Saturday, July 21, 2012

CD Review: Jeremy Siskind's "Finger-Songwriter"

l2r: Jeremy Siskind, Nancy Harms,
Lucas Pino
The third song on the latest recording by pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind asks, “What is that feeling you feel?” You might ask yourself that question as you hear “Finger-Songwriter,” an exquisitely beautiful hour-long journey of emotion, intimacy, poetry and reflection.

Siskind, a terrific young pianist who studies with Sophia Rosoff* and Fred Hersch, is joined by two kindred spirits for his third CD (after “Prophecy” in 2007 and “Simple Songs” in 2010): Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino. Harms is a singer of considerable gifts; she’s a storyteller, a flirt, a blithe spirit, a deeply serious interpreter of song, and a femme fatale whose voice includes just enough breath to knock you over. I’ve been enchanted by her since I first saw her sing in April 2008. Pino is new to me, but his saxophones and clarinets close the circle of Siskind’s piano and Harms’s voice. Together they make a whole. The bass and drums aren’t missed, although Pino’s bass clarinet sometimes (and at just the right times) sounds like arco double bass.

(* I’m guessing most of you know who Fred Hersch is but some of you might not be familiar with Sophia Rosoff. See Sarah Deming’s “The Emotional Rhythm of Sophia Rosoff.” Siskind makes an appearance in this fascinating piece.)

Because of how it unfolds, “Finger-Songwriter” should be experienced as a whole, from start to finish. If you skip around or download single tracks, you’ll miss the point, at least on first listen. Once you’ve heard it through a few times, it’s okay to have favorites.

The opening song, “One Art (for Elizabeth Bishop),” introduces the theme of loss, which is thoroughly explored by the time we reach the final song, “Theme for a Sunrise (for H.W. Longfellow)." Rather than compose new lyrics, Siskind, who holds a Master’s in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia, mined and “Frankensteined” (his word) literary texts by writers including Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Kerouac, Borges, Wallace Stevens, Nabokov, and Longfellow. Why more composers don't do this is a mystery.

“One Art,” a wistful waltz, begins on piano, softly, delicately. About two minutes in, Pino’s saxophone enters whispering, repeating and ornamenting the melody. Almost four minutes pass before Harms sings: “I’d like to learn how to lose/By losing something new every day … I was so good at losing you … You smiled through tears in the winter’s frost/Perhaps you knew that without you I’m lost.” Once through, not repeated, and devastating.

In “Vanished Music, Twilit Water (for Seamus Heaney),” Harms does something I’ve never heard her do: jump an octave. Who’s surprised that the results are perfect and pure? I’m not. This is already one of the most remarkable recordings I’ve heard in a very long time. Siskind is known mainly as a jazz pianist, Harms as a jazz singer, but this is chamber music and these are art songs. In the bluesy “What Is That Feeling? (for Jack Kerouac),” the music swings, at first in a loose and lazy way, then hard, fronted by Pino’s tenor saxophone. The lyrics are world-weary: “The two-lane highway is endless night … Switching off the headlights, you park the car and start to cry.” In “A Single Moment (for Lisa Hannigan),” which begins with Harms a cappella, we’re given a glimmer of hope in lyrics sung through a veil of breath with a hint of a smile. “The Inevitable Letdown (for Steven Millhauser)” is all sass and attitude, infused with roadhouse stride. With “Mirrors I (for Borges)” we’re back to ballads, which is probably where this trio is strongest due to Siskind’s gorgeous, painterly compositions and an ability all three share: to play (or sing) with gauzy softness without sacrificing meaning or articulation. You’ll hold your breath and lean in to hear, but it’s all there. “Mirrors I” ends abruptly – almost too abruptly. Pino’s arco-bass-clarinet simply fades.

For “More Mist than Moon (for Wallace Stevens),” Siskind doesn’t even give Harms real lyrics to sing. Her wordless syllables soar above the music. We’re clearly in the land of the art song now, and this is a lovely example. Over and over, on “Finger-Songwriter,” Harms stretches her voice, pushing it higher than she has in the past. It’s exciting new territory.

