HAPPY 85th TO MILES: Hard to believe, he could easily have been around as we speak. Born May 26 1926
THE THIN RED LINE:My good friend Jean Jacques Quesada from France always sends me movies that he thinks I would enjoy. I don’t really have time to see many and I do love movies. This one by Terence Malick is very heavy and by chance I watched it the day before Memorial Day, which for those not familiar is a holiday set aside to commemorate the war dead in America.
You can’t watch a movie like this or others on the subject: “To Hell and Back” about Audie Murphy which I remember as kid; “Saving Private Ryan” or “Platoon” or for me the greatest movie ever “Apocalypse Now” without reflecting on the subject of war. There is plenty of anti-war literature available so there is no need to go into the obvious which is the wasting of young lives at the behest of guys sitting behind a desk. Surely, there have been so-called “righteous” wars like World War II and other conflicts in history that were matters of defense. But when you think about other reasons for the slaughter like religion, nationalism, and pure greed conjured up by some guys in suits in a remote room somewhere using these pretexts, it amazes me that thousands of young people agree to be in harm’s way. Even more mind boggling to me is the idea that someone would shoot their own countrymen as we are witnessing in Libya and Syria, their neighbors and relatives. What can make them do that? The whole idea of putting all those bodies together for war because someone(s) may be delusional or paranoid or what have you is incredible; even more is that they get away with it.
IASJ MEETING AND GUINGA:I will be going to La Plata, Argentina for a two day workshop in the end of June followed by the Annual IASJ Jazz Meeting which is in Sao Paulo, Brazil this year. Everyone is looking so forward to going to this very vibrant city and being immersed in Brazilian music, which as I have discovered is as varied stylistically as jazz. The combination of European harmony and Brazilian rhythms is really fascinating. The tradition of guitar and voice is very important in Brazil. Through a good friend on mine (pianist Micu Narunsly) I was turned on to a musician named Guinga (I assume that is a nickname?), whose music is absolutely the most beautiful I have heard in years. Guinga doesn’t read music and was from what I understand a practicing dentist. I searched him out and he told me that he was in the audience when I played in Brazil with Miles in 1974 and was familiar with me. Anyway, I have completely fallen in love with Guinga’s music which you should check out on You Tube. The orchestrations, arrangements and musicianship, the overall production is very impressive. Check him out on You Tube. We will be performing the opening concert for the IASJ Meeting as a duo with some help from one of my former students who is one of the head people at the host school, Souza Lima, Marcelo Coehlo. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this concert and a bit nervous. The music is very harmonically rich, beautiful and truly passionate. I’m sure there will be something up on you Tube by the first week of July.
DUO WITH VIC JURIS:Incredibly, after twenty years of playing together in my group I have never done a duo gig with guitarist Vic Juris. We got the opportunity in Des Moines, Iowa of all places. A wonderful couple, Jackie and Abe Goldstien organize concerts out there and invited us. Being so used to playing in duo with piano which is such a natural instrument for accompanying the horn, I was really curious as to how this would be. We had a great time and I especially enjoyed with all the sounds that Vic gets with his pedals….the atmosphere of every tune becomes enlarged and every song has a completely different ambiance. We have to do this again.
LINEAGEis a group that spans several decades, hence the name. With Mike Stephens on drums, Vic on guitar and myself, the “youngbloods” are Bobby Avey on piano and Evan Gregor on bass, two guys who are from the Pocono area where we live and have gone through the informal apprenticeship scene we have here in Pennsylvania. Both of them are doing great in New York keeping busy and refining their art. We recorded a project last year of “pop tunes" from the rock period that the three of us “old timers” know so well from the ‘50s and ‘60s like “Tequila” which was one of my first influences towards playing tenor sax. “Love Me Tender” was the first tune I played with chord changes on piano since I was an Elvis freak. It is completely reharmonized by Bobby Avey who by the way has taken the chromatic harmony to another level. Others…. “Wipe Out” which is a classic that everyone knows; Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” once again completely reharmonized and a few others. We are gong to put the project on Kickstarter (a web site that posts proposals for funding projects of all sorts) sometime in July, so if you feel so inclined please make a donation which would enable us to mix and release the recording. We played a gig at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap in May. These tunes are so much fun to play live. It just shows that music is music; anything can be transformed and adapted, even “Wipe Out.”
