Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Carl Allen

Please join us for the next episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, April 6th at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram Live IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring Carl Allen.


I've been looking forward to this one for a long time!

“My ultimate goal is to get to a level like Art Blakey, Art Taylor, Elvin Jones, and Billy Higgins…who every time they sit down behind a set of drums it’s swinging…”

With over 200 recordings to his credit, the gifted Milwaukee-born, New York-based drummer, sideman, bandleader, entrepreneur, and educator, Carl Allen’s profound and propulsive percolations provided soulful and syncopated support for nearly three decades.

Born on April 25, 1961, Allen grew up on gospel, R&B, and funk, but later turned to jazz after hearing an LP by the legendary saxophonist Benny Carter. He studied with drum instructor Roy Sneider and band director Robert Siemele. His first hometown gigs were with sax greats Sonny Stitt and James Moody. Allen studied at The University of Wisconsin at Green Bay from 1979 to 1981, and transferred to William Patterson College in New Jersey, where he graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Studies and Performance.

Allen joined trumpeter Freddie Hubbard a year before his graduation,  served as his Musical Director for eight years, and recorded several recordings with the trumpeter including Double Take and Life Flight. Allen also played with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Benny Golson, Jennifer Holliday, J.J. Johnson, Rickie Lee Jones, Sammy Davis Jr., Branford Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, Lena Horne, Ruth Brown, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Mike Stern, Nellie McKay, Terence Blanchard, Phil Woods, Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, Joe Henderson, Billy Childs and many others. Allen’s phenomenal sideman discography also includes Jackie McLean (Dynasty), Donald Harrison (Indian Blues, Noveau Swing), Donald Byrd (A City Called Heaven), and Art Farmer (The Company I Keep).

“Carl Allen is an international powerhouse. His sound and feelings have fueled the bands of Freddie Hubbard, Christian McBride and countless others as well as leading his own projects." – Joe Lovano

Piccadilly Square (Timeless) was Allen’s first CD as leader, released in 1989, followed by The Dark Side of Dewey (Evidence), The Pursuer (Atlantic), Testimonial (Atlantic), and Get Ready, his 2007 Mack Avenue gospel/Motown accented debut release with co-leader, bassist Rodney Whitaker followed up by Work to Do (Mack Avenue Records) featuring Kirk Whalum.

Education has always been part of my mission Allen says. Art Blakey taught me the importance of nurturing the next generation of musicians. “Every generation needs someone to help them get to the next level and this what I am hoping to do”. In May of 2012 Allen received an honorary doctorate from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah in Humane Letters.

Allen is also an accomplished businessman. He co-founded Big Apple Productions in 1988 with saxophonist Vincent Herring, produced several recordings for several Japanese labels with future stars Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton. Several years ago he created Nella Productions which produces projects and developed an education component to the company called The New York Jazz Symposium where he runs workshops around the world on jazz. Allen has also produced recordings for pianist Eric Reed, Dewey Redman. Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, Kris Bowers and guitarist Lage Lund, the winner of the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Monk Competition and many others totaling nearly 70 credits as a producer.

Carl Allen’s multifaceted career provides the perfect template for what a modern musician should be. As Sid Gribetz of Jazz Times wrote, “more than just another fine drummer, Carl Allen has it all together as a bandleader, businessman, and producer, becoming a force in today’s jazz world.”

Allen maintains an exhaustive schedule of recording, touring and teaching. He remains active as a sideman with Christian McBride and Inside Straight, Benny Golson and others. As a leader most recently leading The Carl Allen Quartet as well as The Art of Elvin, a tribute band dedicated to his two drum influences, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones was started after the passing of Elvin Jones in 2004.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Brian Blade/Daniel Lanois - "Burning Spear"

Here's Brian Blade featured on Daniel Lanois' "Burning Spear":

What a great way to start the week. Let's go!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Mareike Wiening


Please join us for the next episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, March 30th at noon 12pm MST (2pm EST and 8pm in Germany!), appearing on Instagram Live IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring drummer/composer Mareika Wiening!

*Please note the 12pm Mountain start time next week, to accommodate an 8 hour time zone difference!*

Make sure to check out Mareika's new live EP, Live at Bird's Eye Baselhttps://mareikewiening.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-birds-eye-basel



Drummer, composer and bandleader Mareike Wiening has distinguished herself bringing “a planar modulating harmonic language and a propulsive drift” (Giovanni Russonello, New York Times) to the most compelling jazz music of today. Ms. Wiening’s music was described as “thoroughly modern, progressive jazz, Mareike Wiening’s album Crosswalk has many layers that unfold with each repeated hearing; she will most definitely become a leading part of the jazz scene in the years to come.” (All About Jazz)

Her new album, Metropolis Paradise, which was recorded as the last session at the legendary Systems Two Recording Studio, will be released on November 1st 2019 through Greenleaf Records.

Wiening is based in New York as well as Cologne, Germany and has performed with artists throughout the United States, Europe and South America. She has appeared with John Zorn’s COBRA, German Jazz Youth Orchestra and multiple Off-Broadway Shows. Wiening has worked with renowned musicians such as Rich Perry, Stefon Harris, Dan Tepfer, Dayna Stephens, Fabian Almazan, Johannes Enders, Ben Wendel, Florian Weber, Adrian Mears, among others.

