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Archive for January, 2012

commission me

ring my rotary
vibrate my cell
RIM me an SMS
(save my soul)
facebook, twitter –
the writing’s on the wall.
blog my space
shout from rooftops
send up a smoke signal.
semaphore me
send it in code.

give me a project
to put my creative juices
through the blender.
tell me like you told Bach:
we need a cantata for next Sunday
and hey, we only have three sopranos
(and one of them doesn’t sing very well.)

pay-tronize
but don’t patronize me.
never, ever, ask me to sound like someone else.

tell me to research
settle on a score.
Buster my guts for a cabaret on halloween
or valentines at christmas on mother’s day.
give me a world series send-off
with hockey night in canada
played one hundred ways.
tell me to boogie my way through Mary Lou’s swing
or jazz my way
through a world music series.

a capella, tin whistle chase scenes
turn “turn of the century”
on Turner classics tracks
with Keaton as conductor.
woo-woo!

give me a deadline
put a gun to my head.
tell me how many, when and where
and I’ll do the rest.

stimulate my economy of means
with a bulk-head of
leg room to stretch my imagination.
I’ll dissolve my limits
in the ether of jet stream.

give me a challenge
calculate the risks.
give me a slate to work on
a leg to stand on
commission me.

in return I’ll create,
imagine, dream,
learn, grow and entertain
the idea…
go to the ends of the earth
to begin.

and when it’s done
I’ll tweet, blog, facebook
video, newsletter, interview
press my release
plug you into my stream
of consciousness,
invite all my friends
and write you this poem.

dedicated to Ontario Contact and Ken Coulter (who asked the question)

Last October I attended Ontario Contact. The conference presents an opportunity for touring artists, presenters, agents and workshop presenters to get together. It consists of showcases, pitch sessions, a trade show, formal talks and informal round table discussions. At one of those discussions about investing in the arts, there was a heated discussion about whether or not you are compromising an artist’s integrity by “asking” them to do something – perhaps in addition to a performance that may be “riskier” to present.  I immediately began to think about Bach and Mozart and how integral the patronage system was to the history of music. This poem came out of those thoughts.

Some of my best work and most incredible musical discoveries have come out of commissions.

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preamble.

part one:

what’s the difference between playing tunes and free improv?

nothing.

nothing?

nothing.

but surely…

 

part two:

they’re the same thing. same rules. tunes are free and free are tunes.

the only difference is that when you’re playing a tune the form is inherent.

when playing free the form is extrinsic. it’s still there. you just need to find it or allow it to find you.

 

part three:

look. it’s all about composition. even playing tunes is about composition.

not some rote play the head solo for a few choruses play the head. we’re done.

unless that’s intentional.

or you have 16 bars or 32 bars or whatever and a huge canvas to play with around inside, outside, through, over and beyond the tune.

 

part four:

free playing is composition, too.

it’s just a composition that reveals itself over time

and if the players are truly listening they’re on the lookout for it.

and by the way.

melody, rhythm, harmony, motifs, themes and variations, counterpoint

tonality (now there’s an idea) atonality

it all applies.

 

the gig.

okay. I admit it. I had a few ideas. But they were ideas of intent. Not actual melodic or harmonic ideas. The ideas occurred to me a few minutes before I was about to play. The ideas were kind of like guidelines that I wanted to share with my fellow musicians Mark Segger (drums) and Heather Segger (trombone). I said, let’s make things short. I mean get to an idea, play with it and end it. Then move on. Nothing meandering or aimless. Let’s listen for endings. Even if one part is simply one of us taking a solo, let’s be aware that that’s okay. I even had an idea that it could be like a suite. We could interrupt applause if we wanted to so that it didn’t get too broken up. The weird thing is, the audience got it. They only clapped once, but the next time we gave them breaks in the action, they didn’t clap. they knew. they were part of it.

It was part of Leftover Day Light at Somewhere There, the performance space of AIM (Association of Improvising Musicians) Toronto. It’s a series that goes on every Friday night featuring three groups (or solos) who play one set each. I asked Heather and Mark to join me. I had been playing some of my regular “jazz” gigs with Mark lately, so I thought it could really strengthen how we play “inside” if we did a completely “outside” gig together. I was curious about Heather, having heard wonderful comments about her playing. I also loved the idea of having a few trombone/vocal dialogues. I was attracted to the range, timbre and warmth of the trombone with vocals.

I came prepared. I brought my own mike and amp to sing through, even though I knew I primarily wanted to play the piano. I removed the entire bottom panel of the piano in order to get more volume. I had the advantage of having heard the piano in the first set and was determined to make it louder. I even brought my digital tape recorder to tape the performance, but, well, kind of forgot to hit the record button a second time, so it remained in standby mode. ugh. technology… or maybe it was just Friday the 13th.

While setting up I was talking to the audience about the recent concert I saw at the Vanguard. I thought about the ostinato bass line Geri Allen and Esperanza Spalding played on “Au Leu Cha” and it occurred to me that it would be a good place to begin our set. It was such a fun place to start, that I decided to end the set with it as well.

Here are some things I want to remember:

I love the concept of a suite

I love ostinatos. I’m going to use this one again.

trombone/voice. very cool

a good ending

 

postlude.

one thing leads to another.

A few months ago I had a lesson and breakfast with Sylvie Courvoisier. Over breakfast we talked about free improvisation and form. She spoke about her concept of form as though you start with a fork, move to the spoon and the knife, perhaps the plate. There is some relationship, development and exploration as you move from place to place and branch out slowly,  giving time for an idea to develop and simmer rather than all of a sudden being across the road in unrelated territory. (or worse – my comment – meandering in a sea of nothingness where everyone is afraid to make a move).

In my lesson with Sylvie, we talked a lot about tone, weight and dropping into the keys. Sylvie introduced me to the Taubman Technique and encouraged me to seek out Edna Golandsky. But that’s another blog entry…

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It took until midway through the first tune for me to realize they were playing “All of You”. After all, the 11PM set on Wednesday night at the Village Vanguard started with a drum solo followed by dialogues between bass/drums, bass/piano. The tune unfolded slowly revealing itself as fragments of melodies were thrown back and forth, slowly and carefully developed by the three of them. Geri Allen, Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington are at the top of their game – virtuosic, musical and creative. “No offense to you”, Spalding said with a conspiratorial grin to the audience, “we’re just excited to be playing together”.  And playing together is exactly what they did. Solos, dialogues, trios, textural variations, rhythmic displacements and curve balls made each composition into a journey of discovery. It was gorgeous chamber music with all three supporting, listening, reacting, and surprising each other. They even shared the microphone duties introducing tunes and each other. We were eavesdropping on an exciting creative project and mutual admiration witnessing them “fly by the seat of our pants”, as Carrington said later in the evening.

A couple of highlights:

Spalding sang one tune the entire set – the beautiful “Unconditional Love” written by Geri Allen, featured on Terri Lyne’s Grammy nominated (Feb 2012) The Mozaic Project CD (which features Allen, Spalding and many other fantastic female musicians.) Here is the excerpt from the CD:

The show closer, Charlie Parker’s “Au Leu Cha” at breakneck speed began with a fast descending line played by bass and piano. Allen managed to keep this upbeat ostinato going as she navigated through the melody creating some crazy ear-bending counterpoint. It was breathtaking.

Here they are at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in 2007:

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