Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Concert Recording - New Directions Ensemble

My 10-piece band, the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble performed a concert at the University of Massachusetts on January 29th, 2013 and it was recorded by New England Public Radio.  I thought it was one of our better performances, so I am happy to share it with you here.

Here is the roster which performed at UMASS's Bezanson Recital Hall:

Kris Allen - alto sax
Frank Kozyra - tenor sax
Lauren Sevian - bari sax
Jeff Holmes - lead trumpet
Doug Olsen - trumpet soloist
John Clark - French horn
Sara Javovino - trombone
Earl MacDonald - piano, composer, arranger
Henry Lugo - string bass
Ben Bilello - drums

Because it is an hour and a half concert, which includes my blabbing between tunes, you might want to scroll around to find a specific piece.  Here are the starting times:

2:09 - Woody n' You
10:30 - Mirror of the Mind
15:24 - Miles Apart
21:10 - Appointment In Ghana
Lauren Sevian, bari sax
Lauren Sevian, bari sax
30:06 - Character Defect

- intermission -

40:22 - Sordid Sort of Fellow
50:05 - Hit The Road Jack
57:46 - East of the Sun
1:06:33 - Blame It On My Youth
1:13:03 - Hot 'n Ready
1:21:09 - Joshua

The next performance of the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble is slated for Friday, April 26th at the Polish National Home in Hartford, CT.  The Newington High School Jazz Ensemble, directed by Stephen Brookes will be the opening act.  A student workshop is scheduled from 4:30-6pm and is open to the public.  The concert begins at 7 p.m.

New charts are in the works and the band sounds better every time we play.  Purchase your tickets through the Hartford Jazz Society or at the door.  See you there!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jazz Ensemble

During winter recess I wrote a series of articles about jazz ensemble direction and rehearsal practices.  Topics included the incorporation of sight-reading, improvisation instruction, and structured listening into rehearsals, as well as ideas pertaining to concerts and audience development.  To wrap things up, I am posting excerpts from this semester's revised course outline.  It summarizes and includes many of the ideas touched upon in my previous posts.  In addition to describing the ensemble and my instructional goals, the outline includes a breakdown of how rehearsals are structured, and a new grading plan.

UConn Jazz Ensemble

Spring Semester, 2013
    Course #: MUSI 1115, 5305, section 1 (one credit)
Rehearsal schedule:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3 – 5.
     Room:  von der Mehden recital hall
In keeping with the selective nature of the UConn jazz studies program and the music department as a whole, the UConn Jazz Ensemble, unlike the typical 17-piece big band seen at most academic institutions, ranges from nine to twelve instrumentalists. The comparatively small size of the ensemble makes off-campus performances practical and facilitates instruction in improvisation and musical interaction within rehearsals. Each semester the Jazz Ensemble focuses on the music of a specific composer, arranger or professional band. Past composers include Michael Abene, Phil Allen, Bill Cunliffe, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Earl MacDonald, Rob McConnell, Jim McNeely, John Mills, Gerry Mulligan, Dave Rivello and Nathan Parker-Smith.

This semester, the ensemble will prepare the arrangements of Marty Paich, as recorded on the Art Pepper + Eleven album (1959).  Marty Paich's bio can be read at:  http://www.martypaich.com.  New music, composed and arranged Earl MacDonald will be a secondary focus. Professor MacDonald also encourages and welcomes student arrangements.

The instructor’s goals in directing this ensemble remain the same as in past semesters:
  • nuture and develop skills in jazz improvisation, musicianship and interaction. 
  • prepare the students for professional performance situations. 
  • acquaint students with the stylistic nuances of swing, through instruction, demonstration, and the study of recordings. 
  • elevate the sight-reading abilities of the individual ensemble members. 
  • expose the Music Education majors (future band teachers!) to jazz literature and rehearsal techniques. 
  • inspire the students by inviting guest artists to campus or organizing off-campus field trips to see live jazz performances. 
  • present exciting, well-programmed concerts of the highest caliber. 
  • create a “buzz” of excitement both on and off campus about the exciting, swingin’ jazz ensemble at UConn! 
  • have fun, playing great music!
On-campus performances:
02/25/13 (Monday), 7:30 pm      UConn Jazz Showcase, Spring 2013
04/08/13 (Thursday), 7:30 pm    UConn Jazz Ensemble concert

Off-campus performances:
02/14/13             Manchester High School Jazz Festival.   4 p.m. arrival.  4:50 – 5:40 performance.
04/04/13            Benrimon Gallery, New York, NY (Chelsea)
04/29/13            Black-eyed Sally’s, Hartford, CT.  7:30 p.m. (w/ Hartt and WestConn jazz ensembles)

Professor MacDonald is currently investigating additional off-campus performance opportunities.

