Just Around the Corner: The Montreal International Jazz Fest

It’s that time of year again: I get to take in the announcements of world-class artists playing amazing summer jazz festivals, some in the United States but mostly in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere around the world.

So many festivals, so little time. But mainly, so little $$ to get there. Still, we can all revel in the fact that jazz is alive and well, at least on the fest circuit, and that so many first-rate players are keeping busy playing these events.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend The Montreal International Jazz Festival three times over the last 14 years, and it’s one of my favorites — loads of high-caliber jazz, world music, blues, pop/rock, and “other” acts, all playing gorgeous indoor theaters, intimate nightclubs, and sprawling outdoor stages. Did I mention that everything is extremely well organized?

100_0083

Montreal is an unusually clean and attractive city, and easy to get around via walking and public transportation. In addition to checking out all the amazing music, it was great wandering around the Old Town area, observing Canada Day festivities, savoring the Euro-cosmopolitanism of Montreal and having several outstanding meals, including one at the Stash Cafe, a superb Polish restaurant. Back when, I even had the chance to spend some time there hanging out with my old friend, WUSF’s Bob Seymour and his wife Marian. And it’s always nice running into jazz-journalist colleagues.

Most recently, in 2012, I covered the fest for Relix & Jambands.com — check out my fest overview, and my reviews of Esperanza Spalding (see my video clip, above); SMV (Stanley Clarke/Marcus Miller/Victor Wooten), the Stanley Clarke Band, and Victor Wooten’s group; and Bill Frisell. I also interviewed Stanley for a preview of his multiple Montreal appearances, for a story that ran in Bass Player mag.

Back in 2002, I reviewed the fest for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and in 2001, my coverage appeared at jazzhouse.org (and elsewhere).

This year’s fest, its 35th, takes place June 26 to July 5, and two acts on the bill are really whetting my appetite: The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, and Snarky Puppy. I’ve seen both bands — The Bad Plus at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Clearwater, Fla venue now called the Capitol Theatre; Snarky Puppy just recently at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg — although I’ve never seen Redman with The Bad Plus. Both groups play jazz-oriented music that is deeply creative and often falls on the side of edgy/innovative. These guys are players, and both bands up up to a kind of music that travels beyond typical jazz confines while still honoring the tradition(s).

Also appealing to me: Bebel Gilberto, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Richard Galliano, Abdullah Ibrahim (solo and with various ensembles), Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater with Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, and Eliane Elias,

So … maybe I’ll get back this year, maybe I won’t. If you get the chance, go. For all the details, click here

The Act of Creation

In recent years, I’ve become more involved in writing music, thanks in part to the fact that I co-lead a band, Acme Jazz Garage, that plays frequently and is quick to learn new originals (and often helps with arrangements).

So I’ve given more thought to a)what it takes to create a tune that appeals to audiences (still don’t have a clue) and b)the process behind creating something from nothing.

I have a background as a journalist, and I’ve studied creative writing, and written a few short stories, only one of which has been published (in the journal Florida English). That story, probably not coincidentally, had something of a music-oriented theme, as it’s titled “The Night Frank Sinatra Saved Pop’s Life.”

I’ve been thinking about the similarity between the two arts, in terms of the task of — again — taking a blank page, and putting words or music together that add up to something more than the sum of their parts.

In both cases (journalism/creative writing & composing), what I write has been deeply influenced by what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, respectively.

For Acme Jazz Garage’s first “major” collection of original compositions, all penned by me (so far), there are two tunes that were directly inspired/influenced by others: “Sandprints” takes some cues from Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” while “Mr. G.P.” is named for bassist George Porter, Jr. of the Meters and inspired by that band’s swampy, funky old-school R&B, although the Acme twist on that sound also features a horn section (flugelhorn, bari sax and tenor sax). The title of the latter tune is a play on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” itself named for bassist Paul Chambers,

For me, a song can start with a riff I hear in my head — once, I heard a tune in a dream — or something that I come up with while noodling on bass, piano or guitar. “Last Call,” the most jazz-oriented of the tunes we’re recording, actually is rooted in a little guitar progression I first messed around with 30 years ago or so.

The point of all of this, I guess: The act of creation is a mystery.

And there’s also that head-space conundrum to deal with, at least for me: Why would anyone care about something I write?

What I do know, for sure, is that the more I do it, the easier it gets for me to achieve the desired result — the more proficient I get at translating my ideas into stories or songs. Something similar happens when playing an instrument. When it comes to music, I’d be even better equipped if I had a stronger understanding of theory and harmony.

Will the end result of our creativity and hard work, a full-length recording, have an impact beyond our local fans, friends and family? Are the tunes any good?

Stay tuned.

Michael Formanek in Bass Player Magazine

I recently interviewed Michael Formanek for a short feature published in the December issue of Bass Player.

Go directly to the piece by clicking here, or read the full text below:

bp1310_bn_MF5_nr.jpg

MICHAEL FORMANEK ALTERNATES between open-ended group improvisations and more structured passages on The Rub and Spare Change, his first album as a leader in 12 years. A jazz faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Formanek has provided steady groove making and inventive soloing for a rangy mix of artists, from a teenage stint with Tony Williams Lifetime to gigs and recording sessions with the Mingus Big Band and late jazz masters Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, and Joe Henderson.

You’ve played fusion, big band, bebop, improvised music, and more. Do you feel most at home in one of those genres, or do you see it all as a continuum?

It’s a continuum. Maybe improvised music is the one for me, because I feel like I can go into any of those other zones. Some people think of improvised music as not referencing other styles or grooves, but I don’t like those kinds of limitations. I’m absolutely thrilled to go there, find a groove, and not shy away or from something because it references something else.

What’s the state of the improvised music scene?

It’s maturing in a lot of ways. Greater numbers of young musicians going to school—or otherwise getting traditional jazz educations—are looking to bring more free, non-structured improvisation into their music.

Which players have had the deepest impact on your work?

Different guys at different times—Paul Chambers, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Sam Jones, Oscar Pettiford, Israel Crosby, and Ron Carter. But Charles Mingus stands out just because of the breadth of his contributions. As a player and composer, I always loved the sound of his bass, the depth of his personal expression, and the way he wrote extended compositions. I’ve never been wild about his methods for dealing with people as a bandleader, but I’ve admired his attempts to get players to make the music their own and his focus on collective improvisation.

HEAR HIM ON

Michael Formanek, The Rub and Spare Change [ECM, 2010]

GEAR

Bass u-size French Mirecourt school double bass, circa 1860
Strings Velvet Blue
Bow German-style Pfreschner bow
Rig Aguilar AG 500SC head with GS 112 cab

Gary Peacock: “You’re Always at the Beginning” (Bass Player magazine)

Jazz bass great Gary Peacock is best known for his quarter-century’s worth of work with drummer Jack DeJohnette in pianist Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio.

But he’s also released a long list of intriguing albums as a leader, and such projects as last year’s Insight,  a duo project with pianist Marc Copland.

I recently spoke with Peacock for an interview published in Bass Player magazine. Check out the story online here, or read my somewhat extended version, below:

———-

More than 25 years into his collaboration with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette, digging deep into the American Songbook and finding dazzling musical insights in pop chestnuts and jazz standards, and Gary Peacock isn’t so sure that the gig is permanent. “There are no guarantees in that group,” Peacock says from his home in small-town Claryville, in upstate New York, where he relocated from Westchester in 1993. “So every time that we go to play it’s the first time we’re going to play and the last time we’re going to play. We make it so that we can be totally present with the music. I hear their music imbued with the same kind of dedication and same kind of commitment.”

To be sure, the so-called Standards Trio, a critical and commercial success on recordings and concerts around the globe, is likely to go on indefinitely. And the group’s prominence owes in no small measure to Peacock’s penchant for following his muse, his confirmed identity as a musical seeker. That open-mindedness led the Idaho-born musician to drop piano and drums at 21, in 1956, and migrate to bass. Within the year, he had left Army life in Europe and moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly found work with the likes of saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper, pianist Paul Bley, and guitarist Barney Kessel.

Peacock’s long and fabled career has encompassed work in mainstream jazz and free jazz, stints with Miles Davis in 1964 and 1965, a self-imposed hiatus from music in the late ’60s, and a string of solo albums. Most recently, he has applied his highly creative soloing, heartbeat-steady walking, and gifts as a composer to trio and duo recordings with pianist Marc Copland. And that long-running gig with Jarrett and DeJohnette? There’s no end in sight.

