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Debbie Burke

Jazz Author

Welcome to A Jazzy Blog!

Jazzy Q&As here…and the latest on my upcoming novel GLISSANDO – A Story of Love, Lust and Jazz

Book cover final25

NEWS FEED

7.13.17 ~ New interview with author-blogger Lisa Hasleton to be posted shortly!

7.10.17 ~ Finalized my bio, synopsis and marketing highlights for Waldorf Publishing!

7.6.17 ~ Journal of the Pocono Plateau ran a story on “Glissando.” Thankful!

6.30.17 ~ Author blogger Fiona McVie has interviewed me on her blog! Many thanks, Fiona!  All about “Glissando”!

6.11.17 ~ Press release on “Glissando” picked up by the Journal of the Pocono Plateau. Link to follow!

6.2.17 ~ Just returned from Book Expo America. Fantastic and exciting! Talked about “Glissando” and made so many contacts. Good work, #BEA!

5.29.17 ~ Barner Books (New Paltz, NY) interested in review copy. Great college-town bookstore!

5.24.17~ Final prep for BEA, packing, checking out booths I’ll visit. EXPO here I come!

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 2 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!

Great Q&As, 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.

Also: check out my articles on All About Jazz. Another fantastic resource for music lovers.

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

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

Weather Forecast: Strong North Wind Approaching

Bianca Rossini album cover

With an octopus-like grasp into the performing arts world, Bianca Rossini has done so much already: acting in films and TV dramas, and hosting her own TV talk show; writing, composing and performing music heavily influenced by her Brazilian roots; publishing a romance novel and poetry books; dancing; and even puppetry. The creative flow is unstoppable and her energy is infectious. In July, she released the new CD “Vento do Norte” and this north wind is about to bring the jazz world much more hot music.

What’s your primary love: acting, poetry, or music?

I love expressing my creativity, I could not live without it. I feel I’m a conduit; it’s something natural, intuitive and often beyond my control. As a singer/songwriter I’m able to incorporate all the different facets of my artistic life including writing, performing, songwriting, poetry, dancing, choreographing and acting. 

Why did you come to LA?

I moved to LA some years ago to pursue my career as an actress and realize my dream of becoming a professional singer/songwriter.

Explain the title of the CD? 

It means “Wind of the North” and is a song I wrote with Peter Roberts. The album celebrates the joy of love and romance, and the chance to dance and dream.

What inspired “Vento do Norte”?

It has a pop influence. It makes me want to dance. The song “Ipanema Paraiso” features tenor Jimmy Roberts. Jon Gilutin’s arrangement of “Tic Tac,” is a classic. “Doce Amor,” co-written with Patrick Lockwood, features Mark Nilan on piano. It feels timeless. “Meu Sonho” is a bit erotic, one of more than a dozen songs I co-wrote with my other fabulous songwriting partner Marilyn Berglas. “Que Cor,” a poem from my book Love in Black and White (with art by Michael Kenna), is intimate, with just a grand piano played by my co-writer Steven Rawlins.

I’m fortunate to have an extraordinary producer and very talented/accomplished music partners. Peter Roberts produced my first album “Kiss of Brasil” and we’ve been working together ever since. My co-writers in this album include Peter Roberts, Grammy-winning songwriter Jon Gilutin, Patrick Lockwood, Steve Rawlins, Marilyn Berglas and Harvey Mason.

It’s hard for me to pick one song over another; I love them all. All my co-writers are accomplished performers themselves, and are featured in the rhythm section, including Mark Nilan on keyboards, and Roberto Montero and Mitchell Long on guitar.

How did you become interested in jazz?

I grew up listening to bossa nova and all kinds of Brazilian music, and music from all over the world. Some of my early influences were Dorival Caymmi, Vinicius de Moraes, João Gilberto, Pinxinguinha, Tom Jobim, Maysa and Elis Regina. I love Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Simon & Garfunkel, Édith Piaf, Carly Simon and Dionne Warwick. Later on, I fell in love with Coltrane, Cole Porter, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.

I grew up dreaming of being in musicals. I saw musicals as the perfect outlet to perform as an actress, singer and dancer. I was in love with all the classic musicals including American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Shall We Dance, West Side Story, The Sound of Music and more.

My mother’s musical taste introduced me to music from every part of the globe: from Trio Los Panchos to Ray Charles, to Arabic, Italian, French, Spanish, Cuban and Mexican music.

I also love opera. I feel very fortunate that we have The LA Opera in our backyard. Their productions are some of the best I’ve seen of Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Tosca and La Bohème. The Recovered Voices Project and II Postino were also extraordinary and unforgettable. There is one opera called La Sonnambula I saw at Convent Garden [in London] that is on my top list as well. I love Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Victoria de Los Angeles, Maria Callas and Jessye Norman.

As an actress, I’ve worked in films and TV shows with some of my idols. I was thrilled to co-starr with Dick Van Dyke on “Diagnosis Murder.” He was as humble as he was talented.

I used to write an arts column covering the performing arts scene in LA. I got to see up close many of the artists whose music I admire and who inspire me. They include Pat Metheny, Quincy Jones, George Benson, John Pizzarelli, Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Branford Marsalis, Césaria Évora, Gilberto Gil, Jimmy Webb and more.

What prompted this quote by Jimmy Webb: “Bianca, you will be forever in the book of my luminaries”? 

I met Jimmy Webb at the ASCAP Pop Music Awards. When he found out that I was a Brazilian singer/songwriter he said he might be doing a project that could include Brazilian lyrics. I didn’t have my first CD out yet, but he asked me to send him my poetry book A Brazilian Heart.

One day he called me and said he gave my book to a famous singer he was producing for. She loved the poems! In fact, he said she was reading them aloud to him at her country home. He invited me to write lyrics in Portuguese and also compose for him. I went into my producer’s studio, recorded several new compositions, and sent them to him right away. When we spoke on the phone he said he was stunned at how fast and versatile I was and that he loved my work. This was Jimmy Webb, a genius songwriter I grew up listening to. I was moved.

Which do you write first, lyrics or melody?

They often come simultaneously. Most of the time words are music to my ears; it immediately evokes a sound. If a word inspires me, I sing it, and a melody just follows.

Any relation to the Rossini opera family?

The only relationship is our love of music. 

Grammy nominations or awards?

 Not yet. I hope “Vento do Norte” will win a Grammy.

Talk about your training and early musical performances.

