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Debbie Burke

Jazz Author

Welcome to A Jazzy Blog!

The latest on my upcoming novel GLISSANDO – A story of love, lust & jazz

Book cover final25

NEWS FEED

5.20.17 ~ Press pickup in Brooklyn Eagle! https://goo.gl/Ps3Cwz

5.15.17 ~ NY Post book reviewer agreed to review “GLISSANDO.” Amazing!

5.9.17~ Press pickup in Pocono Business Journal at https://goo.gl/3Be6SK

5.3.17~ First communique from my new editor Carol McCrow! Can’t wait to work with her.

4.28.17~ Connected with ALA offices to see about a library rep at Book Expo America. Will visit that booth!

4.18.17 ~ Participated in ESU Entrepreneurship Panel, talked about being an author of a “spicy book” & book publishing

4.13.17 ~ Presentation on book publishing and “Glissando” to East Stroudsburg University students

4.4.17 ~ Radio interview on Stony Brook’s WUSB!

4.2.17 ~ Downloaded floor plan for BEA (Book Expo America). Time to plan 3 days of strategic floor-walking!

3.31.17 ~Pre-pub review by Cheryl Melnick/Bangor Teachers’ Book Club: “Smoothly written, intriguing saga.”

3.28.17 ~New headshots coming soon from William Cohea Photography

3.23.17 ~Bookmarks have arrived for BEA! Very satisfied with how they turned out.

3.17.17 ~ Ordered custom-print bookmarks for BEA (Book Expo America); chose butter-yellow background surrounding Glissando book cover

3.14.17 ~ A month and a day away from presenting at the Author’s Expo at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg, PA, held on April 15

3.12.17 ~ Getting organized for Book Expo America/NYC May 31 – June 2

3.10.17 ~ The cover is revealed! Publication date set for July 2018.

All about everything jazz!

Bitten by the jazz bug? I was too, at the age of 15, when I heard John Coltrane’s “Once in a While” on New York City’s old WQXR Radio.

Now all I seem to want to do is write about jazz!

Great Q&A, jazzy insights, musical musings and what it’s like to be a published jazz author, all here. Please click FOLLOW at the bottom of the page to get the latest updates!

Also: check out my blog posts on the famed Jamey Aebersold’s music education website, jazzbooks.com It’s amazing to be able to write for Mr. Aebersold and his top-notch staff.

 Now listed on MusicClout–   the web’s premier music industry marketing resource!xqiigBdp_400x400

Feel free to comment here and I hope this brings you a really jazz day!

(Header photo “Portrait of Baby Dodds” by jazz documentarian William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)
All contents (c) Debbie Burke 2017
Featured post

Defying Genres with 88 Keys: The Artful Music of Jeremy Siskind

Jeremy Siskind at Gilmore Intl Keyboard Festival

The delicacy of Jeremy Siskind’s piano work is both floral and flavorful; a sensory bounty whose story unfolds minute by minute. We listen, fixed in place, not only because the music is so absorbing, but also because of its surprises, chord changes and colorations.

In 2012, Jeremy won the Nottingham International Jazz Piano Competition; in 2011, he claimed second place at the Montreux Solo Piano competition. His 2015 CD, “Housewarming,” is tonally rich. A leader in the in-home concert movement, Jeremy – who at 30, has so much ahead of him in a full and promising career – has brought music to over 100 households.

Your classical mastery is evident in “Autumn Leaves” and also “Twilit Water, Vanished Music.” How closely related are classical music and jazz?

I feel that the further we get into musical history, the more all genres are coming together, whether it’s classical, jazz, world, pop, or electronic.

The piano has an incredibly long and rich history in the classical tradition long before Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton entered the mix. It’s such a gift to be an instrumentalist who has the option to delve into the styles as varied as Bach, Chopin, Debussy, stride, Schoenberg, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk, among many others. 

Age when you became musically aware?

I started taking piano lessons at age 4 and took to music immediately, but I wasn’t really thinking crucially about the music until I was 13 or 14. At that point, I started choosing artists to follow, learning the history of jazz and doing really intense listening and practicing. 

I was taught with the Yamaha Music Education System, which was great because it wasn’t “traditional’ piano lessons, but rather very holistically taught. Yamaha makes sure that each student is trained in aural skills, keyboard harmony, composition and improvisation from the very beginning. That was a huge gift for me. It never occurred to me that it was “difficult” to improvise. 

Musical influences growing up?

Neither of my parents is particularly musical. However, interestingly, my grandfather (paternal side) was an accountant for a firm that produced Broadway musicals. So my dad got to go to many Broadway premieres as a child and had a love of that era of music. I was raised with lots of musicals because of that influence.

What musicians have informed your style?

That’s a long list! Interestingly, I first was very interested in “hard bop”/”soul jazz” pianists like Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and Benny Green. As I went to college, I discovered more classically-influenced pianists like Brad Mehldau, John Taylor, Keith Jarrett and my mentor Fred Hersch. I’m interested in classical music (Bach, Debussy), and I love the great singer-songwriters of the classic era (Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Billy Joel) and today (Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, Tom Waits). So many others, too: Hank Jones, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Kirkland, Ahmad Jamal,  etc. 

You do a lot of teaching. What’s the best way to introduce jazz to young people?

I think for many young people, jazz is a complete unknown – you really have to go out of your way to find it these days! Allowing folks to hear excellent live music played by skilled, original and passionate musicians is an experience that is bound to be memorable, regardless of age or knowledge. 

You’ve written music instruction books for beginners. How do you choose the songs that can get them hooked on jazz?

I try to balance pedagogical integrity (pieces and arrangements that will be playable for young pianists) with artistry. If you’re only thinking about pedagogy, your students are bound to be bored, and if you’re only thinking about artistry, you’re bound to be overwhelmed.

The most brilliant pedagogical composers never sacrifice pedagogy for artistry, or vice versa, and I strive to live up to their example. 

How did you come to write for Hal Leonard?

