I recently received the most surprising, amazing phone call - I have been invited to participate in a one week long jazz workshop with other young, rising jazz talents at the Chicago area’s famous Ravinia Festival! This is the kind of thing that you can’t even apply for – industry folks nominate you and…well, you ‘get the call.’
The full name of the program is Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI), which has been nuturing artists for over 25 years . Me and umpteen other artists will gather for one week under the guidance of an amazing faculty, learn each others’ latest compositions, and perform at the festival on Friday June 20th. I’ve already worked under two of the faculty at the 2009 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Institute – Dr. Nathan Davis (saxophone) and Art Blakey’s legendary trombonist, Curtis Fuller. I hope they both remember me. Rounding out the faculty are David Baker, a hardworking figure in jazz education (especially composition and arranging) and none other than Rufus Reid on bass.
I am humbled, honored, and excited to take part in the RSMI this year. And I know I could not have gotten to a place in my artistic career such that the ‘right folks’ would take notice if it hadn’t been for the Durham music scene, all of my wonderful colleagues, and especially my bandmates in The Beast, Orquesta GarDel, New Music Raleigh, and Shana Tucker. Thank you, thank all of you so much. It takes a village to raise an artist. That’s a Hillary Clinton thing, right?
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the best decision of my life so far – to embark on the sacred journey of marriage with Lauren Ann Schlenger Hirsh. Early in our courtship, Lauren gifted me a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic, The Prophet. Part of her inscription to me reads “Few books have touched me so deeply as The Prophet. The very act of reading Gibran’s words is like uttering a prayer. It has been the same way with loving you.” We carried this idea of poetry-as-prayer forward a few years, when preparing for our wedding ceremony. Though Lauren is not a musician by training, she has the soul of one (and is certainly a gifted artist in other media). We thought it would be both fun and meaningful to compose a song together for the ceremony, and it became obvious rather quickly that we should set some of our favorite parts of The Prophet to music (specifically, excerpts from “On Love” and “On Marriage”).
So many aspects of our lives were woven together in this collaboration. To this day I maintain that we truly did co-compose as equals, with me suggesting ideas for the rhythmic and melodic trajectories of text at the piano, and Lauren giving lots of feedback on those choices. We wrote the song for three (count ‘em, three!) sopranos, as both of my sisters, Rachel and Rebekah, are lovely singers, as well as my college BFF, Catherine Jones. Another college friend, Yuri Broze, played piano at the ceremony, while Lauren and I stood watching, teary eyed, in front of my parents’ farmhouse in rural Chapel Hill on a beautiful fall day in October of 2009. A few months later, I brought Rachel, Rebekah, and Catherine into the profoundly magical acoustic space of Zenph founder John Q Walker’s recital hall to make a recording of this composition for posterity. But I have been sitting on the raw tracks for years, never finding time to mix and master the performance.
So, Lauren, today I gift you with the completion and publication of our first, but definitely not last, song together. We titled it “Orphalese,” for the city from which the prophet delivers parting words of wisdom to his community.
Here is the audio:
And for all you music-types out there, here is the score, should you want to study it or even perform it. On a professional note, I think this is some of my better arranging and engraving for classical piano. So far at least. I am ever a student of the craft.
This summer I was commissioned with Shana Tucker to co-arrange two pop songs for high school chorus and band. The end result after two weeks of rehearsal at a summer camp would be a fully produced recording session and music video. The first video, a cover of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” dropped this week, and is quickly picking up views from around the world. Check it out, please share it with your friends, and then read the backstory after the jump!
I am thrilled and humbled to announce that I have been named as one of two composer recipients of a $10,000 fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council to support creative development and the creation of new work. From the press release:
Raleigh, N.C. — Eighteen artists living and working in North Carolina are recipients of the 2011–2012 North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship Award in the categories of poetry, prose writers, songwriters, composers, playwrights and screenwriters. Artists receive a $10,000 fellowship to support creative development and the creation of new work.
Recipients were selected by panels comprised of artists and arts professionals with expertise in each discipline. Since the program’s inception in 1980, more than 500 artists have received awards.
The Artist Fellowship program operates on a two-year rotating cycle by discipline. Applications will be accepted this fall for visual art, craft, film/video and choreographers.
I have won composition contests before, but never a full-blown artistic fellowship. The NC Arts Council’s program is one of the more generous in the country, which I’m sure has benefited all of the recipients across time, and thus the cultural wellness of the state. I hope to use the fellowship to make my first big moves towards being more of a jazz/post-jazz composer and bandleader. I’d love to do a big collaborative, community oriented project, or delve into some serious training and artistic development with an album at the end. It’s too early to promise any deliverables, but the vote of confidence has certainly inspired me to turn towards a side of myself that is informed by, but often takes a backseat to, my work with The Beast and Orquesta GarDel. Thanks from the bottom of my heart, North Carolina!