Besides leading her own quintet featuring Rich Perry, Glenn Zaleski, Alex Goodman and Johannes Felscher, Ms. Wiening is also an in demand side-woman in the New York jazz scene and in Europe. Venues and festivals such as New York’s Winter Jazzfest, Atlanta Jazzfestival, Elbjazz Hamburg, Juan Le Pins, The Jazz Gallery, Blue Note NYC, German Consulate and the Carnegie Hall and Bird’s Eye Basel are only a few of her regular performance places. She is endorsed by Meinl Cymbals and Meinl Sticks&Brush exclusively.

A native German, Ms. Wiening received her bachelor of music degree from the University of Performing Arts Mannheim and the Rhythmic Conservatory of Music Copenhagen. She received her master of music degree from the University of Performing Arts Mannheim and New York University.

Ms. Wiening attended the Banff International Jazzworkshop and the International Annual Jazz Meeting with musical director Dave Liebman in Sao Paul, Brazil. She studied with Stefon Harris, Michael Küttner, Tony Moreno, Guillermo Klein, Henry Cole, Marilyn Mazur, among others.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Monday Morning Paradiddle - March 2021

And...we're back. 

Thanks again for tuning in and there are lots of great jazz drumming related pieces, old and new, to check out today. Special thanks to those of you who passed along and shared many great articles and videos with me over the past month. If you have anything you'd like to share, please drop me a line at fouronthefloorblog@gmail.com and I'd love to hear from you.

*Just a quick reminder: please consider entering your e.mail address on the right side of the page to subscribe to my mailing list. Don't miss out, subscribe today and receive Four on the Floor directly to your inbox!*

*Click on a link that looks like this, located on the right hand side of the page!*

Here's what's been circulating around the Four on the Floor offices this month:

1. My weekly interview series Four on the Floor *Live* is still happening every Tuesday evening on my Instagram page @fouronthefloorblog at 7pm MST (9pm EST). Thanks to everyone who has been watching. 

Tune in this week (tomorrow night) for my interview with Ulysses Owens Jr.!

On March 30th I'll be featuring drummer/composer Mareike Wiening from Germany (at 12pm MST!) and on April 6th I'll be speaking with the great Carl Allen (7pm MST/9pm EST).

2. The second instalment of The Three Bloggers series continues featuring Four on the Floor, Ted Warren of Trap'd and Todd Bishop of Cruiseship Drummer collectively offering these thoughts on the seminal Miles Davis album "Milestones: 

The Three Bloggers - Part 2: Milestones by Jonathan McCaslin

The three bloggers listen to Milestones by Todd Bishop

The Three Bloggers Part 2 : Thoughts on Milestones by Ted Warren

Round #3 will be coming around the end of the month or so. Look out for our general thoughts about the idea of Technique (What does it mean? Is it even important? How much does one need?)

3. Jazz Portraits was a series produced for CBC Radio in 2008 and hosted by pianist Renee Rosnes. Click on the link and check out the episode featuring Canadian jazz drumming great Terry Clarke (well, listen to all of them!)

4. Cindy Blackman Santana on Tony Williams from SFJazz

5. The legacy of Milford Graves featured in WIRE magazine

6. Stanton Moore and Marcus Gilmore each sit down with Mike Dolbear and talk technique in these features from Zildjian cymbals

7. I've really been digging Adam Osmianski's blog lately, particularly his analysis and discussion of Brazilian rhythms in his regular offering That Drum Blog

Check out his transcription of Edu Ribeiro's solo piece Diddle Diddle:


8. The late Ralph Peterson Jr. was recently featured in the New York Times, on NPR radio and in Jazz Times magazine.

Here's a few clips of the master in action including a cadenza from a fiery version of A Night in Tunisia from the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival, recorded a few years back (playing double drums with Lewis Nash no less!)


...a more recent performance of "Steppin' in Minor" featuring Chris Potter, Orrin Evans and Buster Williams:


...and an example of Peterson demonstrating his unique approach to melodic drumming, recorded at the 2013 PASIC convention:

9. David Garibaldi, Mike Clark, Michael Shrieve, Lenny White and Greg Ericco have teamed up to create On the Corner with the Stick People. Check out this recent episode in which they speak with Peter Erskine:

10. Edu Ribeiro continues with his great, ongoing interview series through Open Studio, this time featuring the always inspiring Allison Miller:


11. Make sure to check out Allison Miller's wonderful webinar on creative music making as well:

12. Joe Chambers interviewed by Don Was, speaking about his latest album on Blue Note Records:


13. John Riley offers this lesson on uptempo time keeping:


...and this story about working with Michel LeGrand:


14. Lewis Nash trades with Hank Jones!

15. Quincy Davis continues with his incredible Q-Tips series, offering practical advice and insightful ideas to work on, no matter your skill level or experience. I play through all of these and learn something every time I watch them. I also think it's important that others know about them as well, so here they are. Thank you Quincy and keep up the great work!


Also, make sure to check out Quincy's excellent ongoing Drummer 2 Drummer live interview series on Instagram IGTV at @qdjazz

16. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed Quincy's recent IG interview with Marvin "Smitty" Smith and that lead me to find these two incredible videos, found on Smith's own YouTube page:


17. Thana Alexa & Antonio Sanchez with a vocal + drums collaboration on Sanchez' Bad Hombre:


18. I'm not sure about you but despite being able to practice a lot of drums these days, I sure do miss playing with people. It will happen eventually! To that point, Steve Fidyk offers this useful advice on building behind a soloist in a big band:


19. I shared this one a long time ago, but here it is again. Billy Drummond demonstrates the groove to his original 7/4 composition Dubai:


I could listen to his ride cymbal beat all day!

