Billy Strayhorn's motto, "Ever Up and Onward" seemed an apt title for the ruminations of a composer/arranger, jazz pianist, music educator, husband, father and Christian.
Developing Musical Ideas
The commute to New York City is without question the least glorious aspect of my participation in the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop. I drive for two hours and then take the train for an additional two hours. EACH WAY. The up side is that it gives me some uninterrupted time to think, problem solve, or listen to some new music.On my way to the last meeting I found myself obsessing about how I might lengthen or add to my piece. Currently, it's duration is just under 5 minutes, which seems a bit short. It dawned on me that I haven't consciously utilized any of the conventional development techniques used in music composition. I have been so focused on adhering to rhythmic clave, and staying within the parameters and spirit of salsa, that I somehow overlooked the obvious.I often tell my arranging students that "everything we write is viable for development". It's funny how when we are personally in the act of creating, we sometimes don't see the obvious, or forget basic principals, because our focus is too narrow.So... I've decided to take a step back. My plan is to distance myself from the piece for a couple of weeks, and then dive in again, with the understanding that everything is "up for grabs". Any and all aspects of the piece are subject to development, including:
[I included this reading session recording in my last post, but here it is again for reference:]
- all salsa elements: rhythms, montunos, bass tumbaos, brass hits, instrumentation, repeated figures, form, etc. They can all be developed, and they don't have to sit in the expected/standard 4-bar format.
- melodies (backwards, upside down, etc.)
- the harmonic progressions (move, transpose, modulate, elongate, truncate, etc.)
This may sound strange, but when writing this piece, I intentionally tried NOT to incorporate a clearly distinguishable melody. I wanted to see if rhythm alone could carry the piece. In lieu of a "melody" I wanted to integrate some weird, chromatic "Eric Dolphy-esque" lines. Somehow this notion may have "obscured my vision" and hindered my process. By accepting that these weird lines ARE in fact a melody or THE melody, I can proceed to take these lines, or portions of them, and work with them using conventional techniques of good composition and arranging. This material could be used elsewhere in the piece!
So... that's what I came up with during the commute. At the actual workshop, I also got some valuable tips from my colleagues. Their general consensus was that my piece was too dense --- both in orchestration and with too much going on at once, thereby overwhelming the listener. Overwritten brass and backgrounds which obscure and detract from the soloist are other valued criticisms I received and plan to address.
Clearly I've got my work cut out for me. But in the meanwhile, I have two other new pieces on the go. I'll fill you in about those later.
A Work In Progress
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have rejoined the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop this year, partly as a sabbatical project, but mostly for the purpose of sparking my imagination and pushing myself to try some new things as a composer.
For my first big band piece of the season, I elected to write in the salsa idiom. It had been a while since I had written in clavé, and I thought this would present some interesting challenges, while being fun. Before starting, I wrote down a few parameters, goals, thoughts, and questions for myself, to guide the piece's direction. Some of these included:
- How can I stretch the salsa idiom?
- Would "hipper" lines and harmonies work in the salsa style?
- How important is having a distinguishable melody? If rhythm is the driving force behind salsa, does the piece doesn't need an obvious, singable melody?
- Try approaching salsa from a sideways angle/vantage point.
- Experiment, yet meet the approval of the SALSA POLICE! (avoid cruzado!)
- Include a mambo section with added layers of complexity.
Jim McNeely conducting the BMI Jazz Orchestra during the 10/01/2013 reading session.In my piano practicing this summer I worked on superimposing bebop-ish lines into harmonic situations where their chord tones reflected upper structure extensions and alterations to the given harmony. I decided to use these types of lines in the chart to give it some edge. I equate this sound to what saxophonist Eric Dolphy was doing in the 1960s. I decided to call the piece "Dolphy Dance", picturing Eric playing in a dance band.We had a "reading session" on Oct. 1st, so I got to hear my experiments sight-read by a full big band of professional players. It's still a work in progress but here's a taste (note: the music starts 9 seconds into the playback):If any experienced Latin jazz/salsa players have some suggestions or criticisms to share with me, I'd love to hear them. I'm questioning and considering how I might expand the piece even further, while not making it tiresome.
I went through the above recording and made the following list of revisions. Beside each point I will include the corresponding time on the recording, so you can follow along and see what caught my attention:
So there you have it. Tomorrow I head back into New York City where I hope to benefit from the reactions and ideas of the other workshop composers. The brilliant, experienced composer, Rich Shemaria will lead the discussion, as both Jim McNeely and Mike Holober will be out of town. I have admired Rich's work for a long time, and look forward to meeting him in person. (Until now we have only corresponded a couple of times through e-mail or Facebook.) I am eager to hear his thoughts and welcome your input too!
- Eliminate flute and harmon trumpet from the intro. Flute is inaudible until m. 7, then appears to come in out of nowhere, and is uncharacteristic of the expected ensemble sound. Re-orchestrate melody in m.7 from flute to 3 trumpets and alto. [0.18]
- m. 6 and 7: the bass line is weak because range prohibits going to the low C in the bari and bass trombone. Take the D flat up the octave in m. 7. Have everyone play a half note on beats 3 and 4 of m.6 to break up the line, so it sounds intentional, and not a poor solution to range limitations. This also better reflects the clavé rhythmic pattern. [0.16]
- m.17: sound final chord longer. Tie it to a dotted half note instead of a quarter note. [0.29]
- m.38: Simplify the brass hit, to make things more comfortable, and "lock everyone in" rhythmically. [0.55]
- m.45: change rhythm of saxophone line slightly, so there isn't too much space before the ensemble response. End phrase with a quarter note on beat 4. [1.03]
- m. 56 and 64: change half note to a short quarter note to let the backgrounds breathe. [1.17 and 1.26]
- m.66: change the articulation to an accented tenuto. [1.29]
- m.81 and 82 (before "J" --- restatement of intro material): add two measures of G/Ab harmony and a melodic bass figure played by the bass, piano, bari sax and bass trombone. [1.46]. Also add this at the 2nd ending. [3.13]
- copy changes made to the intro into m. 83 - 90. [1.49]
- m. 42: add the brass hits played during the first repeat. (behind soloist) [1.00/2.26]
- At rehearsal letters "F" and "G": add a trombone soli (entire section), during the second repeat, so it builds. [2.38]
- m.109 (4th ending): add 6 measures of G/Ab montuno. "Double" montuno in the horns the last time, leading to m. 110. [3.44]
- At rehearsal letter N: saxes enter "p" (quieter) [4.10]
- At rehearsal letter O: bring trombones 2 and 3 up the octave. 3 up and 1 down. [4.20]
- At rehearsal letter P: Only the lead trumpet should play up the octave. 1 up and 3 down. No optional 8VA on the last note of the phrase. [4.30]
As the date of my CD release approaches, I have been doing many radio interviews. Here's one which I really enjoyed, with Ken Laster at WHUS 91.7 FM in Storrs, CT.
Ken's program is shared weekly as a podcast. He calls it "In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond". It gets about 10,000 downloads per week. Ken is a great interviewer. I felt relaxed throughout and really enjoyed our "on air" conversation.
I have two more upcoming radio appearances before my concert at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, Oct. 11th:
- Wednesday, Oct. 9th, starting at 7:15 a.m., I will appear on the Wayne Norman Show - WILI 1400 AM, broadcasting out of Willimantic, CT. After being aired, it will be archived at: http://www.wili-am.com/audio_archives.htm
- Thursday, Oct. 10th from 8 - 10 p.m. I will be a guest on Chris Sampson's "Gravity and Chaos" program on WHUS in Storrs. It can be streamed live at: http://www.whus.org/listen-live
I am making all of these appearances to promote the following concert:
Friday, October 11, 2013 – 8pm - $15 / $10 UCONN Faculty & Staff / $5 Students
EARL MACDONALD AND THE CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY WORKSHOP (C.O.W.) - CD RELEASE CONCERT
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts – 2132 Hillside Road - Storrs
MacDonald’s Jorgensen Center performance will celebrate and coincide with the release of his new CD, Mirror of the Mind. By drawing upon outside influences and incorporating cello into his ensemble palette, MacDonald has again achieved the element of surprise for which reviewers have called him “visionary” and “startlingly original”. Much of the music will be performed in sync with projected visual imagery and videography by artists Deborah Dancy and Ted Efremoff. Earl MacDonald – piano, Kris Allen – saxophones, Christopher Hoffman – cello, Rogerio Boccato – percussion.
I hope to see you there!
I have rejoined the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop while I am on sabbatical from university teaching. I participated twice before, in 2003 and 2007. Traveling to New York City regularly (almost weekly) from Storrs, CT is a considerable commitment because I basically lose a full day of productivity. I rationalize that it will be worthwhile for the following reasons:
- benefiting from the feedback of a peer group, as well as Jim McNeely and Mike Holober, the workshop directors.
- having regular deadlines, thereby forcing me to complete plenty of new music
- trying some new techniques, and gathering ideas from other composers in an effort to escape my compositional ruts/routines
- networking --- making some new friends and professional contacts
- hearing my new pieces and musical experiments played by a band of skilled, professional NYC musicians.
- setting myself on a forward/creative trajectory which will continue well beyond my sabbatical.
It was made clear that merely arranging and developing our small group tunes was discouraged. Although this is a valid and often used technique, McNeely and Holober encouraged us to stretch and experiment. We are to experience starting from nothing and building from the ground up --- trying techniques outside our usual 'bag of tricks'. Exclusive use of repeating, cyclical forms, such as experienced in 90% of jazz repertoire, was also discouraged. To a degree, this will be a stretch for me; but I welcome the challenge.
If all goes well, this should be a transformative musical year.
I adore my Heintzman upright piano. It's solidly built, speaks equally in all registers, sounds beautiful, and feels great to play. By looking up the serial number (41146), I learned it was constructed in 1912 in Toronto, Canada.
Legend has it that Theodor August Heintzman worked side-by-side with Henry E. Steinway in a Berlin piano factory, prior to their immigrating together to North America. The superior craftsmanship between the two piano brands is certainly comparable.
My piano tuner and longtime family friend, Garry Varty found it for me. Mr. Varty was born blind and enjoyed the irony in saying he "looked long and hard" for an instrument of this quality, specifically for me.
With great difficulty (a long story), I shipped it to Connecticut in 2003 after getting married and buying a home.
Earlier this month I spent a week in Kincardine, Ontario performing and teaching at the Kincardine Summer Music Festival. I was overjoyed when I lifted the piano lid at the performance venue and saw that I would be playing a Heintzman all week. I was a bit perplexed, because it looked new, and I was under the impression Heintzman pianos were out of production for some time. I have since learned that the Heintzman name was purchased by a Chinese manufacturer, who claims to build them according to the originals specifications.
The new Heintzman was a huge disappointment. They may have replicated the original dimensions, but something is clearly lacking --- "T.L.C." and old-school craftsmanship which reflects pride in one's work. The instrument's quality was on par with Young Chang pianos, which deflate my sails every time I am forced to play one. Notes stuck. The upper register was weak, thin and metallic sounding. It didn't hold it's tune. As the week progressed, the piano became more and more unravelled. It was a despicable instrument and I hope to never encounter one again.
At times I envy horn players (did I really just say that?!!). It must be nice to bring one's own, maintained, reliable, predictable instrument to a gig. Pianists on the other hand are at the mercy of the instrument they are dealt.
I pride myself in getting a decent sound out of even the poorest of pianos, but some nights it is harder than others to overcome, compensate for, and not allow myself to become entirely distracted by poor workmanship or lack of proper maintenance.
They don't make 'em like they used to.
Jazz Camp takes a lot out of me. After a week of teaching during the day, performing at night, and socializing with old friends, I'm wiped.
An evening concert with tenor saxophonist, Ralph Bowen
I just returned from the Kincardine Summer Music Festival, which is organized by my friend, trombonist Jules Estrin. The faculty was comprised entirely of friends with whom I went to McGill University in the late 1980s. They are now all highly respected jazz educators and players in Toronto and Montreal.Kelly Jefferson - tenor saxBrian O'Kane - trumpetJules Estrin - tromboneMike Rudd - guitarMike Downes - string bassTed Warren - drumsWe performed together almost every night, including concerts accompanying Toronto singer/radio DJ Heather Bambrick and saxophonist, Ralph Bowen.
Ralph was one of my jazz professors at Rutgers and he played on both my "Schroeder's Tantrum" and "Re:Visions" CDs. It was great to see (and hear!) him. What an inspiring player!I also really enjoyed the teaching aspect of the KSMF. The students in my ensemble were bright and inquisitive. They eagerly took notes and asked plenty of thoughtful questions. I probably gave them a full year's worth of practice material.
On Friday I played an afternoon concert with the JazzFM Youth Big Band, comprised of Toronto's top high school jazz students. These kids can really play! Drummer Ted Warren and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson were also featured guests.
An outdoor student performance at the KSMF Performing with the JazzFM Youth Big BandI have taught at many jazz camps over the years but this one is by far my favorite. I highly recommend it to aspiring young jazz players. The location is gorgeous, the price isn't exorbitant, the faculty are superb, and the evening concerts rival what you would hear in a Toronto or New York jazz club. For info about next year's camp, visit the Kincardine Summer Music Festival's web page: http://www.ksmf.ca. I hope to see you there next summer! Ralph Bowen and Earl MacDonald
enjoying the view at Lake Huron
I do a lot of listening to music over the summer months. Here's a list of what's been on my CD players lately:
Arrangements by Michael Abene:Judi Silvano - Let Yourself Go (2004)
Nneena Freelon - Maiden Voyage (1998)
Maceo Parker - Soul Classics (2012)
Fay Claasen with WDR Big Band - Sing! (2010)
Patti Austin - Avant Gershwin (2007)
Netherlands Metropole Jazz OrchestraJim Beard - Revolution54 [w/ John Scofield] (2010)Ernestine Anderson - Isn't It Romantic (1998)Vince Mendoza - Nights On Earth (2011)
Piano trio albums:Keith Jarrett - Up For It (2003)
Keith Jarrett - Setting Standards. New York Sessions (2008)
Ketih Jarrett - At the Blue Note (1994)
Fred Hersch Trio - Alive at the Vanguard (2012)
Eddie Palmieri:Sun of Latin Music (1974)
Obra Maestra w/ Tito Puente (2000)
El Rumbero del Piano
Listen Here! (2005)
Simpatico w/ Brian Lynch (2006)
Bruce Gertz:Open Mind (2013)
Thank You Charlie (2010)
It Wasn't Me (2007)
Reptilian Fantasies (2008)
Misc. Big Band recording:US Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors - The Legacy of Hank Levy (1997)
Stockholm Jazz Orchestra and Jim McNeely - Jigsaw (1991)
Orchestral Jazz:Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge - River Runs (2013)
Maria Schneider - Winter Morning Walks (2013)
What are you listening to?
"Clark" - the autobiography of trumpeter, Clark Terry
"Emulate, assimilate, and innovate." (Clark Terry)Clark Terry's formula for success is prominently displayed at the top of all my jazz improvisation course syllabi. A more succinct and accurate summary of the learning process doesn't exist.
I just finished Clark's autobiography and recommend it highly to anyone even remotely interested in jazz. Having played in the bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington (among countless others), he has an incredible wealth of stories to share about his colleagues and employers, as well as valuable insights into how he learned and progressed as a player.
As I read, my recurring thought was how could he not sound the way he does, having lived all those wild experiences? Clark lived more life by the age of twenty than most do in a full lifetime.
The stories are as colorfully told as Clark's solos are played. Jazz history, directly from the source. It doesn't get any better.
