The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra arrived in San Francisco ready to play. And not just music. Anticipating our arrival, and perhaps aware of the bands competitive spirit, a softball game was arranged between the band and the staff at SF Jazz.
We don't take these challenges lightly. Unfortunately, our schedule didn't allow us to practice, even swing a bat before hitting the field, and we heard the SF Jazz staff had a regular softball team. Seemed like the odds were stacked against us. But that didn't stop Carlos, Ali, Wynton, Victor, Jay, Chris, Marcus, myself and a couple of our friends from embracing the challenge.
The call time for the pick up was 10 AM but the van didn't get there until 10:45. There was a danger that we would start losing troops, as people ran off to get coffee and danishes. Making a large group of people wait always creates the risk of abandonment, but we were a loyal, dedicated bunch and when the van finally arrived we piled in.
Getting there also was challenge. Despite three people in our vehicle using GPS phone apps we got totally lost. Drivers were constantly in touch with each other about where to go. At one point we circumnavigated an entire park before discovering we were in the wrong one.
We finally found the park, parked the van and walked a quarter mile past little-leaguers, kiddie soccer games and picnics to arrive at the field we had reserved from 11-1.
Most of SF Jazz were there and were busy throwing softballs back and forth, doing light batting practice. We were clearly underprepared in many ways.
Since we were the visiting team we took the first at-bat. Jay led off with a base hit. Wynton was next and smashed a ball deep into left-center. The ball slid between a couple players and Wynton was able to make all the way home, bringing in two runs. I was next with a base hit getting me to first. This luck continued and at the end of the first inning we were up 6-2. But this is a critical moment. I read somewhere that when you are ahead something happens psychologically and you let up. This is particularly true for tennis players. I mentioned this to Wynton and he said "Oh, no. I always push as hard as I can, There is no letting up." At one point, as we watched a couple of our teammates score, widening the gap, Marcus turned to me and said "I feel bad."
The great jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson showed up and took a seat in the bleachers, cheering everyone on. Despite some health challenges he came all this way to be part of this fun, and we were all excited and moved to see him. At one point he looked at Ali, who was enjoying a beer and he yelled out "Is that one of those five-hour energy drinks?"
By mid-game we were well ahead, but things started to happen. Carlos, who had up to then been fielding marvelously all the line-drives, throwing them out successfully with Jay doing a great job at first base. But a ball took a tricky hop and Carlos, trying too hard to get to it, ended up with a banged up knee. Next, Ali lost sight of a pop fly that found it's way in front of the sun, and he ended up in the dirt. Jay, feeling particularly democratic, allowed someone with less ability take over at first and as a result of these incidents our lead was slowly slipping away.
During the 5th and 6th innings we had given back most of our lead. It was now important to hold on in this 7th and final inning. I was the pitcher and my arm was holding up, but the opposing team had a string of sluggers in the line-up and I had to be careful not to give them too many opportunities. I tried to keep my pitches a little high and inside, hoping to encourage pop-ups. The strategy worked a bit and although there were a couple solid base hits no runs scored. We were able to get three outs fairly quickly and won the game 11-9.
I am continuing from my previous blog where I had mentioned a pianist/composer/arranger/producer by the name of Charles Mims, Jr., who had called me to audition for the Quincy Jones Band. (See post below.)
About a year and half later I got my second call from Charles Mims, Jr. Now, at eighteen, I am a veteran. Well, at least compared to the naive kid who got fired from the Q tour for being underage. Charles was producing Patrice Rushen’s record “Patrice,” which was to be her breakout recording into the R&B scene, and Charles also happened to be Patrice’s boyfriend. They wanted me to come in and overdub an alto solo on the track “When I Found You,” a pop ballad.
I showed up at the studio with my ax and met the very sweet and beautiful Patrice, whose smile lit up the room. After a few nostalgic words about the Q tour I didn’t do, Charles handed me the chart, which was eight bars of chord changes over the A section. I had very little experience fitting into a pop vibe, being a hard-bopper at heart, but loved Dave Sanborn and Hank Crawford. So when I recorded my first pass I was trying diligently to sound like them.
“Hey, man,” Charles interjected from the control room through my cans, “Sounds like you’re trying too hard to sound like someone else. Just be you, man. That’s why we called you.” Take 2: I did my thing. Maybe too much of my thing. But it was closer. “Yeah, man. Sounds good. Let’s do another.” Take 3 felt pretty melodic and smooth, and I managed to sneak in a couple bebop licks.
I went into the control room. Patrice swiveled around in her chair and asked me which one I liked best and I said definitely the third. She agreed. That was that. Thirty minutes in the studio and I was back into my car.
When “Patrice” was released I ran down to Tower Records and bought a copy. Once outside the store I excitedly ripped off the cellophane and looked for how my name appeared on the jacket. Like most pop records each track had it’s individual list of credits. I skimmed the list of musicians and didn’t see my name. I scanned the whole record and couldn’t find it anywhere. Background vocalists, finger-snappers, hand-clappers, they were all on there. Could it possibly be the worst of all scenarios: they didn’t use my solo? Very likely.
When I got to my Lower East SIde railroad apartment I marched straight to the turntable and slapped the record on and dropped the needle down on “When I Found You.” I listened while the flugelhorns set up the vibe. (We used to call them the “Malibu” trumpets for the imagery they created of couples walking romantically on the beach.) Patrice’s voice came in and was sweet as her smile. I waited patiently as they continued through the bridge and back to the last A section. I remembered that when I recorded the solo it had started during the very last bar of the song. It was almost there. I waited, now leaning forward a little. The sax came in, and there it was, my Take 3, the keeper, the one that was most like me. Although, according to the record it was most like Kim Hutchcroft who was credited as the alto player because of his background horn work on the track. Not sure if he was happy about this error or not. Or even noticed or cared.
But I felt dejected. One of my first recordings and not even a mention. I remember writing Patrice, pointing out that I hadn’t been credited and she apologized and said they would correct it on the next printing, but it never happened.
Fast forward more than thirty years. I am backstage at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in a Brooks Brothers suit, between sound check and concert with Wynton and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Cats are finishing up dinner, trying reeds, playing chess, warming up, etc. Victor Goines found a quiet moment at a spare piano, noodling around. All of sudden he plays something very familiar to me. I listen for a minute and recognize Patrice’s “When I Found You.” Wow, I had almost forgotten about that song.
I walked up behind Victor and I said “Patrice Rushen, right?” Victor replied without looking up, “Yeah, I used to love that song. I remember when it came out, I was a teenager.” I said “Yeah, I know. I’m on it.”
Victor kept voicing out the chords and melody. “What do you mean you’re on it. You’re on this recording?” I told him I had played the alto solo on that track. Then Victor did something that caused my jaw to hit my chest: he started singing my solo! He knew it almost as well as he knew the song. Here was eight short bars I practically forgot about, and realized it had touched someone more than three decades before. Perhaps other people felt the same way. Maybe teenagers were trying to lose their virginity with this in the background. Adult folk were having pool parties with it blaring out, loud enough for neighbors to poke their envious heads over the fence. People patted inspired rhythms with their hands on the steering wheel on the way to work. Couples were walking down the street in the late 1970s hand-in-hand, whistling my solo in unison, falling in love.
Ok, maybe I’m making too much out of this.
Anyway, Charles Mims, Jr. created a couple very unique experiences in my life, and I want to thank him, wherever he is.
Here is a link to the recording:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZl2lq0nSO0
When I was sixteen I received a call from a pianist I didn’t know named Charles Mims, Jr. I am not sure how he had heard of me, but he did, and he let me know about an audition for a five-week U.S. tour with the Quincy Jones band, which included backing up the soul group The Brothers Johnson.
I had just gotten my drivers license so was able to make the hour-plus ride in my Toyota Corolla from the Valley out to someone’s basement in Watts. I think it was my second time driving on the freeway.
I parked the car a few doors down from the house and walked the short distance on a sidewalk where weeds aggressively grew through cracks in the cement. I am sure I was a standout in the neighborhood, a “Valley Dude” with shoulder length blond hair. The only thing I could have done to stick out any more was carry a surf board.
