Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bill Dixon and Exploding Star Orchestra

 Bill Dixon with Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra
Ars Nova Workshop
Philadelphia, PA

I am excited to share the news that I will join Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra for a special performance with Bill Dixon in Philadelphia.  Rob has been trying for some time to fold me into this ongoing project.  This concert will also bring me back to Philadelphia, were I lived and worked in the mid- seventies, for the first time in thirty years.

This is a wonderful ensemble that fits Bill's sensibilities like a glove.  We will rehearse and perform on Saturday December 5, as a part of an ongoing concert series at Ars Nova Workshop entitled Anti Jazz: The New Thing Revisited.

Image of Bill Dixon, Rob Mazurek & me by Nick Ruechel

Tapestries for Small Orchestra

Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra
Firehouse 12 Records
New Haven, CT

The work that we produced with Bill Dixon at Firehouse 12 has been released.

Those of you that follow this blog may remember the journal I kept here during the recording process.  Response so far has been strong.  Check out the review by Trevor Hunter at AMC's New Music Box.  There is a sample of the music at this link.  I suggest you purchase the product directly from Firehouse 12 Records to maximize artist and label profits.  A tip of the hat to the LEF Foundation, without whose essential support we may not have accomplished this important new work.

The music is a delight: singular and, as Bill would say "not for everyone."  This is music for orchestra, wonderfully drawn and passionately delivered. The DVD opens a lovely little window into Bill's creative processes.  We hope to mount a small tour of the project early in 2010.  Stay tuned for details.

Image of the ensemble by Nick Ruechel

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Citizens Orchestra

Outpost 186
Cambridge, MA

Two graduates of Bennington College's storied Black Music Division invited Bill Dixon to visit Cambridge last week.  Eric Zinman and Stanley Jason Zappa had a notion to put together a small improvising orchestra as a tip of the aesthetic hat to Bill and the Bennington experience.

We gathered in a rehearsal room at MIT on Wednesday for three hours, setting some broad parameters for a musical interaction.  Drummer and former Black Music Fellow Syd Smart was with us throughout, making the hang with Bill and the musicians.  The following evening I ended up conducting both the improvisations, grouped in small sets of players, and some of my own material, scored for the occasion. Check out Chris Rich's wonderful write-up of the project on the Brilliant Corners blog.

Eric is resolved to continue this experience somehow.  Something to watch out for...


Eric Zinman, Bill Dixon, Lawrence Cook & Stanley Jason Zappa at Outpost 186

Friday, November 13, 2009

Joseph Daley Orchestra Project

 Legacy Studios
New York, NY

After four Monday rehearsals, we gathered at Legacy Studios, just off Times Square, for two intensive days of recording.  Joseph spent years saving his own money to make this project a reality, and then invited a bunch of his musical friends to join him in the undertaking.  Ballade for a Fallen African Warrior was originally commissioned by MOBI (Musicians of Brooklyn Initiative)  in 1989.  I presented the premier of the commission in a little church down the street from my apartment in Fort Greene.  Joe expanded the work for the recording project. The rest of the material was a suite, The Seven Deadly Sins.

The ensemble was a hand-picked who's-who of hipsters: Howard Johnson, Mark Taylor, Bob Stewart, Gary Valente, Craig Harris, Warren Smith and Satoshi Takeishi just to start the list.  Dig the trumpet section below (though I played cornet on the final recording)  Lew Soloff, Stanton Davis, EJ Allen, Reggie Pittman and myself.

Joe plans a limited edition art release of the music. We also filmed - I introduced Joe to Robert O'Haire, who did the work on the recently completed Bill Dixon Firehouse 12 project.
Images by John Rogers

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bill Dixon at Osmuns Music

Osmuns Music
Arlington, MA

We decided to start stirring the pot around Bill Dixon's birthday a bit early this year. Today, Bill and I drove down Route 2 to Arlington Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, to visit Osmuns Music. We both brought our Schilke trumpets down for a chemical cleaning and some light repair.

Bill Lowe has been telling me about Bob Osmun and his workshop for years, and rightly so.  We were treated like visiting royalty.  Forbes Graham and Bill Lowe popped in to surprise Bill and, after a tour of the repair facilities, we adjourned for an outdoor lunch and lively conversation.

Bill Lowe, Stephen Haynes, Bill Dixon, Bob Osmun and Forbes Graham at Osmuns

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pavone, Darling, McEachern and Haynes

CT Improvising Composers Project
Salisbury School

Salisbury, CT

The CT Improvising Composers Project completed our four-concert tour summer tour with an evening of music at Salisbury School, where Peter McEachern teaches. Satoshi Takeishi rejoined us on drums. The setting was pristine (a small, hillside chapel), the music was powerful, and the audience was more than receptive. CT State Representative Roberta Willis was in the house for this final installment of our Special Initiatives Grant Program project.

Next we take the project into the studio to record the music. We have just been invited to participate in the 2010 summer Music Mountain Festival. This may be the time to revist the notion of naming the ensemble. Stay tuned for details.

drawing by Dianne Englecke/photo of CICP by Steven Laschever 
graphic design by Stephen Haynes

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Moving Together

CT Improvising Composers Project
Charter Oak Cultural Center
Hartford, CT

For the past year, I have been working together with Mario Pavone, David Darling and Peter McEachern on developing a new body of work and, most importantly, an authentic ensemble sensibility. Being a working band. Last weekend, this notion clicked and the music caught fire. We were fortunate to have Harris Eisenstadt join us on drums and percussion. He fit (in more ways than one) like a glove and managed to be essential to the epiphany of last weekend.

Not for nothing, we were ensconced in the Charter Oak Cultural Center, a converted synagogue, and the spirits were most certainly present and in the room. The audience, laden with Quaker friends, laid a deep listening foundation that was palpable in it's presence. We all felt it and we moved together.

This Saturday we perform at Salisbury School in Salisbury, CT where Peter teaches. Satoshi Takeishi rejoins us. After that, we book studio time and make a record of this wonderful project. Stay tuned for details...

Images by Luis Cotto

Friday, August 14, 2009

Music Witness and More

New England

Yesterday was a wonderful day. My friend JD Parran cooked up a meeting between us and Jeff Schlanger. I have known Jeff for years through his work as a Music Witness. I knew a bit about his other work, having checked out Chile New York, his collaborative work with Julius Hemphill, on the Black Saint label. JD and Jeff are hard at work on a new release on Mutable Music of a solo concert of JD's music and with a wonderful image created during the event.

None of that prepared me for the visit to Jeff's home and studio. He's been there a long time and the entire space is full of magical art. And while the focus is clearly clay/ceramics/sculptural work, Jeff moves playfully through a range of media. All of his work is infused with his deep concern for peace. Such joie de vivre!

The next step is to begin growing ways to work together. Stay tuned for that!

Photos by Brigid Kennedy

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jazz in the Space Age

Years ago, I had a lesson with Roswell Rudd. At that lesson, he told me he had decided that he should not teach his individual solutions to improvisation to others, that I should find my own way. His advice was, "if I were your age, I would go find George Russell and follow him around."

Several years later, I met Mr. Russell at Bennington College, where I studied and later taught. Bill Dixon had invited him up. Bill and George used to live in the same building on Bank Street in New York city. Bill was George's copyist at the time. "There where two sets of cats who came to our building to study. One set went upstairs to study with George. The other set came to study with me."

When I moved to the city in 1982, I spent the summer watching rehearsals of the George Russell Living Time Orchestra. They took place at Henry Threadgill's AIR studio. The trumpet section was Ron Tooley, Stanton Davis and Tom Harrell. After awhile, I began to sub for Stanton, who I had also met at Bennington.

When the orchestra returned from it's European tour, Stanton asked me to sub again, this time at the Village Vanguard. Stanton was in the pit for Black and Blue on Broadway at the time. During that week I assisted by training two other subs, Ray Anderson and Brian Lynch, running them through the parts in George's hotel room.

George was a singular musician; innovative and, I think it is fair to say, underappreciated. And George was, shall we say, a complex human being.

Sitting In With Burnt Sugar

Real Art Ways

Hartford, CT

Following the topic of having fun close to home, I recently had the opportunity to sit in with Burnt Sugar at Real Art Ways, thanks to a generous invitation from Greg Tate, who leads the ensemble.

