Greenleaf Artists Sound Off: Year End Observations & Music Thoughts
Year end thoughts from Dave Douglas, Grammy nominee Donny McCaslin, Michael Bates, Linda Oh, Kneebody, Matt Ulery
Henry Brant would be 100! After co-producing his 52 trumpet piece with Festival of New Trumpet Music, I discovered his book called “Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook.” It is extraordinary, a great insight into what made that music so powerful. I will spend another 50 years trying to digest it. It’s still in print, and worth looking up.
Wayne Shorter turned 80. John Zorn turned 60. I turned 50. Joe Lovano and I were honored to have a small role in the Wayne Shorter events, playing with our quintet, Sound Prints, with Lawrence Fields, Linda Oh, and Joey Baron, at several celebrations. The Zorn at 60 marathons were some of the most inspiring days of music I have ever seen; definitely like playing on an all-star team. And traveling with my own quintet, with Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh, and Rudy Royston, has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling musical experiences of my life. It is a profound pleasure developing the music with these good people. We still have about 15 states to go and I look forward to working on that! Stay warm and we will hope to see you in Hawaii in the cold season.
Playing at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival as a leader was the highlight of the year for me musically.
That festival has been a part of how I’ve experienced Jazz music since I started playing. When I was 14 years old my high school jazz band got an invitation to go to Europe. After a fund raising campaign we embarked and I, on my first transatlantic flight, got sick. The end result was I had my appendix removed in Leiden, Holland and was alone there for a week in a hospital with a book about Duke Ellington and a cassette tape of his historic performance at Newport. I must have listened to Paul Gonsalves incredible solo on Diminuendo and Crescendo a hundred times that week. It changed my life and his performance put a stamp on my musical DNA forever. This past August was my group’s first performance at Newport and it was a thrill. Tim Lefebvre, Jason Lindner, and Nate Wood all played magnificently. Thank you to George Wein, Melanie Nunez and everyone else that makes that festival so special!
Collaborations were the name of the game in 2013: Sam Blaser and I made two records with friends Michael Blake, Russ Lossing and Jeff Davis. The Relative Quartet w/Stetch, Doxas and Howard toured and released a collective nod to our Canadian roots with “Automatic Vaudeville” (All Mayor Ford references are purely coincidental). The power trio Boom Crane was conceived and documented, Joel Harrison recorded some excellent American music and my Shostakovich cover band went to Europe for the first time. Other highlights were the release of the Ghost Train Orchestra (a huge undertaking by Brian Carpenter), playing the music of John Lurie and the birth of the A Noise From the Deep. Who knew podcasting could be so much fun?
Looking back, 2013 was a gratifying year as I was able to take play on some really fulfilling musical projects, tours and with some really superb musicians. I just arrived in Beijing, here playing with the wonderful saxophonist Jaleel Shaw Quartet at the Nine Gates Jazz Festival – there’s a beautiful energy in this city.
Some highlights from this year include an unforgettable trip to Angola in March performing with my “Initial Here” band for a concert series dedicated to female bandleaders. In September I collaborated with other Asian and Australian musicians at the Gwangju World Music Festival in South Korea. Be on the look out for the festival’s special recording release in 2014.
It was an honor to be part of Wayne Shorter’s 80th birthday Celebration concerts and touring with Dave’s quintet was a blast, playing in cities I had never been to. It’s interesting how sometimes it’s the places you least expect that have the most enthusiastic and appreciative audiences for jazz.
2013 was another year to be inspired by a wonderful and diverse group of musical talents and next year I am looking forward to new recording releases with Chris Dingman’s project The Subliminal and the Sublime, with Tineke Postma and Greg Osby’s music, EJ Strickland Quintet, Terri Lynne Carrington, and with my friend Fabian Almazan’s Rhizome project, to be released on Blue Note/Artist Share.
In January we’ll kick off 2014 with a “Sun Pictures Showcase” event for APAP/JazzConnect and hope to see you there! See details below. Alright, I’m might go and check out the Forbidden City.
Best to all and a Happy Holiday season,
Adam Benjamin (Kneebody)
2013! A banner year for Kneebody. Like, I printed it on a banner and hung it up in my house. But also a lot of things happened. Our album “The Line” came out and we went to a lot of new places in support of it. Places like Walla Walla and Viviers and Perth. Man, I should be so much wiser having seen so much more of God’s green earth, but I’m not. Just pickier about coffee. The most exciting new place for me was Japan, somehow I had never been there all these years. Here’s a brief video of us in Japan performing with a wonderful group named Yasei Collective:
Japan is totally into record stores, and totally into baseball, so it is like a magical wonderland to me. I bought beautiful pictorial magazines about effective NPB pitching mechanics. On a personal note, 2013 saw a big move for me as all the Benjaminz relocated to New Orleans, as I took a professorship at Tulane University. A year of changes and adjustments, and being in the middle of it, it can be easy to start taking things seriously, which is the same problem so many music students have. Thus, last night, when I found this YouTube clip of the classy and mustachioed Hal Galper discussing same, I was giggling like a schoolgirl and immediately sent it to all my students. I send it to you, loyal Greenleaf readers, with my sincerest holiday wishes. Thanks for the support, we love you, and stay silly.
Sometime earlier this year, I heard a short story about Jim Hall that continues to inspire me everyday. When asked by an interviewer how he is able to play so effortlessly every night while seemingly never warming up, his response was deeply profound: “I listen very closely to the opening act.” This truly influential innovator reminds us that it’s through careful and patient listening that we hone our most important skills as musicians, that is, to create a dialogue amongst each other in each and every, unique musical moment and particular chemistry sets we find ourselves in.
This fall of 2013, we lost the great Jim Hall and Chico Hamilton. Incidentally, these two collaborators were among the first to arrange and present small group modern jazz in a “chamber music” setting while putting a premium on conversational empathy, generosity, beautiful sound and space.