the giddy vol. 4 - the christmas edition

what could be better than christmas music?  here are my favorite moments from the best stuff on the planet...

brian mcknight home for the holidays - bethlehem
i kid you not - the byline for this photo claims that brian can "sing your mother out of her panties".  no thanks.  he's got a great voice and an equally good ear, doing work with his family from take 6 and banging out tunes on the piano.  i don't really care for the entire album, but this track is fun. i like the organ and could use more volume in the backs when the parts split in the chorus.  i can't resist doing the air cue when the drums come in up front, but my favorite part is the synth brass part in the chorus, occurring first at 1:00.

whitney houston do you hear what i hear - a very special christmas
make no mistake about it - girlfriend can turn it out.  early whitney (you know, before she got all coked out with the king of r&b) is some of the best pop stuff out there.  her voice is so easy and clear, and she's got that bottom jaw vibrato thing mastered.  i like the drag snare figure that persists throughout and dig the key change you can see from a mile away.  her ad libs are wonderful.  my favorite part on this track is at 2:12, when i don my choir robe and sing "peace" with the background singers smack dab on beat 2.

take 6 & stevie wonder o thou that tellest good tidings to zion 
this is seriously one of the most amazing recordings of music that i have ever heard.  the ears on these guys are unfathomable, and our hero steveland morris wrecks shop on lead vocals.  take 6 sounds ridiculous here, with incredibly smooth voice leading and clever hemiolas.  their phrasing is impeccable, providing a backdrop from which stevie can absolutely dominate.  this track, from the quincy jones handel's messiah cornucopia of r&b artists, possesses so many wonderful moments.  i appreciate the dynamic contours in the backs, love the reverb on the snaps, lip sync the "ooh-ah, ah-ooh", dig the scoops, but get my mind blown by stevie with a lick that starts at 3:17 and finishes with a swallowed angst-riddled belt at 3:24.  it gets no better, folks.

bruce springsteen santa claus is coming to town - my hometown
i remember first hearing this on Q102 while jamming out in my cracker box bedroom.  i convinced my dad to drive me to the store so i could buy this single on 45 with my paper route money.  this particular cut began my infatuation with live recordings.  i'm not a big bruce springsteen fan per se (but my kids turned me on to this video about the boss).  the jingle bells are a nice touch, the snare on 4 up front feels good, and the dynamic drop at 3:09 is cool, but my favorite part hits at 3:49 when bruce is so overcome with the giggles that he can't finish the last riff into the out chorus.

frank sinatra jingle bells 
this cut is a favorite of our family.  simon and sonja danced together by christmas light one memorable evening, and it was the most precious thing i have witnessed.  i like frank just fine, but we are collectively more into the background singers.  i like the wordless back lines they sing after the second verse, and dig frank's swing feel in the chorus that follows, but our favorite part happens at 1:33 when frank joins the singers as they spell out the title of the tune.

andrea bocelli adeste fidelis - my christmas
this dude kills.  we heard this version of the holiday staple last december while we sat through the credits of that jim carrey 3d animation movie.  andrea sounds tremendous, and my favorite part hands down is the high f# he sings for 24 (!!!) seconds.  i spread my arms out wide and try to sing along, but a) don't sound near as good, b) can't hold my arms out for that long, and c) need an oxygen tank by the end.

hall & oates it came upon a midnight clear - home for christmas
i would be forever elated if i could sing like daryl hall (and would shoot myself in the face if i looked like john oates, especially post trademark mustache).  this pair of pop music sensations have become caricatures of themselves, their legend strengthening in an underground fashion, but there is absolutely no denying how prolific they were and continue to be.  i was overwhelmed with joy and had to sit down in the worn out couch at the public library when i noticed that they have a christmas album.  i love the acoustic guitar, the egg shaker, the reverb, and the string orchestra.  this is the type of arrangement that makes impossible for me to hear this tune any other way.  my favorite part is the way that daryl hall flips into his falsetto at 1:39.  so tender, so intimate, so perfect for that spot in the tune.

my sister and i grew up listening to this record overdriving the speakers on our parents' modest stereo every holiday season.  my favorite singer of all time is dolly parton (with bjork and nat cole tied for second place), and both she and kenny sing their tails off all over this album.  i dig this track in particular, although i'll agree that the video is pretty corny. the best part hits at 2:44 when the backup vocals appear out of nowhere and push that sus chord out of its displacement and into the denouement before the hook revs back up.  i literally held my breath while watching this video the first time, wondering as the time elapsed in the progress bar if the clip would last long enough to get to that spot.

want more giddy?      volume 1     volume 2     volume 3


over and over and over again

i believe in establishing continuity in my music while pushing my creative envelope tirelessly.  i am ok with constantly retreading my musical path, but not at the expense of chasing new ideas.  i have certain sounds that i like from particular musical sources.  i’m not big on learning patterns and licks because, seriously, who cares that you memorized a formula in all 12 keys and are ready to pull the trigger at any moment.  however, i am intrigued with various intervals and the design of improvised lines, so i may try to cop the gist of something and infuse it into my playing.  i continue to attempt balancing spontaneity through improvisation while codifying my own vocabulary.  bean, bird, and trane all did this.  

