This weekend I will be performing with one of the most iconic musicians of all time. Wayne Shorter has contributed more to shaping the direction of jazz music with his composing and playing than just about anyone in the history of jazz.
Wayne Shorter is the guest with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra this weekend, performing new arrangements by the members of the orchestra of compositions by Mr. Shorter spanning 50 years. At 81 years old he looks and sounds easily 15 years younger. He certainly hasn’t lost that distinctive, soulful sound that has graced some of the most revered recordings of all time.
It has been more than inspiring hearing Mr. Shorter in person after only hearing his recordings all theses years: it has been an education. Hearing him in close proximity I am learning so much about music and being a musician during these rehearsals.
I did an arrangement of Diana (pronounced “Gee-onna” Wayne corrected) from the 1974 release Native Dancer. It was a difficult piece to reimagine for a big band: finding a balance between the transparent sound and subtle implications of the original recording and the density (and sometimes lesser flexibility) of the big band was a challenge. But, as with all new arrangements, we are finding a way to let the music take shape during the rehearsal process. Mr. Shorter himself has been more than flexible. His ability to be truly in the moment is having a great affect on all of us.
Last night was the final concert of a month-long tour that took me through seven countries, four climates and a three ounce deodorant stick.
Entering our third week tour meant saying good-bye to the lovely country of Panama and hello to shorter visits to two other wonderful places: Peru and Chile.
First I want to say one thing about Peru: Mangoes. Well, okay two things: pisco sours. A couple of these local beverages had me quite animated at our promoter-hosted dinner the night we arrived in Lima. The restaurant was set at the base of the remains a 2,000 year old pyramid, and the view was stunning (which had nothing to do with the effect of the indigenous drink).
The highlight in Peru was the education we did and the enthusiasm of the students, one who followed us around, riding on the bus, asking questions, pulling out his horn while we we set up for an afternoon concert for young people.
In Santiago, Chile, I did a masterclass at a local music school, and the instruments arrived just moments before. I walked several blocks in 90-something degree weather to the concert hall to grab my alto, and then several blocks in the opposite direction to get to the school. Sweaty and late, I walked into a small, stuffy room packed with about forty or so students of various ages, wide-eyed and expectant. With no time to check if my reed was working I pulled out my horn and played “Take the A Train” with a group of teachers. The reed was gone, and I could barely get a sound. I spoke for a few minutes about improvisation while I soaked a new reed in a glass or water. With this fresh cane I continued the workshop, jamming on a few tunes with the students.
It was painful we were in Buenos Aires for only 16 hours. This is such a great place and deserves a few days to explore. I remember dancing my first tango here years ago in a late night tango club, an experience directly responsible for the formation of my group Odeon, which fuses aspects of tango, Klezmer and second line grooves with modern jazz.
The last week of this tour took place in Brazil. Coming to São Paulo is always as much a reunion as it is a gig. Over the years I have met so many soulful musicians and people here and coming back is an opportunity to reconnect.
Some of my favorite experiences have been playing with the Jazz Sinfonica Orquestra. This symphony orchestra includes a full big band, and under the baton of João Maurício Galindo presents guest soloists on orchestrations of the guest’s original music. Like many great things, they are suffering economically. But this strain doesn’t affect the passion and feeling with which the musicians play.
This was evident the other day when I invited Ali Jackson and Greg Gisbert down to one of their rehearsals. We smiled ear to ear listening to them play through a program of choros. The musicians in the orchestra certainly have the discipline needed to play in any classical orchestra, but they bring something extra - this thing you can’t really write out or teach; a feeling, a spirit.
Over the years I have gotten to know Vinícius Barros, a percussionist from the Orchestra. When I got to town I reached out and invited him to our concert at Sala São Paulo. I told him to bring a few “toys.” Backstage I introduced him and his shoulder bag of percussion instruments to Wynton who invited him to join us on our closing number. Vinicius rose to the occasion elevating the groove on the tambourine and later taking an expressive solo on the cuíca.
Collaborating with musicians from other cultures has always been something that enriches all of our lives and creates lasting memories. Our experience in Recife, Brazil was the full embodiment of this collaboration. After dinner the night we arrived in this large port town (sometimes referred to as the Brazilian Venice) we walked down cobble-stoned streets to check out the rehearsal of a local frevo band. Frevo is a particular style of music that originates in this region of Brazil. It's very fast and technical; like choros on speed. We joined the musicians and marched in the streets, playing loud and ignorantly, sweating like pigs by the end. A crazy, musical riot.