“Swift-Winged Darkness (for Vladimir Nabokov)” is part tango, part Edgar Allan Poe: “Swift-winged darkness falls/It’s creeping down the stairwell as we drink a farewell toast and reminisce/I wonder if I should give you one last poisoned kiss?” Deliciously sinister, performed with wit and style. “Mirrors II (for Borges)” is a reflection of “Mirrors I” and ends as abruptly. Siskind makes an interesting choice to separate them rather than follow one with the other. Maybe he’s influenced by Borges’ fear of mirrors?* “Aubade (for Paul Auster)” is chordy and romantic. The word “aubade” means “a morning love song; a song or poem of lovers parting at daybreak.” Knowing this, we hear it differently. Harms adds a shimmer of vibrato, over which Pino’s bass clarinet casts shadows, like passing clouds. Siskind’s song cycle has emerged from the night into the light.

(* “I was always afraid of mirrors,” Borges said in 1971. “I had three large mirrors in my room when I was a boy and I felt very acutely afraid of them, because I saw myself in the dim light – I saw myself thrive over, and I was very afraid of the thought that perhaps the three shapes would begin moving by themselves.” — from “Borges: A Life” by James Woodall.)

“Theme for a Sunrise (for H.W. Longfellow),” technically the final song on the album, is the last of Siskind’s original compositions. It opens with a tricky, intricate dance between Harms’ voice and Pino’s clarinet: two overlapping, interlacing melodies, with jeweled glissandos from Siskind’s piano. It’s upbeat, joyful, set to the words of a pastoral poem: “I heard the shepherd sing in gentle swell a merry tune … I heard a bird in flight and saw the valley bathed in light.” (Here’s Longfellow’s “Sunrise on the Hills,” for comparison.) 

Siskind could have left us sunlit and contented, but he adds a bonus track, “All You Wanna Do Is Dance (for Billy Joel),” where the mood is “Loss and longing be damned, let’s party.” Siskind’s piano sparkles, Pino’s growling bass clarinet and its repeated ascending figure are almost comical, and Harms is wry and saucy. It’s a turn-that-frown-upside-down finish to an album that starts out dark and gets darker, plumbs the depths of heartbreak, touches on numbness and despair, and delivers a happy ending. Bravos all around.


“Finger-Songwriter was released in May 2012 by Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records. It’s available on CD through CD Baby and as a download on amazon. The trio is on tour through July 30 and will play a concert tonight (Saturday, July 21) at Jazz Central in Minneapolis.  Check Siskind’s website (click “Peer Into the Future”) to learn where they’re going next.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rilke meets Tennessee Williams in George Maurer's "Autumn Song"

George Maurer by John Whiting
On Monday, July 23, German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) and American playwright Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) will meet on stage at St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis. They’ll talk about poetry and love, desire and the questions we all ask as we go through life. We in the audience will witness their conversation, born in the imaginations of composer/pianist George Maurer and theater director Jef Hall-Flavin, sung and acted by Dieter Bierbrauer and Jared Oxborough.

Maurer’s new theatrical production, “Autumn Song,” has its world premiere at St. Joan of Arc, after which (in September) it travels to the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts. For those who mostly know Maurer from his festive, jovial Christmas shows, “Autumn Song” will come as a surprise. For Maurer, this project is personal, emotional, and spiritual. He calls it “my Sistine Chapel … a serious work that will probably take my lifetime to build. Even as I add to it and touch it up, it continues to transform.”

I spoke with Maurer by phone earlier this week.

PLE: When did you first get interested in Rilke, and why?

George Maurer: When I was 18 and a college freshman, starting to ask those big questions: What am I doing here? What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be? I was going for my degree in music composition at St. John’s University in Collegeville. My German professor handed me a copy of “Letters to a Young Poet.” I’ve been noticing Rilke ever since.

Why does Rilke remain important to you?

