Another social media challenge fad is circulating around these days and I got tagged. The challenge is to post an album cover of a record that’s important to you every day for 10 days. I’m having fun picking albums that were particularly influential to me, so I’m repeating it all here.
Day 1 – On Time, Dave Brubeck
This is a Dave Brubeck compilation record that includes tracks from Time Out, Time Further Out, and probably some others. My dad’s friend gave it to me when I was 15 when I was first discovering jazz. It’s one of the first jazz records I owned, if not the very first.
Day 2 – El Rumbero del Piano, Eddie Palmieri
Afro-Cuban jazz was my first love. I got this record at the library in high school and burned a copy (eventually went and bought one). I listened to it so many times. I always wanted to learn how to play montunos like Eddie does on this, but never had a chance to learn how until I got to UW. By complete chance, I got assigned to play with Joe Santiago in the UW Latin Jazz Big Band, who played bass on THIS EXACT RECORD.
Day 3 – 西雙版納的晚霞 / Sunset-Glow of Xishuang Banna
I’m not really sure when I first heard this record, but I do know that I got it out of my grandfather’s CD collection. It’s a from a concerto for 琵琶 (pipa) and Chinese orchestra. The main theme out of the first movement is gorgeous and really stuck with me for a long time. I eventually wrote a reharmonized version for jazz trio, which ended up on my first ever record as a solo bandleader.
Day 4 – The Way Up, Pat Metheny Group
Right when trumpeter Cuong Vu was hired to teach at the University of Washington, I picked up a copy of this record to hear what the fuss about this really famous band he played with was all about. This veritable jazz symphony of a record changed my perspective on everything that jazz could be. I did an internship in Dallas, Texas for a summer, and had 3 CDs with me, and this was one of them.
Day 5 – Brad Mehldau, Anything Goes
Also one of the only 3 CDs I had for a summer in Texas, this record defined for me what a modern piano trio should sound like. I love the way he lays back the melody on ballads like Tres Palabras and I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face. It’s still my favorite Mehldau record.
Day 6 – Richard Galliano and Sylvain Luc, La Vie en Rose
Around the time that I started playing the accordion, I did a lot of Googling to find examples of jazz accordion, and one name kept coming up: Richard Galliano. This gem of a duet record showcases accordion playing the melody with accompanying guitar, accordion serving as the accompaniment, and some solo sections too. It’s served for my inspiration for so many contexts of accordion playing!
Day 7 – Dave Douglas, Charms of the Night Sky
A friend recommended this album because it had accordion in it. I really love the harmonic language in this, and the simple blend between trumpet and accordion. A couple years ago, Ray Larsen came over to play through a tune I lifted off this record, and I’ve really enjoyed playing music with him since.
Day 8 – Snarky Puppy, We Like It Here
I discovered Snarky Puppy while watching youtube video after youtube video of organists and finding Cory Henry. I’m lucky enough to have seen them live more than once. Their approach to music and the way they talk about it is infectious. It’s not an exaggeration to say my musical output has tripled since discovering this band.
Day 9 – Cannonball Adderley, Fiddler on the Roof
I love Cannonball’s playing and I love Fiddler on the Roof and this is both in one neat little package. There’s so much beautiful arranging on this record that bucks the standard formula of “horns play the melody in unison, they take turns soloing, horns play the melody in unison and maybe tag the ending”.
Day 10 – Dave Brubeck, A Dave Brubeck Christmas
Around the time I was 15, I got a book of solo piano arrangements transcribed from this record before I ever even heard it. Although some of the reharms were a little too spicy for me at the time, I really loved hearing (and playing) what Brubeck could do with solo piano. I break it out at least once a year to play through these arrangements.
There is a treasury’s wealth of recorded music available to listeners, especially with the advent of online streaming. Recording technology allows musicians to overdub, rerecord over mistakes, and produce music in its best form before releasing to the public. Why would one bother going to see it live?
No performance of music is identical. In fact, in lots of genres, improvisation is a big part of the music. If you already enjoy a particular musician’s recording, going to see them play live is a chance to see new music created right in front of you. Sometimes alternate takes of tracks on classic jazz recordings like Bill Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard are released and you get to hear the same song in a different light. Going to a live performance means hearing a new and unique perspective.
Watching musician interactions
Watching musicians interact with each other on the bandstand is like a behind-the-scenes look into how music is created. Live performers will trade meaningful looks, directions, and even laugh about musical jokes as they play. Visuals give yet another layer to the music to be enjoyed and appreciated. Even watching body language and facial expressions can give you a window into the emotion of how a performer relates to their music.
Identifying where sounds are coming from
Sometimes a big part of music is not just the sound, but how the sounds are created. Pat Metheny, in his Orchestrion Project creates rich and layered textures from a large collection of music playing robots called orchestrions, but you wouldn’t be able to tell without seeing it in a video or in person.
Josh Dion from Paris Monster plays drums and synthesizers while singing all at the same time, but without watching, you’d never know. And when you hear sounds you don’t know how to identify, being able to see can help identify where it’s coming from.
Interacting with musicians
Music, especially improvised music, is always affected by the context in which it’s performed. Live performances allow you to hear music that’s created for a specific time and place. Sometimes, you may even get the opportunity to speak with the musicians directly and hear them tell you what the different songs mean to them.
Focused time for listening
It’s often really easy to be distracted when listening to recorded music as you go about your day. We often listen to music as background noise while working or studying and much of the detail that makes music beautiful is lost. Attending a live performance allows for a focused time and space for appreciating music.
Lastly, much of the world’s music is just never recorded. Live performances mean more opportunities to hear music that will either have not yet or will never be available otherwise!
There are myriad reasons why seeing live music, whether large touring acts or smaller local bands, is a good idea. Go check out what’s happening in your city and support live music!
Immediately after leaving New Orleans, we flew to Miami for GroundUP Music Festival 2018. Last year was such an incredible experience that we had to go again. The format was pretty similar to last year. The biggest change was that performances didn’t start until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, as opposed to a noon start-time last year. Noon-time in Miami was entirely too hot as an audience member and I’m sure the performers were sweltering. Pushing the start by a couple hours was really helpful. They ended up having workshops (in a sheltered area) frontloaded on the schedule, which was cool.
There were too many great acts to write about, but here are some my personal highlights:
Harold Lopéz-Nussa Trio was a piano trio from Cuba. They led kicked off the festival as the first performance on Friday. The whole trio interacted as a fun and energetic unit, playing rhythmic ideas off each other like a percussionist jam (the cool kind) in a piano trio. I haven’t been able to find recordings of them as a trio online, but I’ll be checking out Harold’s other albums for sure.
C4 Trio, confusingly comprised of 4 people, were a mostly acoustic band from Venezuela. Three of them played the “cuatro”, a traditional Venezuelan instrument that looked like a small guitar with 4 strings (bigger than a soprano ukulele, a little smaller than a tenor, I think). They were accompanied by an electric bassist. It’s always really impressive to me when bands are able to have that many multiples of the same instrument and never have them clash with each other. They traded roles of playing melody, strumming accompaniment, and percussion by hitting the body of cuatro. They’d occasionally switch to playing rhythms on the strings too, kind of like how montunos function on piano in afro-Cuban music. Their repertoire consisted largely of traditional Venezuelan songs, but they played a couple fun arrangements of the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood and Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely. They had fun arrangement tricks where they’d split a melodic line playing little sections one after another. They also pulled a really entertaining stunt where the three cuatro players sat close to each other and each strummed and fingered each others’ instruments in a circle.
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones Trio with Victor Wooten on bass and Futureman on drumitar and percussion played the final set of the last night. Flawlessly tight and dizzyingly radiant solos from all three musicians. I first listened to the Flecktones in high school and it was really great to get to see them live for the first time.
Bob Reynolds (Snarky Puppy saxophonist) has a vlog that I follow and really like. For awhile he’s been talking about this bebop band started by Jay Jennings (Snarky puppy trumpet player), the Yay Yennings Quartet. I was really looking forward to hear this band, as the only recordings they’ve put out have been short clips on Instagram. They played at the late set starting at 3am, which was a little rough to stay up for, but boy did they bring it. The quartet (trumpet, sax, bass, drums) played all originals, and they played fast. It was cool to hear them play without a chord instrument (guitar or piano) comping behind them; Bob would usually play targeted long notes or light hits behind Jay’s playing, and Jay would respond in kind for Bob.
Roosevelt Collier, pedal and lap steel guitarist, played in a band called Bokanté last year, but he led his own band this year. I’m a sucker for gospel-y funky groove bands (especially ones with Hammond organs), and his set did not disappoint. So much funk, so much groove. His debut album comes out in March and I’m buying it.
Knower is the weirdest band and has the weirdest lyrics. Louis Cole (drummer, composer) wore a muscle shirt, literally a spandex shirt with muscles printed on it, and a giant gold chain. Genevieve Artadi (singer) hyped up the crowd, jumping around. She sings like a drummer. I loved how the vocal rhythms were really complex and she delivered with the utmost precision. The band originally consisted of just those two, and their recordings were overdubbed and produced in bedroom studios. They have a really layered and complex sound, with very precise funky rhythms and lines. Since going on tour, they’ve added a bassist and two keyboard players, and it’s impressive how well they’re able to play it live, especially at the breakneck tempos that Knower likes.
Eliades Ochoa, from Buena Vista Social Club, played a set with Sammy Figueroa. I’ve been a big fan of Buena Vista for a very long time and it was amazing to get to see these two Cuban heavyweights play a set. They played a lot of well known Cuban classics (Chan Chan, El Cuarto de Tula), which was really fun to hear live.
Hosting band of the festival, Snarky Puppy, played three sets, each showcasing a slightly different roster of musicians. Just as with last year, I loved watching bassist and bandleader Michael League conduct the band while playing, either with a shake/nod of his head or a quick gesture. The compositions are layered and beautiful, yet flexible enough to handle instrumentation changeups on stage. All musicians are great listeners and instinctively know when to react to each other, which meant League could switch each instrument “on” and “off”, making for unique on-stage arrangements of groove/vamp sections. My favorite soloists of the three sets were: Bob Reynolds on sax, Shaun Martin on Hammond organ, Zach Brock on violin and Bill Laurance on keyboards.
The workshops this year were a range of semi-directed conversations between artists and Q&As. Victor Wooten and Michael League had an hour long conversation about music, politics, and bass. Most of the workshop involved Michael asking Victor questions. Victor talked about how he disagreed (but understood) why a lot of people want musicians to “stay out of politics”, but he felt that if he had a platform to speak for something they cared for, it’d be irresponsible to not use it. He also spoke how he thought it was ridiculous that governments tend to pour a ridiculous amount of money into militaries and warfare which divide and kill, yet continually slash budgets for arts and music which bring people together. Victor also spoke of the importance of finding your own voice in music, that there imitating others (he was quick to differentiate between imitating and being inspired by) was a disservice to the world because deprived the world of another unique voice. I like how he talked about finding your voice as a lifelong quest of discovery. He discussed how powerful simple bass lines are and how silly it is that bassists spend so much less time practicing simple lines versus complex stuff, since bands more often want simple lines that support the band well. Lastly, he asked the audience to give one word descriptions of what music meant to them. Answers included life, love, and purpose. “Notice that none of you said scales, technique, instruments. These are tools for making music. Never mistake them for being music.”
Béla Fleck (banjo) and Lionel Loueke (guitar) played some improvised duets and had a conversation about exploring your individuality. Béla mentioned about exploring different kinds of music that I really liked, “If you hear something that you really like, that’s your inner voice telling you to explore it more”. He also reassured that if you like a style but there’s too much to learn and it’s overwhelming, it’s perfectly acceptable to start with just learning one thing, one phrase, and letting it “infect” your playing. Lionel expressed about practice that you should “go for something you like, not just what you already know”. He stated that he felt that practicing what you don’t know helps make what you already know stronger.
Bob Reynolds and Chris Bullock (Snarky Puppy saxophonists) moderated a discussion with Josh Redman (sax) that was really cool to hear. On learning music, Josh spoke of the importance of depth vs breadth of learning, how young musicians often jump around too much yet don’t spend enough time with a small piece of music. He admitted to only having transcribed or learned only twenty or so solos, but really spent a lot of time digging into them. He spoke of preparing for shows by memorizing music, in order to be as in the moment as possible when playing, yet caveated that there are times one can be more in the moment if there was sheet music available. He stated the importance of listening first, and playing second. He very transparently spoke of how he’s a very self critical musician and how was lying awake the previous night, fretting over messing up a 16 bar trade with Lionel Loueke. I was amazed at his willingness to be as vulnerable as he was and once again heartened that world class musicians like Josh Redman have the same insecurities as a musician that I do.