Below is some extraordinary footage of the Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer Quintet from 1965, which I had not seen until today. Isn't YouTube an amazing treasure trove? I especially dug the expressive, blues drenched version of "Things Ain't What They Used To Be", starting at 19:10 (complete with a taste of Clark's famous Mumbles routine).
Reaching this goal on day 11 of the 21 day campaign is especially exciting. I can breathe easier, knowing with certainty that the disc will be released.But on the flip side, there is much more work to be done.I sure hope no one will be deterred from pre-ordering a disc or download because Kickstarter says we've reached 100% of our goal. All money pledged from now until the end of the campaign will be used to promote the recording. Advertising is very expensive. Copies will be mailed to reviewers and radio stations, and (hopefully!) ads will also be purchased in DownBeat and JazzEd magazines, in an effort to expand my audience.
If you haven't done so already, please visit the link below and pre-order your copy today. Most of the itemized rewards will be issued before the Oct. 1 release date of "Mirror of the Mind".
The Bidwell Tavern
Before we had kids, my wife and I probably visited "the Bidwell" at least once per week for beer, wings and people watching. We made a fun game of looking around the room and guessing how the various customers made their living.
One memorable evening there was a noticeably wide array of people gathered at the bar, representing many different walks of life --- bikers, bagpipers, cross-dressers, professors (in tweed jackets with patched elbows) and even someone wearing a large, red and white striped Dr. Suess hat adorned with buttons. This visit inspired the writing of "The Bidwell Cronies", a quirky little piece that functions as a theme song and set ender in concerts for C.O.W. (the Creative Opportunity Workshop), and to a lesser degree, my sextet.
The Bidwell's chicken wings are even better
than the Anchor's in Buffalo, NY!
Here is a newly created video for your listening & viewing pleasure:"The Bidwell Cronies" will appear on my forthcoming CD, "Mirror of the Mind". Until July 1st, I am pre-selling copies through Kickstarter. As of today, 36 backers have pledged $1281 towards my $1500 minimum goal, through advanced purchases of the recording and other incentives (commissions, lessons, concert tickets, etc.) This equates to 85%!I should clarify that $1500 is the bare minimum I need to manufacture and release the disc. All pledged funds above and beyond my goal will be used to promote the recording. Copies will be mailed to reviewers and radio stations, and hopefully, ads will also be purchased in magazines, in an effort to expand my audience.Please visit the following link and pre-order your copy today. Most of the itemized rewards will be issued before the Oct. 1 release date of "Mirror of the Mind".Thanks for your support, and maybe I'll see you at the Bidwell Tavern.
This month I have had several gigs playing at private parties and functions. I quite enjoyed myself on these outings, despite not having pursued this type of work in recent years. It got me thinking about how both the nature and frequency of my gigs has changed. During the '90s it wasn't uncommon for me to play at least three nights a week in hotels, bars and restaurants. The material was always standards, which I will define as American Songbook repertoire mixed with pieces by celebrated jazz musicians. I spent hours learning and memorizing tunes, daily.
During the past ten years or so, most of my performances have been concerts focusing on original music or arrangements by myself or the bandleader. It's a completely different ballgame.
"Calling tunes" and revisiting the familiar, old jazz standards is a lot of fun. Plus, the interaction within the band is typically elevated when no one is staring at a music stand and reading. On the last gig, I jotted down the song titles as I went along. Here are the set lists:
- It Could Happen To You
- Star Eyes
- You Don't Know What Love Is
- How Deep Is The Ocean?
- Up Jumped Spring
Maybe it's time that I try to achieve a better balance between the types of gigs I'm doing. Finding a nice venue for a weekly jazz trio gig, to play tunes, is something I may be seeking for the fall.
- My Foolish Heart
- Pent Up House
- Speak Low
- Giant Steps
- Dolphin Dance
- Blue Monk
Who says pop and country music artists are the only ones who can have music videos?! Move over Britney and Shania, there's a new game in town, and it's infinitely hipper.
Here's the NEW music video for my tune, "It Was Whispered". This song will appear on my forthcoming CD, "Mirror of the Mind", which features Christopher Hoffman (cello), Kris Allen (saxophones), Rogerio Boccato (percussion) and me (piano). Advanced copies of the recording can be pre-ordered through Kickstarter from now until July 1st.Many of the pieces on the "Mirror of the Mind" album were written for cross-disciplinary, collaborative presentations with visual artists Deborah Dancy and Ted Efremoff. "It Was Whispered" appeared within the "Beneath the Black Earth" suite (which debuted in 2007). When the music is combined with the video, it still gives me the chills. It has a spooky "other world" quality to it. To a degree, the music was inspired by Ornette Coleman. I thought a freer, somewhat less structured approach would compliment the jumbled mishmash of twigs in the photographs.
Although avante-garde/free improvisation doesn't intrinsically define our sound, it is one of the many musical facets explored within the Creative Opportunity Workshop (COW).
Please consider supporting this project and spreading the word. Every bit helps. Thanks!
Kickstarter campaign. I'm pre-selling advanced copies of my new recording, "Mirror of the Mind" to pay for manufacturing and promotional costs. While you listen to the music on the link below, kindly consider spreading the word and supporting this latest project.
By writing specifically for an odd-ball instrumentation of cello, sax, piano and percussion, I think I’ve created something strikingly unique here. It may be my best disc yet!
The campaign lasts only until July 1st, so please order your CD, download, or one of the other incentives today!
