Thursday, January 31, 2013

(College) KIds Say the Darnedest Things About Departed Jazz Masters

Yesterday in combo, a question arose regarding which octave the bassist should play in when using a bass clef lead sheet; we decided that the high notes were meant for trombone melody, and the bassist should play roots, as the melody notes were not in the typical bass range in the first place.

ME (to bassist): Or you could just double the melody using harmonics. It'd be really high, but I bet Jaco could do it.
OTHER COMBO MEMBER: No, he couldn't...he's dead.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Terms

This one had to stop after the tempo went astray...

KID (pointing to the word "subito," which means "suddenly"): So "subito" means to speed up, right?
ME: Ha, not at all. How'd you get that? (sounds out syllables) Soo-bee-toh...suh-peed-up. OK, I see how you got that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

JK is Carrying Esbjörn's Torch in Fine Fashion

On New Year's Day, I posted a list of my favorite new jazz CDs of 2012. Despite formidable competition from the likes of Pat Metheny and Kenny Garrett, I gave top honors to a Swedish piano trio that's not particularly well-known, but should be. The group is called the Jacob Karlzon 3, the CD itself is called More, and my favorite tune on the album is the opening track, "Running." It has definite shades of both Metheny and Esbjörn Svensson (Karlzon's late countryman, from whom it could easily be said that he has inherited the title of standard-bearer for the "New Piano Trio" genre).

"Running" was featured in a teaser video promoting the album's release last August, and now there's a full-length video for the song. Enjoy!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Some Great Words from MLK About Jazz

Happy MLK Day! Dr. King was a big jazz fan, and he wrote some program notes for the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. He had some great things to say about our wonderful art form. Here's my favorite quote:
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

As always, read the whole thing. (Hat tip: Kurt Elling's Facebook page.)

This Blogger Speaks the Truth

Via multiple Facebook friends, I came across this post from a blogger calling herself Facetious Firecracker, entitled What Every Music Teacher Wants You to Know. I'll share a couple of the "money quotes" here:
Without music programs in schools, we risk losing part of our culture for the future. When we examine past cultures, what do we use to judge how civilized they were? Paintings, musical compositions, architecture, tools, language, and clothing. In other words – ART. In fact, we use the fine arts of past cultures to judge how much they knew about our current so-called “core subjects.”

Do you think people in the future are going to look at our standardized test scores to see how well we lived? Of course not. They’re going to study our ability to create ART.

[...]We didn’t go into teaching music because we wanted to get better at math. We want what we do to be valued for its own purpose. We want people to think it’s important to have music in schools, well, just because it is! Imagine your life without music.

Silent commercials and movies, with the exception of dialogue. Awkward silences while shopping. Silent car rides. All in all, pretty boring. We teach music because it’s like painting for your ears. It expresses emotions. It can even change your emotions.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Region Ruminations

No matter how seldom I may blog these days, I always find things to say on the night that I've attended the All-Region Bands concert every January. The region where I teach is known for having strong band programs, and the result is a fine evening of music, even though the kids have had less than 24 hours (last night and most of the school day today) to rehearse the music. And while I've blogged about Region for almost the entire ten years in which this blog has been in existence, the post has been very similar each year, with only minor edits (I somehow neglected to post last year, but 2011's post may be found here), but this year, I seem to have come up with several new ideas. As always, this doesn't pretend to be a review of the concert, just whatever random thoughts popped into my head as I was listening.
  • Let's get my own numbers out of the way first: There were eight in all from my studio--five freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior (plus one more junior who plays another instrument but studies jazz saxophone with me). The fact that five out of the nine saxes in the freshman band are my students certainly bodes well for the future, I think.

  • This concert is set up to run like clockwork--there is a 45-minute slot allotted to each band, and everything started within a minute of the posted time. While this meant that, for "marathoners" like myself who stayed for the whole thing, there were some fairly substantial lags between bands, it worked out perfectly for the families of the students in the later bands, who may have just been there to hear their own kid's band. But the fact that five bands--one freshman band and four high school bands--can complete a concert in less than four hours, year after year, is indeed impressive.

  • Thinking about the above, it occurred to me for the first time that this event really isn't one concert--it's five mini-concerts. There was a more substantial amount of turnover between bands than I recall seeing before, but that may well have made room for everyone, though there were seats to spare during each band. (I've never done the math to figure out whether anyone's auditorium could hold a cumulative audience, but I have my doubts, especially if kids stuck around to watch their friends in later bands.)

  • In many ways, this concert hasn't changed much over the years. But here's one way in which it has: During one band, I looked up a few rows to see a parent recording the concert on his iPad. Granted, that's less obtrusive than a big honkin' video camera (a few of which were there as well), but it was funny to watch a small facsimile of the concert in real time on a tiny screen like that.