The audition was pretty much just reading through charts, some switching around on parts, and occasionally sitting out while others were being listened to.
The next day I got the call: “You got the gig, man. Lead alto.” My heart raced. I was going to tour with Q! My parents were thrilled, but I think also a little concerned. To be honest I don’t think Quincy’s people knew how young I was. But why should that matter? I played the music. Took care of business.
The rehearsals took place at A&M studios in Hollywood and were led by the great saxophonist Jerome Richardson. Jerome and my father worked together in the studios and when they ran into each other during one of these days my Dad asked Jerome how I was doing. “He asks too many questions.” It was true. I would ask how much vibrato to use, or when to cut the note off. Later, when I saw Dad, he told me I am wasting everyone’s time. “Just make decisions and play. If they don’t like what you’re doing they’ll tell you.” So for the rest of the two weeks I played and tried to keep my mouth shut.
The band was made up of musicians that for the most part had ten years on me. I felt very green. I’m sure they laughed at me behind my back. But hell, I got the gig, right? I’m touring with Quincy Jones.
The end of the two weeks arrived. We learned the music, got to know each other well - became brothers in this project. I hung out with Q and his wife Peggy Lipton, who was currently starring in the TV show “The Mod Squad.” I spent a few minutes trying to convince the Johnson Brothers’ drummer what a rich and beautiful sound the clarinet had. He wasn’t hearing it.
On a break during one of the last rehearsals Q’s peeps came around with forms on clipboards, requesting our vitals: social security number, date of birth, etc. I filled them out and handed them back. We continued rehearsing. At the end of the session one of the attorneys called me into an office down some long hallway with gold records adorning carpeted walls. “Sit down.” I did.
“According to this you are sixteen.” “That’s right,” I responded, foolishly proud.
“You’re under age. We’re a corporation. The only way we can employ you is if we also hire a tutor/guardian. The fee for that person will be twice what we’re paying you.”
The attorney presented this fact to Quincy. The tour was to begin in a handful of days. They told Quincy it didn’t make any sense to keep me. Quincy came up with a solution: he would adopt me! It would be temporary of course, but make it legally okay for me to come out and not have to lose money.
The attorneys convinced Quincy that it was too much trouble, too much paperwork. It would be easier to just replace me. Which they did. They sat me down and told me the bad news. I was off the tour. Sahib Shihab would come on on baritone and the baritone player, Tom Kubis, would move over to lead alto.
I packed my horns up and threw them into the trunk of my Corolla and headed back to the Valley. When I walked into the house I remembered Mom and Dad were gone for the weekend. Dad was playing the Concord Jazz Festival with Louie Bellson.
I sat around, very let down. When Dad called I told him them news, and they were as disappointed as I was (although I think my mother was secretly a little relieved).
The good thing that came out of this is that Dad relayed the story to Louie Bellson and a few months later I got a call from Nick DiMaio, Louie’s contractor, asking me to play a week at Disneyland with Louie’s big band. This gig led to several years’ concerts, tours and recordings with Louie which featured musicians like Blue Mitchell, Snooky Young, Pete Christlieb, Britt Woodman, Benny Powell, Don Menza and Cat Anderson.
Although, I could have been Q’s son...
(Part II to follow)
At precisely 8:12 PM on Sunday night I finished a two-month writing project, a commission for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Each of the eight movements of “The Presidential Suite” is inspired by a great political speech.
As with every long trip the journey is the richest part: all the investigating, experimenting, starting over, and ultimately making choices and executing them. When you compare these weeks of travel with the actual destination - an hour performance, twice - it seems a slight bit anticlimactic. But it won’t be, of that I am sure. I am very excited to have this music performed by Wynton and the gang next week (Jan 17 and 18). It’s always a privilege to have your music interpreted by a group great of players and composers, who bring their insight to the realization of the music.
Great political speeches combine three elements: a prominent orator, a significant statement and considerable eloquence. Some of the criteria I used in considering speeches are rhetorical brilliance, originality, historical importance, lasting influence, delivery and inspirational quality. But the ones that made my “A list” also move me emotionally.
A sub-theme, a thread common to all of these, is the idea of freedom. For most movements I have used the intonation - the ups and downs and cadences of the voice - to form the thematic material. The one exception is Aung San Suu Kyi whose speech was actually an essay and was not spoken publicly.
I’ve allowed the spirit of their messages to shape the intensity of the
arrangements. The era and location also had an impact on the creative choices I made.
I invited a special guest - actor Wendell Pierce - to read excerpts of the speeches before we play each of the movements. He is a good friend of ours over at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and one of Geoffrey Ward’s favorite orators. Speaking with Mr. Pierce today I was especially happy to learn he was already familiar with many of the speeches and excited to read them as part of this performance.
“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You” -- John F. Kennedy
“Tryst With Destiny” -- Jawaharlal Nehru
“We Shall Fight On The Beaches” -- Winston Churchill
“The Four Freedoms” -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Freedom From Fear” -- Aung San Suu Kyi
“Tear Down This Wall” -- Ronald Reagan
“The American Promise” -- Lyndon B. Johnson
“The Time For The Healing Of The Wounds Has Come” -- Nelson Mandela
Sharing the bill with me on this premier is my section-mate Victor Goines, whose own commissioned work, Crescent City, will feature his New Orleans “brother” Branford Marsalis. I am anticipating some beautiful music from the saxophone of Mr. Marsalis, and the pen of Mr. Goines who has contributed much to band’s repertoire over the years.
I will do a pre-concert lecture on Jan 17th and Victor will do one on the 18th, both at 7:00.
I hope you can join us!
Recently I played and wrote arrangements for a project, a collaboration between Wynton Marsalis and Stephen Sondheim’s body of great work. A strange pairing, you might think. And I went into it sort of feeling the same way. Odd as the concept may seem, the end result was a very successful and enjoyable experience, for the band as well as the audience.
When I first heard about the concert series, one of the “Encores!” presentations held at the City Center in New York, it was on our schedule for the year, and I didn’t understand that it would be a SHOW show. You know, a musical. Although I have played many musicals over the years, I have never been, for some reason, a big fan of this form of entertainment. I think it started when I couldn’t understand how, in the middle of a conversation, an actor would suddenly be singing. Never felt real to me. I wanted reality. Musicals aren’t reality. Or maybe they’re more real than anything else. I don’t know.
I do know that this gig at the City Center last month was very real. That reality started with the fact that Kay Niewood, our music coordinator, let me know I was to arrange four songs for the series, but because the director and conductor and actors were all still figuring out keys, lengths and formats I would have to wait. And wait. Now, on top of this I am behind, of course, in writing a commission by Jazz at Lincoln Center, which premiers in January (Presidential Suite), and has been a thorn in my side because I had planned to be much further along than I was. I am a procrastinator by nature. Now I am paying for this, as I am handed these extra assignments, taking up much of my free time filling in the spaces during the three-week tour Wynton’s Abyssinian Mass.
Okay, I got the first two songs: “Send in the Clowns” (One of Sondheim’s best known pieces) and “Who’s That Woman?” Good. Now I could start. For these, as they were instrumentals (no singing) I had a bit of leeway to do what I wanted. The first thing I did, and I didn’t set out to do it, it just sort of happened, is that I re-harmonized “Clowns” - made a kind of new little piece out of it. Something we jazz musicians tend to do.
Just after turning in the chart to Kay Niewood I happened to chat with the great arranger Rob Mounsey, and he pointed out that the key to the phrase re-harm is the word “harm.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear at that point. I started to wonder if I had done something unacceptable, perhaps sacrilegious, maybe even illegal, by rewriting this classic piece.
Well, I reassured myself that, hell, we’re a jazz band, jazz musicians, and this is what we do. They must be expecting this kind of thing after all. Then I found out that Stephen Sondheim would be there. Great. I took one of his most famous songs and put my own chords to it. Yeah, he’ll love that. Not.
Well, when we got to the sitzprobe - first rehearsal with the full cast and crew in attendance (just wanted to use that term to let you know how musical-savvy I am) which included the singers Cyrille Aimée, Jeremy Jordan, Norm Lewis and Bernadette Peters, I kept looking around for Mr. Sondheim, but realized I had no idea what he looked. Well, I figured someone at some point would introduce him to the band, but this never happened.
When we got through the rehearsals, still worried if I would offend the composer, I asked someone if Mr. Sondheim would be attending any of the production, and I was told he had been at one of our rehearsals! Man, I wish I knew so I could see his reaction, discern if he liked what he heard or just plain wanted to kill me.
I think the conductor, David Loud (great name, by the way, suggesting perhaps a lack of variety in dynamics, but this wasn’t the case), was nervous from the beginning that we could pull this off, given both the time constraints and the fact that he probably didn’t have any faith that a group of jazz musicians would arrange a bunch of Broadway-style songs successfully and that we would play the music well with such limited rehearsal time. On top of this Wynton made the executive decision to cancel our last rehearsal, to give the brass players a break from the taxing and demanding charts. Plus, I think there was an important football game to watch.
So, we got to the dress rehearsal and it seemed to go pretty well, with a few mistakes here and there, but surprisingly polished. Even Mr. Loud was feeling confident that it would all come together.
At one point back stage I asked if Mr. Sondheim was going to attend and one of the stage hands said “He just walked by, didn’t you see him?” I don’t even know how he looks. I heard he was around 80, and for some reason imagined a rather frail but tall, white haired, somewhat nerdy man with glasses. I kept my eyes open, but never saw this man.
We got through the concerts and I have to say the band really pulled it together. The 28 arrangements worked and the singers and dancers were great. Bernadette, at 65, was lookin’ better than a body has a right to (to borrow from Dolly Parton) and every time she sang everyone around her got full with emotion. Cyrille Aimée was the only real jazz singer of the bunch, and we delighted in her scat singing, a discipline I wish most singers would just leave alone. But with Ms. Aimée’s natural feel for and understanding of the jazz language, we couldn’t get enough.
Where the hell is Mr. Sondheim? I still haven’t seen him. Would someone please introduce him to us? Or just point him out so I can see if he has a loaded shotgun pointed at me!
At one point our conductor, Mr. Loud, said he would bring him over to the band to say hello. Never happened. Now I felt like I was on death row, not sure when my time would come. Let’s just get it over with. Yes, Mr. Sondheim, I messed up your tune, I am sorry to destroy such a beautiful and revered song. I had good intentions, and at least it was a band number and not a vocal.
“Hey, everyone. Don’t forget to come to the after party tonight,” we were reminded before our final performance. Now I would certainly run into Mr. Sondheim. Well, gotta face the music, so to speak.
The party was great. Drummer Matt Wilson. who brought his teenaged daughter Audrey (a BIG Sondheim fan) to the last performance, came to the after party. At one point Audrey came running up to us as we sipped reception wine. “I just met Mr. Sondheim, I can’t believe it. He is amazing. I shook his hand. He didn’t say much but I met him.” Ok, where is he? I looked around. No tall, frail nerdy guy with glasses. I had to know. I asked Audrey “Which one is he.” “That’s him over there,” pointing to a small round table at which two men we standing. One was in his 30s so it had to be the other guy. “You sure that’s him,” asked, looking at a rather short, tough hipster, no glasses and smartly dressed. “Yep. Isn’t he amazing...”
All right, gotta do this. I walked over to the table.
“Are you Stephen Sondheim” I asked the hipster. He looked at me, paused and then asked back, “Are you.”
“No, I’m (clearing throat) Ted Nash.”
“Yes, you are.” He said this like a teacher who was about ready to hand out detention, or a parent prepared to ground you for a year.
“Listen, I suppose I owe you an explanation,” I said quickly, hoping to cut him off at the pass.
“Actually,” he said, “I believe I owe you some money.”
“For the extra chords you put on Send in the Clown.”
“Yeah, I am sorry about that, I...”
“No, I liked them. It actually sounded like something I might have written - an extension of what I was thinking when I wrote it.”
