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.