Category: Life

Saxophone Siblings

By , April 15, 2018 4:48 pm

I started playing music by learning clarinet when I was 9.  I had 2 cassette tapes:  one of Swing clarinetist Benny Goodman and one of saxophonist Kenny G.  That ended up being the only Kenny G music I had, but I did go on to get several Benny Goodman tapes after that.

I then went on to listen to more and more jazz, and by the time I was 13, when I had the opportunity to play in Jazz Band at school, I was excited to play this music.  At the time, however, the band did not allow clarinets, so if I wanted to join I had to play the saxophone.  

I don’t remember being disappointed about it, and in fact I think I was excited to learn this instrument that was in so much of the music I listened to, so I was given an old Alto Saxophone from one of my cousins and things kind of took off after that.  I’ve been playing alto ever since.

After college, I bought a Tenor Saxophone from an old friend and would play it by myself sometimes, but never really worked with it; all of my gigs were on alto, and I considered myself an alto player.

Then one day Scott Morning recommended me for a new band, and assured the members that I did, in fact, play tenor (although at the time he didn’t know for sure!)  That was my introduction to Polyrhythmics.

As Polyrhythmics continues to move forward each year, I have deepened my commitment to being a better tenor player.  Although the 2 instruments are closely related, they really do require different things, and most importantly the voices are distinct and very different from each other.  

It’s difficult to maintain a balance, because I never want to stop playing alto.  It’s where I began and I still feel like it’s an important voice to me.  But I think some of the difficulties I’ve had lately (that I hinted at in my last post) come from an underdeveloped voice on tenor saxophone.  After all, I have 20 years of playing alto to try to catch up on if I really want to strike a balance.

As I said, alto will always be a part of me, and I will continue to use it as a primary voice in Theoretics, as a well as a part of my sound in Unsinkable Heavies.  But I am also excited to expand and explore tenor sax more seriously in the years to come!

 

Good Things Happen Slowly

By , March 21, 2018 11:54 am

I recently read Fred Hersch’s autobiography Good Things Happen Slowly, a beautiful book.  

Hersch is a New York-based jazz pianist, although he has played and composed for a variety of different musical styles, and also is an activist and spokesman for AIDS health and awareness causes; the book offers a look into Hersch’s development as a musician in New York in the late 70’s, his life with HIV and his coming out in 1993, and many of the different avenues and detours his personal and professional lives have taken over the years.  

I was initially interested in reading it because of his historical place in the New York jazz scene; Hersch came on the scene after the 60’s but before the Young Lions era of the 80’s, the 2 time periods that I feel are discussed the most when talking about modern 20th century jazz.  Hersch’s stories do not disappoint in this area, and also were supplemented by more of the memories he recounts in an interview with Ethan Iverson here.

Many of these stories revolve around Hersch’s experiences learning on the job from old masters, from Art Farmer to Joe Henderson to Sam Jones and several others.  He sees himself in a group of young musicians that were some of the last to learn to play almost exclusively by working and gigging with legends.  The generation after them – the Young Lions mentioned above – largely came from college jazz programs that were more firmly established after Hersch and his peers left school.  Because I underwent most of my musical development in a college jazz program, and I didn’t have that same kind of on-the-job training or mentor/apprentice relationship like Hersch describes, I’m really curious about it, and have been since before I started this book.

On a related note, I really enjoyed imagining what the scene would have been like back then at Bradley’s, a famous piano Greenwich Village piano bar that is now closed.  To read about it in the book and in Iverson’s interview, you really would never know which legendary pianist was going to come in and drink at the bar, and then, inevitably, show you how to play a standard or teach you a tune at the piano.  Amazing!

Hersch also talks a bit about how his music and the music of some of his peers was kind of caught between the 2 more popular (as popular as the genre could be) styles of jazz at the time:  fusion and a more neo-traditional style that attempted to go back to the 60’s.  Hersch and his compatriots were exploring original compositions and ideas – not as directly pointing to the past as the neo-traditional crowd – but they also fit into the orchestrations and arrangements of earlier jazz styles – not as electric-influenced as fusion.  As I mentioned before, this perspective does not get as much attention as others, at least to me, so I found that aspect of the book intriguing too.  I would love to read something from the perspective of the Out and/or Free music scene happening at the time too, but that will have to be at a later date.

