Possibilities

By , May 11, 2016 3:31 pm

IMG_0580

The Polyrhythmics tour to New Orleans and the Southeast, from Kentucky (or, as some call it, Kenpucky,) to Florida to North Carolina and beyond went relatively smoothly, with many new areas visited from both the band perspective and a personal perspective.  I enjoyed the cultures and people in the South so very much, and loved having the opportunity  to play music there; once again I felt a real appreciation for professional musicians and bands in the cities to which we traveled.

Even before this tour I had a few long drives, so I checked out a book on tape:  Possibilities, an autobiography by Herbie Hancock.  I really liked it!  Herbie goes into detail about how certain musical projects and bands came about, and what the dynamic was like in those groups, as well as how his musical philosophy changed (or stayed the same) throughout his long career.  Definitely some interesting perspectives from a guy that has been TCB’ing (Taking Care of Business) for quite a while.

I would also recommend, to other aspiring professional musicians in particular, this interview with drummer and producer Jojo Mayer that Adam Gross recommended to me.  There were a few observations from Mayer there about where you work and play music versus where you live, the decisions you make regarding your life as a professional musician, and what the music business means to him.  Good stuff.

I think each time I return home after 2 or more weeks away I engage in the same self-reflection, but once again it’s really hitting me that music is my professional future, both teaching and playing.  For a while after college it was in the background of my professional life; something I was doing intermittently when I wasn’t busy working.  Then, even when it was in the forefront, I assumed that someday I would have to push it back again.  I think I’m getting closer to eliminating that assumption, which feels really good.

 

 

 

 

More Focused Listening

By , March 23, 2016 5:03 pm

When David Bowie passed away, I was motivated to listen to more of his music, as I had really only heard his big hits previously.  As I have occasionally done with other artists in the past, I decided to start with his early albums and move through them chronologically (I wrote about this approach previously here).  Listening to his albums this way definitely taught me some things about the development of songwriting, exploring different sounds and textures in pop music, and how pop music can be inventive and unique.  I really missed the boat in not listening to his music earlier.

With an upcoming special event that Ben Bloom and the rest of the Polyrhythmics will be putting together in New Orleans for JazzFest, I moved on to do the same focused listening with the discographies of Fela Kuti and the Grateful Dead.  I knew a fair amount of Fela’s music, but almost none of the Dead’s music, and once again both experiences were significantly enlightening.  What struck me in listening to the Grateful Dead was how interesting the actual composed material was; it seems to me that they are largely known for the improvisational nature of their performances, but I enjoyed the written material just as much.

Fela’s music is, in its own way, a perfect example of the approach that I frequently talk about achieving:  a unique synthesis of all of his influences into an individual sound.  Throughout his discography you hear how he incorporated West African Highlife, Jazz, and Soul in the style James Brown in a way that allows them all to work together.  The political nature of his music and how fearless he was in declaring his views is also an important part of who he was, and how the music sounded.

Polyrhythmics have never claimed to be an Afrobeat band, or tried to accurately and faithfully execute Afrobeat music as Fela and others played it, but the influence is definitely there, and it would be irresponsible to ignore or downplay that.  I’ve thought a lot recently about my responsibility as a musician to not only acknowledge influences but to bring them to the front of conversation when talking to listeners or students about my playing, especially if they are not familiar with those earlier bands and musicians.  I haven’t done a great job with that, and hope to do better.

Art

 

 

 

Updates

By , February 16, 2016 1:39 am

12509159_10206925407631080_8076351819740086810_n

Thanks for another awesome photo, Chris Davis!

 

Hi all,

It may be a little late for a New Year’s post, but here are some things happening for me now and things I’m looking forward to this year.

The Unsinkable Heavies continue to play every 3rd Wednesday at the Seamonster, and we have had a few opportunities to get out and play some more around town as well.  The band has really come into a particular vibe and sound that I think separates it from other similar groups.  That kind of clarity is important with the Heavies since we all play in the Polyrhythmics as well, but I think the two are distinct and different musical experiences.

Both Polyrhythmics and Theoretics are keeping busy, working on new material while still trying to push outward and share our music.

Because Theoretics (at least in its current form) is a little newer, one of my goals for the band is to get some real momentum with both live shows and new music.  Over the last couple of months I’ve talked with more and more people that like what we do, which is really encouraging, and, as with the Heavies, our musical style is becoming more and more solidified.