  • One of the conductors programmed his own composition, which he claimed received its final edits on the plane ride to Dallas. I'm trying to remember if we've ever had a composing clinician in this region before; surely we've had Holsinger or Ticheli at one point. (Also, the composing conductor went baton-less for the composition right before his, but picked up the baton for his own piece. Anyone have a big philosophical statement about baton vs. no baton? It's been a while since I've picked one up, of course...)

  • What's up with weird lighting things going on at this concert? Two years ago, the dousing of the house lights resulted in the stage lights going off as well...while a band had started to play! This time, the lobby lights went dark for a while; it was funny to watch everyone proceeding cautiously through the hall by cell phone light. Also, the house lights here apparently had no dimmer switch; it went, rather jarringly, from very bright to very dark within a nanosecond.

  • I got to thinking about the whole idea of how to set up a band. It was different with every conductor tonight (with the exception, of course, of obvious things like the flutes in front and the percussion in back). Most other musical ensembles--big band, orchestra, chorus) have a fairly standard setup, but the band is subject to not only the whim of the conductor, but perhaps the pieces being played (to possibly create a "stereo" effect of different motifs being passed from section to section).

  • I still like the new "wind ensemble" music better than the older "band" music (and I have yet to make my post about how film scoring saved classical music), but there were certainly plenty of composers making great, symphonic music for band before John Williams and his progeny came on the scene. Two of the best of the "old" composers writing in a "new" way--Vittorio Giannini and Ron Nelson--were represented tonight.

  • One of my favorites among the "old" works is Ralph Vaughan Williams' "English Folk Song Suite." Both the MC and the conductor who programmed this work pronounced Vaughan Williams' first name as "Rafe"--just as I've heard with the English actor Ralph Fiennes, but never with anyone else. RVW was always just good ol' "Ralph" to us. (Also, if you're familiar with this work, ask me about my programmatic interpretation of the second movement--it's very dark. Also, the first theme in the third movement sounds a lot like "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Gets a chuckle out of me every time...)

  • The "theme" in our region has been to get the top two directors from a major university to be the directors for the top two bands. This year, the guys came from Oklahoma State, and they did an outstanding job. While all the bands did well, the top two, being made up mostly of kids who made at least Area if not State, take things to a whole new level. It's hard to believe that they're high school kids who had less than two days of rehearsal to put this together.

Did you really make it through this whole post? Congrats; you're a marathon winner in much the same way as those of us who stayed for the entire concert!
I'm sure I'll be writing a similar post next year. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Kids Still Say the Darnedest Things About Their Mistakes

Today, one of them just completely fell off the track, rhythm-wise...

ME: Hang on a second--not only did you miss a note, but that sixteenth note section just got really, really fast all of a sudden.
KID: Yeah, I'm not sure what happened there.
ME: It's almost like you stopped controlling the horn, and it took over.
KID: In Soviet Russia, saxophone plays you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When They're Making Excuses for Their Mistakes

ME: Hang on--you turned that eighth note into a quarter note. And you also forgot to tongue anything.
KID: That's 'cause it's a Wednesday.
ME: What does that have to do with anything?
KID: I'm just not a Wednesday person.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Band Music

This one was describing some of the new stuff that was passed out to them this week...

KID: We have a lot of weird key signatures, like 6/8.
ME: The key of 6/8, huh? So how many sharps or flats are in that one?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Why They're Rusty After the Break

This beginner was definitely in that situation ...

KID: I couldn't play over the break, 'cause I was sick the whole time...
ME: That's no fun.
KID: My mom said I couldn't get my germs on it.
ME: I see..
KID: I gotta get back in the rhythm and mojo.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Kids Say the Darnedest Things on the First Morning of a New Semester

While most of the kids I saw before first period were (as expected) dragging a bit, one was almost literally bouncing off the walls. As she jumped up and down a bit, she turned to me and waved. KID: Hello! I'm hyper! ME: Nice to meet you, Hyper.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Kev's Top Ten Jazz CDs of 2012

Happy New Year! As I try to get back to regular blogging (a pursuit which has often been sidetracked by my involvement with Facebook and Twitter), one of the seemingly obvious things to post here would be a list of my ten favorite new jazz releases of the past year. If you're my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you've seen all these recordings under the "Playing in the Kevmobile" heading (a weekly summary of which should return here this coming weekend, and I'll try to update the missing past year or so shortly), but I've never actually tried to rank them in any way until now.

So without further ado, here's my list. (Your mileage may vary, of course, and you're welcome to put your own thoughts in the comments.)

