Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Sitting in Europe watching on TV the Royal Wedding followed a few days later by Pope John Paul II beatification ceremony in Rome made an impression on me about something that I have always been fascinated with which is the power of symbols to mankind. No matter how cynical one might be about humanity, the fact that large numbers of people (now more than ever because of the media reach) flock to happenings like these is a testament to the overwhelming human need to be positive and lift the spirit, to have sign posts that stand outside of one’s personal life and can be shared by all. Needless to say, the British know how to throw a party, this aptitude being one of their major contributions to culture for centuries, while the Catholic Church doesn’t too badly either in that regard. It’s a cliché but so true that the differences between peoples are dwarfed by what is in common-the need for spiritual meaning, the joy of love and devotion and as we see so clearly in Japan and the tornado ridden southern states of America, how generous people can be towards each other

-Jazz Standard-NYC: With Saxophone Summit (minus Lovano), we played twos ets oft eh music from this seminal release as part of a week long celebration of the record label Imulse’s fiftieth year. Incredibly producer Creed Taylor who started the label was in attendance, saying he hasn’t heard this music since the day Trane recorded in in 1961. It was John’s only outing with a large ensemble (outside of “Ascension” later on) with great tunes all pointing towards what the quartet would accomplish for the next few years…modal formats with McCy’s fourth voicings, Elvin and in this case, Reggie Workman slashing behind with Trane riding the waves on soprano and tenor. We had a great time playing that language.

Review by Nate Chinen-NY Times:
“…..The kickoff, on Wednesday, involved Coltrane’s “Africa/Brass” as interpreted by Saxophone Summit, featuring David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, with Phil Markowitz on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums. The late set, which began like a thunderclap and ended as an oceanic swell, was most intriguing for the contrast between its two frontmen, each a different kind of heir to the Coltrane sound. Ravi Coltrane, the son of John and Alice Coltrane, was 2 when his father died in 1967; since coming into his own as a saxophonist, he has carefully weighed his stylistic inheritance against his own artistic identity, which skews cooler in temperament. Here he seemed unusually intent on strident epiphany: his solo on “Blues Minor,” the opener, was full of overblown notes and impassioned digressions, hard swerves out of the given key. Mr. Liebman, who will turn 65 this fall, came of age in John Coltrane’s immediate wake, embracing the influence as truth. His own style, marked by an imploring intelligence, can be understood as a specific dialect of the Coltrane language. And on almost every solo he dug impressively deep. Playing tenor on “Blues Minor,” he worked a cantorial cry; his soprano turn on “Song of the Underground Railroad,” a reworked spiritual not included on the original LP, had him evoking the fever pitch of the post-Coltrane avant-garde. His contribution to “Africa,” the album’s droning title track, was an essay on wooden flute, expressive and gorgeous. For all the focus on saxophones, a Coltrane tribute lives or dies by its rhythm section, and this one labored admirably. Mr. Markowitz, in his tolling accompaniment as well as in his methodical solos, suggested a contemporary gloss on the McCoy Tyner school, filtered through the likes of Chick Corea. And Mr. Hart was the heavy lifter, managing an inexhaustible and, just as crucially, personal take on Elvin Jones’s polyrhythmic fire. “Africa/Brass” was a large-ensemble album, with French horns, brass and reeds, and in that sense an anomaly in the Coltrane oeuvre. Because those textures were ancillary, arranged around a working quartet, their absence here wasn’t a problem. The set could have used a bit more warmth in its bluster — one reason to wish Joe Lovano, usually a marquee figure in Saxophone Summit, could have made the gig — but its sincerity, and the light it reflected on both Coltrane and his label, couldn’t have been clearer."

Photo by Tom Gieske

I had quite an intense eclectic week doing a workshop for several days and playing in Tallinn, Estonia with a great band that featured a former Master’s degree student from the Manhattan School of Music, Kristjan Rondalu and guitarist Jaak Sooar. As I usually do I let the local leader of the group choose the tunes from my work that they want to play. What is interesting to me is that the choices of songs Jaak made reflect the “chromatic” harmonic style I first started using compositionally in the ‘80s which was basically double triad chords in various combinations. It seems in some small way, this language has now become sort of standardized, which is gratifying to say the least. So there’s always hope that what you conceive of now will find its way to other musicians a few decades later.

