Thursday, June 28, 2018

Benny Green Trio

From a recent hit at Jazz @ Lincoln Center, here is pianist Benny Green and his fabulous trio featuring the Jazz Maniac himself, Kenny Washington on the drums:

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

David Freeman: "Overview Effect"

New York-based drummer and percussionist David Freeman recently released his new album "Overview Effect" and was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his most recent musical offering. I was first introduced to David through his playing with the Outer Bridge Ensemble and, as you will read below, his words and answers to my questions are every bit as captivating and insightful as is his drumming and compositions.

1) Tell us about your latest recording!

My new album, Overview Effect, is a demonstration of struggle in the search for balance between the personal and the collective, where the self-seeking creative is met by a call for civic engagement. The music on this album is a result of that process, one that embodies conviction, reflection and celebration.

The musicians featured on this record include Mustafa Bhagat (Arranged Marriage, The Biryani Boys) on Sitar, Steve Hudson (Outer Bridge Ensemble) on Keyboards, Jamie Zillitto (The Everymen) on Bass, myself on Drums/Percussion with special guests Ivan Barenboim (Sha’ar) on Bass Clarinet and Arun Ramamurthy (Brooklyn Raga Massive) on Violin.

The group’s aesthetic sensibilities, musical influences and technical abilities to cross between and defy genres that include Jazz, Rock and Indian Music are among the strengths that contribute to its success in forging new territory. 

2) How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen? 

I’ve spent the last decade or so of my career recording either as a member of a collective or as a sideman, which is great, because those experiences prepared me to take on the leadership role required for writing, arranging, fundraising and producing Overview Effect. Everyone I’ve ever worked with and continue to work with, I learn from. 

The band members and repertoire worked hand in hand with one another. While I had some of the material for this record sketched out, some of it was near finished while other hadn’t been written. For example, the opening track, Bamidbar, had already been performed by the Outer Bridge Ensemble in years past. Kindness up to the point of recording had been a sketch and Shrouds of Linen Shrouds of Fire was a composition written for the album. Tweaks were made accordingly throughout the rehearsal and recording process.

As far as the band goes, I knew I wanted to draw from my influences while forging a musical identity for myself. So I needed to find musicians I could trust with my vision, concept and direction on both an emotional and musical level. I often feel vulnerable when making art and needed to feel safe and supported when producing this record. I’m a human being. I’m grateful that the musicians on this album are also some of my closest friends.

3) What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did?

Nothing on this record is forced. And by that I mean the music takes form as it would naturally. Sure you might look at the album and ask how it all might work. Listen to the record and it immediately becomes clear what’s happening. And that’s really the most I can hope for.

South African pianist/composer Abdullah Ibrahim talks about how musicians, in searching for the music, realize it’s been there all along. We just have to uncover it. And in doing so, discover our inner selves. I feel that’s true for me in the making of this album. I discovered a lot about myself I knew was already there but wasn’t fully embracing. The music that’s there is an energy shared by all of us. 

4) Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?

This is certainly music with a message; messages of protest, truth, power, and celebration. The music speaks to our common humanity and the hope that we’ll maintain a conviction to do right by our neighbors and our natural environment.

5) Who are your influences with regards to this style of writing and playing?

Composing for me is contrapuntal in nature in that I tend to hear the rhythms and melodies in my mind’s ear. I don’t really hear and write by way of chord changes. I write music more like Bach would. I also take notes from John Zorn’s compositional approach.

I almost always sing them onto a recording device as soon as I can. Anywhere. Anytime. When I’m riding the subway or out on the street walking the dog. Then I head to the piano and find the music on the keyboard and write it out the rhythms and melodies on staff paper. Once it all down and arranged, I usually get help from Steve Hudson to clean up the mistakes I've made here and there. We all need help. We all make mistakes. Anyone who tells you they’ve done it all by themselves is full of shit.

6) What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?

I'm often listening and practicing music for a gig. But in addition to that, I try to stay focused on the fundamentals. With limited time, I’ll sit for 45 minutes session on a pad shedding rudiments before sitting at the drums. I usually start a session on the drum set soloing and improvising in search of new phrasing and textures. Then I’ll pick up a book and work on a lesson, or a rhythm or exercise. Russ Moy, my first drum teacher encouraged me to always pick up new books and drum videos. It's become habit. I have hundreds of drum instructional books. I’m a student for life. Thanks Russ.

7) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?

My career as a teaching artist has gained a bit of momentum in recent months as I pivot my focus towards advocacy and leadership. I just completed the Central New York Teaching Artist Training in Auburn, New York. Next month, in July, I’ll be attending the Lincoln Center Summer Forum Teaching Artist Training in New York City followed by a trip to Detroit to participate the Asylum Arts Artist Retreat.

On the music front, I just finished a run of album release shows here in Brooklyn including a taping of BRIC Arts B-Side Series. I'll be doing some playing over the summer with guitarist Oren Neiman as well. More album release shows in the works for the upcoming fall.

8) How do the drums, percussion and overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept?

My concept is feel based. Even though you find odd time signatures, it grooves. No gratuity or pretense. I try to make every effort of being honest with myself when it comes to the development of a song or concept. If it’s not working or feels forced, I try not to be too precious about it. I table it because I know the idea will manifest again at the right time in the right way. And like I said before, the melodies and rhythms are born through song first, from the heart. So there is a songlike quality to the album overall.

