Monday, December 31, 2012

Rethinking Concerts: One Idea

In response to my last blog post, "Rethinking Concerts", I have received some terrific ideas and suggestions for boosting concert attendance.  Please keep the ideas coming.

The following letter came from Shari Baum, the mother of my lead tenor sax player.  I think her ideas make a lot of sense, especially in light of the tragedy in Newtown.  Coincidentally, I had similar thoughts while leading some caroling at a senior's home last week with a group of friends.
I'm a social worker spending much of my time with senior adults....vibrant, engaged and brilliant people.....some still in their own homes, many living in independent living facilities, some in assisted living.  Research tells us that the healthiest way for people to age is to be involved with others of all ages.....unfortunately this isn't always possible. So we have older people living together or isolated and they see our youth as wild, out of touch texting zombies. I am constantly the voice of optimism defending our youth.
Just this week I attended my niece's holiday concert at the _______ Academy. I brought my 88 year Mom and the music and the sight of all those bright young faces with their futures ahead of them brought pure joy to us all....I saw my Mom's face light up when the kids opened their mouths to sing. 
In challenging times there is nothing more hopeful than seeing young people full of life and joy and hope. This is why I think the Newtown horror has really hit a nerve with everyone.....little babies gone in an instance at the hands of a 20 year old sick young man.....The seniors I work with are devastated......they feel powerless....what kind of future is there?

How can we ease some of the pain??? With music and the fresh faces of our young people. 
I am sure, near Storrs there are senior living apartments or assisted living facilities. They usually have some kind of van or bus available to them, or if the school has a bus maybe we can pick them up. They are a receptive audience, always looking for activities that are reasonably priced and local. Von der Mehden is fully accessible if some have trouble walking......I think it's a win-win. You have an audience and the seniors have a reason to feel good about the future, while also listening to great music!
Sorry for the length of this....I got carried away, but I feel very passionate and think it could be a model for the entire fine arts department....especially music.
I would be happy to do some research on senior housing near the school, unless you already know some places, and invite them to the next concert. There's usually an activities director so I would start there and see what the response is.  Let me know what you think.

Warm regards,
Shari Baum
I have already taken Shari up on her offer and am thankful to have band members with supportive, thoughtful parents such the Baums.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rethinking Concerts

Besides modifying my university jazz ensemble's curriculum (to include improvisation, sight-reading and listening), I have been questioning the way in which we do concerts.  I have been asking myself questions like:  Who are we trying to reach, and how can we better reach them?  Should we change venues?  What are we doing right, that needs to stay intact?  What can we improve?  What are we doing wrong?

Poor concert attendance is one of my greatest frustrations as an ensemble director.  After having spent hours in concert preparation, how can students not feel demoralized when they look out and see 20 or so people in a concert hall that seats 300?  I am curious, is this problem unique to Storrs, CT or is it experienced by other university jazz ensemble directors across the country?

In an April, 2011 post entitled "Where Did the Audience Go?", I outlined my plans to have high school bands perform as opening acts at my concerts.  My intention was to launch a new recruitment initiative, which would also expand our audience.  Because it brought prospective students to campus and reinforced existing relationships with band directors, I consider it successful.  But, as far as audience generation goes --- not so much.  One or two parent chaperones typically accompanied the groups. Unfortunately, this plan was also limited to the winter/spring months, as most high school band directors switch their focus from marching band to jazz band during the winter months.

I need a new plan.  One that works year-round, yields consistently larger audiences, increases our visibility, and helps recruit quality students.  On-campus performances, for a handful of people, simply aren't cutting it.

Earl MacDonald rehearsing the UConn Jazz Ensemble.

Before delving into some speculation as to why my ensemble concerts are poorly attended, I will state that I doubt it's for lack of promotional efforts.  Here's a list of the marketing activities in which I typically engage:
Sure, there are additional ways to get the word out, and I would love to hear your ideas.  What aspects of promotion am I neglecting, that are proven winners in spreading the news and enticing people to leave the comfort of their homes and attend artistic events?

I am also curious to hear from my professional peers if they have designated marketing personnel at their teaching institutions, to promote concert events.  Unfortunately, I currently do not.  Much to my chagrin, marketing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of my job each year.

My guesses as to why concert attendance is abysmal for my ensemble's shows include the following:
  • In size, the ensemble ranges between 9 and 12 players.  Obviously a group of 12 ensemble members has less supportive friends and family than an orchestra or choir of over 50.
  • People are venturing out less and less these days.  Maybe concerts are obsolete.  Live streaming and YouTube videos are perhaps more important today.  Do we even need formalized concerts?
  • We are possibly over-saturating our community with jazz.  Within a semester we have a weekly jam session, a showcase concert featuring all the groups, a combo concert, a jazz lab band show and a jazz ensemble concert.  The jazz lab band and jazz ensemble concerts have often been slated during the same week.
  • Maybe the programming needs to be more inventive and appealing to the general public.  ("Yule Be Swinging" seems to work while there aren't exactly line ups for "the Music of Jim McNeely".)
  • We might need to rethink concert times.  Most of my concerts are on Monday and Tuesday nights.  Maybe afternoon, weekend times would be better.
  • I hate the thought of mandating concert attendance, but when Jazz Lab Band members don't attend the Jazz Ensemble's concert (and vice versa), there is an issue which must be addressed.
  • Jazz may just not be popular in Storrs, CT.
If you have an opinion or idea, I would love to hear from you.  I do have some schemes of redesign in mind, but it would be nice to collect the thoughts of concert goers, musicians, and educators before I formally chart my course.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Active Listening

Today's post is more of a questionnaire than an opinion piece.

I want to include a structured listening component into the syllabus of the university jazz ensemble I direct.  In rehearsals I often play recordings of the pieces we are preparing, so that we can discuss musical details we notice, but have not yet mastered.  The students are also issued recordings of the pieces related to our current repertoire project.  Over and above listening to the music we are preparing, I want my students to listen to a broad variety of big band music --- both historic and modern, so that they learn the expected stylistic nuances which aren't always fully notated.  So here are my questions for fellow jazz educators:

  • Do you assign listening homework?
  • Do you play recordings during rehearsal time? If so, how frequently?
    • What discussions ensue?
  • How do you assess listening?
  • How do you determine that the assigned listening has been completed?