When it comes down to it, though, these stories and views about musical categories and styles take up a relatively small amount of the book.  There are fascinating accounts of Hersch’s work with the poetry of Walt Whitman, arrangements of material from classical composers as well as classic tin pan alley songwriters, his short time running a recording studio, and working on a multimedia performance based on on the vivid dreams experienced during a coma, among other events.  And these are just on the musical side; Hersch’s experience in and out of the gay community in New York, the brutal battles with his health over the years, his experiences in social activism, and his general views in hindsight, looking back from early piano lessons as a child and gigs as a young adult in Cincinnati to building his career as a musician and teacher in New York, combine to form a truly inspirational and impactful life that he recounts wonderfully.  I highly recommend this book!

 

 

 

Austin Impressions

By , February 9, 2018 5:54 pm

For my next post, I had planned on asking John Speice, a prolific and very active musician on the scene in Austin, Texas, to do an interview.  

Several of the projects Speice is involved in, including Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, Ocote Soul Sounds, and Money Chicha, have been essential music in the Polyrhythmics van for a while now, and John was also on hand to sit in on and talk after our late night performance at High Sierra Music Festival last summer.

In addition, Adrian Quesada, one of the main creative engines behind Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, and Ocote Soul Sounds, was in Seattle in November working with the modern opera Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance at On the Boards theater, and Polyrhythmics horns had the opportunity to do some small recording for him while he was here.  Clearly these guys have a lot going on! 

Most recently, we played in Austin with another project John is involved in, Kalu and the Electric Joint, and between hearing him talk about past touring bands and scenes and seeing the reaction of the crowd to his presence in the Electric Joint, I felt like he could add something to the musings I’ve had here about the musical circles and scenes in Seattle and how the dynamic here compares to that in other cities.

However, as I was preparing to ask for the interview, John posted a link to an interview he had done here:  

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-akmgh-86440a#.WnSMXPIbSU4.facebook

The interview was for a podcast called “How did I Get Here?”, and it ended up having everything I wanted John to talk about!  I highly recommend checking it out, although I believe you have to download the Podbean app to do it.  The app is free, so it’s still relatively easy to get to and to hear.

Here are a few parts of the interview that really resonated with me:

By connecting the dots between the various bands and musicians he’s played with between his time in Denton and Austin, Speice paints detailed pictures of a couple of different musical circles. Throughout these sections, he just matter-of-factly describes what he was trying to do musically, and how meeting one person led to meeting another, and how playing one gig led to playing with this band, etc. As I’m typing this, it seems really obvious – that this is how a musician works – but it’s not always that easy, sustainable, or direct. The difference in hearing Speice talk about it is that you can tell he would always do what it takes to make life work, so to speak, and that he has a certain determination about playing music that is really inspiring.

In one memory, John describes auditioning for an established Austin band close to when he moved to town, and being passed up for another drummer that had a more technical/”chops”-based focus, and the negative impact that experience had on him. He found out later that that drummer was also dropped later on, because he didn’t have the sound and/or feel that the band wanted. All schadenfreude aside, there was some affirmation in hearing that news; he felt that it meant that even though there are many technically amazing drummers out there, the specific style and feel that he has is just as valuable. There are several places in the interview where he describes moving from playing and listening to music based on technical virtuosity to longer-form groove-based music, and his thoughts on that were really deep to me.

Near the end of the interview, Speice talks about his family, and what it has meant to be with his wife over the years and for her to be supportive and encouraging of what he calls a “compulsion” to be a musician. This also resonated with me; as the musical aspects of my life continue to grow and spread in different directions, I am increasingly aware of and thankful for the patience and support of my girlfriend, my family, and my friends. The compulsion to play music as a career can narrow your vision at times, and it’s important to recognize that to keep from isolating yourself too much, something that I am working on.