If you ever find yourself looking at the discography of a jazz artist, you’ll often see at least two sublists: “as a leader” and “as a sideman.” The second list is usually longer, as this reflects the way in which a musician makes his living and cuts his teeth. In my case, my musical life outside of technology research consists of little-to-no freelancing and two ensembles which of which I am an equal member or a leader. So, my sideman list is nonexistent. It’s more a tongue-in-cheek sort of game: I’m certainly not evaluating my career-to-date based on a certain amount of music commodities. But you know how your LinkedIn profile “is 83% complete and will be 86% complete if only you would add some Interests and Hobbies?” Well, now my musician profile gets another 2% because I am finally a sideman!
Two projects, two Durham-based artists whom I deeply admire and respect.
First up, Greg Humphreys explored some new territory on his latest album People You May Know by writing some songs in jazz-influenced, Tin Pan Alley style. Greg called on me, Pete, and Steve to come to his basement on a frigid winter afternoon to track entirely live into some old ribbon microphones, myself on a beat-up Great Lakes upright with sticky keys. Talk about an authentic production process! Of the two tracks we did with Greg, my favorite is the ballad, “Must Be The Moon.” I just wish we could have had Lester Young noodling in the background.
Around the time I was tracking for Greg’s album, another Durham bright light was releasing hers. Shana Tucker, singer/songwriter/guitarist/cellist asked me to play on the title track of her debut album, SHiNE. Ever since she moved to the area from New York, we had been itching to work together. Shana and I teamed up recently to co-arrange and co-teach some songs to a new all-star youth choir in Chapel Hill. More on that soon. In the meantime, here is the hauntingly simple “Shine.”
Please support Greg and Shana by visiting their websites and purchasing their great music!
After a spring hiatus to focus on songwriting with my bands and research with Zenph, I am happy to return to the blogosphere. The rest of the year will feature countowns to some projects I am very excited to share with you, including:
1. a mixtape from The Beast called Freedom Suite, hosted by 9th Wonder with a roster of guest vocalists, MCs, jazz musicians, and DJs so thick that I can’t tell you who they are (…yet :-) )
2. Orquesta GarDel’s debut EP with two original songs, and a big dance party to celebrate its release
3. The free re-release of a past album, very near and dear to me (no hints yet!)
4. more new videos, essays, surprise collaborations
5. I am in the pre-pre-pre-pre planning stages for my debut jazz album as a bandleader. Not a very musical process so far: applying for grants, thinking about material selection and recording logistics. I’ll be writing about the project as it unfolds; I’ve been waiting all my life to do this!
This week The Beast heads out on the road to Washington DC, New York, and Providence. Please come support us if you live in the area!
I am extremely honored and proud to be a winner in the 2010 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composers Awards. This marks the second time I have won the award (as well as having twice twice received Honorable Mention). I submitted my latest jazz composition, “somehow it seems to help” which was premiered by a wonderful group of musician peers, and now good friends, at the 2009 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead concert at the Kennedy Center. You can watch a video of that performance in a previous post, and I’m happy to make this song available for download right here in this post. I hope you enjoy it!
This program, established in 2002, was created to encourage gifted jazz composers from throughout the United States. The recipients, who receive cash awards, range in age from 15 to 29, and are selected through a juried national competition. The ASCAP composer/judges for the 2010 competition were: Wycliffe Gordon, Rufus Reid and Henry Threadgill.
Over a year ago I wrote a post about my top 10 favorite albums, mostly with a metric of personal fondness more than any sort of aesthetic consideration. As I look ahead to 2010, I see a very busy technologist (researching instruments for Zenph Sound Innovations) and bandleader (with The Beast and Orquesta GarDel) and new-husband (hi, Lauren!). I want to make sure I am never too far from my deep passion for the arts, that need to appreciate and explore music, soaking it all up and seeing what sticks in the end. There are a few artists in particular whose work and whose real-life struggles and philosophies have struck a chord with me, yet I’ve not yet had the time to get to know their music. So in the spirit of end-of-year listmaking, here are my top five artists to get to know better in 2010.
5. King Tubby
Who knew that a sound engineer from Jamaica would have such a significant influence on electronic and hip hop musics? Mixing (and re-mixing) as an art form, I love the delay-drenched sound of dub music, and it’s high time I take an in depth survey of one of the great pioneers.
4. John Hollenbeck
He is being called a modern jazz master. With a prodigious output ranging from big band to chamber music to experimental improvisation, I identify with a lot of Hollenbeck’s contrapuntal/ostinato/polyrhythmic concepts and look forward to studying them.
3. Darius Milhaud
I love this guy, there is something fun about a French composer ahead of his own time falling in love with jazz and the music of Brazil. What’s his take on it? Let’s listen to La creation du monde and find out!
2. Astor Piazolla
I suspect one could spend a lifetime studying the music of this tango innovator. He tried to write “proper” classical music, was ashamed of his jazzy tangos until Nadia Boulanger chided him for not being true to himself. The rest was history, I suppose. Such a fantastic combination of heart-string romanticism with improvisation with exacting composition, and I can still appreciate that it is based on music of the people, music for dancing.