UConn Jazz Studies director, Earl MacDonald ironing out some musical details with his students.

Some years I have assigned written reports (or blogging) where I have asked students to address aspects of specific recordings.  Although I continue to do this with my arranging students, I would prefer to encourage personal instrumental practice, rather than writing for this class.

I'm leaning towards implementing monthly "drop the needle" listening tests.  What do you think?  How else might I be successful in encouraging my students to engage in active listening.

For those who might be interested, here is a list of noteworthy big band albums, posted on my web site.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sight Reading - the oft ignored, yet requisite skill

Perhaps the greatest disparity between school ensembles and the professional music world is the amount of rehearsal time.  It is not uncommon for high school and college bands to spend an entire semester (20+ rehearsals) preparing material for a single concert.  This weekend I played a commercial big band show, "The Rat Pack Is Back" at the Shubert Theater in New Haven.  We had a one hour rehearsal prior to the show, and nailed it.  Everyone in the band was obviously a great sight-reader.

If you can't read, you can't work in this business.  If we are truly preparing and equipping our students to become competent, capable musicians, reading must be taught.  It doesn't just happen on its own.  For this reason, I spend the last half hour of each rehearsal sight reading.

Earl MacDonald and the UConn Jazz Ensemble sight-reading in rehearsal.

For some unknown reason, the UConn jazz ensemble library has hundreds of dated (horrible!) disco, jazz-rock, and swing charts.  We are working our way through them at a rate of about five charts per rehearsal.  My rule is:  even if the chart is "corny" and poorly written, it must be played with as much integrity and accuracy as possible.

Questions for my fellow jazz educators:

  1. How many rehearsals do you allot to prepare your ensemble's concert set?
  2. Is sight reading a regular part of your rehearsals?
  3. How much rehearsal time do you devote to sight-reading?
  4. What do you have them read?
  5. Do you think sight-reading should be done in rehearsals, or practiced on one's own?
  6. Would you ever consider having your band read a (simple) piece in a concert?

I will leave you with an anecdote.  A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of adjudicating an educational jazz festival with Canadian jazz education guru, Gordon Foote.  I learned a lot from watching his post-performance critiques.  After a nearly flawless student ensemble performance, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a piece of music for them to sight read.  The band crashed and burned.  Although this band placed well in a prestigious competition that same year, by not addressing their reading deficiency, I think their director did them a great disservice.  What do you think?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Teaching Improvisation Within Jazz Ensemble Rehearsals

How many student big bands have you heard where the ensemble playing was acceptable but where the soloing was downright atrocious? Based on the adjudications and visitations I have done, I'd go so far as to say that this is the norm in most schools across North America.  I admit that over the years, to varying degrees, my bands too could be described in this way.  Despite typically having one or two star improvisers, improvisation remains a common area of weakness.

If improvisation is jazz's defining characteristic, why as ensemble directors are we prioritizing accurate mass ensemble playing over the development of soloing skills in our rehearsals?  My rationale has been: in improv class, I teach improv, while in jazz ensemble I emphasize ensemble playing and exposing students to big band literature.  The problem is, only a small portion of my band takes my improv class.  In fact, some of them are not receiving any guidance in learning improvisation.  This simply has to change.  To quote Popeye,

"That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more."

The UConn Jazz Tentet, practicing improvisation.
Teaching a new lick to the UConn Jazz Ensemble.

My band rehearses from 3 - 5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Starting in January, half an hour every Thursday will be devoted to developing improv skills.  There will be 15 minutes of instruction and 15 minutes of testing, based on the material assigned from the previous week.

As stated in my last post, we will be working on repertoire from the Art Pepper Plus Eleven album.  Almost every tune is a commonly played jazz standard, thereby functioning as excellent vehicles for teaching improvisation.  Learning these 12 pieces (sans arrangements) will be reinforced by assigning them as the performance repertoire for our weekly, Thursday night jam session at Lu's Cafe.

Students will be expected to play and sing the melodies, bass motion and arpeggiate the harmonic progression.  A variety of directly applicable licks, patterns and scales will be taught and correctly inserted into the pieces.

Four transcription projects will be assigned over the semester, consisting of two choruses (minimum) from any recording of Bb rhythm changes, F blues, Donna Lee and Airegin --- all of which are found on the selected Art Pepper album.  Students will notate, learn and perform these solos by memory.  They will be taught how to extract licks from these solos to learn in 12 keys and apply to other tunes.  Additional choruses/solos will count towards extra credit.

I would love to hear from my my fellow jazz educators in the comments below.  Is teaching improvisation a regular part of your large ensemble rehearsals?  Why/why not?  If so, how much time do you devote to it?  What do you require and assign?  How do you assess it?  Have you seen substantial improvement when improv instruction has been a regular component of your rehearsals? What do you think of my plan?  In your opinion, am I asking for/expecting too much?  Should valuable rehearsal time be devoted to teaching improv?

In the next few posts I will continue to share some thoughts about how I am planning to transform my rehearsals in the spring.  Sight reading and listening will be the next two topics.  Again, I would love to receive some feedback.  Feel free to throw questions back at me too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Every Ending Is A New Beginning

As the fall semester wraps up, I have been considering what musical project I will undertake in the spring with the UConn Jazz Ensemble.  I have also been giving some thought to how I might change my teaching approach next semester --- but I will expound on that in my next post.

For now, here is a taste from the 1959 "Art Pepper Plus Eleven" album --- Groovin' High.

I plan to prepare all twelve selections from this recording with the UConn Jazz Ensemble next semester.   Almost every tune is commonly played at jam sessions: Move, Groovin' High, Opus De Funk, 'Round Midnight, Four Brothers, Shaw Nuff, Bernie's Tune, Walkin' Shoes, Anthropology, Airegin, Walkin', Donna Lee. 

Because these tunes are perfect vehicles for teaching improvisation, this will be a strong focus in addition to ensemble playing. Plenty of rehearsal time will be devoted to "getting inside" these pieces and learning the changes (harmonies).  It should make for a fun project.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Tis The Season ...almost

Tonight marks my first holiday season gig of the year.  I'm playing with my Jazz for Joy Quintet at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum for the annual Festival of Trees and Traditions event from 6 - 9 p.m.  Tickets are $85 or $75 for Members, and can be reserved at (860) 838-4100.  All profits from this event help fund the museum’s special exhibitions, educational programs, and operating expenses.

