Out Here



I’m tired, but feel good. I’m out here with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, about half way into a three week tour. Rolled out of bed at 5:30 AM to make our 6:00 departure from the hotel in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. This is not a particularly exotic trip - Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan. The heartland. It doesn’t matter where we are, people come out to be what of what we’re doing out here, and we play with the same enthusiasm whether we’re in a large, richly-cultured metropolis, or a small farming town, where the local museum features the sculptures of John Deere.

I am sitting in the front lounge of our tour bus. Joe Temperly is to my right, doing the NY Times crossword puzzle, and Wynton is across from me working on his iPad. Funny, because we have always teased Wynton about his lack of hi-tech acumen - I don’t think he even knows how to turn on a computer. We’ve just finished a passionate discussion about the music business - the business of music. Wynton’s energy and vision is very inspiring. 

People have slowly retreated into their own spaces - most have crawled into their bunk beds in the middle section of the bus. Its quiet, save for the muffled sounds of the radio coming from the driver’s section, and the hum of the the tires on the road.

I’m tired, but feel good. I am lucky that I have understood from very early on what I want to do. I look out the window of the bus and see farms, trees, stretches of land. It’s flat - your eyes can converge on a distance quite far away. Better than looking out an office window to a building exterior a few feet away. I think changing scenery and experiences, playing new music and meeting new people, keeps you young, despite how tough it can be it times. I think doing the same thing over and over every day is what makes you old. I look at Joe Temperly - 82 years old as of last week - and it reminds me of this fact every day.

I’m tired, but I feel good. I am fortunate to be playing with musicians with such a strongly creative dedication to this wonderful music.
It took me almost a week to listen to the takes that were the result of a two-day recording session out at Maggie’s Farm last week. I wanted to give it a little space. Plus, I was a bit too busy to get the chance to really sit and listen.

I finally got that chance a couple nights ago. I experienced a reaction different from those I have had on previous first-listens. With this recording (creatively played by Ron Horton on trumpet, Paul Sikivie on bass and Ulysses Owens on drums) I have found something of myself that seems new to me. This is not about complex orchestrations and arrangements (like Rhyme and Reason, which features a string quartet), or an eclectic combination of instruments (as is the case with my Odeon recordings), or a tribute (like The Mancini Project). This is just me, hanging out there, exposed. True, this is the first time I have recorded an entire album on just the alto, an instrument I convinced myself some years ago I didn’t like playing (which lead to my departure from the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in the early 90s). Back then I felt trapped by the alto, unable to find that creative middle ground I could find more easily on the tenor. I do love the darkness, the air, the range of the bigger sax. It seems like there is more flexibility, more leeway in terms of phrasing and sound. So why is it I keep getting called to play alto? Why do people keep identifying me with an instrument I keep resisting? Maybe because I sound more like myself on it. Running from the alto was, perhaps, in some ways like running from myself.

It’s no wonder that for a few days after the recording sessions I felt waves of something similar to being on the edge of a cliff. Like a combination of insecurity and adventure. This just may be the most intimate and personal recording I have ever made. I am not hiding behind anything. None of us are. There is, in fact, nowhere TO hide: The band is very open and exposed, (having no piano or guitar filling up some of the spaces that usually get filled up).

Most of the tracks are originals I have written in the past few months, as well as one Sherman Irby composition called Twilight Sounds, and Kaleidoscope by Ornette Coleman. Some of the music I wrote for the film Chaography - Variations on the Theme of Freedom by Douglas Chang, and some I wrote for a recent gig at Kitano with this quartet.

Release date tentatively planned for late March or early April. I’ll let you know...