“Yes. In fact I would love to use them sometime. If you don’t mind.”
Mind? I was just relieved that he didn’t hand me a summons to go to music court. He ended up asking me for a recording of my music, and then turned to his 30-something friend. “Would you please send Ted my address?” He did. And I sent him three of my CDs, Portrait in Seven Shades, Chakra and the Mancini Project.
A couple weeks later I got a nice note from Mr. Sondheim thanking me for the CDs. Now I gotta brag to Audrey Wilson that not only did I shake his hand but I got a note from the wonderful Mr. Sondheim. And I’m still alive.
A couple years ago a restaurant called Saggio opened in my neighborhood. It has become a favorite local place for many, a place "where everyone knows your name." Well, that isn't totally true, and this truth turned into an interesting situation.
When I walked into Saggio two nights ago to catch the end of happy hour (they have the greatest two-dollar crostini) I was greeted by the sounds of Bird playing over their Pandora station. Christiana, a bartender with warm eyes and long straight hair, came to take my drink order. "It's great to walk in and hear Charlie Parker," I told her, not sure she even knew who that was. "Oh, I love this station. I love jazz, and when things get a little busy in here it is the perfect balance with the intensity of people's voices."
My friend Ivette, also a fan of Saggio, joined me for a drink and some appetizers. Not long after she sat down she said “Listen to who’s playing.” I recognized the saxophonist playing the Mancini song Lujon. It wasn't hard to identify him - it was me! When Christina returned to bring our wine, I pointed this out to her.
"Hey, that's me!"
“What? Wait, what do you mean ‘that's you’?"
"That's me playing. The sax. It's my recording."
"Wait, what's your name?"
"YOU'RE Ted Nash?" She looked like she had seen an apparition.
"Oh, my God, this is my favorite station, the Ted Nash station. I play it all the time."
Then she had the owner come over. "This is Ted Nash."
“What? You're Ted Nash?"
“We play this station all the time. I can’t believe this - I've seen you in here a lot, but never realized YOU were Ted Nash."
To be honest with myself, I knew that they had never heard of me outside this Pandora station channel. I had become over the months this mystical figure. They had no idea who this Ted Nash was, where he played, in what country he lived. They didn’t realize I was coming into their place about once a a week for the past two years.
If you don't know how Pandora works, it is an app for free "radio" that you can personalize. Type in any artist's name and it will create a channel that plays that artist's music plus music that falls into a similar category.
Now, the reason Saggio has a Ted Nash channel can be explained: Not long after the restaurant opened I was talking Lindsey, a cute, gregarious bartender. I noticed they were playing jazz and I asked where they were getting the music.
"Pandora," she replied.
"Oh, type in this name." I gave her mine. She did, and immediately a track from one of my CDs started playing. "That's me," I said with, perhaps, a slightly manufactured sense of ingenuousness.
“What do you mean? Playing?"
"Very cool. I love jazz. I am a singer, in fact. I'm always trying to get my boyfriend to go out and hear jazz with me." (She got that fact into the conversation quick enough.)
While I dined she kept the channel on (which covered a lot of ground in "my category," by the way). When I left, I mentioned an upcoming concert I was doing with the JALC, a program of all Duke. "I LOVE Duke Ellington." Turns out she dragged her boyfriend to the concert at Rose Hall. Next time I saw her at Saggio she very enthusiastically described the concert, what a great time she had. Even her boyfriend liked it.
So, it turns out she left the station on and it had become part of Saggio's regular music programming. And I become a famous, mystical figure.
We are just crossing over into the third week of a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra tour. In many ways this is very much like any other tour. We performed at UNC Chapel Hill and the Kennedy Center for something like the 8th time in as many years. Boss Murphy delivers our daily itineraries, we go from city to city, bringing music to the people. Cats are working on the bus on various projects, including a couple of us who are under the wire to get arrangements finished for our Sondheim concert series next month.
The difference with this tour is that we are traveling and performing with a 70-piece choir. This is the greatest departure from anything we have done, and certainly a logistical nightmare, with four buses and an equipment truck. Including staff we are over 90 individuals to get from hotel to sound check, back to hotel, back to gig. I gotta give it the staff for dealing with this so well.