Then on Saturday, I'm giving a concert at UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall at 3 p.m.  Billed as "Yule Be Swingin", the show will feature five of my top students, joined by me.  Admission is free but a collection will be taken for W.A.I.M. (the Windham Area Interfaith Mission) to help local individuals and families in dire circumstances.

There are also a couple of private parties on my calendar, so I will get plenty of use from my collection of seasonal jazz music this year.  As I have often done in previous years, I am including one outstanding UConn jazz student on each of these professional outings, to give them the experience of working with a professional band.  Saxophonist Colin Walters and bassist Nick Trautmann have been given the music in advance and through their demonstrated hard work for me, and the progress they have made, I believe they truly deserve this opportunity.

I hope to see you at the Yule Be Swingin' concert on Saturday.  It will be fun for the whole family --- and even Santa has committed to being there! Happy Holidays everyone.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Looking Forward

On occasion I like to dabble in the world of free jazz.  Trumpeter John Allmark has been quoted as saying "they call it free jazz because no one will pay to hear it."  Although I agree that free jazz is not the most accessible, easy-listening music, I definitely see merits to playing free --- both within jazz education and for my own personal artistic growth and expression.

When discussing free jazz, I like to ask the question, "Free of what?"  The improviser can be liberated and encouraged to experiment outside of the usual parameters by subtracting one or more of the following musical elements:  predetermined form, tonality, key signature, standard notation, set rhythms, melodies, harmonies, tempo, time signature, etc.

This tune, "Looking Forward, Looking Back", does have a roadmap and form (including a Dal segno and Coda), but is otherwise notated using an unconventional graphic format.  Using contrasting, cued events, a story unfolds.

Here is the score, so you can follow along: (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

This musical composition by Earl MacDonald is an example of guided free improvisation.  The piece was recently recorded by MacDonald's Creative Opportunity Workshop (COW) ensemble.

I refer to this type of composition as "guided free improvisation".  In my recent recording session with the Creative Opportunity Workshop (COW), we recorded four pieces incorporating this compositional technique.

I have successfully used some of these pieces in educational settings, when working with beginner improvisers.  Graphic scores provide "an in" (starting point) for those who don't yet know their chords, scales and the dauntingly vast amounts of theory required to outline harmonic progressions.  Obviously I teach this material too, but I like getting them playing ASAP, and overwhelming them isn't always productive.  Paralysis by Analysis --- as Bill Fielder used to call it.

Imagine the creative explosion/renaissance that might occur if every kid's first musical assignment was to make a list of 12 extended instrumental techniques to demonstrate at their next lesson.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I took a little breather from blogging to prepare for a recording I did last weekend.  I was joined by Kris Allen on saxophones, Christopher Hoffman on cello, and Rogerio Boccato on drums and assorted percussion.  I call this ensemble "C.O.W." (the Creative Opportunity Workshop) and have described the band and posted some concert recordings on my web page.

Earl MacDonald & C.O.W. (the Creative Opportunity Workshop)
Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman, Earl MacDonald, Rogerio Boccato
We recorded (a whopping) twenty eight of my compositions/arrangements during our two, 9-hour recording sessions on Friday and Saturday with my favorite engineer, Peter Kontrimas.  His studio is located in Westwood, MA.

Much of the music was written previously for two collaborative, cross-disciplinary projects I have done with artists Deborah Dancy and Ted Efremoff.  My music was written to correspond and interact with their projected artistic images.  These two suites have only been publicly performed twice.  I am happy to now have the music documented in fixed form, and performed accurately and beautifully by incredibly capable musicians.  A body of new works was also recorded for another collaboration with the aforementioned artists plus puppeteer, Bart Roccoberton.

This photo shows the twenty eight pieces of music recorded by the Creative Opportunity Workshop during the two day recording session.
The 28 pieces we recorded, laid out on Rogerio's drum kit, following the session.
Characterizing the music I wrote isn't easy.  As the instrumentation intimates, most of it is a true, bona fide hybrid between classical, jazz and "world music".  I like that it has been tricky for reviewers to categorize my last three CDs, and this will be no exception.  In fact, I anticipate it being considerably more perplexing for those who like clearly defined genres.

I imagine this project being released as a DVD, rather than a typical CD, so that the audience can experience both the audio and corresponding imagery together.  I anticipate that having it in this format will also facilitate more frequent public viewings in galleries and theaters.

Selecting "takes", and then editing and mixing the recorded tracks will be the next steps.  I anticipate the bulk of this work taking place in December and January.  Then, the video with which we previously performed will be edited to fit and reciprocate exactly with the recorded music.

I plan to post a couple of raw "sneak peek" tracks in the days ahead.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dear God

Dear God,

It’s me again.

I’m still having a difficult time relating to my fellow Christians. Election time here in the U.S. makes it especially tough.

As you know, very little surprises me any more, but a friend’s Facebook status genuinely caught me off guard this weekend. Here it is:

“Are you looking for a president who will protect the unborn child's right to be murdered in its mother’s womb? OBAMA is your candidate. Wake up people!”

Strangely, the “wake up” portion is what I found most offensive. You know I haven’t been asleep or ignoring the issues in this election. I have trouble understanding why every election season, there are many believers for whom the singular issue of abortion decides how they will vote. Frankly, I don’t think it is me who needs to wake up. Yes, I can see the importance of continued discussions about abortion (especially in light of recent comments by Republican Congressmen Todd Akin and Joe Walsh), but there are SO MANY other issues also at stake.

Even if we were to focus the conversation on abortion, Romney isn’t exactly it’s most vehement opponent. Last week he told the Des Moines Register that he wouldn’t pursue abortion legislation if elected president. So, why then is Romney the logical choice for the many Christians? Why are they so confident that he will protect the unborn?

I’ve been reading the biblical book of Acts. In the second chapter it talks about how the believers sold their possessions and goods and gave to anyone in need. Doesn’t this sound like the socialism Republicans adamantly oppose and criticize? Aren’t Obama’s health care plan, budgetary priorities, social programs and tax plan much more in line with what is described in Acts 2:45, than what Romney and the Republicans are suggesting? Shouldn’t our focus be on “Pro-living”, and not just pro-life? For Christians and all Americans, shouldn't education, helping those in need, and ending wars be on an equal playing field to saving the unborn? Let’s also aid the living and make some societal progress.