DL GROUP IN CANADA:We had a great four day jaunt up north playing for really appreciative audiences. This review captures the essence of the group’s music. It’s nice to have someone truly LISTENING who knows the music and does the job right…..John Kelman.
Dave Liebman Group:Ottawa, Canada May 20-21,2011
When saxophonist and recent NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman brought his longstanding group to Ottawa's Café Paradiso a little over three years ago in April, 2008, it was truly one of the hottest, most memorable shows this city has seen in years--if not ever. Now two decades old, with three of its original members--Liebman, guitar underdog Vic Juris and the equally underappreciated bassist Tony Marino--still around, and its fourth, powerhouse drummer Marko Marcinko, long beyond being the "new kid on the block," having spent ten years with the group, the continued appeal of Dave Liebman Group is, in part, undeniably about the chemistry that comes from a consistent lineup. But there are plenty of groups out there with longevity, that don't have the combination of firepower and finesse that Liebman has managed to retain with this ensemble.
In a recent All About Jazz interview, Liebman talked about how he keeps a group that only tours a few weeks a year together: "I'm very proactive as a leader, because to keep the same guys--which, through thick and thin, I try to insist upon--we don't have a lot of work and we don't make a lot of money, so the only thing I have is that they're playing with me, and the challenge of this music. Because it's for the music. I'm not trying to make it like we're carrying a cross here, but it is for the music. My job with these three guys is to make it so that there's a challenge and a reason to come out and play with me. "
For the group's return visit to Ottawa, Paradiso's owner, Alex Demianenko went a step further, not only booking Liebman for two nights, but making it a small tour that began in Montreal, continued in Quebec City and wrapped up at his club for the final two nights. It's that kind of lateral thinking that makes it possible for a group like Liebman's to come to a club like Paradiso, which is relatively small, seating a max of about 75 people. As ever, Paradiso is a wonderful place to catch a group in an intimate setting that's rare, even for clubs; sitting less than five feet away from the bandstand it's possible to see how the group interacts on the subtlest of levels. Despite its dividing half-wall running down the center of the club, lines of sight were largely fine for most attendees, and the sound was consistently excellent throughout the room--all the more surprising, given that, while Marino and Juris were amplified, there was no PA to speak of, other than a microphone for Liebman to speak into, and use when he occasionally brought out his wood flute.
Another reason that Dave Liebman Group has been around for so long is because the music never stays in one place for long. The last time the group was in Ottawa, it was a more acoustic affair--except, of course, for the kind of textural coloring that makes Juris an almost orchestral partner--with Marino solely on acoustic bass. In the same AAJ interview, Liebman explained: "I have a book that's bigger than most jazz groups in the world--we have 80-100 tunes--and I recycle here and there and change things. Basically, I really always want to keep the slant different. Right now I'm already thinking about what we're gonna do two years from now. We're in a completely different direction at the moment--electric bass only, Vic is playing a lot of colors and sounds, I am playing only soprano, and we are playing freer, sonically--a more rocky kind of vibe."
Liebman's two nights at Paradiso suggested that, while the freer approach is still going on, it was already showing signs of morphing into whatever direction comes next. Marino split his time about 50/50 between electric and acoustic basses, while Liebman did the same, spending about as much time with his tenor saxophone as he did soprano. And while the group did, indeed, rock out pretty hard--with Marcinko driving the group with a combination of incendiary pulses and an unfettered expressionism that was the perfect foil for Liebman, who's long held a reputation for similar extroversion--there were plenty of calmer moments, too, in particular with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zingaro," culled from New Vista (Arkadia, 1997), in Friday night's first set, where Juris switched to nylon-string acoustic guitar and the group delivered an early demonstration of its ability to play with both reverence and a healthy irreverence for the tradition, as Marino and Marcinko flexed liberally with the tempo. Still, as unfailingly beautiful as the tune was--with Liebman's warm soprano lyrically weaving through the changes--it was Juris who delivered an early high point with a solo that, just when it seemed he'd shown everything he had, came out with even more, building to a peak, but then pulling back with such a visceral sense of tension and release that the audience's collective relief was palpable.
Juris--whose Omega is the Alpha (Steeplechase, 2010) was released late in the year, but still made it into at least one 2010 Best of List--was a marvel throughout the two evenings, playing with the kind of effortless invention and open ears that made him an ideal accompanist, whether it was strumming fervently on his own "Folk Song," adding electronic textures to Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," from the group's award-winning Turnaround (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010), or driving a riff home on his "Romulan Ale," first heard on the Liebman Group's In a Mellow Tone (ZOHO, 2004), but revisited recently on Omega. An endlessly inventive soloist, with an effortless mastery of his instrument few can match--whether executing mind-boggling intervallic leaps or creating cascading harmonics--Juris, like the rest of the group, truly manages to approach the material differently each and every time, something Ottawa fans who attended both evenings got to experience. While the four sets by no means repeated themselves, there was a handful of tunes Liebman called on both nights, including Juris' "Folk Song," the title track to Liebman's Dream of Nite (Verve, 2007), and the saxophonist's "Smokin' at the Café," an altered blues that was a great way to loosen the group up at the start of each night.
Liebman was, as ever, an equally endless fountain of ideas, and with all four sets running long--each clocking in around 90-minute mark (clearly this group came to play)--and with only six tunes per set, there was plenty of opportunity for extended soloing, though the group always managed to avoid any semblance of excess. Instead, the interplay amongst the members was so compelling, and the fun they were having so obvious and infectious, that the sets seemed to pass by in an instant. And while Liebman was relentlessly impressive on the more energetic pieces--combining remarkable tonal and textural control with the kind of ideaphoric abandon that seemed near-reckless but, as his solos developed with remarkable focus, clearly was not--he also proved himself a master of deeper lyricism on his balladic "Breath," from his duo record with Australian pianist Mike Nock, Duologue (Birdland, 2007).
Marcinko's a hard-working drummer who deserves far greater recognition. His ability to mirror Liebman or Juris rapid-fire note for rapid-fire note was matched by his locking, in-the-pocket, with Marino on tracks like the Spanish-tinged "Mesa D'espana," from Liebman's tribute to former employer, trumpeter Miles Davis, Back On the Corner (Tone Center, 2007). He soloed rarely, and while those occasions were as exciting and dynamic as would be expected, it was his ensemble work that, ultimately, was more impressive. Like the rest of his band mates, he worked from structural roadmaps, but with a free and unhindered approach that made even the most familiar material fresh, like the group's cover of Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia"--reharmonized and delivered with shifting bars of ten and four. And, like the rest of his band mates, Marcinko may have turned the heat and volume up at times, but he was equally capable of turning on a dime, dynamically, and bringing the music down to a near-whisper.
The emphasis was on original music--most from Liebman and Juris, but also including Marino's "Anthracite," referencing the coal mining of which Pennsylvanians like Marino and Marcinko were all too familiar, and which became a running joke throughout the first set on Friday ("Clean coal, clean coal," Marcinko quipped as Liebman introduced the song). But Liebman, whose introductions to the tunes provided plenty of insight, also ensured that the tradition which underscores everyone in the group was never forgotten, calling out material from Coleman, Gillespie and Jobim, albeit radically reworked.
If there was a hidden gem in the group for these two nights, however, it was Marino, a largely quiet partner whose playing across all four sets, was particularly impressive. As fine as he was last time in town, this time it seemed like he'd lept to a new level, on both instruments. Whether pushing a hard acoustic groove on the Americana-tinged "Folk Song," echoing Juris with an octave-divided electric bass on "Romulan Ale," or playing it entirely free on a track from Liebman's Elements--Water (Arkadia, 1999), he combined astute technicality with unfailing musicality.
