March 26, 2012

Portland jazz musicians share their thoughts about a changing industry

Last month, saxophonist (and skilled wordsmith) Tim Willcox interviewed me and a few other Portland jazz musicians about our thoughts about the current state and future of our industry.  The piece was originally published in the Jazz Society of Oregon newsletter, but Tim has also reprinted it on his label’s website.

It’s an interesting read with a few different perspectives on a subject I spend a lot of time thinking about.

Strategies for musicians and listeners (via Ninjazz Records).

March 16, 2012

Minor-Friendly Venues in Portland

When I was in school studying music, I went to see a ton of live shows.  When I was in middle school and the first couple of years of high school, the Oregon Liqueur Control Commission had very strict rules about minors being in bars and even some restaurants, so most of the regular venues were unavailable to me.  My parents did a great job of finding other opportunities for me to see music though — we used to go to performances at the Central Library, Borders bookstores, Music Millennium, outdoor concerts during the summers, etc. By high school, the OLCC had relaxed a little and I went to hear music every week. In many ways, it taught me more about playing than any private lessons or classes have.

Now that I’m a teacher myself, I’ve begun to realize how few students get or take the opportunity to hear live music.  It’s such an important part of not only learning to play music, but also of being a part of the arts community in general.

There are quite a few reasons that getting out to see music can be difficult.  Students today are increasingly busy with extra-curricular activities.  It usually costs money to go out and see a show.  And, it can be difficult to know where to go to hear music and if the venue allows minors.  That last point is one that I figured I could try to do something about.

I’ve compiled a list of minor-friendly venues in Portland and a couple sentences explaining what you’re likely to find there.  Hopefully, this list can make it just a little easier for students to go out and find the music that is so important to hear.

Feel free to copy and distribute the list — the more it’s out there, the better.

Download the list in PDF form.

March 9, 2012

Keeping a practice record

In high school, before bed each night, I’d write down how much time I spent practicing each instrument.  I’d go to school early each day and practice in the hall or in the band room before classes started.  If I had an empty class period, I’d practice during that.  At lunch, I’d eat quickly, and then practice.  And of course, after school, I’d practice.  It’s possible that I practiced more in high school than I have since.

In the last year and a half or so, I’ve tried to get back to a more serious practice routine.  I think one thing that’s helped is that I’ve learned to practice better than I did when I was younger.  Don’t get me wrong — practicing for hours and hours is great, especially for building strength and familiarity with the instrument, but a focused practice session can be even more rewarding for working on specific concepts.

Now, for the first time since high school, I’ve started keeping a practice record.  I’m not recording how much time I spend (although maybe I should be — I’m trying to incrementally increase the time, but it’s hard with a variable schedule), but rather what I practice.  Meaning, my practice log might say “Long tones on flute, Blues in 12 keys on alto with Maj7#5 substitutions on dominant chords.”  It’s part of my goal to have a more focused routine.  Instead of practicing something different each day, or practicing only one thing for a couple of weeks and neglecting other areas, I’m trying to focus in on a couple key concepts and hit them every day.  I’m also hoping that it’ll be something good to refer back to when I want to brush up on concepts that I’ve studied in the past.

The practice record doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  A blank book of manuscript paper works great.  That way, especially if there aren’t too many staves per page, you can write down what you were working on and notate any examples.


January 1, 2012

2011 Year in Review

As we come to the end of 2011, for the third year in a row (see 2009 and 2010) I’m writing a “year in review” piece, documenting some of the most important musical experiences I’ve had during the past year.  The writing serves a couple of purposes: first, the seemingly ever-present need to promote one’s gigs and activities as a working freelance musician, and second, to be a journal of sorts that I can look back on.

My first musical event of 2011 (if you don’t count the ending of the Bobby Torres New Year’s Eve gig which technically extended into the new year) was on January 3rd, when I went over to Clay Giberson’s studio (where we had recorded Duo Chronicles in 2009/2010) to lay down some woodwind tracks for the new Go By Train record.  I’ve been listening to Go By Train since they started up and have been a long-time fan of Dan Balmer’s, so it was great to get a chance to participate on the record.

In February, I got another chance to play with Portland’s Third Angle New Music Ensemble.  This particular concert was filled with challenging music, curated by David Lang, including Kate Moore’s 101 and Oscar Bettison’s ppopp.  Playing avant-garde classical, or really any kind of classical music, always scares me some as there’s never an opportunity just call a tune and blow on a few choruses of rhythm changes, but it was a welcome chance to do something new and play with great players I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to perform with.  Later in the year, I played on another Third Angle concert, performing Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint.

In the middle of March, jazz musicians from the I-5 corridor stretching from Eugene and Corvallis up to Portland got together to do a performance of music written by James Miley and Justin Morell for Willamette University’s faculty music concert series.  As of yet, this has been a one-time event for the band, but I certainly hope it returns.  It was a great combination of people, including Portland people I get to play with often (Damian Erskine, Lars Campbell) and Eugene folks I rarely get to see (Joe Manis, Joe Freuen).  Here’s hoping that the group makes a return in 2012.

