Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Student and The Teacher

Blog # 110: The Student and The Teacher

It's now August 29th.  I'm fully aware that I don't write blogs as much as I used to, it's not like nothing has been happening, I think I've just had an evolving relationship with technology(Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, etc) and am trying to filter what I say a bit more.

It's been an interesting month and a half since my last blog entry.  For starters, I've come to terms with the fact that how I view the trumpet has now dramatically changed.  With my former teacher Laurie gone, there is no safety net.  I'd always thought that if any sort of accident happened to my chops I'd have her there to fix me.  That sounds simple, but the level of care, value and love with which I think of that with can't be understated.  With her gone, I am now the teacher AND the student…maybe that's the natural evolution of things, maybe it's the spot we all find ourselves in eventually…after all I already had students prior to this.

For starters, since her passing I spent a lot of time going through my notes from the years of lessons I took with her.  The beauty of that period was that I just put my total faith in her, did the exercises and knew I would get better.  Part of the amazing thing in that method was that I didn't have to think; that was Laurie's job.  While I studied with her, she gave me an assignment each week, putting the sheets in a binder which I kept.  When I'd show up, she'd look over what I did the previous week, ask me to play something and then give a revised version with a minor tweaking.  She once told me: "If something ever happens to you, you'll be able to look through this binder and build yourself back from anything that goes wrong."  So I now look at this binder as one of the most valuable things I own.  It is part of her mind made tangible.

Since Laurie's passing, I went through the binder and saw week by week what she was doing in an analytical way for the first time.   I really gave thought to the 'why' of her method, and it was clear to me looking at the big picture of her work how much of a genius she was.  Looking at the whole thing, I totally understand what she was doing: it's like seeing an incredibly complex math formula that boils down to just a few simple principles and how they effect everything.  It is a simple solution that explains all.

It's human nature to settle into what's comfortable and avoid challenging oneself; after all that requires taking yourself out of your comfort zone.  Thinking a lot about Laurie's method, I came to the conclusion that it really is endless.  Looking at how the exercises evolve, there is no limits to it.  You can extrapolate a pattern and then create the next in the series of drills.  I can cultivate the skills to play anything, it really just becomes what is any student's particular musical focus and goal.  If its pure technique, I could even create a student with technique far greater than my own, it's a simple matter of using the right set of exercise.

I've had essential two routines I've done over the past few years; a long one(2 hours; her "integrated warm-up"), and a short 1 hour one.  I alternate the two daily.  I usually hit some of her articulation exercises and caruso 6 note variations later in the day too.  I'd been going through them just as a way to maintain my chops, but since Laurie's death, I've realized this was the wrong mental attitude to have.  The approach should always be "growth."  If you're not challenging yourself, you won't grow.  So in the past few months I've viewed this set of trumpet exercises differently.  I now think of myself as two people in the room.  One is the student, one is the teacher.  The student version of myself plays the exercise without judgement, without attachment and without thought.  The teacher version of myself listens, without attachment, and doesn't let the student ever become comfortable or complacent.  He gives the next exercise, he creates something just out of reach.  He raises the bar.  It is a never ending process.  The teacher is my memory of Laurie, through my knowledge of her method and approach.  A good teacher knows that they are a student also in this endless journey.  It has been interesting and intense, but I'm noticing changes already.  I've gone through her other book Flexus and have noticed some REALLY advanced exercise that I never got to with her that go into the extreme upper register, and in the past month, based on her development process, I've added them to my routine in a controlled fashion.  Progress is never ending.  Technique can go as far as the mind can conceive it.

This is a never ending process.  Laurie is gone, but I can't let that change anything, if anything it means I need to step up, and raise the bar.  I need to conjure her approach and her process.  That is what I take from her; the endless journey.  Now that I've studied and had time to think about it, I understand what she was doing.  I am the student and the teacher.  The best tribute is to keep working, keeping her method alive and evolving it with my students.  It can grow infinitely.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Remembering Laurie Frink

Remembering Laurie Frink

In the spring of 2005 I was wrapping up my final months at Muhlenberg College in Allentown PA.  While my time there did cultivate a serious enthusiasm for Music, 4 years without a trumpet teacher and a decade of bad habits left something to be desired with my trumpet chops.  I was dedicated and disciplined but had no idea what exercises were helping me and which were hurting me.  I could only practice about 2 hours a day before getting tired and my range topped out at a G on top of the staff.  I was totally lost and knew if I was going to continue playing and possibly make a career out of music I'd need some serious help.

    Laurie Frink was a legend.  I'd heard about her for years and it seemed whenever I'd read an interview with a trumpet player I looked up to, they'd always credit her as being someone that saved their playing.  So that spring I made up my mind that I was going to move to NYC and try to study with Laurie.  Make no bones about it, in my mind this was do or die time.  I wasn't sold on a life in New York City, but I knew if Laurie couldn't fix me, no one could.  So I applied to just one grad school, one I knew she taught at; NYU, luckily I got in.

    I moved to New York City, started at NYU in the Fall of '05 and began taking lessons with Laurie.  They were simple at first, just a few seemingly easy drills that usually proved impossible, until you did them every day for a couple which point she'd replace them with something new and slightly harder.  I put all my faith in Laurie, I believed 100% from the start and I felt the progress as I kept working every day. Building brick by brick, soon I was doing 2 hours of her exercises a day, and after 2 years I was now practicing 5 or 6 hours a day, everyday.  In the end I added nearly an octave to my range.  Early on I remember one time giggling while doing one of her drills and trying to keep the mouthpiece on my lips.  I was laughing because I was so excited that I could feel the exercise working.  She shouted jokingly 'There's no laughing in trumpet playing!'(referencing the line "there's no crying in baseball" from the movie 'A league of their own.'  The method was working.

    One day after having a great week of playing I showed up for a lesson and was surprised at how bad I sounded in her office.  I desperately said "I was playing so well this week I don't know what's happening!", she calmly said "Jon, in this room the worse you sound, the more I can help you."  This changed the way I viewed both taking lessons at the time and how I teach now.  Another time when I was struggling with something in the upper register she told me to 'Stop trying to be so perfect', which was exactly what I needed to hear at the time and really lead to a breakthrough on the horn.  She was part psychologist, part technician and part Zen master.

    I'm sure I was not her best student when I came to playing ability, but she once told me 'a great teacher doesn't take students that are great players, a great teacher can make ANYONE a great player.'  Laurie didn't throw around excessive praise, which was one reason I respected her so much.  She was kind and disarming and made you feel like you were in good hands.  Her office was a place you felt safe.  One time I showed up for a lesson and she said she was having one of those 'I can do anything on the trumpet' days, I told her that when I feel that way I just have to play all day because I can't resist and then pay the price the next day.  She smiled and said "People like us just can't help ourselves."  After 2 years of study, I remember a conversation with Laurie where she told me she was proud of me, that I hadn't made a big fuss about it, but that I'd just kept my head down and did the work and she was happy to see how much progress I'd made.  Coming from her, this meant a lot to me.

    After I graduated NYU I would stop in and get a lesson every few months, and then tapered it back to a 'once a year check-up.'  Towards the end of that time Laurie told me that she had showed me everything and that I could "Self-Medicate" now....I still went back occasionally though.

    Days before I recorded my 2nd album my chops were a mess.  My tone was distorted from a series of loud gigs and a short tour and I was panicking.  I sent Laurie an email and she responded immediately with an exercise to do, then told me to come in the next day.  She calmed me down, walked me through the drill and basically put me back together mentally and physically.  She didn't even charge me for the lesson, which she'd occasionally do by refusing to take my money.  That was just the kind of person Laurie was.

    I hadn't seen Laurie for more than a year, since she was usually just teaching lessons ALL DAY EVERYDAY and that was the only way to see her, but I had heard The Festival of New Trumpet Music was celebrating her this past fall at Cornelia Street Cafe giving her the Lifetime achievement award, obviously I was going to attend.  She sat in the back, uncomfortable with being the center of attention.  I sat in a dark corner, as I usually do, waiting for things to calm down after so I could say hi.  There was a great photo montage of her giving the middle finger to the camera in various places, her sense of humor was another reason we all loved her.  She got up at the very end when she was finally forced to talk and just said "This has been great, it's like being able to attend your own funeral and hear all the nice things people say about you!"  It was a good night for close friends to thank Laurie for what she's given to us and for her friendship. I know it meant a lot to her.  Once people had left I told her that I missed spending time with her since I was no longer taking lessons at that point, and we made plans for me to come up and have a picnic lunch at her apartment.  Sadly, as these things go, I got busy and sidetracked, kept pushing it back and it never happened.

    I will miss Laurie Frink; my 'trumpet mother'.  She was someone I owe so much to, someone I looked up to and wish I had more time with.  I play the exercises she showed me everyday.  I think about her every time I teach and when I see the things that she showed me work for my students.  Above all else, she was my friend and I will miss her.

-Jon Crowley

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Album #3: Recording Day 1

Blog #108: Recording Day 1

So our first recording session went really well.  It was fairly different than the ones I've done in the past.  For starters since it was shorter; take away the hour set up/sound check it was pretty much 3:00-6:00pm.  Everything was first takes, we'd play a song, go into the control room and listen to the track and then immediately try to fix anything.  IE if the trumpet missed a high note on the melody at the end of the tune or if the bass played a wrong note etc.  It was nice to work on the tunes pretty much one at a time and it was a fast pace.  All the musicians did a great job being focused and playing their asses off.  We recorded 6 songs...5 of them are pretty much set and ready to go for the record.  The 6th tune was the first song that we attempted that day and it just felt a little tense, so we'll hit that one again at the next recording session.

I've been listening back to the songs we recorded and I'm really happy with them, I feel like we've got a badass record on our hands, and we're playing music in a style that no one else does.  Can't wait to get this thing out!

Now I'm about to go out of town for all of July, and then Brad(piano/keyboard) is gone all of August with Regina Spektor on tour, so our next recording date will be September.  Hopefully we'll record another short day then, and then a final day early October.  Then it'll just be editing, mixing, mastering, and working on the overall sound and presentation of the record.  I'm thinking of having a very limited amount of actual CDs printed since I do pretty much all download sales these days, maybe do some USB sales instead of CDs...would also save some money and save me some space in my apartment so I wouldn't have boxes of CDs pilled up :P

That's it!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

1 month away from Recording

Blog #107:  1 month away from recording

Its May 2nd and I'm about one month away from starting to record my third album.  For this record I've decided to do EVERYTHING differently.  First of all, almost all jazz records are recorded in two back to back days.  What usually happens is you record for about 8 hours, then you go home listen to the recordings you did that day for another few hours, crash(because its exhausting to be that focused for so long), then wake up and try to do second takes and punch-in corrections the next day.  The whole thing is a total hurricane(or at least it feels that way if you're the leader.) 

For my upcoming album I'm going to do this differently.  The music we've been playing is really energetic and its very hard (if not impossible) to maintain that intensity for 8 hours straight.  The band sprints, its not taking a marathon pace.  When we play live, we can only do 1 set: we go hard.  So we're going to do 3 shorter days(recording for 4 hours at a time.)  This is kind of a gamble, because we'll be essentially trying to nail less songs per day, and if we don't get a good take upon playback, we've wasted those 4 hours.  The 2nd and 3rd day of recording will hopefully be in August and September respectively.  The other reason I'm spreading out the dates is I want more time to listen to the tracks and talk with Brad(keys) and Noah(guitar) about layering extra tracks on top of what we record live.  So it will be a two part process: recording like you would a normal jazz record, live and improvised with the band and pt 2 laying subtle things after the fact, and after thinking about it a lot; much in the way a rock record is recorded.  This also fits the style of the music, which is more rock based.  Essentially I want to slow the whole recording process down.

Another big difference is the size of the band.  Its going to be my first record with a sextet:
Jon Crowley -Trumpet
John Beaty- Alto Sax
Noah Berman- Guitar and Effects
Brad Whiteley- Piano, Rhodes, Effects
Ben Thomas- Bass
Max Maples- Drums

Using guitar and piano is interesting, since I'm writing parts so they can both be playing and comping together behind the soloists instead of taking turns(which is what most people do when they have both in a jazz setting)  Its been cool and a fun challenge to write a writing comping part for one instrument while giving the other the freedom to 'just comp naturally', or for the piano parts, sometimes i write something for the left hand but let Brad comp what he hears with his right hand.  There are lots of other ways the music we'll be recording is different than 99% of jazz records.  For one, all the songs are through-composed; meaning we don't play the melody, take solos on the same form and play the melody again.  Solos are on different structures, lots of cued sections and the pieces evolve and end in different places than they began.  Not that many people are doing this right now, but I believe it to be the future of "jazz".

Lastly, since we'll be doing three days, and soo much material, the stuff we record will end up being a full album AND a shorter EP.: basically two CDs.  We'll release the EP first, then probably 4 months or so later i'll put out the full album.  This will give me time to work on one and then the other as far as editing and laying with the guys.  Besides that a friend of mine is going to be release the EP on his newly founded label, which is exciting and takes some of the monetary stress off me(which is great), hopefully we can get this record out there and really get the music we're doing on the map.

Here's a clip of the stuff we've been working on:

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's been a while

Photos from Agnes Fohn at the Apt Show

It's been a while

Blog # 106

Okay, let me just start by saying sorry.  If you've a frequent reader of my blog, you know I'm usually pretty good at writing a couple posts a month.  I've done at least one a month for the past 4 years.  But I haven't written one since November.. yikes.  Any reason?  No, not really.  I've been practicing just as much, doing a LOT of rehearsals, and meeting and playing with so many new musicians around NYC that I look through my phone at the names and think 'Who are these people?'

I guess I'll share a few things that have happened.  For one, I played a really great show a few weeks ago at a club called Muchmore's in Williamburg Brooklyn.  The show was awesome, and I had a great time.  It was a bill with 3 bands: my band 'Heart of Darkness' played first, then one of my favorite brooklyn bands and friends 'Relatives' played second, and 'Noble Laureate' played last.  Relatives are a avant-garde, folk, rock.. I don't know its hard to describe their music but its awesome.  Katie from 'Relatives' was in a band with me a few years back called 'Red Light Growler' and she set up the show.  Closing the show was 'Noble Laureate', a grunge rock duo lead by my friend Ross, who was also in 'Red Light Growler' back then.  I'm always impressed by the Lyrics he writes, def stuff that makes you think.  Over all it was great to play on a bill with bands that are doing different thing stylistically, I'd like to do more of that in the future and steer away from doing more jazz events at jazz clubs.  I like a lot of different music and the idea of just mixing it all up and presenting it together.  As I've said before most jazz clubs tell me my music isn't 'jazz enough', while anyone who isn't a jazz person sees a trumpet and sax and just labels us 'jazz'.  I can't win.  But this night at Muchmore's was perfect and definitely the direction I'd like to keep going in.  Turn out was great and everyone had a good time.

Here's Relatives:
Here's Noble Laureate:
Here's a few songs we played that night: and

Back in December, we did a house show my apartment, which was a lot of fun.  We had over friends (about 15 people) and played hard! ...until about 9:30 when the downstairs neighbors came up and we're like 'seriously?', hahaha! .... well, we got to play for about 30 min anyway and then Katie and Ian played a duo set after us, which was quieter so that worked out well.  The whole thing was a fun idea, I might try to do something like that again but maybe make it a little earlier in the afternoon...maybe have a few bands play.  It was cool to play for friends though and turn my one room apt into a performance space for a few hours.

Other than that we're gearing up for the next show at Sycamore, my absolute favorite place to play and its only about 15 min from my apt in Brooklyn.  Relatives are going to open for us too, so it should be a great night of music, Thurs March 28th!

Lastly, I've been thinking about recording again.  I do not love the process of recording, being in the studio, having to listen to tracks over and over again, cleaning things up, thinking about cover art, design.  The whole thing isn't enjoyable, but I do love having a finished record, and the other great part about recording is when its finished you can stop playing those songs and move to the next thing.  Everything I play now has been written in the past 2 years and hasn't been recorded yet, so I'd like to document all that music, which is drastically different than both of my previous albums.  I actually have so much material I could probably do 2 albums, so I've been entertaining the idea of doing an album and an E.P.  Staggering their release.  I've also thought about recording more spread out, IE one day one month, one the next, one the next, instead of most jazz recordings, which are finished in 2 consecutive days.  Just as a way to make it different and put more thought into it instead of making it some sort of crazy sprint.  But obviously another issue is money.  Its VERY expensive to record so I'm going to have to come up with some cash.  I would do a kickstarter, but I don't think I'm well known enough for that to raise any money or for that to work.  So I'm going to have to think of another way....