It’s a long story that actually starts when I was about 8 years old, when I first took lessons from Phillip Keveren, who eventually because a beloved Hal Leonard author. Years later, I wrote for a magazine called Clavier Companion, reviewing pedagogical works. I wrote a review for Phillip, and my name rang a bell. We ended up reconnecting and he set me up with the editor for pedagogical works. I sent in a few drafts of pieces, and the rest – as they say – is history.

Describe the Michigan jazz scene.

Michigan has both an incredible jazz tradition and some of the best university jazz programs in the nation. In fact, when I lived in New York City, I roomed with excellent musicians who went to MSU and worked with excellent musicians who went to WMU – which isn’t to leave out U of M, where such acolytes as Robert Hurst and Benny Green teach!  

The amazing thing about this era of music is that there are great players everywhere; not just in New York and LA, but all throughout the country. 

What impact did Kurt Elling make on you when you collaborated together on “Housewarming”?

I got to know Kurt when I accompanied several lessons and masterclasses he was teaching. I’d already been a fan for a long time and was moved by the energy and authenticity of his teaching.

I was very fortunate that he was willing to sing some of my songs – it was a dream come true. As soon as you hear that voice and realize it’s the voice that you’ve heard on countless records that you love…it’s magic! 

Talk about your first composition, and how you feel you’re evolving as a composer?

My first composition was “Finding Bugs,” written at age 5. I certainly hope my composing has evolved since then! Recently, I’ve been experimenting with more songwriting than composing. I’m really interested in the way that lyrics and music interact (in fact, I wrote my master’s thesis about that), and I love trying to make songs that move people. 

What is your role in the “in-home concert” movement?

I’m very active in the “in-home concert” movement. My group has played about 110 in-home concerts in 24 different states and we’re planning a live in-home concert video/audio recording in August (2017). I’ve presented about in-home concerts at the Music Teachers National Association, Jazz Education Network and Chamber Music America conferences to try to spread the word and encourage more artists to try it.

For me, it’s a point of inspiration – introducing music in intimate settings to open audiences is what I love to do more than anything on earth.

What a great album “Housewarming” is! Talk about the interplay between the woodwinds (clarinet), vocals and piano, and letting each one shine.

Well thank you! One of the benefits of playing all those house concerts is that the band feels really comfortable with one another.

We’re all very much on board behind the story of each song, rather than trying to emphasize our virtuosity or individual skills. We’re thinking more about sound, arrangement, narrative, arc and word painting.

I’m so fortunate to work with Lucas Pino and Nancy Harms, two musicians who are willing to be in service of the songs I’ve written. It’s particularly intimate with Lucas, as our instruments overlap so much. We have to really be listening to stay out of one another’s way and complement each other effectively. 

The classic question: which gets written first, lyrics or melody?

For most of my songs, I write the melody and then the lyrics. I feel that this keeps the musical integrity intact.

However, sometimes I get inspired to write a poem and compose the lyrics first. Ironically, I generally prefer the songs where the melody came first whereas audiences seem to prefer the songs where the lyrics came first. One such song from the latest album is “Housewarming,” which started as a poem. 

What do you hope to convey to the listener?

I hope they can forget about the musicians and look inward. I don’t want people to be impressed so much as moved.

One of the perils of jazz in the modern age is that it’s often musician-focused rather than listener-focused, so I hope listeners can lose themselves in an emotion.

Perfect pitch?

 Yep.

Upcoming tours?

I’ll be doing an educational tour of Lebanon, Cyprus, and China in July (2017). The Housewarming Project will be doing four in-home concerts around southern California in August, but other than that, it’s a melange of recording, touring, teaching and creating.

Future plans?

Lots! One of my life goals is to write a Broadway musical. I took a great first step recently and co-wrote a musical with Adam Pasen called “Unfriended” that featured some of my pre-existing songs. It was featured as an “elevated stage reading” (performers read from scripts that include staging, songs and lines) at Farmer’s Alley Theater in Kalamazoo this past March. Adam and I are looking for other opportunities to shop “Unfriended” around, but I’m also thinking about writing another musical from scratch.

Photo supplied by Jeremy Siskind

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

A Novelist’s Journey, Episode 9: Trade Show Jitters

LI head shot

With the BEA (Book Expo America/Javits Center, NYC) coming up really fast now (end of this month!) I feel a jumble of emotions: excitement, curiosity and a case of the nerves. I can mingle with the best of them but I have no idea what kind of reaction to expect from the exhibitors, the other authors and the buyers I’m going to meet there.

My hopes are that people will just keep asking about my book: what influenced me, how did I create the characters, what’s jazz got to do with it. Fascinated, they won’t be able to tear themselves away from me.

Something tells me that with so much going on, in a such a dense venue with millions of bodies milling about – so many authors, so many stories! – I’ll have to do something to stand out in the crowd.

Or do I? My publisher told me to have a handout ready; get some bookmarks printed up and give them out with a little spiel. Everyone will be stuffing their handouts into some BEA-logo’d canvas bag, only to sift through the mass of paperwork at some future date when there’s time to digest all this data about the new crop of books about to flood the market.

I posted a question on my writers’ LinkedIn groups about what to wear at such an event (comfy shoes! bright colors! bring a sweater in case the A/C’s up too high!) but far and away the best response was: a smile.

I’ll be wearing my thrilled-as-HELL-to-be-an-author-here-at-BEA smile. With my bulging canvas bag. Stay tuned!

Norwegian Impressionism with Guitar, Drums and Bass

NYPAN

Painting with sound, leaving space for each musician to shine, Oyvind Nypan’s expressive guitar work tells its story and you want to hear more. They are in synch, these young men from Norway who make up the Nypan Trio. If you’ve only stuck to American and Mainland European jazz, this is quite the refreshing drink of a different kind of water.

What is your background and did you come from a musical family?

I come from Trondheim, Norway and started to play guitar at age 12. My parents were gardeners and none of my family members are musicians but music was always a part of my environment as a kid. They supported me in everything I wanted to do.

When did you know you wanted to compose jazz?

I began by playing the trumpet for two years, moved on to play the drums for a long time then picked up the guitar, when I began to make my own music right away. I like all kinds of music and try to be open for anything that comes into my head. I had a guitar teacher who introduced me to Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker and I was totally blown away. The world changed for me from that day on.

What is the subgenre of jazz that you play, called?

As a working musician, I play all kinds of music, but my albums go in the direction of contemporary jazz.

“Heavy Hangs the Head”

 How did you meet the other members of the band?

I play in a lot of different settings. I play with people I communicate well with, musically; and who have something to bring into my music. They play drums, bass and keys.

What have you recorded?

I released my first album “Elements” in 2010 on Ponca Records. My album “Stereotomic” just came out on the great jazz label Losen Records.

In January 2017 I went to New York and recorded with some amazing musicians: Ben Wendel, Taylor Eigsti, Joe Martin and Justin Faulkner. That album will be out later this year (2017).

What do you think of the NYC jazz scene?

NYC is amazing and I love it! So many great players, great music and culture make this a very special place for me. I would like to spend more time in the Big Apple and get that NYC energy.

What is the essence of the difference between American and Norwegian jazz?

They are two different languages. There are Norwegian players, myself included, who are approaching American modern jazz, but you can’t run away from your roots. This is what makes music interesting to me. Everybody contributes and the result will always change. There are no rules.

Which musicians have inspired you and why?

Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Michael Brecker, Julian Lage, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Miles, Coltrane… The list is endless and changes from day to day. I discover new music every day and stay up-to-date with what is happening in the jazz community. It’s like a bottomless well of inspiration that never dries out.

Your music has a definitive feeling: forward-moving, thought-provoking, airy. What is your mood when you compose?

I try to amplify my feelings by converting them into music. That leads me through different moods and musical territory as the winds are changing.

You can really hear the individual members of the band in your songs. How do you give each other the room to go off on your own?

A really important decision is which musicians to engage with in my projects. This way I know what to expect from them. We just try to listen to what the other guys are saying when they’re playing.

Is there a single melodic line or do your songs meander wherever they’re meant to go?

I am obsessed with melody and a lot of my compositions are built around small melodies that I like to complement with chords and rhythm.

Your album graphics favor black & white. Why?

Maybe it’s because B&W gives you a more timeless feel.

Have you toured in the US?

I have never toured in the US but I’d love to go there and play.  I just finished a tour in the South of Norway with my trio with Daniel Formo on Hammond organ & Truls Rønning playing drums. We had an awesome time playing a lot of new music. Good times!

Future plans?

Releasing my NYC album later this year and also another album with a rock/jazz blend called Tronosonic. We recorded at Ocean Sound Recordings at Giske (Norway) in December (2016) and I’m really looking forward to getting this one out. It’s different and sounds great!

Other recordings:

2010: Elements (Ponca Jazz Records)
2013: Republique (Losen Records)
2015: Directions (Nypan Music)
2017: Stereotomic (Losen Records)

Spotify:  https://open.spotify.com/artist/69eowBvnmhkvFsSTgplMWd

Twitter: https://twitter.com/onypan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nypanmusic

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/onypan/

Snapchat: jazzdaddyfunk

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Photo by permission

Ribbons of Gold through the Air

Claudio Roditi by Chris Drukker

It can be the cool “So What” by Miles Davis or the thoughtful jazz chestnut “On Green Dolphin Street” or something fast and spicy. No matter: Claudio Roditi’s trumpet speaks in a way that fills a room with sweet honey sounds. He left his native Rio de Janeiro while in his early 20s to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and played with greats like Herbie Mann and Paquito D’Rivera. His Brazilian-informed understanding of the horn puts audiences in awe, as well they should be.

When you first came to the US to attend Berklee, did you know English? Did you know anybody here?

When I first came to Boston in September of 1970, I could speak English because I had studied it in Brazil in the 60s.

I had a dear friend from high school, Victor Assis Brasil, who had come to Berklee the year before, and he was influential in my coming to Boston to study. I also knew pianist Nelson Ayres, so I had a couple of friends. And not forgetting that at age 24 it wasn’t too hard to make new friends.

Did you come to the US primarily to study or to also build a career?

I came primarily to study jazz. I had no intentions of staying here for the rest of my life. Needless to say that the fact that I ended up staying upset my mother, Daisy, terribly. However, I found the love of my life: Kristen.

How old were you when you started playing music?

I started with piano lessons at age six, then bongos, then at age nine I asked my father Alberto to buy me a trumpet.

My early influence was my father, who could play some guitar and also sang. Second was Maestro Fernandez (originally from Uruguay), who gave me piano lessons and was married to my mother’s cousin Zizi. Once I had my first trumpet I’d ask my father to buy me any record that had a trumpet or trumpeter on the cover. So I got albums by Louis Armstrong, Harry James and Ray Anthony.

Who were your early influences and your favorite jazz artists?

I fell in love with the music of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and Chet Baker by the time I was 12 years old. Then Lee Morgan, Booker Little and Freddie Hubbard.

Recently you played a lovely version of “On Green Dolphin Street” at Trumpets Jazz Club (Montclair, NJ). What are some of your favorite songs?

“Green Dolphin Street” is a favorite song of mine. Also, “Speak Low,” “So What,” and “Body and Soul.” And not to forget my own compositions: there are many that I’ve written that I like.

Where have your toured?

I’ve toured the world mostly as a sideman. I only toured with a group of my own to Umbria Jazz Winter Festival in Italy, and also to Graz, in Austria.

Tell me about your band, or do you play in several bands? 

I’m a freelance musician, so I’ve played with a lot of different people and still do. I love playing with musicians who are into playing the music I love, and hopefully that they also love.

Then there was that dedication song you played at Trumpets. Do you do a lot of composing?

The song you are referring to is “To Bill and Deanne,” composed for my friends Bill and Deanne Chenitz, who were in the audience at Trumpets. I find myself writing more songs for my friends. They inspire me!

How many times have you been nominated for a Grammy?