In another amazing workshop, Michael League sat with two record label executives and spoke about the state of the music industry. It was pretty bleak. Big takeaways: selling records does not and will never again break even, much less make money. Streaming doesn’t make money; Snarky Puppy makes more money selling merch in one night than 4 or 5 months of streaming revenue (and this is for a 3-time Grammy winning band!!!) Touring is incredibly expensive, and out of 15 GroundUP artists, only 3 make money on tour. There’s some legislative things in place to make the situation a little better for songwriters, but for artists that aren’t writing songs, nothing is changing. At the end, Michael said that this entire discussion was about monetizing art and monetizing art sucks. He implored the musicians in the audience to never do anything artistic for the purpose of making money and promised to post online an actionable list of things musicians should be doing to improve their financial situation.
Yet again, the festival was an amazing array of a wide range of styles of music and I’m coming home with a stack of CDs and an even bigger list of musicians to pay attention to. The workshops were inspiring and it was such a treat to hear some of my favorite musicians speak about the music making process, as well as getting to speak to meet some of them while wandering the festival grounds.
Last week, Rosanna and I went to New Orleans for a week. Neither of us had ever been before but we had a grand time exploring as much of the city as we could. It happened to be the week before Mardi Gras and the whole city was decked out in beads, lights and decorations. There were multiple parades per day; all the paraders were decked out in elaborate costumes and waved from fantastically large floats, tossing strings of plastic beads to parade-goers.
With New Orleans having such a rich musical history, we went to as much live music as we could get to. There were jazz venues all over town, and buskers were littered about. Sometimes a singer-guitarist, sometimes a full trad band, and occasionally there’d be a sousaphone player wandering about playing 2-feel bass lines.
We went and saw the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Preservation Hall. “Hall” is a bit generous, it was really a tiny room only slightly bigger than Egan’s Ballard Jam House in Seattle. There were 7-ish rows of seating for those who bought tickets beforehand ($40-$50, yikes!). 20 bucks cash at the door got you standing room or sitting on the floor right in front of the band. It was a really tight squeeze, but doable for an 45 minute set. As I understand it, the lineup for the band changes from night to night. The instrumentation we saw was a pretty typical trad setup: trumpet, trombone, sax, piano, bass, drums. The band was tight and did nothing wrong, but I didn’t find it particularly exciting. Trumpet and piano solos were fun but the trombone didn’t play anything very interesting and the sax solos were mostly variations on the melody that didn’t go anywhere. Solos were always played in exactly the same order too (sax, trombone, trumpet, piano, bass and maybe drums), and since they were playing all old standards, the set felt very predictable. I did admire their ability to balance volume though; nothing was amplified, yet I never had trouble hearing the bass even when all three horns were going.
My favorite part of the city by far was Frenchmen Street, just a couple blocks from the French Quarter. Over ten different music venues line both sides of the street along two or three blocks, and each venue had music nightly. Most venues had no cover but would have a drink minimum. It’s my understanding from talking to a couple professional musicians in the area that musicians often work for tips only. I have to wonder how sustainable a living that is, especially for a city that places such great importance on music. We sampled a couple venues over the week; there was a lot of music (seemingly mostly trad jazz and jazz manouche), but a number of the bands felt somewhat mediocre albeit competent. I did see more banjos and sousaphones in a week than I have in probably the past year, which was exciting.
I chatted with a banjo player in one of the trad bands after they finished a set. He was telling me that most banjo players in New Orleans either play 6 or 4 string banjos (tuned either like a guitar, or the top 4 strings of a guitar). Given how they play jazz, I suppose this should be unsurprising, but I still noticed it as different from the mostly 5 string banjos I’ve seen around Seattle.
One night after leaving one of the venues on Frenchmen, we heard brass and drums up the street and headed up to investigate. There was a ginormous brass band busking on a street corner: 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 sousa, 2 snares, 2 bass drums. They were loud but so infectious that they drew a crowd of close to 100 people, spilling out into the street blocking traffic well past 10pm. The music was super happy second-line sounding and incredibly fun. Speaking to one of the trumpet players later on, I found out they called themselves the Young Fellas. They seemed to be a really informal hang/jam; the trumpet player said they mostly hung out and played brass band standards.
Snug Harbor appears to be the cool fancy club on Frenchmen. While most of the other venues had their bands playing near the entrance to attract passersby (yes the whole street is super noisy), Snug Harbor’s stage is in a closed off room deep past the restaurant area. They had a sizable stage, about Jazz Alley sized (another Seattle venue; I compare everything to Seattle 🙂 ) and had tables and seating right in front, as well as a little balcony area wrapping around.
We saw two acts at Snug Harbor, the first being the Stanton Moore Trio. I’m mostly familiar with his band Galactic (funky jazz) so it was actually pretty fun to hear him play in a piano trio with more straight-ahead material. All three musicians were really powerful players; the band put out a lot of bright energy. The upright bassist kicked in effects pedals in one of his solos, which was entertaining.
The other band we saw at Snug Harbor was Delfeayo Marsalis (of the Marsalis jazz dynasty) and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. I’ve been listening to a bunch of big band recordings lately and it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a big band that swung this hard, so this was a real treat. They played a couple Benny Carter arrangements, a Basie chart for “All of Me”, and a couple of Delfeayo’s compositions. Everyone on stage was a very accomplished instrumentalist, and as a group they were a blast. They had a great stage presence, joking and teasing each other both between and during songs. Delfeayo had no problem yelling “2 and 4, people, 2 and 4!” when an audience member started to clap on 1 and 3. All in all, solid arrangements, fantastic solos, great fun.
I went and saw the Joe Doria Trio (Hammond organ, guitar, drums) play at La Copa Cafe in north Ballard. Unassuming from the outside, the cafe is a cozy little room with cool paintings hanging on the wall. The cookies are fantastic.
The trio was really cooking tonight. Joe, ever the virtuoso, flew over the keys, adjusted drawbars, and flipped switches like mad scientist in a lab, all while holding down a bass groove solidly in the pocket. Colin Higgins accompanied on the guitar beautifully with well designed complements to Joe’s fire. Guitar solos were clean and elegant. Ehssan Karimi played a minimal four-piece kit (bass, snare, hi-hat, ride cymbal), but you wouldn’t know it by the sound; his snare+ride solos spoke volumes.
I love the Hammond organ. I love its tone, its wide range of sounds, and its great versatility in roles it can fulfill. Joe was kind enough to let me sit in again for a tune (he’s let me sit in before at other shows). I don’t often get to play a real Hammond, but it’s a fantastic treat every time I do. I spend a good amount of time listening and reading up on how organs work and try to apply what I learn on my Nord Electro 3, but it’s never quite the same.
The cafe was decently full when I arrived, but as soon as the table right next to the organ cleared, I grabbed a seat to watch Joe’s hands (and feet!). From reading, I knew which sets of drawbars corresponded to each manual, which helped me understand what he was doing a little better than last time. Drawbar settings I noticed he liked to use included:
88 0000 000: quiet and mellow, often for comping, but some melodic work as well
88 8000 000: similar to previous, but a bit more punch
00 0800 000: I only saw this a couple times, but it had a nice mellow tone, but not as deep as the other settings. It reminded me of the clarinet register on an accordion.
There were some playing techniques that Joe used tonight that stood out to me as things I want to work on:
Repeating a melodic figure in different octaves. I’m not entirely sure why I never do this, but it’s a useful device and I’m gonna try to work it into my playing.
Short, clipped and percussive “stabs” at chord clusters. These felt a lot like “drumming” in between melodic sections. They’d often precede a big gliss up to a sustained chord.
Switching drawbars settings mid solo, especially while sustaining a note or chord
The accordion is really similar to the organ in a lot of ways: unweighted keys, post-attack expression, the ability to change the tone of the instrument using drawbars or registers. I’m looking forward to trying these techniques out on accordion, as well as the next time I get a chance to play another organ.
Man this has been bothering me for forever. I run Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS and Google Chrome windows flicker pretty wildly sometimes, often when scrolling or when there’s a video playing on my screen. I finally got irritated enough to do something about it. Apparently disabling hardware acceleration in Chrome does the trick.