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!!!!)
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!
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!
Kate and I just came back from a great trip to Helsinki, Finland. I’m so grateful to have been one of the participants in the Jazz Finland residencies. The invitation came in 2020, was postponed until 2021 and subsequently curtailed, but they graciously invited me back this year! The residency is an invitation-only collaboration with the Sibelius Academy Jazz Music Department at Uniarts Helsinki, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra, and the Finnish Musicians’ Union, and is coordinated by Jazz Finland. (I can’t thank Maria Silvennoinen enough for making us feel completely taken care of!) “Kiitos!” to all of the people who helped make this happen!
In the last two years, I have met, gotten to know, and played with many of the stellar musicians on my lists of “Finnish musicians to meet.” These lists were created with the help of friends, most notably Andrew Drury, and former JIB Finnish student Joonas Leppänen!
In August 2021 as part of this residency, I got to play live with the incredible UMO Jazz Orchestra (and in 2020 we first collaborated long-distance for this video recording.) It seems serendipitous that my old buddy from the New Art Orchestra, Ed Partyka, is now the chief conductor of that fine ensemble. And this year I got to play in the house band led by UMO’s alto sax veteran, Jouni Jarvela, who made some very thoughtful arrangements of Cole Porter classics for us to play.
In 2021 I also got to meet many of the stellar faculty from the Sibelius Academy, led by Jussi Kanaste. I worked on and got to play some of my music with a great group that included Ape Anttila, Mikko Hassinen, Verneri Pohjola, and Kari Ikonen. And this year, Kari organized a couple of concerts, one at the EloJazz Festival in Oulu and one at Koko Jazz Club in Helsinki. This incarnation of the band consisted of Kari, Verneri, and my dear comrade from JASS, Sebastian Bousseau on bass.
Additionally, improvised music enthusiast and concert organizer, Sakari Puhakka, graciously put together two fun collaborations for me at the Hakasalmi Villa:
The first was with the Finnish grand dame, Iro Haarla. For those who don’t know her, if you ever heard Edward Vesela’s music, then you heard her (on harp and piano) and also heard her uncredited compositions! We played a beautiful duo concert of both of our compositions at Hakasalmi Villa. It was an honor to play with such a warm, gentle, special musician!
The second collaboration performed at the Villa was definitely the first time I have ever played with a brother/sister duo: Natalia Castillon on harp and Sergio Castillon on cello. It was an exciting evening of freely improvised textural/timbral conversations that I will not soon forgot!
Aside from the formal playing, I got together and jammed with a lot of great musicians! And one afternoon, while Kate got to check out the Biennale at the small creative village of Fiskars, I recorded improvisations with Jusso Kontiola (keys and electronics) and Lassi Kari (violon de gamba), who together are the duo Kaje.
I also met up with some great young composers, such as Sampo Kasurinen (many moons ago he was my student at the JIB but now I think I should study with him!) and Mikko Sarvanne. And I had a chance to talk about my music with some welcoming Sibelius students and alumni. Every morning for my last week of teaching at the Academy, I played and demonstrated my “concentration exercise” – and new Nordic Jazz Masters student, Hans, won the award for perfect attendance!
We missed what seems like a fantastic festival, called the Flow Festival, but did get to see a dance concert which was a collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor, installation artist Olafur Eliasson, and electronic composer Jamie xx called Tree of Codes at the new dance venue, Dance House Helsinki; hear a moving concert of Kaija Saariaho’s moving choral music in the equally moving Temppeliaukio Church(AKA The Rock Church); and we spent our last night listening to the soulful, captivating sounds of Tinariwen. All of these special evenings were part of the Helsinki Festival, which “is the largest arts festival in the Nordic countries, held annually in late summer. The festival’s aim is to make art accessible for all. The programme features classical and world music, theatre, dance, circus and visual arts as well as a range of urban events.”
There is a warm and inviting music community in Finland and it is small enough that it seems everyone knows each other. At every concert/jam session I went to I ran into a spirited music fan, Anu, who eagerly gave me the lowdown on every musician and their history! She herself is part of “Jazz royalty” in Finland in that her late older brother, Ilkka ‘Emu’ Lehtinen, founded the record store Digelius. Many musicians in fact told me how instrumental he was to the Jazz music scene in Helsinki!
When I mention Helsinki the common response seems to be, “I have heard it is great, but have never been there” so I thought I would show some of the sights from our trip and later provide the future visitor with some of our “must go to” places.
Swimming in the Baltic sea is incredibly refreshing after a sauna, which we took advantage of at Löyly which includes a traditional smoke sauna.
Kate and I were blown away especially by the Art Nouveau architecture!
As far as newer buildings, the Helsinki Music Centre, where the Jazz department, among other departments, is housed, is a stunningly beautiful, green-tinged building. It is bookended on this flower-laden plaza by awe-inspiring Oodi Library. The most stunning library, and also the biggest library with the least amount of books I have ever seen! It is a place where outdoors, people come together to play basketball (very badly when I was watching), and skateboard. Indoors, you can hang at the cafe; browse books; 3-D print things; sew; record in their recording studio; play video games; and cook in their test kitchen, etc.!!
Biking is very easy in Helsinki. We took a great trip to Aalto University through small wooded islands, where Kate’s friend Slate Grove, Glass Blowing Studio Master, gave us a tour of the incredible facilities of the Design Building there. We stopped by the Didrichsen Museum and saw a great exhibit by Hannu Palosuo.
One of our last visits was to the We Jazz Record Store where I picked up some Timo Lassy discs and the great magazines that We Jazz started publishing last year. (The first issue sold out but they are printing more!) We Jazz is headed by Matti Nives and I can confirm that Matti is hip because I ran into him at Big Ears last year! His label, store, etc. is a very important component of the current creative European music community!
John likes lists.
I must admit, when I first started compiling the musician list below a few years ago, it was just a bunch of names, so it is fun to look at it now, because I have met, hung out and played with a lot of these musicians! This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here is my own personal list of notable Finnish musicians that I suggest to seek out/check out as of August 2022!
If you know of others that are missing from this list, please tell me!
My initial list: Everyone on We Jazz!
Additions from my visits in 2021/2022:
Sami “Samigo” Kontola
Kaje: Juuso Kontiola/Lassi Kari
From Sibelius Academy Faculty Camp 2021:
From my gig with the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra in 2021
Ed Partyka, conductor
Juho Valjakka, piano
Joonas Tuuri, bass
Ilkka Uksila, percussion
Finnish Contemporary Folk Music:
This list comes from Maria Silvennoinen after a conversation we had last year, when I asked her: “What is Finnish contemporary folk music?” (a term I had seen but did not understand.)
Luckily there was a great series at the Esplanade this summer, so we were able to catch some of this music live so we could get a better sense of what “Finnish contemporary folk music” means!But this is a great starter into that unique and varied world! One thing I noticed right away was how often Finnish “jazz musicians” are part of these bands!!
This is a blog…short for weblog. It is my first and probably only entry for 2021. I will try to keep things brief so you can go outside asap and look at trees and cute dogs.
First, the Claudia Quintet just released a new recording, entitled Evidence-Based. You can read about it/listen to it/buy a digital version at the kindest website for musicians, bandcamp. Besides the awesome regular members of Claudia (Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Red Wierenga and Drew Gress), we are honored to share the audio stage with the one and only Eileen Myles. The music and Eileen’s words are based on censorship of certain important words summarized in this little piece of prescient news from 2017. One reason to write pieces based on these words is to go against the CDC internal recommendations/suggestions and to put them forth as much as possible into the universe. With that in mind, here are some of the titles on this recording: Evidence-based, Science-based, fetus, transgender, diversity and entitlement. Enjoy this unique, remotely recorded document of our times!
In August, I got on a plane for the first time in 2021 to go to Helsinki for the first installment of a residency organized and sponsored by the wonderful people at Jazz Finland. The first few days were spent out in the country at this nice little place. Apparently my room was haunted, but the ghost must have been following strigent social distancing policies because I never saw/heard her. (It is a her I was told.) But I did get to meet and play music and in the evening hang at the incredible lakeside sauna with a lot of great Finnish musicians who teach at the Sibelius Academy!
After a little visit to the neighbor’s house, previously owned by one Jean Sibelius, we made our way to Helsinki to play at the musician friendly club, Koko Jazz Club.
It was a wonderful 3-set night led by me, my dear old comrade Ethan Iverson and new friend, Mike Moreno (who I quickly learned is a wine expert!…note to self: befriend as many wine experts as possible; not only do they know where the good wine is but the good food too!)
Here is a post-concert pic of the fine ensemble that I was honored to lead featuring Verneri Pohjola on trumpet, Kari Ikonen on piano/keys, Ape Anttila on bass and maestro Mikko Hassinen on drums.Please note my friend and bandmate from JASS; Sebastian Bousseau came all the way from Nantes, France to photobomb us!
When not eating great food or meeting legendary Finnish musicians like Iro Haarla and Raoul Björkenheim (who makes a mean risotto FYI), I was playing with the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Last summer they remotely put this little ditty together which was fun but it sure was great to meet them and play with them in person!
Even though the Helsinki Festival was largely cancelled due to COVID issues, I got to see this incredible Brian Eno classic installation one fine Helsinki morning.
It was touching to meet many new friends and see some former students of mine like Joonas Leppänen who is creating his own musical universe and Ilkka Uksila, who played some nasty vibes with UMO. The best part about this trip is that it was just Part One! I’m doing it again next August! Hopefully with more music interactions, collaborations, performances and of course more visits to fine establishments like Wino, (thanks again Mike!)
Back in Canada, we are getting back to performing live! I’m very excited to be able to perform Epigraphs #2-4 this fall at Café Resonance! Epigraphs #1 premiered virtually at the Earshot Jazz Festival in the fall of 2020. Epigraphs #2 will be performed this Thursday, Sept. 30th. The core group is guitarist Roman Munoz and epigraph-chanting vocalists Sarah Rossy and Jeanne Laforest. And we will be adding some guests for #3 and #4.
Besides being very excited to teach in person again, I was recently touched to receive a Mcgill Teaching Award and get a promotion to Full Professor!I’m very happy to be on a few friends’ new recordings!
My old pal, Tom Nazziola recently released his incredibly diverse recording, Distant Places. Tom is so multi-talented I can’t even list all that he does, so go to his website and you will see! Among other great pieces, he wrote this nice duet for voice and drums for us dedicated to one of our favorite drummers, Bob Moses!
First, if you read to the end of this blog and you are a musician or know one, you will be tangibly rewarded!
I recently gave a talk to the 1st year music students at the Schulich School of Music, McGill University where I teach. When I was contemplating what information I might be able to impart, I quickly realized how important the role of mentorship has been in my life.
My earliest mentor, my older brother Pat, brought home crates of records with strict instructions to make a cassette mixtape by taking one track from each record. He took me to hear great music very early on (including Steve Gadd); took me backstage to meet the musicians; encouraged me to take lessons with the greats; told me to remain open, play everything, compose. He was responsible for getting me to study piano for a year before letting me start drums – I get it now and often say to my students, “You’ll thank me later!” He brought me to my first teacher (who was also his teacher), who was then my next mentor, Russell Black. Mr. Black was so giving as a teacher. He charged $5! for lessons that would last longer and longer so that after a while my mother would just say, “call me when you’re done!” He had piles of music which were strategically placed for his “since you didn’t practice, you will sight-read for an hour” sessions! In my last year in high school, when in retrospect I think he thought he had taught me all that he could about drums, we would just go to the nearby McDonald’s and talk about my love life! Thinking back, he seems like a character in a movie: the waxed moustache, manicured nails, money clip, Hawaiian shirts, his Lincoln continental, the fast comedic timing…
My next meaningful mentor was Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombonist and composer. I met Bob briefly a number of times early in my life, and in my late 20’s became close with him after taking several composition lessons and joining his New Art Orchestra. I’m still working on the assignments he gave me from the four composition lessons I took with him! I have a vivid and cherished memory of the time he left me a voice mail, ending it by telling me he loved me. He was always honest but very encouraging. “Do not stop!” was a motto for his music and life. I watched him persist through illnesses, failures and setbacks and learned a great lesson by witnessing his courage as he kept going forward, no matter what!
My fourth mentor is the great Meredith Monk, musician-composer-choreographer-filmmaker. I met Meredith when I was around 30 and joined her ensemble. She was immediately so warm and supportive, which gave me a confidence booster that I sorely needed after weathering the sometimes unforgiving harshness of New York City. I observed her listening to music and composing from an emotional standpoint, using her “heart knowledge” as some would say. I watched her work through the many obstacles one faces as a creative artist. If you don’t already know her, you can imagine how strong she is to persist as a woman creating innovative, ground-breaking indescribable work over the course of her incredible career spanning 50+ years!
One recent mentoree of mine in Montreal is Sarah Rossy. Sarah is one of the many talented students that I have met since coming to McGill in 2015. Her openness and spirit have shown me a path toward become a better teacher. It was through her that I realized how much a mentorship can also benefit the mentor! I would argue that she has given me as much as I have given her. Sarah’s Master’s recital was the first time that I really had a damn good cry at the end of a student recital! I’m simply amazed and inspired by her spirit.
This summer, I remotely gathered Sarah together with two other incredible recent McGill graduates, Jeanne LaForest and Roman Munoz, to record an experimental piece of mine called, Epigraphs #1. It was recently broadcast as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival, but for those that missed it, you can now watch it here! (You will need headphones, attention, and 35 minutes to make it worthwhile!)
The Grammy announcement also made me think about the actual process of making this record and how amazing it is if you just step back a bit, look at it from a distance and then try to explain, perhaps to a non-musician…so here it goes (this ones for you mom!):
The concept for a new recording is discussed until it becomes clear that the music will not be selected by the the musicians, but by the listeners. The call goes out!
…a list of nominations is voted on, and finally a master list of selections is chosen.
The brainstorming process begins…vague ideas in your head float around until some land. Sometimes these ideas go out into your hands and perhaps a piano?
Many pages of scribbles and sketches on scraps of paper slowly transition to music notation.
Before you lose the paper (one of my personal challenges), the music copyist inputs it into a computer music notation program, where it starts to look like real “music”!
These dots, lines, texts and shapes are then interpreted by great musicians, who have been practicing their instruments for this moment and others like it. They transform these dots, etc. into sound.
Then the recording engineer records the music and tweaks it in digital recording software where it looks again like scribbles, but this time digitized and colorful!
Then the mixing engineer takes this recording, digitally manipulates and balances (“mixes”) it until the musicians are all “happyish”. This recording is then “mastered”, a mysterious process which I won’t pretend to understand, but in a nutshell the final recording is looked at as one big composition that gets balanced dynamically and timbrally globally so that once you start listening, you should not have to adjust any dials.
Next, the “master” is replicated and put into a beautifully designed package. The publicity crew is activated to start getting the word out to you, writers, radio, etc. Lastly, people, some I know and many I don’t, listen to this recording. Ideally, the effect of listening brings pleasure and adds to the listener’s life, gives them optimism and joy. Hopefully they then want to come back to this recording for the initial sensations plus new ones they did not get/hear the first time (and maybe some will give it their Grammy vote!
All of these seemingly every day actions are the result of years of work, creativity, ingenuity and good ol’ trial and error.
Here are the actual people, besides me who made this particular recording possible and whom I’m enormously grateful for! (I have a feeling I’m forgetting someone, so apologies ahead of time if this is the case, but it is a long list!)
Frankfurt Radio Big Band
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn · alto/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute
Oliver Leicht · alto/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, piccolo
Ben Kraef · tenor/soprano saxophone, flute
Steffen Weber · tenor/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute
Rainer Heute · bari/bass saxophone, Bb/bass/contra-bass clarinet, flute
Frank Wellert · trumpet/flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel · trumpet/flugelhorn
Martin Auer · trumpet/flugelhorn
Axel Schlosser · trumpet/flugelhorn
Christian Jaksjø · trombone
Felix Fromm · trombone
Shannon Barnett · trombone
Manfred Honetschläger · bass trombone
Martin Scales · guitar
Hans Glawischnig · bass
Jean Paul Höchstädter · drums
Claus Kiesselbach · mallet percussion, timpani
Producer: Olaf Stötzler
Recording and Editing: Axel Gutzler
Recording Engineer: Robin Bös
Mixing Engineer: Brian Montgomery
Mastering: Kitchen Mastering-Brent Lambert
Production Support: Rebecca Laufer, Lucia Rosu, Annette Neuwohner
Music Copyist: Anna Webber
Publicity: Fully Altered Media-Matt Merewitz, Colin Perry, Sydney Hill
CD Replication: discmakers
Distributor of choice: bandcamp
BTW, here is some of the recent “harvest” from the Fully Altered Media “planting”!
And while I’m thinking of musicians that I’m grateful to work with, as some of you may know, when Laurie Frink passed away, I wrote a tribute to her for my large ensemble, called All Can Work (the title track of our 2018 New Amsterdam release). I could not imagine any other band playing this after we recorded it but in this season of giving, I am offering the full big band score and parts to anyone who is interested as a gift. (Note: under “Name a fair price:” you have to write a number, so feel free to write “0”!)
And you can pass this giving spirit on by donating to the Laurie Frink Career Grant fund, which every year gives a cash award to a young brass player. (This year’s winner is Summer Camargo!)
Kate and I wish you all a Happy holiday season and Happy New Year!
I normally work hard to come up with excuses to not write a blog. In the last 5 months I have not had to put much effort into my normal “excuse creation” practice because of world events. On the other hand, what keeps coming back to me during this tumultuous time is the power of music, how it can give both the listeners and the creators hope and relief. So with a good dose of guilt lurking in the shadows, I’m offering this blog to let y’all know what I have been up to musically (I will try to keep it short!).
A few years ago, the founding members of the Brussels Vocal Project (BVP), Anu Junnonen, Elsa Gregoire and François Vaiana, came to me with a proposal to write new music for them plus special guest, percussionist extraordinaire Moritz Baumgartner. They were set to write lyrics based on traditional nursery rhymes, and I would write music using those words to create modern musical versions of these folktales. It was such a fun and challenging collaboration putting this music together over the last few years when we could still meet in Brussels. Although the album’s release has been postponed until late October, I’m so happy to share this video of one of the pieces, “The Prime Minister’s New Art” (a modern take on the Emperor’s New Clothes). To celebrate the new album, BVP will perform in Brussels at the Werplaats Walter on Nov. 21 and in Paris at Studio de l’Ermitage on Nov. 26 of this year.
Pre-COVID, I was going to be in Finland for the whole month of August as an Artist-in-Residence. Part of this project was a concert with the legendary UMO Jazz Orchestra. Our activities have been postponed until August 2021, but as an homage to Florian Schneider, we recorded this video of my arrangement of “The Model” by Kraftwerk. (Florian Schneider is a founding member of Kraftwerk who died in April of this year.)
In late March, I was hoping to be at the best music festival ever, Big Ears, with my Claudia Quintet. Although we had to postpone the tour, we put together this video of a newish tune in April. We hope you agree with the title, “nice tune”!
I’m a proud member of Curtis Hasselbring’s New Mellow Edwards! In May, Curtis put together a video recording of this new gem, which we remotely recorded in support of the great Brooklyn venue Barbès.
In May & June, I worked on this fun project that Chris Tordini produced with the fabulous saxophonist from Iceland, Óskar Guðjónsson, and me. The process was fun: one of us would improvise and record it, then pass the recording to another, who would then add to it and pass it to the last person for them to add to it. Did I say it was a lot of fun?!
I’m one of the many ignorant folk who did not know about Juneteenth until 2020. I’m very saddened and surprised that no one ever mentioned it to me, because June 19th is my birthdate! To commemorate this date in 2020, I made this video recording to accompany a recording of Jeremy Frisch that clearly demonstrates the frustration felt as a result of the abuse of power by law enforcement officers.
I have done a few interviews over the last few months that I would like to share. Kevin Laskey and I talked in preparation for the unfortunately postponed Claudia-Quintet-Jazz-Gallery-premiere which was supposed to happen in late March. Kevin is a very thoughtful musician and I enjoyed our conversation very much.
Last year, I had the pleasure of working with the Basel Jazz School Focus Year band for a week. Every year this school sponsors and puts together a band that works with guest artists throughout the year. It is an incredible experience for them and the talent level is ridiculous! One of the drummers in the band I worked with was Chase Kuesel. Recently Chase released this essay about our work together. I could not believe how deep he went into it!
Nicola Fazzini and Alessandro Fedrigo have been my musical cohorts and supporters for many years. Their organization, Nusica is a positive force in Italy and Europe. Somehow, they found the time to do this blog interview with me in April!
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with one of our most important contemporary music journalists, Steve Smith. You can read our conversation here.
INTRODUCING FLEXATONIC ARTS INC.
The last album in my Songs trilogy, Songs You Like A Lot, was released on August 14th. You can find the recording and info about it here. Arranging well-known music is for sure scary, so it was a relief that one of the first people who heard the record said that listening to new arrangements of these old tunes “reminds me of meeting an old friend in a foreign country.” If you would like a digital copy, but don’t have the means right now during these tough times, please send an email to email@example.com with the subject “NEED SULAL NOW” and we will send you a download code!
This release is the first for Flexatonic Records, which is the label wing of the new 501c3, Flexatonic Arts Inc. that has recently been formed to serve as an organizational headquarters for all of my cultural and educational activities, and a vehicle for embracing the initiatives of like-minded colleagues. Flexatonic is also developing projects and collective-minded mutual support structures in partnership with more than a dozen similarly focused nonprofits and other artists and educators to create viable and sustainable methods within the new environment of artistic expression and education. The lovely karlssonwilker team designed the awesome Flexatonic Records logo above; for context, here is an image of a flexatone.
Flexatonic Records is digitally re-releasing the albums I did as a composer/leader – you can find them on Bandcamp. Until further notice, all profits from these bandcamp sales will go towards Black Lives Matter initiatives. Bandcamp, if you don’t know it already, is by far the friendliest digital platform for musicians. During the pandemic, Bandcamp has and will continue to waive “its revenue share on all sales on the first Friday of every month to give musicians more money from each purchase,” i.e. Bandcamp Fridays! Spotify, by the way is one of the biggest and one of the worst streaming platforms for musicians! Please sign this petition to get Spotify to raise their royalty level to $.01 per stream. Yes, you read that correctly! It is currently only $0.003 per stream.
Another Flexatonic initiative is to get my notated music to y’all.
For years I have been working on this project with Anna Webber(to be clear, Anna did most of the work!) to edit and revise all of the recorded Claudia Quintet music (82 compositions!) so that I can share it with the Claudians or is it Claudiots? It is with delight that I announce that these scores and parts are now available online! You can find full album “Playbooks” on Bandcamp and in the Works section of my website, which is also where you can find the individual compositions. (For some reason I really wanted to write “beloved website”…I think my website feels neglected insert theatrical ~pause~ and sigh.)
To get a taste of these lovely dots on paper, you can see some of Anna’s fine copy work as a “streamable score.” From an early age, I loved to geek out by listening to music as I read the musical score. I’m not a fan of YouTube for its horrendous treatment of musicians, but one of the few good uses of it are to show you “streamable scores.” Enjoy the scores and music of Rainbow Jimmies (commissioned by the Bang On a Can All-Stars), Sinanari, and the above-mentioned “nice tune”. Geek out!
My lovely partner Kate and I are quarantining in Montreal because we just came back from the US. Our quarantine time has coincided with an extreme construction project on our street to replace old water mains. This video is an example of our morning wake-up call with color commentary by yours truly.
Needless to say I have been spending a lot of time every day contemplating how a lot of this work is very similar to the work that I and other children did for fun, specifically, putting dirt in a dump truck, etc. I wonder, is there a downside to this gig? Does the operator have Aha moments when he realizes he is getting paid well to do the same thing he did for fun when he was 5 years old? Does he skip home every day singing “I’ve got the best job in the world!”? I know that I do! I draws dots on paper and hit things that make cool sounds. Thanks for listening, reading, watching. I hope something in this blog helps you in some positive way.
It has been a long time since I have had enough time to write one of these little blog ditties.
This blog will be mostly written with a retrograde form with a futuristic coda and seemless, smooth transitions (said someone who has been teaching composition A LOT!)
Starting today, you and the other humans on this planet are cordially invited to take part in the Songs You Like a Lot Survey! This recording will be the third part of a trilogy with Theo Bleckmann/Kate McGarry/Gary Versace (1&3)/Uri Caine (2) and the Frankfurt hr-BigBand.
On the first recording, Songs I Like a Lot, the focus was on some songs that I liked and wanted to arrange. On the second recording, Songs We Like a Lot, I let Theo and Kate come up with most of the titles (with a few from me, since I was part of the “we”). For the upcoming third album, YOU are going to decide what is on the recording through your votes on the survey. You can pick 10 titles from the nomination list that we have been compiling for a long time. Thanks for being the most important part of this recording project!
Speaking of “nomination list” (smoove transition John!), the latest John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble recording on New Amsterdam Records has been nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. It is an honor to be nominated by my peers and to be on any list with the great Jim McNeely!
So many people are involved in a recording like this, so many heartfelt thanks to:
Label – New Amsterdam Records Recording engineer – James Farber Assistant – Nate Odden Mixing engineer – Brian Montgomery Mastering engineer – Brent Lambert at Kitchen Mastering Financial support: Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, & Arete Living Arts Commissioners: University of Northern Colorado, Chicago Jazz Festival, FONT, Frankfurt Radio Big Band, University of the Arts Philadelphia Artwork: karlssonwilker.com Inspirational words: Laurie Frink Support and inspiration: Kate Schroeder John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble:
Ben Kono – soprano/alto/tenor sax, flute
Jeremy Viner – clarinet, tenor sax
Tony Malaby – tenor/soprano sax
Dan Willis – tenor sax, clarinet
Anna Webber – flute, tenor sax
Bohdan Hilash – clarinet, bass clarinet, bass sax, tubax
Chris Tordini – acoustic/electric bass
Matt Mitchell – piano, organ, keyboard
Patricia Brennan – vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel
John Hollenbeck – drums, composition
Theo Bleckmann – voice
JC Sanford – conductor
Speaking of snazzy outfits…Theo Bleckmann! That was not a transition but just a fact.
For the actual transition: Speaking of Jim McNeely, I am proud to be a part of this new book by Rick Lawn about Jim and some other great jazz composers!
(Sometimes it is nice to just have a small ending in the middle of a composition, breath and then go on to the next section with a renewed energy.)
I’ve been hanging pretty consistently in my new home city of Montreal this fall. One of the highlights here was an improvised performance with video/film icon, Pierre Hebert, for the L’Off Festival. The basic idea was that Erik Hove, Simon Millerd and I played improvised and composed music based on a simple cueing system. Pierre Hebert was free to use our sounds as an inspiration. Terri Hron took our sonic output and electronically processed it. You can watch the 2nd half of the performance here.
I had met and played once with Pierre Hebert about 15 years ago at the Guelph Festival. Pierre was there to do a gig with his frequent collaborator Bob Ostertag and Theo Bleckmann. When Bob had to cancelled at the last minute, I filled in on prepared piano with the amazing Barre Phillips, so it was great to finally perform with Pierre again! (Here you can watch another piece by Pierre Hebert based on a Malcolm Goldstein performance.)
Much of my time this fall in Montreal has been taken up with my new duties as the Jazz Area Chair at McGill. It was an exhausting but also exhilarating semester with great guests like Jen Shyu, Meredith Monk, Mino Cinelu, Mark McCormick, Ben Monder, Anna Webber, and Steve Kaldestad. Next semester we have Fabian Almazan, Linda Oh, Ambrose Akinmusire just to name a few! The semester was capped off with a really nice tour with the McClaudia combo in Toronto and Ottawa. In Toronto, we played at the COC and were honored to play for the wonderful Dean of our school, Brenda Ravenscroft.
The main reason for this post is to let you know that I baked a loaf of bread last Sunday.
It was my first time, so I was nervous, but with only three ingredients I felt like there was a pretty good chance that I would not stray too far away from the intended taste and texture. Here is a picture:
That was the main reason for this post…there was something else…but anyway, I recently acquired plantar fasciitis which is not funny except I like to say I have plantar facetious, which is funny, at least to me.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that I recently relearned the great Dave Garibaldi drum part to Soul Vaccination and learned for the first time Kindness by Tony Allen. Today I just played the B section to Cissy Strut for a long time. Zigaboo! I have been re-visiting my favorite Hermeto, Airto and Egberto Gismonti (he gets a last name because just “Egberto” doesn’t sound right.)
Also, I took my first spin class this week and concurrently realized that the new deodorant that I thought was awesome is really not so great. The other notable thing that happened this week was I found my college girlfriend’s scissors, see Exhibit A.
I’m not sure why I still have them 25 years later or what to do with them…Hollenbecks like to keep things, I’ve noticed.
I think that is enough about this week. Oh! I almost forgot! Today I’m releasing my new large ensemble recording called All Can Work on New Amsterdam Records. You may find all the info HERE!
In case you are interested, I will probably do that spin class again on Saturday (with a different deodorant strategy) and will forego the Sunday bread making because Kate and I will be making our way to New York City for the JHLE CD release concert on Tuesday (January 30th) with an opening set by Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder Duo!
I think you have enough info about me for this week and even next, so I will leave you with the liner notes to the new album if you are the type that likes to read about the music which you will (I hope) listen to!
After pondering many titles for this record, I realized All Can Work epitomizes the flexible, optimistic resolve that is needed by everyone involved to do a record like this. This phrase “All Can Work” and the lyrics in this title track are taken directly from the emails in my inbox from Laurie Frink, our beloved trumpeter, whom we lost in 2013. When I first moved to NYC and started playing with and hearing big bands, Laurie was a special thread that wove through them all — it seemed like she played in every band I saw! A master of the short, perfect email reply, Laurie was also the consummate team player, the type of personality that is profoundly needed in a large ensemble. Her sudden death stunned the NYC music community — but the legacy she left behind as the trumpet guru/therapist/doctor to countless brass and woodwind players lives on, continuing to support and enhance the community she served. No matter where I am in the world, I can talk to a trumpet player who had studied with or knows her exercises. “All Can Work” is based on one of these exercises. (Thank you to Dave Ballou for opening up the Laurie exercise archives to a drummer!) After Laurie died, I read all of her emails and then compiled them in chronological order. In her words, I began to see a poem of sorts, and the words helped me keep the focus on Laurie as I started to compose. I really sweated this piece because I wanted it to showcase Laurie’s ever-present humor, her dedication to “the music,” and most importantly our love for her. Thank you to Theo for bringing forth these characteristics of Laurie so beautifully with his voice.
The rest of this album is inspired by and dedicated to other great artists that have given me guidance and/or inspiration throughout the years: Bob Brookmeyer, Kenny Wheeler, Billy Strayhorn, John Taylor, William Shakespeare, and Piet Mondrian. This collection is especially personal in that Bob, Kenny, John and Laurie were dear friends of mine who died in recent years. These four artists in particular represent to me a certain type of musician who is authentically humble and unquestionably under-appreciated. My hope is that this recording serves to honor and highlight their undeniable impact on the world of music. Shakespeare, Strayhorn and Mondrian are obviously not personal friends, but have touched me so deeply with their craft that I was inspired to write and/or arrange these works, which helped me dive deeper into their work.
“Elf” was commissioned by The Chicago Jazz Festival for the Strayhorn centennial in 2015. This piece was titled and known as “Elf” when it was written in 1963 before it was retitled and repurposed by Duke Ellington as “Isfahan” for the Far East Suite. Because I loved the original feel and arrangement of Strayhorn’s “Elf”, I chose to create something that was a polar opposite. John Wojciechowski (of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra) is to blame for the extremely high register. When I was writing it, I kept asking him if the register was ok and he kept saying it was cool, so I kept going higher! On this recording our own Tony Malaby puts his soprano voodoo on those high notes.
“Heyoke” is dedicated to Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, both of whom I had the pleasure of playing with many times. In the “fun facts” department: I once played in a big band rehearsal when Kenny played lead trumpet — he was giddy at the chance to play lead; and John is responsible for the one time I was not allowed into Canada (a good long story that I can tell you over a tasty cider that you will buy me)! Kenny was featured at the 2011 FONT Festival in NYC and JHLE was thrilled and honored to perform with him for two special nights at the Jazz Standard. I had remembered playing “Heyoke” with Kenny in the past, so I was surprised after receiving the music from him for big band that he had only arranged one of the three movements — the ballad — of that small group version which he recorded on Gnu High. For the FONT Festival, I decided to arrange the other two movements and then segue into his ballad movement. In this recorded version, we stop after the introduction to his ballad, a gesture that I think fittingly symbolizes the incomplete feeling we all had when Kenny and then John departed this earth. Matt Holman, Jacob Garchik and Matt Mitchell share the improvisatory duties with unabashed enthusiasm and sometimes wild abandon.
“this kiss” came about from University of Northern Colorado Professor Dana Landry’s ambitious Romeo and Juliet project. I studied Shakespeare in my early years like many other students, but was not mature enough to truly understand his genius at that time. I now have a renewed appreciation for his work after revisiting Romeo and Juliet while composing “this kiss.” I am impressed by the clarity and efficiency with which Shakespeare’s work can convey complex emotional human experience within exacting frames — and specifically how successfully he did so within a sonnet form. He did not waste a single word, nor did he allow the strict form to limit his creativity of expression. Inspired mainly by the concise precision with which Shakespeare penned one of his most famous sonnets, I created a simple Romeo motive, a simple Juliet motive, and a concise musical theme based on this sonnet form. I developed the material as if I was scoring this scene for film, quickly cutting from intimate conversations to full dance scenes. I treated the individual musicians as if they were the individual characters from this passage. Sometimes they interact in small groups, sometimes large (as in the dance scenes), and sometimes there are small and larger conversations going on simultaneously. The material is put together to meld a mood of sweet romance in the present with a foreboding dissonance that foreshadows the future. My title “this kiss” uses these two significant words that both Romeo and Juliet recite in the opening stanzas of their sonnet. Matt Mitchell does his own freestyle dance around the band in a later section that represents the sweet tenderness and excitement of these two lovers.
“from trees” was commissioned by the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts and was premiered by the University of the Arts Big Band under the direction of Matt Gallagher with original choreography by Netta Yerushalmy in 2011 in Philadelphia. Having always liked Mondrian’s later works, I chose for the first time to delve into his earlier works and immediately noticed his studies of trees. For this composition, I chose three works that encompass his oeuvre: “The Gray Trees;” the cubist-inspired “Composition with Oval;” and his last unfinished painting (in the De Stijl style) “Broadway Boogie-Woogie.” I incorporated a boogie-woogie feel into the whole piece while trying to evoke the development and evolution of the lines of a tree in his earlier paintings to the bold straight black lines in his last painting. In this recorded version Dave Ballou and Tony Malaby are creating their own paintings on my compositional canvas.
“Long Swing Dream” started as an actual dream. For the first and so far only time, I dreamed an actual piece. In my dream, the bass line was the focal point and the horns mostly passed around this one long note. Realizing later that the initials for this title are LSD, I found some curious Cary Grant musings about his own transformative experiences with LSD and added them to deepen the dream-like effect.
The first piece on the record, “lud,” is one of those intangible pieces that just popped out recently. I don’t have an explanation for it but I wish I could write more music like this. And by “like this” I mean strangely alluring, or alluringly strange. The title I came upon by chance, perhaps when looking for words that rhyme with dud? I like this title because it is either means “Lord,” as when addressing a judge, or it is an acronym for Local Usage Details (a record of local calls from a particular phone number), or perhaps it is first name of a famous Russian jazz bandleader. Either way, this piece and I are now good friends, so I intend to further develop this into a concert length work in the future.
“The Model,” a Kraftwerk classic was suggested by Theo Bleckmann for my Songs I like A Lot album and since that time it has been a fun piece to play live with various bands. And I think it is a nice way to leave you — hopefully it will make you move and sing…and come back for another listen!
I have not yet been able to pen a fitting tribute to Bob Brookmeyer — and I’m not sure that I can, or if one composition would even be enough. So I dedicate this entire album to him, because it simply would not exist without him and I miss him terribly.
The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble was founded in 1998 to exclusively perform my compositions and arrangements. After two successful Grammy-nominated recordings and tours in the United States and Europe, this third recording project represents the accumulation of years rehearsing, recording and performing together. It represents the definitive evolution of an exceptional ensemble that has developed a relationship akin to family. I have been playing with some of the musicians in the band since high school and college — they are loyal, long-standing members, who are leading musicians in creative music in New York City and successful musicians in their own careers. They make all of the hardships of leading a large ensemble worth it!
The legendary James Farber expertly recorded the music at Avatar Studios in NYC. Avatar was sold shortly after the session and its future is unclear, so we were very happy to record there one last time! With James’ steady ears and meticulous preparation the session went smoothly and even at times was, I dare say, enjoyable.
James was ably assisted by Nate Odden, who besides doing the right thing at the right time, also gave me some great secret email tips that I will use from now on! Handing the session mixes over from James to Brian Montgomery is such a smooth transition — they have worked together for years and know each other’s work so well a synergy has evolved. Mixing with Brian and the ever-present, ever-cute Cody the dog was a blast!
Brent Lambert at Kitchen Mastering came in at the end and sprinkled all of the right kinds of audio pixie dust onto Brian’s mixes.
As I’m writing these notes, I have not yet seen the cover design by Karlssonwilker, but I’m positive that it is super cool and super fun, because it always is.
Greetings Friends. My last blog was a year ago, I don’t have a good excuse. Honestly being on the Internet has lost its allure for me. While I feel old saying this, I would much rather go for a walk, read a book, listen to a CD or LP, eat pizza, drink cider, go to a yoga class…the list is quite long before it says “go on the internet.” But I’m getting questions especially from people in the music business, like “Are you dead?” “Did you give up music?” “When is your next gig?” “Do you still live in Berlin?” which reminds me that a presence on the good ‘ole world wide web is helpful so that people know that you have a gig or need a gig.
As it has been a long time since we “talked,” this blog could sound like one of those Xmas letters one gets once a year from family/old friends. But I will do my best to stay in the present and future and not talk about all of my great gigs that you missed over the summer…like at the Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal Jazz Festivals…which reminds me, in case you did not know, I live in Canada now! (I accept your congratulations and revel in how it makes me look for once like someone in the forefront who did what many were thinking about doing and are probably still thinking about doing!)
For those of you still thinking about moving or going to school in a nice country with healthcare for all, non-exorbitant college tuition, and a place where gravy and cheese on fries is a local delicacy, I heartily recommend McGill University where I teach drums and composition! Also I should mention Captain Kirk is an alumnus.
This semester at McGill I’m teaching a composition course – I think it is called Advanced Jazz Composition, but since I don’t know what “Advanced” means and certainly don’t know what “Jazz” means, I prefer to concentrate on Composition; a course called Foundational Drum Set Skills (pure fun!); and my Concentration Seminar, where an ensemble of 20 plays short quarter notes for long periods of time at insanely slow tempos – again, (for some of us anyway), this is the definition of fun!
Not to rub it in, but next weekend Canada is celebrating the Culture Days. At McGill, we are celebrating it with a new music concert led by the awesome Guillaume Bourgogne; a Thelonious Monk centennial tribute concert – inspired by Jason Moran’s Monk at Townhall project, Jim Doxas and I will improvise on drumset to Monk as we, but not the audience, listen on headphones to Monk playing “Four in One”; and in the afternoon, I will be hosting a showing of the Thomas Chapin documentary, Night Bird Song.
Before I get to current events, I do want to mention last weekend’s activities, where I so joyfully performed Fred Hersch’s Leaves of Grass at Lincoln Center Jazz. Here is a great review from Peter Hum at the Ottawa Citizen (Canada nailing it again!)
Fred’s settings of Whitman’s poems are so uplifting and resonant! It was a huge week for Fred, with a Terry Gross interview and the release of a solo piano recording and his memoir. He deserves any accolades that come his way! I was just thinking he should give a life course on perseverance and event planning. I also applaud Fred for putting a really unique group together – I love hearing Kurt Elling and Tony Malaby together, just to name two in this great ensemble!
