A Query From England
Monday February 27th 2006, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Jazz Ears

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A DevraDoWrite reader has written in with a query that I can’t answer:

In 1966, the Hampton Hawes trio (with Red Mitchell & Donald Bailey) recorded ‘live’ for Contemporary Records at Mitchell’s Studio Club in Los Angeles (the ‘Mitchell’ in question was no relation to Red, the bassist). Two LP albums were subsequently issued: “The Séance” and “I’m All Smiles”. My question is: Do you – or does anyone among your many readers happen to recall the address of this particular club?

I have submitted this question to some of my fellow jazz writers and researchers, but no one has replied as yet. If you have any memories of Mitchell’s Studio Club, please drop me an email.


Mis(s)Information
Monday February 27th 2006, 5:09 pm
Filed under: Jazz Ears,This 'n' That

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I got it wrong – Gene Di Novi’s concert is tomorrow night, Tuesday the 28th. Not tonight. It’s a good thing he just called, because I was about to head out in the pouring rain to see/hear him. So, my husband wants to know, “don’t you know what day it is?” I am picturing the Jazz Bakery calendar in my mind and Di Novi is clearly in the second box. So I go to the web site and sure enough, there it is, second box…but wait! Aren’t calendars supposed to show the weeks starting with Sunday? Isn’t that standard? Normal? My friends (husband, too) may well ask who am I to lean toward “normal”? And hasn’t Ruth been starting her Jazz Bakery calendars with Mondays all along? Well, yes. And I am sure that there are precedents for this alternate structure — that it must be normal to some culture or subculture somewhere. Again, something to be researched, but not right now. Right now I have to become a domestic goddess and cook dinner.


Serendipity, Connections, and Trends
Saturday February 25th 2006, 12:36 pm
Filed under: I'm All Ears,Writing Life

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Into my emailbox poped a message from a guy who wrote “Dear…I don’t even know your name…but I do know Luther Henderson.” My correspondent stumbled across my blog postings about Luther and wrote to say that his dad and Luther were friends and worked together back in the 1940s. Needless to tell you, I got in touch right away — to talk with someone who had “been there” is invaluable to a researcher. We had a lovely chat this morning and he has put me in touch with one of Luther’s colleagues, a man now living in Canada, Gene Di Novi, who I believe became Lena Horne’s musical director immediately following Luther in the early 1950s.

Di Novi? That sounds so recently familiar. Of course! “Gene Di Novi: A Life In Music” is the show at The Jazz Bakery right here in Los Angeles for one-day only…this coming Monday. Gene is right here in town, right now, and my correspondent has given me his telephone number. Serendipity? Connections? Someone is looking out for me? All of the above. So I placed the call, left a message, wrote a note of thanks to my correspondent, and decided to check out a few blogs before plunging back into my own to-do list.

Visiting On An Overgrown Path, I was introduced to contemporary classical music composer Eric Whitacre. (Just a few days ago I ‘discovered’ classical violinist Christian Tetzlaff, and classical music critic Jeremy Eichler — classical is on the brain.) Pliable mentions that Whitacre graduated from the Juilliard School of Music (as did Luther Henderson, but back then it was called the Insitute of Musical Art). The clip I heard online from Whitacre’s Hyperion recording, Cloudburst is beautiful and the choral works listed piqued my curiosity and lead me to wonder if a new trend is afoot. I haven’t researched this yet, but I suspect that it is not a new trend at all, rather one that is newly come into focus on my personal radar screen and/or one that comes and goes over time. The trend (if it is that) to which I refer is the blending and cross-pollenation of poetry and music. Here are the tracks on Whitacre’s CD as listed on Hyperion’s site:

i thank You God for most this amazing day 1999 E E Cummings
I hide myself 1991 Emily Dickinson
Sleep 2000 Charles Anthony Silvestri
i will wade out 1999 E E Cummings
Go, lovely Rose 1991 Edmund Waller
When David heard 1999 II Samuel 18:33
hope, faith, life, love 1999 E E Cummings
Cloudburst * 1993 Octavio Paz
With a lily in your hand 1991 Federico García Lorca
This Marriage 2004 Jalal al-Din Rumi
Water Night 1995 Octavio Paz
A Boy and a Girl 2002 Octavio Paz
Her sacred spirit soars 2002 Charles Anthony Silvestri
Lux aurumque 2000 Edward Esch / Charles Anthony Silvestri

This brings to mind Maria Schneider, about whom I recently wrote. If you have checked out her Concert in the Garden recording, you may have noticed that the title track is inspired by and named after the poem by Octavio Paz. Also recently in my thoughts has been pianist Fred Hersch. He is appearing at the Village Vanguard in New York next week (February 28 – March 05) and I have been intrigued by his Leaves of Grass recording, “a large-scale setting of Walt Whitman’s poetry for two voices and an instrumental octet.”