“In essentials, unity;
in non-essentials, liberty;
in all things, charity.”
- St. Augustine

My frustrations are many, Lord. I pray that you would help me during this election season not to lose my cool, my faith or my friendships. Help me to express my opinions in love and not anger. Help me to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1: 19). Help me to remain unified with my fellow believers in the essential truths of our faith.

I pray that Christians throughout America would carefully consider ALL of the issues at stake in this election, and that You would provide wisdom to guide and direct their decision making.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Like Someone In Love

Here's a fun clip featuring Rob McConnell's writing for tentet.  This arrangement of "Like Someone In Love" is one of the pieces I am preparing this semester with the University of Connecticut Jazz Ensemble.  Our concert is on Nov. 6th at von der Mehden Recital Hall.

Note: This is not Rob's regular, Toronto-based ensemble.  These are primarily New York musicians, assembled to perform at the 2004 New York Brass Conference, at Purchase College, where Rob was honored.  The roster is: Tim Ries and Ted Nash on tenor sax; Lawrence Feldman on alto sax; Bob Milikan and Tony Kadleck on trumpet; Jim Pugh on trombone; Chip Jackson on bass; Kenny Ascher on piano and Dennis Mackrel on drums. It's nice to see Rob smiling during Ted Nash's tenor solo.

To contrast this performance, here is a performance by Joey Sellers' Jazz Aggregation.  I recognize both Wayne Bergeron and Ron Stout playing trumpet in the back row.  I am hoping to feature Joey's music with my UConn band in the not too distant future.  It deserves to be heard!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Little Big Band

I have become a huge fan of "little big bands."  They typically range in size between nine and twelve instrumentalists, which gives an arranger the best of both words: the subtleties of a combo and the robust power of a full jazz orchestra.  I use this format both with my professional band, the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble and with the UConn Jazz Ensemble, which I direct.

Working with a smaller-sized group (in comparison to the typical 17-piece big band) not only makes sense financially, it facilitates instruction in improvisation and musical interaction within university ensemble rehearsals, and makes the band more selective/elite.

Over the past decade I have been exposed to a wide variety of music written for the "pocket big band".  I prepare the music of a single composer/arranger each semester with my university students.  It has been fun to compare and contrast the writing styles of many different arrangers.  This semester we are focusing on the music of Rob McConnell's 10tet.

Here is a list comparing the instrumentation used by several arrangers for little big band.  I found it insightful to see the subtle differences between the groups.

  • Miles Davis Nonet: (Birth of the Cool, 1949-50)
    1 alto sax, 1 baritone sax, 1 trumpet, 1 French horn, 1 trombone, 1 tuba, piano, bass, drums
  • Rob McConnell Tentet:
    1 alto sax, 2 tenor saxes, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, piano, bass and drums
  • Jim McNeely Tentet:*
    3 reeds:  alto sax (doubling soprano & flute), tenor sax (doubling soprano, alto, flute and clarinet), bari sax (doubling bass clarinet),
    2 trumpets, 1 French horn, 1 trombone, piano, bass and drums
  • Dave Rivello Ensemble: (12-piece band in Rochester, NY)
    3 reeds (soprano sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet w/ doubles), 2 trumpets, 1 flugelhorn, 2 trombones, 1 tuba, piano, bass, drums
  • Joey Sellers' Jazz Aggregation: (11-piece band in California)
    1 alto sax (doubling soprano sax, flute & clarinet), 1 tenor sax (doubling soprano sax, flute & clarinet), 1 bari sax (doubling bass clarinet & flute), 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone, piano, bass and drums.
  • John Mills Times Ten: (Austin, TX)
    1 alto sax (doubling soprano sax & flute), 1 tenor sax (doubling alto sax), 1 bari sax, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums
  • Gil Evans & Ten: (1957 recording)
    1 soprano sax, 1 alto sax, 1 bassoon, 2 trumpets, 1 French horn, 1 trombone, 1 bass trombone, piano, bass, drums
  •  Fil Lorenz & the Collective West Jazz Orchestra (San Fransisco)
    1 alto sax (doubling flute), 2 tenor saxes (doubling flute), 1 bari sax (doubling flute), 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, guitar, bass, drums
  •  Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau:
    original configuration: 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 4 saxophones & rhythm section, plus Maynard
    reduced configuration: 1 alto sax, 1 tenor sax, 3 trumpets, 1 trombone, piano, bass, drums, plus Maynard
* both Nathan Parker Smith's 10tet and my band, the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble modeled our instrumentation after Jim McNeely's tentet.  I chose not to incorporate woodwind doubles, and it has simplified my life immeasurably.

If you know of any similar little big bands, please let me know by leaving a comment below.  I am always looking for exciting new music to spark my imagination and to program with the UConn Jazz Ensemble.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bob Brookmeyer Rehearsing the VJO

This video of Bob Brookmeyer rehearsing the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is nothing short of pure gold.  I can't think of another composer who could stand in front of this motley crew and command such respect.  I appreciate his manner when correcting and teaching this seasoned group of professionals.  The portion starting at 0:21:22 and ending at about 0:23:15 is a good example of what I mean.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Manipulation Techniques

If you have been following my current blogging series (about writing a big band arrangement for Tyler Hornby), you may be wondering where I have been for the past week.  Truth be told, I have been hunkering down and trying to get this piece finished.  I have my own recording project at the beginning of next month, so I'd like to get this project wrapped up ASAP, get my piano chops in shape, and fine tune my own music.

I found the following YouTube video recording of Tyler playing "Dig In Buddy", the piece I am arranging.  It features Toronto-based pianist/brainiac David Braid along with Tyler's very capable band from Alberta.

Braid sure is an inventive player!  Not many pianists are daring enough to start a solo with the left hand only.  His ideas are clever and well-organized.  I really enjoyed this performance, and was impressed by the whole band.  It is nice to see jazz played on this high level in western Canada.

If I were to express one criticism, it would be that the performance lacked a certain "fire" or unabashed spiritedness.  It was perhaps too polite and restrained.  During the trombone solo it started to go somewhere, but it still felt like the band had yet to break a sweat.  I had hoped that guitarist, Jim Head would kick it into high gear, but unfortunately, he didn't partake in the festivities.