Rainer Maria Rilke
In 2003, right after the ending of a 10-year relationship, I picked Rilke back up with some earnestness. Again, I was looking for answers. I was also looking to do the intuitive artist’s thing and create something out of chaos. Rilke seemed to be the sealant that held all of that together. It made sense.

I was going to have the same monk professor who gave me the “Letters” book – Mark Thamert, OSB – read a particular Rilke poem I liked. I planned to record it, then try and create some piano stuff underneath it, to accompany it. In the course of reading the poem I wanted him to read, he asked, “Have you heard this other poem?” He was referring to Rilke’s “Liebes-Lied” – “Love Song.” It had this beautiful imagery about the spheres of a relationship. “How can I do my work without thinking of you too much?” That sort of thing. “How do I love you without possessing you? How can you leave me alone so I can get my work done?” The great image is – we’re like two strings on a fiddle. Two notes being drawn by one bow. “What fiddler holds us in his hands?” Rilke loved the unanswered questions. A lot his poems – the ones I’ve set to music – include unanswered questions.

What happened next was I started working on “Stations of the Heart,” a song cycle commissioned by Nautilus Music-Theater that I wrote with librettist Jim Payne. I was setting rhyming, metered verses to the AABA song form when I started to wonder, “Maybe there’s a way to manipulate translations of Rilke to fit this form.” I found Stephen Mitchell’s translations, and the Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy translations, and started thinking, “Let me see if I can manipulate Rilke into the AABA form.” That’s where the song “Autumn Day” came from. It fit into a nice gospel music package. I recorded it in 2003, it became a favorite, and it emboldened me to do more.

I started researching Rilke, reading biographies, and discovering more about what he was about and what was important to him. I began picking certain poems to set to music. Over the years, I have finished 13. I made a pilgrimage to Prague [Rilke’s birthplace] in 2006 and wrote “The Panther” there, in a little beatnik backpacker’s teashop in the heart of old Prague. Later, when I went back, I found a painting of a panther on the wall over the spot where I had written the song. [That seemed like] a sign.

I was gradually going over more complicated stuff by Rilke. Around 2007 I started giving concerts of this music, performing it live in church settings and the Dakota.

Where does Tennessee Williams enter in?

Tennessee Williams
[Director] Jef Hall-Flavin is a big fan of the George Maurer Group. He’s also the executive director for the annual Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Provincetown. He’s the one who told me that Williams loved Rilke.

Tennessee discovered Rilke, along with other poets, when he went to Washington University in the 1930s. He felt that Rilke especially spoke to him when he lived in Provincetown in the summer of 1940 and several summers after that. Rilke’s themes found their way into some of his one-act plays. He used the first “Duino Elegy” as a framework for one of his plays, about two lovers being torn apart. There’s enough of a connection that Rilke can be considered a strong influence on Tennessee Williams.

Last year I learned that the theme of the 2012 Tennessee Williams Festival would be “Tennessee Williams and Music.” This set the stage for Jef and I to develop a conversation between Tennessee and Rilke, through their poetry. They sing to each other through the poetry.

I’ve also set two Tennessee Williams poems to music. One is “Across the Space Between a Bed and a Chair.” The other is “Request,” the poem he wrote to the only woman he was ever in a relationship with. We split up some of Rilke’s poetry so some of the lines are sung by Tennessee. He asks the questions Rilke asks in his poems.

How does it work?

It works great. I’ve always said the music serves to illuminate the poetry and has never gotten in the way. Yet I’ve been able to work improv sections into some of these songs. The music is totally original, melding together the jazz influences, the music theater influences, and the orchestrations I’ve been doing for other projects. The melodies are a blend of jazz, gospel, and art song.

And we’ve added visuals. Chuck Norwood, someone I’ve worked with for many years at the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud, designed the lighting. The stage is a thrust stage, with the audience on three sides and the musicians off to one side, in black, not highlighted. The focus is on two platforms in the center – one is Rilke’s, the other Tennessee’s – and the interaction between them.

You don't just read a poem once and get it right away. It's something you have to reflect on, ponder, and linger over. We're asking people to listen, experience phrases and textures, and not try and grasp everything too fast. Whether they grasp it or not, they'll feel it. It's rare to match poetry to music in this way.

Just to be clear, Rilke and Tennessee Williams never actually met in real life.

“Autumn Song” is their first opportunity to meet each other.


Upcoming performances of "Autumn Song," composed by George Maurer, poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and Tennessee Williams, directed by Jef Hall-Flavin:

• 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 23, 2012, St. Joan of Arc Church, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets here.
• 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, Town Hall, Provincetown, MA. Tickets here.
• 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, Town Hall, Provincetown, MA. Tickets here.
• 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, Town Hall, Provincetown, MA. Tickets here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2013 NEA Jazz Masters Announced

This just in from the NEA. Recall that proposed funding cuts in 2011 almost ended this prestigious and important program. Instead, it continues in an unbroken line since 1982, each year calling national and international attention to men and women whose artistry and advocacy sustain and support this vital American art form.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mose Allison in late 2008. See the links under Interviews in the column at the right.

National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters, Nation's Highest Honor in Jazz

Washington, DC – Dizzy Gillespie. Count Basie. Ella Fitzgerald. Herbie Hancock. Names of the greatest purveyors of America's homegrown art form, jazz -- and all NEA Jazz Masters. Today, the National Endowment for the Arts adds four new names to the list with the announcement of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters. Like the 124 honorees who came before them, these four individuals are recognized for their lifetime achievements and significant contributions to the development and performance of jazz. They will each receive a one-time award of $25,000.

The 2013 NEA Jazz Masters are:

Mose Allison, pianist, vocalist, composer
      Born in Tippo, Mississippi, currently lives in Long Island, New York
Lou Donaldson, saxophonist
       Born in Badin, North Carolina, currently lives in New York, New York
*Lorraine Gordon, jazz club owner
       Born in Newark, New Jersey, currently lives in New York, New York
Eddie Palmieri, pianist, bandleader, arranger, composer
       Born in New York, New York, currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada

* Lorraine Gordon is the recipient of the 2013 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy, which is bestowed upon an individual who has contributed significantly to the appreciation, knowledge, and advancement of the art form of jazz.

Full profiles of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters are available on the NEA's website.

NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman said, "Each of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters has made an indelible mark on jazz as we know it today. Mose Allison's fusion of jazz and blues has created a new sound uniquely his own, influencing scores of musicians and songwriters after him. Lou Donaldson has been a major force not just as a musician but also as a scout for new talent for the Blue Note label. Eddie Palmieri successfully combines the sounds of his Puerto Rican heritage with the jazz music he grew up with as a first-generation American. And Lorraine Gordon continues to provide a haven for jazz musicians to present their art at the Village Vanguard. I look forward to celebrating their achievements and contributions to this important American art form."
Each member of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters class is a distinguished artist whose significant lifetime contributions have helped to enrich jazz and further the growth of the art form:
  • Mose Allison is not just a superior talent as an instrumentalist and singer, but also as a songwriter. Adept in both the blues and jazz, he defies categorization and has been a major influence on musicians, regardless of genre, for more than 50 years.
  • Lou Donaldson's distinctive blues-drenched alto saxophone has been a bopping force in jazz for more than six decades. His early work with trumpeter Clifford Brown is considered one of the first forays into hard bop, and his recordings with organist and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Smith led to the groove-filled jazz of the 1960s and '70s.
  • A jazz haven for more than 55 years, the Village Vanguard is the longest-running jazz club in New York City and is still going strong under the ownership of Lorraine Gordon. Since 1957, when NEA Jazz Master Sonny Rollins recorded one of the first recording sessions at the club, the Vanguard has been the place to record a live jazz album, with its exceptional acoustics and intimate space.
  • Known as one of the finest Latin jazz pianists of the past 50 years, Eddie Palmieri is also known as a bandleader of both salsa and Latin jazz orchestras. His playing skillfully fuses the rhythm of Puerto Rico with the melody and complexity of his jazz influences: Thelonious Monk and NEA Jazz Masters Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.
The NEA will again partner with Jazz at Lincoln Center to produce an awards ceremony and concert in honor of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters,  that will be webcast live on Monday, January 14, 2013 on and The ceremony will also be simulcast on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nomad Jazz Series ends this month, Icehouse adds improvised/creative music shows

Bassist/composer/bandleader James Buckley, curator of the latest installment of the Nomad Jazz Series since August 2011, has announced that the series will end at the close of this month (July 2012). Two shows remain, each demonstrating the imagination with which the series has been programmed.

• July 19: Leisure Valley: Bruce Thornton (clarinet), Patrick Harison (accordion), Chris Bates (bass), Joey Van Phillips (drums)

• July 25: Deconunisms: Luke Polipnick (guitar), Devin Drobka (drums), John Christiansen (bass)

Music starts at 10. No cover.

(Local music trivia: I learned the other day that "Van" is actually Joey Phillips' middle name, not a nobiliary particle, the technical term for those odd little bits in names like "van," "von," "de" and "d'." Anyway, I thought that was interesting. Moving on.)

Meanwhile, Buckley has a brand-new gig: booking several shows each week at Icehouse, the new very hot spot on Eat Street. These are the times and events he's programming:

• Wednesdays from 10:30 p.m. - close (World Beat Wednesdays)
• Thursdays from 10:30 p.m. - close (Showcase Night; team effort with Brian Liebeck)
• Fridays from 6:30 - 9:30 p.m. (dinner set; piano/bass duo)
• Fridays from 11 p.m. - close (Lounge Night; with Brian Liebeck)
• Saturdays from 6:30 - 9:30 p.m. (dinner set; piano/bass duo)
• Saturdays from 11 p.m. - close (Lounge Night; with Brian Liebeck)
• Sundays from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. (Revival Brunch)

Check the online events calendar for specifics.

Add these dates to JT Bates's Monday-night Jazz Implosion (sets at 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.) and the music at Icehouse is looking very good for fans of improvised/creative music. Some might call it jazz, and some will, but let's not get too hung up on terminology, especially with a word that carries so much baggage these days it would not be allowed on most commercial airlines. What I've seen so far at Icehouse is music I enjoy by some of the finest musicians in the Twin Cities, all of whom can play pretty much anything. That's what keeps me coming back for more.

BTW, Buckley needs a website.

Chrysler named 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival Presenting Sponsor

This press release from DL Media made me happy. Reminded me of back when there was a Mercedes-Benz Stage at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, when it was held in Minneapolis. Congratulations and thanks to Chrysler for supporting this worthy cause.

Chrysler named 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival Presenting Sponsor
The world's largest free jazz festival branded "Imported from Detroit"

Today the Detroit Jazz Festival announced that the Chrysler brand will be the official presenting sponsor for the 2012 festival. The sponsorship is an extension of its successful "Imported from Detroit" campaign, celebrating the spirit and determination of Detroit and its residents.

"The automotive industry and jazz music both have rich histories in the city of Detroit. The partnership between Chrysler and the Detroit Jazz Festival bridges these great histories and brings key elements of our city together," said Gretchen Valade, chair of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation board of directors. "Welcoming Chrysler as a presenting sponsor, and hosting its vehicles for a ride and drive, further proves this year will be the best festival we've seen yet."

The Chrysler brand is also the exclusive ride and drive sponsor participating with a unique activation at the festival, offering attendees the chance to test-drive some of the top vehicles on the road. On-site, Chrysler will offer attendees the chance to drive the 2012 product lineup that includes the Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300 and the Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

"The Detroit Jazz Festival is just one of the many jewels of this city, it draws international acclaim and lets Detroit shine," said Saad Chehab, President and CEO - Chrysler Brand, Chrysler Group LLC. "The Chrysler brand is proud to be a part of this celebration of music and people, which imports a little bit of Detroit to the rest of the world."