I don’t have time to really research this poetry-music connection right now, but I did do a quick google search which led me to a course (Poetry, Music, Performance) taught at CUNY Buffalo which led me to one of the professor’s blogs, which on February 17th mentioned Sara Fishko (the fantastic radio interviewer who produced a really outstanding piece about John) for NPR, and there I think I must stop…for now…but it odd that Sara is already on my list of calls to make during my next trip to New York. Now I will make a note to ask her about poetry and music as it sounds to be a topic that might be on her radar screen already.

What are your thoughts on the subject?


Maria Schneider at Disney Hall
Wednesday February 22nd 2006, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Jazz Ears

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What can I write about Maria Schneider’s Disney Hall concert after Mr. Rifftides has so eloquently covered the main points in his Seattle report? – Scott Robinson’s “technical control and emotional range” the breadth and depth of Steve Wilson’s soprano sax solo, a description of Maria’s childhood home (Windom, MN), and memorable solos by Ingrid Jensen and others, not to mention the longevity of the band and loyalty of the musicians. The last line in the Maria Schneider at Jazz Alley posting is so perfect that I wish I had thought to write those three simple sentences. So what more can I tell you?

Well, for starters, I’d like to digress. Just before heading off to Seattle to see the band, Rifftides mentioned big band economics: “There must be staggering economics involved in transporting a big band from New York to the west, then up and down the coast. I’m glad that it can still be done.” I’m here to tell you that it can’t be done, not without underwriting or just plain going in the hole. Promoters do not pay jazz artists enough to cover the transportation, rooms, and musicians’ fees for small groups let alone big bands. That’s why so many artists come to town alone and “pick up” local musicians. Having been Maria’s manager at one time, I know that she pays her musicians well (especially compared to some other leaders) and that on occassion she has netted less on a gig than anyone else in the band. I have even seen her take a loss (yes, pay out of her own pocket) because for the sake of the music she wants more rehearsal time and pays for that as well. Add in manager and agent commissions and an artist’s slice of the pie is often just a sliver.

Of course, while artists pay out those commissions, as a Composer (note the capital C, signifying a difference from those musicians who also happen to write some tunes), Maria also receives Commissions; a number of schools and organizations have commissioned compositions, several of which were featured on the program. You’ve got to have something to live on while you sit in a room and write your heart out.

Now, about the concert — the benefit of a concert venue over that of a club is that the listener gets to hear what amounts to two sets, and the performer/leader, in this case Maria, gets to stretch out the building tension and moments of release; the end of the first half is climactic, but the stakes increase as even greater heights are scaled in the second half.

Maria opened the program with Concert in the Garden, a piece commissioned by The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College and the title track of her Grammy winning CD. (I would be remiss if I did not note here that the concert took place on Grammy night, mere blocks away from the Staples Center where her friend and colleague Billy Childs won this year’s jazz composer award, an announcement Maria shared with great joy from the stage.) Featuring Gary Versace on accordion, Ben Monder on guitar, and Frank Kimbrough on piano, the audience plunged headlong into Maria’s world of unique and complex aural textures.

The second selection is actually part one of a three-part suite (Three Romances commissioned by the University of Miami School of Music). Choro Dançado, influenced by the Brazilian choro (pronounced SHOH-roh), has amazing energy and sweet rhythms that grew amazingly intricate underneath a soaring melody, Rich Perry’s solo, and richly thick harmonies with a baritone bottom do deep as to be tuba-esque. In Portuguese the word choro means “to cry.” The third piece, Journey Home (from her Allégresse CD) featured saxman Charlie Pillow, a trombone solo by Rock Ciccarone, very tasty drum licks by Clarence Penn, and a surprise ending.

The first half culminated with one of my personal favorites, El Viento. This, too, was a commission (Carnegie Hall, 1994). Just as Mr. Rifftides said of Robinson’s Sea of Tranquility solo, so will I say of El Viento soloists Ben Monder, Larry Farrell and Greg Gisbert, “familiarity breeds insights.”– they have evolved since their 1995 recording of this piece on the Coming About CD. Many of Maria’s compositions are internal landscapes and I imagine riding the wind (el viento) through Maria’s mind, following the twists and turns and changes of mood, truly a journey, and one that ends with orgasmic intensities followed by the sweet release of an afterglow embrace. A great way to end the first half and leave the audience wanting more.

During intermission I saw many notables in the audience – conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, vocalist Dianne Reeves (who also won a Grammy that day – hats off to her wonderful performances in the movie “Good Night, And Good Luck”), Don Grusin, and Peter Sellars, to name a few. I am really sorry that the concert was labeled as “jazz,” because the classical snobs would have loved it had they deigned to come.