I’ve loved performing since I was 3. Early on I started taking dance classes, music lessons and did acting and storytelling through puppetry. Every night I used to put my little brother to sleep by telling him stories. I would ask him what he liked to hear and he would choose a main character. I would create the story and improvise songs on the spot.

Later on, I would compose melodies whenever inspiration struck me. I was always looking for a writing partner, someone who could play out my music.  Anytime I was with a musician who could improvise, I would make up songs.

I started recording myself, which was the best thing for my career as a songwriter. I also did some shows in the late ’90s in LA. At the time, I was too busy with my acting work, and even though there were some good moments, my music career never really blossomed.

Then I met music journalist Don Heckman, who after hearing a composition that I had created spontaneously, said, “Bianca, you’ve got to work with the best musicians and co-write with the best composers.” Even though I was always writing, I wrote like a poet and my songs lacked structure; the words and melodies went on forever. Don offered to become my mentor and in three days I was writing songs with proper structure.

I couldn’t stop. I wrote something like five a day, and began working with other composers around the world. Sometimes because of the time difference I would be rolling out of bed at 4 in the morning to finish a song or listen to a track that my co-writer would send for review and I couldn’t wait, I couldn’t stop writing. It was extraordinary and exhilarating. All my life, I had been waiting for that moment, and a year later I was launching my first album, “Kiss of Brasil.”

What did you enjoy most about your TV talk show?

The Bianca Rossini Show aired [in the Los Angeles market] for ten years, until 2007. I always loved learning about people, their struggle, joy and success. People in general feel comfortable with me. Without asking, they share their intimate stories and journey.

How do you set the mood to compose and arrange?

I usually don’t set anything up. Walking on the beach is a sure way to inspire new melodies and lyrics. It’s instant. I would say the ocean is a very powerful source of inspiration for me. 

But inspiration is everywhere: a word, someone’s energy, art, life. My creativity is intuitive, in the moment, and it’s a connection that bypasses my head and goes straight for the heart.

The words come bathed in sounds and like a string of pearls it keeps on going until the necklace is completed. I don’t dictate anything. It tells me where it wants to go, what story to tell and when it’s completed.  

What themes inspire you?

Love, which can be interpreted with another or with oneself; death, life, nature, romance and hope.

Are you in love now and how does that inform your music?

I’m madly in love with my husband and with life. I get bursts of inspiration often. It’s a delicious and nurturing experience, and that’s why writing poetry and songs is an immediate creative outlet for me. It often requires nothing more than a pen and paper, or just the iPhone.

What is in the heart and soul of Brazilian music that sets it apart from American jazz?

I was speaking with music critic Steve Hochman, and his take was that what sets Brazilian music apart is that it didn’t develop from American blues, but rather from combinations of Portuguese (and other European traditions) and indigenous culture and music, and African rhythms and influences.

The sounds of the language are very much a part of the music there. I think Brazilian music is freer, as Steve mentions, in that it plays with different sounds from all different aspects of Brazilian culture. It mixes it all up.

Is it a good time for the music industry — especially for jazz artists?

In the past, you could not have much of an audience without a powerful record label behind you. If you were lucky and got signed, then yes, you’d have made more money with royalties, but how many could land a major record label contract or afford to produce a complete album? Very few.

Today we independent artists are connecting with the world’s audience through our music. There are no more boundaries. The access is limitless. You don’t have to wait for a label to produce your album or for someone to publicize your work. You can create your own podcast, blog, YouTube channel, or whatever you want.

Some of my songs have been streamed a million times on Spotify. My albums are playing non-stop on Pandora radio as well. We still have great music writers, journalists, critics and reviewers like yourself who are dedicated and passionate about music and sharing with their audiences the new artists and reminding us of the great classic sounds.

We artists need to get paid for what we do, and all these outlets that play our music need to pay more fairly. We need to continue to advocate for fair pay for fair play.

What’s the newest overall trend in jazz music?

There’s so much amazing talent coming out of every place around the globe. The internet, social media, YouTube, etc. are making music more accessible than ever.

I think it’s inevitable we’ll hear more influence of different cultures in one song than ever before. Even though there have been musicians like Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and artists’ collaborations like Wayne Shorter with Milton Nascimento, Herbie Hancock and Airto Moreira have introduced plenty of Brazilian elements to their sound.

I wondered why mainstream jazz musicians weren’t incorporating samba, bossa or Arabic sounds into their repertoire. But that is no longer true; it just keeps on expanding, with the sounds of Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Billy Childs and Otmaro Ruiz.

The fusion of sounds is ongoing, celebrated and becoming more and more part of the fabric of jazz.

Future plans?

To continue to collaborate with great musicians and compose, perform and record more albums. I want to have my songs sung by other singers.

It was a thrill to listen to my song “Estrela Azul,” co-written with my partner Sergio Santos, performed by the beautiful voice of Catina deLuna in her debut album “Lado B Brazilian Project.”

I have written an extraordinary number of songs and I would like to continue to work with my music partners as well collaborate with new ones. I want to expand my sound while reaching every corner of the globe with my music.

Other comments?

I would like to thank you, Debbie, for connecting me with your audience, and to give special thanks to my producer and music partners. I hope each member of your audience will give “Vento do Norte” a listen and that it will become their new favorite!

For more information visit www.biancarossini.com.  

Bianca Rossini 2

Photos courtesy of the musician.

© Debbie Burke 2017

Glints of Light

Steve Barker drawing of tenor saxophone

Steve Barker of the UK has been obsessed with line, shape and color ever since he can remember. The first detailed drawing he recalls doing was at age 6 or 7. It was of a crab on pebbles. Pen or colored pencil in hand – always – he has been creating extraordinarily photographic renderings of musical instruments. He’s captivated by the curve of a saxophone’s mouthpiece; the way sunlight catches the bends of a trombone; the iridescence of buttons on a trumpet valve. Steve’s got no lack of material, as his wife is a musician and there’s always some instrument laying around in or out of its case, with all its accessories.

Steve Barker Jazzdrawings

Steve Barker

The obsession started at a young age? 

Yes. One early memory is drawing a detailed drawing of a tiger. We had been to a safari park, and in the guide book across two pages was a beautiful photograph of a tiger. I remember seeing the photograph and I couldn’t wait to draw it. I can remember drawing the tiger a few times, always wanting the next one to be better, more detailed.