There were many more parts in this interview that are worth sharing, but I don’t have the room here. Check out the link to the podcast, if you are so inclined, and definitely check out John’s projects:

brownoutmusic.com

grupofantasma.com

https://ocotesoulsounds.bandcamp.com

www.moneychicha.com

www.goldendawnarkestra.com

www.kaluandtheelectricjoint.com

 

 

 

 

Talking with Colton Thomas

By , January 26, 2018 12:59 am

Colton and Booker T, July 2017

I first met Colton Thomas in Roseburg, Oregon last 4th of July.  Polyrhythmics had the amazing opportunity to open for Booker T at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, and Colton, who lives in the area, was there for the show.  Colton does A&R work for Transistor Sound, a record label and recording studio in the Bay Area, and has known Monophonics frontman and Transistor Sound main man Kelly Finnigan for some time.  I also found out he has traded music choices online with True Loves and DLO3 guitarist and fellow classic Soul/R&B fanatic Jabrille Williams, and has maintained contact with a huge number of Soul and R&B greats over the years.

Colton and the Monophonics, July 2012

I became Facebook friends with Colton a little while later, and it was then I realized the depth of his passion for Sweet Soul, Group Harmony, and other Soul and R&B styles.  He collects 45 rpm records as well as classic press photos, and I began to notice his posts relating to both, from groups like the Four Tops, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Spinners, and so many more, often underrated or undiscovered. 

Colton is a dedicated collector, to be sure, but I was fascinated by how much further it goes; in the sections beneath his posts I would see comments from family members and friends of the posted musicians, and sometimes the musicians themselves would write in on his posts!  It became clear that Colton knows many of these legendary singers and artists and their families as friends at this point, and he is actively invested in getting their music out there today.  I decided to try to interview Colton for the blog, and he was excited to do it.  As expected, I learned a tremendous amount about the groups and sub-genres associated with classic Soul and R&B! 

The Dontells, an example of Sweet Soul

Colton was interested in music from a very young age; he remembered bringing a cassette tape of himself singing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to Show and Tell in kindergarten.  Another formative experience was his 13th birthday, in 2003, when his parents got him tickets to see James Brown in Jacksonville, Oregon.  He said it was incredible, and remembers Brown unexpectedly using a Korg keyboard, sometimes playing it backwards!

Through his family’s antique store, which is still going strong today, he had his first experiences with recordings.  He told me he remembers the first record he ever got:  The Four Tops – Second Album (“that’s a great record”).  From there his love for Soul and Vocal Harmony music took off.

After hearing about some of his early experiences getting into this music, I was able to get to one of the aspects of Colton’s interest that fascinated me the most.  I asked him how he started getting into contact with so many amazing elder musicians, and he told me it really started with Myspace.

Colton started a Myspace page called Soul Legends, where he could write about the records and artists he loved, and soon he was reaching out and finding the Myspace pages belonging to the singers and musicians he admired.  By 2009, Colton was conducting interviews, the first of which was Tony Drake, who sang “Let’s Play House”(originally released in 1969).  An interview with Larry Cunningham of The Floaters (listen to “Float On” from 1977 here) soon followed.  He was able to do these interviews through Blog Talk Radio, a site that allows you to create your own radio show.  Colton’s show was called Soul FM, and he continued to interview more and more artists in this way from 2009 on.  At the time of the interview with Larry Cunningham, Colton was 17 years old.  SEVENTEEN!!

I just can’t imagine seeking out the music, connecting with these luminaries and legends, and starting your own interview-based radio show at 17; I thought that was remarkable.  

The Soul FM show allowed for fans and musicians to call in and talk to Colton or whoever he was interviewing, which then led to more connections across the country for him to share in his musical loves, and it could be unexpected who might end up calling:  When Colton was interviewing Little Anthony of Little Anthony and the Imperials, he saw a call come up, but did not want to interrupt Anthony, as he was in the middle of a story, so he didn’t pick up the call.  Afterward, he got a Facebook message from R&B musician Jimmy Castor saying it was he who was calling in.  Castor passed on a while after that, and Colton said that not taking that call is “one of [his] biggest regrets to this day.” 