Grading will be based upon the quality and consistency of preparation (20%), “spot tests” (10%), improvisation and listening assignments (15%), transcription projects (15%), successful concert presentations (40%), attendance, punctuality/tardiness, and conduct in rehearsals.

Three transcription projects (worth 5% each) will be assigned over the semester, consisting of two choruses (minimum) from any recording of Bb rhythm changes, F blues, Donna Lee or Airegin --- all of which are found on the selected Art Pepper album.  You will notate, learn and perform these solos by memory.  You 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. 

Should you be assigned a solo on another piece from the Art Pepper + 11 repertoire, you may substitute a transcribed solo from that piece, to help in your preparations for the concerts.

Due dates
:  Feb. 21, March 28, April 11.

Rehearsal Structure:

3:00 – 3:20:
     Group A: newbie improvisation instruction
     Group B: drum set and amplifier transfer and set-up
3:20 – 4:20:
     concert repertoire
4:20 – 4:50:

3:00 – 3:20:
     Group A: newbie improvisation instruction
     Group B: drum set and amplifier transfer and set-up
3:20 – 4:20:
     concert repertoire
4:20 – 4:35:
     testing – improvisation and jazz skills
4:35 – 4:50:
     improv/jazz skills lesson

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wayne Shorter

It has been just over a week since Wayne Shorter's Carnegie Hall performance with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.  Since that time, a lot has been said and written about Wayne, but aside from one less-than-favorable New York Times review, eyewitness observations and opinions about the concert have been scarce.  Here's mine:

Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci and the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble
Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci and the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble
Wayne appeared to be at the top of his musical game, which is impressive considering that he is 80 years old.  Sadly, there have been numerous instances in recent memory, when I have gone to hear some of the older statesmen in jazz, and left wishing that I could have remembered them as I did on recordings from the 1960s.

Writing an orchestral suite is no small feat for a person of any age, let alone composing music which is truly spectacular. To my sensibilities, Shorter accomplished near perfection in achieving balance, on several levels.  The balance between the jazz quartet's involvement and purely orchestral passages was just right, as were his choices of when, when not, and how to use drum set.  Highly cerebral passages were offset by deep, funky grooves that had the entire audience bopping in their seats.  I was struck by the beautiful, sweeping woodwind lines under and around larger ensemble hits and punctuations.  By no means was this an orchestra providing background pads to a jazz quartet.  True interaction was achieved, along with the exertion of strong individual statements from both the chamber ensemble and the jazz quartet.

This was a true example of collaboration working successfully --- when the sum of two separate entities joined together equals something considerably greater.  As a composer and improvising musician, it was a performance that left me feeling inspired to experiment and delve into similar, "crossover vein" musical situations.  (Stay tuned!!)

Orpheus Chamber Ensemble in rehearsal with Wayne Shorter
Orpheus Chamber Ensemble
in rehearsal with Wayne Shorter
Because I have a friend/colleague within Orpheus, I had the rare opportunity to observe two rehearsals, in addition to the concert.  This was an interesting experience. For those who may not be in the know, Orpheus is a "conductor-less" ensemble, which rehearses according to a democratic process, whereby members of the group may stand up and make interpretive suggestions.  In most situations, I could imagine this process working well.  It appeared to me that Shorter wasn't meticulous to detail when it came to writing dynamics, phrasing and articulations.  Obviously this lead to many questions.  Unfortunately Wayne was despondent and quiet in rehearsal.  His responses to simple questions were nonsensical, or on an incomprehensible level to classical musicians who typically deal with absolutes.  Bassist, John Patitucci did his best to function as a middle man, but in my opinion, the music would have benefitted from having a fully prepared conductor who could dictate a specific musical interpretation.  An incredible amount of rehearsal time was used diplomatically sorting out and debating issues which could have been avoided completely, had someone reviewed and edited the music prior to giving it to the musicians.