20. Jazz Talk has been offering regular interviews on their YouTube channel, hosting contemporary jazz greats.

Check out these interviews with Nasheet Waits:


 Carl Allen:


 Jeff "Tain" Watts: 


...and Billy Hart!


As always, when the Masters speak, we listen!

21. The Ottawa Jazz Festival recently presented an online version of its Winter Jazz Fest and there was lots of great music and Canadian drummers to hear.

Kirk MacDonald's Generations Quartet featuring Toronto's Morgan Childs:


Montreal's Ranee Lee with Jim Doxas on drums:


And, also from Montreal, the JazzLab Orchestra featuring Michel Lambert on drums:

22. I've really been enjoying this ongoing, regular series from Joe Lovano (recorded last summer in his backyard) featuring the always dynamic Lamy Istrefi Jr. on drums:


23. And finally, here's some swinging organ trio music with Milt Buckner, Slam Stewart on bass and the one and only Jo Jones!


24. What am I listening to these days?

Charlie Christian & Dizzy Gillespie "Jazz Immortal - After Hours: Monroe's Harlem Minton's - Live" - Kenny Clarke (drums)

King Curtis "Live at the Fillmore" - Bernard Purdie (drums)

BPM Trio "Audi Alteram" - Mark Adam (drums)

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan "Live at WOMAD 1985"

Charlie Parker "Swedish Schnapps" - Kenny Clarke, Max Roach (drums)

Warren "Baby" Dodds "Talking & Drum Solos"- Baby Dodds (drums)

Artemis "ARTEMIS" - Allison Miller (drums)

Walter Davis Jr. "Scorpio Rising" - Ralph Peterson Jr. (drums)

25. And today's Final Word(s) go to Terri Lyne Carrington with her inspiring performance piece I am the Drums...

...and Matt Wilson, with this poem:

Human Moments - In the Moment (for Frank Kimbrough)

Rhythm is the result of sound and space.

Value and trust, the beauty of the sound.

Value and trust, the spirit of the space.

The space?

The space is where the mystery and faith resides.

Celebrate human moments - in the moment.

the sounds.

the spirits.

the rhythms.

the spaces.

Be grateful and rejoice.

Matt Wilson       January 2021

Friday, March 19, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Ulysses Owens Jr.

Please join me for the next episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, March 23rd at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram Live IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring Ulysses Owens Jr.!

Heralded as a “legitimate jazz triple threat” (Critical Jazz) who “takes a back seat to no one” (The New York Times), performer, producer and educator Ulysses Owens Jr. goes the limit in the jazz world and beyond.

One of the most sought-after drummers of his generation, Owens sets the mark. From GRAMMY award-winning performances with Christian McBride’s acclaimed Trio and Big Band to world tours with Kurt Elling and Joey Alexander, Owens’s artistic command of percussion has earned him positions in some of the most successful jazz ensembles of the 21st century. Owens’s reverence for tradition distinctly manifests in his straight-away playing style, but it is the versatility of his talent— his unique ability to manipulate texture and create penetrating musical shapes— that attracts the attention of jazz’s heavy hitters. His performance catalog includes collaborations with Nicholas Payton, Wynton Marsalis, Monty Alexander, Dianne Schurr, Renee Fleming and Mulgrew Miller, just to name a few.

A burgeoning force in the industry, Owens has been named a Rising Star by DownBeat’s Critics Poll for five years straight. He is a recipient of the 2013 ASCAP Plus Award, a Gold Medal winner of the 2014 Global Music Awards, a 2015 Jazz at Lincoln Center Swing! Awards Honoree, and 2019 “3rd Runner-Up,” in Classic Jazz Category in the Modern Drummer Magazine Readers Poll. Still, most notable of Owens’s accomplishments are his performances on the 2010 GRAMMY award- winning Kurt Elling live album, Dedicated to You, and the 2012 GRAMMY award- winning Christian McBride Big Band album, The Good Feeling. His work with Joey Alexander, the Christian McBride Trio, and Gregory Porter have also received recognition by the Recording Academy, garnering GRAMMY nominations for the albums; My Favorite Things, Countdown, Out Here , Live at the Village Vanguard, Nat King Cole and Me.

At the heart of Owens’s work is a passion for creation and the desire to reach new audiences. On and off stage, music emanates from every inch of his being, and no performance goes unmarked by Owens’s signature smile. Owens is a gifted powerhouse of a showman” (Glide Magazine), and a drummer bandleader, claiming five successful albums of his own (It’s Time for U, Unanimous,Onward and Upward, Falling Forward, Songs of Freedom.) and four self-produced albums with the New Century Jazz Quintet (Time is Now, In Case You Missed Us,Arise, and Soul Conversion), a skillful group he co-leads with pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi in Japan. Owens’s band-first philosophy ensures that all conversations with an audience remain fluid and focused, another stamp of his seasoned expertise and professional sophistication.

Amidst touring, Owens is regularly involved in special projects. In 2015, he served as Artist-in-Residence at the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy where he presentedUlysses in 3. This multi-disciplinary performance piece showcased the literary masterpiece Ulysses by James Joyce, the work of celebrated choreographer Ulysses Dove and Owens’s own original compositions, weaved together through the mediums of music, dance, spoken word and visual art. That same year, Owens was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art to compose a work for the Museum’s Summer Garden Series. The final result was a seven-movement suite entitled Stages of Us reflecting on the African American experience.

