WEILL AND KERN-AMERCAN SONG BOOK: It happens to be I am doing two projects in the next few months that are closely allied: the music of Kurt Weill and Jerome Kern. In doing my research for the tunes and re-arrangements (altering harmony, meter, etc.) it brings me back to the standard Tin Pan Alley song form as an entity of its own. In reading Weill’s biography, he was a product of the German school, influenced by Schoenberg and others of that ilk from the early part of the 20th century. His work with Brecht brought him great fame (Three Penny Opera) but he, like so many from his generation (Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg) escaped from the Nazis to America. Weill was content with doing Broadway and Hollywood and had a very successful career. His writing does generally reflect more sophistication than the norm of the day possibly because of the European classical aesthetic. The tune “Liebeslied” from “Three Penny” is a gem as is “This Is New” and of course "Speak Low."
Jazz guys all know Kern because of “All the Things You Are” (all twelve key centers covered by the way) and so many others. Note that Kern used the first two bars of the Giant Steps progression, in the same key no less during the verse of a really simple tune “As The Clouds Go By” in 1917, further reinforcing the dictum that nothing is new under the sun (courtesy of writer Carl Woideck). But Kern also wrote a lot of insipid tunes. That was to be expected when writers had to come up with dozens of songs for shows and film. In any case, it’s gratifying to be centered on this material which has provided so much of the repertoire for jazz musicians over the years. There really was a kind of symbiosis between writers and musicians/vocalists especially that basically ceased to exist after the 50’s when the power of the record companies grew along with the decline of radio’s influence.
TORONTO HIT WITH OLD STUDENTS: Some of my best times were in the 80’s at the Banff Institute in western Canada teaching really first class guys. Since then I have kept up my relationship with bassist Jim Vivian and saxophonist Mike Murley, who along with the great drummer Ian Froman joined me for a hit during the IAJE Convention in Toronto at the Rex. Loose two horn, bass and drum format-nothing like that.
I was invited to play with guitarist Phil Robson, a young bassist, Aidan O'Donnell and my old compatriot, drummer Jeff Williams who spends a lot of his time in London. It was great to be back with Jeff who was in my first group as a leader “Lookout Farm.” He always had a loose thing about his playing and very strong. Phil is a wonderful guitarist and composer, definitely a unique player. We had a ball and hopefully I will be able to play with Phil again.
Besides several workshops at universities, I did one for teenagers at the venerable Royal Academy of Music as part of the Saturday “Day School” program which is a great English longstanding tradition. Music schools all over the country open their doors to students for all the arts and of course professional musicians, dancers, etc., are able to earn some extra money while spreading the word. This is a very positive aspect of English cultural life which shows their respect for culture while insuring that young people are exposed at a reasonable cost.
MEETING WITH THE FREE MASTER:EVAN PARKER:As part of my week in London I had a one night performance at the main local club, the Vortex with free jazz maestro Evan Parker and an old friend, living in London for years, drummer Tony Bianco. This was a much anticipated event since Evan is probably one of the most well known exponents of free jazz on tenor and soprano and from the same generation as me. He is also a Coltrane expert which gives us even more in common. We played two completely spontaneous sets, comprised of mostly burning music. Tony plays a constant stream of toms and drums with selective use of cymbals. Once I warmed to the subject at hand, it brought back incredible flashes from the free jazz loft era where along with Bob Moses, Randy and Mike Brecker, Steve Grossman and others, we cut our teeth in the late 60s and early 70s. I realized that free jazz (at least the energy type-post Coltrane/Ascension style) has unspoken “rules”-in some ways even stricter than straight ahead jazz. For example, some of the no-no’s are major melodies, a harmonic progression that is outlined, 4/4 time and not much space. For the sake of argument I am obviously generalizing and not judging the style because I’m sure with time and practice, all these aspects would eventually appear in one form or another to achieve the required balance. But given a one shot, immediate type of performance, there are assumptions just like if we were playing “All the Things You Are.” Evan is great-he has circular breathing down (which I cannot do at all) ; he is a gentleman and knows how to work with another horn evidencing his vast experience in this setting. The audience had a rare treat.
UNIVERSITY MUSICAL LIFE: I did a few days each at the University of Virginia (with old friend from the loft days, trumpeter John Dearth) and the University of Miami, where I actually did my first college clinics in 1978. The students in Virginia are not jazz majors as compared to Miami which has one of the longest standing and most famous jazz departments around. But the Virginia kids made up for some lack of expertise with enthusiasm taking on some of my harder charts to play, while of course Miami was fantastic. My working group drummer Marko Marcinko is an alumni of Miami and we had a great gig at a club called Alligator Alley with another old student/ friend who is the sax teacher there, Gary Keller. Somehow the show continues on in higher education!!
LESSONS FROM MILES-PORGY AND BESS: As part of Manhattan School of Music’s 90th anniversary I was featured with the orchestra doing the Miles-Gil Evans collaborations “Miles Ahead” and “Porgy and Bess” at Zankel Hall in New York, which is the smaller Carnegie Hall attached performance place. A few days later, we recorded Porgy and once again the Miles Davis lessons go on. So much of Porgy is slow tempos and blues-tinged that I found myself being very specific as to what nuance I should use, be it a slide, lip slur, vibrato (especially monitoring this common saxophone expressive device). And most important of all, to lay behind the time and relax. Such beautiful music which I absolutely love to perform.
PLAYING FOR A SILENT MOVIE: It’s not usual that I do something I have never done before. I was invited by bassist extraordinaire from Torino, Italy, Furio DiCastri as part of a quartet along with Stefano Maccagno on piano and Fabrizio Sferra on drums to play the music for a Cecil B. DeMille silent film,” The Whispering Chorus” from 1918. It appears that the movie has some distinctive aspects for the period, being one of the first to use effects(ghost appearing) and also as a drama of sorts. Of course, the acting and story line are very stylized but using some standard tunes (a Disney song and “In the Wee Small Hours”) along with original tunes by the pianist and Furio, we had a nice program. I must say it was fun to watch and improvise along with the film. It appears that this theater does these things often with bands of all sorts of styles and the people were really into it. In fact the pianist does this type of thing all over the world.
HERBIE’S GRAMMY: Since “Watermelon Man” in the early 60s, “Chameleon” in the 70s and the “Rocket” video in the 80s, Herbie has been going for this. In that respect, it was well deserved of course and even more so celebrating the music of Joni Mitchell. A funny comment I read from country music nominee Vince Gill when someone said the Grammy’s are out of synch with the public evidenced by giving the award to Herbie over rap man Kanye West. Gill pointed out the obvious-that Herbie was a better musician than everyone put together backstage after the show!! True for sure-it only took fifty years for them to give it up.
TEO MACERO:Teo was the real deal-a saxophonist, an arranger and composer with a sense of adventure, a producer and most of all a man totally into the music. He was obsessed with music (in a positive way) and in my opinion, Miles Davis would not have the reputation he has if it wasn't for what Teo did for his recordings. He was a totally honest man, a rarity in the business.
LIEB MASTER CLASS: Conducted at Roberto’s Woodwinds in New York last year and featuring one tune with my quartet, this was a nice couple of hours answering questions from a very public audience. Available at: http://www.robertoswinds.com/store/p.asp?c=259
MILES IN MONTREUX: This clip which I only saw parts of before is a complete version of “Ife” (which I recorded on “Back on the Corner”) and really shows Miles in process. The best part is how long he draws out his very lyrical beginning solo on Part 1-that was the section I waited for every nite:
TWO LIEB INTERVIEWS: In All About Jazz from Feb 25, there is a very interesting and involved interview with pianist Jim Ridl, psychologist Vic Schermer and myself about the artistic process. Vic, being a practicing psychologist asked some different kind of questions which might interest you. You can find it on their site.:
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On WKCR (New York’s only real jazz station from Columbia University) I did the Musician’s Show where you are asked to play the music that influenced me from the beginning. I had a very intense three hours which of course is a lot to listen to but if you are interested you can put this into your browser:
COSBY ON SITTING IN WITH STITT: This U tube is classic. Bill completely acts out the second by second fear and apprehension that he felt sitting in with Sonny Stitt when he was playing drums in Philly:
BLUES RECORDER: Some people have heard a recording that I have of a recorded student playing a blues with Mickey Roker from the 70s. But this one is even more impressive-a recorded guy playing Coltrane’s “Blue Trane” solo:
March:Lecture for Chamber Music America-New York City; tour of Argentina and Uruguay with Dave Liebman Group; Deer Head Inn with Mike Stephens, Tony Marino and Bobby Avey; Paris concerts with bassist Dominique Muzeau and group; gigs, teaching and recording (Kurt Weill project) in Holland with drummer Eric Ineke.
April:Tour with big band of Zagreb, Croatia; workshop at Moravian University, Bethlehem, PA; clinics in Quakertown, PA and Trees Island High School, Long Island, NY; lecture at Town Hall, NY; Dave Liebman Group at the Jazz Base in Reading, PA; Kitano Hotel, NYC; Turning Point, Piermont, NY; Paradiso Cafe, Ottawa, Canada; the Upstairs Jazz Bar, Montreal, Canada, One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine; lecture on Miles and Trane with Dave Liebman Group at New England Conservatory, Boston.
Love this photo of two kids of the great Paris sax repair man, Herve Martin.