i can only pick four?

me & the boys visited my sister and her bunch out in chadron, nebraska (stomaching the drive across that state) and later headed up to rapid city to check out mt. rushmore.

the question i've always had about this national monument is... how did they pick those four guys?  who decides?  i get lincoln, one of the most popular and influential presidents of all time.  i think i get jefferson, probably the smartest president (with competition from clinton and nixon) that our country has ever had.  i suppose i can understand washington, being the first, and it makes sense for roosevelt to be up there since he championed the whole national monument/park crusade.  and i know that the timeline of conception-to-fruition doesn't allow consideration to fdr, truman, ike, jfk, and the bushes (tongue firmly planted in cheek).  

i often pose this topic to fellow musicians, asking them to place their top four people in a musical version of mt. rushmore.  this is usually pretty interesting.  would i do all instrumentalists?  all saxophonists?  do composers or singers make it?  can i spread this out amongst different styles of jazz, let alone across multiple genres of music?  i think you've gotta be specific in order to find a justifiable quartet of music folks.

saxophones?  i think bird and coltrane make it, but can i include sonny or dex if i've already got trane?  and, do i need to stick a soprano (could be trane, i suppose) and a bari player (umm, there's gerry mulligan...)?  the trumpet argument gets dicey, because miles is probably less of a player than most others, but he absolutely needs to be up there.  lead players, soloists, flugel, chet baker?  the discussion blows wide open when picking through rhythm section legends.  

a sizable component of this boils down to personal taste.  two stories:  #1 i met a guy in casper when i was broke down there a couple of weeks ago who, when posed with this quandry, rattled off arturo sandoval and chick corea before skidding to a halt on the other two.  he asked me who else he should consider, and i told him that - first of all - there's no way either of those two make my monument. #2 several years ago my students, most of them new to jazz and dependent upon me to show them the way, submitted their top four in a blind ballot. the kids all voted for artists who i was currently listening to, which didn't include ellington or armstrong or sinatra or brubeck.  i was pumped, then instantly aware that i really had a lot of teaching to do.  

so... the best solution i can provide is to pick the top four that provide a current and thorough reflection of musical luminaries that have framed your personal makeup.  i don't really listen to saxophone.  i like bands.  i like hip hop. sometimes i listen to jazz, but certainly have a special spot in my heart for certain jazz acts (and even country). my mt. rushmore?  honorable mentions go to pee wee herman, the bad plus, new edition, dolly parton, bobby mcferrin, ornette, harold & the purple crayon, and prince.  the winners are...

miles davis

quite possibly the most important figure in jazz history.  i love the way he worked with side men, musically speaking.  his efficiency is vital.  his phrases extend beyond conventional cadential points.  his sound is instantly recognizable, a catalyst for his bandmates. and the autobiography!!!

john zorn

i am astonished at his saxophone playing, i'm a sucker for extended techniques and dig the way he has codified a way to weave them into his own unique musical language.  i also like his reverence for tunes and ability to straddle several fences.  how can you argue with a genius?


there is just something about her that drives me wild.  her voice is an unbeatable blend of strength and fragility and focus and wonder and sincerity.  i marvel at how she stands up for her art amidst criticism and ridicule but, more importantly, i love the way she sounds.  i try desperately to get my tone to be in her general vicinity. and of course, she's incredibly gorgeous.

django bates

my buddy matt bernemann turned me on to django back in college, and my life has never been the same.  i am in awe of how he can harness his swirling musical imagination long enough to put it to paper and create artistic masterpieces. he has the midas touch in my book, and i never ever get tired of hearing anything that he has done.  



the wife and i just finished teaching at the MAT Camp out in southwest wyoming this week.  it is a unique experience, one that we embrace annually.  i feel loved here, but i fear that after this week's ego stroking i won't be able to squeeze my big head into the hats i own.

they silent auctioned this stuff at the camp.  seriously.

*  having the opportunity to teach a myriad of subjects in a short turnaround time really makes me focus on efficient teaching and achievable goals.  i missed the first day of camp on monday (due to a circus-like 48 hours which included breaking down in b.f.wyoming, holing up in a crappy hotel with the kids, driving a 14 ft. u-haul across the state on my birthday, fielding a phone call telling me that my grandma died) and had an abbreviated teaching day on friday, leaving me with essentially 3 rehearsals.  my vocal jazz group did two easy tunes  (phil's more i cannot wish you and audio radiance's something special with beatbox and r&b solos).  the jazz band played two easy tunes with a plethora of soloists (toshiko akiyoshi's tuning up and bob washut's arrangement of the sonny rollins jam tell me you love me), a blues & a soul calypso.  the saxophone ensemble did a group version of ryo noda's improvisation I.  the beginner guitar class (i know, what business do i have teaching a guitar class... good question) worked up a simple version of we are the champions by queen, a tune that most in the class had flash mobbed at the local wal-mart on thursday.  