I’ve been nominated first for a solo I played on the CD “Symphonic Bossa Nova” by Ettore Stratta. That nomination was for best instrumental performance. Secondly I was nominated for my CD “Brazilliance x 4.” However, I never won.

Upcoming shows and tours?

On July 18, 2017 I will bring a quartet to Westfield, NJ, for the Sweet Sounds Downtown jazz festival. The week of August 15 and the week of August 22, 2017, I will be playing with the Brazilian group Trio da Paz at Dizzy’s Club (Jazz at Lincoln Center). And there may be a date at the Blue Note with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band; however, it’s not confirmed yet.

The place you always wanted to play?

There is no place where I’ve wanted to play and haven’t played yet. Now, bringing my own group to some of these places is a different story. I’ve performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Herbie Mann and McCoy Tyner but not with a group of my own.

What’s in the soul of a jazz musician?

I cannot answer for other people, but my intention in music is to bring some beauty and happiness to the world, doing something I love to do. Life is frequently rough and it feels really good when you touch people in a positive way and consequently make them feel a little better.

What direction is jazz going in now?

I have no idea. At the same time I’m not interested. I’m not an innovator and was never into how different I could make the music. I love certain periods of jazz, especially the hard bop period, and some Brazilian music. So that’s what I like to play and compose.

Did you prefer playing in the 1980s with the smoke-filled (more authentic?) clubs versus today’s clubs?

The clubs of the 1980s were part of the music and the smoke-free clubs of today are also part of the music, but they are a little easier for horn players.

Is it harder for musicians to get gigs now, and if so, why?

Yes, it is harder for musicians because of the heavy competition. Also, it’s harder to get better wages.

Was the April 2017 gig at Trumpets Jazz Club your first time playing with harmonica virtuoso Enrico Granafei?

I met Enrico Granafei (the owner of Trumpets) along with his wife Kristine perhaps thirty years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. We play music together whenever we have a chance.

You stopped one song and reset the tempo. How often does a re-count like that happen?

I only stopped a song and restarted it in the middle of the set because something was drastically wrong, and the performance was being filmed. I just couldn’t let it go out like that. That was a rare case.

Your playing is stunning. What do you think about when you’re improvising?

Thank you, Debbie, for the kind words! What I think when I’m improvising is to make sense and create something I think is beautiful.

Why do you love music so much?

Music is something we cannot live without. To dedicate my life to that purpose is fulfilling, and despite the difficulties in making a living from it, I think it has been well worth it.

Photo credit: Chris Drukker

© Debbie Burke 2017

Tapestry Through The Strings: An Interview with Dan Sistos

Dan Sistos

From the memorable intro of only five notes, Dan Sistos’ recent release “Ventura Blvd.” lets you know right off just how chill his music can be. It provides a groove that isn’t just smooth. It’s smart, sweet and melodic.

Is there a palpable difference between West Coast jazz and East Coast jazz?

Definitely. It mainly has to do with the differences in the West Coast and East Coast cultures. Here in Southern California we have a more laid-back approach to life compared to New York, which is very much on the go. I have spent a lot of time on the East Coast (studying at the Berklee College of Music and later touring as a professional).

I love New York City; it’s so rich in jazz culture, yet I could never live there. The weather alone is too brutal! Southern California is rich with Latino culture. It’s pretty hard to go anywhere without hearing a Latin rhythm, so naturally that will incorporate into jazz even for the non-Latin musicians. It’s very common to hear a straight-ahead jazz band that will sneak in a piano montuno line (in Cuban dance) or a syncopated bass groove. 

How does your connection with Latin music inform how you compose?

I am very connected to Latin music. It is in my blood and heart. I am half first generation and second generation American. My father is from Mexico. My mother was born in Los Angeles, but her parents are from Mexico. I grew up listening to a variety of Latin music. From family gatherings to parties with friends, Latin music was there with me since birth.

I grew up with a lot of other music as well such as pop, rock, classical and jazz. That is the beautiful thing about this country – you can be raised multicultural with an appreciation for different music and culture. I don’t consciously think of different musical styles when I write. It’s not like I say “this is going to be a Latin song” or “this is going to be a jazz song.” I just sit down with the guitar or piano and whatever comes out, comes out.

Why did you name the CD “Ventura Blvd.”?

The name is a tribute to all the jazz clubs that were on Ventura Blvd. here in Los Angeles. I moved to LA in 1996 and Ventura Blvd. was jumping with jazz clubs. I spent many nights honing my craft in these clubs. Sadly, very few of them exist today. But I am grateful for the experience that I gained in these magnificent clubs.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration for music is very much based on my life. I have been blessed to have a beautiful life. I had a wonderful family growing up, and now I have a wonderful family of my own. I have no complaints in life. I get to play music for a living and I have family and friends who I really love. Most of the music I write is for people in my life or experiences I’ve had. I want to write beautiful music because life is beautiful.

How do you blend jazz, classical and Latin, especially the intricate guitar-work?

I blend jazz, classical and Latin music easily because it is so much a part of who I am. As I mentioned earlier, I have a strong tie to Latin music, but my Mom was also a classical pianist. I used to listen to her play the piano as a child. I remember her playing Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin, just to name a few. This incredible music also helped shape my musical interest and has inspired me to write.

My first instrument was the flute. When I was 9, I learned to play the main theme of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I was captivated by how such a simple melody had so much power. At 14, I started playing the guitar and of course as a teenager I only wanted to play rock and roll. But I’ll never forget the day when my high-school bandmate gave me a tape and said, “You really need to check this out.” It was a copy of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train.”

I listened to that and my mouth dropped. The sound coming from that man’s saxophone was mind-blowing. It was like something I had never heard before; something out of this world. I was hooked. I want my guitar to be a combination of all these things. I don’t write music to show off my guitar technique. I want to write great melodies, like all my heroes I grew up listening to.

Your playing is soulful and beautiful. What do you have in mind when you play?

Thank you for saying that because that is exactly what I strive for, beauty and emotion. Technique is very important to me, but my main focus is to play with beauty and passion. In my opinion, it is so much harder to play 3 notes with beauty and grace than it is to play 300 notes at warp speed. I want to connect emotionally with my audience. Flashy technique appeals to musicians, but beautiful, soulful music appeals to all human beings.

Was there music in your household growing up?

Oh yes. There was music going on in my house pretty much every day, every style of music you could imagine. I love ALL music. I don’t think that one style is better than another. I love and respect all music. If you told me to listen to bagpipe music I’m sure I could find something that I would love about it.

When did you first pick up the guitar?

When I was 14, in San Diego. It was pretty much an instant connection. By the time I was 15 my playing had progressed so rapidly that I was offered a scholarship to the National Guitar Summer Workshop in Los Angeles. The following year I spent the summer at the Berklee College of Music in Boston studying music. When I graduated high school at 18, I immediately moved to Hollywood to study at the Guitar Institute of Technology. By the time I was 21, I was already on my first national tour. I have been incredibly blessed to have had amazing teachers, not only offering me guidance in music, but guidance in life. I’d like to give a special shout out to my former teachers Jeff Bishop, Ed Finn and David Oakes. Thank you gentlemen.

When did you start composing and why?

At age 15, about a year after I started guitar. Back then all we had was a 4-track. It was an old recording device on a tape that only allowed you to record four instruments. That was it, so it better be four good ones. And there was no editing. What you played is what you heard. Now with modern computers you can record an infinite number of instruments. You can also digitally edit them. So you can take a poor performance and turn it into a good one.

I didn’t grow up with that luxury. I had to practice hard in order to sound good. I love composing, it is my legacy. Long after I’m gone, my family, friends and fans will still hear my music. And with digital music sites like iTunes it will be available (hopefully) forever.

Where have you toured?

I have been blessed to tour all around the world, either as a sideman backing up an artist or with my own project. I have toured the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East. However, since the birth of my children I’ve turned down tours because I want to be home for them. But I still love to travel. Although I mainly work around Southern California, I still do “flight dates” where I go for a few gigs somewhere far away, but I’m usually gone no more than a week. 

What venues would you like to play, in the US and worldwide?

I have had a life dream of playing Carnegie Hall in New York one day. I played Madison Square Garden but not Carnegie Hall. Maybe one day I’ll get a chance to do that – either with my group or as a sideman. I’d also love to play the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

How many band members do you have and what do they play?

My band members are always changing, not because of creative differences but because this is Los Angeles. We are all so busy and not everyone is available all the time. But I have been blessed with the same wonderful musicians on all my albums. Juan Carlos Portillo, bass. Carlos Rodgarman, piano. Paul Alexander Gonzalez, drums. Pete Korpela, percussion. Thank you guys. You’re the best.

The band features a very interesting selection of percussion instruments. What’s the most unusual one we can hear in your music?

That is a question for Pete Korpela, my longtime friend and percussionist. I first met Pete in 2001. He recorded on an album that I co-produced with another wonderful guitarist, Dirk K. Pete, who showed up to my apartment in Hollywood for the session. He asked where the tracking room was. I pointed to the bathroom and said “there.” From then on, that was known as Studio “P”. Pete is a gifted percussionist who not only plays traditional percussion instruments, but non-traditional ones as well. I do not dare say the names because I’m sure I would say them wrong. But it’s not uncommon for Pete to show up to a recording session with tin cans, metal buckets and such. If it works, it works!

The biggest challenge in marketing yourself as a musician today?

Dealing with the business part of it. I am a creative individual. I wish I could only deal with the creative aspect of music. But unfortunately this is not the world we live in. There is social media, digital streaming, music licensing and such. Trying to stay up on the latest trend is difficult for someone like myself who didn’t grow up with it. When I was in high school there was no Internet and certainly no cell phones, Facebook, Spotify and the like. So I force myself to stay up on the latest trends.

Believe me, I would rather be practicing guitar or writing music. My daughters (ages 6 and 9) know this stuff like no one’s business. Maybe I’ll hire them to handle it for me one day!

How many packs of strings do you go through in a week or month?

Great question. I hate old strings. When I was on national tours I would have my strings changed after every gig. But I had the luxury of a guitar tech who did that for me. It’s not the most enjoyable thing to change strings so I do it myself now every 3-4 gigs.

Most thrilling performance and why?

I’ve had many great performances. One of my favorites was the concert I did at The Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles. I had a large band with a string section playing all my original compositions for a wonderful audience. I had that concert videotaped and we released it as a DVD called “Live in Concert.” But honestly, I have so much fun playing that any night can become a memorable night.

I spent a few weeks touring jazz clubs in Europe and that was an amazing experience as well. Even if there were only 50 people in the room, they were into it. That’s all I need. 

What one thing do you think the public needs to know about jazz?

Another great question. Jazz is part of our country’s history. It is one of the most advanced forms of American music. We need to respect it and appreciate it. It used to be the popular music of the day, now it no longer is.

Popular music for the most part is garbage. We need to have music education in schools so that our future generation can respect it. My kids LOVE jazz. But that is because I play it for them almost every day. We must not cut funding for the arts!

Future plans?

Currently I’m writing music for my new album. I hope to begin recording it sometime next year (2018). My album “Ventura Blvd.” did very well on national jazz radio stations so my next album will most likely be a follow-up to it.

Other comments?

Please feel free to visit my website www.dansistos.com for the latest information on all the projects I’m involved in. I can also be found on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Jazz à La Mood – As Told By Maurice Johnson

Maurice Johnson 8x10 PR image2 Photo credits Jerry Lambert

With a hit called “Black Coffee Please” – and a video showing a full morning of diner stops for the best java jolt – smooth jazz guitarist Maurice Johnson has been groovin’ on since he first heard George Benson.

You are clearly obsessed with coffee. Does it help your creativity?

From a social media perspective, coffee is a safe topic to talk about to a general audience as opposed to politics, religion and the like. Over the years I’ve developed quite an affinity for coffee. I can’t say that it’s a contributor to my personal creativity, but it does keep me stimulated throughout the day as I engage in numerous creative activities. 

How did you decide to mix business with pleasure: playing at your open houses?

Several years ago I had my real estate license, but hadn’t yet entertained the idea of intermingling live music with the open house experience. It happened in recent years after a nearly three-year stint when I was a resident guitarist at a luxury hotel restaurant. Shortly after that ended, I decided to make an effort to connect with a relatively untapped luxury home real estate market. From that, the idea for “Jazz at My House” was born.   

 

Does it help sell houses?

I believe music plays a positive role in a buyer’s mindset, and can impact outcome. Like staging, live music can bring an entirely new dimension to the luxury home buyer experience. Buying a home is not just a financial investment, it’s an emotional investment as well. Music, live music in particular, can stimulate a buyer’s emotions, and at the same time give them a sense of what it might be like to entertain guests in that home.

 

When did you start playing jazz?

I was sixteen when my uncle, who was a trash collector, handed me an old plastic toy guitar with only three strings. That brought the instrument to my attention, but it was when my brother returned from Vietnam with an electric guitar that really fueled my desire to learn the instrument. Shortly thereafter, he bought my first guitar and paid for beginning lessons. 

Do you play other instruments?

Not really, but when I produce music in the studio I often use a midi guitar synth, which allows me to utilize other instrument voices like piano, strings, horn hits, bass, etc.

 

Which jazz artists have particularly inspired you and why?

Hands down, George Benson and later Wes Montgomery. Right off the bat, the instant I heard George Benson in 1976 it hit me like a lightning bolt. It was his scat vocals and guitar on “This Masquerade.” The moment I heard it, I said, “That’s how I want to play.” It immediately changed my focus and direction about guitar.

 

While intently studying Benson, I discovered Wes Montgomery. Although I’ve listened to and have met many well-known and exceptional guitarists throughout my years, these two have remained at the core of my personal evolution as a musician. 

 

Do you always work solo or do you have an ensemble?

I perform in a variety of configurations, contingent up a client’s budget and the nature of the event. I prefer a four- or five-piece band for larger venues. Lately, I’ve been formulating a three-piece arrangement of guitar, bass and drums. I don’t have a dedicated ensemble, but I do have a list of preferred first-call musicians, in the studio and live performance.

 

Do you tour?

No. Since stepping out as an indie artist in 2010, my thoughts have remained closer to home, however I am open to the idea.

 

In my earlier years, when my former band was under contract with Warlock Records, we were the opening act for a large number of major jazz and R&B artists who came through our city. At one point, shortly after opening for George Benson, we were in the middle of negotiations for a six-month Japan tour before suddenly disbanding after nearly ten years. I’ve always had mixed feelings about touring based on my convictions as a husband and father. For those reasons, it’s been worth staying close to home.


On a personal level, I prefer smaller, intimate settings, where I can speak to a listener’s heart, and not their ears. 

 

Talk about the jazz community in Oklahoma.

I’m based in Oklahoma City, where there’s a lot more going on than just country and western music. It’s an assumption that tends to dominate the opinions of national onlookers.

 

I’ve lived here about thirty years now. Like other growing cities, the local music scene is emerging with greater diversity and opportunity for enterprising local artists of many genres. I’m impressed by the number of new and developing entertainment districts that show promise and appeal to a broad demographic. Jazz has survived here for years, and continues to do so.

 

Why smooth jazz, as opposed to straight-ahead, bebop, etc.?

In earlier years, I’ve played on the fringes of bebop, and I commend those who do it so well, but bebop and straight-ahead never really touched my spirit. True, they’re fast, definitive and melodic phrases, and I’ve adopted many of those nuances in my own playing style, but the moment I heard Benson, I could tell he was speaking from his soul.

 

Whatever it was he brought to the surface throughout the 70’s had a profound impact on me. I remember times I’d work myself into a frenzy, playing this lick and that lick, trying to sound like an amazing guitarist. Today, I’ve slowed down quite a bit, playing guitar about 90% with my thumb. Now my fingers reach for warm and meaningful phrases. Give me a beautiful standard like “Skylark” or an old-school classic like “Always and Forever.” Those are songs you play with your heart.

 

When I’m writing music I don’t want to hold myself to a specific genre. My goal today is to play like a vocalist.    

 

Current projects?

I’ve always been one to jump on new and creative ideas with enthusiasm. I had written several books and was published by well-known publishers. In recent years I’ve felt determined to self-publish. Having said that, I’ve been writing a book series for developing musicians. At the very same time I produced a series of writing journals while also developing a set of word-fun activity books. It’s a creative burst that I couldn’t ignore before undertaking my next CD project. I’m a very driven person with many creative passions.

 

Future plans?

Being the chronic multi-tasker, my upcoming plans are to start a third CD project and hopefully an audio book project as well. 

 

Other Comments?

I encourage music lovers to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

Find my music on Pandora, iTunes, CDBaby and other music download locations.

Find my full list of available books and writing journals on Amazon.

Catch me at my developing website at www.mauricejohnson.com

Feel free to email me at info@mauricejohnson.com

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Photo credit: Jerry Lambert

Audio clip: “Black Coffee Please” with permission of the artist

 

A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 8: The Pre-Publication Review

flower-on-the-book

So…this is a topic that can cause a plethora of new grey hairs, but it’s a process that needn’t be painful: asking (begging?) for pre-publication reviews.

Here are some tips.

1. Where to find reviewers – They can be book club members or other voracious readers. Try to find some in different states. If all your reviews say “Queens, NY” and you live in Flushing, it will look like you only asked your friends. Be creative: for my novel on jazz, I researched jazz DJs and radio hosts, jazz artists, and others in the industry, all women (since my book is contemporary women’s fiction).

2. Ask other authors what they did – then follow their model. You can, in fact, reach out to reviewers whom your colleagues used (assuming your colleagues will part with that info), but only for other referrals. Under no circumstances should you tap the same well!

3. How to send it? Never electronically! That’s rife with terrible potential hazards. Yes, you have to go to Staples and print it out. Include a nice, big SASE for them to return it. Attach a brief, friendly cover letter reiterating what you are asking for. Make it clear you are NOT asking for the story to be proofed or edited. You are only seeking a response, a reaction to the story you’ve presented, in one to two sentences.

4. Send it, then forget it! You might have given a “deadline” but realize it’s a soft deadline. The recipient of your manuscript is doing you a huge favor. Regardless of the page count, they are putting aside time that could be used for their work, their family, their hobbies…your MS is an intrusion, so don’t pressure them.

5, Savor your tiny returns! There might not be many (any?) highly quotable testimonials, but any nugget of positivity can stand alone. Extract exactly what you need. Keep remembering it’s quality, not quantity. And if your quantity is only one or two, make the best of it.

6. Thank those who participated – a prompt email of appreciation followed by a signed copy will do just fine.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Harlem on Foot: A Jazz Connection with John Reddick

John Reddick Harlem Walking Tours

John Reddick, who conducts walking tours of Harlem with a focus on architecture, music and history, is actively engaged in Harlem’s culture, art and preservation. He’s authored numerous articles and has spoken at the Apollo Theater, The Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of the City of New York. Reddick recently served as a curator and discussion leader for the Harlem Focus series at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt Design Center.

Located in the uptown reaches of New York City, the Cooper-Hewitt has opened its Jazz Age exhibit (through August 20, 2017), which demonstrates the influence of the jazz aesthetic upon the arts, culture and industrial design of the 1920’s.

Talk about your interest in the Jewish/Black connection, especially relating to the arts.

I went to a lecture about seven years ago on the Lower East Side titled “When Harlem was Jewish.” Jeffrey Gurock, the author of the book by the same name, spoke on how the Jewish tenement dwellers were being displaced by the building of the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges and the expanded roadway access they required. During the same period African American tenement dwellers were being displaced by the building of Pennsylvania Station and its associated railway yards. Both groups followed their more well-to-do counterparts who’d already established homes and religious institutions in districts of Harlem.

The curious point that links the young people of both the tenement class with their well-to-do peers was their shared love for the new music of the day, ragtime. That audience and its influence changed the direction of Harlem’s theater and musical entertainment. George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Sophie Tucker would be drawn to the talents of Bert Williams, James Reese Europe, Fats Waller and Bessie Smith. That this was all happening in Harlem at the turn of the century and prior to the Harlem Renaissance was a revelation to me. It also served to explain why the Harlem Renaissance happened when and where it did, in that this earlier period with its artistic interactions served as the underpinning of the Jazz Age.

Your favorite jazz artists?

I would have to say Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong for the breath of their genius and influence on other talents that I admire like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and many others. Also, Ella and Louis had very rough beginnings, yet their spirit and artistry were very uplifting. I think that discovering their gift in music had very much lifted them, and they saw that it could lift us as well. When I discovered them, they were mature performers, so initially I didn’t appreciate what innovative artists they’d been. For example, Ella’s first love was dance, so as a singer in the swing era she was more naturally attuned to what would also get the feet to move! Even in some videos, watch her when she starts to improvise and dance, it’s pure joy!

Your favorite sub-genre in jazz and why?

I would pick that poetic, political and musically savvy jazz subset that includes the likes of Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown, Jr., Gil Scott-Heron and others. They sang what I would consider musical folk tales, the wise village griot signifying to us, pay attention, beware. I’m thinking of Nina singing “Three Women,” “Mississippi God Damn” or “To Be Young Gifted and Black.” Or say, Abbey’s song, “Throw it Away,” Oscar’s tune, “The Snake,” or Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.”

What inspired you to start a walking tour of Harlem?

I always admired Harlem’s architectural beauty, its wide boulevards, its natural landscape with its variation from the heights to the plains. Just recalling those photographs of Marcus Garvey, in his feathered Lord Nelson’s hat parading down streets that look like Paris boulevards in the background, not Catfish Row! Those photographs were the “Ralph Lauren” ads of their day for African Americans. Many of those boulevards look very much as they did when the “Harlem Hellfighters” regiment, with James Reese Europe leading its marching band, paraded them during the armistice celebration that followed World War I. As an African American, I find recollecting such historic moments in the context of today very exhilarating and I hope in some way I can pass that knowledge and excitement onto others.

What is the most often-asked question you hear from tour participants?

At least one person in every tour group I have still presents me with that question posed by Laurence Oliver’s character in the film Marathon Man, “Is it safe?”

It’s so ridiculous, I’ve lived in Harlem since 1980 and have never heard of a tourist being physically abused or injured. After all, we welcome visitors into what is for African Americans our most sacred space, our churches, yet that hospitality isn’t translated into our community as a whole. Residents already know that the visitor has crossed some perceived or imagined culture barrier to be in Harlem in the first place, we realize that you either have a lover here or are in love with our culture.

Biggest myth about that era of jazz, or jazz as an art form?

I think in jazz, as in any endeavor where African Americans excel, the exalted standard bearers of the culture tend to assign it to “their natural gift,” almost as if it’s instinctual, never an engaged intellect, hard work or a drive to innovate and experiment beyond what are the standard norms. I think any endeavor where an individual pushes the standards to that degree, whether that be jazz, basketball or quilt-making, he’s moved it into the realm of an art form.

How did you become involved with the Cooper Hewitt?

I’ve worked with the Cooper-Hewitt in other ways. My professional background is in architecture and I curated a speakers’ series for them titled “Harlem Focus,” where I moderated interviews with artists and professionals who were either based in Harlem or who’d executed projects there. This included a photographer, landscape architect, graphic designer, fabric printer and others.

Talk a little bit about the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt (now through August 20, 2017). And, how is the feel of jazz reflected in the art and design of the era?

It’s fascinating to appreciate how the evolving technology of the period fueled the global influence of jazz, so much so that it became the transforming spirit that defined the age. Films, recordings and broadcasts served to inspire and link jazz to every other artistic endeavor of the era. The exhibition does a wonderful job in conveying how African-inspired patterns and syncopated rhythms were set off by singular bursts of colors and shapes, not unlike how a solo improvisation by Louis Armstrong might be set against the underlying rhythms of a jazz band. Such motifs are reflected in everything, from a Chinese-inspired woman’s evening coat to the intricacies of French furniture and jewelry design.

How did you actually create this very specialized niche (tours of Harlem that have a jazz connection)?

My natural curiosity directs me. I always feel that if I’m curious enough about something to explore it, then others too will be interested in what I discovered and how I got there. My first love is architecture and the physical environment, which in reality is the physical reflection of history. So, I often see connections between buildings and the underlining Harlem culture that others might not pick up on.  

Future plans?

I collect and sell African American memorabilia, photographs, posters and sheet music that focus on Harlem, and the artists and players with histories there. The broad range of notables that lived and worked in Harlem is pretty astounding.  Think of it, James Reese Europe and George Gershwin, Moms Mabley and Milton Berle, James Baldwin and Arthur Miller, Harlem residents all! My hope is to eventually have a shop, though currently people can acquire items from my collection for sale at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s gift shop.

And of course, paramount in my future, is to continue to live, work and enjoy my life here in HARLEM!

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Sassy Strumming, Razor-Sharp Fingerwork At The Heart of “Jazz Gitan”

Jazz Gitan Don Price.JPG

With its characteristic jaunty, Parisian feel, the spirit of gypsy jazz as made popular by Django Reinhardt lives on thanks to contemporary artists around the globe. In California, there’s one student of the art form who has made this his passion. Student has become teacher and a fully-credentialed gypsy jazz ambassador. Don Price’s band is called “Jazz Gitan” – French for “jazz gypsy.”

Why are you drawn to this genre?

The rhythmic style of Gypsy Jazz is called “le pompe” and means to push or to pump. That’s the significant difference in style as compared with traditional jazz. In fact, the rhythm guitarist is the center of the beat, not the soloist. It is his/her job to maintain an even and forceful tempo at all times without taking too many liberties. The melodies of Django were beautiful (“Nuages” comes to mind). The challenge of improvisation in jazz – especially gypsy jazz – makes it fun. Just to give you an idea, to convincingly play the Django tune “Babik” (which was written for his son) at the Samois gypsy jam sessions (the home of the yearly Django Festival and Django’s burial place), you have to get the tempo up to at least 300 bpm. Now that’s le pompe!

Contemporary artists who inspire you?

There are so many good, up and coming players today, mostly in Europe: Paulus Schafer, Olli Soikkeli, Andreas Oberg, Stephane Wrembel (who did the Woody Allen film “’Midnight In Paris”), Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre and Robin Nolan. That’s just a start. Then there are a few American players like John Jorgenson, Frank Vignola, Alfonso Ponticelli, Gonzalo Bergara. But the crown goes to French guitarist Bireli Lagrene, who has performed worldwide in just about every style of music, but continues to return to his gypsy jazz roots in Django.

Give a brief background of your mother’s musical career.

There was always music going on in the household.

My mother performed both on and off stage, playing multiple instruments like piano, accordion and guitar. She performed for the USO during WWII and was able to meet Les Paul, Hank Garland, Bob Wills and many of the jazz and Nashville artists of the day. She introduced me to Les Paul at a concert when I was only six.  

She recorded with others, but also wrote her own songs, one of which I did on the “Djangit” album, called “It Only Hurts For A Little While” that I rearranged to fit the gypsy jazz style. She taught me tenor guitar and I almost didn’t learn the six-string guitar because I had become so used to the four-string. We would sing and play along with recordings of Elvis or whoever and record ourselves on reel-to-reel. I plan to record more of her tunes on upcoming CD’s.

Have you played the Django Fest?

The last time I played at Django Fest was 2011 with my early trio. The festival has become so huge now – both in San Francisco and in Washington – that bands are fighting to get in. I’m not certain when I will be offered the opportunity again. With my new band we usually go on the road during the summer months and play the theater or similar venues besides playing regularly on a local basis.

This summer (2017) we will be doing the San Francisco Folk Festival which is a free festival with all kinds of music. As far as I know we are the only official gypsy jazz group who will be performing there.

Why don’t we hear more of this sub-genre on Internet radio or TV music stations?

Actually, one can hear this music on Internet radio mostly where there is an actual Django channel, or on YouTube. It’s widely played in Europe on radio channels.

Do you have a singer in the band?

I never used to have singers in my band. However, lately I’ve noticed the audience seems to enjoy vocals. The only two tunes with vocals are “Dinah” (on the “Jazz Gitan: Trio” CD featuring bassist Zack Sapunor) and the “JGQ: Live” CD where fellow guitarist Devan Kortan sings “The Sheik Of Araby.”  I recently wrote a tune called “Django Never Played No Gig In Hangtown” which has lyrics specifically geared to a share-along approach. We haven’t yet rehearsed it, so we’ll see what happens. I plan to do another of my mother’s originals that has lyrics.

Do you still teach at USC (University of Southern California)?

I’ve been on the Recommended Teacher’s listing since 1986. I was also teaching at Sacramento City College and a number of music stores, all before 2013. I still offer private lessons, and I’ll also offer online lessons in relation to my instruction books.

Is there commercial interest in the genre?

I think it’s been growing. When I first got hooked on it back in 1996 there weren’t too many people playing this style on the West Coast except for The Hot Club of San Francisco and Pearl Django. The majority of this music came from Europe. Unless a big star like Bireli Lagrene came to town, no one knew much about it.

It’s kind of like the bluegrass and blues phenomena which would attract a certain segment of pop culture but not across the board.

Now with gypsy jazz we have an influx of European players to draw on for inspiration, and you can find Django camps popping up around the country as well the yearly Django Festival in New York.

Current projects?

I’m writing instructional books for gypsy jazz and I’m planning another CD, this time featuring all original compositions. Not certain of the line-up of players yet.

Future plans?

Stay healthy, inspired, and keep swinging!

Photo: Julie Dinsdale (Hinterland Studios)

© Debbie Burke 2017

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