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."