At the beginning of April, for the first time since being in the Portland Youth Philharmonic during high school, I performed at the Schnitzer Auditorium.  The performance was my first time getting the opportunity to play with the Oregon Symphony.  Although the program wasn’t exactly a curated collection great classical literature (it was a Beatles pops concert) it was still an amazing (and intimidating) chance to be on the stage with musicians of that caliber.  Virtuosity shined through in a few sections, most notably from Jeff Work on trumpet who had a couple of chances to shine on the Classical Mystery Tour material.

Luckily for the Portland jazz scene, the Blue Monk has started to have jazz regularly again (thanks to Mary Sue Tobin especially for her work on the Ninkasi Presents Sunday jazz series there).  In May I played there with saxophone-legend John Gross (author of Multiphonics for Saxophone) in his band Saxophobia.  I love playing in small groups with other saxophonists and Portland has a great variety of musical personalities to do that with — John Gross, Tim Willcox, Rob Davis, etc — all guys I would pay the price of admission to go listen to, so getting to play too is just icing on the cake.

May was also a significant month for me because I finally released Metronomics, an iOS app that I had been working on for a few months.  I originally built the app to work on my own sense of time (playing in the Damian Erskine Project being the primary motivation…) and decided to polish it up enough for others to use.  Now, thousands of musicians all over the world are using the app, which is a neat feeling, especially since I don’t have a CD under my own name yet, and this is the only commercial product of my own.

At the end of June, I played for the first time with Diane Schuur.  Portland (now Spokane) bassist Scott Steed got me on the gig, which was a four-night run at Jazz Alley in Seattle.  This was really my first gig with a big-name touring jazz artist and I’m grateful for the chance to play with her.  That gig also led to a week-long run in Japan during July, a few days in San Francisco during November, and a two-and-a-half week tour in Europe in December.  In January, I’ll head to Baton Rouge to play a one-night show with her there.  There are lots of stories to tell about that gig, but you might have to catch me in person to hear them.

Besides the Japan gig with Deedles (Diane’s nickname of choice) I didn’t play a ton of music during July, primarily because I took an uncharacteristic non-musical vacation during that month.  Ali had been gone finishing a nursing program in Georgia for the last half of June and first half of July and instead of flying home after she was done, we both flew to New York.  The trip was great — I got to catch up with friends, introduce them to Ali, see great music, visit museums, and brave 100+ degree weather in Manhattan.  Of course, all of that is insignificant compared to the highlight of the trip — I proposed to Ali and we became engaged on the roof of Belvedere Castle in Central Park.  My beautiful fiancé and I plan to get married next winter.

At the end of August, I went to Kung Fu Bakery (one of my favorite places in Portland to record) and worked on horn section tracks for a band known at the time as Marianna and the Baby Vamps.  Since the recording session, they’ve changed their name to The Bylines.  Not only did I get to work with some of my favorite horn-section compatriots (Paul Mazzio and John Moak — dubbed by Paul the “Budget Brass”), but I got to work again with Reece Marshburn and Marianna Thielen (also recently engaged).  Great band, great charts.

In September, school started up again and I began helping out with woodwinds at both Beaumont Middle School and Northwest Academy.  Both schools have programs led by Cynthia Plank, who is one of the most dedicated band directors I know.  She really goes far-and-beyond to get instruction for her students from professionals working in the local scene.

By the middle of October, Ali and I had bought our first home — a house in NE Portland with a music room in the basement for me to practice, rehearse, and teach in.  For the past year or so I had been spending a lot of time in the Mount Hood Community College practice rooms.  It was great that MHCC had made the facilities available to me (thanks to Susie Jones, and congratulations to her on her retirement this December), but it’s even nicer to have my own space.  I just recently finished the first round of soundproofing work that’ll lead to hours and hours of practice — I couldn’t be more excited.

Much of November and December was spent on the road with Diane Schuur.  Between her gigs, I continued with my other regular Portland bands.  During the course of the year, I had picked up a permanent spot in the Mel Brown Septet, which plays every Tuesday at Jimmy Mak’s.  I had been listening to that band since I was in middle school and subbing in it since high school, so it’s a great pleasure to be a full member now.  I’m excited to go to the gig every time we play.

Another regular gig that I’ve been enjoying is the Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra.  Chuck writes music that is unlike anything else I get to play — very intricate horn lines, often arranged from Bill Evans’ piano solos, for five horns.  You’ll never hear an eight piece jazz group play more quietly than we do.  On the opposite side of the volume spectrum (although we can play softly too) I’ve become a member of the Carlton Jackson/Dave Mills Big Band.  We play every third Monday of the month at Secret Society.  It’s another group I’ve been listening to since I was in high school and it’s comprised of great Portland players.  One of the highlights has been the tenor chairs, one of which is most often occupied by Dave Evans and other has been either John Gross, Pete Peterson, or Rob Davis.

2011 also continued musical relationships I’ve had in past years.  I played lots of gigs with Bobby Torres, Jessie Marquez, Ben Darwish’s Commotion, the Damian Erskine Project, the Art Abrams Swing Machine Big Band (which released the album we recorded in 2010 this year). and more.  Hopefully 2012 will continue those relationships and build new ones.  I find there’s almost always something musically exciting on the horizon.

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