BLOG mostly about my experience playing, writing, learning, and teaching music

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Bob Brookmeyer 

When I started studying with Bob I was deep into Lee Konitz.  I was aware that Bob came out of the same generation and pool of musicians, meaning both were post Basie/Lester Young players associated with the "cool school."  

I did my best to sound soft, airy, and hip in the first lesson.  He wasn't having it.  

     He told me to play a Bb major scale - the first scale I ever learned - as loud as I could.  Then he asked me to do it again, then again, then again.  Nope, never got it right that first lesson.  

     I couldn't hear what he was listening for yet.  I later figured out that he wanted me to play each note with as much volume as the last, playing even and not backing off at all.  

He wanted me to play with conviction.  

He swore Lee Konitz was a loud player.  I didn't believe him but whether or not it was true (I now know that it is!) wasn't the point.  

     The point was that he wanted me to believe in my ideas.  When you play loud, you are forced to except what comes out.  

He said something similar about sight-reading and intonation - you gotta look ahead to that note that you are dreading and love it! 

Composition, too.  He said when you bring a tune to a rehearsal, never put it on the stand and apologize and say it's "just a draft."  Put it on the stand as if it's the greatest piece ever written.

It's hard to name a great musician who doesn't sound like they have belief and sincerity in what they are doing in the moment. 

I think of Bob's lines.  They have a way of sitting there, in their own lyricism, swinging like hell.  

It takes guts to play that beautifully.

Arts in Education 

We need to stop thinking of "the arts" as a separate entity that we get to enjoy after work is done.

"The Arts" should not be thought of as a supplement, icing on the cake or a cherry on top of a "well-rounded education."    STEAM instead of STEM if you're lucky and have a budget.  

They are essential, but only not because they allow you to see beauty in the world or be inspired or show you what could be - though of course these are tangible benefits.

Practicing "the Arts" (in school or at home) is an opportunity to engage with the act of creation. 

This practice is essential because there is no such thing as a non-artist.  Art is something that is created.  We all create, so we are all artists.  Every day we create a meal, an outfit, a game, a workout, a route to work, a presentation, a party, a schedule, a family, a day. a life. 

Working in "the arts" in schools or alone (visual, music, theater, dance, writing, etc.) allows us to look at the act of creation - the method, the technique, the context, the result - and learn from the process. 

This has absolutely nothing to do with "talent" or being an artistic kid or a musical kid versus a sports kid.  This thinking is not useful.  Creating is not reserved for the chosen - we all do it. 

An entrepreneur is without question an artist.  How the hell don't politicians see this?  Or school administrators?  Where do they think all of the great ideas come from?

Art is creation.  We are all artists.  "Arts Education" allows us to engage in this process more deeply.

Coltrane, jazz education, and attempting to be cool 

This was originally a late-night facebook rant.  Not my most articulate moment but I still agree with the sentiment!

"I recently woke up and starting listening to John Coltrane for the first time in years. I've never thought of myself as a "Coltrane" guy - probably because I'm definitely a Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins guy, so traditionally your not supposed to be both. (what a ridiculous thought!) but i realized that i've listened to a ton of Coltrane in my life, and I love him!  Sometimes jazz education gets in the way of my enjoyment, which is a shame, because i am an educator as well as a player. Jazz education never shuts up about Coltrane. but you know why? because John Coltrane rules! 

I think that subversive/punk rock part of me was drawn to jazz at first - only me and a few kids were into it in high school (also why I got into skateboarding I guess) and I kind of dug that.  And now that i’m a full fledged jazz musician that same part of me wants to ignore the collective jazz consciousness at times or something.  What’s my problem? just listen to “a love supreme” - there’s a reason no one shuts up about it! it’s an amazing record! 

....and “kind of blue” totally rules, too!! 

udden out."

The "problem" with yesterday's perfect practice session... that you will practice again today, and you expect it to be that wonderful.  I remember having such a session as a student in college.  I began with long-tones, leading into a very slow free improvisation, leading to more complex free playing into a tune of some kind.  My mind was buzzing and I moved onto my technical exercises, etc., eventually moving back to a free improvisation to end it.  I felt amazing and was so excited to share what had happened with my teacher the next day.  I felt like I had licked this practicing thing!
It's hard for me to describe the look on his face when I described the session, but it really disappointed me.  It was sort of all knowing.  It's not that he wasn't happy for me, but there was a look of warning in his face, too.  He said something like, "They're not all going to be like that."  This really bummed me out at the time because I thought I was following his instructions and had really gotten somewhere.  I thought it would be all gravy from here on out. 
Twenty years later I totally get it.  Of course we should enjoy those moments - why else do we do this, right?  Just know that they won't all be like that, and that is OK, too.  What a great lesson the pursuit of a musical instrument teaches us!  Throughout your artistic path there will be an ebb and flow to your abilities, practice habits, joy, and inspiration, not to mention the frequency of performances.  You'll never finally "get it" and be fine from now on.  How boring would that be anyway? 
I try to remind students of this on occasion, to take the pressure off that you will reach a point when it's all going to be easy.  Many things will get way easier and that feels awesome!  It's just that you will always be reaching a little higher at the same time.  I remember what it felt like for "Stella by Starlight" to be a total mystery to me.  I now know what it's like to feel totally free and comfortable on that tune (at times - with the right people in the right circumstances...).  But there are so many things I still can't do. 
Ego check: Lee Konitz said that he's been playing "All The Things You Are" for 50 years and is still trying to get it right! 
So there you have it.  That is the mark of someone who has fun, stays engaged, always pushes and tries to discover something new.  Knowing that there will be good days and bad along the way.