The second half opened with a brand new piece, a swaying, hip, poly-rhythmic Peruvian-influenced composition – I think the title is Landau. I don’t know how two cajón players (John Wikan and Peruvian percussionist Hugo Alcaraz) and a drummer (Clarence Penn) can articulate such a multi-metered collage without tripping over themselves and each other. Add in Scott Robinson on clarinet and you’re in heaven, or Peru, or anywhere other than here.

The next two compositions The Pretty Road and Sky Blue were well-covered by Mr. Rifftides. All I might add is that The Pretty Road was commissioned by a group of Massachusetts colleges, and Sky Blue, a poignant and crystalline dedication to her friend, Kate, who died after a long and valiant battle with cancer, was debuted a few years ago at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.

The last piece was another personal favorite: Hang Gliding (it’s also on the Allégresse CD). First you are lulled by what Maria describes as “hanging on this thermal” depicted by Greg Gisbert, and then follows Donny McCaslin’s multi-metered scary descent on saxophone until finally you land gently on the beach. This piece is so exhilarating that it makes me want to go hang gliding, and that’s saying a lot ‘cause I am terrified of heights. Truth be told, there was an encore, but I don’t remember anything after Hang Gliding.

If by any chance you are not familiar with Maria’s music, please rectify the situation as soon as possible…now would be good. Here’s her website – click on ‘maria Schneider radio’ button, top right corner of your screen, and while you’re listening, pick out your participation level in one or more of her wonderful projects.


Keeping Up
Tuesday February 21st 2006, 7:13 am
Filed under: I'm All Ears,Reading Life

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With too little time and too much info to process, we create ways to filter the input. When it comes to the newspaper, some read headlines, some check out only certain sections. I do not like the feel of newsprint, or the dirty fingertips it leaves me with. I also don’t like the size of the page, although I do remember how my grandfather taught me to fold the paper in vertical quarters and then in horizontal half, making it possible to handle and turn pages without creating a total mess. My solution is to peruse The New York Times online, top three headlines in Top Stories, National, and Business, plus all headlines in Arts.

Today a headline caught my eye Violinist With an Air of Vulnerability — I clicked and at the top was a photo with this caption: “Christian Tetzlaff’s playing emphasizes subtlety over pyrotechnics and volume.” Christian who? If I had been paying attention to the classical music world, I might have known that Christian Tetzlaff was named “Instrumentalist of the Year” by Musical America in 2005, and is “internationally recognized as one of the most important violinists of his generation”

I never heard of him, but DevraDoWrite followers will correctly assume that the photo caption (specifically the words “subtlety over pyrotechnics and volume”) was more than enough to intrigue me.

Reading the article was a double surprise discovery – first of a wonderful violinist new to my ears, and second, the writing of Jeremy Eichler, a word artist. Here’s the opening graf:

Christian Tetzlaff’s recital with Lars Vogt here in October could have been just another pleasant night of violin and piano at the Kimmel Center. But when Mr. Tetzlaff eased into the autumnal first movement of Brahms’s G major Sonata, the hall shrunk by half. Building up from a stage whisper, he spun one long sinuous line after another, perfectly distilling the wistfulness at the heart of this music, its careful blending of honey and rue.

With the first sentence arousing a nibble of curiosity (if it wasn’t just another pleasant night, what was it?), the second sentence drawing me in (what does he mean by “the hall shrunk by half?), by the end of the third sentence I was hooked by Eichler’s own sinuous line of carefully blended words. Here’s one more taste of Eichler’s homage to Tetzlaff:

… his playing possesses qualities that are rarer and more radical: a poignant sense of inner life and emotional authenticity, a technique of exquisite subtlety and an interpretive freedom that is grounded in the score yet at the same time wildly imaginative. He may not have the stomach or the swagger to become a high-wattage star in today’s image-conscious classical music world, but his playing is a bracing example of substance over packaging, and a humble reminder of the richness that a simple unadorned recital can still deliver.

Clearly Tetzlaff deserves a listen, and my reading list will include Eichler’s articles from now on.


The Art of Biography
Monday February 20th 2006, 10:39 am
Filed under: Writing Life

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As I get caught up in laying out the chronology of events and discovering details of Luther Henderson’s life, I must continually remind myself to pause and consider the big picture. Readers of biography want to get to know the subject — “okay,” I can hear the readers say, “so he wrote great music, worked with Duke Ellington and Lena Horne. But what was he like?

I recently read “Virginia Woolf’s Nose — Essays on biography” by Hermione Lee, and came across this quote:

“biographies appeal to readers is inseparable from the dream of possession of, and union with, the subject.” [Sutherland, Recreating Jane Austen, p. 17]

My job is to create a sense of the person through the sharing of revealing anecdotes and moments of intimacy. Finding such information requires voluminous research, and, of course, nothing can be accepted at face value. Here’s what Lee had to say:

Following the trail of the story and clearing away the rubbish that’s accrued to it through gossip and rumor, using written evidence to prove a point, drawing on whatever sources of information you can get, building up a “representation” of the character: these are the biographer’s jobs. These scenes invoke, too, the moral reservations so often attached to biography — dislike of gossip, distrust of “low” sources of information, squeamishness about reading private correspondence, suspecting witnesses of having a private agenda.

