Monday, April 16, 2012
New York April 2012
Sorry for my radio silence over the past few days but I've been in New York City for most of the past week and things have been very busy and on the go...not much time to sleep let alone blog! I don't make it to NYC very often (maybe like only once a year if I'm lucky!) so I always like to pack in as much as I can during my travels.
Here are a few of the highlights of my recent experience travelling to Jazz Mecca:
-The main purpose of my trip was to take a lesson with percussionist and vibraphonist Allan Molnar who teaches at Lehman College in the Bronx. I've been studying with Allan online via Skype for over a year now thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. It's been a great experience and I was very lucky to have the opportunity to travel to New York and work with Allan in person as part of my study project. We spent an afternoon together working over the finer points of playing over rhythm changes and dealing with the art of ballad playing. It was a really motivating experience and I have plenty to work on in the months ahead!
Allan is an exceptional teacher and quite involved with the KoSa percussion camp that Aldo Mazza runs every summer in upstate Vermont:
-I travelled an hour north of New York City by bus and was fortunate to spend a day working with Adam Nussbaum, a great drummer and teacher, who's literally played with the best of the best and who's resume speaks for itself. We did quite a bit of playing together (I played drums while he sang!) and talked at length about his conception of playing time, phrasing, ride cymbal technique and the brushes. We also did a considerable amount of listening together and discussed the music of Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Shirley Horn, Gil Gilberto, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal and Chick Webb. Adam is a superb teacher and a great guy. I would highly recommend seeking him out if you are interested in learning from one of the greats.
As you can see here, Adam is all about the music!
-No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the original Shake Shack in Madison Square park!
-I headed down to the Village Vanguard on Friday evening to hear trumpeter Tom Harrell and his fine quintet. I always make a point of heading to the Vanguard whenever I travel to New York. It was really nice to hear Harrell's fine compositions played by his regular band which has been together for some time now. My buddy Johnathan Blake did a fine job behind the drums giving the music exactly what it needed in terms of dynamics, orchestration and direction. Johnathan is one of my favorite younger drummers on the New York scene these days to listen to so keep your eyes and ears out for him.
I was also nice to hear pianist Danny Grissett again. I just heard him play in Calgary last month with drummer Matt Slocum's trio and it was cool to hear him in a quintet context backing up some horns. I really appreciate his nice touch and very inventive yet melodic style of playing. I'll have to make a point of listening to his own music he's released as a leader sometime soon.
Here is a clip of Harrell's quintet from awhile ago unleashing over a rhythm changes:
(I hope to do that on the vibraphone someday!)
-After catching Tom Harrell's band at the Vanguard I caught up with my old McGill arranging teacher Chuck Dotas (who now heads the jazz department at James Madison University) and we headed down the street to catch pianist Jonny King and his band which featured Ralph Bowen on tenor saxophone, Ed Howard on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. This was killing !!! The whole band sounded great but in particular Ralph and Nasheet really tore it up.
-On Saturday evening Allan Molnar and I caught the first set of Bill Evans' "Soulgrass" band at the Blue Note. The main reason we went was to hear the legendary vibraphonist Mike Mainieri (of Steps Ahead fame) who was to be featured with the group (Randy Brecker and John Medeski were featured earlier in the week). I don't get to hear that many Jazz vibraphonist play all that often so this was quite a treat for me to hear one of the Masters in action. And he certainly didn't disappoint and Allan and I were both spellbound by Mainieri's rubato intro to one of the pieces that featured a solo interpretation of "Here's That Rainy Day". Mike Mainieri is a force and I'm also going to make a point of checking out more of his work in the future, in particular the albums he recorded with Steps Ahead.
The "Soulgrass" band itself was very unique and very different but very interesting (!) Saxophonist Bill Evans is a force on his instrument and really impressed with me with his immense technique and phrasing. The music itself could probably be best described as a mix of Jazz funk/fusion with a heavy dose of Americana bluegrass! It was quite refreshing, Bill Evans and Mike Mainieri played their butts off and I dug it.
Here's a taste from a previous European concert date:
-After taking in Soulgrass at the Blue Note I wandered over the Cornelia Street Cafe to hear bassist Kermit Driscol's group with guitarist Ben Monder, Kris Davis on piano and drummer/percussionist John Hollenbeck. I was only somewhat familiar with Kermit Driscoll mainly from his work with Bill Frisell's trio (Montreal's Mike Shulha was the one who first hipped to the Bill Frissell trio live album years ago while we were studying together at McGill during the mid 90s and that featured Frisell with Driscoll on bass and Joey Baron on drums - my frist introduction to the wide world of Joey Baron!) The band featured Driscoll's very eclectic and involved compositions. The pieces and playing were fine throughout and could not have been more different than the music I had just heard at the Blue Note!!!
The band also played a composition of John's (I don't think they announced the title) that seemed like mostly an orchestrated/textural framework for John's fine and inventive drumming...that was very interesting. Hollenbeck is a drummer and composer that I greatly admire and will also make a point of checking out more of his work for large ensemble and the Claudia Quintet in the days to come.
Here's a a sample of the Claudia Quintet from a few years ago (I really dig his use of the vibraphone/accordion combination!):
It was also nice to hear Kris Davis playing so well. I first met and played with Kris when she was only 18 years old and right out of high school. We met each other at the Banff Centre for the Arts during the summer of 1997 and played quite a bit of trio with bassist Solon McDade. She went on to study at the University of Toronto and then moved to New York City a little over 10 years. She's up to great things these days and making a name for herself in the Big City so be sure to keep your eyes and ears on her music as well.
So as you can see it was one busy but very satisfying week! I'm not sure when I'll be back but it's always an adventure when I travel to New York.
I don't think that one has to live in New York in order to be a "real" Jazz musician these days but I do think that there is a lot to be said for spending time in the Big City, studying with the Masters on their home turf and soaking in as much of the creative energy and music that you can from that city. The musicians who live there play the way they do for a reason and I think that the rest of us owe it to ourselves to try and tap into that by whatever means we can!