One of the key roles of an arranger is to steer soloists.  Obviously David Braid would have played very differently if he was "competing" with horn interjections, or if layers of instruments were added part way through his solo, thereby forcing him to build his intensity.  For this reason, Bob Brookmeyer referred to backgrounds as "solo enhancements".  I love that label.

Speaking of Brookmeyer, I often think about some of the statements he made on his web site and in interviews before his passing. He said a lot about the role of soloists within a big band and their relationship to the composition.  I took to heart his thought that the arranger shouldn't turn over control to the soloist until he has literally no other option.  Even then, I like keeping my finger in the mix, playing the role of a manipulator, by "stirring things up" when I feel the whim, or need to shape a passage in certain way.

It will be after the four minute mark in my arrangement that a soloist (other than drums) is allowed to cut loose.  The drum solo after the initial melody statement is carefully scripted, interacting with robust, energetic ensemble hits.  Sketches for this passage appeared in my last post.  The solo then continues into an elongated, rhythmically quirky restatement of the melody, where drums play exuberant fills in all the "holes".  Here is a taste:

Now I'm completing a saxophone soli that builds over two choruses. The improvising horn soloists will need to demonstrate patience for just a little while longer.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vince Mendoza Interview

On Wednesday I posted a video performance of the Metropole Orchestra performing Vince Mendoza's composition, "Esperaça".  This afternoon, while eating my lunch, I stumbled upon an interview from the same time, where he discusses this very piece and has the orchestra demonstrate some of its constituent parts.  What a find!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Keepin' It Real

This has been a much more productive week of music writing.  I attribute it to two things:
  1. better (rigid) time management, and 
  2. returning to the use of old fashioned manuscript paper.
Maybe I'm showing my age, but I love working with pencil and paper.

It has been insightful to blog about my process as I go about arranging music.  Every once in a while I have an "ah ha moment" where I make a major observation about myself and how I work best.  I had one of these realizations when I saw how much faster ideas came to me when I turned off my computer and worked at the piano, rather than in front of a computer screen. As nice as the music looked in a previous post when presented using Finale notation software, I think I was jumping the gun.  I don't normally use Finale until later, and by using it early on, I inadvertently slowed myself down.

In an effort to "keep things real" and to honestly present how I go about writing, I've decided to show more of my pencil sketchings (complete with many visible erasures),  rather than transferring my work to music notation software as I go. 

Here is a sample of what I wrote on Tuesday.  It is a shout chorus which will utilize surrounding drum fills/hits.  I wanted to keep the intensity up after the initial statement of the head (melody), and to feature the drums early in the piece, as the composer, Tyler Hornby is a drummer.  I also like the idea of "messing" with the form by presenting a shout chorus towards the beginning, rather than at the end as one sees in 90% of published big band music.

The audio clip is a recording of me at the piano, but the passage will be played by the entire horn section, with the exception of the fourth measure which will be played only by the rhythm section, to allow the music to breathe.  The lead lines presented here will be fully harmonized by the horns.

After this section there will be a quirky, paraphrased restatement of the head with plenty of space for drum solo fills to continue.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Metropole Jazz Orchestra

"Wordless Wednesday" is here again.  I know you will enjoy this video of the Metropole Jazz Orchestra, based in the Netherlands.  I own and regularly listen to the CD recording of this piece, but this video helped to answer some of my orchestration questions.  Let's hear it for Vince Mendoza!

Monday, September 24, 2012


I made some progress on Tyler Hornby's tune this afternoon by sketching a harmonized version of the bridge.  Here is a "sneak peek":

The trumpets will play the melody in octaves.  I think I will put 3 trumpets in the higher octave and one down.  This is a trick I learned from Michael Abene in the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop.  According to Michael, Manny Albam emphatically discouraged octave writing with 2 trumpets up and 2 trumpets down.  1 up and 3 down or 3 up and 1 down are both preferable for intonation reasons.

To the trumpets I may add one saxophone to the lower octave to help emulsify the sound.

The trombones are harmonized, similar to how a pianist punctuates with his/her left hand.  I will add the bari sax to the bottom, playing roots along with a similar, but not identical string bass part.

I had to be careful about the lower octave trumpet crossing into the trombone range.  By choosing mid-register trombone voicings and leaving some space, I think I avoided any problems.  The melody is just a bit too high for lead alto saxophone... and there's nothing worse than sax parts in the highest minor 3rd of the instrument. 

I changed a couple of rhythms and notes but more or less kept this section true to Tyler's original lead sheet.

Drums are always in the forefront of my mind, but interestingly, they are the last thing I enter into a score.

Now I'm onto the "shout" section, with drums soloing around ensemble hits.  Where did I put that hand-held cassette recorder of mine?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

I didn't get much music written this week, and find myself feeling anxious, agitated and annoyed. Meetings, "pressing" e-mails and work deadlines ate huge chunks of my time.  Squeezing in writing between appointments just isn't working.  Somehow I need to block our more three or four-hour designated time slots in my week to do some focused arranging.

The problem is, when I ignore my e-mail inbox for just one day, there are usually at least 60 new messages waiting for me.  Of these, about 20 will require serious consideration/preparation before reponding.  15 or so will require "urgent responses".  More and more, I am finding it increasingly difficult to "unplug".

Following a day of musical productivity, I inevitably have to spend the following day catching up on what I have "neglected".  E-mail has become the bane of my existence.  

In addition to managing my inbox, I was so over-scheduled this week that I didn't even have time to put anything away.  I would teach a class, drop my books off on my desk (or piano), and then run across campus for a meeting.  My office looks like a refuse site.  This is clearly contributing to my stress levels.  Returning my work space to a productive environment will be my first step towards getting back onto the path of productivity.  Deep breaths.

Perhaps my biggest challenge at this time is not allowing myself to be a grumpy, old bastard.  My wife deserves better.

I generally pride myself in being good with time management, but this week I lost the battle.  Tomorrow represents the beginning of a new week and a fresh start.  I like fresh starts.

~ Earl

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Monday Night: Live Jazz at UConn

UConn Jazz Showcase. Monday, Sept. 24

All of the UConn jazz groups will perform a sampling of the music they are preparing this semester.  Expect plenty of variety; from bebop to big band swing!  Gregg August, Earl MacDonald, & John Mastroianni, directors.The concert begins at 7:30p.m. and will be held at the von der Mehden Recital Hall, which is located at 875 Coventry Road, across from Mirror Lake on the UConn campus in Storrs. General Admission is $10, free for UConn students and for children. There will be plenty of free, well-lit parking across the street. For more information please call 860-486-2969 or visit us on the web at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesdays

Every Wednesday I plan to post a video that has caught my attention or inspired me in some way.

I listened to the Brussels Jazz Orchestra this morning while doing a training run.  I have heard this ensemble live twice, and think they are one of the most polished big bands around.  I really wonder if they are on the radar of musicians from this side of the pond.  Composer/Arranger Bert Joris is an incredible talent.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Making Headway

Slowly but surely I am making progress in arranging Tyler Hornby's piece "Dig In Buddy", for big band.  Below I have posted a MIDI audio file and the first five pages of the score.

To be honest, usually at this stage in the arranging process I haven't added as much detail within the score as I am presenting today.  Rather, I try to sketch lead lines for a bigger portion of the piece, and fill in the missing elements later.  Because I am presenting my ideas publicly through this blog, I decided to leave less to the imagination.

As you listen to this preview/excerpt, here are the basic elements to listen for:
  • the underpinning vamp played by the trombones and rhythm section
  • the bluesy riff lines played by 2 altos, flute (optional), harmon trumpet and guitar
  • full ensemble "punctuations" at the end of phrases
On the repeat back to rehearsal letter A, I will add additional horns to reinforce the melody and provide some contrasting interest.  The trombones will then join the piano in playing the vamp, after having had their horns off their faces during the first repeat.  I will mark this with the instruction "second time only".

Feel free to ask me any questions about what I have presented here today.  I still view all of the above as a draft, and am trying not to become too attached to my ideas just yet, so as to remain open and subjective.  More will be on the way soon.

You can hear Tyler Hornby's orginal version of "Dig In Buddy" (and follow along with his lead sheet) by clicking on this link to one of my earlier posts.

By the way, I'm looking for some more followers of this blog.  Please consider signing up on the right hand column.  Thanks!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Leap

Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012

7:47 PM:
The kids are in bed and settled.  The evening dishes are washed and put away.  I've got my electronic keyboard set up on the kitchen table and the coffee pot is on.  Tonight I have a three hour window of time to get some music written for the big band project I am doing for Tyler HornbyLet's go!

My electronic keyboard set up on the kitchen table, ready for an evening's work.
tonight's work station
Tonight's goals:
  • Start up a Finale file for this project, using my big band template.  Enter title, credits, etc.
  • Enter notes for the intro and "in head", following the formal plan I created at the end of last week.
I don't want to get caught up with too many details.  My focus will be on lead lines, the vamp I wrote on Thursday, and the piano part.
8:22 PM:
Completed the customization of my template file for this project.  Now, onto entering notes.

9:09 PM:
It feels GREAT to have finally made the leap from lists and scraps of paper to entering notes into a score.  It now looks and feels like I'm writing a big band chart, rather than just dealing with a collection of vague, abstract ideas.  Psychologically this is HUGE!

10:32 PM:
Cracked open a Sam Adams Octoberfest (my first of the season).  If I have any more caffeine at this hour it'll be a sleepless night.  Since ending my fast a week ago, I have been extra sensitive to caffeine.  One evening I had two cups of tea and didn't sleep a wink.  I ended up catching a nasty cold which has slowed me down considerably and set me back in my running training.

About a 1/2 hour ago I found a nice contrary motion line for the recurring "measure 16 lick".  I like it!

11:57 PM:
I'm calling it quits for the night.  My kids will be up at 6 AM, and I'm on my own this weekend.  My wife is off in Boston running the Boston Half Marathon. This was a full and busy day.  In the morning I mowed the lawn and did some painting outside, and then I spent the afternoon with my kids at Old Sturbridge Village.  I'm wiped.

I'm happy with the work I did this evening.  So far I haven't deviated at all from my formal plan, and it appears to be working.   I like how it sounds with Finale's playback function.  Maybe I'll post an audio MIDI file and a score excerpt on Monday.  I have about a minute and a half of music done so far.  Not all the details are filled in, but I can see where its going and what needs to be done.  I'm feeling good and optimistic.  This will be a great chart, if I say so myself.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jazz Arranging

This is my second day of blogging about my current big band arranging project; it's a piece entitled "Dig In Buddy" by Calgary-based drummer, Tyler Hornby.  After completing yesterday's list of observations and ideas, I sat down at the piano to do some experimenting and exploring.

The first item on my list was reinforcing the Art Blakey-esque quality of the piece, if possible.  The question soon became "How?"  I experimented with 3-horn "crunch" voicings (for a lack of a better label), that I have seen in many of the Jazz Messenger charts I have transcribed over the years.  These voicings typically have a major third and a minor second below the melody. Often they are used over a pedal point.  I applied these to Tyler's progression and came up with a little vamp that could be used within the intro, to underpin the melody, and as a background figure behind soloists.

Next, I experimented with the expansion of the hip rhythmic idea in the final measure of the piece.  I reharmonized it a few ways to create an expanded sound-off which will lead into a solo break of sorts.

Both of these ideas are demonstrated in the video above.

Today my main goal was to map out a formal plan.  This may change, but here is what I sketched:
  •  Introduction:  8 measures.  Vamp.  Trombones + rhythm. Maybe unison sax lines over top.  End w/ lick from m.16, either in its original form or w/ rhythmic expansion, played by full brass.
  •  Melody (1st 8): vamp continues underneath.  Melody presented by trpt and tenor, like original.  M. 8, entire brass section plays punctuation figure.  Spill off on Cmi.
  • return of 8 measure vamp.  [I'm not ready to move on yet.]
  • Melody (1st 8) again.  Full brass punctuations at measures 4 and 8, using his melodies.
  • 2nd 8: swing release (walking).  Big.  Maybe change orchestration on beat 3 of measure 12.
  • Full ensemble shout/rhythmic hits encasing a drum solo [it's his tune after all!].  This will serve to extend the intensity generated in m. 16.  I'll keep it big and exciting.  16 measures, ending w/ lick from m. 16.
  • Restatement of head, in a different way.  Voice it.  Alter it rhythmically slightly (either melody or phrase ending punctuations)
  • "Extended sound-off" (from video): Gb13, Eb13, D7, Db7, G7, break.  Sax section "fills" over extended harmonies.  Sax section takes 4 measure solo break.
  • Saxophone soli.  2 choruses.  During the 2nd chorus the brass backgrounds gain prominence, build and gradually take over.  Incorporate last 2 measures of melody.
  •  Full ensemble continues well into the first chorus of a trumpet solo, keeping the intensity up initially.  3 chorues.  2nd chorus, minimal backgrounds.  3rd chorus, intro vamp by tbns, on first half.
  • Lead into a fire-y tenor sax solo, propelled by quirky low register 5ths, alternating w/ 4ths structures.  Looped vamp?  Perhaps a modulation here would "give it a lift".
  • Rhythmically expand the tune's melody, leaving large spaces for drum fills.  Keep it quirky.  Fairly big at points.  Some lines in contrary motion.  End the piece with a different vibe from where it began.  Arrive somewhere new, rather than return home.