When we showed up for our rehearsal, it hit me for the first time what was really happening. I saw on our schedule “Abyssinian Mass Tour” but didn’t comprehend just what an undertaking this was to put together. Damien Sneed, our stylish and exuberant choral director, has been rehearsing the choir for several months, getting them in shape for this very involved piece of music by Wynton. The Rose Hall rehearsal studio was packed with beautiful people of all shapes, ages and shades ready to give their soul to something. Something I am sure they didn’t quite know what it was going to be. I don’t think they anticipated fully the experience of playing with fifteen jazz musicians so committed to spirituality in our own way. I know I wasn’t ready for the intensity, both spiritually and aurally, from this large group.
There was a moment during a recent concert when Patrice, one of our soprano soloists, sang a short phrase with such clarity, control and expression that my eyes turned to water. I looked over at Walter, and his eyes were similarly wet. I couldn’t look at him any more. I focussed on the music in front of me, a quick choice to internalizing the experience - a safety measure, really. But as the music intensified, so did my willingness to be part of it; to experience it at the deeper level it was meant to be.
The venue was the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston. I guess you could call it a mega-church. Nicole, one of our alto soloists who clearly has roots in the church, went off script at the end of her solo, and for the first time we were really in a place of worship. People were cosigning, jumping to their feet. Nicole, feeling the energy, raised her pitch. I thought for a moment she had become possessed. It felt like the roof was going to come off. I was expecting a miracle to happen right in front of us. Well, in a way every opportunity to play beautiful music is a tiny miracle, and I am blessed to be able to do this night after night.
For the first couple concerts on this tour the Jazz Orchestra and the choir were in separate hotels, which didn’t allow us to socialize much. Besides light chatter back stage before going on, we hadn’t had a chance to really get to know the 70 men and woman with whom we were sharing this experience.
The first hotel we co-habited was in Norfolk, VA. After the concert, close to half of the band and choir ended up in the lobby bar, having a drink and hanging out. It was the first time people really let their hair down. As the tour has progressed I have developed a few great friendships, connections I hope to continue past this tour.
One high point so far was being in New Orleans. Of course, some of the band members grew up here and have deep connection to the Crescent City. Wes Anderson, who used to play lead alto with the band for many years, lives in nearby Baton Rouge. As it happened he had a gig at the French Quarter haunt, Snug Harbor. We had a concert at the beautifully renovated (post Katrina damage) Saenger Hall, which reminded me in some ways of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Word of Wes’s gig had spread like a brush fire through the ranks of the choir and as soon as our last note finished resonating through the hall about twenty-five of us (a mix of jazz band, choir and staff) jumped in taxis and headed over to hear “Warm Daddy” swing.
It had been quite a while since I heard Wes play. He recently had a massive stroke (his second) and I had heard talk that his motor skills had been severely compromised. Well, I have to say that despite not having one-hundred percent of the fluent technique that he had, he absolutely did not lose an ounce of his soul, swing, clarity of ideas, and just plain Wes. It was amazing to look around the club and see several of the choral singers, many of whom are trained in opera, and very little involvement with jazz, to be in there swinging with Wes and the rest of us. It was an wonderful bonding experience.
We just got off an 11-hour drive from Dallas to St. Louis. Fortunately we have the night off - an opportunity to recharge our batteries.
Tomorrow morning I am going to a grade-school to talk about music and jazz to 160 kids. And I am looking forward to it!
I have just returned to New York from a great week in Brazil. It’s “winter” down there, which means mid-70s. Rough. People were even wearing long-sleeved shirts. When I stepped off the plane a couple days ago at JFK it was actually cooler here (in the height of summer).
It was such a privilege to return to being a guest soloist and composer with the Jazz Sinfonica in Sao Paulo, an orchestra committed solely to playing jazz music. They have managed to keep this orchestra alive for many years with the help of government funding and the dedication of it’s Maestro, Joao Mauricio Galindo.