The climax of our visit here was last night’s outdoor concert where the Spok Frevo band, considered one of the most important frevo groups in Recife, opened for us and then joined us on the last tune, an original composition by the band leader, alto saxophonist Maestro Spok. Due to just a short run-through at sound check, this technically challenging piece had the JLCO a bit out of our comfort zone musically, but right in the middle of it culturally and spiritually.
As great as this month has been, it’s time to come home...
A confluence of events - social, political, logistical and spiritual - caused us to postpone our long-anticipated residency in Caracas. While we were changing planes in Panama City, our layover turned into a five hour opportunity to reevaluate our situation, based on the intel that was coming our way.
Obama released a statement that outlined the growing hostilities between the US and Venezuela. There had already been a strong anti-American sentiment, but now a iffy situation had turned into something potentially dangerous and full of negative political implications.
Out touring staff did an incredible job dealing with last minute decision. At 1:30am we pulled our bags off the plane and went to the first hotel that could accommodate us, a Hard Rock Hotel. The net morning we had a meeting to discuss what would become of the next few days. It was decided we would stay in Panama and create a residency. We reached out to our friends Ruben Blades and Danilo Perez. Within 24 hours we had arranged up a schedule that included masterclasses, workshops, a concert for kids, two nights in a club and even a brunch at the American Embassy (who also came through with money to pay for a large part of our hotel expense).
The whole experience has pulled the band together in the way that difficult situations often do. While there existed the option of sending people home for five or six days, it was the overwhelming sentiment among the band we stay together and go through this as a group, and search for alternative gigs and educational opportunities - not necessarily to raise money (it will be impossible to make up the huge losses incurred) but to complete what our mission has always been: to bring soul, spirit and connection in the form of performances and teaching to places on the world that don't ordinarily have the chance to experience them.
As we get ready to board our plane to Lima, Peru, I reflect on the past week, and it’s clear this was meant to happen. It was no coincidence we ended up here.
When people learn what I do, they often comment that it must be exciting and exotic to travel around the world. Usually, I have to set them straight: often we don’t get a chance to see much; we travel all day, go practically straight to sound check, eat fast, get dressed, go to gig, up early the next morning, travel all day. Not as romantic a job as it may seem.
But I am not going to lie: the first week of this tour has been almost a vacation. Three days in Puerto Rico with one concert. Two days in St. Thomas with one concert. And then to Mexico City with our first day off in a beautiful part of the city. It’s been everything people assume and more.
Besides playing tennis and paddle tennis, working out in the gym, swimming in azure water, getting plenty of rest and eating great food, we have actually had to wok a little.
But the vacation is now over. This is when the tour gets hard. The last two nights we played concerts on our “B” horns. Because of the nature of this tour - covering so many countries in South America, a with cargo shipments and customs hang-ups, it is necessary for everyone in the band to have a complete second set of not only horns but instrument stands and music.
Last night, as everyone was getting used to where to put their mouthpiece, slightly unfamiliar hand and finger positions, having to overcome leaks, the music felt a little off a times. But the audience was amazing - reactive and knowledgeable, passionate and expressive.
I had some students reach out to me at the last minute yesterday to give them a lesson, and I met them an hour before our show. The security was so tight they were not allowed to come up to the back stage area, so we gathered in a tiny room just before the security guard post. More people joined, spilling out into the hall, to play and ask questions about composing.
Today we fly to Caracas, Venezuela, where, because of a strong anti-American sentiment, we will be confined to our hotel and not allowed to leave unless we are in a large group and with security guards.
Gotta run and get in a round of paddle tennis before we head to the airport.
Yesterday’s concert was without question the best gig we have played this year. When we discovered one of our venues was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, only four hours away from Pine Bluff, plans began taking shape to transport the JLCO, equipment and staff to play an unscheduled, unpaid gig on our day off, and then drive four hours back to Fayetteville.
There is only one thing that would cause twenty or so people to go through this much trouble: love. Our audience: Clark Terry.
For so many people, Clark, as player, teacher, mentor and human being has been a constant inspiration. Without question one of the greatest trumpet players, he also happens to be one or the most giving, loving and funny people to ever grace this earth.
Clark is 94, and his health has seen better days. His recent life was captured poignantly in the documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On” which was just nominated for an Academy Award.
My personal association with Clark Terry started in 1975 when he was the guest soloist with the Monterey Jazz Festival all star band. I was fifteen, playing lead alto in the band. Before this I had only really known him from the Tonight Show, where Johnny Carson would occasionally let Doc Severinsen feature him on a number.