1. Charles Ives
I’ve been told on occasion that my career path and my music remind people of Charles Ives. How is it that an insurance salesman could conjure such poignant images of American life in such quirky compositions? Again, a man ahead of his time. I cried a bit when I heard “The Things Our Fathers Loved” from 114 Songs as well as “The Unanswered Question.” I also look forward to reading a collection of his essays and other writings.
Wayne Shorter, Fela Kuti, Bob Dylan, Me’Shell NdegéOcello, Nas
I wonder if a histogram of bloggers and their usage habits might mimic a Gaussian distribution (remember the bell curve from high school?). On the low end is a chunk of people who set up a blog and forget about it the next day, leaving their two posts in the dust. On the other end are the entrepreneurs who are trying to make a living at it: posting meaningful content every day, linking the crap out of their peers, and Tweeting faster than they can breathe. But in the middle of the graph sits a giant hump of interesting, but inconsistent writers who sometimes have spurts of genius but otherwise never log in.
Color me some version of the middle variety: I want to write, but haven’t found the focus of this particular blog. Is it for me to announce achievements, shows, and new tracks? Is it to posit myself as an expert in my field (at least a dozen books for $15 on Amazon tell you to use your blog to do this)? Is it to post whimsical life observations? I suppose it is a mixture of all three, which represents the present state of my life. I am not yet a full-time “career artist”, I am not on the hustle 24/7. A large part of my creativity and energy goes into my role as a technologist and researcher at Zenph Studios (which I love). Another large part goes into directing or participating in The Beast and Orquesta GarDel. There’s my ever-maturing relationship with Lauren. And somewhere on the side is a guy who practices and composes and is just waiting to leap out and speak his true voice more often. A fractured life? Perhaps. But a disconnected one? Hardly. A thread of gratitude and experiential education weaves through everything.
I wanted to use this post to “press reset” and catch you up on some of the cool things I’ve done in the past few weeks. Each deserves its own well-written post, but a list will have to suffice instead.
1. Orquesta Gardel played its first out-of-town gig at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Andy and I rehearsed the group, packed a cooler of killer sandwiches and ferried 13 people 300 miles away in 5 cars (couldn’t afford a van rental). It’s tough to play to a crowd of strangers, especially ones who are serious about their Latin music, but we made a lot of friends by the end of the night. The DJ even announced us in at the after party!
2. The Beast has been working hard on its full-length album. We are finally bringing to life the tracking session we did in January at Sound Pure studios. Songs are being rearranged, I’m writing a lot of horn charts and programming some clever synth stuff. This will be the biggest recording project I’ve worked on thus far. Our baby has a far way to go, but it promises to be a very unique album.
3. I got to hear and meet Moldover at Alliviah’s in Durham last weekend. This is the guy who coined the word “controllerism,”: a true instrument developer and sound-reimaginer. His original music is really cool, and his efforts to educate and build a community around controllerism are to be respected. I really look up to him for combining clever programming with meaningful musical results, one day I’d like to have more time to develop this side of my craft. Check out his videos here.
4. I have an intern at Zenph. This kid is brilliant. As an electronic artist, he goes by the name Hidden Cat, and his songs have been reviewed by Rolling Stone and charted in the U.K. Awesome! We’re working on a re-performance of rock legend, Jerry Lee Lewis.
That’s all I can think of for now, time to go buy some basil plants at the farmer’s market (how Saturday of you, Eric!). Stay tuned next week for a big announcement about a special Beast release (not the album, something sooner and sweeter)!
Whew! I’ve been absent from blogging for two weeks because I come home absolutely exhausted and brain dead from eight-hour rehearsal days…what a treat! The Kennedy Center residency has brought me together with 28 peers, solid in their mastery of their instruments, strong in their improvisational and compositional voices. We’ve been making great music with each other under the tutelage of some true jazz veterans. This has also been a time to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of arts administration and educational organization. I now have so many ideas for future workshops, performances, bands, collectives, and institutions that I would like to one day create. The program is named after underdog/profound jazz vocalist, Betty Carter, for whom I now have a deep appreciation (both for her artistry and her business philosophy) after watching a film and hearing a panel discuss her work.
As I mentioned in the original post, the residency is broken up into four ensembles which will give concerts each night at 6pm, Wednesday April 1st through Friday April 3rd, at the Kennedy Center Millenium Stage. Free, open to the public. Really cool. Each concert will also be broadcast live on the internet and then archived for you to view whenever you want. Here is the link to watch each concert: http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/. You will need to download and install the latest Real Player to view the video.
On Wednesday my own group hits around 6:45; Thursday and Friday we go on around 6:30. On Thursday we will be premiering my latest (and new favorite) composition entitled “somehow it seems to help.” Everyone here is really digging it, which makes me happy. You would too if the drummer in your combo was a 17 year old genius who could totally destroy your 7/8-time-signatured-craziness like it was a nursery rhyme.