A characteristic that, indeed, defined the entire group. There was no shortage of virtuosity on display, but equally, it was never an end, only a means, with Juris building his solos through gradual motivic development, Marcinko working compositionally, Marino accomplishing the near-impossible and making his electric bass sing, and Liebman, subtly directing the group with almost imperceptible hand signals, delivering solo after solo of fire and finesse. If playing free means to be able to do anything one wants, then all four of Liebman's sets at Café Paradiso--six hours of improvisational heaven for Ottawa jazz fans--were prime examples of how four people can make spur-of-the-moment choices, individually and collectively, to create music of such passion and commitment that they once again raised the bar for live music in Canada's capital.
JAZZ POETRY WITH STEVE DALACHINSKY:Steve and I went to the same elementary school (P.S.99) in Brooklyn, so we go way back, He has pursued jazz poetry for years, which is as I have learned a separate world unto its own. We had a great gig at the Stone in the East Village, NY where this clip of this poem dedicated to Coltrane can be watched. All poets go to Trane for inspiration…it’s a given.
RECOMMENDED: My daughter, Lydia has always been good with graphics, making brochures and programs, things like that. She is helping some musicians in designing promotional flyers. Interested parties, check this out: www.lydialiebmanpromotions.webs.com
DUO WITH BOB MOSES: My oldest compatriot is drummer Bob Moses who introduced me to a lot of the real deal as a teenager. We first met in 1962 and have been playing on and off since then, often in duo. Bob teaches at the New England Conservatory and was able to book the historic Jordan Hall for an afternoon of recording. Mose is a one of a kind musician….there is nobody like him. Check this out:
JAZZ VISION PROJECT:I have entered a relationship with a painter from the Washington D.C. area, Barbara Januszkiewicz. I remember back in the ‘60s at so-called “happenings” when a painter would do their thing, while I played and a dancer improvised …all at the same time. The technology is much advanced now and Barbara is doing nice things to my music. Along with my French friend, pianist Jean Marie Machado, we have applied for a grant to do some concerts and collaborate on other things. Here’s a clip and small description of the beginnings of our collaboration. Like the poetry thing with Steve D. described above, mixing genres is something I love to do.
“Visionary American Jazz master Dave Liebman and American multimedia visual artist Barbara Januszkiewicz have teamed up in a wordless conversation, each in their own language responding to the other in a dialogue of musical notes and paint. Liebman’s solo saxophone artistry on his Colors album is the inspiration for the kaleidoscope of color, images, and brushstrokes Januszkiewicz captures moment by moment on her canvas. As they play off each other’s voice or visual expression in an ever-changing musical palette, the music takes on a visual rhythm and colorful beat and transforms the way you look at a painting or listen to jazz music.”
OF INTEREST: THE BRAIN AND JAZZ
Thanks to my old friend Mike Garson for hipping me to these articles that discuss jazz improvisation specifically. It seems like the psychologists and brain specialists are finally getting hip to what we knew all along….it is a language we are speaking that definitely involves “higher” brain activity and some serious coordination.
1- Comparing basketball and improvising by Jonah Lehrer for Wired.com. I’ve always thought that of all the sports, basketball is the closest in spirit to jazz. Somebody gets the ball and shoot…other times you pass off…just like a good soloist is doing with the rhythm section. Anybody can be a “star” at anytime.
“Basketball has always been compared to jazz. For the most part, this analogy exists for superficial reasons. Like jazz, the modern NBA game has been pioneered by African-American icons; Michael Jordan was the Miles Davis of athletes. Furthermore, the unscripted nature of basketball seems to echo the improvisational nature of jazz, in which the notes are often unknown in advance. A fast break is like a Coltrane solo.
In general, our culture looks down upon such spontaneous forms of entertainment. We will always respect the symphony that took years to write more than the jazz album recorded on the first take. The classical work just seems more serious, more sophisticated, more worthy of critical attention. Similarly, it can be hard to defend the complexity of basketball to an ardent football fan. Have you heard what NBA coaches say during timeouts? Their game plans seem to consist entirely of vapid cliches. And then there are the plays: While athletes in the NFL have to memorize a Talmudic playbook, most NBA offensive plans are some variation of the pick and roll. The end result is that both basketball and jazz get dismissed as mindless acts of spontaneity, nothing but the carefree expression of talent. LeBron doesn’t think while slashing to the hoop – he just obeys his impulse to dunk.
The problem with our bias against improv, both in jazz and basketball, is that it fails to recognize all the mental labor behind these forms of entertainment. That jazz quartet might make their music look easy – the players are just playing – but that ease is an illusion. In reality, those musicians are relying on an intricate set of musical patterns, which allow them to invent beauty in real time. Likewise, that Chris Paul assist might seem like a lucky bounce pass, but it’s actually a by-product of some exquisite perceptual analysis. Instead of appreciating the uncanny quickness of these improv artists – watching in awe as they make something out of nothing before our very eyes – we disparage them as mere performers, unaware of all the work and smarts going on behind the scenes.
Let’s begin with basketball. A few years ago, a team of Italian neuroscientists conducted a simple study on rebounding. At first glance, rebounding looks like a brute physical skill: The tallest guy (or the one with the highest vertical) should always end up with the ball. But this isn’t what happens. Instead, some of the best rebounders in the history of the NBA, such as Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley, were several inches shorter than their competitors. What allowed these players to get to the ball first?
The rebounding experiment went like this: 10 basketball players, 10 coaches and 10 sportswriters, plus a group of complete basketball novices, watched video clips of a player attempting a free throw. (You can watch the videos here.) Not surprisingly, the professional athletes were far better at predicting whether or not the shot would go in. While they got it right more than two-thirds of the time, the non-playing experts (i.e., the coaches and writers) only got it right about 40 percent of the time. The athletes were also far quicker with their guesses, and were able to make accurate predictions about where the ball would end up before it was even airborne. (This suggests that the players were tracking the body movements of the shooter, and not simply making judgments based on the arc of the ball.) The coaches and writers, meanwhile, could only predict a make or miss after the shot, which required an additional 300 milliseconds.
What allowed the players to make such speedy judgments? By monitoring the brains and bodies of subjects as they watched free throws, the scientists were able to reveal something interesting about the best rebounders. It turned out that elite athletes, but not coaches and journalists, showed a sharp increase in activity in the motor cortex and their hand muscles in the crucial milliseconds before the ball was released. The scientists argue that this extra activity was due to a “covert simulation of the action,” as the athletes made a complicated series of calculations about the trajectory of the ball based on the form of the shooter. (Every NBA player, apparently, excels at unconscious trigonometry.) But here’s where things get fascinating: This increase in activity only occurred for missed shots. If the shot was going in, then their brains failed to get excited. Of course, this makes perfect sense: Why try to anticipate the bounce of a ball that can’t be rebounded? That’s a waste of mental energy.
The larger point is that even a simple skill like rebounding reflects an astonishing amount of cognitive labor. The reason we don’t notice this labor is because it happens so fast, in the fraction of a fraction of a second before the ball is released. And so we assume that rebounding is an uninteresting task, a physical act in a physical game. But it’s not, which is why the best rebounders aren’t just taller or more physical or better at boxing out – they’re also faster thinkers. This is what separates the Kevin Loves and Kevin Garnetts from everyone else on the court: They know where the ball will end up first.
The same principle applies to jazz. In 2008, the Harvard neuroscientist Aaron Berkowitz and colleagues conducted an investigation of the brain activity underlying musical improv. He brought together thirteen expert pianists and had them improvise various melodies in an fMRI machine. As expected, the act of improv led to a surge of activity in a variety of neural areas, including the premotor cortex and the inferior frontal gyrus. The premotor activity is simply an echo of execution, as the new musical patterns are translated into bodily movements. The inferior frontal gyrus, however, has primarily been investigated for its role in language and the production of speech. Why, then, is it so active when people improvise music? Berkowitz argues that expert musicians invent new melodies by relying on the same mental muscles used to create a sentence; every note is like another word.”
2-And on the parts of the brain involved with improvisation: Creation on Command by Jonah Lehrer from seedmagazine.com
The first study, led by Charles Limb of the NIH and Johns Hopkins University, examined the brain activity of jazz musicians as they played on a piano. The musicians began with pieces that required no imagination such as the C-major scale and a simple blues tune they’d memorized in advance. But then came the creativity condition: The musicians were told to improvise a new melody as they played alongside a recorded jazz quartet.
While the musicians riffed on the piano, giant magnets whirred overhead monitoring minor shifts in their brain activity. The researchers found that jazz improv relied on a carefully choreographed set of mental events, which allowed the musicians to discover their new melodies. Before a single note was played, the pianists exhibited a “deactivation” of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a brain area associated with planned actions and self-control. In other words, they were inhibiting their inhibitions, which allowed the musicians to create without worrying about what they were creating.
But it’s not enough to just unleash the mind — successful improv requires a very particular kind of expression. That’s why the fMRI machine also recorded a spike in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a fold of frontal lobe just behind the eyes. This area is often linked with self-expression — it lights up, for instance, whenever people tell a story in which they’re the main character. The scientists argue that this part of the brain is required for jazz improv because the musicians are channeling their artistic identity, searching for the notes that best summarize their style. “Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form,” Limb says. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”
In the second experiment scientists at Harvard investigated the varieties of musical improvisation. They recruited 12 classically trained pianists and had them spontaneously create both rhythms and melodies. Unlike the Hopkins experiment, which compared brain activity between improv and memorized piano melodies, this brain scanning experiment was primarily designed to compare activity between two different kinds of improv.
As expected, both improv conditions led to a surge in activity in a variety of brain areas, including parts of the premotor cortex and, most intriguingly, the inferior frontal gyrus. The premotor activity is simply an echo of execution — the novel musical patterns, after all, must still be translated by the fingers. The inferior frontal gyrus, however, has primarily been investigated for its role in language — it includes Broca’s area, which is essential for the production of speech. Why, then, is it so active when people create music on the piano? The scientists argue that expert musicians create new melodies by relying on the same mental muscles used to create a sentence; every note is another word.
These two brain-scanning studies provide an elegant view into our seething cauldron. They reveal a brain able to selectively silence that which keeps us silent. And just when we’ve found the courage to create something new, the brain surprises us with an expression of ourselves. We suddenly find our reflection — not in the mirror, or even in our words. It’s in the music.
AMORTALS:The following paragraph from Time Magazine is quite interesting for those of us advancing in years, at least on the calendar…..my 65th is coming in September!!
“The defining characteristic of “amortals” is that they live at the same way, the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from their late teens right up to their death. They rarely ask themselves if their behavior is age appropriate, because that concept has little meaning for them. They don’t structure their lives around the inevitability of death, because they prefer to ignore it. Instead they chose to chase aspirations and covet new goods and services. Amortals assume all options are always open. They postpone retirement by choice, not necessity.”
Sounds like some guys I know who inspire me right out here in Pennsylvania as they continue to be active….Phil Woods, Bob Dorough and Roy Haynes to mention a few. Who has time to worry about the inevitable when you have to learn a new tune?
ROY HAYNES AT 85:Talk about an “amortal”…from late night TV. You want to talk inspiration…check this out!!
LEE KONITZ RECUPERATING:Lee had a brain aneurysm in Melbourne, Australia a few weeks ago. I spoke with him and it appears that full recovery will happen. He was in excellent spirits. Another warrior!!
THE LATIN CATS:Two friends of my daughter from Boston are absolutely killing in a little drum thing. Anyone want to tell me where beat 1 is?
ITINERARY:As a result of slower season in Europe with funding cuts for the arts which is the lifeline of jazz there, the itinerary for the summer months is slower than the normal. I am using this time to recalibrate, hang with the family and generally catch up with the several hundred CDs on my shelf given to me over the last few years by students, etc., to listen to.
JULY:IASJ Jazz Meeting at Souza Lima School, Sao Paulo, Brazil including performance with Guinga; Jamey Aebersold Workshop at University of Louisville, Kentucky
AUGUST:Chromatic Harmony Master Class held at East Stroudsburg University, East Stroudsburg, PA including performance at the Deer Head Inn; five nights at Birdland, (NYC) with Steve Kuhn, Steve Swallow, Billy Drummond; Deer Head Inn (Delaware Water Gap, PA)with Dan Wilkins Group; Deer Head Inn with Dave Liebman Group