A strong believer in community engagement, Owens has ardently supported cultural institutions. From 2012 to 2015, Owens served as the Jazz Vesper Series Artistic Director at the world-renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church. He was also appointed Artistic Music Curator for the legendary Minton’s Playhouse, at the request of restaurateur Alexander Smalls, producing over 85 shows for the jazz club during its 2015 fall season.

Owens has also been making a name for himself in production circles, having accumulated over 40 producer credits in just a few short years. His production of Olivia Foschi’s Perennial Dreamer was described by JazzTimes as “fresh, innovative, and refreshingly uplifting...appealing to a new generation of listeners, while still honoring jazz as a tradition.” The Owens-produced Abiah album, Life as A Ballad, debuted at #20 on the Billboard charts, and his production of Candice Hoyes’s album,On a Turquoise Cloud, was named one of the best albums of 2015 by SoulTrain.com. Co-producing, GRAMMY winning singer, Alicia Olatuja’s albums “Timeless,” and her most recent album “Intuition, Songs from the Minds of Women,” having been released in February, 2019 and has been receiving rave reviews.

Owens’s steadfast belief that “music is a universal language with the ability to heal the soul,” coupled with his commitment to disseminating art, is encapsulated no greater than in his lifelong career educating music’s next generation of leaders. Owen’s C.V. includes positions at music schools across New York City and countless speaking engagements hosted domestically and abroad. In 2016, Owens was invited by Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Flagg of the Juilliard School’s Jazz Studies Program, Owens’s alma mater, to join the institution’s esteemed faculty as an instructor for small ensembles.

Despite spending the greater part of his calendar year on the road, Owens also remains tightly connected to his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida where his family founded Don’t Miss a Beat, Inc., a non-profit organization empowering young people to dream big and give back to their communities through a blend of musical, artistic, academic, and civic engagement programming. As DMAB Artistic Director, Owens has created programs for over 200 children and teens annually, including a cross- cultural exchange that gives students the opportunity to experience art and culture abroad. Having had the fortune of dedicated mentors throughout his career, Owens’s interest in investing in young people’s education and self-esteem is a deeply personal cause and one essential to his vision of pushing art forward.

As an educator Owens’ has delved into the realm of being the co-creator of his online jazz drum video course, “Finding Your Beat,” distributed and produced by Open Studio Network, and has amassed thousands of subscribers globally that desire to learn more about his performance and teaching philosophy. He has most recently been asked by Hal Leonard Publishing company, to write his first book “Jazz Brushes for the Modern Drummer: An Essential Guide to the Art of Keeping Time,” set for release by January 2020.

Owens’ most recent album, “Songs of Freedom,” features the music of Abbey Lincoln, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone; released by the Resilience Music Alliance record label. This album has been selected by JAZZIZ Magazine of one of 10 Jazz albums to listen to in March 2019. The album features bassist Rene Marie, Alicia Olatuja, and Theo Bleckmann as the featured vocalists, and David Rosenthal, Allyn Johnson and Reuben Rogers in the band.

Ulysses remains consistently in demand for new projects as an Artist, Producer, and Educator, remaining one of the most sought-after drummers and thought leaders of his generation. Yet what matters to him consistently is giving back and continuing to be grateful for a new day, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Webinar Announcement: The Evolution of Jazz Drumming

I've been invited by Calgary's BuckingJam Palace to present this educational webinar on Sunday, March 28th at 3pm MST.

The webinar will be presented via Zoom and is open to anyone (and it's also free for students and musicians!)

Register on Eventbrite via the BuckingJam website and you'll be sent a Zoom link via e.mail.

I will be talking about and playing music from many of my favourite jazz drummers from Warren "Baby" Dodds to Brian Blade and everything in between! 

Tickets and information are available here.

About the Webinar:

“The drum is the first instrument. And the drummer is the key – the heartbeat of jazz.” – Jo Jones 

Join Calgary jazz drummer Jon McCaslin in his guided tour through the evolution of jazz drumming. This webinar will offer a basic understanding and appreciation of how the rhythms of jazz drumming have changed and evolved over the past 100 years. Learn about drumming icons such as Warren “Baby” Dodds, Chick Webb, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and many more in this musical survey of jazz music’s masters of time and rhythm.

“Do you know why they call a drummer’s seat a throne? Because drummers are kings and queens!" – Ed Thigpen

Monday, March 15, 2021

3/4 Accents & Rebounds

Over the course of this ongoing pandemic I finally got around to purchasing and working through a copy of George Lawrence Stones's Accents and Rebounds, the sequel to his important drum book Stick Control. Drummer's tend to overlook this one. I did! Anyways, it's a great book, it has taken me out of my comfort zone and forced me to reconsider patterns I thought I already knew (always a good thing!)

Anyways, here's a couple of simple yet interesting 3/4 accent & rebound patterns that I've also been shedding, inspired by Stone's book (although I am far from finished!):

I've also been playing through these with a standard bass drum/hi-hat waltz pattern underneath (ie. bass drum on beat one, hi-hat on beats two & three).

Feel free to displace the stickings/accents as well to mix things up.