The 33rd annual Detroit Jazz Festival will feature a one-of-a-kind lineup of today's greatest jazz performers. The artists at this year's festival have been nominated for more than 200 and won more than 100 Grammy Awards, composed film scores and traveled the world to perform. The 2012 headliners include:

• Sonny Rollins
• Wynton Marsalis
 Chick Corea and Gary Burton, with strings
 Wayne Shorter
 Pat Metheny
 And, 2012 Artist in Residence, Terence Blanchard

Live jazz calendar to continue on Jazz Police website

Earlier this month, I posted that the Live Jazz in the Twin Cities calendar would end on August 1. Several people wrote that they were sad to see it go. Thanks to all of you for your kind words and your close attention over the years.

Today I'm pleased to announce that the calendar will continue on the Jazz Police website, under the direction of founder and webmaster Don Berryman. As many of you know, Don has long been a great friend and supporter of jazz in the Twin Cities. Jazz Police is national in scope, but those of us who live in and around the Twin Cities (or travel here) appreciate the thoroughness with which it covers the local jazz scene. With Don at the helm, the calendar will continue to be a comprehensive guide to live jazz in our area. I plan to visit it often.

It's my understanding that Don will launch his calendar sometime during the last week in July. Check the Jazz Police site as that time approaches.

Musicians, keep reading.

• Starting today, send your news about upcoming gigs to Any jazz calendar-related email sent to will be forwarded to that address.

• If you value the live jazz calendar — which is free publicity for all of you — I strongly encourage you to make Don's job a little easier by letting him know about your gigs. Drop him an email once or twice a month telling him when and where you're playing, with whom, and for how much (cover charge, ticket price, tip jar?). If you think you don't have time for this, imagine how much time it takes to check the calendars on venues' websites, the calendars on individual artists' and bands' websites, and (more recently) Facebook postings and tweets. Seriously, sending Don an email won't kill you, and it will help to keep the calendar alive.

P.S. Although I will no longer be the keeper of the live jazz calendar, I write this blog (probably more often now), I write a twice-weekly arts column for (it's called Artspace, and it runs on Tuesdays and Fridays), and jazz is still my first love. So feel free to keep me on your email list.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remembering Elliot Fine (1925-2012)

By David Stanoch

Husband, father, brother, mentor, teacher, author, and drummer Elliot Fine died on May 4, 2012, at the age of 86. From the obituary written by his musician son Milo Fine: “Elliot started playing drums at age 11, and his career ran the gamut from drum corps, burlesque, Dixieland, show band, big band, small group jazz, and pop, to 41 years with the Minnesota Orchestra and even occasional forays into free improvisation … Elliot Fine was a drummer’s drummer.” Fine requested no services, but on Sunday, July 15, friends, relatives, former students, and colleagues will gather at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul for an evening of music and memories. Drummer, author, and McNally Smith faculty member David Stanoch is coordinating the event, and these are his words about his former teacher and great friend. bb

Elliot Fine in California, 2011
Photo by Mark Powers
In his passing, more folks now know about the colorful professional history of Elliot Fine than they did during his 86 trips around the sun. This is a testament to his modesty. He grew up playing jazz, backed some of the idioms greats – most notably at the storied Flame Room in the 1950s – and also began subbing in the Minnesota Orchestra around that time, which evolved into a full-time position for over 40 years. He was an inspiring educator and prolific author in the art of drumming. In 1963, he teamed with his orchestra section mate Marvin Dahlgren to produce a groundbreaking drumset method book, 4-Way Coordination, which will forever influence drummers worldwide through its concept of developing equal independence between all four limbs. In jazz drumming speak, it was a book inspired in part by Elvin Jones that also influenced Tony Williams – and this was all firsthand through those drummers’ relationships and encounters with Marv and Elliot.

More personally, Elliot was not simply my teacher from ages 10 to 18. He was my lifelong friend and a great supporter and confidante who opened many doors for me in the direction of further study, professional gigs, and educating others in percussion through both teaching and writing. He had great experience in all of the areas and a rare insight into human nature and character that influenced me and helped me. I was honored when he asked if he could write the forward to a method book for drumset I wrote called Mastering the Tables of Time. It was only right to agree, since he’d really kicked my butt to get the book done over the ten years I spent writing it. He believed in me. The mind-blowing thing for me was the book received the type of acceptance and welcome in the industry that you’d dream about. But he predicted it. In detail. You can’t put a price on that kind of motivation. I was very fortunate.

My parents, Elliot, and his brother Leo all went to North High School in Minneapolis at the same time. Though not close back then, my father, Bruno, and Elliot knew each other. I loved that connection and it really hit home when, after all the years my folks took me to the symphony to see Elliot when I was studying with him, they all came together to see me play drumset with the Minnesota Orchestra soon after Elliot had retired. That was a special night for me, indeed.

In later years, especially after his dear wife, Agnes, passed in 2010, I made an effort to pay back both Elliot and Marvin Dahlgren – who has also been a stalwart friend and mentor to me since my childhood, and whom I’ve had the pleasure of teaching alongside on the faculty of McNally Smith College of Music for over twenty years now – for the encouragement and support they’ve shown me for so many years. I’ve long felt they deserved more personal recognition for their deeply influential educational work and that their story had not been told.

I succeed in having an article published in Modern Drummer magazine, the leading publication in its trade, about the innovative impact of their method book, 4-Way Coordination, and the mindset of the men who wrote it, which generated a lot of positive feedback. I also managed, with Elliot’s noted son Milo’s encouragement, to convince Elliot to attend the Percussive Arts Society’s 2010 international convention, a yearly confluence of percussion performers and educators from every musical direction imaginable. Elliot, who was a member of the PAS since its inception in 1961, the year I was born, had never attended a convention before because, like Marv, he was always busy working with the Orchestra and teaching. I was a featured clinician that year and I was mighty proud to have Elliot in the front row of my session. He was treated like a revered king at the convention, which he both downplayed at every turn and thoroughly enjoyed. With his famous sense of humor, he was the life of the party, and it was tremendous to see him recognized for his work by famous drummers, industry pioneers, and students alike. I was deeply moved when, upon returning to MSP and waiting for baggage, he broke down in tears, telling me, “It’s not right Marv should’ve been with us, too!”

At the time of his passing, I was working with Elliot and Cuban drumming legend Walfredo Reyes, Sr. on an educational book/DVD collaboration these two friends had been discussing for years. I’m proud I helped them get it to the finish line but sad that Elliot did not survive to see its release, which is planned for late 2012/early 2013 from Alfred Music Publishing.

It is impossible to express in words what Elliot Fine taught me about life as well as music and how much I loved him, but his legacy will live on through the countless number of drummers worldwide he influenced through his life’s work. It is a group that includes masters of the art from right here in our own Twin Cities and worldwide as well. Those of us fortunate to have shared in his many gifts personally are all better for it. He was one of a kind.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Some Hammond B-3 love
Doing some research on the Hammond B-3 in preparation for later this month, when the James Carter Organ Trio comes to the Dakota on Sunday (July 29), followed three days later by supergroup Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Coryell, and Jimmy Cobb in a tribute to Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery (holy B-3 week!), I came across some excellent resources on the web and wanted to share.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Live jazz calendar ends August 1

On August 1, 2012, the Live Jazz in the Twin Cities calendar will go dark. For more than three years, it has been my time-sucking labor of love, a term I once used affectionately, then wryly, and lately in a kind of cranky way. Maintaining the calendar consumes an insane number of hours that I want to use for other things.

It's been illuminating to discover how much live jazz happens every day in the Twin Cities (way more than most people realize), entertaining to correspond with so many jazz musicians (some have been surprised to learn they're double-booked), and fascinating to track the movement of live jazz as venues come and go, like flocks of birds flying from tree to tree. Just last week we lost the Nicollet, which was for some people a replacement for the Times, which closed in February 2009, which seems like forever ago. When one door shuts, another opens somewhere, eventually, sometimes. We thought the Clown Lounge would last forever. It didn't. But look, now we have Mondays at Icehouse.