Greg employs Butch Morris’ Conduction methodology, but manages to put his own distinctive spin on the technique. Most notable is Greg’s passion (obsession) for/with rhythm. He often builds from the ground up, employing bass and drum grooves as the foundation for his musical house. Greg is also more open-handed (minimalist) in his direction of the music. This may, in part, be due to the family model he employs with Burnt Sugar. This is a working band (that may contract or expand in size) with a solid center of well-trained players: a rarity these days.

Rather than pull me up at a moments notice to solo, Mr. Tate allowed me to stand in the section for the entire evening. What I dug most was finally getting to play alongside Lewis Barnes, a gentleman and trumpet stalwart for many of William Parkers groups.

The house at RAW was packed, as is usual on Creative Cocktail evenings, and I/we had a ball!

Photos by Steven Laschever

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hartford Sound Alliance Plus

Hartt School of Music
Hartford, CT

It is always good to meet new friends.

This past Wednesday, my duo partner Todd Merrell and I spent an afternoon with Matt Sargent, Lief Ellis and Bill Solomon, otherwise known as the Hartford Sound Alliance. Three laptops, keyboard, a table of percussion, microphones and my cornet. Matt sampled my output, Lief did the same with Bill. Todd did his own wonderful dance.

What a delight! The music was anything but tentative, and the connection between the five of us was immediate and powerful. A special synchronicity. We meet again next week, and have agreed to visit Outpost 186 in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a small concert in October. What we need is several more opportunities to perform locally and in New York city. Stay tuned as the work unfolds.

Worth noting was the presence of the delightful Nat Reeves, bassist and faculty member at Hartt's Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. Nat grabbed me for a quick visit to his studio, sharing his excitement about recent developments at the school.

Photo by Nat Reeves

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Death of a Down to Earth Diva

I will never forget the day that JD Parran brought me to meet Betty Allen. JD was doing his best to get me onto the faculty at the Harlem School for the Arts. Even though Betty had been nudged out of her upstairs office by the young HSA Director of the moment, she maintained a deep cellular connection with the school and it's community. After all, it was her passion that birthed and raised up HSA from modest beginnings in a church basement.

"So, you want to teach here?" Even sitting in the corner of the music library that she had taken over, Betty was nothing if not regal. We talked for a half hour about music and what we loved, what was important to share with children. Betty gave me her blessing.

I used to stay at school late some evenings to watch Betty teach her weekly opera workshop. She was so dynamic, so generous with her time and spirit. Betty may have been a diva, but Betty was always real.

I shall miss you Miss Allen. Truly.

Portrait of Betty Allen, 1958 by Carl van Vechten

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CT Improvising Composers Project

CT Improvising Composers Project
Real Art Ways
Hartford, CT

The first of four statewide concerts of the new Connecticut Improvising Composers Project took place week before last at Real Art Ways. Plenty of friends turned out for the music. Local music witness Maurice Robertson was there, and these are a few of his images of the ensemble at work. The local press was supportive, with a preview from the stalwart scribe Owen McNally, and reviews from Chuck Obuchowski and Dan Barry.

Satoshi Takeishi joined us with very little rehearsal time and did what he always does, fitting the music like a glove and swinging with aplomb.

We will be back in Hartford September 12. Soon after that we will take the group into the studio to record. This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism through their Special Initiative Grant Program and the deep partnership of Music for People.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Magic of Margaux Hayes

The Studio at Billings Forge
Hartford, CT

I recently (okay, not so recently, I am a bit behind with my blog posts) had the treat to perform with a longtime musical friend, Margaux Hayes. She is on a short list of local favorites (another would be Mixashawn) who, unfortunately, rarely/infrequently work locally.

Margaux is a singer, or should I say sanger, who also writes and declaims poetry and is currently at work on an original opera. Lately we have seen her at reheasals with Anthony Braxton's large ensembles at Wesleyan University in Middletown.

We worked together at The Studio at Billings Forge, thanks to Luis Cotto of La Paloma Sabanera fame. Luis is a very special weaver of community, masterful in his manner of connecting people from all walks of life through the arts. Luis is also a champion of local artists, a rare thing.

The music was a delight, full of energy and infused by the spiritual. Margaux's elastic voice (and conception) led us through a mixed menu of standards (think Rahsaan Roland Kirk) and original material. Not for nothing, the audience at The Studio comes to listen. Nothing like a witness to ground the music.