You live in a rural area. What effect does that have on your playing and your composing?

It’s very, very supportive. It’s quiet. The mind quiets down just because the atmosphere’s quiet. If I need excitement, I can always go into the city. It’s much easier to get into a daily routine here than in the city. The external noise from the car horns was very distracting. Living where it’s quiet, I can sustain concentration.

Do you play bass every day?

Yes, every day. I have a very strict routine. I get up early, at five or six o’clock, and have tea and then sit and do Zazen (meditation). I have yogurt and coffee and then play the bass for an hour and a half or two hours. The morning is very patterned, a real routine. I usually don’t answer the phone until 10 o clock in the morning. And then after that, I do whatever business I have to take care of, answering emails or making calls.

Are there any particular exercises that you play?

I don’t really work out of a book. What I’ve been doing for years is basically trusting my ears and listening and asking myself what’s coming up to work on. It may be an arpeggio, it may be tenthing, or breathing. I spend a lot of time just improvising.

How do you describe your physical relationship with the bass?

There’s the physical aspect, and the intellectual and psychological, emotional aspect and there’s the intuitive aspect of it. There is a physical relationship between the actual performer and the instrument and I mean that literally. It’s the physical relationship that very often is not stressed, is not considered enough.

You’ve talked about approaching each playing experience as if you were a beginner. What do you mean by that?

You’re always at the beginning. That’s an attitude that can be understood intellectually. It’s an attitude that can be conceptualized. If it becomes real, then it does change things. If you’ve come close to death a few times or what you thought was death, you’ve realized there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be alive in the next instant. So my approach to playing is the realization that there are no guarantees anywhere. So where do I want to be, what kind of state to do I want to be in when I’m playing? It helped me to be really focused in a profound way and be really present.

Did you have that feeling the first time you played with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, on your album “Tales of Another” (1977)?

Yes. On that recording, I had written some free pieces. One of the free pieces was “Major Major” and there weren’t any changes, it was just a head. Keith said, “What do you want to do when you finish the melody?” I said, “I’ll just do whatever comes next.” Keith said, “Oh, okay.” It was where that “okay” was coming from that made a difference. He knew what I was talking about. That was a special moment for me because it was very clear that we were on the same page. (When they began playing) it was real clear that he absolutely understood.

Do you feel like you have a different connection with those guys than you have had with other musicians?

My experience with Keith and Jack is unique. The experience I had with Paul Motian and Bill Evans is unique. The experience I had with Paul Motian and Paul Bley is unique. Not the same, and not different. There are musicians that a person has a certain affinity with. It’s kind of like an acre of ground, very very fertile ground, and in that ground there are flowers in all different shapes and color and sizes, and different longevities. And at the same time they come from the same undeniable source, the same ground. That’s as close as I can get to an analogy of the experiences I’ve had with the different bands I’ve worked with.

Is “Insight” a project that you had wanted to do for a while?

We’ve only done a couple of duo performances. It’s something I like to do because of the bare-ass nakedness of it. No other support is going on except for what’s going on with us. I’ve always felt comfortable in duo settings whether with piano or with guitar like Ralph Towner. There are nuances that I would naturally hear that I would play, whereas with drums I probably wouldn’t. It does make a difference. It’s something that we both enjoyed and looked forward to doing.

When you first began playing bass, you made very rapid progress.

I was woodshedding and jamming with people, playing blues in all 12 keys. I had a Simandl method book, boring as hell. I went through that pizzicato, and realized very quickly that what I was really after I wasn’t going to get out of a book. I’d been playing a little less than a year and Bud Shank and Bob Cooper came over for a European tour and they were looking for a bass player and I got the gig. And then I went back to Los Angeles and was there for about five years, working with just about everybody in LA. I realized one morning that I had to go to New York.

Having had a background playing drums and piano, did you come at the bass with some advantages?