Herbie Hancock transcription - Three Bags Full
As I mentioned in my last post, one of my summer goals is to transcribe all of Herbie Hancock's solos from his "Takin' Off" record, from 1962. For years I've had a hang-up about studying Herbie's playing in depth. I've felt intimidated and ill-equipped for the task. Anyways, it's time to overcome these feelings of inadequacy. By starting with Herbie's first solo album, maybe I can work my way up to being able to transcribe, play, comprehend, and incorporate material from his later solos.
I started with track 2, "Three Bags Full". Now that I have it written down, I'm practicing learning to play small sections along with the recording at a reduced speed. Learning it slow actually makes it harder to perfectly replicate his "feel". I'm using the Amazing Slow Downer software program, which I highly recommend. I transcribed the solo without it at first, and then checked my work at a slower speed and couldn't believe how many details and notes I missed.
You'll notice that I didn't write many of the left hand chord voicings, but used simple rhythmic notation instead. That's because he's playing mostly stock rootless voicings that all jazz piano students learn at some point. Scribbling down these notes seemed like a waste of time for my purposes.
I added some analysis, but I'm still analyzing as I go. I hope to really "get inside his head" over the next few months.
If you would like to listen along as you glance through the solo, here's a YouTube link where someone uploaded it: http://youtu.be/nzkd-N6UrYE
Herbie's solo starts at 3:05.
Now, onto "Empty Pockets".
The Rocky Balboa of Jazz Pianists
I feel a bit like Rocky in training, preparing to make a come back. I haven't missed a day this week, but I'll admit it hasn't been easy.
I decided to narrow my focus to two things:
The Banacos lines are very chromatic and full of twists and turns. Charlie referred to them as being "snake-y". They make for great chop builders. I plan to stick with one line for a couple of weeks, until I can play it at a good clip, "double fisted" (in two hands), in all keys. For these I have alloted a 1/2 hour daily. I set the timer on my phone and commit myself not to leave the piano bench until I hear the buzzer sound. This has been a far greater challenge than I imagined, but I'm sticking with it, in hopes that it will get easier.Transcribing has been going relatively well. I've started using the Amazing Slow Downer software program, and love it! I'm surprised at how many details I missed in my first run-through "at tempo". I began with track 2, "Three Bags Full". I have already completed the right hand, and am moving onto the left hand comping. I will post these solos here, along with some analysis. I'm hoping to incorporate some Herbie-isms into my playing over the next few months.Here's the solo, starting at 3:05, after Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon.For the first time in a long time, I'm not practicing in preparation for a gig or recording. I'm back to just practicing to "sharpen my axe" and elevate my skills. It feels great.
- Practicing the twelve "super bop" lines given to me by Charlie Banacos a few years ago.
- Transcribing Herbie Hancock's "Takin' Off" record.
“Meadowlark”, a collaborative UConn School of Fine Arts presentation
For about a year I have been working on my third collaboration with visual artists, Deborah Dancy and Ted Efremoff. "Meadowlark", as we titled it, is a lighthearted celebration of color, seasonal migration and the musical whistles of eastern songbirds. For this project we added Bart Roccoberton's puppetry as a third artistic dimension. Although he was involved in discussions and brainstorming at the onset, Bart's contribution was kept a mystery until the day of the presentation.
My music was recorded by my COW ensemble (the Creative Opportunity Workshop), which features Christopher Hoffman on cello, Kris Allen on saxophones, Rogerio Boccato on percussion and me at the piano.
A preview performance of “Meadowlark” was given on Tuesday April 23rd, at 12:30 p.m. in the Nafe Katter Theater. Colleagues, students, administrator, and members of the community attended.
I ran a video camera from the back of the room to capture the presentation, complete with the (newly added) puppets. I loved how the puppet troupe heightened the sense of movement, buoyancy and vitality. Here is the video:It is marvelous (and fun!) to have such immensely talented colleagues from diverse disciplines with whom to join forces!
We plan to show all three of our collaborative pieces in the Fall, projected onto the outside wall of the UConn Art/Music building facing the new town center. We also plan to release a DVD sometime in the near future. We will keep you posted.
Hit The Road Jack - Performed by the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble
My 10tet performed at the Polish National Home in Hartford, Connecticut on April 26th, 2013. That evening, I was joined on stage by Kris Allen - alto sax, Frank Kozyra - tenor sax, Lauren Sevian - bari sax, Tony Kadleck - trumpet, Greg Hopkins - trumpet, Shelagh Abate - French horn, Sara Jacovino - trombone, Henry Lugo - string bass, and Ben Bilello - drum set. It was a great night!
We opened the concert with my arrangement of "Hit The Road Jack", which I have tweaked since it's debut with the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Here it is:
For more information about the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble, visit: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/new-directions-ensemble.html
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
I always think of Maynard Ferguson on May 4th. This would have been his 85th birthday. I'll be forever grateful for the opportunity I had to tour in his Big Bop Nouveau band (from 1998 - 2000).
I enjoyed playing for him once more in the alumni band formed for his 75th birthday, at Ryles jazz club. I admit that I "teared up" while playing his walk-on theme, "Blue Birdland" again.
He was perhaps the most gracious, humorous and positive person I have ever known. Maynard's passing was very hard on me and I know I'm not alone in saying I miss him.