i also think it’s valuable for bands to pound out the same landmarks in the set list.  this marketing tactic gives people something to look forward to and keeps them engaged.  when pat metheny took his 99-00 trio out, they started most gigs with bright size life.  fans of the bad plus waited impatiently for the power trio to play their rendition of smells like teen spirit by nirvana.  a quartet i led in college would always close each gig with mo’ better blues, signaling the end of the show.  pop/rock acts often suffer from this beast that they built.  bob seger was just in town, and i’m sure the crowd wouldn’t let him leave until he busted out old time rock and roll (and probably slipped him a sucret when he graveled his way through we've got tonight).   

christmas around our house is full of tradition.  we run the same annual protocol when we decorate the crib for the holidays, yet manage to work in a new wrinkle or two to break the monotony.   first thing's first - we make our way out to flowerama, pick out a good looking tree, snap a picture with it, then try to jam it into the back of our stationwagon.

then we put on some christmas hats, crank the holiday jams, open up the big green tubs of ornaments, and go to town.  

next, we assemble our willow tree nativity collection on top of our china hutch while talking over the story of christmas (mary, joseph, and them other jokers).  the real fun starts afterwards, trying to remember which animals go in which box.  

when the weather is cooperating, me and the boys hang up lights all over the outside of our house.  each year, we augment our display with the least tacky item we can agree on. this year, we picked up an inflatable elf and nailed him to the front of our house.  score one for the kids.

we're a quirky family, building our foundation on keeping inside jokes, possessing memories like elephants, and never getting rid of dilapidated decorations.  the singing penguins are my favorite.  they are a mix of dollar general and schoenberg.  dig the shifting tonal centers!  we won this trio at a faculty christmas party.  people usually regift stuff like this at the next holiday soiree, but not us.  that would erode the very core of who we are.  enjoy...


the giddy vol. 3.

freddie hubbard hoe down - blues & the abstract truth
what a great tune!!!  i'm an eric dolphy nut and went through a period where i was gobbling up every audio treat i could find.  the lineup on this record is fascinating (evans, haynes, pc, oliver), and freddie hubbard's blue collar trumpet playing plays the foil to my hero.  this tune is often the stepchild to the popular stolen moments, yet is undoubtedly the best chart on the set.  my favorite part showcases freddie's persistent pursuit of the line as he pushes into his second chorus at 1:16.  he knocks, knocks, knocks, and won't be denied as he kicks down the door to a 9 bar lick stacked with vintage hard bop vocab.  eric's alto solo that follows is delightfully urgent. this album is a must have.

guillermo klein miula - filtros
i stumbled upon this record through my perusings of do the math, the blogging podium for pianist ethan iverson.  i admire the bad plus, respect ethan's knowledge, and follow his threads when i can.  this band is chock full of great players (cheek, monder, mchenry, zenon, ballard) which made it even more alluring.  i'm not big into latin music, but this record kills.  my favorite part follows the trombone solo at 3:53 with a 7/4 pointillistic that does some taffy pull metronomic modulation (that i still don't understand) for about 45 seconds.  i dig that it makes musical sense and is not stuck in there for the "hey look, i can do snazzy things with counting that you ain't up on" effect.

wynton marsalis chelsea bridge - tony bennett sings ellington
i bought the this tony bennett album strictly for educational purposes, and was pleasantly surprised when i noticed that one of my favorite tunes had made the list.  chelsea bridge is full of great harmonies, reeking of strayhorn.  i was all geared up to hear tony croon with orchestra on this gorgeous number, yet became struck with an ill tummy when i heard the polarizing wynton marsalis plunging his way through the melody.  he's a tremendous trumpeter but can be a real ass. nonetheless, he sounds incredible on this cut.  great pitch, unparalleled control, stylistically on point.  my favorite part is the way he finishes the form proper at 3:13 by going all 8va on it.  i could live without the gritty cadenza that follows soon thereafter, so i usually race back to my stereo and hit stop before that part.  childish, i know, but hey...

hank mobley remember - soul station
hank sure does have the smoothest sound.  so even, so calculated.  it took me forever to get into his playing. i'm not a big fan of the era from which he hails, because the tunes were always a big turnoff.  one of my private students (who can really blow) turned me on to this record, and this tune in particular.  hank sounds great on the whole side. it's rare for me to have listened to an entire album.  usually i get buried in the first couple of cuts, which is where this track lies.  my favorite part is the way that he wraps around to the top of the next chorus at 1:31. hank mobley is the billy dee williams of tenor saxophone.

frank morgan all the things you are - major changes
my folks are not music people.  my mom is a retired lunch lady who loves the beatles, probably equally for their singable tunes and their cutesy mop top haircuts.  my dad is a retired truck driver who made us listen to financial advice from talk show legend bruce williams that he had recorded on cassette. nobody in my family stuck the silver spoon of music in my mouth, so there was a high level of aimless energy when i expressed significant interest in playing music.  my parents were in omaha one weekend, popped into a record store to buy me a poster of a saxophone and heard this album on the speakers.  my mom picked it up, brought it home, and put it on the record player.  i fell in love with frank's sound, yearning and searching while fighting back the tears of heartache.  my favorite moment on this cut occurs at 4:51 on the out head.  i love the way frank gets to the high E. i do the bridge this way every time i play the tune, tipping my cap to frank morgan (and no, this guy is not the wizard of oz).

dave douglas penelope - the infinite
musically speaking, i think dave douglas may have saved my life.  i first heard him on in our lifetime and myra melford's above blue, then witnessed him soon thereafter at the sanctuary with his string quartet (feldman, friedlander, cohen, sarin).  his originality was the final nail in my coffin, ultimately convincing me that there was something appealing about improvised music.  he is a creative windstorm, although sometimes over saturated with projects (most of which i sponsor with my hard earned bucks).  this album is an homage to miles, and this tune fuses two tunes (miles runs the voodoo down and boplicity) into one.  i dig the way uri caine's rhodes blankets the background.   my favorite moment rears its head at 3:05 when, after the band concludes the first statement of the cool melody, dave drives out of the history books and into a refreshing new edition of jazz music.

i felt like i had finally struck gold when i first heard bruce hornsby. his piano playing has the type of clarity that i prefer, and the tunes had just enough feel-good country vibe with musical twists.  his vocals were always cool, and the harmonies fit my falsetto fine and dandy.  this is one of his lesser known tunes, in the shadows of the way it is (and the subsequent tupac track).  i played and sang this tune for swing choir auditions in high school. why didn't someone stop me?  the video here leaves a lot to be desired, including jack nicholson behind the kit, the phony clarinet solo, the dx-7, and bruce's cuffed sleeves.  nonetheless, my favorite part surfaces at 3:50 when bruce bangs out those four As back to back (belly to belly, it's a zombie jamboree!!!)

the giddy vol. 1   the giddy vol. 2


by the hair on our chinny chin chin

i just finished my annual pilgrimage to chicago.  i had another opportunity to collaborate with my friend and vocal virtuoso marcya daneille (watch the pronunciation, y'all). last year's show featured the world's finest trombonist wycliffe gordon and, even though he played his buns off, the tunes lacked cohesion.  our rehearsals were all jacked up, and most of us were intimidated by wynton's right hand man.  i was looking forward to another stab at marcya's project.

i had done some arranging for marcya, treating ellington, rihanna, shirley horn, jill scott, and autumn leaves.
ted brewer, bassist with the late art porter, was a familiar face. this show also featured the chicago tenor saxophonist and rising star chris greene.  maurice cotton brought both a gospel-infused jazz piano style and his drumming cousin terrence pettigrew down from milwaukee.  friday's rehearsal got started a couple hours late and was initially drenched in that drama, but quickly switched into a nice vibe.  it became obvious that each of us offered a unique musical talent.  we were definitely behind the eight ball going into saturday's sound check, but i was comfortable knowing that the musicianship was strong enough to give it the old college try.

my charts used a bunch of mixed meters and odd transitions, presenting significant challenges when paired with our tight turnaround.  we hit our soundcheck, and it was obvious that terrence had shed the recordings of the tunes with maurice. that alone made us all feel worlds better about the show to follow.  ted's stage presence was uplifting, marcya's excitement was infectious, and chris oozed professionalism. one of the band members told me that, with some spit and polish, we can make this a great show.  they were right.

backstage before the hit was collegial, with all the guys in the band swapping jokes, sharing snaps of their kids, taping parts, and whirling through their phones while scarfing down veggies and chugging a box o' joe.  the folks at the show brought some extra energy to the hall.  marcya lit up the stage with her special spark.  we were excited about playing the tunes, including a hank mobley original and some feel good gospel charts.  of course it all worked out, once again proving that age old formula that good musicians + great material + even better people is often the secret to success.


the giddy vol. 2

father mc - everything's gonna be alright 
i don't know any other work from this fella, and wouldn't have stumbled across him if it weren't for my closet infatuation with the 90s thug r&b group jodeci (whatever happened to these guys?).  i dig how he references third bass with his "steppin' to the a.m." line.  this jam sits squarely atop that famous sugar hill gang bass line, giving it a feel good house party vibe. father mc drops the hook "do that dance do that dance" early in the chart, and is joined by my boys jodeci in the second go round.  my favorite part is the adlib by k-ci at 2:02.  man, jodeci used to kill it back in the day.

pat metheny  bright size life - bright size life 
i still can't wrap my head around the fact that he is only 21 on this debut.  i like the country pop jazz feel of this tune. metheny sports a mary poppins costume as he slips his sophisticated harmonic language and technical prowess down your throat by coating it with a comfortable accessibility. the open drumming from bob moses sounds great here, but the incomparable jaco pastorius (dig the postcards) makes the record for me.  his fretlesss bass playing is so wonderful, and i find myself adoringly clutching my heart every time i hear him.  my favorite part comes at the top of the second chorus of his solo at 3:05 when he percussively straightens out his line from the first bar.

p.m. singers johnny one note - jubilee 
phil mattson was my first teacher of any real consequence.  i studied vocal jazz (believe it or not) in my early collegiate years at a community college literally in my own backyard.  in hindsight, i am incredibly fortunate that ironbutt pulled into my hometown on his harley.  i was instantly surrounded by accomplished singers and jazz choir nerds from all across north america. phil's artistry and pursuit of musical truth, although maybe lost on me at the time, reside within me today. i am drawn to many of his charts, but have a particular fondness for the clever treatment of the corny johnny one note.  the band is sort of sloppy throughout the recording, but my favorite part is their line when they hit the tag at 2:41, once the singers belt a strident "out loud".