With Polyrhythmics, I’m looking forward to working on more new material and continuing down the path that we largely started on last year.  I’ve started to participate a bit more in the creative process with the band, and I’m excited about what comes out of it.

Lastly, teaching is going well, and in addition to giving private lessons I feel really lucky to be able to work with Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra’s Jazz Scholars program, where I can help give musical inspiration and motivation to kids who may not have the same support that I did when I was their age.  Check out their page here for more information!

 

Art

 

 

 

Library Music Finds

By , December 31, 2015 5:05 pm

spl-logo

I’m going through another heavy library-listening phase, checking out CDs by the armful!  Here are some things I’ve been checking  out:

Grant Green, Idle Moments – The more I listen to Grant Green, the more I like his playing, specifically the thematic way in which he improvises.  Although it is sometimes repetitive, I think that repetition is really intentional and makes his solos more melodic, and his language is strong.  This record also has Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson on it too, so there is an interesting meeting of approaches.

Billy Childs, Map to the Treasure:  Reimagining Laura Nyro – I had never listened to Nyro’s music before, so I don’t know how different Childs made these songs with the arrangements, but the arrangements are really moving and well done.  This album has has Becca Stevens on a few tracks, which led me to her album Perfect Animal, another cool record with unique sounds and really great vocal work from her.

Miles Davis Quintet, Live in Europe 1969 – I have to be ready for some pretty intense free/noise improvisation to listen to this era of Miles, but, as I like to say sometimes, the music and the band is undeniable.  Chick Corea, Jack Dejohnette, Miles, Wayne Shorter, and Dave Holland; this is the band before the Bitches Brew bands but after In a Silent Way, so you can kind of hear a transition happening.  It also came with a concert DVD, so it was fun to get a chance to actually watch these guys play.

Roland Kirk, We Free Kings – I think Kirk is pretty underrated, or at least pigeon-holed for playing multiple woodwinds at once, which is really cool and sounds great, but he also was really inventive and unique on singular horns too, working in and building on the bebop language, and I think he was very creative in terms of fusing bebop, blues, and free jazz together.

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls – Also very intense music, but for me this record was inspiring in how unique Mahanthappa’s approach is to alto saxophone; you can hear the influences and the individuality together, and it’s clear he’s worked on his approach in a clear way.

Sergio Mendes, Herp Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – This was a pleasant surprise for me; I had just recently watched the documentary The Wrecking Crew, which talks a little bit about Alpert’s work in the ’60’s and 70’s, and when I saw this album I had to check it out, not just for Alpert’s name but also because I had Medes’ name as well but never listened.  Super strong mood and vibe throughout, with funky beats and cool tunes!

Anyway, that’s just a taste, I’m still going through a lot of things that I just found by sifting through the jazz sections of the cds at Seattle Public Libraries, and I can’t recommend it enough.  Even if jazz isn’t your thing, there are albums to be found in the other sections as well.

-Art

 

 

 

 

East Coast, California, and Oregon

By , October 21, 2015 3:46 pm

IMG_2317
Home again home again after a busy couple of weeks:

– The Polyrhythmics East Coast Tour was overwhelmingly positive, both individually and as a group. Although our time in each area or city was usually pretty short, I really enjoyed being in areas where the moods, personalities, and cultures were a bit different than that of the Northwest, from New England to New York to DC to North Carolina. Equally interesting were the parts of some of the cities that I found really similar to Seattle and the Northwest; sometimes it was the way a town felt, sometimes it was the way the people were, sometimes it was something else. Regardless, there was strong support and love for our music, which was heartwarming. New York in particular was wonderful; I reunited with several friends with whom I always enjoy catching up.

– After that, our stops in California and Oregon were familiar in the best of ways. Many of the venues we’ve played several times before, and it’s comforting to know that the place you’re playing any given night likes you and will treat you well, and you will probably see some familiar faces too! I talked about music a lot with a couple of the guys on this run, discussing where we see our music (both as individuals and as a band) fitting in compared to all of the other music getting made out there. I always find those conversations very rewarding, and think it makes me a better musician (or at least makes WANT to be better).

The Polyrhythmics twitter and instagram accounts were pretty active on these runs, so there are more detailed descriptions of the tours here and here.

It is not easy to make tours like this happen (much of the credit should go to Ben Bloom, our guitarist and tour manager), and there are sacrifices each of us in the band make to do it, but I feel very fortunate to be along for the ride.