To those who rely on the jazz calendar, my apologies. The Twin Cities Jazz Society may have a calendar in the works. City Pages and list jazz events on their calendars. Certain venues will send you emails about coming events if you sign up. Many venues and artists have online calendars, though few are current or very detailed.

I'll add July events until July 15. If you have July gigs you want added to the calendar, send me your info ASAP. This is last call.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival

L2R: Ethan Iverson, Joshua Redman, Reid Anderson, Dave King
Photo by John Whiting
I could listen to The Bad Plus until hell freezes over or the cows come home. I’ve been a fan since “Authorized Bootleg” and have seen them live whenever I could since early 2002. To me, their music doesnt get old. Songs I’ve heard repeatedly are familiar but still fresh. Last night, in the final moments of this year’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, they played “Dirty Blonde” as their second encore. It came out on “Give” (2004). Bring it on.

It’s a trio that accepts no substitutes. Other pianists don’t sit in for Ethan Iverson, nor bassists for Reid Anderson or drummers for Dave King. But in recent years the group has added guests to the mix. In 2008, they released “For All I Care” with alt-rocker vocalist Wendy Lewis. They had wanted to work with a singer and briefly considered Tom Jones and Darryl Hall. Lewis was practically family; she and King had played together, and she’s cousin to Michael Lewis, who plays saxophone in Happy Apple, one of King’s many bands. She fit right in.

A collaboration I wish I’d seen: The Badwagon, a one-off sextet comprising The Bad Plus and Jason Moran’s Bandwagon (with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits) in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in June 2011. Nate Chinen called it a “conglomerated racket.” Most recently, TBP has been performing with Bill Frisell; they played together at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April and will reconvene at the Newport Jazz Festival in August. But their main “special guest” is currently saxophonist Joshua Redman, and this is the group that closed Jazz Fest and drew the biggest crowds.

Redman and TBP first played together in April 2011 during the Blue Note’s 50th anniversary party in NYC, then at the Saalfelden (Austria) Jazz Festival in August and the Toronto Jazz Festival last Sunday, June 24. So last night was only their fourth time performing publicly. They’re about to tour Europe for three weeks, starting at the North Sea Jazz Festival next Sunday (July 8). After which, Iverson told Britt Robson, “I’d like to record, if we can work it out.”

L2R: Redman, Anderson, King, Iverson
Photo by John Whiting
So, how was the show? The European audiences are in for a treat. It’s still TBP but different. Redman is a fiery, passionate player more clearly in the jazz camp than TBP. So the music is jazzier. He’s also a horn player. You almost can’t add a horn player to a piano-bass-drums trio, especially not a forceful, energetic, imaginative, dancing horn player, without the trio becoming a rhythm section backing a horn player. I say “almost” because this is TBP and they are subsumed by no one. Adding Redman expands the circle of equals from three to four. There are certainly moments when your whole attention is on Redman – as a horn player, and as an exceptional and exciting horn player – but there are just as many moments when it’s focused on Iverson, Anderson, or King, and probably more when you’re into the group sound.

One thing that’s very different: by adding Redman, TBP can wail. Before, they could pound and glitter, bang and shatter and sing, but they could not wail. This, too, makes the music jazzier. The program we heard Saturday was all TBP songs, which Redman played as if he’s known them forever, or long enough to mess with them. And they were all TBP songs that have been around; so far, it seems, nothing new has been composed for The-Bad-Plus-plus-Joshua-Redman, even though all four are accomplished composers. Maybe that will happen somewhere  in Europe. Maybe the group will play some of Redman’s music. “Polliwog,” a Redman-penned tune on “James Farm,” his recent CD with Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, and Eric Harland, already has more than a bit of Bad Plus bounce and attitude.  

Saturday’s set list:

1. Love Is the Answer (Reid Anderson)
2. 2 p.m. (Ethan Iverson)
3. Thriftstore Jewelry (Dave King)
4. People Like You (Reid Anderson)
5. Big Eater (Reid Anderson)
6. Silence Is the Question (Reid Anderson)

First encore: Layin' a Strip for the Higher-Self State Line (King)
Second encore: Dirty Blonde (Reid Anderson)