maria schnieder green piece - evanescence 
i checked out this album from the iowa city public library back in graduate school.  i'm admittedly not a big band diehard, so i had a doubting eyebrow raised when i slid this cd in the stereo.  i was so relieved to hear the musical creativity oozing through my headphones.  i'll cast my mvp vote for tenor saxophonist rick margitza (he is amazing on my lament).  runner up is pianist kenny werner, who fires off my favorite part at 5:52.  his persisting octaves over the Csus pedal at the bottom of the 1st chorus push him into a winding eighth note line that unfurls a joyous conclusion.

first call & wayne watson medley - an evening in december
i sang a kick butt arrangement by david maddux of "the first noel" back in college.  i liked it so much, i bought the book of charts and the recording that accompanied it.  the whole album is fantastic (of course it is... christmas music!!!), and one of the highlights for me is o little town of bethlehem.  contemporary christian vocalist wayne watson (who used to rock the kenny loggins look) turns it out on the final tune of this medley. my favorite part shows up at 4:04 when he holds out "emmanuel", waiting for the ensemble settle into the cadence before rubbing on some gorgeous vibrato.

al jarreau my favorite things - tenderness

al jarreau is a weird dude.  this pic looks like he's in the middle of devouring a big mac.  his voice is definitely an acquired taste, but he has managed to create a sizable career for himself.  he does a great caricature of miles davis' solo on the jon hendricks record "freddie freeloader".  i get a kick out of hearing he and opera diva kathleen battle do a live version of the rodgers & hammerstein classic and get energized when i hear michael brecker kick down the door with his tenor saxophone solo.  i like the way he adds his trademark throat growl to a long tone in the second chorus, but my favorite part is the gentle finish to his solo on the major 7 at 2:33.  if there were only some way to get al to quit doing that shimmy voice thing at the same time...

pharrell has his hands all over the more successful and harmonically interesting hip hop music of today.  working with a who's who of artists (snoop, kanye, gwen, jt & clipse), skateboard p can rub shoulders up against whomever he pleases. i especially like his tunes, either as a solo artist or in the band n*e*r*d. this track comes from "the neptunes presents ... clones", which boasts a laundry list of famous rap cameos.   jay-z (a frequent collaborator with phar-real) shows up on this track and delivers my favorite part at 2:56 with the line "denzelin' acting like you ain't appealing when you are." for the record, jamie cullum needs his teeth knocked out.



i knew this girl back in high school that would get uber excited when the clock hit 11:11.  she would always tell me "make a wish" and i would always think "i wish you would get your feet off the dashboard.  they look disgusting".  for the record, she was a sweetheart with some jacked up digits from doing too much en pointe ballet.  somehow, her plea for me to share in her numerical dreamtime has remained stuck in my head ever since.  well guess what angie - today is your lucky day. instead of wishing that we would stay together forever despite all types of weather even a hurricane, i've opted to assemble my dream band.  this fantasy ensemble of mine will play original material that we organize collectively. the criteria - everybody needs to still be alive and willing to rehearse.

prince - guitar
okay, so he's probably the busiest and most recluse of all these guys.  he's a terrific guitarist and can definitely solo.  plus, i like where his ears are.  the shape of his tunes, the breadth of his compositions, and his collaborations with clare fischer set him apart from all other pop stars. how great would it be to have him in the band as a player!?!?

craig taborn - keyboards
he's got both the acoustic and electronic bags together.  i especially like his stuff with tim berne and can't get enough of his album junk magic.  he's got that groove thing figured out with potter's underground band.  his time is deep and his ideas all encompassing.  plus, he plays celeste.

ikue mori - electronics
i learned of ikue through her extensive discography on tzadik and collaborations with john zorn, dave douglas, and evan parker.  i haven't the foggiest idea how she creates and manipulates her sounds, but am taken by their inimitability.

mark turner - tenor saxophone
his sound is wholesome, absorbent.  i'd be willing to part with my eye teeth to spend a moment inside of mark turner's musical voice.  my favorite records include in this world and the stuff he did with kurt.  i got lost driving to a jazz festival that i was supposed to adjudicate, literally because i was entranced by one of his solos on an enrico rava album.
i missed the first band, but nourished my soul.

cuong vu - trumpet
my first exposure to cuong was through his work with chris speed.  he has this jekyll & hide act down pat, luring you close with a pure sound, then smacking you up sideways with an aggressive and angst-riddled burst.  i love the quartet, admire the compositional use of the electronics, and saw a great show at the walker with he & the lovely myra melford. two points to sonja for sitting through that.

me'shell ndegeocello - bass
she's got great tunes, most featuring a killer bass vibe and this irresistible sprechstimme.  her songs have a certain poignancy that i can't refute, and my favorite is her duo effort with marcus miller.  rush over is the chestnut on the soundtrack to love jones, a movie i've never seen but an album i've spun a million times.  and that bald head ... whew

dave king - drums
what can i say... king is the man with the midas touch.  very inspirational, a glorious musician, hilarious, approachable, the real deal holyfield.  i am infatuated with bands like the bad plus, love cars, gang font, dave king trucking company, happy apple, and halloween, alaska.  he's my first call for this dream band, and we don't play if he can't do the date.