On to the next!

Listening

By , September 16, 2015 4:05 pm

I’ve been able to put in some significant practice time recently, which has felt great!  Here’s what I’ve been working on:

This was a track I heard in the Polyrhythmics van; Ben had recently came upon a Grant Green boxed set, and although it’s off of a Lou Donaldson album, Green’s solo really intrigued me and got me into the practice phase I’m in now that is mostly focused on learning vocabulary.

For the last couple of years, my playing has revolved around approaches and concepts, using scales or intervals to improvise and write music. This is different to me than using vocabulary, actual melodic phrases and specific musical “sentences”. I believe I moved away from that because it is easier to fall into cliche and predictability, but coming back to it I find my ideas to be more concrete, and I’m not as concerned about being predictable; every phrase I play, whether it’s coming from another musician or not, still goes through my brain, and is therefore different than it was before.

A couple more I’m working on now:

Clifford Brown’s solo. They way he weaves phrases together is incredible.

Gene Ammons’ solo. This has one been fun because I haven’t transcribed very many solos for tenor saxophone, and it gives me a chance to work on a different style of playing than I am used to.

Hopefully, this practice trend will continue. I’m really excited by its effect on my musical focus and motivation!

– Art

Updates

By , August 22, 2015 7:18 pm

July and the beginning of August has been some of the busiest times for me in recent memory!  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

 

– I went to Chicago to see my sister graduate and become a doctor in Psychology, very exciting!  Over the 4 years that she lived there I visited several times, and I enjoy that city very much; to me it has a very clear cultural identity that is colorful and rich.

 

– I played with Theoretics on KEXP’s morning show.  Although I had done an in-studio performance there before with Polyrhythmics, it is always thrilling to know you are being broadcast on the radio.  I also appreciate what KEXP does for creative music in Seattle (along with NPR stations KPLU and KBCS).

 

– I performed a few pick-up gigs with musicians I admire:  Tarik Abouzied, Ian Sheridan, Joe Doria, Brennan Carter, Jeff Johnson, and Jake Svendsen.  It’s always a pleasure to play music as well as talk with these guys and get their viewpoint on things.  Jeff in particular is someone I look forward to playing with every time because I view him as an older music master and local legend, so whenever I play with him I feel as though I’m with a mentor, and there is always something I learn from playing and hanging with him.

 

– I kept a steady weekend-warrior-style tour schedule up with Polyrhythmics and Theoretics.  I had the opportunity to play at the Capitol Hill Block Party, the Guitarfish Festival, the Northern Rockies Music Festival, the Kaslo Jazz Festival, Summer Meltdown, the South Lake Union Block Party, Doe Bay Fest, and the For the Funk of it Festival, and I traveled to cities and areas all around Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada.  Crazy!

 

I put up a bunch of new pictures in the Photos section, and I uploaded many videos from my travels onto a “Summer Performances 2015” playlist on my youtube channel ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYy1yby1nObZRmIM1hh7G3A/playlists ) , so check those out!

 

– Art

More on Musical Circles

By , June 30, 2015 1:57 pm

Although I won’t be in town, I was excited to see that Kamasi Washington is coming to Seattle, playing at Neumo’s on July 30:

I’ve read a fair amount about Washington in the last couple of months, but one aspect of his approach that particularly interested me was his participation in creating the West Coast Get Down, which is the community of musicians that have known each other since high school, play together in various combinations in Los Angeles, and recently collaborated on a month-long recording session, which resulted in a whole wealth of material written by different individuals in the collective. Kamasi’s album The Epic is just the first release from that material.

What I really like about musical collectives is they give you a wider view of the music that’s coming from a particular time and place. Because a group of like-minded people that know each other well are involved rather than one individual dictating ideas to others, the end result feels more collaborative. The West Coast Get Down and Kamasi Washington’s album is what a certain part of LA’s jazz community sounds like in 2015. I do wish the other members of the West Coast Get Down were mentioned as often as Washington and the collective are, but perhaps that will come in time when the rest of the material from that recording session is released.

