one shining moment

trane vs. miles   mingus vs. herbie   for all the marbles.

john coltrane brought a sound so dominant and an improvising concept so impactful that he may be beyond peer. his sheets of sound, tireless attention to detail, and passionate artistry are all feathers in his cap.  as a saxophonist, i marvel at his mastery and iconic sonic creations on both the tenor and soprano. he kept a regular quartet working for years, helping him discover and summit musical mountains.  he pushed dolphy, invigorated monk.  uh, they named a church named after him.

miles.  you can recognize his sound instantly.  he has worked with so many of the greatest musicians in jazz history - not as a sideman, but as their mentor.  he changed the face of our music multiple times, often single-handedly.  he was at the top of the heap in multiple styles of music, and - let's face it - made jazz cool in the eyes of society.  he is the cornerstone to all things jazz and improvisatory.

charles mingus was a tour de force.  his personality, his chops, his eccentric writing style, his outspoken moments, his political activeness.  the things that may have unsexied mingus to critics and pocketbook wielders are the very things that have made him such an important figure in music, period. he was a walking fusion of styles and swagger, boiling from both his bass strings and ink pen while clouded in mystique.

herbie hancock has the most weapons in his arsenal.  slap on a couple of tribal tattoos and some dental implants, and you've got a musical version of blade.  herbie has a ridiculously deep working comprehension of harmony at his fingertips.  he solos, writes, and comps like few others.  he collaborates all the way to the bank, and pioneered the use of electronics.

all four are worthy of winning this phony tournament title. although it's a tough matchup and sacrilegious to some, i've got miles moving past trane into the finals.  neither really wrote a ton, but miles was a bandleader without parallel.  i like herbie over mingus.  there are plenty of commonalities between the two, but herbie is simply better more frequently.

and in the final battle, miles vs. herbie?  herbie is so skilled and knowledgable, an uncanny musical chameleon.  but even he himself would vote for miles.  miles davis was a musical mastermind.  he repeatedly assembled groups of musicians whose chemistry would immediately ignite, while playing just enough trumpet to keep all of the plates spinning.  the winner, and still champion of the world...


elysian fields

i usually daydream through faculty meetings.  all of the info is on these handouts we get once we walk into the choir room and, quite frankly, most of the stuff doesn't really pertain to me.  i'm pretty far down the food chain, so i figure that i'll know about anything important because a) the wife tells me about it, or b) my boss burns a hole in my forehead with his stare.  at the end of the first meeting this school year, some theater guy i didn't recognize came up and started talking to me.  he asked me if i was interested in working on something together, and proceeded to give me all the details. i wasn't really listening, because i had already made up my mind - he seemed like a cool guy, so i'll do whatever he's talking about.  plus, i had such a surprisingly good experience doing "rent" last spring.

emails ensued.  i starred them all and, true to my form, was slow as molasses in responding.  this guy thankfully kept on me about it.  i finally settled into the details:  matt foss, a fascinating and creative director, wanted to do a cool treatment of streetcar named desire by tennessee williams.  i didn't really know the work.  for some reason, i thought james dean was the main character and kept singing that 90s jam by arrested development.  matt gave me a script, riddled with post-it notes he had applied with musical cues. we met for lunch.  i could tell that this guy was really on top of things, full of literary references i didn't understand and a sincere and unquenchable energy.  we both left the cafe rendezvous excited about the potential of this project.

matt knew what he wanted, but was super cool about it all and allowed me to put together a band and the repertoire.  i rounded up my best saxophonist, a top notch former bass student, an ultra-hip guitarist, and a promising young drummer.  i sat behind the nord and directed traffic.  foss filled my inbox with youtube links and possible musical directions, but cloaked them all with a flexible and respectful sentiment.  collaborations are tricky business. you want to push each other, stretch out on your own, and act professional while keeping your eye on the prize.  matt and i were on the same frequency and quickly began to coalesce.

matt suggested we do tipitina by professor longhair and voodoo child by jimi hendrix.  i ran with the rest of it, arranging paper moon, st. james infirmary, and varsouviana (which sporadically crawls around in blanche's brain).  i also transcribed and reworked what's love got to do with it by the leggy tina turner, new orleans by the popular bluegrass band trampled by turtles, high heel sneakers as recorded by the remarkable rahsaan roland kirk, stellar by the inventive pianist kevin hays, and kicked it old school with cissy strut by the funky meters.  i wrote something, and so did the tenor player.  a cool book of tunes was born.  foss flexed some novice soundpainting skills too boot, demanding a fun and artistically challenging twist for the musicians.

we ran three dress/tech rehearsals before hitting the scene. the set was old school urban new orleans.  we were all pumped to get going.  however, the excitement of show week was unexpectedly set on its ear.  for a reason unbeknownst to all of us, the university decided to begin utterly deconstructing the surrounding area of fisher theater. bulldozers, piles of busted concrete, hazardous cement bridges, panels of particle board and orange snow fence adorned the entrance to the hall. the local catholic church, still recovering from a modest fire, relocated their easter week services to one of the adjacent buildings.  the blue man group was in town for a couple of shows at the other building.  crazy was in the air.

the show went up last thursday evening, and its success was quite invigorating to the band.  we had the opportunity to play out a bit, abstractly communicate with the actors, and provide a unique element to an iconic play.  a lady from the kennedy center reviewed the production and offered insightful observations after one of the shows.  she repeatedly noted that the play had some "abzurd" moments, which seemed like a bisarre pronunciation (see what i did there?).   i agreed with her, and had no idea that the story line was so dark.  we all had our favorite moments.  mine was a throwaway line by stanley, and no - it wasn't when brando famously screams stella's name in all of his black & white glory.

i heard alec baldwin give an interview regarding his latest acting adventure on broadway.  he said that, getting back to the stage after so much time on television, is like a sorbet course.  it cleanses the palette and refreshes the soul.  i'm grateful for this opportunity to reset my musical tastebuds with another forward-thinking artist and fellow colleague here at iowa state.  hopefully we can put our heads together again.