Student Spotlight: Ben C.

IMG_2048Congratulations to Ben C., a Rising 8th Grader. He studies Contemporary Music Theory and Jazz Improvisation, playing Alto/Tenor Saxophones and Flute. He will be starting Clarinet studies very soon.

This past year, his accomplishments include 1st chair Tenor Saxophone in the All-County Symphonic Band, 1st Chair Alto Saxophone in the All-District Concert Band, and a spot in the top band, Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble. This is an ensemble of mostly High School musicians.

At his school he played Alto in the Concert and Jazz bands and Tenor in the Pep Band. He also established and rehearsed a Saxophone Quartet.

Some of his favorite Jazz artists include Paul Desmond and Sonny Rollins.

I look forward to seeing where his dedication and hard work with take him this coming year!

Plan to play saxophone after high school? Eight Essentials.

This is a short list of skills I encourage young students to target. Will this ensure success?eight Not entirely. Effective practice, performance experience and creative entrepreneurship will also be needed to be successful, but this is a great start.

  1. Play in ensemble settings. Good section players are very valuable.
  2. Sight Read accurately. Read new material as part of your everyday practice routine.
  3. Improvise. You don’t have to be Coltrane (yet), but you should be able to improvise in key centers and follow basic chord changes.
  4. Double at least one additional woodwind instrument proficiently. Pit orchestra work goes to players who can play multiple woodwind instruments. Saxophone/Flute – good combination. Saxophone/Clarinet – also good. Learning all three – even better. Once you have a good handle on these three, it is time for Oboe. I know a several Bari players who double on Bassoon.
  5. Learn Piano or Guitar. In addition to performing, you can use these tools to help with arranging and composition.
  6. Study as much Music Theory as your brain can hold. Knowing how this stuff works makes it much easier to learn and perform.
  7. Listen. Hear excellent music. Listen with your ears and your heart wide open. Always seek the emotion in what you are hearing.
  8. Feel deeply. Emote fearlessly. The audience will feel it. And that is what it is all about.

When a student graduates…

After the Senior Recital

After the Senior Recital

I taught one High School Senior as a private student this year. She worked hard and accomplished a lot, qualifying for all-district and state honors in Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band. She also won “Jazz Musician of the Year” at her high school.

She finished the year with a Senior Recital, shared with my son, Mark, who is a vocalist. They both will attend Universities in the fall; UNC School of the Arts for him, Stanford University (to study science) for her.

I wondered how it might feel, knowing that I would not be seeing her each week for lessons. I imagined it would be sad. Instead, I feel proud of her accomplishments. I am excited for what her future holds.

Congratulations Michaela. Your successes are well deserved. I can’t wait to learn what life will bring you next!

Don’t miss Beatles music with NC Symphony!

ClassMystTourWhat would you do if I played out of tune?

On June 8th, I will be appearing with NC Symphony as we welcome Classical Mystery Tour back to Raleigh. This will be an outdoor pops concert at Koka Booth Amphitheater. This promises to be a lovely evening. Tickets are available.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”

Memorial Day, Military Music and Friendship

sapporoMy family and I had a wonderful time with a couple of great friends and their families  last evening – a Memorial Day gathering. Perfect weather, excellent food, lively conversation. Laughs and hugs all around. These friends and I were in the Army Band together. We met first in the Military School of Music, then were in Japan together with the 296th Army Band, living outside of Tokyo at Camp Zama.

One from Bloomington, Minnesota, one from Greensboro, North Carolina, and one from Richmond, Indiana, we now all live within 40 miles of each other near Raleigh, NC. We talk and see each other often.

Here are a few thoughts that came to me after the get-together:

  • While military life was not for me, defending our republic with a saxophone was definitely a great way to serve.
  • Those who served in combat roles were the ones who really gave for their country. Some gave all. God bless them.
  • Friendships forged during this time, especially with Mike and Mark, are most dear to me. They are truly family. And as Mike puts it, “I never wonder who’s got my back.” 



One of the Greatest Joys

IMG_2019I came home from a quick trip out of town late this evening to find the house filled with young musicians. My son, Mark, was rehearsing a string quartet for his upcoming recital. He had transcribed a piano accompaniment of G. Caccini’s version of “Ave Maria”. Mark will be singing Countertenor on this selection.

Adding a bass, piano and classical guitar, they also sight-read a medley of songs from Les Miserables which included “I Dreamed a Dream” as an instrumental featuring my student Michaela on soprano saxophone and “Stars” with Mark singing Baritone.

First of all, this is no ordinary high school string quartet. The 1st Violinist and the Cellist both study at Peabody Conservatory. The sophomore Violist placed very well in the NC Honors Orchestra even as an underclassman. Awards and accolades abound for all these players. The ensemble was glorious.

Aside from the skill level of the musicians, it warms my heart to have people create art in my home, and I am privileged to be witness to it. Bravo, young artists. Bravo!

…but it’s not in my Fake Books!

So what do you do when you teach a student about, say, “Piano-less Jazz Quartet” and the student is excited to learn a specific tune? You allow that passion to drive the learning forward. Sometimes that means transcribing a less familiar song.

We will hear this at a private saxophone student’s Senior recital. She has recruited and rehearsed a rhythm section, and asked me to play Bari as she channels her best Chet-Baker-on-alto for this tune.

I am blessed with great students. I really enjoy working with younger players and watching them develop as musicians and as artists. Here’s the funny thing: When a student shows drive and excitement it often leads to learning for both the student and the teacher. Transcribing this tune and Gerry Mulligan’s lines was fun, and put me back in the mode of listening more carefully. It also has motivated me to start transcribing improvised solos again.

I think I am getting the best end of this teaching deal…just sayin’

Everything New is Old Again

Gregory PorterGrammy nominee, Gregory Porter is a newer voice in jazz, with sounds deeply rooted in tradition. His combo is acoustic, straight-ahead and more than proficient, creating context and support for Gregory’s baritone voice. Very sincere and moving delivery. Very cool.

Jazz News reports: “Blue Note Records and Universal Music Classics & Jazz have announced the signing of singer/songwriter Gregory Porter. According to a press release from Blue Note, ‘Porter has been in the studio with his working band and producer Brian Bacchus recording his third album and major label debut, which will be released worldwide on Blue Note Records this fall.’”

Congratulations, Mr. Porter. I look forward to hearing more!

Oft Overlooked Jazz Singer

ColtraneHartmanOne of my “If you could only listen to 10 albums for the rest of your life” picks, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman ranks up there at the top. Love Hartman’s tibre, love his swing, and love his subtle emotion.

Rhythm section is a who’s who of Bop/Post-Bop jazz: Mccoy Tyner on piano, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones drumming.

‘Trane’s solos are evocative but never overbearing. Tightly balanced ensemble work, to be sure.

Give this cut a listen – Billy Strayhorn’s ode to dispair, “Lush life”.

You Gotta hear Dirty Loops!

I have been aware of this band from Sweden for a few months, and feel a need to let everyone know about them.

Steve Lukather of Toto says, “This destroyed me. I LOVE it! THESE guys should be #1 across the world. Music would be a better place with cats at THIS level. I would LOVE to contact them just to say thanks for SOMEONE raising the bar as opposed to falling underneath it!”

Let me know if you agree.