After Monday's rehearsal, I couldn't imagine how the music could possibly come together.  Much of it hadn't been fully addressed.  Wayne barely played in rehearsal and I couldn't help but wonder what his part might sound like.  Would he be improvising over the ensemble?  Would he be doubling/reinforcing melody passages?  Would he lay out as he did in rehearsal?

When I heard them again at Friday afternoon's rehearsal in Carnegie Hall, much had changed.  They had rehearsed again in the meantime and had performed a run-through concert in Pennsylvania.  Clearly, many issues had been resolved.  I was impressed that the members of Orpheus fully committed themselves to bringing the best out of this new music.  It was evident that they gave Wayne the respect he deserved as the man who wrote all those great tunes which now constitute the modern jazz canon.

Wayne played with absolute fire!  It was a joy to hear his trademark, familiar sound intertwined with, and soaring above the orchestra.  Without detracting from their performance, the quartet on the other hand, were more subdued than I have ever heard them.  After peeking at the scores backstage, I attribute this to the amount of notes they were reading.  I didn't see one chord symbol in Danilo Perez's piano part.  It would have be a serious challenge to prepare for any jazz pianist.

Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade
The Wayne Shorter Quartet: Danilo Perez, Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci, Brian Blade
Without hesitation I will assert the opinion that Brian Blade is probably the best drummer on the jazz scene today.  I can't think of anyone who would have done a better job in this role.  Dynamically he never buried the orchestra; yet he took charge and single handedly guided the collective large ensemble in shaping phrases and giving the music life at all the appropriate times.  His grooves were infectious.

I am blown away by the level of interaction achieved by this rhythm section.  I'm still wrestling to put my finger on what makes them so distinctive as a unit.  I question if the amount Patitucci plays (which is more than any bassist I have ever encountered), allows Blade to play gestures, rather than always assuming a traditional timekeeping role.  Much more listening needs to take place before I make a definitive assessment, but for now I'm comfortable saying that this trio is doing something truly unique and special which has once again advanced jazz music in its ongoing evolution.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Live at Birdland

Although I had never before heard the Birdland Big Band, I had high hopes as I entered the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday evening.  Big bands don't tour anymore. To be on tour, performing large ensemble jazz music in 2013, this just had to be a great show!  I imagined that they might have figured out the magic formula to presenting big band jazz.  In addition to having cutting-edge arrangements and stellar musicianship, maybe they even had a great light show.  Perhaps they had an innovative stage set-up, like what Darcy Argue used in his recent Brooklyn Babylon production:

Darcy Argue's innovative big band stage set-up for "Brooklyn Babylon"
Darcy Argue's innovative big band stage set-up for "Brooklyn Babylon"

Alas, very few of my hopes transpired.  Sure there were some great musicians in the band who blew exciting solos, but for the most part, this was just a stock big band, sitting in the normal stage configuration, with minimal stage lighting, playing typical big band repertoire which could be covered by most any metropolitan big band.  In no way did they compare musically to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Maria Schneider's band or the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

modern drummer, Tommy Igoe
To me, the entire performance had a disingenuous quality to it, most of which stemmed from bandleader Tommy Igoe's drumming.  He is clearly a great contemporary, modern (rock) drummer with chops galore.  Elements of his playing were impressive, but in my opinion, lacked a quality of sincerity which stems from the mindset of "check me out" rather than "how can I best compliment and shape the music?"  [Seeing drummer Brian Blade the following evening with Wayne Shorter affirmed these thoughts.]

Birdland, the jazz corner of the world
After mulling it over, I have concluded that Tommy Igoe is to be respected for his marketing prowess in using the Birdland brand to secure a month-long American big band tour. The Birdland Big Band lacks a distinguishable sound of their own, and I wish that Igoe had taken more time to consider how he could have used this opportunity to truly advance the art form, rather than to secure a solitary tour.