Colton with Jerry Lawson

A particularly fun memory Colton recounted to me was from 2013, when he traveled to Mesa, Arizona to see family.  Because Scottsdale was near by, and because he had kept in contact with Jerry Lawson – of The Persuasions –, Colton and Lawson arranged for Lawson to pick him up to hang out (“I don’t know what kind of car it was but it was a really cool car,” Colton said).  They ended up grabbing some ice cream, and, at the end of the night, going to a karaoke bar, called the Grapevine, together!  Colton ended up picking a Persuasions song out of the karaoke book for Lawson to sing, and Colton got into the act too, singing the Spinners.

Autographed note from Weldon McDougal

There were others who were surprised to find out a white teenager in Southern Oregon was running such an extensive online tribute to classic Soul and R&B.  One of the fellow music afficionados Colton met through his Soul Legends Myspace page was T.L. Harris, who told Colton that he thought Soul Legends was run by “an 80-year-old black man from Detroit”.  When Harris saw a photo of Colton, at 16 years old, with Duke Fakir of the Four Tops, he said it blew his mind!  He reached out to Colton online and introduced him to Weldon McDougal 

Weldon McDougal was a prolific singer, songwriter, and producer (he sang some of the background vocals on “Yes I’m Ready” by Barbara Mason) who worked at Philadelphia International Records as well as Motown Records.  He became good friends with Colton, and had many stories, including some from his childhood.

McDougal told of living in the same Philadelphia neighborhood as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.  He remembers that Hawkins had a coffin that he used as part of his stage performance, but he would leave it outside on his front porch in Philadelphia, and as a child McDougal and his friends would dare each other to go on the porch and get inside in the coffin.  I believe Colton said that McDougal told him they very nearly got caught once, and Hawkins scared them off!

Another memorable story McDougal told Colton and Harris involved legendary bassist James Jamerson.  While McDougal was at Motown, the 1973 documentary Save the Children was being filmed, and Marvin Gaye and his band (of which Jamerson was a part) were featured in the film.  McDougal remembered coming to the hotel to pick Jamerson up to take him to the venue and discovering that Jamerson had drunkenly trashed his room and was getting grief from hotel staff.  As the story goes, on the way out of the hotel, Jamerson hopped over the hotel clerk’s desk and karate-chopped the clerk, letting out a loud “Hi-YAH motherf****rs!!”

Colton with Kelly Finnegan

After meeting Kelly and the Monophonics in July of 2012, Colton kept in touch, and in January of 2017 he signed a contract to become involved with A&R for Transistor Sound, a record label that advocates for unheard, unreleased, and underappreciated Soul music.  To a certain extent, the label is perfect for Colton; it provides a very real vehicle for him to bring the music and musicmakers he loves to more public notice, and he can continue to work towards giving them and their families the recognition they deserve.  The Dontells, pictured at the beginning of this post, is the 1st reissue Colton has helped put out through Transistor Sound, largely with the help of the late Bob Abrahamian, who was a generous collector and Soul music aficionado from Chicago that Colton originally met on an online forum called Soulful Detroit and really looked up to.  You can read a tribute to Bob here.

Implicit in some of our conversations, I think, was how many black groups and artists making music in the 50’s and 60’s were taken advantage of, and not given their fair public and financial recognition.  I believe Colton mentioned that Weldon had some stories about how important it was to watch your money and be careful what you sign.  That adds another spin on Colton’s mission to find underappreciated recordings for reissue.

In addition, Colton himself sings, and there may be a Colton Thomas release at some point down the road!

Colton credits social media for allowing him to make the connections he’s made over the years.  Those Soul legends that he initially found on Myspace became friends and mentors that he regularly calls on the phone to talk to and hear stories from.  The way he put it, without social media he never would have had the opportunity to hang out with groups like Smokey Robinson (Colton interviewed bass player Gary Foote on his Blogtalk show, who then set up a backstage meeting between Colton and Smokey in 2011) or the Temptations (Colton met veteran road manager Billy Bannister at a performance, who then introduced him to Otis Williams, last original member of the Temptations, backstage at another performance). 

I didn’t have the heart to ask too deeply about the number of singers and groups Colton has befriended that have passed on, but it was definitely on my mind during parts of the interview.  It’s hard for me not to feel a sense of urgency in Colton’s mission, as so many Soul legends have gone in recent years, and it has to be hard for him to say goodbye to more and more of his heroes as time goes on, but there is no doubt in my mind that they all are very proud of and thankful for Colton’s unending passion for their lives and their music.