Ok... so there we have it.  It will be interesting to see to what degree I end up deviating from this plan.  For now, I am simply pleased to have a plan in place.  Now... to roll up my sleeves, sharpen my pencils and get to work!!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Digging In

"Dig In Buddy" is one of two tunes by Tyler Hornby, which I will be arranging for 17-piece big band over the next couple of weeks.  The music and a recording from his "Shadows of A Brighter Day" compact disc appear below.  Listen along as you scroll down to read my commentary.

Dig In Buddy is a composition by Calgary based drummer, Tyler Hornby.

In the early stages of planning an arrangement, I often find it helpful to list ideas which could be further developed.  Here are my thoughts and observations when listening to the quintet version of this piece:

  • It has a real Art Blakey "vibe", in the hard bop vein (explosive at times, dynamic contrasts, blues-y yet sophisticated)
    • Maybe I will expand upon this, making it even more Blakey-esque, using idiomatic 3 horn voicings.  Perhaps I could go so far as to add a "Blues March" section.
  • Strong features:  
      • the rhythmic element in the last 3 bars.  This could be expanded (intro, "sound-offs", etc.).  I like how the last measure functions as a "sound off" into the solos.
      • The quiet first half of the head builds anticipation.  It foreshadows something big about to happen in the 2nd half.
  • The second half of the tune could easily be orchestrated to bounce around between sections or groups of instruments, like a group conversation (1 or 2 measure fragments).  If I go that route, this conversational idea could be continued and expanded.
  • Measures 4 and 8, when played up the octave (as written), act as a strong punctuation.  To further enhance this effect, these measures could be orchestrated for full big band.  I also like these measures played down the octave, as the horn players elected to do on the first repeat of the "in head".  In some ways I actually prefer everything played down.
  • The tempo would lend itself well to an Afro-Cuban 12/8 feel.  Tyler almost goes there a few times.
  • There are lots of chords.  When developing the piece, some form of modal release might be welcome.
  • C blues scale ideas are an easy, yet effective way to skate over the expanded C minor progression in the first 8 measures.  Knowing this might come in handy when writing a soulful sounding soli.
  • The piano player, Chip Stephens, plays some hip, lower register 5ths, alternating with chords at about 5:15 on the recording.  Something like this could be expanded into a solo vamp, to create an alternate improvisational environment for one of the horn soloists.
  • The last measure of the tune is incredibly strong, going into the solos.  Coming out of this, I found myself wishing that the intensity would continue at the top of the form, into the solos.  As the arranger, maybe I can play a hand in dictating how the soloists and rhythm section respond, so that the formal lines are blurred, thereby creating a more cohesive overall shape.  Perhaps I will have the ensemble continue playing (well) into the solo form, extending the intensity created by the figure in measure 16.
Musicians, if you see/hear elements within this tune which I didn't list, but that really captured your interest and sparked your imagination, please let me know.  It would be nice to have some interactive input from folks --- as opposed to just working alone in the black holed vacuum of my studio.

My plan for tomorrow is to come up with a formal outline/plan for the arrangement.  It may change as I "dig in" (pardon the pun), but it should serve as a good entry point.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Process

The impressive mural in the picture below mysteriously appeared on a wall in the University of Connecticut Art Department one morning.  Apparently a group of students erected it during the night, when no one was around.  I Googled the phrase, but nothing really came up.  It doesn't appear to be a famous quote, but yet it spoke to me on several levels.

the process of failure is greater than the product of success

So, what does it mean?  The following thoughts came to mind:
  • The process is what matters.  The process is where we grow, learn and develop as artists, people/spiritual beings.
  • We often learn far more from our failures than from our successes.
  • As uncomfortable as it may be, stepping out of our comfort zones, stretching ourselves, and trying new things/approaches is of paramount importance if we don't want to stagnate.
  • It is better to try and fail than not to try at all. (OK, now I'm starting to sound overtly cliché.)
I think a lot about my process when writing music.  I walk a fine line in trying to be as efficient as possible with my time, while often trying new methods and approaches.  However, I think there are some steps I take consistently at the various stages of composing and arranging pieces.

This mural got me thinking...  Maybe I should take a closer look at my approach to artistic creation. Here's what I plan to do:  I was recently hired to write two big band arrangements of compositions written by Canadian jazz drummer, Tyler Hornby.  I hope to complete them over the next couple of weeks.  On this blog I will share my methodology, as well as my observations from self examination during the process.  Hopefully I will learn something about myself and the systems I employ while providing you with some insight into what goes into writing a big band chart.

Ultimately, failure is not an option for me here, but I do anticipate that there will be a few along the way.  Something would probably be wrong if there weren't.  :)  I hope you will come along for the ride.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jazz Night at Lu's Cafe

This Thursday, September 6th, marks the return of jazz to Lu’s Café in UConn’s Family Studies building. Each Thursday throughout the Fall 2012 semester, live music will be performed in the form of a jazz jam session. Music begins at 8:00pm; it ends at 11:00pm. Coffee, espresso and pastries will be available.

jazz night

I see this weekly jam session as crucial for the musical development of my students. It will give them the opportunity to apply to the bandstand what they have learned in the classroom. They can try out their skills, as well as challenge and push one another.