I talked a bit about Seattle’s musical circles here, but the stories about Washington’s album and the West Coast Get Down got me thinking about them once again (post edited: I tried listing all of the music communities I consider collectives or near-collectives, and the list was just too long, I’m sure you all know many of the ones I do), and it made me wonder what Seattle music in 2015 sounds like to people that don’t live in Seattle or haven’t listened to it very much.  Perhaps it’s better to refrain from over-categorizing and trying to define the music being made; when it comes down to it we’re all just trying to be musically honest and playing what we like without making it fit into a style.  I know I’ve had this type of conversation with different people many many times, but it always seems to be on my mind, so if I’m repeating myself I’m sorry, friends!

 

 

Jazz Shows

By , June 15, 2015 12:18 pm

I had the opportunity to bounce around a bit this weekend, and really wanted to hear some jazz, so I went to several shows/sessions that I absolutely loved this weekend:

Brass Tacks in Georgetown with Ron Weinstein, Jeff Johnson, and Mike Stone:  I had heard about Brass Tacks before; I think Darian Asplund has had some gigs there, and I had seen Ron’s name attached to it too, but I had never been there.  I really like the playing of all three of these guys, and they are some of the nicest, most fun musicians to hang out with and talk to as well.  In addition, the restaurant is really nice, and although I didn’t try any of the food, it looked delicious.  One of the owners, Skylar, was constantly walking around, shaking hands and checking in on tables, and introduced himself to me, then, after a nice conversation, offered me another beer while I watched the guys play.  Even though the gig is, for all intents and purposes, a background music gig for a dinner crowd, it’s a great time.

The Lost Pelican in Belltown with Steve O’Brien and Delvon Lamarr:  This time, I did try the food, and the crab cakes were delicious, although the portions were a bit small.  Sounds like the move is to get there for the brunch and have the biscuits and gravy.  Delvon said they may be the best biscuits and gravy he’s ever had.  Whoa!  Once again, Steve and Delvon are guys that I really enjoy both playing with and talking to; they get as excited about jazz as I do, and as always I came away from the gig energized and motivated about my own playing.  Another background music gig, but, again, really really fun.

The Angry Beaver in Greenwood with Max Holmberg and friends:  The Angry Beaver is a jam session that I think has been going for a bit but is still pretty new, and feels similar to the Owl and Thistle jam session on Tuesdays.  The vibe is super friendly and the playing is top notch.  I knew a handful of people, but there were also a lot of musicians I didn’t know, or at least don’t know super super well, and I’ve only met Max once before, when we played together a year or so ago at the 118 Public House with Tim Kennedy.  Despite this, it was super comfortable; Max does a good job of walking around and hanging out and making sure people get to play, so even though the crowd was largely unfamiliar to me, I never felt awkward or out of place.  The bar is also pretty close to my house, and looks like a fun spot to catch a hockey game (it’s a Canadian hockey bar).

 

 

Roy Orbison and Local Music Circles

By , May 28, 2015 11:24 am

orbison

I had a fun opportunity a couple of weeks ago to perform in a tribute to the music of Roy Orbison, a musician whose most popular songs I’m familiar with but who also wrote and performed a lot of material less well-known to me.  It was fun and interesting to play the show and get a little deeper into his sound and style.  Granted, it’s not as though I was playing with the man himself, but the band and lead vocalist really knew the material well, and were into playing it as faithfully as possible.

I also played in the opening band, The James Apollo 5, and I’ve had the opportunity to play with them several times now in a 2-piece horn section with Scott Morning (thanks Scott!)

Playing with the people in both of those groups gave me a view into some Seattle music circles I’m not as in touch with, which can be very enlightening.  It’s easy for me to stay involved and informed about the circles I already consider myself  a part of, or at least circles I have close friends or peers in, but there is SO MUCH music, of all kinds, being played, and I think it was good to be reminded that it can be beneficial to step outside of my musical comfort zone sometimes.

When I stop to think about it, I can think of many musicians in the Seattle scene that move between musical circles comfortably on a regular basis, without ever losing their unique voice and sound, and I really admire that.

With that being said, there’s also so much music happening inside (what I consider) my circles, and musicians that have a more focused or singular vision of what they want to play, which I also admire and respect.  I guess it’s always a bit of a balancing act.

Strong music supporter John Lalonde once compared the Seattle music scene (or, specifically, the attempt to keep up with the scene) to “drinking from a fire hose”, meaning that there is so much great stuff happening all the time it can be easy to get blown away (John, that was you that coined the phrase, right?)  It seems as though this post really just reiterates that sentiment in a different way.

What a great problem to have!

– Art

 

 

Panorama Theme by Themocracy