Some other vocalists Colton has connected with over the years:  Barrett Strong, the Masqueraders, Flying Stars of Brooklyn, and Brothers by Choice

Here are a few more photos Colton shared with me:

 

With Jerry Lawson

With Terry Cole of Colemine Records

With Lee Fields

With Kelly Finnegan

 

 

 

 

 

    

Updates/Listening to the London Scene

By , September 11, 2017 1:26 pm

Hi all!

It’s been an eventful Summer:

–  Polyrhythmics played across the region, including the Eclipse Festival and the High Sierra Music Festival, where I had the opportunity to share the stage with both Skerik (who I talked with on the blog here) and Karl Denson, a musical highlight for me.  We added the finishing touches to the next album, set to release 9/20, and are asking fans, friends, and family to preorder it at http://www.pledgemusic.com/polyrhythmics .  Check it out!  There are other fun gifts and thank yous for supporting on that site as well.

–  Theoretics performed at Capitol Hill Block Party and are working on a new EP.  We’re continuing to move in a different direction from previous sounds, and I am really excited to continue.  To me, the music fuses a more composed, layered approach with a creative and spontaneous treatment of sounds and textures, and it’s changing how I think about writing and playing music, in a good way.  I hope to share it with you all soon!

–  I moved to a slightly different part of town with my girlfriend, a little more out of the way but still connected to what I need personally and musically.  With how busy things have been it has been difficult to really get settled (3 months later and we still have pictures to hang and boxes to unpack!), but all things in time.  Honestly, it has been nice to feel as though I’m getting away a bit when I come home; it has been easier for me to focus on what needs to get done.

 

In other news, I’ve been more and more interested in what seems to be a particular circle of creative musicians based in London, and it’s been fun to listen to their similarities and differences in sound based on that common geography.

I had heard the Heliocentrics from Adam, our drummer in Theoretics, quite a while ago, but recently, after they released a new full length album, I went back and got back into them.  In addition, they began popping up in my social media feed more.  Here is their drummer and producer, Malcom Catto, giving a tour of his recording studio (just click).  There also was a Gilles Peterson podcast on which Catto and bassist Jake Ferguson talked about some of their jazz influences, as well as influences outside of that genre like Ennio Morricone and Can.  Unfortunately, it looks like that podcast is not available anymore.

Listening to Gilles Peterson’s playlists after that was really informative because of their stylistic range; although genres like Electronica, Jazz, and Hip Hop are more fluid in America than they were 10 years ago, in my opinion, it seems they are still more fluid in Britain.

At the same time that I was listening to the materials above, I started listening to and following saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings.  As it turned out, Hutchings had worked with Heliocentrics in the past, but predominately plays with his own group Shabaka and the Ancestors, which sounds significantly different from Heliocentrics, in a good way.  Again, through social media I saw more and more from him – clips of interviews, concert footage (Hutchings posted a great clip of an Ancestors show where Kamasi Washington sat in, really beautiful), etc.  Also, check out his account of playing with the Sun Ra Arkestra:  A Meditation on my Experience with the Sun Ra Arkestra

A fourth element of this London scene I listened to was Yussef Kamaal, a duo collaboration with another unique take on creative London music.  Although the duo is no longer considered together, Kamaal Williams, aka Henry Wu, is quite active on my feed, and I’m interested to see what he does next.  And, as before, even with major differences in their musical approach, sound, and style, there is a common thread – Yussef Kamaal’s album Black Focus was engineered by none other than Malcom Catto of the Heliocentrics.

Anyway, I recommend checking out any of the artists mentioned above.  It has been enlightening and interesting listening to them over the last couple of months!

 

Art

 

 

 

Lesson/Interview with Skerik

By , June 19, 2017 12:14 am

I’m listening back to a recording of 2 hours I spent talking with Skerik, one of the saxophonists playing today that I really look up to and find inspiring for a multitude of reasons.

Skerik is an example of a musician that, to me, has developed a truly individual style while at the same playing in a way that shows a reverence for all musical approaches, both past and present (and future too, for that matter), and when I hear that in another musician I always think the same thing:  “where is this person coming from?”