One of the pieces we played at Monterey was a blues, a composition by Clark, and it featured Clark and me. I came out front to join him, getting a better look at the crowd of at least five thousand jazz fans. At the end of the piece Clark grabbed the mic and announced enthusiastically “Ted Nash!” Standing out there playing and hanging with Clark was one of those experiences you will never forget.
(I'm the one with blond hair, just below Benny Golson's left arm)
One year later later my family traveled to New York on vacation. We noticed in the paper Clark was playing with his quintet at the Village Vanguard. Dad and I grabbed out horns and headed to the gig. Clark was, of course, embracing and invited us to sit in. I got my alto out of the case and glanced around at the expectant audience, “Let’s see” written all over their faces. “What would you like to play? A blues?” Clark offered. I immediately snapped back “Cherokee.” When you are sixteen you are brave (i.e. stupid). But I got through it. Clark was as sweet as can be.
So here we are 38 years later (and I am still trying to play Cherokee), on our way to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in four vehicles: two tour buses, equipment truck, and Wynton’s car. Victor Goines was in constant contact with Clark’s wife Gwen, getting updates about Clark’s condition. He and our tour manager, Boss Murphy, worked overtime getting things organized. We pulled up to the hospital where Clark has been under care for the past couple days. The band single-filed down and around a long hallway, arriving at a large multi-purpose room where the hospital, aware of our pending arrival, had organized music stands and chairs.
There was an air of anticipation as the band quickly set up, pulling instruments out, warming up. Wynton called a short set, including some transcriptions Chris Crenshaw did specifically for this performance, songs from a couple of Clark’s recordings.
Someone entered the room announcing “Clark is being wheeled in now.” I felt the emotion well up in me as his hospital bed found its way into the space. We started swinging on Duke’s arrangement of a movement from the Nutcracker Suite. The band was not joking. When there is this kind of emotion and energy in the air the music takes on another dimension of feeling.
They parked Clark in front of the band. His eyes had stopped working a while back, but it was very clear by the smile on his face his ears were just fine. It was a good thing I was quite familiar with the chart because I was having difficulty seeing the notes through my tears.
After we finished the first piece we each took a turn holding Clark’s hand and giving him some love. He was smiling ear to ear with each little visit. “Who is this? Oh yeah, man. Yeah. Love you. God bless you.”
We returned to out chairs and played a blues featuring our vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, who stood right next to Clark and sang her heart out. Cécile told me later she had to do everything in her power to not break down.
We played a couple more tunes, and brought out a birthday cake (his birthday is next week), visited a little more before they needed to get him back to his room. Just before they wheeled him away Clark again expressed his love and blessings.
We headed over to Clark and Gwen’s home and ate catfish, succotash and coleslaw. Adorning the walls of house was evidence of the great appreciation for this man: record covers, awards and photos. One picture depicted Clark and Harry “Sweets” Edison playing a concert together. Wynton laughed and said when Sweets died he gave all his suits to Clark. Clark told Wynton a while back to come and get some of them, but Wynton, knowing they had no chance on fitting him, never did.
On the ride back to Fayetteville we watched the documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On,” a copy of which had been giving to us at Clark’s home by the director, Al Hicks, who was in attendance. If you haven’t seen this film, you must.
On our way to Texas...
I have a problem. I have battling with this problem most of my life. It’s embarrassing and inconvenient. I am hoping I can cure this bad habit, this awkward tendency. I need help.
My problem: I’m always on time.
This may not seem like a problem but it is. If I could add up all the time I have waited unnecessarily I probably could have written a symphony.
When I showed up at my producer’s house in Los Angeles recently, right at the appointed time, his response, answering the door with wet hair, quickly tucking his shirt into his pants, was “You’re always on time.” The next day, when I arrived at my father’s accountant’s office, exactly at the agreed upon 2:45, she responded “Are you always so punctual?” It’s just not sexy.
I have tried many tricks, like setting my watch behind, or circling around the block, but it never fails: I am always on time.
Here’s another example of how this trait recently got me into trouble: I was invited to a dinner party at an Upper West Side restaurant. My friend told the dozen or so guests the reservations was for 8:15. I was actually impressed with myself that I did not arrive one minute earlier than the designated time. But where was everybody? i was the only one there. I went to check in at the hostess station and they said “Oh, that reservation is for 8:30. Take a seat in the bar and when everyone is here come back and we’ll seat you.” When I asked my friend if she had changed the time she said “Oh, no, I just told everyone 8:15 to try to get them there by 8:30.”