mike patton - vocals
he is capable of blowing your wildest imagination to smithereens.  my roommate at the university of iowa, round one, hipped me to mr. bungle. i love hemophiliac, am thrilled with his solo musical circus on adult themes for voice, can't get enough of his grit on bjork's medulla, and crank the home stereo when peeping tom hits the rotation.


the bon diddly dee

i am a closet hip hop junkie.  i used to sit in front of the tv with my boombox and a blank cassette in the chamber, ready to record rap videos in low-fi fashion from the 13" tv in the basement to my tape deck that i bought with my paper route money.  i was enchanted with slick rick, ll cool j, kwame, and kool moe dee.  hell, i even had a senior picture taken in a
t-shirt with the show's logo plastered across my back.

one of my favorites was heavy d, who died today.  the overweight lover had a joyful spin to his lyrics, nimble dance moves (especially for a big man), and an entertainment slant to his overall product.  i liked his work with janet jackson, quincy jones, a video with chris tucker, and especially this jam with aaron hall from guy.  it got me through some teenage nerves at school dances, tough times with my folks, and still does the trick for late night driving struggles.

i moved on to a variety rappers that tripped my trigger, including tupac shakur, eric b. & rakim, digital underground, a tribe called quest, notorious b.i.g., and many many others. some of the curious college kids i teach ask me what kind of stuff i'm into, so i flip the script on them.  when posed the question "what kind of music do you like", they emphatically tell me that they like everything except rap or country (or both).  i quickly confess to them that i like a bunch of rap artists and have a sweet spot for dolly parton.

a gal just interviewed me for an english paper she was writing.  she was feeding me questions about jazz, and asked me if i like any other types of music.  i told her that i don't listen to just jazz and, in fact, am probably a little lax in that department considering the position i hold at isu.
i said that i like good music, regardless of era or genre. sharing that sentiment with these young minds (or, as my mother-in-law calls them, america's hope) might free them of the shameful stigma that is attached to liking pop top 40. we're all occasional suckers for this stuff. now excuse me while i crank up that heavy d track again, break out the running man, and try not to hurt myself in the process.


the giddy vol. 1

my dad has always told me to find something that i love to do and figure out a way to make it my profession.  between you and me - i think he's still waiting for me to get a real job. i am extremely fortunate to be doing music for a living.
i share my passion and enthusiasm with people every day, through performance and education.  every once in a while, i am overcome with school girl excitement about a small detail in a particular recording.  these giddy moments remind me of why i consider myself the luckiest guy in the world, except for those folks that win the lottery.  that would be nice.

* bill frisell "live to tell" - have a little faith in me
he's my favorite guitar player, hands down.  my friend matt bernemann turned me on to this record in particular, which is replete with a variety of wonderful tunes.  this madonna track rides alongside pieces by sonny, sousa, copland, muddy waters, dylan and ives.  joey baron's brush work is sublime.  my favorite part is the guitar riff that bill cops from the recording and inserts at 2:37.  frisell plays the figure once, contrasting the original version while planting it in my ears.

* branford marsalis "doctone" - requiem
i'm not a big branford guy, but took a chance on this album about ten years ago.  the first track is an homage to pianist kenny kirkland, who passed away before the record was released.  this quartet has played together a ton, and it certainly shows.  the trust and interplay between all parties is tasteful and precise.  i love the way drummer jeff watts plays time on this track, so buoyant and fiery.  the fill he plays out of the head is refined chaos.  my favorite part is the way branford releases from the spinning opening of his solo at 2:42.  tain finishes with branford and helps launch him into his next idea, a testament to how dialed in these guys are to each other.

* take 6 "god rest ye merry gentlemen" - he is christmas
wow - where do you start with these guys?  this group is unparalleled, and this record is my #2 christmas album of all time (right behind kenny rogers and dolly parton).  the yelllowjackets join the vocal jazz guys on this track, perfectly augmenting a group that needs no assistance.  my favorite part is "day" at 1:46, which transitions out of a vocal chorale and into an instrumental interlude.

* a tribe called quest "check the rhyme" - the low end theory
tribe is where it's at.  clever rhymes that artfully feather intricate rhythms and intelligent street verbiage together. it's about the music, not booty shakin' videos (which i'm perfectly fine with, btw).  i've loved there stuff since i got into hip hop, digging records like the love movement, midnight marauders, and especially the low end theory.  the volley of "you on point" between q-tip and phife dog (the second time around) sets up my favorite part at 2:31, when phife passes the mic to tip with the line "play the resurrector and give the dead some life".

* jill scott "golden" - beautifully human
the title track is a little wordplay on her big ticket vocal quality.  my friend erin fishler turned me on to this record several years ago, and i was instantly infatuated (plus, i find her intoxicatingly gorgeous).  jill scott is a power house in the most literal sense of the word.  kale used to be hooked on this youtube clip of lupe fiasco on letterman, routinely asking me to play the video with "the girl who is really going for it." i dig a lot of what's going on in this tune, especially jill's force and sense of purpose in her delivery of the line.  but for me, the money is in that bass pop at 1:07 in the 2nd verse.  it get my air bass out for this part, dressed with a smug look on my face.

* claude delange "rhapsodie" - a saxophone for a lady
my teacher studied with claude delounge (as one of my past majors mistakenly referred to him) at the paris conservatory. everyone knows that i'm not the biggest classical saxophone fanatic, but his talents are something to behold.  my favorite part of this treatment of the debussy rhapsodie is the way he stretches & pauses without breathing between the two Bs that pull to the I chord at 1:42.