I chuckle when remembering a group of us buying him a pair of shoes for his birthday. When the salesman wasn't looking, we switched one of the two shoes to a 1/2 size larger as his feet weren't the same size. (Maybe that is the highly sought secret to his upper register!) Fun little memories like this often come to my mind at the least expected moments.
Happy Birthday Boss.
I'll Remember April
"When it rains it pours". This year's April showers were more like a torrential downpour of frantic activity as I look back over my calendar. Concerts, debut performances, arranging deadlines, album mixing, teaching, service projects, kids activities --- all wonderful, exciting stuff, but I'm glad to have it behind me. Although grading, juries and year-end report writing remain, I can now see the end of the tunnel and am starting to breathe easier.
As an educator, the final UConn Jazz Ensemble performance of the year was a true highlight. It took place at Black-eyed Sally's in Hartford last Monday night. The evening was billed as College Night, and in addition to the UConn band, WCSU and Hartt (the Jackie McLean Institute) performed half-hour sets. Appropriately, the evening ended with a jam session. It was great seeing the students from these three institutions play together, interact with one another, and begin making the connections they need to make once they're outside of school. I sincerely hope this will be an annual event.
In the spirit of friendship, my group performed Jackie McLean's composition, "Appointment in Ghana", arranged by yours truly, as our final number. Here it is, as we performed it the week prior at Lu's Cafe on the UConn campus. Enjoy!
New Directions Concert --- This Friday in Hartford, CT
Here is the stellar roster which will be joining me for Friday's concert and student workshop in Hartford:alto sax: Kris Allentenor sax: Frank Kozyrabari sax: Lauren Sevianlead trumpet: Tony Kadlecktrumpet soloist: Greg HopkinsFrench Horn: Shelagh Abatetrombone: Sara Jacovinopiano: Earl MacDonaldstring bass: Henry Lugodrums: Ben Bilello
An Interview with Earl MacDonald by Gloria Franco of the Hartford Jazz Society
On April 26th, at 8 p.m., at the Polish National Home, 60 Charter Oak Avenue, Hartford, the New Directions Ensemble will perform under the direction of musician, arranger, composer, and educator, Earl MacDonald with the sponsorship of the Hartford Jazz Society. This Ensemble debuted in 2010 as the brainchild of Earl and co-director, Kris Allen.
EM: To be absolutely candid, I felt the jazz society was stagnating and needed to forge into a new direction if it wanted to be effective in expanding the audience for jazz in Hartford. I thought an active performing ensemble under the banner of the Hartford Jazz Society would help to cultivate a vibrant public image for the organization. It would give the HJS a very prominent, public face. By design, the group’s mandate is to assist in accomplishing the aims and purposes of the HJS – especially with relation to education and audience development. I pitched the idea to the board of directors and they embraced it. Together I hope we can do great things for jazz and the Greater Hartford community.
GF: I believe the Society would like to foster jazz education at the High School level, as well as at the university level. Is that something you might be involved in?
EM: Absolutely! As a part of this concert at the Polish National Home, we will be giving a free workshop for high school and university students from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. We hope to do much more of this kind of activity. Last year we gave a concert and worked with students at Glastonbury High School.
My plan for this ensemble has many layers. Phase one was to get music written and get the band up and running. Now that this has been accomplished, I plan to shift my focus to outreach and educational activities where we can expose students and younger audiences to our music. The third phase is to get the band properly recorded, so that we can expand our reach, as well as having proper examples to submit for grant proposals that would assist in accomplishing and fully realizing our educational, compositional and performance goals.
Josh Evans, New Directions Ensemble soloist
GF: As an educator (Earl is Director of Jazz Studies at UConn) you have said that you hope to inspire students to "reach their highest potential", rather than just passing knowledge on to them. I have found that this way of teaching often opens up a whole new world to students and fosters curiosity. Was there a mentor or someone in your past that inspired you? I ask because you seem to always be striving and constantly educating yourself.
EM: I’ve had many great teachers over the years --- Kenny Barron, Fred Hersch, Jim McNeely, Michael Abene, Michael Mossman etc. Each of them had something special and unique to share. I choose role models who are successful, evolving artists and people, who typically aren’t content with the status quo. In this way, trumpeter Dave Douglas stands out as someone who has inspired and influenced my thinking. I like that he has so many, varied ensembles functioning as his laboratories for experimentation and self expression.
GF: In 2006 you studied improvisation with Charlie Banacos. I've read that he teaches an ear training method. I've also read that most other countries use an ear training method, much more so than in the US. Would you agree with that, and do you use Banacos's method in you teaching?
EM: Strangely, my lessons with Charlie Banacos were via correspondence. I never met him face to face. We sent a cassette tape back and forth to one another through the mail. It was a unique experience and he gave me much forthright, constructive criticism that I value and appreciate to this day. My lessons were limited to one improvisational concept, so I didn’t get to experience his whole ear training method.
I do value ear training. As an undergraduate student, I didn’t take it too seriously, but later I worked very hard to develop my ear. I made tapes for myself of different chord voicings so that I could identify specific tensions and alterations on chords. Years ago, while teaching as a sabbatical replacement in Nova Scotia, I had to teach ear training and sight singing. During that year, my skills grew immeasurably, as I wouldn’t allow myself to falter in front of a class.