That question was really the motivation to ask him for a lesson.  I know you can never really fully answer a question like that, but in the process of talking to him for an afternoon I really learned a lot about his feelings on music, performance, and being a musician in general.  

I’ve written and rewritten this post many times, trying to accurately describe and articulate as many details as possible while still being brief and easy to read, but we covered so much ground I am finding it impossible.  

In the end, I’ve just decided to write about a few of the common threads and larger points that I’ve drawn from the recording, so I hope the intent still comes through.

TIME

The importance of Time in its various facets manifested itself at several points in the conversation.  The first was when Skerik was describing some of his experiences in London after moving there early in his professional career thanks to the encouragement of Leif Totusek, who introduced him to Soukous musicians and South African musicians.  Skerik described playing singular ideas or songs for hours and hours with these musicians without stopping.  Recalling one specific memory, he remembered working on a specific tune with South African musician Bheki Mseleku until he was dead tired, going to sleep, and then waking up to find Mseleku still playing through the same song.  This commitment to “putting in the time”, in his view, is how musicians develop into those superhuman examples, the musicians that can play in a style with complete conviction and authenticity.  

Those stories of London kind of bled into second-hand stories he related about rehearsal rules and procedures in bands like those of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart; infamously strict, meticulous, and LONG, working on music for months at a time before it is ever played live or recorded.  Again, time, and commitment, plays a large part in creating music that becomes iconic and, to a certain extent, timeless.

This isn’t to say music must be created this way.  Skerik also talked a bit about friends and musicians who have the ability to create that kind of musical excellence with less preparation, and used session and sideman musicians from New York or LA as examples.  These are players who have the skill set “to thrive in those conditions”, as he said, and he spoke of those musicians with an equal amount of admiration and reverence.

REVERENCE

Which brings me to the next thread.  As we talked about past musical giants, talented contemporaries, and musical mentors, and then beyond music to car mechanics and builders and tradesmen of all kinds, I realized that Skerik has a serious respect and love for humans that work on a craft and can perform that craft on a high level, beyond what I think an average person has.  He uses terminology like “shaman”, “sage”, and even “Yoda” for these people, by whom he is amazed in their ability to fix things, both literally (as in cars or musical instruments or houses) and figuratively (musicians and artists).

I’ll save the stories he had about non-musical trades for another time (but ask me about it when you see me if you think of it, they’re hilarious) and focus on how he talks about the musical “shamans” that came up in conversation.  Again, I can’t go into too much detail, because there are just too many names and too much stuff, but I can say that a lot of the names Skerik mentioned when talking about his musical development are the same names that would I would bring up if I were talking about mine – the larger-than-life jazz giants that changed the music, as well as the jazz musicians that we agree were underrated or passed over.  But Skerik’s reverence extends further; whereas, to a certain extent, my musical gods existed in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and mostly came from jazz, Skerik upholds all of those and then some – across musical styles and across many more years, and he speaks of all of them with wide-eyed astonishment, shaking his head and throwing his hands up when trying to describe how mind-blowing they were or still are to this day.

That reverent tone took me a little by surprise, I guess because when I had seen Skerik play, I always felt like he was playful, tongue-in-cheek, and subversive, not this “serious” musician type.  This assumption and judgement was all wrong, but for a variety of reasons, as I would find out.

SERIOUS” MUSIC

Skerik recounted a story of a time when he was young and living with a girlfriend in France about how people view music.  The girlfriend’s father listened to and enjoyed jazz and many other different styles of music, as well as played accordion and sang.  In one particular conversation the father used the phrase “serious music” to describe classical music.  The father was a good person and someone Skerik liked and respected, and he meant no ill will by using the phrase, but Skerik remembers how it raised his hackles immediately.  “I was like ‘how is this other music not serious?'”, he said.  It wasn’t clear if this was in reference to another specific genre of music, but it doesn’t have to be for the anecdote to make a clear point:  no style or category of music is more “serious” than another if the musicians involved are dedicated to doing it at a high level.