Students are required to memorize the standard jazz repertoire, as I am stipulating that reading of music in this setting is not allowed. To play a song, it must be memorized. For starters we will draw upon the list of 12 required tunes for the sophomore jazz jury:

· All The Things You Are
· Alone Together
· Anthropology
· Billie’s Bounce
· Body and Soul
· Maiden Voyage
· Out of Nowhere
· Recordamé 
· Solar
· Someday My Prince Will Come
· Stella By Starlight
· What Is This Thing Called Love

Each week I will be adding one new tune to the list which will be played regularly thereafter. Here’s the schedule:

Sept 6: Four
Sept. 13: Pent-Up House
Sept. 20: Broadway
Sept. 27: Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)
Oct. 4: 26-2 and Countdown
Oct. 11: Darn That Dream
Oct. 18: What’s New
Oct. 25: Chelsea Bridge
Nov. 1: Moment’s Notice
Nov. 8: Milestones (bebop head)
Nov. 15: Unit Seven
Nov. 29: UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)
Dec. 6: Windows

I will lead the sessions from either the piano or drum set. In addition to benefiting my students, this jam session will certainly assist me in keeping my chops sharp. There is a nice Yamaha upright piano and a drum set at the venue, so schlepping will be kept to a minimum. Plus, it will be nice to play on my home turf, rather than having to drive 40 minutes to Hartford.

Another favorable outcome to this weekly jam session is the social aspect. For students and faculty, it will be nice to have a place to hang out on Thursday evenings, where we can all interact on a more casual level. This should help in building a sense of community. I hope you will join us!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Summer Reflections

During this first week of the new school year, I continually hear students and faculty asking one another how their summer was and what they did.  One colleague asked me to list the three highlights of my summer.  I found myself stumbling for an answer --- probably because I’m usually so focused on the present/future.  When I did collect my thoughts, there were some great memories to relate.  Here’s a brief recap:

Kincardine Summer Music Festival:

This was my first summer teaching and performing at the KSMF in Ontario, Canada.  My friend, Toronto-based trombonist Jules Estrin, runs the camp.  Many of the faculty were old school mates from McGill University in Montreal.  It was nice to catch up with them, and they have all become incredible players and effective teachers.  Students came from all over Ontario and there was a nice mix of teens and adults.  The days were well structured with a mix of master classes, small and large ensemble rehearsals, workshops and concerts.  Having the faculty perform each night with a variety of special guests was one of many things that distinguish this camp from many of the others at which I have worked over the years.  There is no substitute for hearing the music played at a high level, and I think it really inspired the students.  Hearing the impressive Jazz.FM91Youth Big Band with trombonist Al Kay (of Rob McConnell/Boss Brass fame) was a highlight for me, as well as accompanying my old friend Denzal Sinclaire.  What a voice!

Bushnell Park Monday Night Jazz Performance:

Two days after getting home from Kincardine I performed with my 10tet, the Hartford Jazz Society’s New Directions Ensemble.  It is always a kick to play in front of an audience of 5,000 or so.  I hired my favorite recording engineer, Peter Kontrimas to document the evening and am looking forward to hearing how the recording turned out.  Here is some concert footage of my new composition, “Mirror of the Mind”.  It is my tribute to “Prof”, the late William Fielder (1938-2009), who was the professor of trumpet at Rutgers University back when I did my graduate studies there. 

Josh Evans is the trumpet soloist.  The piece also featured Kris Allen on alto saxophone.

I am currently writing an extensive plan of ensemble activities to submit to the Hartford Jazz Society’s grant writer.  We look forward to working hand-in-hand with the jazz society, in their efforts to promote, preserve and pioneer jazz performance in the Greater Hartford area.

Camp of the Woods:

Although music is a very important part of my life, these days it takes a back seat to my family.  I deliberately planned to spend a significant amount of time with my wife and kids this summer and we had some great times together.  One of the absolute high points was our week at the Camp of the Woods, a Christian resort and conference center in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.  We slept in a tiny cottage, but most of our time was spent outdoors doing activities like canoeing, hiking, playing on the beach, swimming, mini-golfing, foosball, basketball, and rock climbing.  Every morning they had a reputable Christian speaker for the adults (Tony Evans, from Dallas), with children’s programming for our kids.  It was nice to be able to spend some quality time just with my wife.  We ran a 5K race together, and Jana won her age division! The camp even had an extensive music staff, which included a full studio orchestra (wind ensemble plus rhythm section, strings and vocalists).  Most of the instrumentalists were grad students from conservatories across the US.  Church music is often nothing short of torture for me, so this was a great surprise and very refreshing.  We left spiritually uplifted, inspired and well rested.  I highly recommend this vacation spot and hope to return there for years to come.

So there you have it… three high points, of many, in my summer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Downbeat Critics Poll

Did anyone else throw up in their mouth upon hearing that Vijay Iyer won five categories in this year's DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll?  Top Pianist, top jazz group, top jazz artist, top jazz album and rising star composer.  Wow.  Maybe someone can explain this to me.

To my ears Billy Joel has a more refined, subtle touch than this guy at the piano.  Frankly, I despise the sound he gets from the instrument.  He's a great talker and writer, but his playing sounds like self indulgent banging to me.

When I first heard him play a decade ago, I had a mild, disengaged appreciation for his fusing Indian music with jazz, and was able to overlook his piano playing. I wonder... was it this fusion that endeared him to the critics?  If so, maybe my recording a duo record with my bagpipe playing father is long overdue.  Who would have thought that tapping into the roots of my Scottish-Canadian ethnicity might be the key to attaining worldwide critical acclaim?

Perhaps I'm sounding jealous.  Trust me, I'm not.  I just question if the critics (and their followers) actually listen to music, or if they formulate opinions based on social trends (fusion = cool.)  I really tried to listen to Vijay and find something to like about his music.  In his playing, and the conceptual approach to his trio, I simply don't hear much that appeals to me.  It doesn't capture my imagination or interest.  I can't even listen to an entire CD of his music without reaching for the remote.

You tell me.  What am I missing?  Certainly there is a musical reason he has won so many awards and was selected as Dave Douglas' successor at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music.  I just don't see hear it in the music outside of his Indian collaborations (of which his current album is not).   Do the DownBeat critics really think Vijay is a better pianist/musician/artist than Fred Hersch, Geoff Keezer, Uri Caine, Luis Perdomo, etc.I don't.