Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jon Crowley on Youtube




Blog #36: YouTube

A friend of mine took some videos earlier this month(12-9-09) of a gig I did at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia. I just got them and posted them on Youtube and on here. The band is John Beaty-Alto Sax, Lucas Brown-Organ, and Justin Leigh- Drums. These clips are "Serenity" by Joe Henderson, "Solar" by Miles Davis and "Mind Travel" by me. This is my first appearance on youtube!

Enjoy

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BandCamp.com / FREE MUSIC DOWNLOADS




Blog # 35: BANDCAMP.com / FREE MUSIC DOWNLOADS



In the spirit of getting my music out there, I've decided to GIVE AWAY some LIVE recordings I've made over the past few years. You will be able to find this music on my new BANDCAMP.com page. You can download the music for FREE!!! It is my hope that if you enjoy this music you will check out my CD, 'Connections'. Which is available on Amazon.com, CDbaby and itunes.


FREE Bootleg Recordings at:

www.JonCrowleyMusic.bandcamp.com


So far, I've uploaded some tracks from a live show @ Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia

AND

A Demo recording a friend of mine made for me back in 2008



Buy the CD at:

www.CDbaby.com/CrowleyJon

www.amazon.com/Connections-Jon-Crowley/dp/B002HAVX34/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1255280168&sr=8-1


ENJOY!


-Jon

www.myspace.com/JonCrowleyMusic


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reviews



Blog# 34 Reviews:


I've been pretty busy the past few weeks, preparing and playing some gigs. Had a fun Show at Solo Kitchen Bar in Brooklyn playing with my old band(from the CD) and a great show in Philly with local musicians Lucas Brown and Justin Leigh. Didn't have a chance to write a new blog so I thought I'd share some new reviews of my album:


Nicholas F Mondello, AllAboutJazz.com wrote:


"In what might be the most perfectly titled CD of recent memory, Connections is a fine effort by talented trumpeter/ composer Jon Crowley and his exciting group. While Crowley might not be a household name just yet, this release announces, anoints and validates him as a fine jazz performer, writer and leader.

What Crowley writes and plays connects solidly throughout with ten selections that seem to resonate with each other somewhat texturally, if not intellectually. There's a sort of Moebius-like feel that connects each tune; however, each is highly original and stands on its own. Vaguely reminiscent of the classic tunes from the small group jazz canon, Connections reflects the past yet peeks into Crowley's own talented future.

Backed here by a set of great musicians, it is obvious that this group is a tight unit. Outstanding alto saxophonist John Beaty seems to be the perfect musical foil for Crowley's solo efforts with an intelligent and surprisingly inventive style with great energy on "Right Now." The rhythm section of bassist Peter Schwebs and drummer Nick Anderson, along with keyboardist Yayoi Ikawa, are marvelous as they provide the perfect platform for the frontline. Their harmonic and rhythmic subtleties shine with repeated listens.

The compositions range from the rhythmically complex ("Connections," "Tabula Rasa," and "Vista") to haunting, beautifully balladry ("Momentum," "Ambrosia," and "Icarus") and white-hot straight-ahead ("Right Now").

As a trumpeter, Crowley exhibits maturity and a marvelously warm sound. His approach to the instrument is solid, controlled, and highly lyrical. While there are the usual—and easily recognizable—"suspects" lurking within (shades of Tom Harrell, John Swana, Freddie Hubbard), Crowley piques interest with a creative approach. This is one smart trumpeter and composer: he knows where his roots are and how to develop a unique style nourished and energized by and connected to those roots.

Connections is an enjoyable effort by a terrific young talent and his crew. It indeed connects on many levels— all of them superbly.


Bruce Lindsay, AllAboutJazz.com wrote:


On the evidence of its debut, Connections, the New York-based Jon Crowley Quintet has huge potential. The ten tracks, all composed by leader and trumpeter Crowley, are immediately accessible but have sufficient depth and complexity to reward repeated listening. The band's technical ability is uniformly strong, but technique never takes precedence over an emotional connection with the music—the result is a mature and thoughtful album that belies the youth and relative inexperience of the musicians.