Today I received in the mail the last of edition of Arcana, the wonderful anthology series by John Zorn. I’m honored to have my in-depth of analysis “Drewslate” included.
In early October, I will be making my first trek to CHINA (or “Ghina” as some say) with J.A.S.S
I am very close to completing the most perfect, beautiful version of every Claudia Quintet composition for the Claudia Quintet “Playbook,” a project I have been working on and promising for years. I’m hoping I can get it finished in time so that someone will get it for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa this year (more info to come as it develops).
Lastly, I am putting the finishing touches on the next John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble release that will come out on New Amsterdam Records on January 27, 2018. It is sounding sooo good…I’m sure you (at least the cool “yous”) will enjoy it!
That’s it! See, that was not so bad, was it? Thanks for reading!
(BTW-FYI-LOL-FWIW-LMGTFY: Canadian immigration info can be found here.)
P.S. if you happen to be near Virgil, NY this fall, stop by the Hollenbeck Cider Mill – my nephew Matt has taken it over from cousin Bruce. Unforgettable Cider, Donuts, Pie and MORE!
The Claudia Quintet’s album Super Petite on Cuneiform Records is on the ballot for GRAMMY consideration in the category: “the bestest post-jazz album with accordion and vibes” or something like that!…along with the instrumental composition Peterborough from the same album, composed by yours truly, John Hollenbeck. Below is a video of CQ’s live performance of this piece in Montreal last week!
If you and/or your friends and colleagues are voting members of NARAS and you’d like to give The Claudia Quintet the best 20th birthday present ever, please consider us in both categories!
[As a reminder, your vote must be received by Friday, November 4.]
“Super Petite is like savoring a long and lingering feast. There is much to enjoy, concentrate on, uncover and sample. The ten tracks each offer a morsel, and the full repast is oh so delicious.” —Doug Simpson, Audiophile Audition
Listen to a track from Super Petite dedicated to the Super Cute beagles at JFK customs: JFK Beagle
“Forging headlong into uncharted territory on the cusp of its twentieth anniversary, The Claudia Quintet continues to adapt aspects from multiple genres and styles for its melodically harmonious grooves, making Super Petite one of the Quintet’s most engaging and enjoyable releases to date.” –Troy Collins, Point of Departure
We know you will do the right thing when you vote…for CQ in the upcoming GRAMMY nomination vote! In case you are undecided, we are coming to you to offer some encouragement in the form of SUPER, BIG, AWESOME, YUGE yet CONCISE (like some people’s hands) GEMS FROM OUR NEW RELEASE ON CUNEIFORM RECORDS APTLY NAMED SUPERPETITE.
As you can see from this photo above, which has been leaked by some Russian hackers to Wikileaks, Chris Tordini is joining us on this jaunt!
“Forging headlong into uncharted territory on the cusp of its twentieth anniversary, The Claudia Quintet continues to adapt aspects from multiple genres and styles for its melodically harmonious grooves, making Super Petite one of the Quintet’s most engaging and enjoyable releases to date.”
– Troy Collins, Point of Departure
“Super Petite is like savoring a long and lingering feast. There is much to enjoy, concentrate on, uncover and sample. The ten tracks each offer a morsel, and the full repast is oh so delicious.”
– Doug Simpson, Audiophile Audition
“Rigorously executed but earthily grooving, dauntingly precise but flecked with hearty and intriguing improvised solos, the quintet’s set buzzed with freshness and vitality from start to finish. … For all the obvious effort and intelligence to Hollenbeck’s work, his songs could ultimately be straightforwardly emotional and moving.” – Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen
We, the Claudia Quintet do hereby invite thee to get your butts down to our upcoming gigs on the west coast of the country that is led by Barack Obama, plus a great festival in the capital of Canada (John’s new home country), and another festival in the birthplace of Steve Gadd (and Red Wierenga).
John is learning French very slowly, first he is concentrating on words that are already part of the English language. Hence, the title words of the new recording are French! (and English). It is also the title of this INCREDIBLY short blog!
I am now officially treasurer of the Bad Blogging Club. If you also have a blog type forum, but do not use it regularly, “welcome!” and please send your membership fees to my paypal account.
Je m’appelle John. Je joue la batterie. So, I took a couple of French lessons, that’s all I’ve got for now, but there should be more in the future!
But the real reason for writing is that I’m pretty sure The Claudia Quintet is coming to a town not far from you this year, unless you live in Asia. By the way, promoters from Asia – please book the Claudia Quintet next year – this year, we are booked up, so don’t even ask!
First up is a jaunt to the European continent, where we will enjoy 2 Trump-free weeks (or Drumpf-free, as John Oliver told me to now call him.)
And! in June we will be on the west coast in the US of A and my new homeland of Canada.
And! in Ann Arbor and other fun mid-western towns in October…
(Drumpf supporters will most likely not be in attendance at any of these gigs BTW).
Also! in non-Claudia news, I’m just finishing a new piece for the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble under the directorship of Guilllaume Bourgogne that will be premiered in Montreal on April 6th.
And! on May 4th, I will be premiering a new work at the Trondheim Jazz Festival that is a collaboration with Sissel Vera Petersen and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. I’m very excited!… So I will now go to the bathroom, and then immediately start working on that music!!
This is John Hollenbeck AKA “lame blogger”. The key to lame blogging is mainly to not do it!
But then, as I get into this defensive stance…
…I’ve got lots of great excuses.
Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about my summer!
The Adirondack Mountains
From July 17th-August 16th, I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world, The Blue Mountain Center! I wrote music for 6-8 hours daily, met great people, saw old friends, ate delicious food, played lots of tennis! I would tell you more about this place, but then I will have to compete with you in the next round of applications…so I will stop here. (I am still wearing my shirts with the top button buttoned in celebration of the good times and BMC peeps!)
On August 31st, JHLE with special guests Kate McGarry, Ben Monder and Scott Robinson (with our amazing vocalist, Theo Bleckmann) performed selections from the recent release Songs We Like A Lot at the Newport Jazz Festival. The band bonded under adversity that came at the hands of our bus driver who showed up late to pick up the band, took strange paths, and drove so-slo-slowly. Definitely not a good combo! But we did eventually make it on stage and I have photos to prove it…
(plus jumbotron photos here!)
Later in August, I spent the week in Rheinsberg, Germany with the BuJazzO band and choir, an amazingly talented group of musicians. I was lucky in that I was able to invite musician friends to work with the band, plus we had the opportunity one evening to perform together (see below with Sissel Vera Pettersen, Dave Ballou, Marko Lackner, Geoffroy DeMasure, Hilmar Jensson, Robert Landfermann, Me!…plus an anonymous leg-which sounded great BTW)
BuJazzO (Germany’s “National Youth Jazz Orchestra”) is a dream band for any composer/conductor. We rehearsed 9 hours a day, and during the breaks, most of the musicians would immediately go to some fun activity like singing standards together, having electro dub jams, jazz jams, playing football (soccer), ultimate frisbee, yoga or playing many rounds of flunkyball (I had to try one round and discovered it is a very fun drinking game, but decided to stop after downing two beers…which is like six beers for me!) It is refreshing to hang with people with seemingly unlimited amounts of energy and enthusiasm!
On our last day, the town was visited by a small group of Neo-Nazis who were planning a rally. In response, the BuJazzO-ers paraded around town playing New Orleans style music, delighting and engaging the locals with great, happy music that drew all of the attention away from and ultimately deterred the Neo-Nazi rally from happening. It was a fun and joyful moment where good (music!) triumphed over bad in a most peaceful manner. The mayor personally thanked everyone afterward and I have to say it was a truly moving experience that I will never forget! (If you know German, you can read about it here.)
New York City/Chicago
Then it was off to NYC to record the next Claudia Quintet album. I know I told some of you it was going to be a live record, but it will be even better than that – it will be a studio record AND a live DVD!
After two days of recording we went directly to Chicago for the Chicago Jazz Festival. I had a great time hanging for a bit with Steve Bernstein and hearing him with Henry Butler. I saw an old friend, John Wojciechowski, whom I featured in my Billy Strayhorn arranging commission for the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. And then Claudia Quintet +1 + Theo Bleckmann + Kurt Elling played in one of the most beautiful venues in the world, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. Thank you Frank Gehry, Thank you Chicago.
We ate (well some of us anyway) a lot of deep dish pizza (Lou Malnatis won in my personal competition), played a good amount of ping pong (thank you Hard Rock hotel), saw the incredible AACM exhibit at MCA, and I topped it off by watching a great Cubs game from the bleachers with Red Wierenga and his wonderful wife Kate (with a grand slam included!) Thank you Miguel Montero, Thank you Chicago.
Back to the excuse section, one of the main things that has been occupying my time is all the logistical work related to the fact that my wife and I are “transitioning” to Montreal from Berlin. I have been appointed a professorship at McGill University (go Redbirds!), which is super exciting! And at the same time, sad that at the end of the academic year, we will leave Berlin. I love teaching at Jazz Institute Berlin, so it will be immensely hard to leave.
Speaking of McGill, I will be having a “coming out” party there at Pollack Hall on October 21st with the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. This is part of a little tour, or tourlette (not to be confused with toilet) that also includes:
CD RELEASE Celebration of Songs We Like A Lot
on Sunnyside Records
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 @ 8:00 pm
509 Atlantic Avenue (Entrance at the corner of 3rd Avenue) Brooklyn, NY 11217
General Admission: $20
Series Members — $10 // FREE for All-Access Members // Doors at 7pm
LIVE with the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
featuring Theo Bleckmann, Kate McGarry
and Special Guest, Ben Monder
Ben Kono – sop/alto sax, flute
Jeremy Viner – clarinet/tenor sax
Tony Malaby – ten/sop sax
Dan Willis – ten/sop sax, english horn, flute
Bohdan Hilash – contra-alto clar, bass sax, clar
Mark Patterson – trombone
Mike Christianson – trombone
Jacob Garchik – trombone
Alan Ferber – trombone
Tony Kadleck – trumpet, flugelhorn
Jon Owens – trumpet, flugelhorn
Dave Ballou – trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Holman – trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Tordini – acoustic/electric bass
Matt Mitchell – piano, organ, keyboard
Patricia Franceschy – mallet percussion
John Hollenbeck – drums, composition
Theo Bleckmann – voice
Kate McGarry – voice
JC Sanford – conductor
Special Guest: Ben Monder – guitar
The New York Times recommends us!
“★ John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (Wednesday) The drummer and composer John Hollenbeck uses an orchestra as a panoramic canvas, blending color and texture with an eye toward the sweeping view. His new album, “Songs We Like a Lot,” features an imaginative reframing of nominally unlikely fare — the Carpenters’ smash “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” the Fifth Dimension hit “Up, Up and Away” — performed by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, with Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry on vocals. The singers reprise their roles at this concert, with Mr. Hollenbeck’s namesake band. At 8 p.m., Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, near Third Avenue, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, 917-267-0363, roulette.org. (Chinen)”
As does The New Yorker!
“The percussionist, composer, and arranger Hollenbeck may admire the work of Pete Seeger, Burt Bacharach, Cyndi Lauper, and others, but that doesn’t mean he treats it as if it were scripture. On his new album, “Songs We Like a Lot,” a collaboration with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry, Hollenbeck radically reshapes tunes like “Close to You” and “True Colors” with impunity. Bleckmann, McGarry, and a sizable New York-based contingent join the leader at Roulette. (509 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn. 917-267-0363. June 10.) Night Life“
You can pre-order SWLAL!
You can LISTEN to & pre-order the CD (which will be officially released on June 23rd) at Sunnyside Records.Otherwise, if you ask nice, you can buy a fresh copy at the release show!
The Official Press Release for Songs We Like a Lot, courtesy of Fully Altered Media:
How to follow-up a Grammy-nominated album disarmingly called Songs I Like a Lot? By broadening the canvas and releasing Songs We Like a Lot, of course. John Hollenbeck returns after the triumph of Songs I Like a Lot, accompanied again by vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann and pianist Uri Caine, with an expanded palette and even more robust sonic transformations, encompassing everything from Burt Bacharach to the poetry of Kenneth Patchen, from Cyndi Lauper to a deconstructed “Get Lucky.”
A combination of indelible pop tunes and his own compositions, Songs We Like a Lot is propelled throughout by Hollenbeck’s creative arrangements for the Frankfurt Radio Bigband. These arrangements are heard to spellbinding effect in the album’s opener, a moving reimagining of “How Can I Keep From Singing.” The song is most strongly associated with Pete Seeger, and co-written by him; this rendition is intended as a tribute to the recently departed folksinger, who passed away only last year. A slowly swelling opening fanfare gives way to a steady pulse, which in turn builds, via a lovely tenor solo by Steffen Weber, to a rich crescendo, the horns framing delicious harmonies from McGarry and Bleckmann.
Like Miles Davis before him, Hollenbeck plucks a Cyndi Lauper hit — in this case, “True Colors,” penned by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg — from the pop pantheon, chopping and screwing it into a reconstituted suite that retains the lilting flow of the original while using new harmonies and repetitive motifs to recontextualize the beauty inherent in the song. (And not least rescuing it from Kodak-ad purgatory.)
Among the Hollenbeck originals is “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground,” a delicate composition that originally appeared on the Claudia Quintet’s What is the Beautiful? Bleckmann sings words by poet Kenneth Patchen in both versions; here, rather than the skeletal framework of the quintet, his voice is embraced by a full brass and woodwind blanket of sound. Pianist Uri Caine and vocalist Kate McGarry are two new additions to this lovely, enlarged version.
Another poet’s words figure in the Hollenbeck original “Constant Conversation” — those of 13th-century poet and mystic Rūmī. “Constant Conversation” uses Middle Eastern musical motifs to undergird McGarry’s spoken-word vocal. A riff and a drone and an unerring sense of melody allows Hollenbeck to create an atmosphere that feels at once deeply personal and innately global. This is sole tune on which keyboardist Gary Versace appears on this record, though his piano was heard throughout Songs I Like a Lot.
What John Kelman in his AllAboutJazz.com review of Songs I Like a Lot called “Hollenbeck’s skill at taking small but defining motifs from an original song and use them as starting points for broader orchestrations” is on full display in his reworkings of the pop chestnuts “Close to You” and “Up, Up and Away.” The latter reaches heights never dreamed of by original performers The Fifth Dimension and composer Jimmy Webb. A pulsating fever-dream of horns in flight, “Up, Up and Away” provides the album’s closing burst of color and beauty.
Meanwhile, the Bacharach and David tune “Close to You,” popularized by The Carpenters, maintains the lovely falling harmonies of the original, while Hollenbeck and McGarry extend the refrain repeatedly in a stirring, not-entirely-unsettling bit of musical mesmerism. Other highlights include a brief “de-rangement” of the Daft Punk smash hit “Get Lucky,” based, according to Hollenbeck, “on what I think the Russian Police Choir should have sounded like when they sang it at the Sochi Olympic Games opening ceremony.”
In reviewing Songs I Like a Lot, David Hadju wrote in The New Republic that “you can hear, in [Hollenbeck’s] work, the collapse of cultural borders, the shuffling of traditions and influences, the old and the new and the earthy and the urban and the proper and the wiseass, swirling in unstable but unstoppable motion. Hollenbeck is a musician for our time.” This is only more true now.
Looking ahead, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble with Bleckmann and McGarry will be appearing at the next Newport Jazz Festivalon July 31, 2015 , playing selections from this latest recording. Those who lament the turning away from the popular song canon for lyrical inspiration should find much reassurance — not to mention a lot to like — in this latest outing from Hollenbeck & Co. (Grammarians who lament the steady appearance of “alot” in our written correspondence also have reason to cheer.)
I hope to see you on hump day so we can celebrate together! -Johnnycakes
Sorry for the lateness of this, but I’ve busy preparing along with my Monkian cohorts for the Meredith Monk Ensemble Concert at Zankel Hall on Saturday, May 2nd (tomorrow as I write this & today as you read this). If you go, you will hear the hits Dolmen Music and Gotham Lullaby as well as selections from On Behalf of Nature, Mercy and Impermanence – it has been a blast re-visiting these pieces! (If you need an extra incentive, I got a haircut and new shoes!)
Next week from May 6-8, I will be at Cornelia Street Cafe for some special gigs with
The Claudia Quintet.
We will be performing many new pieces (some of which have not been written yet, because the composer is busy writing blogs, etc.) And the special part is: we are recording these gigs for our next release on Cuneiform Records – so if you come and yell at the appropriate times, you too could be on our next CD!
I will leave the appropriate times up to you, but you could yell things like “Claudia Rocks”, “I’m Claudia”, “I like John’s outfit”, “This band is very good”, “Dude!”, “Woohoo!”, “I want to give you a million dollars to play for my daughter’s birthday party, her name is Claudia.” (That last one you could also just say to me privately after the gig.)
Cornelia also has great food in case you did not already know that. There are not too many venues that have the good food/good music combo!
On a serious note, Claudia was lucky enough to play in Kathmandu, Nepal in the fall of 2013. You can watch a little video about that here. We have been checking in on our new friends from Jazzmandu and thankfully they are all ok. Many others are not, so if you can, please help them out. I found this NPR piece helpful if you’re looking to see how you can help.
It has been a while, so I’m packing a LOT of stuff into one blog. Read-look-listen away!
CQ IN EUROPE
Check out this photo album from out our recent jaunt to Barcelona/Cremona/Trieste/Bolzano/Baden/Saalfelden PLUS the debut of the CQ bowling team, Jeremy’s Viner cable car video from Soprabolzano to Bolzano with CQ’s Soterius Lakshmi and this cautionary video demonstrating what happens when I leave the soundcheck for more than 5 minutes.
CQ IN FLORIDA
Thanks to a CMA-funded grant written by some nice gents from Florida (David Manson, Gustavo Matamoros, Matt Gorney), we had a nice little trip to Florida in late February (insert jealousy here). We performed music from Royal Toast with special guest, Fabian Almazan. Here is a little teaser video from our concert at the Timucua White House in Orlando.
CQ VIDEO PROJECT
The latest installment in the CQ Video Project is from Michael Formanski. He chose “Sinanari” which can be found on my recording Rainbow Jimmies. “Sinanari” was written for the Claudia Quintet’s cross-cultural educational journey to Istanbul, commissioned by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. It is my arrangement of a traditional Turkish song, taken apart and put back together (“remixed,” as I like to say) on top of a John Bonham-esque drum part.
CQ GOES TO NEPAL
Julie Mallozzi Productions put this amazing video together documenting our trip to Kathmandu, Nepal for the Jazzmandu 2013 Festival.
72 HOURS IN NOLA
I had a few days free in between the Claudia Quintet tourlette in Florida and some NYC activities. So I decided to rectify an embarrassing fact – that I had never been to New Orleans. Since most of my travel to places far and wide is related to gigs, it is actually not that surprising: New Orleans is the heartbeat of jazz and a real music town, but it is not known for its “experimental music” scene…although I did see positive inroads in that respect too!
Here is a rundown of my 72 hours in New Orleans. Most of my trip was directed by Matt Moran’s great recommendations; he has obviously spent some quality time there! Also got a lot of info from Larry Blumenfeld – I knew he was a good person to contact from reading his enthusiastic blogs, so thanks to both of these guys for their input. Plus I tweeted out that I was flying into NOLA and got some great last-minute recommendations! One of the local radio stations, WWOZ seems to have a big presence, I heard it often in cafes, and their gig calendar was also very helpful!
I did not have much time to think about this trip, so as I was flying into New Orleans I emailed a few old contacts I remembered I had in New Orleans. One of whom I connected with sometime around 2006 when I heard an NPR segment on a US solider in Iraq who composed electronic music using samples from his time in Iraq. After hearing the show, I emailed him, Will Thompson, and to my surprise, he immediately emailed back and told me that he had in fact listened to some Claudia Quintet music during his time in Iraq! I have not been in contact with him in the recent past, and was not even sure if he had made it back to NOLA after Katrina. I was pleased to find his reply in my inbox by the time I got to my hotel and he told me he was playing at this improv series called the Instant Opus Music Series at Gasa Gasa that very night!
After dropping off my things at the hotel, I immediately went to Frenchman Street, which has about 8 music clubs in 2 short blocks. I caught Aurora Nealand’s Royal Rose at Maison. The band sounded so great, relaxed, and they made the traditional repertoire very personal and spontaneous! (not easy to do!) Aurora recommended the Instant Opus series to me as well, so I hopped on St. Charles Streetcar, which is a great slow ride through the Garden District. It was great to hear NOLA musicians in a free improvisation setting and also wonderful to finally meet Will in person!
Tuesday morning started with a café au lait and benignets (fried doughnuts) at Café Du Monde in Jackson Square of the French Quarter. After a good walk around the neighborhoods of Maurigny, Tremé and the French Quarter, I made my way to the Backstreet Museum. This is a grassroots exhibition documenting the Mardi Gras tradition. It was so helpful in clearing up my misconceptions on the history and tradition of this event.
That evening, I caught the first show at the Preservation Hall that was being led that evening by Shannon Powell. Although a little on the touristic side, I felt like it was important to go to this historic venue and just be there, to experience it, the vibe, the room, and of course the music! Hearing Shannon I remembered that NOLA drummers really play from the bottom up, the bass drum is very active and totally related to the bass drum in the brass band tradition. Since then I have been digging Shannon on his recording, Powell’s Place.
After that I once again took the St. Charles Streetcar to the Maple Leaf to hear the Rebirth Brass Band, which was preceded by a scrumptious dinner at Jacque Imo’s, which is right next door!
After a great breakfast at the Cake Café (I heartily recommend the grits), I headed to Gerken’s Bike Shop to check out NOLA on bike.
I had a great bike ride to the Garden District to see more of those incredibly beautiful houses, and an enjoyable ride around Audubon Park where there were hundreds of ducks quacking away with abandon.
I then had a fruitful reunion with John Snyder, actually Professor John Snyder, who is the head of the music industries studies program at Loyola. Man, I wish something like this had existed when I was in school! I know John best from the session he produced many years ago with Bob Brookmeyer and Kenny Wheeler. Looking back, that was such a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of two of my favorite musicians, so I owe John big time for that!
From there I went for an early dinner at Domenica, where I had a killing fried kale salad! (I never thought I would ever write those words in that combination!)
I then headed back to Frenchman and heard the Shotgun Jazz Band at the Spotted Cat. It was a great band, atmosphere and good combination of dancers and listeners. As I was wandering outside during a break, a young brass band, the Young Fellaz Brass Band, started playing at the corner of Frenchman and Chartres. A scene quickly commenced – really good, uninhibited dancers came out of nowhere and within what seemed like seconds, about sixty people had gathered around this intersection to take in the band. The cars that had to slow down considerably in order to get through the intersection did not honk their horns – they just slowed down and dug the music for a few seconds, even seeming happy to do so before moving on. This moment was actually my personal favorite NOLA moment – where else could this happen!? (If you know of another place, let me know!)
Although I was starting to feel some jet lag, I was inspired to go to the Candlestick Lounge to hear the Tremé Brass Band in Tremé! The atmosphere was a friendly neighborhood vibe, somehow the bartender knew I did not want Bud Light, or Heineken….I said “beer!” and she brought a great one, Abita Purple Haze!
On my way back to the hotel, I figured I should raise a glass to celebrate my first trip to NOLA, so I did so at the Roosevelt Hotel bar Sazarac (where they were playing Coltrane in the lobby) – I drank a Sazarac of course. It is the official cocktail of New Orleans!
I found a great morning yoga class at 8am at the Cabildo Museum before it opens. Then for my last two stops in NOLA, I had to go back to Café Du Monde and Cake Café because I enjoyed them so much the first time! And then it was to the airport and back to NYC, where the cold, snowy weather was a bit of a challenge to take in.
I hope to go back soon because I know that I just experienced a sliver of what the city has to offer! Being there also made me re-appreciate the HBO series, Tremé, in that local musicians and venues are featured in the filming and I can now see how successfully it captures and conveys the real vibe and look of NOLA. I’m definitely looking forward to re-watching Tremé.
Meredith Monk AT ZANKEL
This Sunday (3/22) I’m performing at Zankel Hall in a concert celebrating Meredith Monk and her wonderful music! This one may be sold out, but there is another one on May 2nd, go here for more info.