  • 10. The eponymous debut by the Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio (Dafnison Music). Cuban-born drummer is joined by keyboardist Jason Lindner and singeresbjorn/rapper Kokayi fuse together a wide variety of styles into something that's truly unique.
  • 9. Christian Scott, Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Records). Ambitious double-length release from New Orleans-born trumpeter who constantly pushes the boundaries of his music into adventurous new places.
  • 8. Donny McCaslin, Casting for Gravity (Greenleaf Records). Prolific tenorman who would be a household name in a perfect world scores with a new release that blends electronics with more traditional sounds and includes a great cover of a Boards of Canada song.
  • 7. Esbjörn Svensson Trio, 301 (ACT Music). The late Swedish pianist had not one, but two albums' worth of music in the can at the time of his untimely passing. The first one, Leukocyte, had a much darker air about it than any of the trio's earlier releases; the remaining material, found here, is overall a return to the more uplifting mood that one came to expect from e.s.t. Overall, a fitting coda to a remarkable body of work.
  • 6. Neil Cowley Trio, The Face of Mount Molehill (Naim Label). I've really been getting into a lot of European piano trios who have been doing some very interesting and creative things with that format, and this UK threesome's latest release is loaded with memorable tunes that keep me coming back again and again.
  • 5. Snarky Puppy, groundUP (groundUP). The Pups celebrate their own imprint under the Rope-a-Dope umbrella with their second "live in the studio" effort. As always, it's full of win--memorable tunes, funky grooves and virtuosic musicianship. These guys have done their hometown of Denton proud, though their repidly-expanding tours mean they don't get to come home as much these days.
  • 4. Kenny Garrett, Seeds From the Underground (Mack Avenue Records). Perhaps the finest altoist of his generation (and certainly, outside of Bird and Cannonball, the most-imitated by younger players), Garrett returns with his first album of all originals in a while, and to these ears, it's his best work since the classic Songbook album.
  • 3. Gwilym Simcock/Tim Garland/Asaf Sirkis, Lighthouse (ACT Music). The Lighthouse Trio has appeared on a couple of previous albums under the leadership of saxophonist Garland (and primarily featuring his compositions). But with their ACT debut, the trio has moved towards being more of a true collective, with everyone contributing to the songwriting and the musicianship of young British pianist Simcock coming more toward the forefront. The tunes are catchy, the musicianship is superb, and the combination of textures (Garland often puts the sax aside in favor of bass clarinet, and Sirkis' unconventional drum kit is made up of all kinds of things) is always enjoyable.
  • 2. The eponymous debut by the Pat Metheny Unity Band (Nonesuch Records). The highly-anticipated meeting of the eminent guitarist with reedman Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and Metheny's longtime drummer Antonio Sanchez more than lives up to expectations; it truly is a unified whole, rather than just another "supergroup," and the collaboration translated to an equally impressive live show.
  • 1. Jacob Karlzon 3, More (ACT Music). The Swedish pianist, joined by cohorts Hans Andersson on bass and Jonas Holgersson on drums, was not unfamiliar to me, as I already owned two of his prior releases, but when this new release was announced on Karlzon's Facebook page, the audio samples and teaser video grabbed me and never let go. It's as though Karlzon is taking the work of his late countryman Svensson to interesting new places, with a strong Metheny vibe thrown in (especially on the opener, "Running"). There are a lot of styles represented here (he covers Nik Kershaw and Korn on this album), and of all the recordings that made it into my CD player or laptop this year, this is the one that had the biggest emotional hold on me and kept me coming back for, well, More.
OK, there's an elephant in the room here--an album that I can't possibly rank, but it deserves mention in any year-end post on this blog: Kris Berg and the Metroplexity Big Band, This Time/Last Year. Why can't I rank it? Because I play on it! But I'd sure love it if you bought it, and I'd like to think that I'd listen to it regularly even if I wasn't one of the performers. My longtime friend and colleague has come up with some outstanding compositions and arrangements for large ensemble, and the solos--from the likes of Wayne Bergeron, Clay Jenkins, Chris Vadala, and Delfeayo Marsalis, as well as some outstanding local players, are just killin'.

Also, you may notice that three of the albums on the list come from Germany's ACT Music, which has easily emerged as one of my favorite labels this year. I finally got a couple of actual CDs from them (the Lighthouse recording, and one by the Yaron Herman Trio), and I love the packaging and liner notes as well. I'd buy all of their stuff in hard-copy form if the imports weren't so pricey.

And coming up in 2013, the most anticipated new release of this month ahead has to be Chris Potter's ECM debut, Sirens, with Craig Taborn, David Virelles, Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland. It drops in just four weeks!