On a similar note, we talked about jazz musicians like Eddie Harris and Clifford Jordan that, while continuing to innovate and explore new ideas musically, maintained connections to other styles.  Harris could go from the most technically virtuosic saxophone playing to singing blues songs in his sets, as well as writing horn parts for Earth Wind & Fire, and there are stories of Jordan and other musicians he played with routinely going out and hanging at blues clubs in town when they weren’t on the road, sitting in or singing a tune themselves.

We talked about how musical categories can be damaging, and touched on the power that Wynton Marsalis’ comments in the 80′ and 90’s had, both for good and for bad.  For a well-known musician like Marsalis, who Skerik was inspired by and loved and respects, to tell everyone in attendance at the Paramount (where Skerik remembers seeing him), for example, to go buy a Thelonious Monk record the following day, and at the same time make public comments that directly affected the livelihood of artists like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, is both powerful and dangerous.  “How can someone do so much damage and so much good?”  Skerik said, lamenting this behavior that very well could have kept a lot of exciting and new and different music from a larger and deserving audience – “all that music is completely relevant, and we lost a whole generation of people…being able to enjoy all this crazy free [music]” –  while at the same time opening up other important musical doors to that same audience.   (Skerik  said the articles that are specifically referenced and linked to in this essay and interview by Ethan Iverson provide excellent information regarding this topic.  I’ve mentioned Iverson before here.)

PERFORMANCE

I mentioned my impressions of Skerik in performance earlier, and he got into that a little bit too.  It came in the context of music as a communal experience, something to be shared with the audience.  That general concept is something I had already thought about quite a bit, and talked about with others, but I really enjoyed Skerik’s take on several aspects.

About the exchange between performer and listener:  “We need their energy, we need their attention, so that we can use that listening power, it’s so reciprocal…that energy is unstoppable.”

About process:  “Include them, let them be a part of the process, the circle, and ultimately the result.  That’s something that’s important to me, process and result, how they’re different.”

About actions in the moment:  “Sometimes I get into this mode of, if the music is playful, if it has some element of playfulness, or if some of the musicians have a sense of humor, I’ll be goofy or something on stage, not to trivialize the music, but to keep people engaged with the music…and sometimes that can help during a solo, helps me create space during a solo, if I can be dramatic or….do something unusual – it’s not planned, I’m not doing it for being unusual’s sake.”

The last quotation I will include, which I think is fitting, came after a few stories Skerik had about making a solo an “event”.  He was talking about saxophonists Steve Potts and Mark Turner, in two different stories, creating beautiful and meaningful spaces with their playing:

 

 

“Of course we need all these intellectual tools and all these things…but at the end of the day the vehicle to deliver those things is a sense of expression, of expressiveness.”

 

 

I am very thankful to Skerik for taking the time to talk, and thank YOU for reading!  

If you can, please check out the Joe Allard pedagogy at http://www.joeallard.org/pedagogy.html , and Skerik’s website at http://skerikmusic.com

-Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio, TV, Books, Music

By , March 1, 2017 3:24 pm

Hi all!

Lots to catch up on here.  I got the chance to do a few local music and radio shows last month with some of my favorite musicians in town:

Tim Kennedy band on KNKX:  Tim has gotten pretty regular mention on this site for good reason, he has been a significant positive influence on me since I started playing music professionally.  In addition, I’ve listened to 88.5 since I was a boy, sometimes recording jazz overnight onto cassette tapes, so this show had an added personal importance.

Polyrhythmics on Artzone with Nancy Guppy:  I performed on Artzone with Theoretics several years ago, but never put up the footage.  Artzone is a program that’s really valuable to Seattle arts and culture, in my opinion.  I first started playing closer attention to it when there was a really endearing segment with Nancy and Bill Frisell

In addition, Theoretics were chosen to a part of Playback, the Seattle Public Library’s program that promotes and supports local music and artists.  There are a lot of great bands involved, so check it out!

All of these organizations, as well as ones I’ve talked about in the past like Seattle Art Museum and KEXP, are doing really essential work in nurturing local music.  I’m thankful to be working with them occasionally and, in turn, want to support them as best as I can!

I finished the My Life with Earth Wind and Fire, the autobiography of Maurice White, and found it to be beautiful; White was a passionate musician with a vision, and the trajectory of his life made for a moving story.  