9) What drummers & percussionists do you consider as influences?

I grew up listening to classic rock like Neil Young, Rush, Santana, The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead. Also deep in my DNA, western classical music and opera, which was always playing at my grandfather’s house across the street. Also look to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Medeski Martin and Wood, John Zorn’s Masada, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Ravi Shankar and Steve Reich for inspiration as well.

10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians and drummers/percussionists?

We all have individual strengths and weaknesses. What may come easy for some comes with struggle for others. Work to improve your practice and help others improve theirs. Always ask for help if you need it and celebrate the success of others. Our successes and our failures are a reflection of the care and neglect in all our relationships. It’s never too late to do a kindness. 

Don’t Make Excuses, Make Art!

Check out David's new album "Overview Effect" on Bandcamp: https://davidfreeman2.bandcamp.com/releases and check out David's full length performance on the BRIC Arts B Side: www.bricartsmedia.org/events-performances/b-side-david-freeman-hosted-david-ellenbogen

Monday, June 18, 2018

Philly's "Tympany Cross"

Check out this original manuscript from Philly Joe Jones circa. 1968 (while living in London, England). These are a series of crossover manoeuvres around the drums that he calls "The Tympany Cross" (undoubtedly inspired by some of his orchestral percussion counterparts):

You might have to decipher his method of documentation and notation, but there is some cool stuff here for sure. I'll have to check, but I wonder if these might also be written down in Vinnie Ruggiero's book as well.

And special thanks to the person over on the Facebook who first shared this rare piece of Jazz drumming history!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Three's Company (NOLA Drum Edition)

So apparently this is how three Jazz drummers share the drum throne during a jam session in NOLA:

You can really sense the mutual admiration and respect each drummer has for each other (dig the other two drummers always smiling and dancing behind the drums while waiting their turn...) and this folks, is what it is all about.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Drummer's Guide to the JAZZYYC Calgary Summer Jazz Festival

Calgary's annual Summer Jazz Festival is back this week, happening across various venues around town June 14 - 17.

Here's my very biased and drummer-centric picks of several not-to-be-missed shows and the great drummers that will performing this week.

1) Undoubtedly my first choice would be to catch New York tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander with legendary pianist Harold Mabern at the National Music Centre on Friday, June 15th 8pm featuring Master swinger Joe Farnsworth on the drums.

Joe is a personal favourite of mine and I've long admired his hard swinging beat & style. If you are only going to see one show this week, this is the one to catch!

2) Happening that same evening, starting an hour earlier at 7pm, and appearing down the street on 9th Avenue SE at the Ironwood Stage & Grill will be Cuban-born, Toronto-based pianist Hilario Duran along with Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez on the drums.

Hernandez is a master drummer/percussionist (ie. a BEAST!) who's coordination and sophisticated blending of Afro-Cuban rhythms around the drum set is something to behold.

3) Also appearing at the Ironwood and opening the festival the evening before on Thursday, June 14th at 7pm is Toronto alto saxophonist Allison Au and her quartet, fresh off of a Juno win and recognition as the most outstanding group at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival. Appearing with Au's group is the wonderful Fabio Ragnelli on the drums.

4) If you are out and about in Inglewood on Sunday afternoon for the JazzYYC Jazz Walk on 9th Avenue SE, check out trombonist Carsten Rubeling's groovy new project VOLK featuring drummer Colin Adhikary. Colin recently completed his degree at Humber College in Toronto and has been back in Calgary for a year now and is really playing great. VOLK will be appearing at the Cold Garden Beverage Company in Inglewood on the afternoon of Sunday, June 17 from 3-5pm.

5) While not "officially" part of the festival, but definitely most worthy of any serious Calgary Jazz fan's attention, is the trio of saxophonist Mark DeJong, bassist Steve Shepard and Jeff Sulima on drums at Betty Lou's in the basement of Devinish Building, just off of 17th Avenue and 8th Street SW. These guys have been holding court at this hip cocktail bar every week for a year now and it's a great place to relax, enjoy a nice beverage and dig some great music in a hip room. Check them out every Thursday night starting at 7pm.

6) And last, but certainly not least, make sure to check out Montreal pianist John Roney and his trio (featuring yours truly Jon McCaslin on the drums!) hosting the nightly jam session at the Ironwood Bar & Grill (Thursday/Friday nights starting @ 10pm and Saturday night starting @ 12am). Come on by and say hello, sit in for a few tunes and tell them that Four on the Floor sent you!

For more information, a complete listing and ticket info, visit the JazzYYC website: www.jazzyyc.com

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Interview with Art Taylor 1994

Another great audio interview from the vaults of WGBH, this time with the great Art Taylor:


You all know the drill:

When when the Masters speak....WE LISTEN.

And in case you need some reminding, here's some killer footage of A.T. with Johnny Griffin:

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Alan Dawson Interview 1994

A nice interview with Alan Dawson from 1994 recently surfaced, so here it is:


Dawson is very articulate and tells some great stories. I was particular interested by his comments on the relationship between Jazz drumming and tap dancing at about the 24 minute mark. Check it out.

As per usual, when the Masters speak...we listen!

Here's some of my favourite clips of Dawson in action: