Category Archives: Jazz

Who teaches whom?

Here we are. End of March, first of April. This is when universities release acceptance/rejection letters and scholarship offers. Over the past three Springs I have worked with one senior each year. Parents, students and I discuss recommended programs that will continue to challenge the student and help develop their artistry. We prepare audition material. I write recommendation letters and help record supplemental content for their applications.

In each of the three years these seniors took on these tasks with enthusiasm and energy. They did not let the additional work get in the way of their continued development. Preparing music and performing the auditions helped each of them become a stronger musician.

jodyBerkleeI learned this morning that Jody M., this year’s Senior, has been accepted into Berklee College of Music (my Alma Mater) and offered a four-year full tuition scholarship. He studies classical violin with an excellent teacher, and works with me on contemporary harmony and jazz improvisation. He was also accepted by UNC Greensboro and East Tennessee State University. Each of these schools has an outstanding contemporary music program as well.

Once we completed work on Jody’s application and audition material we took time to evaluate the past months’ work and think about new goals. It would have been easy for Jody to say, “I have worked hard and accomplished what I set out to do. Can I coast a few weeks and enjoy the end of my Senior year?” In fact, he did not consider that. Jody feels he needs to solidify his understanding of chord progressions, learn essential jazz tunes, and listen to historic jazz heroes between now and when he leaves for school.

We listed tunes that we will work on between now and mid-August. The plan is to listen to versions of the tunes recorded by jazz masters, learn the melodies by ear, analyze the chord progressions, and learn to improvise over the changes. I am sure Jody will transcribe improvised solos that catch his attention as well.

I have written that students often teach me. Jody’s hunger for learning and constant work toward his goals is an inspiration. We can all take a lesson from Jody, for sure.


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!

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!

…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’

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.

Charlie Parker at 19

Birth of BebopI have always been in awe of the structure, melodic content and fire in Bird’s playing. He will forever be revered as an innovator of be-bop music, pioneering the use of rapid passing chords, improvising new variants of altered chords and chord substitutions.

It is interesting to me to hear the earliest recordings of influential artists. It gives perspective on early influences and how much they were to develop.

This recording is made up of two incomplete takes. “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Body and Soul” were recorded in a sound booth in Kansas City with no accompaniment in May of 1920. Mr. Parker was 19 years old at that time.

It is included on a collection of recordings released in 1991 as “The Complete Birth of the Bebop” on Stash Records. The cut also is included in “Bird’s Eyes, Vol. 1” on the Italian label, Philology.

Give this early recording a listen and let me know your thoughts.

Jazz Landmark Album, 1959?

1959 was the year of great recordings including “Mingus Ah Um”, Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, “Art Pepper + Eleven” featuring fantastic arrangements by Marty Paich, Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come”, and the iconic “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Each of these had a huge influence on jazz as the be-bop era was waning and players were seeking new directions.

oluntunjiOne record that is less noted but no less important is Babatunde Olatunji’s “Drums of Passion” recorded in 1959 and released in February of 1960. One of the first “world music” albums recorded in the USA, it sold over five million copies.

The late Tom Terrell argued that Drums of Passion was “note for note, rhythm for rhythm, groove for groove, vibe for vibe, and influence for influence—the single most important recording of the last century.”

Jazz and pop music certainly moved toward more African-influenced grooves during the 60’s and beyond. Santana actually covered one song, “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba”, from this record in 1969, as did FatBoy Slim in 2004. Give this one a listen and let me know your thoughts.



2013 JJA Jazz Awards Winners!

Musicians Honored in 28 Categories

Lifetime Achievement in Jazz: Wayne ShorterWayneShorter

Musician of the Year: Wadada Leo Smith

Composer-Arranger of the Year: Maria Schneider

Up and Coming Artist of the Year: Aaron Diehl

Record of the Year: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (ArtistShare), Ryan Truesdell

Record Label of the Year: ECM

Large Ensemble of the Year: Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project

Small Ensemble of the Year: Wayne Shorter Quartet

Best Male Vocalist: Gregory Porter

Best Female Vocalist: Luciana Souza

Trumpeter of the Year: Wadada Leo Smith

Trombonist of the Year: Wycliffe Gordon

Multi-reeds Player of the Year: Anat Cohen

Alto Saxophonist of the Year: Rudresh Mahanthappa

Tenor Saxophonist of the Year: Chris Potter

Baritone Saxophonist of the Year: Gary Smulyan

Soprano Saxophonist of the Year: Wayne Shorter

Flutist of the Year: Nicole Mitchell

Clarinetist of the Year: Anat Cohen

Guitarist of the Year: Bill Frisell

Pianist of the Year: Vijay Iyer

Keyboards player of the Year: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Bassist of the Year: Christian McBride

Violinist/Violist/Cellist of the Year: Regina Carter

Percussionist of the Year: Bobby Sanabria

Mallets Instrumentalist of the Year: Stefon Harris

Traps Drummer of the Year: Billy Hart

Player of Instruments Rare in Jazz of the Year: Edmar Castaneda, harp

The JJA is also making a special Award this year:

Emeritus Jazz Artist/ Beyond Voting: Sonny Rollinssonny-rollinscolor