For these concerts I collaborated with Ben Allison (bass) and Steve Cardenas (guitar), a trio I have been working with lately playing the music of Jim Hall. The program included four movements from “Portrait in Seven Shades,” originally written for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and three pieces by Ben Allison. The orchestrations were tackled by a team of talented in-house orchestrators we have worked with in the past: Rodrigo Morte, Tiago Costa and Douglas Fonseca.
Big projects like this tend to start off a little shaky and this event was no exception. While the orchestra sounded wonderful, there was a lot of music to learn in a short amount of time (three rehearsals). We had a couple odd time signatures to deal with (13/8 in the case of my “Dali” and 5/4 with Ben’s Dr. Zaius) and this took some time feel natural.
The first concert Friday night had a few interesting moments but for the most part came together well and was nice to finally perform the music was had been working hard to pull together. Saturday’s concert was fantastic - almost sold out auditorium, great energy and a very connected musical experience.
There is a discussion in the works about returning to play the entire seven-movement suite, complete with projected images of the represented artists - Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall and Pollock.
Sunday was spent relaxing at the home of our friend, saxophonist Denis Lee and his family. They prepared a great lunch for us, and Denis and I along with his friend Ricardo, got to jam for a few minutes, which we, unfortunately, had to cut it short to get to the airport for our overnight flight back to NY.
I want to thank Maris Pupo for arranging the week; Maestro Galindo for being so cool and flexible, and really learning our music; the wonderful orchestra for embracing this tough music with passion and great spirit; and Ben and Steve for offering their complex musical understanding at all times (and for the great hang).
Here is a link to a short clip taken by someone in the audience (with a lack of formatting experience...) - the last few seconds of “Chagall.” I am hoping to receive some good quality video at some point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEjuQvRqgJM
Thanks for reading!
Just wanted to give you an update on the Hippie-Mobile. The other day I parked the 1971 VW Camper on the street near my apartment in Washington Heights (or Hudson Heights, as optimistic real estate salespeople like to refer to this specific area). When I came out on a Tuesday morning to move the car for the street cleaners, the van was nowhere to be seen. Gone! I stood there like an idiot trying to think if I was totally mistaken. No, that’s exactly where I parked it. No question. Stolen? Towed? I called the DOT and they had no record of towing it. I went back and looked around like as if I just somehow had missed it, or it had been returned. Wrong.
I called the police and told them where I had been parked, and they said “Oh, we had to move it because of some last minute construction.” Nice. “Your vehicle is now at 4425 Broadway.” “Where the hell is that?” I snapped. “I dunno, around 190th street, I think in front of the funeral home.” An omen?
So I walked ten or so blocks from my apartment and found the Hippie-Mobile sitting innocently in front of the funeral home, looking terribly out of place. I inspected the van for damage, and other than a ding in the back bumper (from where they probably attached the hitch) it was fine. I jumped in and it started right up.
The traffic on Broadway was jammed, so I made a right onto 187th street. I got about a block down and there was an SUV trying to pass coming from the other direction, but the street was a bit narrow and he had stopped. I pulled over to the right giving him plenty of space to get by. He didn’t move, just stood there. I rolled down my window and gave him a nod like “you got it.” He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, like “what?” I then said out loud “I’m giving you room to get by.” He then yelled “F%^& YOU YOU STUPID MOTHER-F^&*%$#.” I just shook my head and laughed, squeezing by. He was still yelling, his voice trailing off as I moved down Bennett Ave. You gotta love New Yorkers!
My mechanic, Michael Shiffer at EuroMeccanica in Mt. Vernon, happens to be an expert on hippie-mobiles, as he has one of his very own. He built me a new engine from scratch after I blew out the last one out during an attempt to drive my daughter Lisa cross-country (see blog
). Mr. Shiffer warned as I picked up the van “Don’t drive it over 60 mph. It wasn't designed to go fast.” An understatement. But I have to say the new engine purrs. I happily drive it at 60 mph, letting the impatient whiz by. The looks I get from passing drivers alternate between “Dig your car, man” and “Why you diving so slow?” But there’s something about taking it easy, not rushing. The fact is I eventually get there, and there’s no risk of getting a speeding ticket.