BRUSSELS: With the release of Guided Dream on a Belgium based label, the very polished Brussels Jazz Orchestra and I played the music from that recording, mentioned in New Releases below. What was most interesting about the evening was a contest for the best arrangement for big band with four finalists chosen by the band from over 50 contestants to be judged this night by five big band European so-called “experts.” As I have always maintained, contests with financial rewards are something that I do not endorse, first of all because music is NOT sports. But more to the point is that you are judging apples and oranges, meaning it comes down to a matter of taste and experience. It happened to be that Bob Mintzer, who knows a thing or two about big band writing was also in attendance working with a youth band. We both chose the same chart, which did not win. It was adventurous and not clichéd, but obviously the taste of the judges was more, shall we say, orthodox. How can you judge between pieces of music that have different goals and intentions? Can you say that Love Supreme is better than Speak No Evil for example? On the other hand, these occasions do bring attention to budding talent, but I don’t feel contests are the way to accomplish that.

WARSAW: In line with the beatification ceremony of the late Pope John Paul II, there was a performance of an oratorio written using the poetry of the then young priest from Kracow during World War II as the text for songs. Including a choir of children, string orchestra and jazz rhythm section with several soloists (among them the incredible French accordionist Richard Galliano and Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojastik), it was quite a thrill to be apart of this event which took place in the same square (the coldest I have ever played outdoors) where the Pope gave one of his most important speeches. I love the Polish public…they are really receptive and open.

Clips from the concert:

All The Things You Are:


This one is an ethnic type tune with a burning singer:


POETRY AND JAZZ: Harkening back to the old Beatnik days in the Village that I remember from my teenage years, along with my elementary school class mate from over 50 years ago, Steve Dalachinsky, we had a jazz and poetry night at the Stone in the East Village. Steve is quite well known in these circles, overseas as well as here and it was really fun for me to improvise upon first hearing of these mostly jazz flavored poems. It appears that jazz poetry is a whole genre of its own, something I learned more about from guesting in a class taught by Herman Beavers last month at the University of Pennyslvania. This clip was the final poem dedicated to Coltrane in which Steve weaves many of John’s titles:

SKETCHES OF SPAIN-Linz, Austria: With Jean Charles Richard conducting and Wolfgang Reisinger on drums along with some wonderful Austrian musicians, I performed this piece once again at the Brucknerhaus. I never tire of playing this suite, my all time favorite piece of music. The recording was so good, it seems that we will have a release on an Austrian label in the near future.
THREE GIGS IN ONE DAY: A first for me: To the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY for an early afternoon lecture; then on to Syracuse for a mid afternoon public discussion of the program to be played the next evening there; finally to Ithaca for a late one setter with drummer John Riley and guitarist Steve Brown. The next day was the main gig in Syracuse playing original music written for me by Bret Zvacek based on Jewish and Arab scale formats, which was quite interesting to play. This was a community big band of professionals from the area that has been doing together for fifteen years. I love when I see grass roots energy being used to promote this music.

FROM STRINGS TO ROCK: I had a wonderful duet tour with Jean Marie Machado, a French pianist with who I have been collaborating over the past few years. One of the gigs was with a string quartet that displayed his high level compositional and arranging skills. Just to change things up, one gig in the middle of our duo tour was playing the music from On The Corner with Andy Emler (keyboards), Badal Roy (tables), Linley Marthe (bass), Eric Echampard (drums) and the incredible Manu Codjia (guitar). All in a day’s work.

AMAZING-We3 with Adam Nussbaum, Steve Swallow-Kind of Blue Records:
A great collection with classic Swallow compositions as well as from Adam and myself. I love this trio because of the vibe we get from years of playing and associating together.

GUIDED DREAM-with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra-Provo Records: A top notch band playing my originals from two live gigs. These guys really do it right, well rehearsed and committed to excellence.