*  the definition of a beginner is certainly in the eye of the beholder.  most classes have a cross section of non-traditional students (you know, folks whose age ranges from 25-55) and public school kids.  they are stuck with the burden of self-assessing their abilities and putting themselves in the appropriate class level.  we inevitably get students that should not be in the class because they either are overqualified for the material or in way over their heads. there are exceptions to the rule too, of course, including a girl in the saxophone ensemble who had never played the instrument before and a flutist in jazz band who was pissed throughout each rehearsal that he didn't play nonstop on both tunes.  most students, however, are open-eyed and ready to be fed whatever i'm cookin'.  and you occasionally meet super cool people, like sarah clark.

*  working alongside tremendous musicians and educators is the secret perk to working here (right behind getting a fat paycheck).  i have the pleasure of meeting inspiring artists with interesting back stories and refreshing new looks at music.  i was kinda the only jazz guy at this thing, so i got to swap stories and share ideas with classical musicians of the highest sort.  freelance musicians, public school journeymen, and higher ed suckers alike.  i am truly blessed to teach with folks from utah, north carolina, california, kentucky, nevada, wyoming, new york, and kansas.  plus, i get to play with mi esposa and our good friend david kirby, clarinetist who teaches at (mekhi) pfeiffer.   

*  i approach this camp with apprehension (the unknown + my famously poor preparation = indigestion and sleepless nights) and leave with gratitude and a sense of accomplishment.  i dig working with lots of familiar faces, teachers and students alike.  the hospitality (especially this year!!!) is bar none. my kids get to attend the camp for free, and have both really come into their own this time.  they are energized about art which, to me as a parent, is worth its weight in gold. plus... we get to roll a two week road trip into our journey way out west.  let's hear it for mixtapes!!!

kale working it out at our host home
simon stage managed FIVE shows


hang on just a minute, bruno

my kids listen to pop radio.  i used to slip some ornette, david murray, and prince into their listening diet, but they have caught onto that and now establish their own musical tastes (no jazz and classical... probably because they are surrounded by it all the time at home).  they like the channel kiss 107.5 fm, which rocks all the latest hits from pitbull, katy perry, lil' wayne, lady gaga, maroon 5, taio cruz, and a bunch of other people i've never heard of before.  one guy i do like, however, is bruno mars.

here he is, with the world on a string
i think the tunes are good.  he's got a nice voice - kind of a raspy michael jackson thing.  he keeps this retro style vibe fresh and seems to collaborate with all of the latest pop stars.  plus his stage name rolls off the tongue much easier than peter gene hernandez.  his latest hit is "the lazy song". my kids really dig it, so i listened closely the other day to the lyrics.  i know the following statement makes me sound like the fuddy duddy parent i swore i would never become, but i don't want my kids listening to that song anymore.
* turn the tv on, throw my hand in my pants.  first of all, you guys watch way too much tv the way it is. secondly, if you want to put your hand in your pants, take it to your room.
* tomorrow i'll wake up, do some p90x.  good idea.  it's a good program, has done wonders for me, and will make you a healthier person and better athlete.
* have some really nice sex.  with your wife, i'm assuming? casual sex, especially the way bruno mars infers, is pretty risky.  and on a personal note, don't settle for "nice" sex.
* i might mess around and get my college degree.  your mother and i teach in higher ed and can both assure you that the students who mess around don't usually end up with their college degree.  take school seriously, get your butt to class, and plan on moving right along into graduate school.
* no, i ain't gonna comb my hair.  put on some clean clothes, brush your teeth, do something with that out-of-control hair, and for crying out loud put on some deodorant.
* i'll just strut around in my birthday suit.  that's okay i suppose in the comforts of your own home, but if you pull that stunt in public it's called indecent exposure and will find you in the back of a squad car heading downtown.  don't waste your one phone call on me if you're getting booked for sharing your private parts with the rest of the world.  (and here's hoping you followed through on that p90x intention.)


be a good man

a good buddy of mine passed away about a week ago.  he was a great alto player - very smooth and composed.  he wasn't like most saxophonists, who tend to be hung up on blasting the paint off the walls with a zillion diatonic patterns at light speed.  his poignant tone was spinning melodies with a sophistication unparalleled.  he was a good musician but, even more importantly, a good man.

i stress this to my students repeatedly.  getting through chord changes, keeping the form, transcribing solos, memorizing a bunch of tunes, soaring through the altissimo, trading fours with vigor and angularity are ALL well and fine, but you need to be a good person.  the aforementioned skill set is a foundation, a required criteria that most will possess.  if you're a jerk, expect to spend your weekend nights watching instead of participating.  my friend (and outstanding vocalist) erin fishler kept a nice duo thing going for a couple years.  she once told me that she liked the way i was on the gig - comfortable and creative.  that meant a lot then and has become my new measuring stick.

i met rich's son kevin, an outstanding jazz trumpeter at mcgill.  i met rich's younger brother allan, an influential recitalist and pedagogue at yale.  they are good guys.  i'm certain they took their lead from rich.  i vow to do the same.