I’m now reading Straight Life: the autobiography of Art Pepper.  I would venture to say it is much darker than White’s autobiography, and there are many tragic parts of Pepper’s life that the book covers, but it is just as moving.  The things that were done to Pepper and the things he did to himself and others are hard to read about at times, and the book has changed the way I look at the musicians and music of the 50’s and 60’s.

That’s it for now, hopefully more to come soon!

James Booker, Stones Throw Records, Muscle Shoals

By , October 21, 2016 12:41 am

Hi everyone!

I recently went through a good run of music-related documentaries that I would highly recommend:

booker

Bayou Maharaja – This doc is about James Booker, a New Orleans pianist and entertainer that was active primarily in the 70’s. Although he made several European tours and played with many of the era’s great musicians, Booker stayed in NOLA for the most part, which is part of why he is still unknown to many people. I first heard about him when I visited New Orleans with Polyrhythmics the first time in 2014, and it’s a shame not only that I had not become familiar with him sooner, but also that he is still so underappreciated. Completely unique, extremely talented, and fascinating in every way.  Check out the movie!

wolf

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton – Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton tells the story of Stones Throw Records, the LA label started by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf and responsible for supporting music by Madlib, MF Doom, J Dilla, and others.  In addition to those artists, I have Stones Throw to thank for turning me on to a few other artists that became important to me for one reason or another, like the Stepkids, Mayer Hawthorne, and James Pants.  What interested me the most when watching this movie was how organic the process was in creating the musical scene around the record label; Wolf would actively pursue the music that he thought was cool, regardless of how the bands and musicians related to each other.  In this way, there are some Stones Throw albums that, when put next to each other, would seem like they don’t belong on the same record label, and yet at the same time there is something in the sounds of all their records that makes it sound like Stones Throw.  Wolf created a sound and a scene by not worrying about style or genre or whether it made sense.

rick-hall

Muscle Shoals – Similarly, I enjoyed how Muscle Shoals recounted the creation of the style and sound that would come to represent early music by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Duane Allman.  The Muscle Shoals Sound would become famous, and its origin is nothing more than 4 studio musicians and a recording engineer from a small part of Northwestern Alabama making music that sounded good to them.  The story of Muscle Shoals, from humble beginnings to more modern music industry struggles and everything in between, was truly inspiring to me.

 

I hope you’re encouraged to watch these films after reading this.  You won’t regret it!

 

Art

 

 

Jaco

By , June 2, 2016 1:56 pm

 

JacoPastorius

I recently had the opportunity to watch Jaco, a 2015 documentary about Jaco Pastorius, and I cannot recommend it enough.

I remember the summer after I graduated high school I was working at my dad’s law firm, like I always did in the summers, and one of my coworkers, a bass player, introduced me to Jaco.  I was listening to a lot of jazz and was a snob, so the fact that I hadn’t heard the name before made me immediately skeptical.  I was impressed and liked the music upon first impression, but it wasn’t a revelation.  Over the following months though, Jaco’s world, 1970’s jazz and funk, started to open up for me, and there’s still a lot of music from that time that I am fascinated with, as well music from that time I haven’t discovered yet.

And Jaco really is at the center of that stuff for me.  What the film did was add so many other aspects of his persona that I loved learning about.  Some of these include the role that Florida and the Florida music scene played in his life, stories and video footage of he and his family together, and the wide variety of genres and styles he liked and moved between (something that I talk about and think about often, as you may know if you’ve read the blog before).  All of these things and several others parts of the movie had a strong effect on me, and, thanks to a weekend off and a patient girlfriend, I watched parts of the movie, as well as the extra interviews and clips, over and over again.

To this day I listen to Weather Report pretty regularly, and I remember listening to Jaco’s Word of Mouth album constantly for at least a year while I was in college, but watching the documentary Jaco reinvigorated my interest and  love of Jaco’s music and the music being made during his time to a higher level than it’s been in a while.  It also got me into Joni Mitchell’s work with Jaco, which I’m deep into now, but that will have to wait for another post!

Perhaps most importantly, I felt that the movie is a very poignant story about who the guy was as a person, and that might be the part that stays with me the longest.

Anyway, check it out if you get the chance!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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