Although Crowley is the group's leader and composer, as well as the album's producer, he by no means overwhelms the other players. Indeed, he doesn't take a solo on the opening tune, the post-bop style "Connections," giving the album's first solo spot to alto saxophonist John Beaty and the second to pianist Yayoi Ikawa. Crowley's first solo appears on the beautiful "Momentum," which opens with Crowley and Beaty playing contrasting but complementary melodies, before Crowley takes the spotlight with a warm and lyrical performance.

"Bass Intro," as the title suggests, is a brief track consisting of a bass solo from Peter Schwebs which moves seamlessly into "Tabula Rasa," on which Crowley's solo and Nick Anderson's drums in particular suggest Middle Eastern influences. By contrast, "Vista" is a brighter, more upbeat tune that opens strongly with a funky, Horace Silver-ish melody. Beaty and Crowley then trade phrases—for slightly too long—before Ikawa's bright and delicate piano solo. The most up-tempo tune on the CD, "Right Now," has the drive and immediacy suggested by its title and features a tight, precise solo from Beaty. This suddenly cuts to Anderson's inventive drum solo before the ensemble returns for the tune's closing bars.

Sound quality on the album is outstanding—there is a brightness to the recording that enables all of the instruments to be heard clearly and distinctly. In fact, from the packaging to the mastering this is an impressive debut. Crowley's strong compositions coupled with the musical talents of all five band members make Connections a first album to be proud of.


Tim Niland, Jazzandblues.blogspot..com wrote:


Continuing the great track record of jazz musicians from Philadelphia, trumpet and flugelhorn player Jon Crowley has moved on to New York, earning his stripes with a wide variety of musicians. His debut album album has the feel and passion of a Blue Note date from the mid 60’s, but is still modern and fresh, not time worn in any way. Crowley is joined by John Beaty on alto saxophone, Yayoi Ikawa on piano, Peter Schwebs on bass and Nick Anderson on drums. “Connections” opens the album with an uptempo, ear-catching melody then a strong fluid saxophone solo backed by propulsive piano trio. The music becomes very exciting as Ikawa’s piano has a full bodied sound, Tyner-ish in its inflections. Crowley’s trumpet takes things out with strong clarion melodic statement. “Momentum” has a mid tempo yearning melody, then a supple and patient trumpet solo. A spare piano interlude opens like a gentle rain shower. After a spacious bass opening, “Tabula Rasa” has spare haunted trumpet and lonely saxophone intertwining, before the rest of the group falls in. The pace picks up behind some strong trumpet soloing in front of the piano trio. Schwebs’ strong elastic bass keeps everything well grounded. “Vista” has mid tempo trumpet and saxophone trading ideas, then picking up speed like a couple of trapeze artists before proceeding to exciting full band collective improv, and then slowing down with nice piano trio interlude. “Ambrosia” is a ballad with Crowley getting a rich and lush tone from his instrument. “Icarus” has mid tempo trumpet and saxophone collaborating for a nice round patient sound, before making way for a punchy trumpet solo. “Right Now” is a strong fast uptempo performance centering around a wicked hot saxophone solo, spiraling notes a focused beam, and a strong deeply rhythmic drum solo. “City Mood” slows things to a medium tempo, with strong yearning saxophone, Beaty is really pushing hard, occasionally overblown, echoing the most exploratory playing of Kenny Garrett. The musicians come to a strong collective finish. “Decision” opens in a spare and thoughtful fashion, and then picks up to mid tempo with nice searching saxophone solo. Round sounding trumpet, mid fast controlled a supple bass solo finish things off. This was an excellent example of music being made by young musicians on the New York scene. Talented performers drawing for a variety of inspirations making wonderful sounds.


Monday, November 30, 2009

What I've learned from Jam Sessions


Blog # 33: What I've learned from Jam Sessions


I think I've learned something from every jam session I've attended; What works and What doesn't work.




1. Interact with the rhythm Section

I can't tell you how many times I've seen saxophone players or guitar players let the 8th notes fly with no regard to what's going on in the rhythm section, their phrases punctuated only by their breathing. If you play without listening or interacting with the rhythm section, you might as well stay home and practice to an aebersold play-along. Granted, there will be situations at Jams where the rhythm section might not be very good, in which case, you might be better off charging ahead in spite of them, but why not test the waters first? See what they have to offer; throw something out there, wait and see how they react.


2. Don't just play continuous 8th notes

If you play nothing but 8th notes without pausing except to take in air, you'll put the audience to sleep. I'm sure this doesn't come as any revelation, but rhythm may be the most important element of jazz. There is a world beyond 8th notes, just pick up any Joe Henderson Album. Listening to someone play nothing but 8th notes is quite boring.



3. Build a Solo

Strangely enough, most people have no idea how to build a solo. A solo is supposed to take people on a journey. A good solo is like a good movie, it has a beginning, middle and end. It has character development, a plot, a message/concept and a climax. The most obvious way to build a solo is to start with a simple melodic idea, leave some space, then play another idea that is a reaction to the first. Continuing this way becoming increasingly busy until you reach a peak. DYNAMICS ARE VERY IMPORTANT, use them to help build your solo, sometimes they are hard to use at a jam session because of the format, but it can't hurt to try. Your solo can build in more ways than described above, but that is the most obvious way. (What if you built, and then came down, and then built up again?)



4. Try to make something happen

As a musician in New York, I can say that there are a lot of people that can play, but that's not enough any more. I think its important to try to MAKE something different happen. If the band is playing a bop tune and everyone is playing in the same style, why not try to imply a different feel with your solo. Try to break it up so that things don't get repetitive or boring for the audience(or the musicians). Think of Tony Williams' playing with Miles Davis' Quintet. Was there ever a time when Tony wasn't trying to make something happen?



5. Develop a concept

I think one thing that is good to think about is having a concept to your solo. I think improvisors sometimes forget that we have a lot more options than we think. What if we made the concept of the solo something pointillistic, or based off of held out notes?(this would certain give the rhythm section different things to think about). What if your whole solo was based off the concept of octave displacement? What if you played rubato on top of a moving rhythm section? What if you based your solo off of chord inversions, or voice leading? Or extended arpeggiated figures covering the whole ranger of your instrument? Or off a totally different super-imposed rhythmic idea? What if you forced a 12 tone row on top of a standard? Maybe its time to just sit deep in the pocket and swing? The point I'm making is that there are a lot of options out there to explore.




6. Be Different; More Bebop--why bother?

One thing that I've noticed in attending Jam Sessions over the years is that most people play the same old shit. I'm not going to argue about the validity of the bebop tradition, clearly it is a working system of playing jazz, but if one alto player finishes a solo where he's done nothing but rip Charlie Parker Licks, the last thing I want to hear is the next guy do the same thing and rip MORE Charlie Parker Licks. If you want to be remembered, Separate yourself from the pack or be forgotten. I think it is important to try to be different. Its nice to offer some contrast to the other soloists. Try to make your solo a reaction to the one before it, or just do something completely different. With that said, if the guy before finishes a solo where he's played very chromatically, it might be a good time to play very inside.



7. "I'd rather play a bad solo than a boring one"

A few months back after attending a session, I came to the conclusion that this was going to have to be my new motto. That night I saw a lot of people just 'going through the motions'. The musicians that night seemed to be playing it safe. I came to the realization that I would rather go big and fail than play a safe boring solo. I would rather try something different and make mistakes than take play a dull or predictable solo. I have no problem making mistakes, missing notes etc, I would rather hear these things than someone 'playing it safe'. So whether I am succeeding at this or not, this is what I strive for. A Jam session is a great time to explore and try new things(Obviously we all have different concepts of 'what is boring')



8. Keep it short, don't ramble

I mentioned this in my last blog, if you're at a jam session this is not the time to take a John Coltrane style 15 minute solo. A Jam session is not your gig, the people are not there JUST to see you. Play a few chorus and get out.



9. Its hard to fly when you're draggin' weights

One thing I've learned at Jam Sessions is that you're only as good as your rhythm section. I've seen great players sit in and play with shitty rhythm sections and not sound very good The reality is that not every drummer is going to be creative, not ever bass player is going to have good time and note choice and not every piano player is going to know how to comp. Sometimes you just gotta make the best outta what you got.



10. Singers.....

Call me a snob or an elitist, but I avoid playing with any singers I haven't heard before. I've seen so many Jam Session train-wrecks that were the Singer's faults. I've seen singers ask for tunes is specific keys and have a rhythm section set the tune up and STILL come in in a different key, then the band has to find what key the singer is in and adjust. I've heard enough tone-deaf scat solos to want to avoid playing a song at a Jam Session with a Singer. The moral I've learned is be prepared, you might be getting yourself into some funny business.



Lastly, I want to say, that I know I'm not perfect, but these thoughts above are things I think about when approaching music, they are ideals are what I strive towards. Learning to play improvised music is about the process and my thoughts shared here are just my reactions to this process.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jam Sessions pt 1

Brooklyn Jam Session, Jon Crowley-trumpet
Front Door at Systems Two Studios, Brooklyn NY
Horns Set-up for my Recording Jan '09, John Beaty(pictured)





Blog # 32 Jam Sessions


Jam Sessions have always been an important part of the jazz scene since the very beginning. I've had some fun times and some, and also some of my most frustrating musical experiences at others


One thing is for sure ; I've learned a lot from Jam Sessions both in what to do and what not to do.


Worst Jam Session Stories:


I've seen a trombone player finish his solo, then sit behind the piano player. While the piano player was soloing, the Trombone player starts playing 'quietly' to himself; only it really wasn't that quiet. It was completely rude and the piano player had to stop, turn around and say 'Come on man!"


I was at a session earlier this year in Brooklyn where the bass player called "There will never be another you", somehow the piano player heard 'There is no greater Love'. The sax player counted off the tune and then didn't play the melody, instead launching into a very chromatic solo. The result: a train wreck as two different tunes were played simultaneously.


A few weeks ago I was at a real doo-zee of session in the Village. The piano player spent the entire time looking at himself in a mirror and making sure he really 'looked like a jazz musician' instead of actually playing and paying attention to the music. The drummer on the stage bashed away at the set having no concept of form or phrasing and was dropping and adding beats haphazardly. After he finished sitting in, he sat at the bar 3 feet from the band and proceeded to sing loudly while the band played. SO INCREDIBLY RUDE! A fight almost ensued between him and the leader, as a result of this horrible etiquette.


One thing that happens quite frequently, is a singer will call a tune is a specific key, then ask for a rhythm section intro. The band will play the most obvious intro and then the singer will STILL come in in a different key. Knowledge of form is arguably the most important thing in music.


I've seen someone call a blues and then 10 horn players pull out their instruments and bum rush the stage. It is my opinion that there should be no more than 5 soloists per song. I don't think I'm alone in not wanting to hear a 45 min version of a blues.


If you are sitting in, play one or two tunes and then leave the stage and let someone else play. If there is time at the end after everyone has played you may get asked to play another tune. If you get invited up, don't just stay on stage all night and keep playing tunes. Let everyone get a chance.


Lastly, a Jam session is not your gig. Play a few choruses and get out. No one has come to see you and only you play. More than a few choruses and you're just being rude self-centered. I've seen people sitting in take some VERY long solos.


Next blog entry: What I've learned from Jam Sessions


***Please feel Free to Comment with your Jam Session Horror Stories***


Monday, November 16, 2009

Era of the Unrehearsed Band

Jon Crowley Quintet @ Chris' Jazz Cafe, Jan '09 (1 week before recording the album)





Blog # 31: Era of the Unrehearsed band


Years ago, when Jazz was at its peak of popularity, many bands roamed the earth performing frequently, developing their own 'band sounds' and playing 'tight' arrangements. We've all seen the photos of club fronts with signs reading; "Miles Davis Quintet tonight, Horace Silver Quintet tomorrow".


From my experience over the last year, those times have changed, if they ever existed in the first place. I question if they ever existed because there are a lot of myths about the jazz scene of the past that simply aren't true.


I can tell you this, as a trumpet player on the scene in New York City; most bands you see are pick-up groups. This does not mean that the musicians have never played together before, but it very well could mean that they have never played together in that combination or playing that music. I know this might seem impossible considering the incredible performances you might hear at any club on any given night, but those performances are possible due only to the incredibly level of musicianship possessed by people like Chris Potter, Ari Hoenig, Ben Monder ETC. (Just check out their schedules on myspace, they play with different bands each night)


I remember a few years ago when I first moved to NYC and was going to NYU. My band at the time consisted of friends of mine that were also students and the general mentality was that we all had a fair amount of free time so we would rehearse, hang, play and perform frequently.


Life out of school in the real world is very different. Young musicians are taking work where they can find it. Teaching two days a week, playing a wedding gig out on long Island, a few days on the road with a band, doing some copy work for pop act, Church Gigs and Subway hits. This makes everyone's schedule's a hodgepodge day-to-day scheduling nightmare. Rehearsing a band weekly, and doing gigs with the same group just doesn't happen. Now, when you book a gig you make some calls and say "Can you do the gig on this day and the rehearsal on this day", if they can't do both you get someone else.


There are steady working bands that still tour and play, like the Dave Holland Quintet, Terence Blanchard's Groups, but they are the exception. The jazz apprenticeship system is loosing steam simply because the older generation of 'well-known' musicians are either dying or taking jobs at Universities, which keep them off the road. It would seem there is a great separation in class structure between the very rich and the very poor.


Perhaps the scene has always been like this, and its the idea that there are tons of well rehearsed bands in New York City that is purely fiction. I know that before Miles Davis was signed to Colombia he toured with Philly Joe Jones picking up local rhythm sections in whatever town they played in.


I will leave with this; last month I saw a band at Cornelia Street Cafe consisting of a lot of up-and-coming talent. The performance was pretty mediocre due to the fact that the musicians were so buried in their music stands. It was obvious they were under-rehearsed. and the real shame is that that music would have really taken off with more time to prepare.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Charts













Blog #30: Charts

Here are all the Charts from my Album "Connections". For simplicity of reading, I included only the horn parts(melody), and left out the bass, piano and drum parts. Everything is in Concert Key. For those of you that have the album, I thought it might be interesting for you to see the written music. Everything is published and copyrighted.

ENJOY!

-JC

(if you have trouble opening the charts, you can first click them, then use the right click "copy image address" and paste that as your web address)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stage Etiquette



Blog #29: Stage Etiquette


I was playing a show last month in Brooklyn with my band and had a very interesting conversation afterward with my friend that was in the audience. He told me that he knew exactly when I was unhappy with what the band was playing just from watching my face and body language. This really got me thinking about how musicians handle themselves on stage.


I'll have to admit, I have never put a lot of thought into this subject. When I am on stage I am fully focused on the music and not really thinking about how the audience is viewing me. When I think my band members are fucking up the music, it bothers me. I don't get mad at the musicians or anything like that, its more that I wish we could have gone over things better in rehearsal. I guess, its the perfectionist in me, and when we're playing my original music, I am VERY picky, because I know what it is supposed to sound like.


If I think someone in my band isn't giving their all, this pisses me off too. I want everyone on stage to be emotionally invested in what we're doing. If they make mistakes that's cool(and should be encouraged) as long as they are really going for something, but I don't tolerate people just 'phoning it in' or just 'going through the motions'.


All this is fine and good, but I have to start masking some of these feelings better on stage. These things should be discussed after the show. If the audience sees that I'm not happy with the performance, this might affect their opinion of the music.


PAST MISTAKES:


Years ago a friend told me I have the tendency of 'slinking' off after I solo, which apparently gives the appearance of 'lack of confidence'. I always viewed it as, 'getting out of the way' so the next soloist/the band could take center stage. Hopefully I've put that bad habit to rest.


I remember back to the days of playing in Funk bands in college, the horn section used to talk and mess around while the members of the rhythm section were soloing. This is something I would never do now because it is pretty disrespectful. Back then, I was playing music I did not care about, and it showed in my stage behavior. Now, I like to think I'm a lot more professional.


PUTTING ON A 'SHOW'


I've had people tell me over the years that I need to talk more to the audience between songs. I'm kind of conflicted on this one. I know a lot of very successful musicians that are great at telling stories about the songs, talking to the audience and making small talk. I could explain the deep meaning behind the tunes, but a lot of this stuff is pretty personal, and I'm a very introverted person. Big speeches have never been my strong suit. I guess I wish it could just be about the music and not about smooth talking, looking good, and winning a beauty contest.


I'm an artist, not a politician; to me the music speaks for itself.