* aretha franklin "nessun dorma" - live at the 1998 grammys
as the story goes, the queen of soul sat in for pavarotti while he was out ill.  i wept the first time i heard her sing this, and still get goosebumps each time i play it.  i have no idea if she is butchering the italian and, quite frankly, i don't care.  the amount of heart she is pouring into the aria is undeniable, and i'm certain that puccini would have been down with it.  i love the way she phrases "my kisses break the silence" at 2:54.  in my opinion, her finest hour.


winning the popularity contest

the heavy rain we got yesterday was the first wetness in weeks.  as i raked the yard yesterday, it was leafy and dusty and in need of some precipitation.  thanks mother nature (or brother nature, as andy from parks & recreation cleverly quipped).  i hid beneath my umbrella as i scurried to school for a marathon day of rehearsals.  i park about a 10 minute walk from the building, and pass the planned parenthood offices along my path.  people are often standing out front of the clinic with signs, and yesterday was no different.  an older fella was perched alone with his poster that read "pray to end abortion". he was getting drenched in the cold november rain, but remained unfazed.  regardless of my take on that controversial topic, i was impressed with this silent protestor.  he was standing for what he believed in, despite cruddy weather and drive-by jabs from the college crowd.

i spent a week at an improvisation camp-of-sorts out in brooklyn about 10 years ago, the same summer that the power went out all across nyc.  we were stuck in an oil refinery.

we slept on top of the building that night in '03
great minds taught at this thing; including drew gress, tom rainey, vijay iyer, mark helia, don byron, uri caine, and ravi coltrane.  the longest and most informative day by far came from the instruction/preaching of steve coleman.  he is a terrific alto saxophonist, pretty hip guy, mover & shaker, prolific composer, and ultra opinionated guy.  his teaching was tough to swallow.  he had us all doing some ridiculous math problems in our head and attempting to improvising with them.  he would quickly cut us off, call us jive, reek of disappointment, and run us through the impossible gauntlet again.  he beat the concept of using the archaic undertone series over the changes to winter wonderland into the ground.

a bunch of us went and got lunch after the first session.  i remember feeling weary, defeated, and a little pissed.  i had never met anyone like him before.  the coordinator of the event, trumpeter ralph alessi, offered some insight.  he agreed that steve was super intense and a bit jerky, but noted that he had always been impressed with steve's relentless pursuit of his own musical concepts.  he believed in it, and was willing to fall on the sword for his ideas.  ralph's perspective hit me like a ton of bricks.

sometimes i wonder if anyone relates to what i am trying to accomplish artistically.  i often struggle with this. maybe i should whip out the slick blues licks, race into the upper register, rub a growl into some of these notes, and toss in a recognizable charlie parker quote for good measure - all in an effort to get instant approval from the pedestrian audience. i'll admit - fighting for your own sound, your own ideas, your own concepts is an exhausting and often unappreciated expenditure of energy.  what keeps me going?  i believe in it. i'm willing to stick it out, no matter what.  i don't want my epitaph to read stylist, but would rather be remembered as a contributor to restructuralism.  humor me and read this excerpt from the great book forces in motion by graham lock, chronicling the life and times of anthony braxton.

"stylists are usually able to become more successful than restructuralists because their music is not perceived as threatening to the cultural order.  this is why phil woods wins so many polls.  his playing doesn't really challenge any law, it just reaffirms what has been current, in the air, in the last thirty years; that being the dynamic implications of charlie parker's music.  whereas the greater public have not really had the possibility to examine the music of john cage, albert ayler, the art ensemble of chicago - those musics don't seem to filter through.  but in fact, before charlie parker demonstrated his music, nobody played like him; so if the value systems that surround phil woods are allowed to dominate, there will be no forward motion, and no future phil woods because he would have no one to take a music from."


it's all about the nitty gritty

my mother-in-law suggested that we decorate our home for the holidays.  it would help the environment for the kids, build tradition, and strengthen our family ties.  i must say (through clenched teeth) that bonnie feig is right.  our kids like it when we put out stuff for easter, valentine's day, birthdays, thanksgiving, the fourth of july, and of course christmas.  the only day that we kinda stink at is halloween. we have a skeleton and a smiling frankenstein that stick into the yard, and a couple of jack-o-lantern stuffies that share mantle space with a dancing ghost.  we do have the occasional neighbor who puts out spider webbing at the front door, carved pumpkins on the stoop, and bed sheet ghosts hanging from the trees.  but this year, one neighbor wrapped up the award for most amazing halloween decorations in the whole wide world.

holy guacamole.  this guy went all out.  the huge pirate ship in his front yard is beyond description.  several skeleton pirates have hoisted the jolly roger flag high in the air and cannons blast from the bough, leaving a trail of smoke.  the shaky plank and the rope bannister lead to barrels of gun powder and a shrunken skull.  a mermaid is carved into the front of the ship.  a framed portrait of the mona lisa and her wandering eyes sits on board.  pirates are playing cards adjacent to the ship, with a scary lady taking aim at the head of her cheating card partner.  another skeleton plays eerie violin etudes that are blasted through a speaker while hanging out under a peculiarly placed basketball backboard. trick-or-treaters flocked to this house, and parents outfitted with cameras wandered close behind.

i had the opportunity to talk with the gentleman responsible for the awesomeness this evening about the how and why.  he told me that he chose halloween as the holiday to go big with for his kids, because the month of december is too cold for getting all the christmas lights strung outside.  he also explained that all of the pirates are made with pvc pipe, and that the ships and signs and tables all break down and store flat in the garage (aka - the booty lounge).

i enthusiastically divulged that i was blown away at the spectacle and appreciated what he was doing for the community. he told me that, although it's all basically powered by a fire-code-violating labryinth of extension cords and held together with tape and twine, the joy he finds in it "is all in the details."

hey buddy... you need another drink like you need a hole in your head

i love projects that are detail oriented. i remember seeing the cirque de soleil production KA in las vegas, and was so appreciative of the attention to detail.  the music lined up with the movement impeccably.  the lighting both highlighted and foreshadowed.  each facet of the the costuming addressed both fashion and function.  the visionaries were seeing things with a macro/micro duality.

anymore, i am insistent upon rehearsing music projects of which i am associated.  i have found that by working out material, ensembles are able to establish a strong rapport and sense of trust while ironing out some fancy transitions and tricky grooves.  jazz and improvised music often sells itself short in this department, ironically enough, by it's own shareholders.  some think that reviewing the material thins the spontaneity.  others claim that it's a hassle to drive around, secure a space, align schedules ... just to rehearse.

individual artists take no issue with honing their craft meticulously and tirelessly.  the duos/trios/groups of any number that have managed to keep themselves relevant have done so with an inimitable and unspoken musical communication amongst each other that is, most likely, discovered and developed in rehearsal.  make the commitment to details. that's where the good stuff is at.


miles apart

when a buzz begins to swirl in the art world, controversy is the frequent catalyst.  we recently hosted the touring blue note act The Miles Davis Experience: 1949-59, a veritable cornucopia of visual and aural stimuli selectively chronicling the life of the great jazz trumpeter.  this type of event is a slam dunk for the "get my annual jazz fix" attendee (whom, ironically enough, has pockets deep enough to sustain shows like this), and also draws the homebody jazz enthusiasts out of the woodwork.  central iowa showed up in full force, which means a modest house.  btw - where are these people for all of the shows by local musicians that are free?!?!

the lineup included ambrose akinmusire, whose trumpet star is rising as fast as they ever do, and his quintet; tenor saxophonist walter smith III, pianist sam harris, bassist harish raghavan, and drummer justin brown.  these guys are a working band, and it showed.  the interplay and trust and adventurous vibe was evident.  they played a handful of tunes from miles' rep - dear old stockholm, 'round midnight, walkin', flamenco sketches, airegin, and a solo drum version of so what (which was absolutely my favorite part of the show).  the quintet filled out the remainder of the gig with a nice sampling their own tunes.

i had a heads-up on what the show would entail.  my buddy and bassist karl checked it out earlier in the month and told me about the mix of literature.  he had also mentioned the historical stills that were projected upon three artistically hung screens and the audio clips of miles himself blended into the presentation.  the narration was handled by a beat poet (who got lukewarm reviews at best, but a thumbs-up from me).

here's the catch - this was advertised and heavily marketed as a blue note miles davis show.  hell - the miles davis experience.  when showcasing the '50s, three things pop into the foreground:  the first great quintet (trane, red, philly joe, pc), gil evans, and kind of blue.  the music that was chosen partly represented that era, sans ANY music that gil touched (huh!?!?).  the music that was performed did not resemble that period whatsoever.  no exact transcriptions or even reasonable facsimiles of those recordings.  no harmon mute.  is there truth in advertising?

trick question: name this trumpet player
i have fielded several contrasting opinions about the show while reserving my own.  most of my students really dug it. this may be one of their first big jazz shows to attend, especially with a specific theme being reiterated.  the playing was strong and certainly left a mark on my students. they also were familiar with the rep, thanks to an assignment i gave in their combo class.  some of my friends were disappointed that the melodies that miles made famous from this period were absent.  many of the people i met before & after the show felt hoodwinked, under the assumption that the band would at least play a popular tune verbatim.  

i spoke before the show, shedding some light on the ascent of ambrose and the career of miles.  i talked a lot about gil (which is hands-down my favorite shit from miles' discography).  i sat on a panel with the bassist and pianist after the show for a semi-formal q&a about the evening's events.  the musicians fought off the inquisitions into why they played what they played and how they played it, revealing their familiarity with this kind of heat.  

play something these hoes'll like, drive whips i know they like,
twista you told 'em right, i can make you a celebrity overnight

here's where i weigh in on all of this.  it's definitely good exposure for ambrose and his bandmates.  there's no way that this working ensemble (both in the studio and on the road) could book a big concert venue, charge $35 a pop, and expect to stay alive.  rolling out their talents under the cloak of miles' mystique is good business for blue note, albeit disingenuous.  dressing up ambrose to look like miles, blasting miles davis's name across the posters, and then allowing the guys to play whatever they want is really pushing the limits of trust with the lean legions of jazz fans.  i don't think the musicians needed to have played note-for-note versions of tunes from miles' blue note (and ironically enough; capitol, prestige, and columbia) discography. that directly comprises their artistic integrity, a principle that miles built his entire career around.  the powers that be should have looked at this project like a writer views a blogpost - who is my audience?  the last thing this great music needs is another obstacle to overcome - bad karma.


