Sunday, November 11, 2007



With the performance at the Jazz Improv Convention in New York a few weeks ago of the music from “Porgy and Bess” conducted by Justin DiCiocchio and the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra, I have finally completed the Miles Davis-Gil Evans trilogy of the late 50s. Finally, I have a vantage point concerning the challenges presented by this body of music.

The first of the trilogy “Miles Ahead” is really the most jazz oriented music with true ballads and chord changes in a variety of moods and tempos, not necessarily related to each other except for the signature orchestrations by Gil throughout. Once you move on to “Porgy and Bess” with its familiar tunes, more often than not set in a blues flavor, you can feel the necessity of having some kind of “attitude” towards the music in order to interpret it convincingly. In some ways I could take more freedom with “Porgy” than “Miles Ahead,” but it is incumbent to keep the blues flavor throughout. As an aside, most of the songs are really slow-I mean REALLY slow, a challenge unto itself. Finally, with “Sketches of Spain,” which is by nature more dramatic open (modal and pedal point to a large extent), it really becomes a tour de force for the soloist. You have to step up to the plate with “Sketches of Spain.” Overall, there is an upward trajectory beginning with “Miles Ahead” through “Porgy” and “Sketches” which places more demands upon the soloist each step of the way. Technically, the three are all about equal, but emotionally it is understood that the performer must climb the emotional curve from piece to piece. By the time you are playing “Sketches” you are your emotions are highly exposed, meaning that in the long run your emotional palette has by necessity risen to the occasion. And Miles plays perfect-simple and to the point with a natural dramatic curve. It’s clear why Gil had such an effect on Miles, because playing this music absolutely raised Miles’ game to another level.

In the final analysis, what a pleasure to stand in front of a good band and hear the wonderful orchestrations of Gil’s. Pure magic!!

TWO TRIOS (GERMANY AND ITALY)-I had a nice ten day tour with two trios. The first was comprised of German pianist Juergen Friedrich, bassist John Hebert and drummer Tony Moreno (both from New York). Juergen is a true composer as are so many pianists naturally/ They just seem to have more control of the compositional process with elements of long form and a real sense of development. I think it comes with the territory. The Italian trio (Roberto Tarenzi, Tony Arco, Paolo Benedittini) with whom I have been playing for several years is a real burning rhythm section--jazz all the way. As a horn player soloing with a trio, I get the benefit of an entire rhythm section’s modus operandi and the fun involved in figuring out how and what to play in order to maximize the potential.

NEW RECORDINGS:BLUES ALL WAYS: The newest recording of the Dave Liebman Group (Vic Juris, Tony Marino, Marko Marcinko) has its roots in my long time desire to record a blues record a la “Coltrane Plays the Blues” which is a classic from the early Trane period. My relationship to the blues tradition is obviously not something that I am known for but outside of the fact that most of us start with the basic blues scale as improvisers, there is the challenge of using such a known quantity to express one’s own compositional and improvisational ideas. For example, the opening tune written for my first musical influence is called “Elvis the Pelvis” and reflects what it is known as a “rubber” blues, meaning the traditional blues chords arrive in the improvising form when the improvisational (or traditionally the vocal) line dictates rather than having to stick to the strict twelve bar form. Vic Juris’ “Compared to Who” harkens back to Eddie Harris and Les McCann’s famous “Compared to What” sustaining a blues feel in odd meter while the closer, Vic’s “Night Tripper” does the same in shifting meters. Of course there are some traditional blues forms on the recordings, a ten bar blues with a Giant Steps bridge (“Down Time”), a three part blues in different harmonic colors (“Riz’s Blues”) and Tranes head for Bessie Smith, “Bessie’s Blues.” The title (“Blues All Ways”) is a play on words meaning blues are forever and in all manifestations. The masters had to have a slant on the blues as well as on ballads and rhythm changes; it was de rigueur at that time. Because of the universality of the blues, even I must admit that ”Blues All Ways” is one of the most user friendly recordings I have done with the group.

DREAM OF NITE: With the fine Italian trio mentioned above, we recorded several of our gigs on tour in 2005 throughout Italy. Incredibly we came out with over two CDs of material which was picked up by Universal in Italy, but more surprisingly is also released on Verve in the U.S. With a classic standard, Miles’ “Fran Dance” and some originals by all of us, this CD is as straight ahead jazz as I get.

SAX MASTER CLASS-My 21st Saxophone Master Class will be held from Tuesday, July 29th through August 3rd at East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Interested students must send me a tape of their playing after Jan 1 and should go to that area of my web site for details.

AWARD: At the Wanagratta Festival in Australia a few years ago I performed with the Dublin Project, but also did a midnight duo with New Zealand master pianist Mike Nock which was recorded and released in Australia, titled “Duologues.” We did a few standards and some originals with barely a rehearsal and after over 20 years since we played together. For 2007, the recording won the equivalent of the Australian Grammy award known as the Aria Fine Arts Award for Best Jazz recording of the Year.

DL GROUP ON THE WEST COAST-Touring with the group in a beautiful new club in San Diego (Anthology), the Jazz Bakery in LA and two schools in the Bay Area were as always interesting, mainly because of audience response. In some ways because of the intensity at which the DL Group plays, there is always a feeling of being a fish out of water in these kinds of places. After all, West Coast jazz was synonymous with laid back and relaxed music, even from the 1950s and we should recall that Bird was booed in LA. But on the other hand, the audience response is VERY enthusiastic and I sense a true hunger for real guys playing real jazz ( if you know what I mean). Although our culture has been dumbed down to such an extraordinary degree, there are many people who do appreciate when bands really put out and do the job the way it is supposed to be.

RECOMMENDED: Joni Mitchell has always been a favorite of jazz musicians, most obviously for her respect and interest in the music. There was a well publicized period when she was hanging with us peasants and I recall meeting her on several occasions. After a silence of several years, her latest recording titled “Shine” is very impressive. The music is vintage Joni with her doing a lot of work on synthesizers with some help from Bob Shepard on soprano and Brian Blade. The production is stellar, but what is most impressive as has always been true of Joni are the lyrics, which in this case are all concerned with the state of the planet and humanity in general. She is dead-on accurate, evocative and honest beyond the call of duty. The words themselves merit serious thought. Highly recommended.

ITINERARY:NOVEMBER/DECEMBER: Concerts in France with Bobo Stenson, Daniel Humair and Jean Paul Celea; Performance of music from West Side Story and Porgy and Bess with Manhattan School of Music Orchestra at Dizzy’s Club, New York; European tour with Quest (Richie Beirach, Ron McClure, Billy Hart).