GF: As Musical Director for Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau band you traveled extensively. You've also recorded and performed with your sextet, quintet, trio, and as a solo artist. Do you find that you prefer teaching over performing? You've been called "an outstanding arranger"; how does it compare to creating and performing your own original compositions?
EM: My professional experiences inform and equip my teaching, and my teaching informs and equips my playing. They work together. I love teaching and seeing my students growing and accomplishing. As an example, seeing Jimmy Macbride do so well --- graduating from Julliard, winning competitions and playing great --- makes me feel very proud. But, I no longer teach privately outside of UConn. There aren’t enough hours in a day for this professor, father, husband, pianist, composer and arranger. Those are a lot of hats to wear, and “dropping the ball” in any of those areas isn’t an option. Achieving the proper balance is always the challenge.
MacDonald conducting the New Directions Ensemble
I chose a career in university teaching because it is enjoyable, gratifying work, it pays the bills and supports my family, it allows me to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle, and I can be selective about what music I play. I thoroughly enjoy teaching, but I’d be lying if I said I prefer it to performing and creating music of my own. There’s truth to the joke “What would a jazz musician do if he won the lotto? He’d work until the money ran out.” If I won the lottery, I’d be playing and composing full-time. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t found satisfaction in the route I have chosen to take.
As for the second question, arranging and composition are the same process for me. Whether it is one of my pieces that needs to be developed, or someone else’s, it doesn’t really matter. I try to put my own stamp on it, to make it uniquely my own.
GF: Being originally from Canada, was it pursuing your Masters at Rutgers that brought you to the US?
EM: Initially, yes, but I returned to Canada after completing my Masters degree. Like most jazz musicians, there was a period when I aspired to live and work in New York City. But when I did the math, it didn’t add up. Gigs paid next to nothing and rent was through the roof. I thought I’d have better luck in Toronto. Three times I planned to move to Toronto, but other opportunities presented themselves each time. The piano teacher at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia was on sabbatical, so they hired me to fill in for him after my graduation from Rutgers. The following year I took a similar one-year position in Bowling Green, Ohio at BGSU before accepting the gig with Maynard Ferguson’s band. While touring with Maynard I saw an online ad posted for my current position at UConn, and applied. That was 14 years ago.
GF: When is your next sabbatical and what plans do you have?
EM: I will be on sabbatical in the fall and have made arrangements to study film scoring. I look forward to doing some more consistent piano practicing too.
On my last sabbatical, I joined the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop in New York City. It was a great experience where I benefitted from the feedback of my peers and the workshop leaders, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober. I am tempted to rejoin. We’ll see. I need to be careful not to overcommit myself.
GF: We are truly blessed in the Hartford area with talented and dedicated musicians. Is it because we have some good music schools in the area and a proximity to New York or might there be some other reason?
EM: I believe this results from a culmination of factors: 1) the close proximity to NYC and the affordability/desirability to live here compared to the city. 2) some excellent school band programs, 3) the affluence of West Hartford residents who’s children have access to lessons, top instruments, concerts, etc. 4) excellent musician educators who have “given back” to their communities --- Jackie McLean, Paul Brown, Dave Santoro, Steve Davis, Kris Allen, John Mastroianni, etc. 5) the Hartford Jazz Society has played a role by bringing great musicians to town to perform. Coming from Winnipeg, I didn’t experience a live concert by a truly renowned jazz musician until my early 20s. I only heard them on recordings. That’s not the case here.
GF: In an online interview, I heard you mention Dizzy Gillespie's influence in the birth of Latin Jazz. I read that he was in Cuba and was influenced by Cuban musicians. Having been there I noticed how they take their music very seriously and proudly. It was a joy to see. Anything you'd like to add on this important part of Latin Jazz history?
EM: Someday, I too would like to go to Cuba to experience the infectious joy, pride and studious nature of the musicians there.
As much as I love Latin Jazz, what I love even more is the idea of fusing jazz with different styles to create something new and keep the music interesting and vital. I see and hear this happening now with electronic dance grooves in addition to the obvious hybrids with ethnic musics. It’s very exciting and prevents the music from becoming inbred and dull.
GF: Thank you Earl for your time and look forward to seeing you on the 26th. Hear there will be some new arrangement and/or compositions the ensemble will be performing.
EM: I just finished a big band arrangement for an upcoming recording by Canadian drummer, Tyler Hornby. I will be adapting this piece for the 10-piece instrumentation. Also, since my last Hartford performance with the band, I have been fully engaged in a collaborative project with visual artist, Deborah Dancy. Much new music has resulted, some of which will be incorporated into our show. I also continue to tweak the music already in our repertoire, working out any little kinks and making slight improvements here and there. It’s an ongoing process for me.
So in wrapping up, needless to say this is a concert not to be missed. Earl MacDonald has received so many awards. So much more could be said about him and his prolific career. His website is www.earlmacdonald.com
The Newington High School Jazz Ensemble plays at 7 p.m. and the New Directions Ensemble starts at 8 p.m.
This semester, the UConn Jazz Ensemble has prepared the arrangements of Marty Paich, as recorded on the 1959 Art Pepper + Eleven album. The concert will take place this Thursday, April 18th at Lu’s Café, within the Family Studies building on campus.
