Hey people!

I am mainly writing so you can see me in this remarkable hotel outfit from an onsen hotel in Kusatsu, Japan (onsen = hot springs!) 

The other reason is to tell you about my new awesome band, GEORGE, and even awesomer (rhymes with gossamer) record, Letters to George, which comes out today (January 27, 2023)!!! 

I have some friends/colleagues who are ardent fans of the status quo. I am not, which sets up stimulating conversations on a good day, and arguments on a bad day. But like many others, the murder of George Floyd was a point where people like me, who thought they were already on a righteous path, realized they were ignorant and de-sensitized to the rampant racism, sexism and injustice that is ingrained in our world. After trying to get over the utter stupidity and anguish that I felt in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, I promised to work harder and to not forget. In hindsight, I realized that this was the beginning of my new band, GEORGE, which is in a quiet way, a tribute to George Floyd.

Although I feel like a novice in many ways, technically I guess I’m “late mid-career,” so it was not without trepidation that I looked for new partners with whom to create a band. I’ve known Anna Webber for many years, and in many capacities, but mostly as a friend and the drummer in her Simple Trio with the amazing Matt Mitchell. I was once her teacher but more and more often I feel like her student! I see many of the same characteristics in her that I have recognized in my older mentors Meredith Monk and Bob Brookmeyer. So asking Anna to join GEORGE was a no-brainer! 

I first encountered Aurora Nealand in a New Orleans club, which was very memorable (for me, probably not for her!) but the moment I knew I wanted to have a band with her was at the opening faculty jam at the Langnau Jazz Nights Workshop that Chris Speed curated in 2019 in Switzerland. Aurora spontaneously sang and played soprano sax on a standard with my old friend, the incomparable pianist/writer Ethan Iverson. She made me cry on that occasion and many others, not unlike the many experiences I have had listening to the wondrous Kate McGarry. 

Chiquita Magic was perhaps the most adventurous choice for me since we had not really met or played together. But listening to her creative work that was showing up on Instagram on a daily basis during COVID lockdowns, I was completely taken with her funky synth palette and open enthusiasm. I will pat myself on the back for guessing that these three amazing people would enjoy (at least so far!) being in a van with each other for many hours. I am frankly still caught off guard by their utter coolness!

After trying a test piece remotely with the four of us, I wrote most of the music for this band in a concentrated period at the Helene Wurlitzer Residency in Taos, New Mexico in February 2021. We recorded it in Montreal with the ever-efficient and positive Jacob Lacroix-Cardinal! After his exceptional mix, I sent it to my favorite mastering engineer, Brent Lambert at Kitchen Mastering so he could do his magic. 

At some point, I started talking to Adam Hopkins, whom I know as bassist extraordinaire (we did some touring with the Claudia Quintet a while back); cool dog owner; father; and man with good hair who has a great label, Out of Your Head Records. From there he recruited the amazing artist, TJ Huff, to do the cool cover to our album which brings us to today. In a few months, we will also release a vinyl edition which will be my first release on vinyl!!! It has been a joy to work with Adam on this!

To celebrate the release, we are streaming “Clinton” on bandcamp, dedicated to the one and only funk master GEORGE CLINTON!

While I’m talking about great people, I would also like to recognize Ashley Capps, the Grand Poobah of the best festival ever, Big Ears. Ashley booked GEORGE for Big Ears 2022 without ever having heard us. So our first ever gig was at the amazing Big Ears Festival, and to top it off, our good friend Ambrose Akinmusire sat in! After that gig, I was thinking from there it is either downhill or we are going to elevations I have never encountered! Hopefully after listening to the first downbeat of “Earthworker,” you will agree with my optimism about our direction. (UP!!!!)

Fresh off the presses are some wonderful reviews from Peter Margasak, S. Victor Aaron, and Arnaud G. Veydarier.

Ok, that it is for now. Hope to see you out there! (See below if you are in CA in February, not Canada but the other CA.)

Please enjoy GEORGE on the various online platforms (but NOT on evil streaming platforms, I’m talking to you SPOTIFY), with a physical cd, and/or coming soon – vinyl! 

~ Johnnycakes

P.S. In case you missed it, here is a fun exercise video put together beautifully by Craig One, featuring the cut ICEMAN (dedicated to the great George Gervin.) And an extra special thanks to Evan Shay for the excellent photos and video of GEORGE!

GEORGE is coming to the West Coast in February!

February 24 —  San Jose Winter Jazz Fest, San Jose, CA

February 25 —  Double bill with Frederico Heliodoro at The Mellow Haight, San Francisco, CA

February 26 — Hall Recital Hall, Univ. of Nevada (masterclass/concert), Reno, NV 

February 27 —  Fresno City College “Informance,” Fresno, CA

February 28 —  The Paramount, Los Angeles, CA