Jazz and Skateboarding 

I've been a skateboarder longer than I've been a jazz musician.  The two activities have sort of simultaneously occupied different spaces in my brain for most of my life, but never really interacted.  Lately I've been thinking about the connections between them, and what that might say about the sort of person who likes both.  Here are a few thoughts:   

1.  I've always viewed both skateboarding and jazz as sort of subversive, anti-establishment activities.  Within the history of both, there are varying levels of how "underground" or popular the activity is at different times.  When I skated, there was only one other kid in school who did it.  When I was learning to improvise years later, there were two.  When you traveled to different towns, you could always kind of tell who a skater was by their shoes, or a jazzer by a Mingus T-shirt or if they were holding a copy of the Miles autobiography. 

2.  Both jazz and skateboarding deal with a basic language and variation on that language.  Grossly oversimplified, jazz uses scales, arpeggios, musical fragments and licks, while skateboarding uses the ollie, boardslide, and grind.  (Of course there is way more to both than that!)  On an an extremely basic level, a "line" might be a series of tricks or a series of licks. 
3.  Obstacles:  One way variation can happen in both activities is by changing context.  In jazz we use the basic language over forms of varying levels of complexity, while skateboarding applies the same maneuvers and variations over ramps, rails, curbs, "flat ground" or whatever else the skater can think of. 
4.  Related to obstacles, both skating and jazz are a reaction to one's environment.  Much of jazz has been a reworking of or a reaction to the pop music of the day - even finding new uses for old tunes.  Skating finds new uses for the architecture around us.  Jeff Grosso and Ed Tempelton talk more about this here:

  5.  Style:  Each skater or musician chooses what part of the language they will master and utilize, how they will vary it and what context they will put it in.  These factors contribute to an individual's style.  Sound and musical inflection contribute to musical style as well, while specific body movement contributes in skateboarding. 
6.  The history of both activities contains explosions in individual's ability to handle more complex material - four-minute mile moments where the impossible becomes possible, where things only professionals can do become basic maneuvers for the next generation. 

7. Session Culture:  The little weirdnesses in sessions (jazz "jam" sessions vs. skate sessions at a park) are surprisingly similar.  There is an etiquette to the order in which someone drops into a ramp as there is a typical solo order in jazz.  Courtesy is important as one is careful to not use an obstacle too long or play too many choruses on a tune.  Some show off.  Artists are always sizing each other up - "is he better than me?"  Most people are there to have fun and be inspired.
8.  Christian Hosoi and Tony Hawk are the Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins of Skateboarding.  Tony Alva is the Louis Armstrong and Rodney Mullen is definitely the Charlie Parker.  If you do both activities let me know if you agree. 

9. Camps:  Skateboarders argue about being a vert, street, or freestyle skater in a similar way to jazz musicians arguing about being a "staight-ahead" or "free" player.  Battles are fought but never won in both.
10.  Gear:  Innovation in gear (instruments, recording equipment, obstacles and skateboards) has affected every aspect of both activities, with a major innovation often leading to an explosion in complexity.  In both activities, there are those who focus way too much on gear, and should probably just practice. 
11.  World view:  Both skateboarding and jazz change one's view of the world forever, whether the person is currently engaging in the activity or not.  A handrail is always something that could be slid just as a pop tune is always something that could be analyzed and improvised over - subject to the imagination of the beholder. 
12.  Art vs. Sport, technique vs. style:  There are forever battles in both activities over whether it's better to be technical or artistic (Hawk/Hosoi, Hawkins/Young).  In skateboarding they argue if it is an art or a sport, while jazz musicians are arguing about having a "voice" versus the ability to play any style.  Camps form, battles ensue...  Nobody wins but it keeps people engaged.

Anything else?
Here is Mark Gonzales, the godfather of street skating, doing his thing to John Coltrane: