Wednesday, May 6, 2009



To my friends:

Those of you who know me have probably heard one of my rants about awards in music like the Monk contest, Grammys, etc. even collegiate festivals-events that I will not take part in as a judge because of the wrong message I think it sends that music is competition, etc.

But of course, I am human and like anyone else appreciate being acknowledged by prestigious institutions. Maybe it is hypocritical tow hat I say above, but so be it. In any case as some of you know I have been awarded a nice honor by the French government, the Order of Arts and Letters-second level-Officer. A lot of heavies in all fields have gotten the order but in jazz only a few. No money-I think some kind of pin, but it's nice and the truth I have spent the most time in France playing and in collaborations with their own musicians. I have always maintained that as far as culture goes, the French can't be beat.

Also I have been appointed Artist in Residence at Manhattan School of Music, where I have been teaching the graduate level for ten years. It means more money and more contact with undergraduate students. It is the best program around with the highest level of serious jazz students.

To all my friends who have supported me, those in the business past and present who have helped me and to the musicians whom I have played with, much thanks--most of all to my family, Natalie and Harold Visentin, Caris and Lydia who bear the brunt of my ceaseless activities and time away from home.


here's a link about the Order of Arts and Letters:


The several concerts I did with this incredible ensemble (founded and still lead by Pierre Boulez) in Paris at Le Cite de Musique will stand as one of the highlights of recent years. It is the first time they invited an improviser from the jazz world. The conductor for this event, a great musician from Finland who is doing a lot of guest conducting all over the world, Susanna Malkki, came up with the idea of highlighting several tracks from my recording done live at the Willisau Festival in Switzerland a few years ago where I played my first ever full solo set. The tracks she chose were from initially recorded on “The Tree” (solo soprano on Soul Note from the early 90s) and “Colors” (solo tenor on Hat Hut from the mid 90s). Between her and myself we chose three composers-Italian bassist (and head of the jazz department at the Paris Conservatory) Riccardo Del Fra with whom I have worked and recorded with over many years; French arranger Christophe Dal Sasso who wrote charts on some of my tunes which we recorded together and Finnish composer, Timo Hietala. Though the material they were asked to arrange was the same for all of them, somehow the variety of music they wrote worked out ranging from chord changes to intervallic motifs, pure coloristic and ambient sound and so on. I was pretty free to play what I want and must admit it was one of the most challenging gigs I have had, to come up with so much improvised material over one hour and fifteen minutes.

Of course this ensemble is famous for their reading and playing skills which are unbelievable. Each musician is a soloist on their own and to hear the tone they produced from their instruments was exhilarating. Three percussionist filled the whole stage with drums, gongs, celestas, etc., all of which were incorporated. (It could be said that the 20th century style has done the most for liberating percussionists from their former rather sedate role in previous eras of classical music.) After two concerts we then gave an abridged Saturday morning performance to nearly 1000 children, explaining what improvisation is, the various instruments in the orchestra and so on. The music we played confirms my feelings about how inclusive jazz is, borrowing from all styles diverse elements to be transformed by a performers and composers. There is no music in the world that allows, in fact demands this “borrowing” system. I think the musicians of the ensemble were very impressed with the improvisation they witnessed, since we, as jazz musicians, never repeat anything the same way, even in rehearsal. We are hoping to do more next year in some other European capitals.

With the composers and conductor

DEXTER RIDES AGAIN: Two nights playing the music of Long Tall Dexter at the Iridium in New York with George Cables, Eric Alexander, Lonnie Plaxico and Billy Drummond were a real change of pace for me. These guys really know that music…in fact Lonnie and George of course played with Gordon. It’s great when guys really know the inside stuff beyond the written page. (We used Aebersold’s Volume 82 for lead sheets-thanks Jamey!!) Playing all Dexter tunes it struck me that so much of pure be bop is uplifting and joyous music, often played by people who were prejudiced against, often had drug problems and never really made much money, whereas guys like me who come from pretty secure bourgeois backgrounds play so much dissonant, melancholy and “down” music. It’s interesting what the human spirit is capable of doing.

Band at the Cape of Good Hope

CAPETOWN, SOUTH AFRICA FESTIVAL: With my group (Juris, Marino, Marcinko) we flew all the way down to South Africa for what is basically a pop festival featuring mostly African groups. But being one of two jazz groups (along with drummer Al Foster’s quartet) gave us a golden opportunity to stand out and really play a nice set. Also I got a chance to teach a little with an old student who is running a great program at the University of Capetown, Mike Rossi, as well as play with my old buddy from Israel, Micu Narunsky, who is becoming quite a wine maker in his own right. Of course mention must be made of the amazing natural beauty of the country. We went to where the whales from Antartica gather to mater every year, where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, the Cape of Good Hope with its many ship wrecks, etc. What a beautiful place and what changes from the apartheid period.

The Indian meets the Atlantic

I always enjoy playing duo with Wolfgang. He is a drummer par excellent who uses electronics with great taste and sophistication. As well, guitarist Phil Robson’s trio with Jeff Williams (my first drummer in Lookout Farm in the 70s) and Dave Whitfield on bass is a lot of fun to play with. Phil is a great guitarist out of the Martino-Wes bag with good compositional instincts.

DIMI AND THE BLUE MEN: On my web site under Special Features you can read about my trip a few years ago to the country of Mauritania in the Western Sahara desert and how we heard the music of singer Dimi Mint Abba everywhere went. I wrote a tune dedicated to her that I have recorded with Ellery Eskelin (“Renewal”on Hatology) and play with my own group called “Dimi and the Blue Men.” The Blue Men refer to the tall and thin gentlemen of Mauritania who wear blue robes and gracefully dance like birds. Through a long story, I was able to arrange a series of concerts in Paris with Dimi and her group, my two friends who went with me to Mauritania (saxophonists Ric Margitza and Jean Jacques Quesada) along with Jack DeJonette. Unfortunately because of my commitment to the Ensemble Intercontemporain I wasn’ t able to actually perform in the concerts, BUT I did have a chance to hang with Dimi for an afternoon and play with her band. Happening the same day as the children’s concert mentioned above by the Ensemble, it was quite a change to go to Dimi’s hotel room in Paris and play her music (all in the key of G). She is fantastic, soulful and very hip, accompanied by guitar (kind of country and western twangyish), electric bass and one big drum. I had a great time that afternoon and hopefully there will be some more concerts coming.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: More “wonderful “news from the real world. Manny’s and Patelson’s music stores, one where everybody bought something in midtown Manhattan, the other one a major repository of classical sheet music are both closing. These were fixtures of the music world in the Apple and unfortunately just like what is happening to newspapers, it is sad to see the demise of such institutions. I guess there will be nothing left of the “old” world when they get finished with us!


STEVE LACY CONVERSATIONS edited by Jason Weiss: The king of the soprano saxophone, this collection of interviews by Steve over his career is a fantastic read of a man who was witty, very observant, honest and artistic to the core. When someone like Lacy talks about “his” music, it really is about all music and very illuminating. A sample: “A jazz musician is a combination orator, dialectician, mathematician, athlete, entertainer, poet, singer, diplomat, educator, student, comedian, artist, seducer, public masturbator and general all around good fellow. As the diversity indicates, no matter what you do, some people are going to like it and other people not. Therefore, all you can do is to try and satisfy yourself by trusting the man inside.”

The thing about U Tube from the musician’s perspective is that anyone can see masters of another period performing. Where do all these clips come from? Here’s an address which lists all the cats alphabetically on U Tube.

Fantastic to hear John playing through this epic tune with someone (maybe Philly Joe) playing brushes on what I assume is a phone book. Trane-practicing anyway he could.

TRANE AGAIN-GIANT STEPS: This tune and solo has got to be the most copied of all time in the sense of such a variety of people playing and using it in so many different ways. There was a version of the solo going around with computer graphics that matched the notes and another guy playing it on an unusual instrument, etc. Here’s yet another phenom with a guy playing the bass line in one hand and keyboard in the other. It is the absolute perfect complexity about “Giant Steps” that just seems to appeal to so many people from all parts of the musical spectrum.

GENIUS: THE MODERN VIEW: A very interesting article recommended by my boss at the Manhattan School of Music, Justin DiCioccio concerning so-called “genius” and what it takes to be great. Written by David Brooks in the Times Op-Ed column, stating the obvious but always good to hear observation that it isn’t genetics that makes greatness, it’s hard work. Even Mozart, whom my students know I always place as an example of someone who seemed to be born with his melodic umbilical cord connected to the “force” (or whatever you call the divinity) had to get it together and take care of business:
“What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there. The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.”

I got to this book because Lionel is married to Jeff Williams who was the drummer in my first band as leader, “Lookout Farm” after I left Miles in the 70s. (We have renewed our partnership in the past years playing with guitarist Phil Robson in England.) Lionel is quite known in the fiction field. This book is absolutely devastating in its intensity and very well written with tremendous use of vocabulary. It is a portrait of a Columbine type kid who offs a lot of people one day at his high school. Written from the stand point of the mother as letters to her departed husband, it gets very deep concerning the human condition. Lionel, like Phillip Roth whose books I have recommended in the past really notices everything, their implications and nuances. You can’t put this down.

:DL Group at the Belarussian Chruch, Brooklyn, NY; duo tour of France with Jean Marie Machado including Marseilles, Coutances, Le Havre(workshop also) , Valence(with workshop), Arles, Avignon; Iridium in New York playing Miles In India.

Sketches of Spain at Bourg en Bresse, France; trio with Erik Ineke and Marius Beets at the Wings Festival Gronigen, Netherlands; HR Big Band with Richie Beirach and charts by conductor Jim McNeely, Frankfurt, Germany; IASJ 19th Annual Jazz Meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Incredible-getting younger and younger-with Steve (drums) and Darryl Johns (bass-TWELVE YEARS OLD!)playing "Footprints" at recent gig