As I introduce other participants in the story, supporting characters, if you will, I must also examine their role in light of their own perceptions and motivations. Lee also suggests that literary biographers must “find a way of understanding the work’s relation to the life” — for some people, their work is their life, the very essence of who they are, or were; this seems most often to be the case with people in the arts.

Virginia Woolf’s Nose
is collection of essays that suggests there can be no such thing as a definitive version of a life, and Lee’s last chapter, about endings, leaves us with more questions than answers.

There is also tricky questions for the biographer about tone of voice at the moment of the subject’s death. If you are coming to the end of the life you’ve spent a lot of time with, you will tend to be moved — if only by relief. Do you let these emotions for the page, hoping they will flood the reader, too? Do you restrain your emotions and give the death clinically Russian mark. If you are writing the life of a writer, do you allow yourself to describe their death as they might have done it in their fictions are poetry? Did you, in the tone you choose, and also in matters of structure and interpretation, tried to give the death meaning and derive from that some sense of a resolution of the life?

So much to think about when you’re holding someone’s life in your hands.


Perfection
Friday February 17th 2006, 7:04 am
Filed under: I'm All Ears,Quotables,This 'n' That

Terry Teachout posted a great quote today that is particularly relevant to recent postings (here and here) and to Just Muttering‘s addendum here.

Not only do I love the quote, but because of it my musical world has expanded to include George Enescu, a Roumanian composer and violinist with whom I was not familiar, at least not by name. These chance discoveries are what I love about blogs! Thanks TT.


Chipping Away
Thursday February 16th 2006, 7:17 am
Filed under: Hmmm....

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“It is horifying that we have to fight our government to save the environment.” — Ansel Adams (1902-1984)

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” — Joni Mitchell (“Big Yellow Taxi”)

These quotations may seem to some to be on the lighter side, but what disturbs me is that these words were uttered decades ago and nothing has changed. The government and its corporate cronies continue to line their pockets at our personal expense. Over these decades we have had both republican and democratic governance, so this is not so much a partisan comment as it is a concern for our inability to care for people, average people like you and me and the many many others who have less than we do.

Stateline reports:

“The overall federal education budget would be cut by $3.1 billion, or 5.5 percent from 2006 levels. Much of the cuts would come from scrapping 42 education programs totaling $3.5 billion, including programs for the arts, state grants for vocational education, Perkins loans for low-income college students and the Even Start literacy program for poor families. “

Bush’s budget cuts would fall near Main Street (The Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2006)

NEW YORK – Chief Joseph Estey in Hartford, Vt., won’t be replacing the 15-year-old guns worn by his officers or buying new digital cameras for his police cruisers.

In New York, the Head Start program on the Upper West Side may have to start laying off staff members and eliminate the program for children with special needs.

In Seattle, the fire department, already constrained by a tight city budget, won’t be getting federal funding to put more firefighters on each truck as it had hoped.

More than at any time in the four years of the Bush administration, Main Street will be feeling the impact of the federal budget if the president’s spending plan is adopted.”

No, I am not an isolationist, but there is much to be said for the argument that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be in a position to take care of anyone else. And yes, our relationships abroad are very important. Mr. Rifftides speaks out for Voice of America (here) and we must consider doing likewise. We also must speak out, vote with our wallets, and vote at the polls. And perhaps most important, we must speak to each other. Common wisdom often suggest that we refrain from discussing religion and politics, but perhaps now, more than ever, we should stick our necks out and engage in discourse. You never know, you might sway an opinion here or there, or at least encourage people to think for themselves rather than simply accept the “spin” presented as facts.


Compatible Quotes
Wednesday February 15th 2006, 7:18 am
Filed under: Quotables

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“It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars” — Garrison Keillor

“A man who looks for security, even in his mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.” — Henry Miller

“Live to the point of tears.” — Albert Camus


Thoughts TK
Thursday February 09th 2006, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Jazz Ears,This 'n' That

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Maria Schneider Orchestra played a wonderful concert at Disney Hall last night, about which I plan to tell you in detail, but not tonight. I will tell you now that Esa-Pekka Salonen was in the audience, as was Dianne Reeves (straight from her Grammy win — congrats to you Dianne), Don Grusin, Peter Sellers and lots of other wonderfully creative folks. The orchestra was well-received, two standing O’s and an encore. Anyway, more later. My mother is in town visiting for a long weekend, so bloging may be light for the next day or three.

If you don’t know what TK means, read this and this.