Here is the program information:The UConn Jazz EnsembleEarl MacDonald, directorColin Walters – alto sax, clarinetEmily Lavins – alto, tenor saxMatt Baum – tenor saxIan Jackson – bari, tenor saxDavid Dorfman – trumpetMichael O'Callaghan – trumpetEmma Reber - French hornMike Marsters – trombone 1Ryan Curtin – trombone 2Kim-An Do – pianoNick Trautmann and Lexi Bodick – string bassMike Allegue – drum set
Donna Lee by Charlie Parker
Walkin’ Shoes by Gerry Mulligan
Bernie’s Tune by Bernie Miller, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Anthropology by Charlie Parker
Move by Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis
Shaw Nuff by Dizzy Gillespie
Walkin’ by Richard Carpenter
Airegin by Sonny Rollins
Appointment In Ghana by Jackie McLean, arranged by Earl MacDonald
Also... as our final performance of the year, the UConn Jazz Ensemble will perform at Black-eyed Sally's in Hartford on Monday, April 29th. We will be part of the Connecticut College Jazz Showcase. Jazz Ensembles from WCSU (Western Connecticut State University) and the Jackie McLean Institute (the Hartt School) will also perform. The ensemble performances will take place between 7:30 and 9:15 p.m., and will be followed by a collective jam session. This is an event you won't want to miss!
UConn Jazz Combo Concert
The UConn Jazz Combos perform tomorrow night, April 11th. We have moved the venue to Lu's Cafe, a much more intimate and relaxed space than the formal, 500-seat recital hall. Lu's is located on the basement level of the Family Studies building. The music starts at 8 p.m. There is no cover charge, but donations are accepted towards our guest artist fund.
Here's the program:Dolphin Dance by Herbie HancockRed Clay by Freddie HubbardCombo #3:John Mastroianni, directorMichael O’Callaghan - trumpetMike Marsters – tromboneKeith Chasin – pianoNik Hutnik – string bassAndy O’Sullivan – drumsPrince of Darkness by Wayne ShorterIris by Wayne ShorterfCombo #2:Gregg August, directorMatt Baum – saxophoneKim-An Do – pianoNick Trautmann – string bassSteven Jack – drumsPing Pong by Wayne ShorterDear Sir by Wayne ShorterCombo #1Gregg August, directorTom Lee – trumpetColin Walters – saxophoneAndrew Wysen – pianoLexi Bodick – string bassMike Allegue – drumsEddaCombo #1Combo #2A jam session will follow the formal program
Concert Recording - New Directions Ensemble
My 10-piece band, the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble performed a concert at the University of Massachusetts on January 29th, 2013 and it was recorded by New England Public Radio. I thought it was one of our better performances, so I am happy to share it with you here.
Here is the roster which performed at UMASS's Bezanson Recital Hall:
Kris Allen - alto sax
Frank Kozyra - tenor sax
Lauren Sevian - bari sax
Jeff Holmes - lead trumpet
Doug Olsen - trumpet soloist
John Clark - French horn
Sara Javovino - trombone
Earl MacDonald - piano, composer, arranger
Henry Lugo - string bass
Ben Bilello - drums
Because it is an hour and a half concert, which includes my blabbing between tunes, you might want to scroll around to find a specific piece. Here are the starting times:
2:09 - Woody n' You
10:30 - Mirror of the Mind
15:24 - Miles Apart
21:10 - Appointment In Ghana
30:06 - Character Defect
Lauren Sevian, bari sax
- intermission -
40:22 - Sordid Sort of Fellow
50:05 - Hit The Road Jack
57:46 - East of the Sun
1:06:33 - Blame It On My Youth
1:13:03 - Hot 'n Ready
1:21:09 - Joshua
The next performance of the Hartford Jazz Society's New Directions Ensemble is slated for Friday, April 26th at the Polish National Home in Hartford, CT. The Newington High School Jazz Ensemble, directed by Stephen Brookes will be the opening act. A student workshop is scheduled from 4:30-6pm and is open to the public. The concert begins at 7 p.m.
New charts are in the works and the band sounds better every time we play. Purchase your tickets through the Hartford Jazz Society or at the door. See you there!
Piano For Beginners
Teaching beginning pianists isn't my forte, and given my son's temperament, I knew early on that my attempting to teach him to play the piano wouldn't be a good idea.
Truth be told, we had his first piano teacher selected while we could still carry him around in an infant car seat. She's a very experienced teacher with a large studio out of her home. We were consistently impressed when we heard her play at a local church, and weren't surprised to learn she had earned a Masters degree in piano performance from a respected conservatory.
We started in January (last month), when Logan turned 7. Here is a picture from his first lesson:
Logan's first piano lesson.The lessons and our practice sessions have been going very well. I am surprisingly impressed by the curriculum. We've been working from a series of books called "Piano Adventures" by Nancy and Randall Faber. We were issued four books, which are interrelated, but organized as: lesson book, theory book, technique and artistry book, and performance book.Up to this point (after 3 lessons), we have dealt exclusively with the black notes, thinking of them as groups of 2 or 3. Interestingly, no note names have been introduced yet. To me this makes total sense. The black notes are easy to identify visually, plus from the onset, kids are introduced to the correct fingering for black note keys such as Db, Gb and B.
Already he has been introduced to quite a few musical concepts: rhythmic values, including quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, as well as dynamics (quiet vs. loud).
Here is Logan playing "Old MacDonald". I was especially proud during this run through as he refrained from stopping or getting visibly mad when he made a couple of little mistakes.