I think any bass player should sit down to a set of drums and play drums so they get a sense of it. And for sure they should spend some time at the piano. That’s for ear development, particularly for being able to intuit harmony. The keyboard, the acoustic piano, is the source for hearing any kind of tonal relationships, even if you’re getting into free jazz or stuff where you’re not playing tonal music. The lessons you learn transcend tonality. Years and years ago, just before I moved to New York, Scott LaFaro came in town and we hung out at his place. He put on a record. It was Anton Webern. It was dubbed atonal. What was interesting was that I was into Bartok, particularly the quartets, something that I listened to daily. That I could hear. In Scott’s case it was Webern. It was 15 years before I started listening to Webern again. When I did I said “Whoa, I hear what’s happening.” There are short little melodic fragments – 12-tone rows. I suddenly realized, “This person really deeply understood tonality.”

Was Scott Lafaro one of the players who had a major impact on your jazz conception?

Yes, and Paul Chambers, and Ray Brown — there wasn’t anybody that I wasn’t listening to. When I first started playing, when I got to L.A. I had two books that I made of my own transcriptions — one was transcriptions of Ray Brown, his walking lines and choice of notes. One was Red Mitchell’s solos that I copied from his records. I used those books as etudes. It was something that was real to me I didn’t have any fear at all that I’d become a clone. Doing the transcriptions was wonderful ear development. You really have to put in the time and the energy and the willingness.

Were there others whose music you transcribed, and learned from?

Of course. Miles Davis, just in terms of phrasing and intuition and sound. Stan Getz. Pianists from Horace Silver to Wynton Kelly. Red Garland, then later Bill Evans, and Brubeck for a little while. Russ Freeman. Chet Baker, too.

You’ve said that Miles taught you a lot about the art of listening. How so?

He didn’t miss one thing. He heard everything that was happening all the time. I could hear that he was hearing it. There was that kind of focus, that kind of attention, that kind of commitment to what’s happening. It was a great experience really a great lesson. Miles was a great teacher, without teaching. He didn’t teach everything, or anything, and yet taught everything.

Were there other leaders along the way who had a big impact on your playing?

In terms of listening, that certainly happens with Keith and Jack and it also is an integral aspect of what Mark and I play, although very differently.

Do you have plans for more solo recordings?

I’m looking at a solo recording project for the early part of next year.

Unaccompanied?

Yes. It’s something I’ve been threatening to do for years. I think I’m starting to feel like, “Yeah, I’m ready now.”

Playing completely unaccompanied presents its own challenges and joys.

Oh yeah. It’s completely different than anything I’ve ever done in a sense. My whole approach to music and jazz in general was more coming from the standpoint of being a support player. When I got in a band, I wanted to make sure that everyone sounded the best they’ve ever sounded in their life. That was kind of my goal, that I really lit their fire. That’s kind of what I felt with Ray Brown — How could somebody play with Ray Brown and not sound unbelievable? How could you not sound great, with what this guy’s lahying down? For me to go from that to being a soloist, unaccompanied, is daunting, really scary. I think I’ve finally turned that corner. That’s my plan.

———-

GEAR

Bass: Arnold Schnitzer flatback, 3/4, circa 2005. Until 2008, Peacock favored his British-made Samuel Allen, a 7/8 bass made in 1875. “It sounds like an organ. It was always problematic in large halls. I was looking for a smaller instrument, with the assumption that a flatback would have the opportunity to not be muddy and to be clear and have more of a point on it. It (Schnitzer) has ash for the back and for the ribs, but the deck is maple. It’s clear as a bell, and projects well.”

Strings: Thomastik Spirocore, orchestra gauge

Pickup: Fishman Full Circle

Bow: German-style bow, made by G. Werner “It tends to be on the heavy side, but it balances really well.”

Rig: SWR SM-400 amp; SWR Goliath 410

Heard on: Gary Peacock/Marc Copland, Insight (Pirouet, 2009); Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, Yesterdays (ECM, 2009), My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (ECM, 2007), Setting Standards: New York Sessions (ECM, 2007); Toninho Horta, To Jobim With Love (Resonance, 2008); Bill Carrothers, Home Row (Pirouet, 2008); Marc Copland/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices (Pirouet, 2007); Marc Copland/Gary Peacock/Bill Stewart, New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 1: Modinha (Pirouet, 2006)

Listening to: Works by Shostakovich and Mozart

Danton Boller in Bass Player

I recently spoke with Danton Boller, who has worked with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and others, for a short piece published in Bass Player. It’s now available online.

Click here to check out the story in Bass Player, or see the text of the feature below.

INDIANA NATIVE DANTON BOLLER played electric bass in teenage rock    bands  in Southern California, but a switch to upright under the tutelage of Dave Brubeck Quartet bassist Eugene Wright sent him in entirely new directions. Boller has since applied lessons from Wright and California State University Long Beach instructor Chris Kollgaard to high-profile gigs with Roy Hargrove, Seamus Blake, Robert Glasper, and Anthony Wilson. A New Yorker since 1997, Boller has focused lately on his own recordings, a forthcoming duo release with Wright, and a new piano trio project. He also works with drummer Ari Hoenig and singer Kat Edmondson.

Is there a particular New York jazz bass sound you’ve gravitated toward?
When I first moved here, a lot of the guys I was watching were heavily influenced by Paul Chambers. I was too … and still am. But then I started checking out guys like Richard Davis, Doug Watkins, Jimmy Merritt, Eddie Jones, Buster Williams—styles that I wasn’t hearing so much from younger guys.

What lessons did you learn from Eugene Wright?
He wouldn’t necessarily say, “play these lines,” or “play these notes,” but there’s one thing that has stuck with me: I asked him why he played what he did on Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” He said, “I just picked something that would be easy for everyone to latch onto.” That’s kind of the way I approach playing. I try to think of what’s going to enable everyone to play their best.

What was it like recording duos with Wright?
Playing in the correct range so the melody would sit well over another bass is something I never had to think about before in a recording situation. It was incredibly fun to shift gears, and to get the opportunity to play over Eugene’s undeniable groove. “Theme For My Ladies” [a three-movement composition by Wright] captures a lot of different moods. We got into trading solo phrases where I was playing arco and he was playing pizz. That is one of my personal highlights, because it sounds so conversational.

How do you approach soloing?
I try to tell a story with a good melody, and let it develop naturally. I’ve never considered myself to be a great soloist—I want to be a really good rhythm-section player first. Soloing is the icing on the cake.

Lincoln Goines in Bass Player Magazine

goinesMy q&a feature on Lincoln Goines (Caribbean Jazz Project, Mike Stern, Sonny Rollins) appears in the March issue of Bass Player magazine. Click here to read.

Some of the other features that I’ve done for Bass Player in recent years are also available at the mag’s site. Click here to view the complete list, or access the stories individually via the links below

Wayman Tisdale (October 08)

Barre Phillips & Dave Phillips (June 08)

Esperanza Spalding (cover story, May 08)

Cleve Eaton (April 08)

Ben Allison (March 08)

Morrie Louden (December 07)

Stephan Krump (November 07)

Viktor Krauss (July 07)

Avishai Cohen (June 07)

Esperanza Spalding (December 06)

Reuben Rogers (September 06)

Lisle Atkinson (July 06)

Francois Moutin (March 06)

Bootsy Collins — Making Music to Support the Soldiers

Funk/R&B bass monster Bootsy Collins (Parliament/Funkadelic, James Brown, etc.) recently volunteered his time and talent to put together a recording, the Fallen Soldiers Memorial CD, designed to fund the Fallen Soldiers Memorial Museum.

Collins, as he recounts in the January issue of Bass Player magazine, grew excited about contributing to the cause after befriending a man, Keith Maupin, whose son, Matt, was killed while serving in Iraq. The bassist decided to help raise funds for Cincinnati’s Yellow Ribbon Support Center.

And then he opted to to make an even bigger effort.

“That’s when my eyes and heart were opened to what is really going on,” the Cincinatti native told Bass Player. “I had been hung up on the War issue like most creative people. Then, when I separated the War from the Soldier and from the Families, I began to see the people who are being killed and hurt. These are people just like you and me.”

The museum’s purpose, as was explained to Collins: “This would be a place where soldiers’  families could go to talk and help heal, relate to people who have the same experiences, and reflect over the material things that tte Museum has collected on behalf of the family. This special place would honor all the fallen soldiers and bring together those who have let go of their sons and duaghters to face that ultimate sacrifice.”

The upshot: Collins, through his Bootzilla Productions, Fallen Soldiers Memorial CDtapped Charlie Daniels, George Duke, Blair Carmen and other artists for the project.

The album was officially released on Thanksgiving Day, and reportedly is available online through Bootsy Collins, the Yellow Ribbon Support Center (see links above), iTunes and several retail outlets. There’s talk of a related DVD to come in February.