Why is this important you may ask? Well, there are a multitude of reasons (!) but one thing that immediately comes to mind is the ability to access different dynamics with your left hand (or your right hand if you are left handed!) while comping on the snare drum. I often notice that inexperienced drummers will often play their comping figures at a mono-dynamic level. The real pros (from what I've noticed anyways) play with a lot more dynamic variety and nuance than that.

Anyways, keeping in the spirit of what I've already offered above, try playing the below pattern on the snare drum while playing time with your right hand on the ride cymbal and the hi-hat on 2&4 (or whatever ride/hi-hat patterns you find suitable):

Oh yes, play this one very SLOWLY and deliberately. Strive for contrast, consistency and clarity.

Make it swing!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Curtis Nowosad!

Please join me for the next episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, March 16th at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram Live IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring Curtis Nowosad!

Curtis Nowosad www.curtisnowosad.com

Nearly 100 years after the Harlem Renaissance shook the world, there’s a whole new cultural and spiritual awakening in that corner of the jazz world. Organized by post-bop pianist Marc Cary, The Harlem Sessions (originating at Gin Fizz and now based at Smoke Jazz Club) invites musicians, poets, artists, philosophers and dancers to build and explore a new common repertoire with original ensemble arrangements. A key player in galvanizing this fresh and dynamic sense of cultural awareness, drummer/composer Curtis Nowosad was on hand anchoring the groove every week during the gathering’s first years – and he’s still part of the action today.

Having made his home in Harlem since 2013 when he was working on his masters at the Manhattan School of Music, the 31-year-old Canadian native emerges as a powerful musical force for social justice on a groundbreaking self-titled jazz and blues-driven collection that illuminates past and present American history while creating some profound history of its own.

While it may seem curious to some that Curtis would self-title his third overall album, it’s reflective of a desire to share his deeper core identity. He imparts his truth and the issues that have long mattered to him via five impactful originals and edgy, intensely rendered versions of three thematically related pieces: Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman.” Co-produced with Cary, it’s also the drummer’s first collection to feature the explosive and intuitive chemistry of his NY-based ensemble that has held court in NYC everywhere from Smalls, Fat Cat and Rockwood Music Hall to The Jazz Standard and full week residencies at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The group includes Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Braxton Cook (alto sax), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Jonathan Thomas (piano, Fender Rhodes, organ) and Luke Sellick (bass). Guests include Corey Wallace (trombone), Matthew Whitaker (organ) and vocalists Michael Mayo (whose beautiful wordless vocal brings a rich humanity to “The Water Protectors” and “Song 4 Marielle Franco”) and Brianna Thomas, who brings the burning soul-blues angles and edges to “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “See Line Woman.” Cary himself guests on Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and synth.

Curtis laid the foundation for this current release with two previous critically acclaimed collections, his debut The Skeptic & the Cynic (which spent two weeks at #1 on the Canadian Jazz charts and featured Grammy-nominated pianist Taylor Eigsti) and the WCMA-winning and JUNO-nominated Dialectics (Cellar Live), which made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2015” list, reached #3 on the CMJ jazz charts and spent ten weeks on the JazzWeek charts. The Skeptic & the Cynic was comprised mostly of cover songs by Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Black Star and 2Pac, along with two originals. Recorded in Winnipeg in 2014 after Curtis’ first year at Manhattan School of Music, Dialectics featured mostly original music along with arrangements of compositions by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and the jazz standard “I Remember You."

“I recorded my first two albums in my hometown of Winnipeg,” Curtis says, “with a band made up of my former teachers from the University of Manitoba. Those works were geared towards my growth as a musician and gaining a deeper knowledge of jazz. Stylistically, the new one is definitely a departure from those, yet is a much better reflection of who I am and the themes and issues that matter to me. It’s more important to me than just, ‘here are some new songs.’ These social issues were always simmering in my mind, and I was very vocal about them among the people I know and love, but it took a while before I was able to convey my feelings musically.

“It’s safe to say I’ve lived a lot of life between the release of Dialectics and now,” he adds. “I’ve gained a great deal of life and musical experience and been through a lot, so it felt appropriate to self-title the album. The music is very personal to me. I have gained a lot of insight living in Harlem for the past 5 1/2 years, and as a European-descended practitioner of Black American Music, I feel it is my duty to approach this music and these themes in a respectful, earnest and serious manner. I also feel that as I have made the transition from being an ‘outsider looking in’ (being from Canada) to an ‘insider looking out,’ so to speak, I have a unique perspective that I have chosen to express with this album.”

Understanding the world from Curtis’ perspective will no doubt prompt listeners not only to enjoy some of the most inventive, hard-hitting jazz they’ve heard in a long time, but also to start Googling and brushing up on their social history. Four of his five originals are devoted to activists who gave their lives or livelihoods to the struggle for a better planet.

The dreamy and mystical, then percussively busier and bustling “The Water Protectors” is dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and all other indigenous people in the U.S., Canada and worldwide who are fighting for their rights to exist without encroachment. Ranging from lilting and simmering gospel to fiery bebop to an electric piano, organ and affected saxophone jam, “Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton” reflects both the forward thinking, socially conscious vision and the violent chaos that beset the Black Panther movement. Curtis composed the track on the anniversary of the FBI’s assassination of Hampton, one of the movement’s young, charismatic leaders who was head of the Chicago Chapter of the Party when he was gunned down in December 1969, at the age of 21. “His murder must be remembered and understood as we celebrate his message and vision of a brighter future for African Americans and all people devoted to justice and solidarity,” the drummer says.

