Sunday, January 2, 2011

new year, new music

Happy New Year to all! Well it's official. Jazz Brasil is officially released; promotion starts in the next few week with albums sent out to reviewers and radio stations and if it works out I'm finally moving into the 21st century with twitter. I'm trying even harder to get my music noticed and I'm going to work to build more of a presence through social media. This is partly the idea of the record company. To try to broaden my fan base, mainly people who listen to Latin jazz, to other groups that might appreciate what I'm trying to do. A few blogs ago I mentioned my performance at the National Flute Association (NFA), and I still see flute players as a group that I want to reach out to. Jazz Brasil is going to be included in an article on jazz flute players who performed at the NFA in the groups very classy periodical, The Flutist Quarterly, but if I am going to keep the attention of classical flute players, many of whom are flute teachers, I'm going to have to do something that relates to their needs and interests.

From what I pick up from flute lists, a few more school jazz ensembles are using flute players, and the general increase in interest in jazz at all educational levels should be able to be connected to the literally thousands of kids, teens and college students who play flute. My idea is to start another blog geared to aspiring jazz flutists and to introduce classical flutists to the possibility of playing and teaching others how to play jazz on flute. What I'm planning, although I'm not sure whether it will prove technically or financially feasible is to have a place where aspiring jazz flutists can post links to their recordings or videos and where others can listen and comment on the music. Sort of a virtual master class for jazz flute. That will be supported by jazz flute discussions including responses from more experienced jazz flutists and flute teachers to start to build a community of support and awareness of the potential for flute as a major contributor to jazz.

Among the incentives to put up the blog is my desire to make my early (pre-Jazzheads) recordings more available so that my own development as a musician is acoustically available to those who are interested in my music. This blog tells the on-going story, but it is, after all, about the music. That brings me back to Jazz Brasil. Jazz Brazil is my fourth significant effort to record Brazilian music. It is preceded by Lua e Sol and O Nosso Amor, both of Jazzheads and a number of earlier efforts. Jazz Brasil is probably my most 'inside' album. As I mentioned in the previous blog, playing with Kenny Barron landed me right in the center of my bebop roots. I came up in Brooklyn in the late 50's and early 60's and the musicians I was connected with, especially the African-American musicians like Ronnie Matthews, who was part of a group of musicians centered around Red Hook Projects (where I lived as a toddler) had a distinctive perspective on where to take bebop (white musicians who came out of the Brooklyn scene included the brilliant clarinetist and saxophonist Eddie Daniels). I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College (as was Eddie) which supported a community orchestra in which I played trombone that included Jimmy Garrison in the bass section. But the strongest influence on me was composer and pianist Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who was probably best known in the jazz world for his work with Max Roach. 'Perk' as we called him, was the orchestra conductor and on the side he had a jazz sextet that he wrote for in which I played trombone from time to time. I wish I could remember all the musicians in it. But it was a 'rehearsal band' and so different guys played at different times. I was the only student in the group and I was in awe of the music and the musicians. Booker Ervin, who I played with later in a sextet led by a very talented but obscure pianist-composer Paul Knopf around the same time, sometimes played tenor, also alto player Bobbie Brown, who also played with me and Paul Knopf as well. But I digress!

Anyway, playing with Kenny was pure bliss, although the record date had some tensions (both Nilson and I were very much aware of the fact that we were recording with a jazz master). And since there were no rehearsals, the session was intense. So intense that we didn't take any pictures (nobody wanted the intrusion of photographs while we were recording. But we did take pictures during a break. I like this one (Phil Ludwig my engineer is standing next to Kenny Barron, with Nilson Matta and drummer Marcello Pelliterri on the other side):

My playing on Jazz Brasil is in interesting contrast to both the records that preceded it, Timbasa and Lua e Sol. Both of the earlier albums were very much cutting edge. The young Cuban musicians (Axel Tosca Laugart and Panagiotis Andreou both won Best Latin Jazz of 2010 awards for their work on Timbasa on piano and bass, respectively) were playing beyond anything I have heard. That album, in its own way, is so far in advance of what is going on in Latin jazz that I expect it to be years before the musicians integrate what those guys were doing with the music. And my playing of the album drew upon everything I knew and more. Playing up to those guys was a challenge and I am very pleased with the result. Similarly for Lua e Sol. Cyro Baptista is probably the most innovative percussionist in Brazilian music. His own music (Beat the Donkey and other ensembles) reflects the avant garde scene both in Brazil and New York. Using him on the record, with no drummer, freed Romero Lubambo and Nilson Matta to experiment with form and texture. Again, my playing in response to them pushed beyond the standard idea of bossa-nova flute playing and enabled me to freely explore melodically and harmonically. But then came Jazz Brasil.

You can hear three complete tracks from the record on my myspace page:

In particular check out my version of 'Brazil,' the most classic of all of the Brazilian tunes, Ary Barroso's anthem. My statement of the melody is as pure as it can be. And the solo is right on the pocket, nothing fancy just those great changes and the sweet spots to make clear and musical statements. My approach to playing the melodies of great tunes is based on hours of listening to Frank Sinatra on AM-radio. I was working as a consultant in the New York City public schools, running something called the Reasoning Skills Project in the mid-80's and I had half-ownership of of 76 Dodge Dart with my ex-wife (it had been her father's car) She had it weekends and I had it to drive around from school to school throughout Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. I was in the car a lot and it only had an AM radio. And there was a program that played Frank Sinatra, and only Frank Sinatra, all day long. Like everyone else on the planet I had heard Frank Sinatra, but is was only in the Dodge Dart that I really learned to listen to him. And what struck me was the care and precision with which he just sang the notes 'as written.' That become my model for playing great melodies and 'Brazil' is certainly as great a melody as anyone could hope for.

How far my performance on Jazz Brasil is from my earlier attempts a playing Brazilian music is best looked at in comparison to the other extreme. In 1998 I recorded an album of trios, playing Afr0-Cuban, Brazilian and post-bebop with three different groups of guys. The trio that did Brazilian music was Romero Lubambo and Cyro Baptista, and what we did there makes Lua e Sol look timid by comparison. Each group played two extended improvizations. When I played the first trio for Romero (Jean-Paul Bourelly on guitar and Milton Cardono on percussion) Romero suggested we record a classic baião, basically a 16-bar blues, probably by the master of the baião, Luis Gonzaga. We play the tune for close to 16 minutes. It is a serious composition, improvised completely (the only prearranged part is the figure it ends with). It moves through 3 distinct sections and includes some of the best playing by Romero on any of my records. Check it out, track 2 on the album):

Here is where I have to take it on faith that you listened to it. And this goes back to my earlier discussion of my proposed new blog. I want to talk to musicians about that piece of music. I want to engage in a technical discussion of its form, its use of structure, its use of harmonic motifs, it's use of contrasting acoustical environments and especially how it is possible to create such long forms through improvisation. That is, I want to start taking my music seriously and engaging with jazz theoretician and teachers using my music and their music as the basis for the discussion. Such a discussion includes how artists, change and develop. To give you an idea of where it came from and some other places I went check out two other early Brazilian recordings. The first is from my first album, Seasoning, recorded two years before Jazz World Trios in 1996. It is flute and two acoustic guitarists, Vic Juris and his student Robert Reich. It is a recording of my favorite tune from my favorite movie, 'Felicidades' from the movie 'Black Orpheus,' track #8:

After I recorded Jazz World Trios (and returned from California where I recorded Cuban Roots Revisited for Cubop records) I recorded an album of duos, Three Deuces, with three different guitarists, Vic Juris, Ed Cherry and Paul Meyers. Paul contributed an original tunes called 'Andando.' Here it is (track #2):

But is was a collaboration with guitarist, singer and composer Richard Boukas that consolidated my interest in Brazilian music and introduced me to Nilson Matta who would co-produce all of my Brazilian recordings on Jazzheads, eventually reconnected me with Romero Lubambo and Cyro Baptista. The album with Boukas was his concept throughout. First, suggesting that we record all Hermeto Pascoal, compositions, then settling on tunes from Hermeto's Calendario do Som, writing all of the arrangements, playing a myriad of guitar-like instruments, singing, booking the musicians, running the sessions and mixing. The album is called Tudo de Bom and is well worth checking out.

If you would like more, there are two sets of videos of duo's with Paul Meyers, one in concert in 1999, right after I recorded Jazz World Trios and another group that I recorded for the NFA competition a few years ago. They are to be found at:

They include my least favorite bossa-nova, 'Wave' ( a requirement of the competition) which I learned as a trombone player playing club dates the last year I played professionally before taken a few years break from music to earn my PhD. And which I played endlessly when I was broke, playing flute on the street for spare change in the late 70's (I was fired from my full-time teaching gig at CUNY when I got my PhD, since they had to promote me, but all promotions where cannibalized due to the budget crisis of 1976).

Such is life! Let us all wish for peace, health and happiness in 2011 (and a little prosperity wouldn't hurt).