At junior school, I had a teacher who was an illustrator. He obviously appreciated the need for children to be creative, so the whole school was encouraged to draw and be artistic. The classroom was full of interesting things, the type of old objects that you would find in a junk shop or antique shop; old bottles, bits of rope, old electric fires, paraffin burners, old fashioned things, interesting objects that were a challenge to draw.

One afternoon a week, the teacher would teach us how to draw. It was during these lessons that I first discovered pen and ink. There was a stuffed squirrel in a glass box. I can clearly remember drawing the texture of the fur hair by hair, trying to capture the subtle tones.

I had started to play the guitar by the age of ten, but art was the path that I had always wanted to follow. After two brilliant years at the local art college I then went to Liverpool John Moores University and had three amazing years where I gained an honors degree in fine art.

What is it about pen and ink, or pencils, that you gravitate to, as opposed to oil paint and acrylics?

I’ve always loved drawing, and I try to follow what is appealing to me about the whole process of drawing: the flexibility of the material and the ability to create a three-dimensional feel on a two-dimensional piece of paper. I use subject material that allows me to satisfy my fascination with color, shape, form, light, detail and complexity.

The action of drawing with traditional pen and inks has a different attraction. It’s an entirely dynamic and fluid experience…the colored inks add an organic, spontaneous element which expands each drawing.

The drawing styles of pencil, and pen and ink, complement each other, one being very precise and intense, and the other freer flowing, but while still managing to capture the essence of the instrument.

Do you play an instrument?

I play the guitar. My wife is the real musician, and she plays the piano, clarinet, saxophone and flute.

What is your connection to the jazz community?

My wife and I are both members of The Dearne Big Band & Singers. The original band was formed in 1978 for pupils of the Foulstone Secondary School Barnsley. We were both associated with the band while still students at secondary school and we are still part of what was originally a school band some twenty years later.

The band is still true to its original beginnings, being the primary fundraiser for The Barnsley Youth Jazz Association, a non-profit music service based locally. Its objective is to give individual music tuition for students aged 5-18 at an affordable cost. The association provides musical instruments, tuition and various bands that children can participate in.

Why did you focus on jazz instruments in particular?

As an artist who’s married to a musician and who plays in a big band, musical instruments became an obvious choice of subject matter, and there’s obviously plenty to have a go at drawing. Each drawing that I produce is of a band member’s instrument which is kindly loaned to me.

What ultimately draws me to musical instruments is the high level of precision and detail that they have as objects. The way that they are crafted, the accuracy of their construction and manufacture, and the reflective qualities that they have. I enjoy the high level of skill, precision and control that is required over the material to recreate the object’s detailed appearance.

Do you enjoy jazz? 

As a guitarist, I love the chords and the chord progressions in a piece of music, how a piece of music works and how all the individual parts come together.

How do you achieve that highly photographic appearance? 

I always try to draw the instrument from direct observation in the first instance. You can’t beat looking to see how an instrument works, the shape of each component, how the linkages connect, how the valves or pads of a saxophone fit and come together.

I have a really detailed look to see the shape and form of each element of the instrument and try to understand how the instrument exists in its own space. That’s one of the ways I achieve the level of realism.

I also use photography. It’s integral to what I’m trying to achieve. If you just copy a photograph it can all too easily become a flat copy that’s lacking in depth, that’s why I need to study the instrument first. I also have to get the instrument back to its owner, that’s the other purpose of photography.

Jazz Drawings US clarinet

How do ideas come to you?

I find inspiration from all sorts of places. It could be an image in a magazine or a visit to a gallery. The internet is an amazing resource for creativity, and there are a lot of talented people out there publishing their work online. Inspiration is everywhere.

Your most unusual commission? 

I was asked to produce a family tree a few years ago. I had studied calligraphy while at college, so when the commission came in I thought why not? It was a good chance to blow the dust off the calligraphy pens.

The whole drawing was quite a challenge. I had to do a lot of research.

The most unusual instrument you ever drew?

Someone got in touch with me regarding drawing a drum kit, and after looking at the drums, I’ve yet to come up with a way of capturing them in a drawing. The drums are one for the future.

How long does the average drawing take you?

Some drawing can take up to 250 hours to complete from start to finish, like the pencil crayon tenor saxophone drawing.

Time passes really quickly when I’m drawing. I work at such a small scale capturing the slightest detail, I almost find myself descending into the drawing.

The pen and ink drawings are a lot quicker to produce, only a few hours or so each. Slowly paced drawings can takes hours to produce a few square inches; a quicker, more energetic way of working soon yields an outcome. It’s a balance between the two, sometimes slow, sometimes fast.

What part of the instrument is the most difficult?

The most difficult part of drawings are large areas of seemingly flat color, like on the body of the cello, violin and guitar. These areas aren’t one particular color, but achieving the slight tonal differences in color and trying to capture the iridescent qualities of a material can be quite a challenge.

Talk about the market for your art.  

My work mainly sells in the US and UK although I do have interest from across the world. 

Have you considered jazz portraiture?

That side of drawing has never appealed to me at all. I’m more focused on the instrument as an object, rather than a portrait of the person playing it.

Do you make all the decisions on framing and matting or do you work with the client?

I usually leave the framing up to the client.

Future plans? 

I’m always on the lookout for different approaches to the way I draw. I’ve been exploring more textured work using collage to create interesting surfaces to draw on. I’ve also been exploring the space around an instrument by employing a larger and freer use of line.

In the long term, I’d like to take the drawings into some kind of printmaking, possibly lino printing to start, and ultimately into some sort of intaglio printing. That’s something I’d really like to explore.

To learn more, visit https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/JazzdrawingsCoUk.

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Photos courtesy of the artist.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

It’s Real Right Now

Alexander Zonjic

Smitten by the British Invasion as a youth in Windsor, Ontario, Alexander Zonjic picked up a guitar and formed a rock band with his school friends. But his destiny was in another instrument entirely. When the flute came into his life, he was astoundingly lucky to receive private lessons from the second flutist and then the principal flutist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

His career has unfurled by blending genres and telling stories through his flute.  

Zonjic’s catalog includes CD’s titled “Romance with You,” “Reach for the Sky,” and “When Is It Real.”  

When and why did you first pick up the flute?

I actually started my musical life on the guitar when I was eight years old. The flute didn’t come along until I was 21 years old.

I purchased a flute off a guy who wanted $50 but I only had nine dollars, and he took it. It was on a street corner in Windsor Ontario, I was back in Windsor to visit my family and this street salesman recognized me as a local guitarist. 

What other instruments do you play?

I still play the guitar on my shows and enjoy it very much. The demand of playing the flute, however, does not allow me much time to practice guitar anymore. One instrument is really all the challenge that one lifetime can bear.

What’s it like to play events like Jazz on the River (on the Detroit River, MI)? 

Jazz on the River is a very special festival and experience. While it’s rewarding to play in front of any size audience, there is something special about being outdoors and in front of at least 20,000 people.

How would you compare the smooth jazz scene here in the US with Canada?

I don’t normally categorize music as smooth or not smooth. The audiences in Canada and all over the world for that matter are all wonderful. People really are people everywhere, and they all enjoy music performed on a high level.

You’ve definitely performed all over the US- what cities are most memorable for being supportive of artists? 

I have always found support from all over the country. While we enjoy all cities, there is something very special about Detroit, New York and L.A.

Which artists/composers have influenced you?

Too many to mention. In the classical world, the music of Bach and Mozart sticks out, and in the jazz world Bob James, Hubert Laws and Herbie Hancock are favorites, to name a few.

How would you characterize your sound?

My sound is a combination of many influences: the early rock ‘n’ roll experiences along with studying classical music and performing with great musicians like Bob James and Jeff Lorber. They’ve all contributed to what people hear from me today. To be clear, I always thought of my sound and music as being jazzy but not necessarily jazz in the traditional sense.

You have an impressive career in big orchestras. What is your connection to the classical music genre?

I have no preference to any particular style of music; but classical music seems to be one of my bigger challenges. As a result, I’m always looking for opportunities to perform in that world.

What are some of the differences between playing with a huge orchestra vs. a small ensemble, especially for the flute?

Playing on a high-level in any style of music with any size ensemble is always challenging. You need to practice and prepare for all of them with the same commitment.

What is your own favorite CD or track, and why?

I have no favorite CD’s or favorite tracks from any of my recordings. They all represent different periods in my career and I find special moments in many of them.

Talk about the jazz cruise. How many have you done and what’s special about the experience?

I’ve been lucky enough to perform in many different formats, in many different settings. Performing and entertaining on a boat with an appreciative audience with great food and surroundings is always special.

What do you like most about the Detroit jazz scene?  

It’s not the Detroit jazz scene that I’m drawn to but Detroit itself. Great people and incredible musical heritage all combine to make it, in my mind, the greatest music city in the world.

Where do you live now?

Although I spend most of my time in Detroit and in the US, my primary residence is still in Windsor, Ontario. I’ve never found the daily commute to be a disadvantage.

How would you say that fusion has changed since Jeff Lorber started performing, and why do you like it?

All music evolves. The idea of fusing different elements of music has been around forever. I’m a big Jeff Lorber fan and his ability to combine R&B, jazz and funk together has always influenced and impressed me.

What projects are you working on right now?

I’m always working on new projects. There is a new CD in progress along with our continuing involvement with festivals and live music. In recent months, we’ve started a new weekly television show and a weekly radio show. All things continue to be creative, fun and rewarding.

I guess you could say we’re pretty lucky.

Other comments?

Good questions! I think we’ve covered a lot.

© Debbie Burke 2017

Photo courtesy of the artist with permission

One-Line Essence: A Brief Interview with Sir Shadow

SirShadow logo

Sir Shadow Smile

He’s known as Sir Shadow and when you see his artwork adorning doorways and construction sites in New York City, you’ll know why. All over lower Manhattan he’s painting silhouettes of jazz artists – using one continuous line. It’s his way of giving himself to the city where jazz lives.

Sir Shadow also writes poems and puts his artwork on posters, trading cards, and calendars.   

Do you have any formal art training?

No, it’s all natural.

What were your first drawings?

I used to draw airplanes when I was a little kid. 

Where do you live now?

Lower Manhattan. 

Where do you paint?

Washington Square Park and in a lot of places; on the train, on the bus, in the supermarket. Anyplace I walk. It can happen any moment. The earth is my studio. 

In a 2008 NY Times interview, you said that art is medicine. What do you mean by that?

Well, it’s my medication. Once it works on me, it works on whoever is receiving it. When they say they feel good, they filled the prescription and it brings back that same level of satisfaction, whatever they caught. 

Who are your favorite jazz artists (living or not)?

Louis Armstrong is a favorite. I also like Solomon Burke and Etta James. 

Do you play any instruments?

I bought a guitar and I’m trying to learn how to make a sound.

Have you been discovered by the art world yet?

No, I guess I’m just doing it myself. I have to stay in my lane and do my thing. I meet enough people and touch enough hearts. If it’s meant for me to make millions, then I will. 

What do you want people to know about you?

Just about my art, I rep this positive energy, with my books and my poetry. There’s no difference between writing and art – I put my energy into it.

My work is all based around that each person has to take their individual journey in life. When you are growing up, you’re in a group; but comes a time when you’ve got to go on your own. You don’t have the group to give you backup to who and what you are. So you will find that art can help you transcend through the world. Whether you dance, or create, whatever you do, that’s the fruit off your tree.

For more info, please visit http://www.sirshadow.com.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

All images courtesy of the artist with permission.

Breathing Life into a Piece of Brass

gomez

Dr. Otto Gomez has a personal connection to the trumpet. As a pastor, he appreciates how the instrument is mentioned in the Bible, and he never loses his spiritual regard of music. Born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, the city was very good to him; he started performing with his buddies when he was just 14. He now lives in Orlando, playing R&B, smooth and Latin jazz.

Age when you starting playing music?

At age 12. I just couldn’t get the fingering. The guitar I was given was too small for my fat fingers. I then began beating on my mother’s bar stools, so she bought me a Slingerland drum set from Sam Ash on 48th Street in Manhattan.

That worked out very well because I was playing percussion in high school. But it took soooooooo long to get to my next class since I had to break down all of the cymbal stands, de-tune the tympani, and then cover them for the next class. I remember those days so well!

At 15, I started to play the trumpet because my band director played it and it was convenient for me to pack up after class. I taught myself how to play and it came very naturally to figure out the different patterns in order to perform with the school band. I truly loved it and I still do. According to the Bible, when Jesus returns, He will be ushered in with the sound of the trumpet.  

As time went on in the late 60’s, I played in different local bands in New York. I performed in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan; R&B, Latin jazz and a few pop bands.  

When did you know you wanted to make a career out of it?

The minute I performed my first paid gig, which was in Harlem. My mother bought a station wagon so that the other musicians and I could get our equipment to the gig. We were all very young back in those days. I’ll never forget how much we got paid: $175 for three hours. I was 14, and was playing drums then because they needed a drummer. Since I knew the material, I did the gig. From that point on, I knew I wanted to do this for real.

What was the experience like studying for your Ph.D. in England?

It was very cool. I was working on a horn and string arrangement for a group that was doing the commercials for Burger King. I used that material for my Advanced Independent Research and Advanced Orchestration course.

How did you come to settle in the Orlando area?

In 1978 I was the musical director of a band named “The Smokin’ Shades of Black.” We were a local group based out of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. We were very well known for opening up multiple shows for major Billboard acts such as Blood Sweat & Tears, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown, Millie Jackson, Tyrone Davis and a host of others.

One afternoon, we were booked to be the opening act for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. After the performance, I handed John Atkins (the leader of the Blue Notes at that time) my business card and told him I’d be interested in playing trumpet for them should they ever have an opening. He told me their trumpet player was leaving to sing lead for The Drifters in less than a month. So my timing was right!

I received a call from John three days later. We negotiated our terms and within a week I was in Miami at their rehearsal, learning the show. I toured with them for approximately one year and my tour ended up in Orlando, Florida in 1979. We performed at the Tomorrowland Theater in Disneyland. 

Talk about the jazz scene now in Orlando.    

It calmed down back in 2006 since the death of one of the Grossman brothers who were the owners of WLOQ 103.1. They really took care of the local musicians and the station had a lot of jazz concerts all over the city.

We still have a few jazz clubs in town but the concert venues are not as vast as back then.

How did you meet some of the classic R&B artists like Donnie Hathaway and Roberta Flack?

Just by being in New York when I was in The Smokin’ Shades of Black.

Your years as a pastor: does faith inform your music?

My music is now and will always be influenced by God. My publishing companies are Too Tough Music and Nehushtan Music. In the Bible, Nehushtan refers to “a piece of brass.” It always reminds me that the trumpet is only a piece of brass and should never be regarded as an instrument to be praised.

Why smooth, over straight-ahead, fusion, or bop?

Growing up in New York, the money was in performing in R&B bands that played James Brown, Gladys Knight, Otis Redding and artists of the sort. Playing jazz was a personal decision.

I loved the articulations that were performed by Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Chick Corea. I remember spending weeks trying to uncover the moves to the licks that Miles Davis was laying down. I was so engulfed with his musical vocabulary.

Clifford Brown was my hero but as time went on I found a very personal love and appreciation for Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers. 

Today I study Rick Braun more than anyone else.

When did you form the Dr. Otto Quintet and who’s in it?

Around 1992. The musicians were (at that time): Maurice Johnson (guitar), Tim Cromer (drums), Skip Bryant (bass) and Dave Capp (sax). My band has expanded and contracted as time rolled on. Presently I have a four-piece rhythm section and we’re all loving it.

How long have you been teaching?

28 years.

How is your career divided between teaching and performing?

I teach privately in students’ homes. This gives them the comfort and ease of a familiar environment. They don’t have to worry about time restraints or being in a competitive mode while trying to comprehend a musical concept.

Talk about composing.

I love the gift of taking a thought and transforming it into music that can be comprehended by others. To me this is the beauty of a composer.

I truly understand the spiritual realm that the great composers like Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky must have felt in their compositions. Gil Evans, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock (in my opinion) also have the gift of taking thoughts and turning them into musical reality.

Your tune “Don’t You Ever Give Up” has a great groove. What do your songs have in common?

If you look at all of the titles of the songs on any of my CD’s, you will notice they all have a positive message.

Who are your musical inspirations (alive or passed)?

Quincy Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Randy Brecker and Rick Braun.

You play other instruments?

Piano, bass, French horn and voice.

What are the trumpet’s particular challenges?

The trumpet player has to be able to perform all of the articulations that the other instruments have to perform, but with only three valves.

CD’s?

I have three in Europe at present. 

Current projects?

I’m recording my fourth CD as we speak.

Future musical goals?

I’m hoping to be married in the next three months.

Other comments?

I am absolutely honored to have been selected to be part of your blog. Until we speak again, may God bless you and keep you always. 

Photo courtesy of the artist. 

© Debbie Burke 2017

Young Lions Roar in Sacramento

Kortet

Kortet 2

Never underestimate those local high school jazz programs. They often lead to scorching musical careers.

Devan Kortan (second from left in top photo) is one of those fortunate young people to come up through a local jazz program in the Sacramento school system that paired up-and-comers with the coolest mentors, then gave them the chance to get out and be heard. Then there was jazz camp, where he met his musical peers, all of them in love with The Great American Songbook. Three years into a Philosophy degree at Sac State, Devan with his swing-loving bros now form The Kortet. 

How young were you when you started being interested in music?

My mom played guitar and sang since I was little. When I turned 10, I wanted nothing more than to play the bass, which then was a natural segue into playing guitar. 

Was jazz played in your house growing up? 

My parents have incredibly diverse musical tastes. My dad listened to everything from Thelonious Monk to Beastie Boys to Sade to Jimmy Hendrix. 

How did you meet your band mates? 

Andrew Stephens, Carson Messer and I went to the same high school, Rio Americano, a school with a superb jazz program. Dexter Williams went to school down the road at El Camino, but we all came together at the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society’s jazz camp up at Sly Park a few years ago.

When did you form your Kortet? 

The band formed at the jazz camp, mostly due to us becoming really good friends! The band followed from that.

I honestly cannot remember the Kortet’s first gig – we’ve done what seems like hundreds at this point. We had really fast success in the youth band community in the area. We were quickly invited to play at all the festivals and events in the area. 

Who are some of the community mentors who had a direct influence on your training?  

All of the instructors at the jazz camp were so influential. People like Bill Dendle, Eddie Erickson, Bria Skonberg, Westy Westenhofer (may he rest in peace) and Ed Metz especially. Also Sacramento locals like the great Dr. Steve Roach at Sacramento State taught me how to be a disciplined musician as well as healthy and motivated. 

Name your favorite jazz artists.

Jimmy Raney, Stan Getz, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Django Reinhardt, Bob Brookmeyer, Clark Terry and Julian Lage stand out in my mind. The person that made the biggest impact on my life and performing is Eddie Erickson, one of the best singer/banjoist/guitarists in the world. I’m blessed to call him my friend.

For the Kortet, we draw a lot of inspiration from the Oscar Peterson Trio from the mid-sixties (Oscar, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen). 

What is the jazz community like in the capital city? 

The Sacramento jazz community is an interesting one. On one hand, it’s extremely casual, but on the other, it’s an old boys’ club. The gigs that do exist are held very closely. Sacramento has a disappointing amount of listening and live dance venues. Everyone is talking about this cultural movement and revitalization here, but I feel that it’s mostly just happening on Instagram. People hate paying for content these days and artists continue to struggle. 

How did you get the attention of the Sac Music Fest, where you cats will be playing this Labor Day? 

Since we have a good relationship with the Jazz Society, it was pretty easy to get their attention. We tend to be the poster children for the jazz camp.

The Kortet has been at the festival since 2013, starting out as a youth band. We’ve been a paid “adult” band for the last two runs. 

Why do you gravitate to the Great American Songbook? 

There’s an immense amount of beauty and poetry in the American Songbook, you just have to know how to recognize it. I never get tired of hearing standards! 

Talk a little about the Kortet’s members. 

I love them all so, so much. Not only are they my band mates, but they’re my best friends. When we come together twice a year to do gigs, it’s easily the most fun I have all year long. All of us bring something special to the table. I am the band coordinator, namesake, and de facto spokesperson.

Honestly, Andrew Stephens’ skill and knowledge are really what makes this good band great. 

You must have received lots of advice about how hard it is to make a living at this. What say you? 

Yep, it’s super hard. It’s more than going to the gig at night. It’s putting your charts together, practicing, coordinating your band, communicating with the venue, making sure your gear is in order, dressing nicely, being personable and marketing yourself which is the most difficult and most time-consuming thing to do. 

We are living in the golden age of social media. How has that informed your marketing efforts?

I think it’s made us more self-conscious! 

What are your plans to expand your band’s reach and perform in new places? 

We’ve got a lot of ambition to reach bigger festivals. The plan for that is to get more swinging and hire a (better than me!) singer.

CDs? 

One is in the works coming late summer (2017)!

 

Photos with permission of Devan Kortan 

© Debbie Burke 2017

Playing Between the Half-Tones: Incredibly Innovative Musicianship from Enrico Granafei

Enrico Granafei

For lovers of jazz and the harmonica in particular, Enrico Granafei might be an incarnation of the master Toots Thielemans, but to the next couple of levels. The owner of Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, NJ, Enrico has taught himself to play what sounds like three instruments at once: an astounding, hands-free chromatic harmonica with a guitar that is a blend of regular guitar and bass. Oh, and sing, as well. Hard enough to master any of these on their own, Enrico has explored every corner of musical possibility and made his instruments sing out in joy. Sometimes, headliners at his club ask him to come onstage and join in “On Green Dolphin Street” or some such chestnut. Lucky is he who’s surrounded himself with friends and music.

When did you learn harmonica?

Rather late in life. I was in my late twenties. I had a previous history as a classical guitarist, and had played and concertized in Italy and Germany where I lived for a couple of years. When I heard Toots Thielemans on a Bill Evans record called “Affinity,” it was particularly influential. 

Is harmonica a hard instrument to master? What about the chromatic harmonica?

The main difficulty was due to the fact there was no “tradition” like other instruments have; very few players around the world, zero books.  In Italy, where I grew up, there was only one rather well-known player but I didn’t get to meet him until I was already proficient in harmonica.

The chromatic harmonica is obviously much more complex and therefore difficult. Many people play the diatonic (blues harp) because you only deal with one scale.

It’s inevitable to ask, so: did you ever meet Toots Thielemans or perform with him?

I met him several times. The first time was in Italy during a festival and then in the States when he eventually became my teacher. He was my sole inspiration.

How many harmonicas do you own?

Several, but I only use one at a time. They wear out fast, so you have to buy new ones or have the others fixed, which can be expensive in the long run.

Do you have one instrument you use more than the others?

After using mainly three-octave Hohner harmonicas for decades, now I use Easttop instruments. They’re made in China and they’re excellent. Never fooled around too much with four octaves. I find the lower octave a little too muddy for my taste.

What is the major difference between instruments?

Aside from the obvious difference between diatonic and chromatic, I imagine the type of material used to build a harmonica makes a difference. There is a huge debate about the comb (where the reed plates are mounted) being made of wood, plastic or metal, but to me it does not make a difference.

Why do you think harmonica is suited to jazz?

Jazz lends itself to any instrument. It’s not so much the instrument as the way you use it and the material you play. There are excellent musicians who play jazz on bagpipes or French horn or bassoon.  

With other instruments, you can employ vibrato through fingers on a string, breath control, or squeezing on a reed. How is this accomplished on harmonica?

Vibrato on the harmonica is accomplished in mainly two different ways. One is by cupping the instrument with your hands and moving one of them rapidly like you would do with a trumpet mute (plunger); the other is done with your throat. That’s the one I use. It’s more subtle and less corny.

Who are your favorite jazz artists and composers?

Toots Thielemans, obviously; Gil Evans, Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

When and why did you move to the US?

I came in 1984. Music was the only reason.

A brief history of Trumpets Jazz Club (in Montclair, NJ), and when did you take ownership?

Trumpets opened in the mid-eighties. It was one of the places where I’d perform. At some point it closed down and my wife Kristine decided to re-open it in 1999. It was not my idea.

Have you owned other clubs?

Nope, it was never one of my ambitions, I must say!

What is it like to divide your time between performing and running the club; and which is easier?

Running a club is very hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The only rewarding thing is the sincere gratitude shown by the community, especially musicians, for supporting live music. 

Do you still tour or perform internationally?

I do, and I want to do it more.

What are some of the challenges to getting people in the door?

It’s important to weed out people who don’t care about the music. If we have to suffer, we might as well do it with the right people. I’ve had people write bad reviews ranting and raving about the coffee that was lukewarm. The music? Huh? Hello!!!! What do you think those people on stage are doing? The lukewarm coffee is the only thing you noticed?

What kind of talent do you look for?

This is the best area of the world for music. Finding great musicians is not a problem; there are more good musicians than gigs available. If anything, I feel sorry for the continuous struggle that musicians have to go through.

Anyway, they send us their material and in most cases it’s excellent. I always like to give priority to local musicians. They have a local following, which is very important in this difficult activity.

What country was the most fun to perform in?

Music is a universal language. It’s appreciated everywhere. It’s not so much the country as the people.

Compare the jazz scene in the northeast U.S. to other places you’ve performed in, like Italy, France and Finland.

There is no place like the northeast U.S. for jazz. That’s where this music was born and where all the greatest musicians want to come. A wonderfully thriving scene.

How long do you know Brazilian trumpet player Claudio Roditi? Do you enjoy playing together?

I met him at The Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz festival about 30 years ago. I saw him again in Italy at the Umbria Jazz Festival. He was playing with Paquito d’Rivera who used to have me sit in with the band. I love his playing and I love playing with him also because he always challenges me. 

How often do you join the performers on stage at your club?

I do only when they ask me. Most people know that I’m a musician but some just know me and see me as a club owner.

Future plans for the club?

Selling it when the right time comes.

New CD’s on the horizon?

Working on a new CD right now. There is a tune called Claudinho, dedicated to Claudio, and he plays on it.

What did you like most about creating and recording the CD “Alone and Together”?

The fact that I played with some of the greatest musicians in the world, like Billy Hart, Wallace Roney, Vic Juris and Dave Stryker.

Do you compose and arrange?

Yes I do, I write a lot and I love it, it’s a totally different thing. You can be a great composer without necessarily being a great performer or you can be a great performer who does not write his own music. If you do both, so much the better!

Who’s coming to Trumpets this year (2017)?

We are having Bob DeVos, Vinx (he used to work with Sting), The Lionel Hampton Big Band, Kenny Davis, and Dave Stryker, just to name a few…

Any other special promotions?

Theoretically, the music should promote itself, but it’s still difficult for people to understand that they have to pay a music charge because that’s how we pay the musicians. This is the main reason it’s so hard to have a jazz club. The audience is excellent, but we need more “aficionados.”

Other comments?

I would like to point out that I also play solo in a very unusual setting with the hands-free chromatic harmonica, invented by Vern Smith, and DB guitar at the same time. The DB guitar is a combination of guitar and bass, and was built by Nico Di Battista, an Italian guitarist. This gives the possibility to sound like three people at the same time, something no one has ever done before.

The technique involved is very complex and I had to learn on my own because it’s completely new and nobody could teach me.

I believe that what I am doing with two instruments (that sounds like three), and singing, is extremely revolutionary. Not to brag, but I have been very fortunate to have reviews by highly respected musicians. For example, Bucky Pizzarelli has said, “For many years I have appreciated Enrico both as a classical guitarist and a jazz harmonica player, but what he does playing the two instruments at the same time is absolutely amazing.”

Another review: “How do you manage to play the harmonica, accompany yourself on the guitar at the same time and do incredible singing on top of it?” — Horace Ott, Record Producer, Arranger, Conductor, Composer, Pianist (YMCA; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood) 

And one more: “You would think you are dreaming! With an incredible virtuosity Enrico Granafei plays harmonica (a model conceived by Vern Smith) and classical guitar simultaneously allowing himself the luxury of singing occasionally (tasty scatting on You’d be So Nice To Come Home To). Here is an overly talented musician whose musicality and richness of inspiration are truly out of the ordinary. An accomplished guitarist with elegant phrasing and impeccable technique, Enrico Granafei absolutely deserves the admiration of his fellow musicians like Stanley Jordan, Bucky Pizzarelli and Gene Bertoncini. He’s also a harmonica virtuoso whose creativity reminds us of the famous Toots Thielemans of whom he was a student. On this CD, he offers real personal renditions of American and Brazilian standards, among which I’d like to mention Out of Nowhere where his guitar accompaniment (chords and bass lines) is amazing both in terms of technique and inspiration, and also Wave where he sublimates the melody. Absolutely astonishing all the way.” — Claude Oberg (Jazz Magazine)

© Debbie Burke 2017

Photo courtesy of the subject

A Novelist’s Journey – Episode 10: Seven Take-Aways from Book Expo America

BookExpo gif

It’s here and gone, the annual Book Expo America at the Javits Center in NYC.

This was my first, and I will definitely be back.

Tips and Takeaways:

  1. It’s no time to be shy. Talk, meet, shake hands and do a lot of listening. Smiling too. My very first booth visit was to the London Review of Books. Never been across the pond and I never held a paper copy of this fine publication; in fact my book is NOT anywhere near ready to be reviewed, but I dove in and intro’d myself. We had a great discussion! I’ve read this is one of the very top media outlets for book reviews. The guy was so nice (here I am, expecting a British accent, but he was from Massachusetts). TIP: Be yourself, ask a few key questions, be brief, be gracious, take their business card, move along.
  2. Have a plan, of some sort. Otherwise you’ll stress out. I didn’t use the floor plan or the alpha listing. My method was just to split the two days into aisle numbers. Up and down each aisle, passing the booths that I didn’t to visit. You do have competition, in that sometimes there will be so much traffic around the people you want to speak to that you have to wait your turn. TIP: Be patient, hang in there. If it’s a potentially important connection, it’s worth the wait. Again, be friendly and succinct.
  3. Talk about your book and be prepared for the conversation to take a detour. Go with it. It’s not all about self-promotion, but coming across as a mensch; easy to talk to, friendly, funny, interesting. I laughed with people about the near-impossibility of covering such a humongous venue, about New York cabbies, about the searing heat and interesting smells of the city.
  4. Practical matters:
  • Drink lots of water
  • Hit the bathroom often (wash your face and brush your teeth every time; it keeps you sharp and confident)
  • Keep snacks in your bag, especially breath mints
  • Keep your phone charged for photos
  • Carry lots of pens
  • Carry a small memo pad for notes-to-self
  • Plan at least one sit-down session per day to get off your feet and get smart. I sat in on a panel of five up-and-coming authors, what inspired them and how they constructed their stories. Even when the subject matter didn’t particularly float my boat, their passion and excitement were infectious, and I became interested in their books anyway!
  • Eat light (you can have a big dinner when it’s over)
  • Try not to gather too many books early on (they get heavy quickly)
  • Duck into the free photo booth and make a gif, you’ll be happy you did (share it on social media)
  1. Follow up. For God’s sake, follow up! All those business cards, postcards and bookmarks you slipped into your canvas bag (take the freebies) represent Book Expo folks who took the time to speak to you. Even if they don’t/won’t figure into your writing career (and how can you be so sure…?), shoot an email saying hi and it was so nice to meet cha.
  2. Related to #5, find these contacts on social media and, as long as there’s nothing objectionable, follow them on Twitter, FB, Instagram and their blogs. You will probably get a follow back.
  3. Keep the spirit alive. It’s another year out ’til the next Expo, but in the meantime you have lots of work to do, including buying a new pair of pretty Sketchers (unpaid endorser here) to walk next year’s event.

Searing Trumpet from the Professor

Michael Hackett Quintet

A quintet with many gigs in famous places has brought Michael Hackett [second from left] to where he is today: teaching jazz at the college level – where there’s proof that jazz has a reinvigorated audience with students – and looking forward to digging in again and laying down some tracks. Michael’s trumpet sings and soars and you know he’s got something great coming just around the corner.  

When did you start playing trumpet?

I started playing at age 9.

Your musical idols?

First, and still, Doc Severinsen! Then Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, and Woody Shaw.

Music growing up or in the family?

My father was a high school band director and trumpet player, and my mother was a classically trained singer with the Chicago Lyric Opera in the 1950’s. My siblings were all musical and went on to at least begin degrees in music in college. My sister Janet and I are still professional musicians. She is active as a classical singer in Oregon. My brother still sings and plays guitar, although growing up he was a trumpet player as well.

How long have you been teaching music?

My first real experience teaching music was after leaving college in 1991. I taught privately in music stores in the Washington, DC vicinity, then was hired to teach at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in DC. I began my current position at UNC Charlotte [NC] in the fall of 2011.

Talk about the jazz scene at UNC and in Charlotte.

Charlotte, surprisingly, does not have a jazz club of its own. We have two concert series, but these frequently feature out-of-town guest artists for themed (tribute) events. I rehearse and perform regularly with the Piedmont/Triad Jazz Orchestra based in Greensboro. UNC Charlotte has one large jazz ensemble and two jazz combos.

The PTJO is a very high-level group, with great soloists in every section. It also features original arrangements and occasionally original compositions of band members, with the only purchased/stock charts being those of Basie, Ellington and Quincy Jones. It is the central performance outlet for me at the moment.

When you compose, what themes inspire you?

It may sound corny, but personal experiences; family, first and foremost. Also life events, things that move me. And I like to just sit at the piano and hear what comes to me. Sometimes you keep it, sometimes it never grows fruit, but I just let the ideas flow.

Do you still play together in your quintet?

We’re no longer playing together due to the distances involved; the other musicians live in Bloomington, IN and NYC, and I’m in Charlotte now. We did a few performances to promote the CD, but by the time it was recorded I was already in Charlotte, so regular gigs were out of the question. Prior to moving to Charlotte, the group played quite a bit in clubs in Bloomington, South Bend and Indianapolis, at clubs like Trios in South Bend and The Jazz Kitchen in Indy.

The musicians are all, except one, faculty members in the jazz department at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington. Jason Tiemann, the drummer, has since moved to NYC where he regularly plays with people like Harold Mabern, Eric Alexander, David Hazeltine, etc. He’s moved up!

How engaged are college students in jazz?

My students are hungry for jazz and some have become quite invested in it. There is a great interest among many college music students to pursue jazz, perhaps even more than before. This is somewhat ironic as the recording opportunities and playing opportunities continue to shrink.

My hope is that these interested, capable young folks will help regenerate a larger interest in society for jazz-based music. I’m not holding my breath, as the ‘market share’ of jazz continues to shrink, and pop music continues to get further and further from anything jazz-based.

What is the most interesting trend in jazz today?

I think definitely the influx of youth and their willingness to try anything. New electronic sounds, production methods, fusion of other cultures, you name it. Lots of experimenting is being done out there, and that’s a good thing.

Why do you think jazz gets so little play- think about our day-to-day experiences, like in a mall or on TV commercials?

Because, for the most part (excepting Sinatra, Tony Bennett, et. al.) you have to think. It’s not mindless music. People want to consume music without having to invest any intellect or thought.

Some folks – Chris Botti comes to mind – are able to infuse their music with intelligence and still have it be simple enough that people who don’t want to think don’t have to. But the intelligence is still there in Botti’s music, and he uses heavyweight jazz musicians in his band à la Miles. It’s still music with integrity. Most of the stuff on late night shows is angst-driven musical drivel with guitars, drums and a backbeat. Those things are not of themselves empty, but music based solely upon those features, to me, is.

What is the mix of originals vs. covers when you perform?

Depends on the gig. At a jazz fest, I will try to play more of my original music. In a club, we might not have the opportunity to rehearse, so we play more standards.

Where do you go in your head when you play?

To my quiet place. I want sound to fill my head and to be able to react instantly to what’s going on around me. This requires an absence of competing thoughts. Sometimes, a bizarre quote will just pop out and crack me up, but it’s in the moment and not preconceived in any way.

What’s your favorite track on “New Point of View” and why?

Hmm, difficult question. Probably “Everything I Need.” I like the long form, where it goes harmonically. And it represents my feelings of love for my family. In the end, they are Everything I Need. If you listen to the melody, you can even hear the words as a sort of silent lyric.

What does the name of the CD refer to?

The name “New Point of View” along with the cover photo of downtown Charlotte represented a new chapter in my life, starting my career at UNC Charlotte as a college professor, as opposed to the freelance musician that I had been previously.

Upcoming CDs?

Nothing planned yet. I need to write some new music and get some gigs!

Where have you played and do you have a tour schedule?

I’m old and I’ve “been everywhere, man!” I’ve played The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Apollo Theater, The Rainbow Room, Blues Alley, Birdland and The Village Vanguard, just to name a few. The quintet doesn’t tour and we haven’t tried to because of our teaching schedules and the distances involved. I’m just looking forward to what might come next. 

Any award nominations?

No, but New Point of View was on the jazz charts for about four weeks when it was released in 2013. That’s been a while now. Time for a new one! 

Other comments?

I’m very interested in getting more active again playing and writing. At some point, the grind of teaching and everything else that goes into being a college professor gets overwhelming and can take the creativity out of your day. Some balance this better than others, but it is a real challenge.

Photo courtesy of the artist

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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