday spirit.

Friday, October 28, 2011

UConn Jazz Ensemble Concert - Tuesday, Nov. 1st

If you're in the Storrs / Mansfield, CT area, I hope you will consider attending the UConn Jazz Ensemble concert this coming Tuesday, Nov. 1st at 7:30 p.m. in von der Mehden Recital Hall.  The group will be performing seven pieces by the NYC-based, award-winning composer, Nathan Parker Smith.

The instrumentation of the group is 2 trumpets, French horn, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, bari sax, piano, bass and drums.  This is the same instrumentation I chose for my professional 10tet, "the New Directions Ensemble".  Both Nathan and I are clearly influenced by Jim McNeely, who first used this instrumentation on his 2002 Grammy-nominated recording, "Group Therapy".

My students have worked diligently in preparing this challenging, fun music, and I am very proud of the progress they have made --- both as an ensemble and as soloists.

Nathan will work directly with the students, in rehearsal, on the afternoon of the 1st.  What a great opportunity!  I'm sure my students will have many questions for him.  I certainly do.

Nathan Parker Smith's work was recommended to me by composer Dave Rivello, for whom I have tremendous respect.  I haven't yet met Nathan, except through our e-mail exchanges.  I heard / saw him conduct the BMI / NY Jazz Orchestra at the Summer Showcase concert of the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop two years ago, when he won the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize.

I highly recommend this concert.  We've worked on this music for the past two months, and it would be fantastic to have a full house.  Please join us and bring your family and friends.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

UConn Jazz Combo Concert

The UConn jazz combos perform this Tuesday night, Oct. 25th at 7:30 p.m. on the von der Mehden stage.

Experience the excitement of jazz being improvised “in the moment” by skilled student musicians, on a quest to find their artistic voices and make their marks. Gregg August, Earl MacDonald and John Mastroianni, directors.

All of the UConn Jazz combos will perform.

Under the guidance and direction of faculty members, students work together within assigned combos to develop proficiency in the art of jazz improvisation and small-group jazz ensemble playing. Groups are organized according to themes, where the repertoire of a specific jazz composer or genre is addressed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

UConn basketball (and piano)

Basketball isn't the only thing we do well.

Each year one outstanding jazz studies student is selected to perform with the UConn Jazz Faculty. This year, undergraduate pianist, Mike Verselli will play dueling duo pianos with his teacher, Earl MacDonald. 2 Steinways, 4 hands, 176 notes. Don’t miss it.

Tuesday, Oct. 11th at 7:30 p.m. in von der Mehden Recital Hall.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

UConn Jazz Showcase Concert

All six of UConn’s jazz ensembles will perform at the fall Jazz Showcase concert in von der Mehden Recital Hall at 7:30 pm on Monday, Sept. 26th. A wide variety of music will be presented, including new works by Earl MacDonald, the big band music of Jimmy Heath, classic standards by Mercer, Hammerstein and Kern, and even some avant-garde pieces by Grammy and Pulitzer prize winner, Ornette Coleman.

University of Connecticut Jazz Showcase Concert, featuring all of the UConn Jazz combos and big bands.  Sept. 26, 2011.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jazz Broadcast from Portugal

Here is a link to a radio broadcast from Portugal which featured my latest CD, "re:Visions":

The host is Ivo Martins.  It was broadcast from Radio Universitaria do Minho.Radio

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Body and Soul

The good folks at Death Defying Records asked me to write a short commentary on “the first jazz album that caught my attention and helped to start me on this path.” I thought I’d go ahead and post my response here too.

This question brought to mind a vivid memory from high school of listening to “Mira, Mira”, a Matt Harris piece from Maynard Ferguson’s LP, “Body and Soul”. I remember thinking “wouldn’t it be cool to tour with a band like this someday, playing similar great music”. It’s ironic that until now, I hadn’t remembered this, and hadn’t pieced it together that by touring with Maynard (1998-2000) I accomplished an aspiration I had inadvertently set for myself in high school.

The other album that comes to mind from this period is “Pat Metheny Group”. I listened to this hundreds of times, and learned to play all of Lyle Mays’ piano / synth work on “Phase Dance”. My high school combo performed this piece at the Optimists Music Festival in Winnipeg, and I remember feeling so hip, playing Lyle’s solo. I still think this record stands the test of time.

Here’s a video I would have loved to see back in the day:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Life Support and Drastic Measures

In my last post I outlined some of my frustrations with the Hartford Jazz Society.  In this follow-up article I thought it would only be fair to offer some ideas as solutions.

Ideas For Attracting Younger Audiences:
  • Throughout his career, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson was continuously engaged in audience development, through performing in high school auditoriums, rather than in prestigious concert halls.  He collaborated with school band directors who got their students and Band Parents Associations excited and selling tickets.  By bringing the music to them, these kids often became fans for life.
  • Have family-friendly events.  Good music geared towards children (and their parents).  Jazz versions of children's songs.  Matinee performances at affordable prices.
  • Like the Boston Symphony Orchestra, offer and publicize discounted seats for people under age 40.
  • Actively develop a strong base of hard-working, organized volunteers, and offer them incentives (like a co-op) such as free or discounted concerts in exchange for successfully completed tasks such as online marketing, telephone solicitation, website updates, writing newsletter articles and desktop publishing.
Lowering Overhead Costs:
  • Stop relying on grant funding to break even at concerts!  I've seen the figures. It is absurd that the funds from a sold out audience could not exceed or match the overhead of hiring a band, catering, a sound man, and renting a hall.
  • Stop using the (ultra expensive!) Wadsworth as a performance venue and start collaborating with school band programs, presenting concerts in their facilities, for free.  Plus give them a portion of the proceeds, thereby realizing your educational mission.
  • Stop hiring such expensive bands.  Hire a big name headliner or "front line" from NYC and then hire qualified local musicians to accompany them.  In addition to lowering your overhead, this in turn will help sustain the local music scene, as well as boosting morale with local musicians.
Fundraising Activities:

During these perilous economic times let's not be guided by nostalgia and fond memories of years past.
  • If the cruise and dance are highly effective fund raisers, by all means keep them.  If their interest is fading, abandon them and forge a new path.  Google search "fund raising" to investigate the most effective means of generating the required funds to accomplish the organization's stated aims and purposes.
Don't Be Afraid To Dream:
  • What does the Hartford jazz scene need most?  A designated jazz performance space.  The jazz society in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada did it.  Read the history of the Yardbird Suite club, which is operated entirely by volunteers.
    If they did it, you can too.  Every month a substantial amount of rent is paid for your office space in Bloomfield.  That money could go towards a mortgage payment, coupled with donor and grant funding to do something truly special, with lasting value, which could double as your office space.  [Don't say that it is impossible.  It's not.]
Change the Slogan... now!
  • It's time to ditch "Keeping Jazz Alive".  This slogan concedes that jazz is on life support and is on its way out.  This is the wrong message to convey.  I propose "Sharing The Joy Of Jazz".
So... those are my thoughts and suggestions.  I'll be bringing this post to the direct attention of the HJS's Board of Directors, so if YOU have ideas to share as they ponder the organization's future direction, by all means, leave a comment (preferably on the blog rather than on my Facebook page.)
Ever up and Onward.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

If Facebook extended their relationship status indicators to include organizations, I'd have to select "It's Complicated" between myself and the Hartford Jazz Society.  In my first five years in Connecticut I made multiple attempts to initiate a relationship, with e-mails, letters and phone messages; none of which were returned.  Several years later I was invited to attend, share opinions and my expertise at an organizational planning sessions (which was mandated for them to receive grant funding).  Aside from the guests, there were no familiar faces in the room from audiences at my gigs, or performance venues I frequented at the time.  Most were (somewhat) elderly gentlemen.  Shortly after this encounter, I was asked to join their Board of Directors, which I agreed to do, for a period, after examining their stated aims and purposes, to which I enthusiastically agree and wholeheartedly endorse.  Idealistically, I had high hopes of breathing new vitality into an organization which I perceived to be dieing.  Their motto, "Keeping Jazz Alive", ironically reinforces this notion.  If mere survival is the goal, you're in trouble as an organization.

The board has expressed the desire to see new, younger faces in their ranks and audiences, but yet their list of annual events has remained unexamined and unchanged, for years (perhaps decades).  Either these event don't appeal to younger people or there are obstacles preventing them from being there.  Take the annual cruise for example:  No children are allowed and it lasts for 7 hours.  What young couple can afford two $50 tickets plus an additional $80 for babysitting.  $180 + food + beverages = one expensive date!  And for what?!  To hear a student ensemble or local group?

For now, it is my understanding that the cruise still manages to generate some funds... that is, until the remainder of the old club is too frail to attend or passes on.

On the contrary, the Valentine's dance, also priced at $50 / ticket, has been known to lose money.  The year during which I served on the board, one of the senior board members paid the balance from his own pocket.  If it generated a substantial amount of income towards accomplishing the organization's aims and purposes (such as scholarship funds or producing educational and cultural programs for schools, community centers, and colleges, I suppose I could palate the notion of dancing, although the event frankly has no appeal to me.  Again, it is an expensive date to which persuading my social peers to attend would be difficult, if not uncomfortable.

As much as I have enjoyed the concerts at the Wadsworth Aetna Theatre, they too are expensive.  I usually attend without my wife.  Maybe I'm cheap, but I view $30 as an expensive ticket price in Hartford for jazz.

I express these views "in love", because I want to see the organization succeed and thrive.  I was saddened and angered to learn of the internal robbery of funds, but perhaps it has created an opportunity for reevaluation, change and new directions.

In my next blog posting, I will share some ideas, with the intent of keeping things positive.  If someone must complain and point out problems, it is only right to offer some proposed solutions.  Ever up and onward.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

ArtEZ Jazz Composition Competition

I just returned from a weekend in the Netherlands where I was one of five international finalists in the ArtEZ Jazz Composition Competition in Enschede.  It was an exhausting, lengthy trip from Connecticut, but overall I view it as worthwhile, despite not being selected as winner.

I enjoyed meeting some fine composers from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Holland.  In our casual conversations we shared stories about our teachers and collaborators, expressed opinions about what music we like and dislike, talked of the leading jazz orchestras in our countries, and discussed our compositional approaches.  It was insightful, healthy and fun discourse.  The connections I made will certainly be helpful as I make efforts to get my big band music played with more frequency "on the other side of the pond".

Each composer was alloted a 45-minute time slot with the orchestra, in rehearsal on Saturday.  Slight aspects of interpretation could be addressed.  I focused primarily on transitions, tempo changes and achieving my desired ensemble blend in one, specific passage. There wasn't time for much else.

On Sunday, the Millennium Jazz Orchestra did a truly impressive job with the music of all 5 international composers.  Ultimately the judges chose American, Alan Chan as winner.  It was undoubtedly a difficult decision because each piece had admirable aspects. The motivic development, power and contrast in German, Jonas Schoen's piece, and the beautiful, sentimental melodic lines and dance evoking rhythms within Italian, Giovanni Savelli's "Kirshrot" were memorable.  Austrian composer, Reinhold Schmölzer's "Hurdles" had a strong sense of drama and an effective use of orchestration, although it wasn't overtly melodic.  It wouldn't surprise me if this young student of Ed Partyka and Jon Hollenbeck received some critical accolades of his own in the future.

The second half of the concert featured the music of the MJO's Henri Gerrits.  It was first-rate material that is scheduled to be recorded this month.  Consistently, the pieces had well-conceived overall shape, solid orchestrations and interesting solo backgrounds which helped guide the soloists.

The Dutch jazz scene appears to be quite healthy.  The festival also sponsored a competition for local big bands.  There appeared to be dozens of groups, most of which sounded very good.  It was amusing to hear several Germans say that the Dutch treat jazz too casually, viewing it as background party music, over which to talk, drink and dance.  I wonder how they might view American audiences.

Although I returned home somewhat disappointed, I am not discouraged.  In addition to having heard some great, inspiring, new music, I return with a slightly expanded world view, having met new, talented individuals who share my passion for orchestral jazz composition.  Ever up and onward.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lessons From A Street-Wise Professor

I just finished Ramon Ricker’s new book, “Lessons From A Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools”.   As I read it, I kept thinking, “if only this book had been written 20 years ago, when I was cutting my teeth as a young musician.”  (I certainly made my fair share of professional blunders coming out of school, despite having several caring mentors to guide and correct me.)  Ricker covers a very broad array of topics including tax tips, etiquette, career planning, time management, and the ins and outs of musical entrepreneurship.
I highly recommend this book for any young, aspiring, student musician.  Even for those of us who have been around the block a few times there are golden tidbits of information.  The section outlining the career paths of five, selected, successful musicians was especially informative.  I found the story of Jeff Tyzik’s career journey to be especially interesting and inspiring.  It certainly and got my wheels turning.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jazz Concert

Check out this incredible roster for the upcoming performance on Saturday, June 4th by the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble!

Kris Allen - alto saxophone, Artistic Director
Wayne Escoffery - tenor saxophone
Lauren Sevian - baritone saxophone
Nick Marchione - lead trumpet
Josh Evans - trumpet soloist
John Clark - French horn
James Burton III - trombone
Earl MacDonald - piano, musical director, composer
Dave Santoro - string bass
Jimmy Macbride - drum set

The concert is a fund raiser for the (financially strapped) Hartford Jazz Society.  Six groups will play at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave, Hartford, between 6 and 10 p.m.  We will be the last band, hitting the stage at approximately 9 p.m.  As an added incentive to attend, we will be debuting a couple of new pieces (which I am busy writing as you read this).

Suggested donation $25 - but no one will be turned away!
For info, please contact the Hartford Jazz Society, (860) 242-6688.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hartford Jazz Society Fundraiser Concert - June 4, 2011

The Hartford Jazz Society, America’s oldest ongoing jazz society, needs your help. They will be hosting a fundraiser to help in their rebuilding efforts [See my last blog posting for an explanation]. Please join them for a fundraising concert on Saturday, June 4, 2011, from 6 -10 p.m. at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave, Hartford.


Suggested donation $25 - but no one will be turned away!
For info, please contact the Hartford Jazz Society, (860) 242-6688.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Keeping The Hartford Jazz Society Alive

A letter from Dan Feingold, President of the Hartford Jazz Society...

To members and friends of the Hartford Jazz Society:

I am writing to inform you of a serious financial setback suffered by the HJS, and to ask for your financial support.

During this 50th anniversary year, the HJS experienced a major theft from its bank account, leaving it with virtually no funds. We have had to lay off our long time secretary, Louise Harris, and our new General Manager, Sharon Steinle, and we have been forced to cancel our spring concerts.

The good news is that the HJS has been a strong and vibrant organization for over 50 years, and we are determined to rebuild and keep going. We are working with the bank and the police to identify and prosecute the culprit. We have instituted internal procedures to ensure that such thefts will never happen again. We are reducing our office overhead, and members of the Board of Directors (all volunteers, and not a wealthy group) have each contributed toward paying immediate expenses. Sharon continues to work with us on a volunteer basis.

Local musicians and HJS scholarship alumni have offered to perform in fund raisers to help restore our bank account. The first fund raising concert will be on Saturday, June 4 at Asylum Hill Congregational Church. Meanwhile, we are entering into collaborations to maintain a schedule of HJS events until we can fund our own events. The Hartford Jazz Society’s New Directions Ensemble, which has independent funding, has performed three concerts in the last four months.

Funding has been committed for Monday Night Jazz in Bushnell Park, so that series, and our September 18 Jazz Cruise/fund raiser will take place.

But we need your support as well. We must produce the cancelled concerts to honor our commitments to the foundations whose funds were stolen from our account, and the musicians who had been scheduled to perform. We must also fund our basic operation until we can secure new grants. This means that we must raise $50,000 more than the anticipated proceeds of the above-mentioned fund raisers: $1,000 for each of our 50 years.

The HJS has been “keeping jazz alive” for 50 years, and jazz lovers have been there to support us. Our trust in your continued support motivates us to continue the Society’s work. We need your support now more than ever.

Daniel Feingold,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Black and White Theology

Are bumper stickers such as these effective in influencing legislators?  Are they designed to endear people, to change their opinion, or help shape the popular consensus?  Is it sending a message of love to all people, including those who have had to make this difficult decision?  Would they feel welcome at a church where this was the car parked beside the main entrance? Is it really this black and white?  These are some of the questions I ask myself on Sunday mornings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

School Band

I have great respect for school band directors who do their job well.  Although there is some overlap in our jobs, they have developed and possess some very different skill than mine.  Even though I regularly adjudicate high school and middle school bands, and am happy to make musical suggestions based on my expertise, I don't kid myself into thinking that I could do their gig on a day-to-day basis.

For the past five years I have heard the Mystic Middle School Jazz Band perform annually at the Manchester High School Jazz Festival.  I'm always impressed.  I was astounded to learn that their director, James Hilbie is a tuba player, and not a jazz player turned educator.  Through observing his band in performance one can see that he is a passionate, experienced educator who knows how to get results.  In all of our conversations he comes across as being very humble and he isn't shy about asking questions.

Jim recently took me up on my offer to bring his students to UConn to play as the "opening act" at a Jazz Lab Band concert.  He also agreed to give a workshop to our Music Education students, where he shared his approach to successfully directing a middle school jazz band.  It was a very insightful clinic.  Below are some notes from his presentation, shared with his permission:

Mystic Jazz Band Presentation, by Jim Hilbie

-       Auditions (in front of others) – first song of the year / first rehearsal letter
-       Sectionals once a week: 7:30 – 8:00 AM (leaders emerge – all have ears!)
-       Tuesday evening jazz rehearsal 7:00 – 8:30 PM (practice vs. rehearsal)
-       Jazz band set-up - everyone knows their jobs (example: rock – drummer captain/ swing – bass keyboard captain)
-       Listening to CD
-       Private instruction (partnership)
-       Selecting music best for the band vs. what you love / well rounded program
-       Music aptitude
-       Singing and counting
-       Plan instrumentation for the future – always looking ahead
-       Theme night /cookies / cookie swap (December)
-       Great parents – no meetings, everyone helps – jazz band family – Jazz News! every Sunday – DVD’s / Picture Boards / Bring our own audience
-       Jazz Band Schedule (communication is key!)
-       Teacher: assigning parts, how music parts fit together (bottom to top), steady and consistent, Dr. Beat
-       Fifth Grade Jazz Lab and Jazz Lab Band
-       Pencils
-       Engage students in the listening and fixing – the music making
-       Technicians vs. musicians
-       Improvisation (written solos, theme and variation)
-       Work song from the end
-       Before concert practice: 1. solos 2. bows 3. rhythm section sound check 4. attire 5. talk through entire performance
-       Keyboard bass vs. electric bass guitar
-       Compare to sports
-       All solos and soli as well as entire songs memorized
-       Guest teachers: Tom K., Tim F., Doug M.
-       Rhythm section / melody only with rhythm section / harmony only with rhythm section / play just accents
-       Tone / intonation (tuning a phrase) / style / blend / blance
-       Music Festivals: John M. “motion creates emotion” , Earl M. “play notes not on the page”, Tom K. “Nothing happens without air” and how to play keyboard bass”, Doug M. “solo – now small combo/ listen to great artists”, Jack Cick. “Play harmony louder”, Tim F. “High Hat work”, Jack Z. “World revolves around the trombone”.
-       Teachers (I) am ALWAYS LEARNING!!!
-       “To be early is to be on time”
-        “Road to success is almost always under construction”
-       “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect” Vince Lombardi
-       “Feels good to breath – DON’T”

For those who would like to read more about Jim's educational philosophy, I also found a very well written article by Jim online, entitled "Leadership in Band Class" which can be found here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oh Where, Oh Where Has The Audience Gone?

It's no secret that audiences for live music performances are dwindling.  At one UConn Jazz Ensemble concert last semester, there were 30 people in the 300 seat hall, despite an extensive advertising campaign which included postering, placing an ad on Craig's List, multiple Facebook listings and a YouTube video.  Around the same time period the Hartford Jazz Society had to cancel a major concert due to low ticket sales. So, what's the answer?  How do we generate interest, fill seats, and successfully continue the tradition of presenting concerts?  Any and all ideas are welcome.

I recently started a new initiative for all UConn Jazz concerts: inviting high school or middle school jazz bands to serve as "opening acts".  Its a win-win situation.  I offer their band an on-campus clinic, they get to play on our concert stage, and the younger students benefit from hearing more experienced, university student musicians playing sophisticated repertoire.  From my vantage point, my audience grows, because they bring their parents and grandparents.  I further develop relationships with band directors (who play a significant role in a student's decision of where to go to study music) and I meet and hear prospective students.

This past week our guests were the Mystic Middle School Jazz Ensemble, directed by James Hilbie, and the E.O. Smith High School Jazz Ensemble, directed by Aaron Burgess.

Having the visiting band director give a presentation to our music education students on how to run a successful jazz band program was another huge plus. In my next blog post I will share notes from the presentation given by Jim Hilbie, the Band Director at Mystic Middle School.

So... that's my big idea.  What's yours?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blogs for Jazz Students

An article entitled "30 Best Blogs for Jazz Students" was recently published by

It is quite a good list which includes many sites I regularly visit.  To their list I will add pianist George Colligan's new blog, "Jazz Truth", and Darcy Argue's Secret Society Blog; both of which provide a wealth of valuable information for students of this music.

Let me know: What's your favorite jazz blog?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Free Concert by "the New Directions Ensemble" at Trinity College - This Thursday!

Now that UConn's basketball season is over, and there is no prohibitive ticket price, here is the perfect opportunity to come out and hear a terrific, ten-piece jazz band comprised of some of the best players anywhere: Kris Allen, Wayne Escoffery, Lauren Sevian, Tony Kadleck, Josh Evans, John Clark, Sara Jacovino, Alexandra Eckhardt, Jimmy Macbride & Earl MacDonald.

Thursday, April 7th at 7:30 p.m. in the Goodwin Theatre of the Austin Arts Center at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

Monday, March 21, 2011

UConn Jazz Combos

All five University of Connecticut jazz combos will perform next week on the von der Mehden stage.  Based on what I heard at the Jazz Showcase concert in February, this show will have plenty of variety ---- ranging from traditional jazz performed by Bill Reynolds' combo, "the Savoy Syncopaters" to modern selections by Chris Cheek or Kurt Rosenwinkel, performed by Gregg August's group "The UConn Jazz Quintet".  I coach a combo of freshmen who have been focusing on memorizing standard repertoire.  Their group name, "Raising Standards" not only reflects the memorization project, but their work ethic as well.  I hope you will join us.  Monday, March 28th at 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Musical Bumper Crop

This week a writer from McGill News, the alumni news magazine for McGill University, interviewed me for an article he was writing about the 20+ alumni who have been nominated for Juno Awards this year. Here is a link to the article. As the interview unfolded, it dawned on me how remarkable it is that so many of my undergraduate classmates from the early 90s are not only still active in music, but have successful careers as jazz musicians (that’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one!). With apologies to anyone I may have missed, here is a partial list of my jazz classmates during my four years at McGill, and where they are now based, in no particular order:

*Kelly Jefferson – tenor sax (Toronto) 
*Christine Jensen – alto sax / big band arranger (Montreal)
*Maury LaFoy – bass (Toronto) 
Brian O’Kane – trumpet (Toronto) 
Joel Miller – tenor sax (Montreal) 
Kelsley Grant – trombone (Toronto) 
Tilden Webb – piano (Vancouver) 
Denzal Sinclaire – vocal, piano, drums (Vancouver) 
Karen Crowe – vocal (Calgary) 
Joel Haynes – drums (Toronto)
Paul Johnston - bass (Montreal)
Ted Warren – drums (Toronto) 
Dean McNeill – trumpet (Saskatoon) 
Mike Rudd – guitar (Montreal) 
Dan Skakun – drums (Edmonton)
John Stetch – piano (Ithaca, NY) 
Jim Head – guitar (Edmonton) 
Ken Bibace – guitar (Montreal) 
Mike Downes – bass (Toronto) 
Dave Laing – drums (Montreal)
Jules Estrin – trombone (Toronto) 
Andy Wulf – tenor sax (Japan) 
Jocelyn Couture – trumpet (Montreal) 
Dave Robbins – drums (Vancouver) 
Dylan Van Der Schyff – drums (Vancouver) 
Duncan Hopkins – bass (Toronto)
Steve Kaldestad - tenor sax (Vancouver / London, England)
Kevin Coady – drums (Toronto)
Gerry Shatford - piano (Toronto)
Aaron Doyle - trumpet (Montreal)
Jason Hunter - tenor sax (Kincardine, ON / Boston)
Koen Nys - tenor sax
Greg Amirault - guitar (Montreal)
Adam James - vocal (New York)

* 2011 Juno nominees 

Maybe I’m biased, but to my eyes (and ears!) this list includes many of the leading players on the Canadian jazz scene today. Although I know McGill continues to produce many great jazz musicians, I speculate that 1988–92 represented a true “bumper crop” at McGill, the likes of which they, and most schools don't often see. I wonder if other schools (Canadian or American) can boast of similar lists? --- not just of successful alumni over a long period of time, but of jazz majors of a similar quality and quantity, from a four year period, who have “stayed the course” as jazz musicians, and have gone on to make their mark as creative artists. My opinion is that this was a truly special time, and I consider myself very fortunate to have played and studies along side such tremendously talented, and now accomplished individuals.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Slapstick - literally!

This YouTube video hit my funny bone at it's core.  I'm not exactly sure why I find it so amusing, but I haven't laughed this hard in a long time.  (I'm guessing that one or two of the musicians out there will find it funny too.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bob Dorough

This looks like it will be a great event: Feb. 26th at the Ivoryton Playhouse.  My former student, Jimmy Macbride will be playing drums with Bob Dorough.

Bob will also be giving a master class at UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall on Tuesday, March 29th, at 2 p.m.  For this presentation there will be no entrance fee, and it is open to the public.  You won't want to miss it!  Until then, listen to Bob singing "Blue Xmas" with Miles Davis (one of my all time favorites).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What To Wear, What To Wear...

With the recent news of my Juno nomination, the question du jour has become, "What on Earth will I wear?"

My immediate thought was that this event presented a great opportunity to don my MacDonald tartan tuxedo jacket.  My wife does not agree.

I've decided to conduct an online poll.  What do you think?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sordid Sort of Fellow

If you missed the New Directions Ensemble's performance last weekend at Szechuan Tokyo, here is a video clip:

Considering that we had just one short rehearsal, I think it came together quite nicely. Performing to a sold out, full capacity audience always helps! On this track there is some truly stellar soloing from trumpeter Josh Evans, trombonist Sara Jacovino, and bari saxophonist Lauren Sevian.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Farewell, Knut

I was saddened this week to learn of Knut Haugsoen's passing.  Knut was an inspired and thoughtful jazz pianist & composer who's music and creative spirit strongly influenced me during my formative years in Winnipeg.  On many occasions I went to hear his band, Virkrama perform at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Center and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  At Knut's performances you could always count on hearing cohesive, rehearsed sets of clever, highly-original music.  Musicians often commented that you could tell he had a background in architecture because of the interesting formal structures within his pieces.

I believe Knut was the first musician to turn me on to the concept of reharmonizing American Songbook standards.  His rendition of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" is especially memorable.

Knut's first album, "Hands On", was engineered by Jan Erik Kongshuag, who recorded many albums for ECM records.  After reading the liner notes of this disc I started to "dig around" and learn more about the ECM catalog and its extraordinary depth and importance in the realm of creative, improvised music. One of Knut's frequent local collaborators, bassist Steve Hamilton, was especially helpful to this end.

Whenever I played in Winnipeg, Knut and his wife Mary were often in the audience.  He was always very encouraging and eager to discuss my latest compositional and improvisational approaches.  I truly enjoyed our conversations about music.  Its hard to believe he's gone.

Thanks Knut for your music, creative spirit, friendship and encouragement.  You will be missed.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Top 10 list

The Canadian jazz journalist and radio DJ, Ray Alexander was kind enough to include my CD in his top 10 list of jazz albums for 2010.  Thanks Ray!

Here is the list:

(1) A Time For Love - Arturo Sandoval (Concord)
(2) Rockin' In Rhythm-A Tribute To Duke Ellington - John Pizzarelli (Telarc)
(3) This Could Be The Start Of Something Big - ANdy Farber & HIs Orchestra (Black Warrior)
(4) Last Train To Hauteville - Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django (the guitar label)
(5) For All We Know - Jose James & Jef Neve (Universal Music)
(6) Ages - Lorraine Feather (Jazzed Media)
(7) Do Not Disturb-John Bunch Trio (Arbors Recs.)
(8) Moody 4B - James Moody (IPO Recordings)
(9) Re:Visions - Earl MacDonald's Works For Jazz Orchestra (Death Defying Recs.)
(10) Sing Me A Love Song-Harry Warren's Undiscovered Standards-David Berger Jazz Orch./Freda Payne/Denzal Sinclaire

You can hear Ray's radio show online and via podcast at:

Fascinatin' Rhythm
CJUM Campus and Community Radio (University of Manitoba)
Sundays, 10 AM - 12 PM