LAST WORDS-George Carlin autobiography:
One of the great wave of comedians that for me were more philosophers than comedians with great observations of life in America mid 20th century. First of all the way Carlin describes his childhood in Manhattan is a page out of how I remember New York when I was growing up. It happens to be that he lived right near where the present Manhattan School of Music is located (actually Julliard in his day). His take on growing up in the greatest city in the world at the time along with his family situation is touching and of course humorous because of Carlin’s wit. But even more impressive to me is his analysis of American society during this part of the 20th century…the prejudices, contradictions and general hypocrisy about sex, politics and more that was rampant in those years. Hi is spot on about the hippie period, the Reagan years and more. With an incisiveness and intelligence right up there with Richard Pryor who was similar, but less overtly political. It’s also a story of how Carlin matured in the entertainment business from playing the game to finding a way to cut through all the bull that surrounds that field of endeavor. This is actually an inspirational book as well as historical.

WEATHER REPORT: I was turned on to a Weather Report concert in 1975 in Berlin that was unbelievable. What a band that was and what a legacy they left. Any live performances by that group are worth checking out.

ELEVEN YEAR OLD SCATTING BIRD: The world can’t be in too bad a shape if this is happening:

MEL LEWIS-THE HISTORY OF JAZZ DRUMMING: In the 1980’s drummer Mel Lewis gave a series of interviews on WKCR, which is Columbia University’s long standing jazz station, a very important one to boot. Mel, a cantankerous, but lovable and completely honest guy really knew about drums, growing up in a club atmosphere in Buffalo, New York. He traces the evolution from Baby Dodds to Elvin with examples and complete knowledge. After years of trying to have it transcribed, John Riley managed to get all of it online at the Percussive Arts Society web site. This is well worth the time:

Jamey Aebersold sent me this from emoryhealth.org-Aging musicians have sharp brains:

Playing a musical instrument throughout life may help fight cognitive decline as we age. Older musicians perform better on cognitive tests than individuals who did not play an instrument, according to a new study published in the April issue of Neuropsychology. While much research has been done to determine the cognitive benefits of musical activity by children, this is the first study to examine whether those benefits can extend across a lifetime. “Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” says lead researcher and clinical neuropsychologist Brenda Hanna-Pladdy of Emory University. “Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older. ”The study enrolled 70 individuals age 60-83 who were divided into three groups. The participants either had no musical training, one to nine years of musical study or at least 10 years of musical training. All of the participants had similar levels of education and fitness, and didn’t show any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Cognitive performance was measured by testing brain functions that typically decline as the body ages, and more dramatically deteriorate in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. The high-level musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on the cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians, revealing a trend relating to years of musical practice. The high-level musicians had statistically significant higher scores than the non-musicians on cognitive tests relating to visuospatial memory, naming objects, and cognitive flexibility, or the brain’s ability to adapt to new information. “Based on previous research and our study results, we believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical,” Hanna-Pladdy says. “There are crucial periods in brain plasticity that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development.” The preliminary study was correlational, meaning that the higher cognitive performance of the musicians couldn’t be conclusively linked to their years of musical study. Hanna-Pladdy, who has conducted additional studies on the subject, says more research is needed to explore that possible link.
Well, we knew that!! Nice to know there’s hope for us old timers!

TSUNAMI VIDEOS: Tragedy beyond belief and the power of nature still prevails above all:


Manhattan School of Music Graduating Master's Degree Class

Cornelia Street, NYC with Bob Garcia(drums), Drew Gress(bass), Dan Tepfer(piano); Dave Liebman Group in Canada-Maison du Festival, Rio Tinto Alcan-Montreal; Club Pardisio-Ottawa; Largo-Quebec City;
Dave Liebman Gorup at the Falcon, Marlboro, NY; Lineage with Mike Stephens(drums), Evan Gregor(bass), Bobby Avey (piano) at the Deer Head Inn, Delaware Water Gap, PA

JUNE: Duo with Vic Juris at the Caspe Terrace, Waukee, Iowa;