new wine in new bottles

the passing of steve jobs has given me a moment to reflect on his legacy as i loosely know it.  his contributions, in particular to the music world, have straight changed the game.

musicians are now able to do extraordinary things on the computer.  i can use my brand spankin' new macbook to compose using notational software instead of wrecking my wrist by writing it out long hand.  i can record stuff with my in-line mic and mix it and bounce it with garage band (or even better quality with protools, logic, reason, ableton).  it is common (and still cool) to see that apple glowing like the heart of iron man from coffee shops to concert halls.  our jazz band concert last night was mic-ed up to the Nth degree through a big mixing board up in the balcony.  our sound guys were then able to do live sound mixing from the front row and on stage with a wirelessly-tethered iPad.  get outta here!!!

iTunes is the predominant music organizational tool.  it also holds high status amongst the masses.  when i tell people i just finished another record, the first question they ask me is "cool man - is it up on iTunes?"  (yes it is...)  it has also opened up the market for acquiring music and shattering the control of the artist.  i can order single tracks without buying the entire album.  i can create playlists of my favorite songs and avoid the programming order that the artist conceived for the right flow of their record.  those are definitely cons, but the pros of being able to buy tracks whenever i want and immediately download them to my computer are huge in terms of exposure and distribution.  by shuffling through my iTunes library, i can also bump into stuff that i hadn't thought of listening to in quite some time.  as i write this blog, here is what's coming through my speakers:

kronos quartet - suso: tilliboyo 
john zorn & tim berne - space church 
big boi - the way you move 
ben webster & oscar peterson - bye bye blackbird
john scofield & pat metheny - no matter what 
bill evans w/ lee konitz & warne marsh - speak low 
the sugarcubes - take some petrol, darling 
dave holland trio - take the coltrane

then there's the iPod.  in terms of recording, artists have begun mixing for headphones instead of car speakers and home audio.  not many people park it in front of there speakers at home with a glass of chardonnay and take in the latest effort by esperanza spading, but a whole mess of people stick that album on their iPod and listen to it at work or on an evening stroll through the neighborhood.  i work on a college campus, where i routinely encounter girls with words on their butt and guys reeking of cologne.  the common denominator i observe is that nearly all of these coeds are plugged into an iPod of some sort.  heck - it's fashionable to have those white ear buds and the white chords accessorizing your outfit.  it's exciting to see lots of young people listening to music. maybe they're tuned in to my stuff?  hey, a boy can dream...

our loot from apple
as i'm writing this, kale is researching black ops cheat codes on his macbook.  simon is trying to memorize old school eminem lines that flow through his iPod.  sonja just finished answering some emails on her macbook pro.  jobs (and the whole apple crew) made cutting edge techy stuff sexy.  people are often resistant to change, clutching desperately to that which they are familiar and are convinced will always suffice.  jobs was able to change that social misconception worldwide.

i'm always fascinated with forward thinking innovators in our midst.  musician miles davis, chess master bobby fischer, photographer ansel adams.  add steve jobs to that list.


auto incorrect

i think i've got a pretty decent handle on the english language.  i'm certainly not an expert, but i do enjoy grammar and knock out some okay writing without much effort.  spelling has never been an issue for me either.  i proofread my work, enjoy learning new vocab, and try to be sure that i don't use too many commas (but boy am i hooked on parenthesis).

you know what really bugs me?  auto correct.  i mean, has microsoft word already lost faith in my knowledge and spelling skills before giving me a fair shake?  they don't even know me.  when i choose a word, odds are that i am actually intending to use that particular word and don't need the automated advice.  where's the trust?  gimme a chance, baby.

when i'm typing up the names of jazz performers, their identities fall into one of three categories.  some pose no difficulties for autocorrect (jim black, chris cheek, evan parker).  others are inexplicably already in the autocorrect data base (branford marsalis, susie ibarra, mal waldron), and select others stymie autocorrect altogether (ambrose akinmusire, john zorn, kurt rosenwinkel).  

here are some of the more entertaining suggestions for jazz guys, with ironically appropriate definitions provided by my friends over at the new oxford american dictionary (we're not really friends mind you, but nothing builds street cred like running with a pack of lexicographers).

* charlie haden - harden - make or become more clearly defined
* stan getz - guts  - personal courage and determination
* marc ducret - dulcet - sweet and soothing
* sam yahel - yahoo - expressing great joy or excitement
* uri caine - coin - to invent or devise a new word or phrase
* jaki byard - juke - move in a zigzag fashion
* jack dejohnette - detonate - explode
* john scofield - coiled - twist into an arrangement
* paolo fresu - frisk - a playful skip or leap
* albert ayler - alert - intellectually active, vigilant
* bobby previte - private - free from people who can interrupt
* marc ribot - robot - a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically
* ornette coleman - ornate - unusual words and complex constructions

funny footnote.   i once attempted to type musician into an email and it took me four times before stubborn autocorrect would finally take it, only after recommending magician, marijuana, and minivan.

okay - i just read a bunch of autocorrect text conversations online, and haven't laughed that hard in quite a while.
this one is good.  so is this one.  and this one too.