You see my problem?
I have considered counseling and support groups, but ultimately I have decided to go cold turkey.
So if I am five minutes late for our rehearsal or meeting, you’ll understand it is part of my ongoing treatment.
We're two days into rehearsals for concerts this Friday and Saturday with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with guest percussionist Cyro Baptista, performing the music of the great Brazilian composer Moacir Santos, aka the “Brazilian Duke.” This concert follows a format that has for the past few years helped to form and identify the orchestra’s sound as of late, one that really utilizes the creativity of this group: all the arrangements are crafted by members of the band.
We have just come off a three-week tour. I'm not going to lie: this was a particularly rough one, with long rides on a bus of suspicious quality and condition. Just before we took possession of this substandard form of transportation it had been used by a sorority, and running along each side of the bus were painted, in large colorful triangles, the words Delta Sigma Theta. When we pulled into town, locals pointed and hung around to get a glimpse of the group of young woman exiting the bus, only to be (certainly) disappointed by the collection of tired, raggedly dressed, unshaven men that piled out, grabbing suitcases and beelining it into the hotel to try to rest for an hour or two before leaving for sound check.
The scene on the bus was quite a sight: at any given time there was a minimum of six to eight laptops out, with mini keyboards, and chords and earphones attached. Cats were on a mission. Wynton, just as the band was leaving town, delegated the arranging responsibilities to the arrangers in the band (there are ten!) for this upcoming concert and we wasted no time getting to work. Even the dressing rooms and green rooms at the venues became temporary computer labs.
What I love about this is that there is a healthy competitive spirit to not only get the arrangements done (in time!) but to come up with something unique, something that challenges the band. Everyone is checking in with each other - "Hey, man, what do you think if I have the first two voices on flutes, and have it doubled by muted bone down an octave?" or "Is one bar enough time to go to cup mute?" or "check this out (handing over noise-canceling earphones); what do you think of this passage?" This sharing of each our particular expertise and ideas helps us create a body of work that is varied in colors and approaches but consistent in it's objective. We still have a bit or work tomorrow to get these charts together but it is going to be a hell of a weekend of music. I hope you can come out to Rose Hall and check it out. IF not, it will be live-streamed both nights!
We recorded the Presidential Suite on Sunday, and I can't express how thrilled I am to have this day arrive, and experience such great attitude and musicianship from everyone involved. We got all eight movements plus the Overture done in eight hours. My executive producer, Kabir Sehgal, invited some wonderful guests, and two of the other contributing producers, Adam Inselbuch and Michael Fricklas, also were attendance. Some brought family and friends and there was such a great vibe in the studio all day.
Our engineer, Rob Macomber, is so easy to work with, and everything, with the help of his interns, and our assistant Jay Sgroi, went smoothly.
Our lead trumpet player, Ryan Kisor badly inured his shoulder the day before the recording and played the entire session with one hand. Heroic is the only word for it.
Joe Temperly made a cameo appearance, playing the first eight bars of the movement Churchill, a solo section I wrote with him in mind. He is a big Churchill fan and was excited to play this on the premier in January, but he ended up missing that performance, so I am so happy to have him bring his big, beautiful sound to the piece.
I want to thank all the people who made a contribution to this project. Without all of you this recording couldn't have happened. Thank you!
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Men Say the Darndest Things - New Show, New Music!
Actress and writer Trish McCall has a new show for which I wrote original music - seventeen jazz pieces that serve as interludes between each scene. "Men Say the Darndest Things" is not a musical, but a dramatic play full of irony and humor (and not for kids!). The show has a limited run and I hope you can make it. The music will be performed by the Robert Rucker Project. I will be there on October 16th to check it out! Show runs September 25th - October 18th at the Black River Center for the Arts, 345 Lenox Avenue.
Trish's concept to include live music between each scene is pretty unusual for a straight theater piece. Trish told me at the rehearsal the other day the first two directors she considered asked her to eliminate the music, that it wasn't important to the story. But Trish's vision of having these pieces evoke specific feelings and set up the scenes was so clear she decided to direct it herself. Although not performed during the scenes, the music is almost a fifth character.
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Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martinez & Wynton Marsalis
I have been rehearsing all week with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for this weekend's concerts with guests Chucho Valdés and Pedrito Martinez. These amazing Cuban musicians are featured in an extended work by Wynton, blending jazz with the traditional folkloric music of Cuba and the Santería religion to create a work that illustrates the ability of music to elevate us from social and political unrest to the greatest heights of humanity.