The emotional, deeply soulful ballad “Song 4 Marielle Franco” is dedicated to Brazilian politician Marielle Franco, who was the leading voice in her country against police brutality and corruption before her assassination in March 2018. “Blues 4 Colin K” is a lively, high energy blues romp with a hypnotic soul transporting melody designed to shed light on former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who like Muhammad Ali fifty years before him, was robbed of his best years of competing for taking a stand (via taking a knee during the national anthem) against injustice and the oppression of Black people. Curtis balances the heavy themes with a personal statement of a different kind, the romantic and whimsical “Waltz 4 Meg,” dedicated to his wife Megan, whom he has known for over half his life.

Curtis, who started playing drums at 12 and picked up piano at 16, grew up in Winnipeg, the son of a piano teacher mother and saxophonist father. While he grew up hearing jazz around the house, Curtis opted instead for bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Yet his mindset shifted quickly from hard rock to jazz when he heard Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, particularly their 1963 album Caravan. “I liked John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and started learning with records I checked out of the public library,” he says. “But there was something about Blakey being a thunderous drummer and bandleader that tapped into my spirit and made me realize I wanted to be that kind of musician as well. Why jazz? Its sense of freedom just spoke to me, and I think that’s what attracts a lot of people. There are no limits. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with a lot of New York musicians when I was in high school and college, and that played a large part as well.”

Establishing himself on the NY jazz scene, Curtis has played in the bands of Philip Harper, Craig Harris, rising star saxophonist Braxton Cook and renowned pianist Marc Cary (who both make major contributions to the album) while headlining major jazz festivals in Canada and several in the U.S. He has also performed with four NEA Jazz Masters: Candido Camero, Dave Liebman, Jimmy Owens and Kenny Barron. A recipient of several awards and scholarships, in 2014 Nowosad performed at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam as a winner of the Keep an Eye Jazz Award. He was twice selected to participate in Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and also attended the Banff Jazz Workshop.

Curtis is an alumnus of the University of Manitoba, where he studied with Terreon Gully and Quincy Davis, and holds a master’s degree from Manhattan School of Music, where he was a student of John Riley, and performed with the multi-Grammy nominated MSM Afro- Cuban Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Bobby Sanabria. He currently serves on MSM’s Precollege jazz faculty and is an endorser of Canopus Drums.

“From a purely musical standpoint, this album was creatively fulfilling because it was the first time that I had handled all of the audio editing myself, which was quite a task because there are so many layers, from horns to vocals to electronic sounds,” Curtis says. “It was a challenge to figure out how to bring the right people into unique configurations for each song so that we could best bring their artistry to life, and we were still adding guests a week before the recording session. It was going to be a purely instrumental project until Marc and I talked about adding vocals – which led us to bring the incomparable Michael Mayo and Brianna Thomas on board.

“Thematically, my feeling is that if we never deal with history we will never know how to grow and move forward as a society” he adds. “One of the problems in the U.S, Canada and many other countries is that we don’t do nearly enough to understand that history and take the necessary steps toward dismantling systems of oppression. Jazz has always inherently reflected the times it’s created in, but often when it’s institutionalized in colleges and university programs, we tend to focus on jazz history alone as opposed to the American and world history it emerges from. I hope this project will inspire listeners to read up on the different icons I was inspired to write about, and open their eyes and ears to not only what was going on in previous generations but also today. By better understanding those important connections, we can collectively begin to question all the societal structures around us.”

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Three Bloggers - Part 2: Milestones

For the second instalment of our ongoing collaborative blog series The Three Bloggers, myself, Ted Warren of Trap'd and Todd Bishop of Cruiseship Drummer decided to offer our collective thoughts on the seminal Miles Davis recording Milestones. 

I used to listen to and play-a-long with this album quite a bit back in the day and I transcribed a number of Philly Joe Jones' drum solos so this has been a great opportunity to revisit this music. If you are interested in studying Jones' drumming (and I would highly recommend it at the very least to study and play along with Philly's ride beat!), there is a lot of "trademark" vocabulary worth studying on this album (but don't ask me for my transcriptions...do it yourself. Do the work and you will reap the rewards!) In fact, a long time ago, when I asked Joe LaBarbera about what to listen to for brush vocabulary and trading ideas he simply replied: "Two words...Billy Boy!"

But then he paused for moment and continued: "Well, while you're at it you should probably check out "Two Bass Hit" too!"

And then after another brief pause and some more thought he continued: "Well, just go listen and play-a-long with the whole album!"

Great advice from Joe and now I tell all my students to do the same.

Anyways, and now a few words about listening...

When I was a student at McGill University, my teacher Andre White would often have us do a series of group listening exercises in our improv classes. Basically this would consist of the class listening to a track from an album from start to finish and, as we were listening to it, write down absolutely everything that we noticed. Once it was done we would all share our lists and compare our notes. This would usually lead to some extensive discussion on a variety of points, from many different perspectives. Then we would go back, listen to it again and do the same thing all over again (sometimes several times in fact...each time focusing our ears on a different, specific aspect). This approach to listening with focused intent really opened my ears and taught me not to take listening for granted (and I encourage all my students to consider this as well).

In fact, if you've been following my regular Instagram Live IGTV interview series Four on the Floor *Live*, happening every Tuesday evening at 7pm MST (9pm EST) @fouronthefloorblog, then you may have a noticed a common theme among all the individuals that I've spoken with so far. The fundamental importance of LISTENING comes up again and again and has become a constant theme in every single interview. Anyways, not to digress too much here, but don't forget: learning how to really listen and practicing listening is just as important as playing your instrument!


Okay, so here's a few things I've noticed from revisiting and playing along with the album Milestones over the past few weeks:

- Keep in mind that in listening to this album that it's not a one-off, isolated studio session you are listening to but instead a working band that was playing together all the time, performing on the road for nights on end and had many albums already under their belt (with a few exceptions of course, thinking of Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley interchanging then finally crossing paths on this particular album). Fundamentally I think this is important to acknowledge because the unity that they play with and how the band truly sounds together only comes from a group of people that are used to playing with each other for a concentrated period time. It's pretty rare to find that group simpatico from people who don't play together frequently (although it does happen). For starters, listen to the drum and bass quarter note hook up between Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers, the cohesiveness of the rhythm section, the blend and phrasing of the horns and the overall sense of flow. It's remarkable and they are firing on all cylinders here.

- Miles' choice of repertoire is interesting too and the album's overall programming is worthy taking note of. Of the six tracks on this album four of them are blues (yet nothing sounds repetitive or redundant) and one track (the aforementioned "Billy Boy") features the rhythm section while the horns take a break. Also, no ballads! (despite Miles being well-known and celebrated for his compelling approach to playing ballads). Overwhelmingly, the compositions are also written by musicians other than Miles or members of the band (specifically composers such as Thelonious Monk, John Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie and Jackie McLean who all had associations with Davis at one point).

- In my opinion, one aspect of Miles Davis' genius throughout his career was the choice and combination of musicians that he chose to assemble and play with. Every single musician on this album had a unique sound and musical personality. Miles plays very melodic, Cannonball's lines are drenched in the blues and Coltrane is, well, Coltrane (in a brilliant way of course!) I am generalizing/simplifying quite a bit here (!) but it all adds up to a band sound that builds on the strengths and diversity of its players.

- Also, keep in mind that all the artists on this album, at some point, would all lead their own groups in some capacity (perhaps most notably John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley but even the rhythm section players Garland, Chambers and Jones would all lead their own record dates and/or bands at some point over the course of their careers). I also find it inspiring that an assembly of such strong individual musicians can come together to create a group sound without competing with each other or compromising the group dynamic. They all compliment each other and we can all learn from this.

- I find it's interesting to notice how differently Philly Joe Jones plays and accompanies each soloist. I'd venture to say that his comping is generally at its busiest and most interactive (relatively speaking) when playing behind Coltrane and at its sparsest when accompanying Miles.

- And of course, this album contains many examples of Philly's famous beat, swinging on the ride cymbal with a constant cross stick on beat four on this album. It's easy to take this for granted now but back in the day this simple device was a distinct trademark of Philly's sound. Jones often plays this behind Red Garland's piano solos to contrast the busier left hand comping behind the horns and this beat (with some variations) is central to the title track "Milestones".

No cross stick on beat four = no Milestones (it's part of the tune!)

- One thing that strikes me is the way the rhythm section plays behind the soloists. In general Garland's comping is pretty sparse but it is always well placed, efficient and so deliberate that everything fits and makes sense. The "big" rhythms he plays in tandem with Philly Joe Jones are often like shout sections or backgrounds akin to the type of arranging one might find in a big band. In fact, the rhythm section feature "Billy Boy" is structured and arranged in such a way that it's like listening to a big band arrangement without the big band! ("Two Bass Hit" which was originally played by Dizzy Gillespie's big band still retains that big band "sensibility" and yet never at the expense of the soloists or the looseness of the smaller band dynamic).

And if I'm not mistaken, is it actually Miles playing piano on "Sid's Ahead"?

Anyways, these are just a few general thoughts that come to mind when listening to and thinking about this super swinging recording and I look forward to seeing what Ted and Todd have to say about this important album. In the meantime I'll continue playing along with this one and try to get even deeper into the nuances of this music. It's timeless and there will always be something to learn by listening to it.

As Kenny Washington often says: "You've got to learn the music from the inside out!"

Friday, March 5, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Matt Wilson!

Please join me for the next episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, March 9th at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram Live IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring my dear friend Matt Wilson!

“There are a few more emphatically dazzling drummers working today, but almost nobody in Wilson’s peer group with a broader sense of jazz history, or a more natural sense of time, or a stronger signature as a bandleader, or more goodwill among his fellow players.” Nate Chinen, JazzTimes

Few musicians embody the spontaneous energy of jazz like Matt Wilson. The New York-based drummer combines buoyant zeal, idiosyncratic style, infectious humor, joyous swing and an indomitable spirit of surprise. Together, with his universally recognized personal warmth, these qualities have made Wilson one of the most in-demand players and educators on the modern jazz scene, both beloved and respected by his peers, elders and students. Not bad for a mischievous Midwestern boy from Knoxville, Illinois.

Whether anchoring an all-star group at the White House, juggling tricky rhythmic swerves with his own quartets, celebrating the holidays with his Christmas Tree-O, exploring the poetry of Carl Sandburg, sensitively supporting vocalists such as Dena DeRose, presenting concerts at a neighborhood church or donning a superhero cape to inspire young musicians to embrace their individuality, Wilson approaches music as a man on a mission: fostering a lively and passionate connection between music and people, whether they be playing or listening to it.

Wilson has released thirteen albums as a leader. His latest recording, Honey And Salt (Music Inspired By The Poetry Of Carl Sandburg), was recognized on over thirty worldwide “Best of 2017” lists, including Top Ten in the National Public Radio Critics Poll, JazzTimes, Irish Times, Boston Globe, Jazziz and All About Jazz. The album received a coveted 5-star review (masterpiece) in DownBeat. On his previous album, Beginning of a Memory (Palmetto), Wilson brought the musical and the personal together like never before, uniting the members of all his ensembles into one aptly-named Big Happy Family to celebrate the life of his wife Felicia, who lost her battle with leukemia in June 2014. This profound, yet playful, release also received a 5-star review in DownBeat and was selected as one of the top releases of 2016 by numerous publications, including DownBeat, JazzTimes and slate.com. It also cracked the Top Ten of the NPR Critics Poll. Wilson has made thirteen recordings as a leader for Palmetto Records since 1996, including acclaimed releases by the Matt Wilson Quartet, Arts & Crafts and the Christmas Tree-O.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz declared, “As a body of work, Wilson’s Palmetto discs are among the most exciting in recent jazz. Conscious of history, exploratory, funny and mournful by turns, they keep the listener guessing and, better still, thirsty for more.”

He’s also co-led another dozen albums, including duo outings with Lee Konitz and Steve Beresford, Sifter (a trio with Mary Halvorson and Kirk Knuffke), MOB Trio and the acclaimed Trio M with his alliterative partner, Myra Melford, and Mark Dresser.

And that’s only a drop in the proverbial bucket (and Matt has almost surely played a bucket or two, proverbial and otherwise, over the course of his career) in the context of an impressive discography that finds his distinctive style on more than 400 albums. That dizzying list includes releases by such greats as Dewey Redman, Paul Bley, Charlie Haden, Lee Konitz, Bob Stewart, Cecil McBee, Denny Zeitlin, Ron Miles, Jeff Lederer, Marty Ehrlich, Ted Nash, Ray Anderson, Don Friedman, Jane Ira Bloom and Dena DeRose, among many others.

Wilson has enjoyed performing for countless audiences across the country and around the world. One of his biggest honors came when he was invited to perform at a White House State Dinner hosted by President Obama in 2011, where he played alongside a Who’s Who of jazz, including Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Randy Brecker, Antonio Hart and James Genus. Add those names to an ever-growing list of legends with whom Wilson has performed, including Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Geri Allen, Elvis Costello, Candido Camero, Freddie Redd, Butch Warren, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Christian McBride, John Zorn, Benny Golson, Buster Williams, Marshall Allen, Nels Cline, Rufus Reid, Jason Moran, Bill Henderson, Frank Wess, Anat Cohen, Steve Nelson, George Cables, Mulgrew Miller, Chris Potter, Regina Carter, Benny Green, John Clayton, Bobby Watson, Eddie Gomez, Wynton Marsalis, Paquito D’Rivera, George Mraz, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Hubert Laws and Hank Jones.

Those credits alone speak volumes, but Wilson has also racked up an impressive catalogue of accolades. He topped the “Rising Star Drummer” category in DownBeat’s renowned Critics Poll for five consecutive years and regularly places highly in the DownBeatReaders Poll, as well as polls in JazzTimes and Modern Drummer. His face has beamed from the cover of every influential jazz publication, including DownBeat, JazzTimes, Modern Drummer, Coda, JazzEd, JazzTimes Educational Guide, The New York City Jazz Record and Jazziz. He won “Drummer of the Year” honors in the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Awards twice, having been nominated every year since their inception. Wilson was named the Hot House NYC Jazz Awards “Fans’ Drummer of the Year” in 2015 and was inducted into the Wichita State University College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2016. Most recently, he was named “2018 Musician of the Year” by the JJA and also received the organization’s “Record of the Year” honor for Honey And Salt.

Wilson actively works to bring jazz to new audiences. He curates the “Jazz on Stage” series at Long Island’s Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, where he brings listeners up on stage with the artists. He can also be heard hosting “Playdate with Matt Wilson” on New York jazz radio station WBGO.

As an educator, Wilson has led workshops and masterclasses at colleges and universities, jazz festivals and conferences around the world. He has served numerous residencies, including at the Centrum Jazz Workshop, Stanford Jazz Workshop, Litchfield Jazz Festival, Jazz St. Louis and Cornish College of the Arts. In addition, he is a faculty member at the New School, San Francisco Conservatory, LIU Post, Sarah Lawrence College and the Prins Claus Conservatory in Gronigen, Holland. His irreverent teaching style has endeared him to students and teachers alike, inspiring young musicians to allow themselves to be imaginative and be characters, not technicians. Wilson’s motto on stage and in the classroom is, “The answer is YES…if it’s legal.”

Monday, March 1, 2021

Zakir Hussain and Evelyn Glennie: Beings of Rhythm

Those who have been following my blog regularly know that I always appreciate the opportunity to hear The Masters speak about their craft. Well, today is no different however we are lucky to hear not one, but two Masters in conversation. Thanks to Beings of Rhythm we have the opportunity to learn from this extensive conversation between Ustad Zakir Hussain and Dame Evelyn Glennie, two Masters of rhythm, space and sound: