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  • I always like to play very contemporary concepts of swing right next to New Orleans music

    Posted on March 8th, 2015 | 0

    This afternoon was much better than last night. 5pm on a Sunday is a good time for a concert.

    The sound was much better and softer than the night before. We started with King Oliver’s ‘Snake Rag’ and went on to ‘Smokehouse Blues’ as played by Jelly Roll Morton, then right into a very obtuse ‘Cherokee’ with all kinds of polyrhythms and extended harmony. I always like to play very contemporary concepts of swing right next to New Orleans music because it highlights continuum. We bring the ancestors with us. “Cherokee’ was also the song I played with Lew Soloff when he brought me up on stage for my first time in New York City at the Conference for Brass Scholarships in 1979 or 80.

    Tonight we were more prepared to deal with the challenges of playing rented horns and the unmarked music. And the much improved and more civil volume allowed us to relax into swinging. Christi was once again a lifesaver, working right up to the first minute of the concert so that the music would be properly laid out. She is universally loved. As usual there were many highlights on the bandstand: the saxes swooping and sweeping on Benny Carter’s arrangement of ‘All of Me’, my messing up Sherman’s great brass plunger mute tutti on ‘Yes sir, That’s my Baby’ (but Carlos redeeming me with a great bass solo), Greg Gisbert’s lyrical solo on Vic’s ‘A Dance at the Mardi Gras Ball’ and Ali Jackson’s overall dedication to the swing.

    At the end of the set Carlos spoke some words about Lew and what he meant to the world of music. He introduced the New Orleans function and we played a funeral march and second line like in the Crescent City. ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ with the trumpet section walking slowly and making it moan and creak. The same as we played for CT last week. Damn! Marcus, Kenny and Greg had tears streaming down their face, but I am still in too much shock to cry. When Chris started singing, he brought the Spirit down into the Palacio and I could see people in the audience getting full.

    Just a closer walk with Thee,
    Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
    Daily walking close to Thee,
    Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

    When he reached down and up for that second chorus, we couldn’t help but urge him on higher and lower into it with some “Amens”. Then:

    Didn’t he ramble…. he rambled
    Rambled all around…. in and out of town
    Didn’t he ramble….didn’t he ramble
    He rambled till the butcher cut him down

    The second line beat got everyone clapping and happy. The Mexican people with their Dia de Los Muertos understand exactly what we are talking about and could teach us more than a thing or two about it.
    Suddenly we are finished. The audience has been extremely receptive and generous. We played two encores. The trumpet section played a blues for Lew on which Gizzy switched mouthpieces (because that was Lew’s thing) and Marcus and Kenny let their mutes fall out of their horns (because he could never seem to keep his mutes in). Then I played ‘Embraceable You’ because Lew always asked me to play that song.

    After the gig Rob said, “Y’all sent Lew off right.” He said something happened with the console last night and he’d come to the Palacio early this morning to figure it out. He also got to check out Ballet Folklórico de México, which he said was unbelievable. They had performances before and after ours.

    The hall is busy so we quickly say goodbyes and I hit the street with Maribel. Walking back to the hotel the streets are full of people of all ages and states of love; from wizened grandparents to enthralled teens. Today is International Woman’s day and ladies are everywhere in their finest, adding the grandeur of ceremony to an already bustling Sunday, the most important family day in Mexico.

    Maribel and Eugenio treat us to a reception dinner in the hotel. They salute us with sincere feeling. Maribel even got a little full when thanking everyone for the heart they brought to this residency. Eugenio thanked cats for their quality of playing and for maintaining a standard of excellence in teaching and playing regardless of circumstance. We all recognize that we are honored to have partners on this level of sophistication, engagement and just straight up quality. They took care of us and the music and we are happy and satisfied.

    About ten of us, including Christi and Seton Hawkins from our education department, then piled into a van to get some world class tacos at El Vilsito. It has been highly recommended by our band foodie, the esteemed Dan Nimmer and seconded by Seton and Sherman. After waiting for Vic (maintaining the New Orleans tradition of punctuality) we hit the road.

    Talk about neighborhood! I thought we were off of Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans the way people were standing around devouring those tacos. It’s a garage by day and a taquería by night. Thankfully, different folks work both shifts. The garage and taco shop are owned by the same family and they know what they are doing! The food is correct and the all important ambience is as down home and relaxed as your favorite couch. Tacos of pork, beef, chicken and all types of vegetables and spices are ordered and delivered immediately. Cerveza and Horchata-an addictive, sweet, cinnamon rice milk- flow with the ease of a glance, and you are trusted to keep your own tally and square-up after you’re done. People feel like they should pay more (not less) just because it’s so unusual to be trusted with paying for something. Tomorrow, two flights to Caracas. I can’t wait.

    Wynton

  • Lew Soloff… Tragic loss for music, irrecoupable loss for trumpet

    Posted on March 8th, 2015 | 6

    2:48 am, I get a call from Marcus Printup.
    “Man, Lew died.”
    “What? Who?”
    “Soloff. I think it’s true.”

    Tragic loss for music, irrecoupable loss for trumpet. First Wilmer, then CT and now Lew. Damn! All I can think about is how is Jon Faddis handling this? They had the deepest personal and collegial relationship full of mutual respect, admiration and love. And each set a higher standard for our instrument, but together!……it was otherworldly. Both Lew and Jon have always treated me with so I much love and support for which I AM ALWAYS GRATEFUL!

    Lew helped so many of us on so many levels there are no words. Always inquisitive, absolutely supportive, thorough musicianship in all styles of music: rock, jazz, classical, Afro-Latin. Musicians of all styles loved him and benefitted from his playing and spirit. He was an unapologetic foodie and lover and supporter of young trumpeters. Lew was always,“Man…have you heard?” Then a string of superlatives about their playing. He had a way of looking at you when he listened to you playing that made it seem like he was playing too. He elevated the lead chair in our Orchestra for 6 years and every rehearsal and concert was an absolute joy.

    The last conversation I had with Lew was at CT’s memorial last Saturday. He was standing next to Jimmy Owens and said, “Man, I want to get with you about playing Blues Symphony. I’m playing the trumpet part with the American Composer’s Orchestra.” I looked at him as if to say, “C’mon Lew I can’t tell you shit about playing nothing.” He looked at Jimmy and said, “No man, we play music and the composers are usually dead. I want to hear from a live one.” We just looked at each other and said we’d get together, and the elevator doors closed.

    One final thought for now on Lew is his oft heard quote. “Which one of these mouthpieces sounds better?” “They all sounded great Lew.” This is a true loss.

    Our trumpet section is sitting at breakfast now trading so many funny stories about Lew. We all played at CT’s memorial, in the church and outside in the freezing cold. This is another type of frost. We have all just spoken to Jon and shared our collective grief. We are posting something we remember about Lew here. I encourage all musicians to do the same so we can give the record to his family.

    Lew Soloff probably loved the trumpet more than any person on earth.

    Wynton

  • As the concert goes on, I feel we relax and play more inside the space.

    Posted on March 7th, 2015 | 19

    This morning Vincent led us in an 11am soundcheck/workshop at the majestic Palacio de Bellas Artes oficial. Elliot Mason was delayed getting in due to some visa complications so we recruited a 16-year old substitute, Mr. Hernan Cruz Calderon from Oaxaca, a southern Mexican state with more than 600 family wind bands! Someone should do a study to see if these families are any more or any less dysfunctional than non-band families. These bands have played for generations at family parties, state and city events and parades.
    Well, Hernan came up and truly represented them by reading through a pile of hard music. He played Ted Nash’s 7/8 composition (which is written in 3 bars of 4/4 and 1 bar of 2/4) so well that Vincent announced, “he did better than I did reading this the first time.” Hernan even played a lot of Duke’s impossible trombone part on ‘Bragging in Brass’. It was impressive.

    We played through several pieces of different styles as Vincent described how we went about correcting each piece, and the composer or arranger explained what inspired it. This audience of 600 or so young musicians was EXTREMELY attentive and asked great questions to various members of the band. The most moving moment for me was when a young man stood up and gave a glowing assessment of Ted Nash’s composition ‘Portrait in Seven Shades’. He then asked what inspired each movement. Ted’s started his answer by saying something like, “What you have just said makes all the work I did on the piece worth it. Thank you.” That fundamental exchange of sincere recognition and grateful acceptance touched everyone.

    Another student asked what record had changed our lives. Each member went through a litany of Miles, Coltrane, Duke, Tito Puente and JJ Johnson but Chris Crenshaw named Marcus Printup’s ‘Sing for the Beautiful Woman’.
    The Palacio is so beautiful; it’s hard to concentrate on playing for wanting to look. But today we are struggling because many of us are playing rental instruments due to cartage issues. We also have a different set of parts with the set pared down from 65 pieces to 45. I picked these songs before we left New York, but you never really know what you need till you get out here.
    One of the orchestra’s great blessings is our library and music preparation team of Kay Niewood and Christi English. They literally work day and night to get arrangements, scores, new parts, etc. on the stands on time. And time is always a struggle for me. I was giving them our set list literally as we stepped onto the plane to Puerto Rico and here we are a few days later with a complete set of 45 alternate parts. (The originals have gone on to Venezuela). New instruments and parts pose more of a challenge than you might think, and we are all, especially woodwinds and Carlos, trying to negotiate our way around the unfamiliar. It puts an added pressure on the concert because we always want to be at our absolute best.

    I was up for two hours this morning working out the concert set list so everyone would have a chance to solo and the songs would show a balance of what the orchestra is capable of. Knowing we also play again tomorrow, this concert would be more of our original compositions and the Master’s take on Latin America and the Caribbean. Tomorrow will be standards and more historical pieces. Once I’m up sitting on the stage I realize this is the truncated set list. I just looked at Ali and started laughing. All of that meticulous planning…GONE. Thank the Lord, Christi is out here and she works miracles to make whatever we need to happen, happen. This hall looks and sounds magnificent.
    We are all excited for the concert knowing this is one of the world’s great cities. The audience is crackling with energy and is very encouraging. We try our very best and so do they. When we’re on stage we can’t really assess the sound in the hall but it seems different than during the sound check. The full hall appears to be louder and more ambient than it was when half empty in the sound check. Not knowing whether it’s Rob and the microphones, or us, we struggle to find a good balance. Great halls like this one are ambient amplifiers. If we overplay the natural amplification of the hall, it’s a battle. And the hall always wins.

    As the concert goes on, I feel we relax and play more inside the space. I try not to judge when I’m playing because we all have a different perspective based on where we sit and what we are playing. The audience was with us the entire time and was so gracious and generous with applause for solos and verbal consigning of phrases, they carried us past our insecurities about new instruments, parts and volume.
    Some highlights: Walter’s solo on Duke’s ‘Oclupaca’ from the Latin American Suite, the audience appreciation of the transition to the Guajira in Carlos’ ‘2/3’s Adventure’, a lady shouting ‘Tom Cat Blues’ when I got up to play that very piece (no way she could have known except maybe because I had the plunger in hand) and Victor’s impromptu and sultry reading of ‘Self Portrait of the Bean’.

    When we finished the gig I went in search of and found celebrity sound man David Robinson. “Man, did you have the mics turned up that loud in the Hall?” He said, “No man, I turned them off. Ask Fernando.” When I asked Fernando about it he said, “Yeah man, but people loved it. What are you so tight about?” I saw Eugenio in the audience and knew he would know because he had been translating on stage during the sound check. “Was it to loud?” I asked him. “Yes” he said. “Not during the sound check, but during the concert. Yes. Some parts were too much.”
    Well, ok. Tomorrow will be much better. I know Rob will be in the hall early working on stuff. That’s how he is about his job.
    After the concert there was a festive party hosted by US ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne and staff, in conjunction with De Quinta. This is the inaugural event in a week of functions to thank private sector and foundation sponsors for their support of the Embassy’s educational, youth outreach, cultural and sports exchange programs.

    Chris Crenshaw, Paul Nedzela and Greg Gisbert are participating in a jam session with excellent Mexican musicians Alex Mercado on piano, the irrepressible and hard swinging Luri Molina on bass, 22-year-old wunderkind Diego Franco on the tenor sax and Demian Cantilo playing some tasty drums. Ali, Walter, Carlos and I also sit in on a couple of tunes.
    After a few songs, the Ambassador spoke in Spanish about the importance of working across sectors to create a new world of possibilities. He highlighted the success of their collaborative programs and the numbers of lives that have been lifted. He likened their efforts to collective creativity in jazz. Carlos gave me a colorful translation as he spoke. I then said a few words about the birth of jazz in struggle, about the need for clear objectives and the fact that we join others all over the world in a unique movement as an unrecognized army of people who come together from different sectors and beliefs to create a more fertile environment for our collective aspirations. Then back to more international swinging. They stoked up Monk’s ‘I Mean You’. Man, Luri can play!

    Rob and I walk back to the Hotel discussing Ballet Hispanico’s performance in the Hall tomorrow morning. We observed that Eugenio and Maribel are absolutely so for real and a pleasure to work with. And that was it, the end of another great day, until I received a call from Marcus Printup at 2:48 am saying trumpet master Lew Soloff had passed away.

    Wynton

  • It is always exciting to fly into Mexico City at night

    Posted on March 6th, 2015 | 0

    It is always exciting to fly into Mexico City at night. We arrived shortly after midnight. Just the endless tapestry of lighted homes and streets stretching to the horizon further than the eye can see gives you a jolt of super energy. We are being presented by DeQuinta Producciones, which means Eugenio Artistic Director and Maribel General Director.

    I met Eugenio in Buenos Aires in ‘91 through the great trumpeter Fats Fernandez. We then had the privilege of working with DeQuinta on a 2004 residency that included performing in the Main City Square of Mexico Zocalo with vocalist Lila Downs for 50,000 people, in the Bellas Artes Opera House and in the Auditorio Nacional for 7,000 with the Mexico City Phil. They produced the Antonio Sanchez performances in Dizzy’s in 2004 just after the inauguration of Rose Hall. In 2010, they brought us to Guanajuato, Guadalajara and Mexico City to participate in a production called ‘Celebremos the Americas’ with Paquito D’Rivera, Chano Dominguez, Jared Grimes, Antonio Sanchez, Edmar Castaneda and Blas Cordoba. DeQuinta now presents an annual concert series in partnership with JALC called ‘New York Jazz All Stars’. It’s in its 3rd year, and is the only international concert series in Mexico and takes place March thru November. So far they’ve brought Helen Sung, Eric Reed, Wycliffe Gordon, John Ellis, Melissa Alana, Warren Wolf, Matt Wilson and many other great musicians. So, they are family.

    The next morning, we held a press conference in the Salon de Los Murales in front of a beautiful Diego Rivera mural at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. I went over with Maribel and just being in her presence is like entering the classroom of life. She is warm, thoroughly cultured and loves sharing information in a very inviting and conversational way. In describing the hall she tells me, “Clemente Orozco, Rodriguez Lozano and Rufino Tamayo and Rivera all have murals in this hall. It was built for the 100th Anniversary of Mexico, but the construction was halted to make way for a Revolution. Afterwards, it was finished.”

    I am always moved by the depth and breadth of culture in Mexico City. The conference was to announce our arrival and it was well attended by some 42 media outlets including TV, print and radio. There were many good questions, but people seemed particularly interested in knowing what was the central reason for us coming to Latin America and the Caribbean. I say, “It is to participate in the Afro-Latin traditions that join all of us in this part of the Americas. It’s like a family reunion. You could Skype but why? You have to be there.”

    We go on a 2-hour drive to teach a class in Cuernavaca. It’s where Mingus came to heal for the last 6 months of his life. Maribel wanted to come here because it’s near Guerrero, where 40 school kids were killed 5 months ago. Guerrero is one of the most violent states in Mexico and she felt that a permanent infusion of Jazz and the Arts could bring optimism and hope to young people here and help with the healing process. She and Eugenio believe in regular classes and concerts not the customary festival one-offs.

    Maribel has 3 children and 6, soon to be 7, grandkids. She was joking about receiving photos from Frank from a young people’s concert the last time we were here. “My grandkids were babies when I asked you for these photos, now they’re teenagers.” We were talking about family and kids and she talked about dealing with the early death of her husband 9 years ago and said, “My 45th anniversary is tomorrow. You know, some time passes fast, but that same time can also take an eternity to pass. Time itself doesn’t cure anything, only your attitude can make things change.”

    She said her father was 97 years old and had been orphaned at 14 months. He fought in the Spanish Civil War at 19, and after two years on the front lines, having lost all of his friends, he escaped to Portugal dressed as a gypsy woman and a relative paid for his passage to Mexico. She said they grew up loving his fantastic stories, but he was also a great listener. He would say, “You have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice.”

    We are hosted in high style in Cuernavaca by Cristina Faesler, Secretaria de Cultura del Estado de Morelos, with a delicious repast, before heading to the Teatro Ocampo to teach a class for about 500 attentive students. A beautiful quintet of youngsters- Roberto Martinez Miñon on tenor sax, Cesar Guadarrama on piano, Hector “Paris” Delgado on bass, Victor Perez “Toral” on drums and Aaron Gonzalez Montiel on guitar played ‘Doxy’ for Carlos, Ali, Dan and me. We went through all the basics: the quest for balance between bass and drums, to play with intensity instead of over loud volume, we demonstrated the derivation of the shuffle pattern from the African 6/8, Carlos stressed the need for empathy and proper technical skills, Ali talked about swing as a concept of balance, the need for commitment and belief to improve, Dan demonstrated how to play on harmonic progressions, I talked about developing a personal sound, securing gigs no matter how bad, acknowledging the audience you’re playing for and expressing gratitude.

    The students were wonderful, very attentive and receptive. It was uplifting and remains so. Two hours back home.

    Wynton

  • The community welcomes and embraces the movement for better music education and quality performance

    Posted on March 4th, 2015 | 1

    We arrived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands shortly before 9 in the morning. Having left the hotel at 6 am for what had to be the shortest flight In the world, 17 minutes, I’m going on about 2 hours sleep. We are here to play for the United Jazz Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the great drummer, humanist and jazz ambassador from St. Thomas, Dion Parson and master architectural and civil engineer, Vietnam veteran and charter member of the spiritual aristocracy of the world, Roan Creque, with their own funds. JALC and the United Jazz Foundation has a very healthy educational partnership that is yielding wonderful fruit, young people who can play and understand the greater value of this music. They met us at the airport and we got down to it.

    The island is lush and hilly. The roads sweep up and down making driving an intimate experience. I riding with Darryl Lewis Sr., father of 7 and grandfather of 13, and it seems like he knows everyone on this island from the pizza man to the senator.

    According to Roan, the U.S. bought these islands from the Danes in 1917 to protect the Panama Canal. It is American but the culture remains English, Spanish, Free Gut and Sierra Leonean. Every island in the Caribbean has a dialect that was designed to disguise intentions. The architecture and feeling is so close to New Orleans (which is often called the northern capital of the Caribbean), I feel completely at home – we all do. Hospitality is on the general menu.

    Marcus Printup leaves the airport and goes straight to a workshop at E. Benjamin Oliver Middle School to teach. Today however, he is joining his wife Riza. Here is his description: “I’ve seen my wife teach Webop at JALC and with the Harlem Children Zone in New York City. She has an incomparable drive, determination and love for the kids. Fate has made it that we are both in St. Thomas at the same time. She is here conducting a series of “Jazz for Young People” concerts with Dion. The physical appearances of these schools are quite meager but the attentiveness and openness for instruction is second to none.

    Thank God for organizations like the United Jazz Foundation and the many supporters of education that bring jazz to communities that usually are left out of the equation. Thank God also for the dedicated teachers who have a true passion for planting the seeds of interest in continuing the art of jazz in our young people.”

    Here are some words from Riza: “Working with the children here in the US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John & St. Croix) has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had. I am moved by their openness, warmth and excitement to swing. Dion and Nicole Parson and the United Jazz Foundation are absolutely dedicated to bringing jazz to the islands and their efforts to elevate the youth are effective and inspirational. They are great to work with. Dion told me, ‘It’s great to see community come together. Everybody is connected. The community welcomes and embraces the movement for better music education and quality performance.’”

    The evening performance was in the Reichhold Center for the Arts, an indoor/outdoor venue that was both intimate and spacious. The reception was extremely warm and participatory. The Virgin Islands Youth Orchestra played at the entrance of the venue and brought the type of energy and optimism that youth who are engaged in meaningful things always bring. They were well dressed, enthusiastic and excellent, and that youthful exuberance in the house connected generations and inspired us to play even better.

    There were many musical highlights but some audience favorites were Sherman’s patient molasses drenched reading of ‘Big Fat Alice’s Blues’, Greg Gisbert’s solo on ‘Straight Up and Down’ and Vincent, Ted and Chris’ playing and singing on ‘Moody’s Mood forWe arrived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands shortly before 9 in the morning. Having left the hotel at 6 am for what had to be the shortest flight In the world, 17 minutes, I’m going on about 2 hours sleep. We are here to play for the United Jazz Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the great drummer, humanist and jazz ambassador from St. Thomas, Dion Parson and master architectural and civil engineer, Vietnam veteran and charter member of the spiritual aristocracy of the world, Roan Creque, with their own funds. JALC and the United Jazz Foundation has a very healthy educational partnership that is yielding wonderful fruit, young people who can play and understand the greater value of this music. They met us at the airport and we got down to it.

    The island is lush and hilly. The roads sweep up and down making driving an intimate experience. I riding with Darryl Lewis Sr., father of 7 and grandfather of 13, and it seems like he knows everyone on this island from the pizza man to the senator.

    According to Roan, the U.S. bought these islands from the Danes in 1917 to protect the Panama Canal. It is American but the culture remains English, Spanish, Free Gut and Sierra Leonean. Every island in the Caribbean has a dialect that was designed to disguise intentions. The architecture and feeling is so close to New Orleans (which is often called the northern capital of the Caribbean), I feel completely at home – we all do. Hospitality is on the general menu.

    Marcus Printup leaves the airport and goes straight to a workshop at E. Benjamin Oliver Middle School to teach. Today however, he is joining his wife Riza. Here is his description: “I’ve seen my wife teach Webop at JALC and with the Harlem Children Zone in New York City. She has an incomparable drive, determination and love for the kids. Fate has made it that we are both in St. Thomas at the same time. She is here conducting a series of “Jazz for Young People” concerts with Dion. The physical appearances of these schools are quite meager but the attentiveness and openness for instruction is second to none.

    Thank God for organizations like the United Jazz Foundation and the many supporters of education that bring jazz to communities that usually are left out of the equation. Thank God also for the dedicated teachers who have a true passion for planting the seeds of interest in continuing the art of jazz in our young people.”

    Here are some words from Riza: “Working with the children here in the US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John & St. Croix) has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had. I am moved by their openness, warmth and excitement to swing. Dion and Nicole Parson and the United Jazz Foundation are absolutely dedicated to bringing jazz to the islands and their efforts to elevate the youth are effective and inspirational. They are great to work with. Dion told me, ‘It’s great to see community come together. Everybody is connected. The community welcomes and embraces the movement for better music education and quality performance.’”

    The evening performance was in the Reichhold Center for the Arts, an indoor/outdoor venue that was both intimate and spacious. The reception was extremely warm and participatory. The Virgin Islands Youth Orchestra played at the entrance of the venue and brought the type of energy and optimism that youth who are engaged in meaningful things always bring. They were well dressed, enthusiastic and excellent, and that youthful exuberance in the house connected generations and inspired us to play even better.

    There were many musical highlights but some audience favorites were Sherman’s patient molasses drenched reading of ‘Big Fat Alice’s Blues’, Greg Gisbert’s solo on ‘Straight Up and Down’ and Vincent, Ted and Chris’ playing and singing on ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’. We ended with Dion coming up to play. He introduced steel pan wizard Victor Provost and we grooved on home to a second line beat with Victor’s ‘Down on the Bayou’. The festive street beat with Mr. Provost’s individualistic and soulful singing pans provided the proper spirit of place, we were swinging in the Caribbean. It was a fitting end to a great day.

    The next day I got a haircut at Ron’s Barbershop, definitely downhome. There I met the great Oscar ‘Chips’ Rawlins who told me, “Our home is your home and I get to hear you every Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning.” Well, Chips didn’t know when I met him that Darryl was driving around playing a CD of them singing lead vocals on songs like ‘I Did it My Way’ and ‘Always and Forever’ and ‘Write a Letter’ to various types of orchestral karaoke accompaniment. Darryl was in tune, but Chips? Look out.

    Love’. We ended with Dion coming up to play. He introduced steel pan wizard Victor Provost and we grooved on home to a second line beat with Victor’s ‘Down on the Bayou’. The festive street beat with Mr. Provost’s individualistic and soulful singing pans provided the proper spirit of place, we were swinging in the Caribbean. It was a fitting end to a great day.

    The next day I got a haircut at Ron’s Barbershop, definitely downhome. There I met the great Oscar ‘Chips’ Rawlins who told me, “Our home is your home and I get to hear you every Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning.” Well, Chips didn’t know when I met him that Darryl was driving around playing a CD of them singing lead vocals on songs like ‘I Did it My Way’ and ‘Always and Forever’ and ‘Write a Letter’ to various types of orchestral karaoke accompaniment. Darryl was in tune, but Chips? Look out.

    Wynton

  • We left snowy, blustery New York City for a 4-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico

    Posted on March 3rd, 2015 | 2

    We left snowy, blustery New York City for a 4-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We landed not just in another time zone, but on another planet: palm trees, radiant sunshine, thermal breeze and the communal festivity of island life.

    Trumpeter and educator par excellence, Charlie Sepulveda, met us at the airport. He has been a friend of mine for over twenty-five years. (I still remember the san cocho he made for me when he lived in El Barrio in NYC). Now, he is in Puerto Rico with his wife, Julia Piñero and their 19 year old daughter Carmen, holding things down and making the world softer for Jazz and Afro-Latin Music.

    The first night Charlie took us about 40 minutes from San Juan to Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Nicknamed El Capital del Sol, this city is located on the edge of the Rainforest Yunque. We were fêted at Terruño, a place that features nightly music. The food was so good, you wanted to get a job in the restaurant.

    We began discussing after-dinner drinks and Charlie intimated several times that he and Julia had some grappa at home only 5 minutes away. Soon, we were there inspecting the outdoor grill and studying the contents of his well manicured bar. Because he was responsible for driving us back to the hotel in San Juan and because Julia was promoting this concert, she threatened execution if he even thought about participating. We, however, were forced to be gracious guests and, though reluctant, relieved him of a generous portion of that potent grappa (as he observed in quiet frustration).

    The next day, we were in it. Vincent’s flight had been cancelled which necessitated moving our rehearsal back three hours from 10:30 to 1:30. Julia informed us that 300 students would be coming from all over Puerto Rico to observe our open 10:30 rehearsal. Carlos, Dan, Ali, Walter volunteered to join me in conducting a morning masterclass, and then, handle the 6-hours of rehearsal afterwards.

    The students were engaging and engaged. They asked a lot of questions. A memorable one was addressed to Walter from a young saxophonist who asked, “What does it mean to play with soul?” Walter in essence said, “It means that you recognize your connection to other people and feel free to share the deepest parts of your humanity with them.”

    Another student asked me, “What can I do to stay inspired?” Because I had been talking I said are you sure you want to ask the question to me. His response was: “Actually I’m a bass player. I’d rather ask Carlos.” Carlos used his own life as an example and gave the youngster a real practical path to pursue excellence. Then Charlie and the great Luis Perico Ortiz pulled out their trumpets and we had a jam session with about 12 bold and creative students. We played “Caravan” written by Duke Ellington and Puerto Rican valve trombonist Juan Tizol. The session was festive and familial.

    After the class, Vincent arrived and the Orchestra rehearsed some 14 pieces.

    Later that evening, Charlie and Julia took us to El Jibarito for dinner in Old San Juan. It was packed and for good reason. They served good down-home fare that made me miss the Crescent City.

    Today, Sherman Irby conducted a masterclass at El Conservatorio de Musica of Puerto Rico, working with the Jazz Band conducted by a dynamic young teacher named Elias Santos Selpa. They were playing some of Mingus’ music. Sherman talked about playing in balance, maintaining intensity when alternating between the swing and that between the swing and the Afro-Latin 6/8, playing ensemble parts together, listening to soloists, and understanding the underlying structural logic of tunes. In speaking to the young drummer, he had one magnificent quote that remains in mind: “Play the cymbal, don’t hit it.” That’s good life philosophy.

    Tonight, we performed at Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals, named for the visionary humanist and genius of the cello. The concert was a benefit to raise scholarship money for underprivileged students to attend Colegio de San Ignacio Loyola. We started the first half with Duke’s Big Fat Alice’s Blues which Chris Crenshaw had just transcribed because we were talking about it and listening to it before a gig the other night, and we ended with Vincent’s arrangement of Oscar Peterson’s “March Fast.”

    On the second half, we really got loose. Carlos introduced his own “2/3’s Adventure” in Spanish. None of us, except for Walter had any idea what he was saying. But the audience loved him and everything he said. Whenever he talks about his experiences in the music I feel proud and we love playing his music. Charlie Sepulvida sat in on the guajira section and it was a sterling moment of communication and collaboration. He has played with so many greats from Dizzy to Eddie Palmieri, we were honored to share the bandstand with him.
    Then the saxophone section showed us all how it was supposed to be done on my arrangement of “Ugly Beauty.” It was all nuance and wispy fire, and the rhythm section was not to be be left behind. The audience knew that they had heard something special and responded accordingly. We ended the concert with Victor Goines’ Second Line, “Down by the Bayou.” It always leaves everyone in a better mood.

    For an encore, Carlos had sketched out a song that touches everyone in San Juan. “En Mi Viejo San Juan,” written by Noel Estrada. It moved the people to sing not the melody, but the counter-melody. It was revelatory.

    Now we’re back where we started.
    Dan Israel and Charlie and I seated at a table surveying tastes of grappa and an impending flight in 6 hours……. You all know I love that.

    Wynton

  • One-stop classes are fun but not as productive as return visits

    Posted on February 13th, 2015 | 3

    Last Friday after driving back from Strathmore in the wee hours of the morning, I got up at 7, ironed and went to Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science in Harlem. It was a great day, because I enjoyed speaking to a class of 7th graders there last October and returning means that Principal Lisa Nelson approved of my overall vibration and way of teaching. I love the school and the communal feeling that she, the faculty, and staff strive to establish and maintain. It’s not easy.

    This morning I’m traveling uptown with James Bryant. James has been driving me on special occasions since 1985 when he brought the great New Orleanian, Reginald ‘Swing Doom’ Veal from Kennedy Airport to my New York apartment, which was then on 46th Street and 10th Avenue. We stopped on 100 and something Street and got a couple of good egg sandwiches (we were looking for fish to be honest) and some strong coffee.

    I love to come back to a school. One-stop classes are fun but not as productive as return visits. You get to know the teachers, develop a better feel for the school and have more meaningful interactions with students. My contact for this visit is Jacqueline Schoninger. She is a member of City Year New York which brings a diversity of young people from 17-24 years old together to tutor, mentor and just generally serve as positive role models for kids. This is a fantastic idea. It inspires young adults and college-aged kids to be leaders and helps them to expand their horizon of aspiration through service. I find that it’s more impactful when younger kids are mentored by slightly older kids. It’s closer to an organic family dynamic with older siblings. Jacqueline and other City Year youngsters add to the positivity and progressive nature of Isaac Newton’s environment. And her affirmative dedication and resilience is a source of personal inspiration. All of these mentors are very graceful and engaging.

    Soon, I am talking to a class of 6th graders about Black History month. We talk about practical aspects history and why it’s important to know what has happened: so you don’t repeat the dumb things that have been done and you do continue to develop the intelligent things. We talk about how everything we do is affected by what came before, from practical matters like the sidewalks we walk on and the lights in a room to more abstract things like ways of talking, eating and listening to music.

    We discussed American History in personal terms: the Declaration of Independence means I’m telling you, I am free from you! The Bill of Rights tells you what you can and cannot do to me because I’m free. And the Constitution provides an overall framework to level the playing field and enable the political possibility for equality.

    We discussed the word “black” and learn that a color is not a culture. We understood that all people have at least two heritages, their ethnic heritage and their human heritage. And we discussed the differences between the two. They explained to me that everyone feels sad, everyone has thoughts and emotions, but not everyone worships the same God or takes the same holidays. They observed that our human heritage was more fundamental to being alive.

    We concluded that there are prejudices and hatreds between different types of people because people erroneously think that insulting ‘others’ will make their condition better, but it won’t. The greater someone else is, the greater you are, or we all will be on a lower level together. We decided it was better to rise.

    We talked about the Afro American experience in very general terms, and then, I requested a talented student come up and sing. After some deliberation, the students elected Ms. Fatoumata Diallo, an 11 year old first generation straight-A student whose parents are from Guinea. She shyly sang John Legend’s “All of Me” poignantly, and with intensity of emotion and intention. I loved the honesty of her delivery. She is special and is going to make us all very proud. After answering some wonderful questions from the class, we reviewed everything we had talked about and they remembered a lot.

    We then re-convened in the gym to play some ball. Fatoumata is trying to make the basketball team coached by Jacqueline, Denzil Davis and Emilio Ramos. I showed her how to attack the front foot and how to line up her shot. We played and she had the nerve to beat me 5-3. Then Jacqui and I played 2 on 2 against Denzil and Emilio. Man, she could play! She kept us in the game. But because I told Denzil he looked like a soccer player not a baller, he and Emilio took it out on us. Still, Jacqui kept us in the game and we almost won. She was a ringer, but couldn’t overcome playing with a teammate whose game was petrified. A poor shooting decision on my part cost us a straight up 10-9 game.

    I’m officially sticking to playing the anthem from now on. These pictures make it painfully clear that it’s past that time. I want to thank everyone at the school for being so hospitable and gracious and especially the students. They were a joy to work with.

    Today, I am in Chicago at the great Orchestra Hall, about to conduct a class in Buntrock Hall. I’m ironing now and would probably be late.

    Wynton

  • Music is always so much deeper than notes

    Posted on February 6th, 2015 | 0

    It’s now 5 am and I’ve just finished ironing my suit for tomorrow’s 9:15 class after having driven back to New York with Jay Sgroi from the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It is a such a beautiful facility, warm and perfectly designed to encourage the expression of communal feeling. I’m writing now to preserve the afterglow of this experience.

    The Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra played my music with such passion and zeal last night, I can’t sleep. Music is always so much deeper than notes. And a group of musicians dealing with the pressure of performance showcases a confluence of aspirations put to the test of execution. This test can bring out the best and worse in us. With young musicians, there is a palpable sense of fresh excitement because performing itself is still new. Each concert has a life and story of its own and a lot of how you feel about yourself can ride on every concert. (And if you’re especially neurotic or a perfectionist, a lot can ride in every note!) Well, tonight, our young people over delivered.

    Where can I begin, they proved maestro Jan Wagner’s deep respect and belief in their attitude and ability. I loved the way he always, from our first meetings, verbalized an ultimate faith in them. The way they rose to the challenge of approaching the variety of unfamiliar styles, other types emotions and a different way of developing thematic material, justified that confidence. I loved what they brought to they stage! Jan was relaxed and a total pleasure to work with. He was masterful in his pacing and nuanced understanding of this proud young orchestra. I was impressed with how he approached each member as a person, with patience and care.

    As a trumpeter let me say first how proud I was of principal trumpeter Nathaniel Hussell. Nate played his tail off. I want to go around the orchestra and tell you what I loved but have to settle on touching a few people in representation of the entire ensemble.

    Start with Katelyn Kaiser playing the piccolo with a sparkling rhythmic verve and deep deep character, go on to the rich woody tone and fluid velocity across all registers of clarinetist Jacob Moyer, what about the thematic imagination of trombonist Nathan Davis and the genuine humanity in his sound, let’s address the foundation, the gravitas and unforced weightiness of Jeff Jacobson’s tuba rounding out the bottom. I don’t want to forget the grace and sophistication of concertmaster Jingjing Nie’s playing or the unforced quality of her leadership. Cellist Michael Puryear is most for real. He plays with fire, refinement and a definitive belief in the sound and purpose of his instrument. I can’t forget, Erin Reilly on the viola, stepping up with poise and authority and to improvise a beautiful chorus in front of the orchestra, or Alexandra Lee who jumped all over the flute with an authenticity in a way that would have made Richard Egües, of the fabled Cuban Orquesta Aragón, quite happy. Mr. Michael Hollin sang through his french horn, got the core of his emotion into his sound and gave us all a taste of it….Oh yeah…the percussion section handled their business with definition, dynamics and boodie-shaking joy. They kept us in the groove.

    After every performance, we musicians tend to analyze everything. We will discuss what was good or bad (in our opinion). Sometimes, we listen to a recording, if there is one, and formulate a more definite opinion. We all know that tape doesn’t lie. But I conclude with something the great baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan once told me about Charlie Parker. “Man, Bird’s sound! You had to be in the room with him to hear it. It’s not captured on any recording!”

    You had to be in the room tonight to experience the feeling our young musicians brought to the stage. I am forever grateful to them and to Washington Performing Arts and the inimitable Doug Wheeler (to whom this concert was dedicated) and to everyone at Shenandoah University and Conservatory. Great people.

    I also want to say it was uplifting to hang with my lifelong friend and colleague Murray Horwitz who is Director of Special Project for Washington Performing Arts and who remains a true American original.

    Wynton

  • I watched that game in the home of Wilmer Wise

    Posted on February 2nd, 2015 | 8

    In 1972, when the Oakland Raiders lost the AFC Championship to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a fluke last second play, which became known as the “Immaculate Reception”, I thought my life would end. The fog of depression and disappointment generated an irrational animosity towards Pittsburgh that I held on to until the 1980’s when I met Chuck Noll, the coach of that Steelers team, at a gig and discovered that he loved jazz.

    When my New Orleans Saints lost our very first playoff game in 1988, 44-10, to the Minnesota Vikings, I felt sick for weeks. Any mention of Minnesota would cause an immediate and negative mood swing -although I did manage to maintain a respect for their populace because of the weather they endure.

    And when the New England Patriots were given a free ride to the Super Bowl in 2001 (on a bad officiating decision known as the “Tuck Rule”) sending them to their first Super Bowl, it left a bad taste that still remains today. However, I felt some vindication when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl on a fluke catch by David Tyree. Over the next year or three, whenever I felt bad, all I had to do was reflect on that and I immediately felt better about life.

    Back when the Oakland Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1981 Super Bowl, I had been in New York for a little over a year. The game was in New Orleans and just a mention of the Crescent City made me homesick. I watched that game in the home of Wilmer Wise. He was a pioneering black trumpeter in the world of classical music. He had played with and knew everyone from Basie to legendary cellist Pablo Casals. In 1965 he won the Assistant Principal chair in the Baltimore Symphony and also toured throughout Europe as principal trumpet in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Serkin. Wilmer was old school, and despite his many achievements, he had seen and put up with his fair share of stuff.

    Wilmer looked out for me so thoroughly; it remains difficult to this day for me to understand why. He called me to play gigs with him and to substitute for him. He defended me against prejudiced contractors, kept his foot in my behind when I needed it and generally encouraged me to become a better musician and a better person.

    When I think back to watching that Super Bowl in his house I always remember that even though I was hollering and screaming at the TV, Wilmer showed absolutely no interest in the game. He was actually bemused by my fanaticism. Being nineteen, and full of all that comes with the wisdom of that perspective, I asked incredulously, “Man, how can anyone not love football?” He laughed and said, “It’s just a game. It’s not a matter of life or death.” At the time I thought, “Who ever heard of such nonsense?” but I said nothing.

    Wilmer passed away on Friday night and we lost not only a great musician, but a true advocate for quality in all manner of human conduct. For me, I lost an irreplaceable mentor.

    When the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks on a fluke, dumb, final play call last night in the Super Bowl, my bad feelings about the Tuck Rule resurfaced, I felt numb and close to nausea. On the way home I remembered what Wilmer had said about the Raiders/Eagles Super Bowl 34 years ago and had to laugh. It’s certainly not a matter of life or death. It’s just a game. I finally understand that……but they should have run the ball.

    I wish I could tell him that. He would have just shook his head, laughed and said, “oh boy….”

    Wynton

  • The honor and privilege of working with beautiful young musicians at the Shenandoah Conservatory

    Posted on January 24th, 2015 | 1

    The last 4 days I have had the honor and privilege of working with beautiful young musicians at the Shenandoah Conservatory. In collaboration with the fabulous Washington Performing Arts Society, we rehearsed my Blues Symphony with the Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Jan Wagner. I also held master classes with the National Jazz Workshop All Star Band directed by Alan Baylock and the Shenandoah Conservatory Jazz Ensemble directed by Craig Fraedrich.
    Michael Stepniak, Dean of the Conservatory, interviewed me in a public dialogue for the University community and I even visited John Kerr Elementary School to hear and speak with the exceedingly well-behaved 4th grade and their enthusiastic Orff ensemble led by Ryan Stitcher. Having the Shenandoah Music Education Students in attendance added luster and charisma to this event. It was a busy and emotionally rich week and I left having experiences I know will become even more significant as valued memories.

    Big Boss Murphy and I are now on 78 East in Pennsylvania on our way back to Manhattan, and the skies are progressing from grey to magenta in anticipation of the snowstorm that is chasing us north. As the radio drones on ridiculously about the New England Patriots deflating footballs, Boss and I comment on the absolute banality of this nonsense and shake our heads.

    Here are some of the topics we covered over the last days:
    With my 4th graders we talked about listening to yourself AND others at the same time and about keeping your place in the time of the music.
    We said you should always look with support at someone who has messed up in the course of a piece and never tease or show your displeasure with them.
    They told me that Mr. Stritcher says “make mistakes with confidence.” Then we talked about the power of the word RESPECTFULLY as a way to behave and to listen and to respond to others.
    We learned about the importance of drinking water, sleeping and BREATHING especially that first breath in time as a way of focusing a group entrance.

    They taught me how to start things: Have a plan, have the right ingredients, have courage, heart and confidence, know what you’re going to do and be alive.

    And how to end things:
    Pace yourself, happily, with confidence, and most importantly, together. Finally we learned about the importance of being present and the need for consistent energy and enthusiasm when making music and in life.

    With the Orchestra and Maestro Wagner we rehearsed for 9 hours over three days and talked about:

    • finding your notes (regardless of instrument) in the harmony in order to properly balance chords
    • understanding the function of your part in every moment of a piece
    • improving your understanding of the overall architecture of a piece with each reading
    • playing with rhythmic intensity at all volumes and even more when playing softly
    • exaggerating dynamic ranges for drama and contrast
    • the importance of sincere dialogue when instruments and groups of instruments have a call and response
    • the importance of understanding what notes MEAN and striving to play with meaning and deep purpose above being technically accurate
    • keeping audiences involved by playing better and not by saying they aren’t sophisticated enough.

    This is some of the music we listened to and discussed:
    Orquestra Aragon of Cuba and how to play danzon, how to whoop on a French horn from Coltrane Africa brass, Tito Puente’s Ran Kan Kan and rhythmic intensity, Duke Ellington and the Habanera rhythm, After Hours with Erskine Hawkins’ Orchestra to exemplify playing in the triplet time on the blues, how simple rhythmic units work together to form a groove, Jelly Roll Morton’s Maple Leaf Rag, the characteristics of half steps in blues harmony especially when sounding across octaves, the shuffle rhythm and 6 against 4, the sound of the Afro American church 6/4, the Holy Ghost is in a tambourine, Pixinghinua and Brazilian choro phrasing, American dance band drummers from 1905 to 1920 and the range of affects they commanded, how to choke cymbals and what is a stingy choke, the cascara rhythm and how it’s played, phrasing in the 19th century by stretching the 1st beat at the appropriate times and learning to hear great musicians of all idioms from Mahalia Jackson to Oum Kalthoum to Cachao and understand what makes them great.

    With the National Jazz Workshop All Star Band we worked on Concerto for Cootie. I was so happy to see them playing great music. When I was growing up (and I’m sure it’s still prevalent today) high school orchestra’s played Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, the concert band played Vaughan-Williams and Holst, and the Jazz band played whatever the director has written or some jazz-funk or jazz-rock tunes. This band, however, was well-prepared and also very easy to work with. The trumpet soloist, Caeley Niess, was absolutely soulful, creative and a pleasure to work with.

    We talked about:

    • calling and responding in a vocal manner
    • the importance of choosing to play in balance instead of relying on amplifiers and monitors
    • playing rhythms with intensity
    • knowing who is playing lead in every moment and following them as intently as you solo
    • listening closely to the soloist
    • grooving and being danceable is the objective of swinging
    • Jimmy Hamilton telling me that Duke used to say, “Personalize your parts,” meaning play with feeling and intensity
    • the importance of playing solos with freedom and creativity

    With the Shenandoah Conservatory Jazz Ensemble we talked about:

    • listening to soloists and responding to what they are trying to accomplish with their solo
    • the rhythm section and the importance of a big band breaking down to a swinging small band
    • knowing how to play on top of or inside of a written background if you are soloing
    • the importance of brass listening to reeds
    • the central significance of the drums and the need for drummers to know the lineage of great big band drummers
    • how to comp
    • playing chord changes at the piano when you have to solo on a song
    • learning how to hear the internal voices by analyzing Bach chorales and identifying internal harmony notes on progressions
    • learning progressions without the music and playing the bass notes as well as the melody
    • how to listen to King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band recordings of 1923 and pick out Louis Armstrong’s part to hear someone inventing an internal harmony part
    • the importance of listening to great bands.

    Whew! It was an incredible week for me. Everyone was so hospitable and warm. It felt like the South. Thank You to the entire faculty and staff at Shenendoah University and Washington Performing Arts Society, from Dean Stepniak and the irrepressible Murray Horowitz to Karen Walker, the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of Piano, and Bob Larson Director of Jazz Studies all the way around to the hard working Shenandoah Conservatory Music Production and Recording Technology students. Yes.

    Wynton