After the conversation with my friend, I think its important to think about how we as musicians carry ourselves on stage. We should remain respectful to the audience and fellow musicians, while remaining true to ourselves. Sometimes its good to take a step back and self-analyse how we're conducting ourselves and not just the music we make. In the end though, how we handle ourselves on stage and represent ourselves is for each of us to decide.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Advertising and the College Market


Blog #28: Advertising and The College Market


So now that the album is finished I've been trying to get the word out.

Here is where I've advertised so far:


email to friends/fans

myspace message

myspace 'bulletin'

trumpetherald.com forum announcement

trumpetmaster.com forum announcement

Different 'groups' on facebook

Facebook messages to friends/fans

Saxontheweb.net

CDBaby


I've also sent CDs to be reviewed at

JazzReview.com

AllMusic.com

AllAboutJazz.com

Jazz Times


I've sold some CD's through these different approaches but so far nothing compares to playing a show and selling copies afterwards. It seems like that's the time I sell the most CDs.


At the moment I am also doing some research into possibly playing at Colleges in the future. I had a flyer/postcard made that I'm going to send to Colleges and see if I can get some gigs. Playing for colleges intrigues me, because Jazz Clubs outside of New York are generally pretty musically conservative(Jazz Clubs in New York are very clicky). My music is modern but not avant garde. This kind of middle ground makes it kind of difficult to find venues that cater to this. There are a lot of jazz clubs that feature nothing but straight-ahead jazz and a lot of performance spaces that feature Avant garde music, but not a lot that are really open to creative instrumental music that doesn't fit into a specific box.


Colleges, and young people in general, are pretty open to different things, so I'm curious to see how gigs at Colleges go over. So far I've called a bunch of schools and gotten mailing address for 'Student Activities' and have sent some flyers. We'll see what happens.


I'm looking forward to the hustle and trying to figure out this whole 'business' thing. It is a new challenge.


-JC


www.myspace.com/JonCrowleyMusic


Buy the CD at:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/crowleyjon

Amazon.com


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Questions and Thank-you's

John Beaty-Alto Sax, photo by Monica Muller



Blog # 27: Questions and Thank-you's


I've had a couple people ask me this questions so I thought I'd field it on this blog.


"I was really surprised listening to your album, you didn't solo on the first track;'Connections or on the song "Right Now'"?


I actually spent a lot of time before going into the studio thinking about if I was going to solo on every track(I'm sure most people would have assumed I would, but I tend to question everything). I decided that I really wanted to make a record that showcased "The Jon Crowley Quintet", and not just "Jon Crowley". I'm really proud of this group of young New York City musicians that I've been playing with for the past few years and wanted this record to be about "us" as a whole.

The composer and conceptualizer in me wanted to give the record as much variety as possible, both in song/feels/tempos and in soloists. Each track generally has two soloists, for two reasons, firstly because I didn't want the songs to 'drag on' at all, and secondly because I wanted to feature a lot of my compositions on this record.

Putting the song 'Connections' first, a song that I do not solo on, I think sends my message that this record will be about the band and not just about me soloing, (though I do get a lot of solo space throughout the record)


"In another blog, You mentioned there is another harmony line for trombone for Decision, why isn't it on the record?"


I originally thought about having Joe Beaty play trombone on Decision. Joe is my sax player John's twin Brother. Unfortunately, Joe was having open heart surgery during the second day of the recording. (The surgery went great and Joe no longer has any heart problems). Obviously we were all concerned about Joe, but I was also worried about John and even thought about getting someone else to replace him, he assured me he'd be fine. John even played a gig out of town the night before the first day of recording and got back to New York at 5 am that morning. I was pretty worried that he wouldn't be able to play. (I even had back-up material planned in case John was too physically and emotionally out-of-it to play).

John really proved me wrong, not only did he show up and play his ass off, he was probably the most consistent guy on the session. SO, big props and thanks to John Beaty: dude is a warrior and a beast of a musician.


"What equipment are you playing on the record?"


I am playing a Bach 43 Strad. Trumpet with a Bach 5C mouthpiece and a Kanstul 1525 Flugelhorn with a Bach 5A mouthpiece. I have played this same equipment for the past 8 years, recently however I have switched to a Monette B6 mouthpiece for trumpet.