It has been an intense week putting this together. The music is complex, but the end result was worth the hard work. Our first concert last night was grooving and uplifting. CLICK HERE
for more information.
The concerts will be live-streamed so if you can't be there in person be sure to check it out.FridaySaturday
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JLCO Fall Tour
I am getting ready to hit the road with the JLCO. It's always great to bring the music to people around the world.
September 24 -- Lawrence, KS Lied Center
September 25 -- Manhattan, KS Kansas State University - McCain Auditorium
September 26 -- Lincoln, NE University of Nebraska - Lied Center
September 27 -- Champaign, IL Krannert Center for the Performing Arts - Foellinger Great Hall
September 28 -- South Bend, IN DeBartolo Performing Arts Center - Leighton Concert Hall
September 30 -- Bowling Green, KY Western Kentucky University - Van Meter Hall
October 1 -- Louisville, KY The Kentucky Center - Whitney Hall
October 2 and 3 -- St. Louis, MO Jazz St Louis - Jazz at the Bistro
October 4 -- Germantown, TN Germantown Performing Arts Center
October 5 -- Nashville, TN Nashville Symphony - Schermerhorn Symphony Center
October 7 -- Charlotte, NC The Belk Theater
October 8 -- Chapel Hill, NC University of North Carolina - Memorial Hall
October 10 -- Bloomsburg, PA Bloomsburg University - Mitrani Hall
October 11 -- Greenvale, NY Tilles Center
October 12 -- Rutland, VT Paramount Theater
October 13 -- Hanover, NH Dartmouth College - Hopkins Center for the Arts
October 14 -- Quebec, QC CND Festival de Jazz de Quebec - Capitole Theatre
I don’t think of myself as particularly shy, but there is something about playing two sets of intense music which makes me feel a little quiet, a bit reserved afterwards. This has caused me over the years to shy away from conversations immediately following a concert with people from the audience that, very understandably, want to share their thoughts and feelings about what they just experienced.
I suppose this tendency is easy to be misunderstood, and I was once told “you need to connect with people - they want to express something to you. You should give them that.” So I have become (slowly) better about this.
But what I experienced a couple nights ago in Knoxville, TN is the kind of thing that could cause me to make steps backwards in this progress toward a more extroverted attitude. Following our two sets of expressive, exploring and swinging music, I packed up my horns, loaded them into their flight cases, and headed to the stage door. This exited out onto an alley-like street, and many of the main theater exit doors also emptied out onto this small street.
As I walked up the block, back to the hotel, the street became more and more populated with concert-goers. I smiled as I passed people, some saying “nice concert” or “sounded great” or “thank you.” I thanked them back but kept moving. When I got to the corner a man recognized me and said “Boy, YOU sucked,” and laughed, showing off to his wife. I know he was being sarcastic and trying to be hip/cool, but it still felt slightly alarming. Before I could formulate a response he talked quickly, mostly about himself. I was still recovering from his first comment when our trombonist Chris Crenshaw approached the intersection. The man saw Chris and blurted out “Hey, here is another one who sucked.” I took this opportunity to make my escape, crossing the street while the light was still red.
I got a couple blocks closer to the hotel and short-cutted it across a parking lot, passing a man opening his car door. “Were you in the band” he said, and as I got closer. “Oh, yeah you were. Can I ask you something? What is your background?”
“Yeah, where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m originally from Los Angeles but live in New York.”
“Ah. I was wondering where you were from because you were one of the more reserved guys in the band.”
“Yeah, your expressions.”
“Oh, I see. That’s what you took away from the concert?” I though maybe he had been curious where I was from because he heard some kind of influence in my playing.
“Los Angeles, huh? You still from there?”
“Am I still from there?”
“Yeah, there is this great radio station, plays big band hits. You’d love it.”
“I’m sure I would. If I were still from there. Have a good night.”
A block later I was back in the hotel. Safe...
I was in the park the other day and heard a mockingbird singing. The mockingbird has a reputation for stealing other birds' songs, but I think this is a bad rap. What is special about this bird is that it makes up its own songs. It hops around on a branch offering melody after melody, never seeming to repeat itself. It is the ultimate improvisor. Like the most creative jazz musician, this bird expresses itself in so many ways, with different sound qualities and different lengths of phrases. And it does this for no money, without worrying about who is listening or who is judging. It sings for the pure joy of creating.
The mockingbird is my hero.