The Mic I used for the recording was previously owned by John Coltrane, given to Systems two by Ravi Coltrane.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Music of 'Connections' pt 2

photo from a jam session in brooklyn, by mitchell parsons



Blog # 26: The Music of Connections Pt 2


Ambrosia is a mysterious ballad. I had the sax come in with a harmony line for the second time through the head to change the texture. This song contains a lot of minor-maj7th chords and maj7#5 chords that fit the unsettled vibe of the song. I named this tune 'Ambrosia' which is the 'nectar of the gods' in greek mythology. According to legend, the greek gods had to drink this substance to stay immortal. This got me to think about the idea of addiction. If the gods had to drink 'Ambrosia', then they were addicted to it in a way; which means they were slaves to it. I think the image of old gods consuming this strange substance in a dark, smokey room really represent this song well and its exotic vibe. I think there is something majestic yet melancholy about this song. I find that coming up with a visual image helps me get into feel/vibe of a tune better. I'm sure people are familiar with the idea of 'program music' and Berlioz's "symphony fantastique."


For Icarus, I wanted to do something that would change the form a little bit so it wouldn't be just a 'lead-sheet' tune. We start this one with a vamp up front on Ebmaj6/9#11. The harmonies I use for the horns come from the piano voices I used when I wrote the song. The form of this song follows the Greek Myth of Icarus. Icarus and his father were prisoners on the island of Crete. His father made the two of them wings out of feathers and wax so they could fly off the island, but warned Icarus that if he flew too close to the sun his wings would melt and he would fall. The first chord(Ebmaj7#11) represents the first part of the flight, where Icarus feels happiness and excitement flying over the open ocean. The maj#5 that hits in bar 7 represents a moment of concern, maybe Icarus looks at his wings, sees they are melting but doesn't realize how serious the problem is. At bar 9, I used a maj7#9#11 to represent that moment of panic for when Icarus realizes the full extent of his mistake and that he has flown too high. And the descending maj7#11 chords at the end of the tune represent his fall into the ocean. Its also worth mentioning that its a 17 bar form.


Right Now is a burner and features John Beaty on Alto Sax and Nick Anderson on drums. This tune has a a strange structure, as far as phrase lengths. The phrases break down to 6,5,4,6,4(bar phrases respectively). John solos on the form and Nick takes an open solo. There is something about this tune that reminds me of Joe Henderson(one of my main influences), but I can't figure out what it is. I named it "Right Now" because I wanted something that represents the urgency of this tune, and an aggressive excitement; like a fighter about to enter the ring. Sometimes when listening to John Coltrane's quartet I have the feeling that those guys are playing music like they are ready to die right there on the bandstand. I wanted to write something with that feeling.


City Mood was inspired by Dave Holland's music, which I am a big fan of. I wrote this during a period in which I was trying to write counter-melodies that could stand alone IE either the trumpet OR the sax could be the actual melody. This tune also plays around with delayed resolutions between the Trumpet and Sax parts, having the trumpet finish a phrase and then the sax with finish its phrase a beat or two behind. After the Sax and Piano solos we have a building section on the opening vamp where the Trumpet and Sax solo together before playing the head-out.


I named this tune 'City Mood' because I wanted it to have that dark feeling of walking around a bad neighborhood late at night. When I am in this situation I put on certain mental attitude of toughness, usually accompanied with a 'don't mess with me' scowl on my face. I would say the feeling behind this song is readiness and alertness...."something might go down"


Decision is one of the first songs I ever wrote. I wrote it during my time at NYU when I was listening to tons of Alex Sipiagin. It uses the same concept I used in writing 'Momentum', where the two different horn lines are both parts of a collective melody. I was also spending a lot of time at this point writing counterpoint and this tune is a great example of this. There is actual a third melody that can be played on top of the two heard on this record, written for trombone. The form of this tune is AABBAA(with some added chords on the B section for the solo form). The progression for the A section is Abmaj6/9, Bmaj7nat.11, Eb-11, F#13sus


The concept behind the title was my decision between moving back to Philadelphia after graduating NYU or staying in New York City. The two horn melodies represent those different conflicting ideas. This was a hard decision at the time because Philadelphia represented home, safety and stability, and New York represented uncertainty, adventure and a new frontier. In the end, I chose to stay in New York. Fortunately, I will always have ties to Philadelphia due to my family and friends there. I always enjoy coming back to Philly and playing there.


If you made it through all this reading, thanks so much. I hope you enjoyed this inside look at the music and concept behind the album. Thank you for being a part of my musical experience that was "Connections".


The Music of 'Connections' pt 1

Photo by John Lewis

Blog 25: The Music of "Connections"


I wanted to just take a second to talk about the music on the record. In the liner notes I talked about the musicians and the music in a general sense, but I thought I'd go into a little more detail in this blog.


'Connections' is the first tune on the album and is based on a rhythm in 11/4(three bars of 3/4 and a bar of 2/4). This rhythmic phrase is used against some sections of good old fashioned 3/4. Another thing worth mentioning is the use the chord F#triad/Cmaj7 or Cmaj7b9#11b13. Some people call this 'the stravinsky chord'. This part of the tune adds some intensity in the middle of the form that is fun to play off of.


The title of this tune(and the album, "Connections") come from the idea that everyone and everything in the universe is linked in some way. I started really thinking about this and the idea of synchronicity after a series of coincidences last spring. This lead me to think a lot about the concept of 'coincidence', 'Chance', and 'Chaos and Order'. I would have a strange 'deja vu' type feeling about a random object, name or idea and then subsequently would be put face to face with that thing days later. I don't believe its possible for anyone to have the ability to see the future, so the only way I could make sense of these ideas was through the concept that everything is connected. The affects of anything, no matter how seemingly trivial or pointless, ripple out and are felt throughout the universe. Everything is Connected, so, in a way: music is math is art is psychology is history is....


Momentum is a modal tune I wrote during a period in which I was trying to write melodies that were played by an ensemble as a whole rather than being stated by any individual instrument. The idea being that the trumpet part is just a portion of the melody and that the real full melody is the combination of everyone's individual parts. So that no one is really playing the melody, but we are all playing parts of it, than you can only hear the whole thing when you step back. The solo form is 4, 8 bar sections, each based on one tonality.


The title of the tune came originally from the tempo. The half-time feel is very difficult to play without rushing or slowing down. I feel this song as a 'slow walk' pace, so the steadiness of the tempo and feel are juxtaposed with the fact that each solo builds intensity. Simply said, this tune is all about keeping the Momentum going. I also called it 'Momentum' to remind myself of the saying "Nothing Succeeds like Success". Its easy to feel the momentum when things are going your way, but we all must stay strong when we have set-backs, and to remember not to let these roadblocks stop us...to keep our momentum


Tabula Rasa is based on two superimposed maj7 chords a half step apart; Dmaj7 and Ebmaj7 or Dmaj7b9b13(with a natural 11). It has a very exotic flavor and a lot of people tell me it reminds them of Middle Eastern music. This seems to be my most popular song when we play it live. Tabula Rasa, means 'clean slate' in latin. I named it this because the solo section really end up being almost atonal over a D pedal note. The tonality mentioned above is a point of departure. I wanted each soloist to have the freedom and a 'clean slate' to create something new based on just that one note; D.



Vista is a fun upbeat tune based off a phrase in 15/4(a bar of 7/4 and a bar of 8/4). These bars break down in terms of beats to (3+4 and 3+5). The bridge of the tune is in regular 4/4 time. The trumpet and sax solo together over the 15/4 section and the piano solos over same chord progression as the bridge. Even though this tune is a bit complicated as far as the time signature, it reminds me of a Horace Silver-type tune, because of the horn harmonies and especially because of the bridge. I listened to a lot of Horace Silver when I was in high school and am also a huge Dave Holland fan, so I think of this tune as a meeting point between those two styles.


The definition of Vista is "a distant view...especially one seen through an opening" and "an Awareness of a range of time, events or subjects; a broad mental view". This relates to the ideas discussed above regarding 'Connections'. I named the tune this because I am the kind of person who is always thinking about the future and different possibilities. I like to know all the factors and then try to predict events and what will happen. I think one reason I love jazz and writing tunes, is that the tunes are all little games in a way and the fun part is seeing how the songs will play out. Knowing the people(the musicians' musical personalities), and the game(the song) and then seeing what that unpredictable factory is that makes the songs turn out different every time we play them. (Those of you who are reading and know about Myers-Briggs personality theory, I'm an INTJ, so this all makes perfect sense :)


Improvised music at its best is a wonderful surprise.