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  • Back on that Road

    Posted on September 14th, 2009 | 0

    On the road again. 40hour drive to Banff, Alberta, Canada…the type of drive that makes you reconsider your fear of flying. We travel this time in a Lincoln Navigator. I look forward to this ride because I know I will get some sleep. These last weeks have been rough.

    We have driven so many miles up and down the U.S. in the last 25 years; the front seat of a car sleeps better than a single bed. Frank Stewart and Andre Bragg are driving and will be on the road crew, and Frank will also take all kinds of great pictures.

    We have had more problems with vehicles over the years. One winter we had a Winnebago with no heat on a tour through the Midwest in the middle of a deep freeze. You had to sit right under the front vents to get any heat. "Man, is it supposed to be this cold in here?" I asked looking at my breath. Frank accused me of whining and volunteered to switch places. “Three blankets and still no satisfaction.” Later he observed, "Damn it’s cold in this m.f.!" We couldn't switch the vehicle until reaching the west coast so we eased the situation by using this inconvenience to considered real hardship that folks have endured. We ended up speculating on how Napoleon's soldiers must have felt in Russia which led to talk about why vodka doesn't freeze. Sometimes I read books or poems out loud to them. They wouldn't admit it but they always say, "Read another one man… read another one." We also pass hours by telling the stories of each others lives from first memories to the present. It's called 'the life of', but Frank's life is so interesting, we never get past him.

    You may have noticed we had fewer post in the last weeks. That's because J. Kelly and I have been up day and night with notes, notes, notes…thousands of them. Wayne Shorter once told me, "Notes are like people. You have to go up and meet each one." Well I must be running for something because I've met a lot of those people in the last three weeks. These were hard but extremely intense days of 15, 16 hours of concentration. It’s funny because that type of absorption is difficult to get to and harder to let go. Once rehearsals began for tour, no more day and night vacation withmusic. And I'm still late and not working on orchestration yet, so this is gonna be three or four completely sleepless weeks. I love this, and when waking up at 5am after 2 or 3 hours of sleep, mutter to myself, "Let's see m.f. Let's see." J. Kelly joked with me after one week of intense work. "No posts huh?" He sent me this list of number of notes for each movement in the piano sketch:

    I: 4804
    II: 5505
    III: 8481
    IV: 3611
    V: 1757
    VI: 7366
    VII: 9078.

    Whenever I compose long pieces and see page after page of hard-earned music, I think about Sandy Feldstein-drummer, composer, arranger, music publisher and educator par excellence, man of sartorial splendor and down home humor. He would always say, "Are you suffering with diarrhea of the pen? Man, turn the music upside down when you’re halfway through and that's your whole piece with half the work." Good drummers hate to see a lot of notes anyway. You have to let them do their thing for the music to be free. Duke didn't write drum parts (I think). Sandy used to laugh when looking at a pile of notes and say, "Yes, there are a LOT of notes, but are they GOOD notes?" I loved him. We lost a great friend of music and American education whenhe passed away. I'm gonna check on Wendy today.

    Before satellite radio we used to search all over for games and have the radio cut out at the crucial moment. Well, I slept from 9pm (when we left) to 5 in the morning (now) and missed that Packers-Bears game last night. We tease whoever sleeps about their snoring but Frank wins the prize. Now it’s just past 6 and the sky is that deep Matisse blue. We are chewing up open, American highway, and the trees are shadows that dot the misty landscape. The pre-sunrise lights of people's homes make us nostalgic for the school time mornings of our own childhoods, and the big trucks roll on and on and on…and so do we.


  • Happy Birthday Book Nova

    Posted on August 26th, 2009 | 0

    Today is my big brother Branford's birthday.

    We had some helluva times growing up. He is a musician with such great ears and reflexes that playing with him was something you could take for granted…until you played with other people.

    I remember us learning tunes in the mid-70's off of Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament, Stevie Wonder, Tower of Power and all the recordings of funk bands with good horn sections. We were so country…we would write the names of notes (a-b-b-d-f-f) on regular loose-leaf paper.

    Our first gig was an elementary school dance in Kenner, LA. We had a four piece band——sax, trumpet, guitar and drums. The gig was supposed to be two hours and took place in the school cafeteria-gymnasium-meeting room. We learned about 12 songs. Well, those songs took us about 35 minutes into the gig. We stopped. People said, "We came here to dance, y'all better come up with something, NOW". The next hour was a continuous medley of all 12 songs with some of the saddest solos you ever heard in your life. We were 11 and 12 then.

    4 years later we played in a funk band called the Creators. Girls would ask us, "What do y'all create?"

    The band was about 9 pieces, and Branford and I were the youngest by 4 or 5 years. We played a talent show in the 9th ward at Nicholls High School, and some kind of way had neglected to learn one of the contestant's songs…and to add insult to injury, didn't realize it till he walked out onto the stage.

    Now these could be raucous brown affairs with the audience commenting (back and forth about what they liked and disliked) to the band. One group of singers earlier that evening had butchered “Kung Fu Fighting” and had the nerve to announce to the audience, "The band is fuckin' us up, y’all."

    We had 9 and 1 packing, so we took the mic and announced that they weren't shit. It was funny, but we had to think about whether they would go home and come back with something because it was their neighborhood and those karate outfits probably gave them the feeling they could whip someone's ass. So we were on edge and the people were ready for some Crescent City type excitement to jump off.

    Here comes my man whose song we definitely don't know. The show stops while we discuss another song to do. "Hey man, this is what I know. You motherfuckers better play my song." He has his country-best clothes on and probably all his friends and girlfriend there.

    It was tight.

    The people start murmuring which soon leads to shouting which we know will lead to a really colorful story, if you survive to tell it. Branford had only heard the song a few times on the radio. He sat down at the electric keyboard and played the intro and changes of the tune. He guided our bass player and drummer through it all with complete cool and saved us from a very unpleasant physical encounter with a hyped up audience.

    My man made it through his song, yellow suit intact, and we all couldn't believe Book pulled that off. That was Branford's nickname Book, Bookie, Book-Book Nova, Track Star Book. He could play any instrument he touched and run the hundred in 10 seconds or faster if being chased through South Boston.

    Happy Birthday Book.


  • Long Live JK and Phoebe

    Posted on August 20th, 2009 | 0

    Jonathan KellyJonathan Kelly is from Maine. He plays bass.
    J.K. copies music (translates the hand score into playable parts). He is a one-man team of copyists. When we did my Abyssinian Mass he turned 2hrs of music into professional parts in one week and made the choir director tremble.

    He used to have a bass at my apt. and we would play after going through something to be copied.
    His wife Phoebe is perfect for him. They were married in a most soulful and completely unpretentious ceremony in Manhattan's Central Park.

    J. Kelly and I will be up and sleepless for 4 or 5 days rushing to meet some deadline at 3 in the morning but we still sit down after every music pick-up to play a game of chess.
    We always say, "no need to be uncivilized."

    He immediately walks out the door upon making a winning move to let me assess what has happened. Not a word. We have worked on hundreds of pieces.

    Phoebe asked jk once late at night.
    "What ever happens to all this stuff you are killing yourself over?
    "We laugh about that all the time because we don't know what happens to it and wonder why we do it especially on really long pieces that never get recorded and everyone complains about it's too long and hard. Let's just play Black Codes forever. It would be a lot easier… Then jk says, "pick up at 2" and I have to be ready. When I'm really late, we compete. Can I compose faster than he copies? I knew I would miss the deadline for the symphony last year when jk said," we're not going to make it. This is too important to write with this type of fatigue."

    He never says that. It's ready to be that time again.
    Long live JK and Phoebe!

    I'm thinking about how he can translate my completely homespun scores with thousands and thousands of notes into all that printed music and almost never make one single error. Must be something in Maine.

    I'm thinking about whippin his ass on that chess board.
    I'm thinkin' we're gonna be up for the next 4 weeks.


  • That Oracle

    Posted on August 18th, 2009 | 0

    Happy birthday to my brother Ellis.
    He is to the point and no frills. He is a photographer, poet, and computer engineer. Has three kids and works his ass off. We call him the oracle. He is constantly studying something. He was reading a transcript of Justice Scalia's opinion and decrying the lack of precision in the language.

    All the while he's reading passages that he's marked in fluorescent blue to highlight this lack of judicial integrity. He backs every opinion with some form of evidence. We called him Lut when we were growing up. I still call him Lut or Lil 'Lut even though he's the tallest one of us. He's writing a book on war.

    Ellis said he has been getting distracted lately and not doing what he is supposed to do. So I'm wondering what was he doing. Maybe looking at TV, gambling, hanging out, going to clubs, some frivolity…….he's reading the Old Testament.


  • Feijoada and Fixed Do and Flute

    Posted on August 9th, 2009 | 0

    When I first moved to New York, I studied ear training with the great Cuban maestro Alberto Socarras. I think Socarras was the first one to tell me about the master of choro— Pixinguinha (who is to Brazilians what Scott Joplin is,or should be, to Americans). Both Socarras and Pixinguinha played the hell out of the flute.

    Kent Jordan (who made me practice as a teenager leading by example) plays an unbelievably virtuosic New Orleans flute. (He played on the first ballet I composed for the New York City Ballet,' Jazz Six Syncopated Movements'). I wrote an impossible to play part for him and he didn't even blink at it.

    New Orleans people are related to Cubans through red beans and rice and to Brazilians through feijoada and Carnival…..and sometimes through flute.
    Socarras would have loved Kent.

    I'm writing a flute part right now.
    Pixinguinha would have loved him too.


  • Perspectives

    Posted on August 5th, 2009 | 0

    There is snow high on the Pyrenees. We are on a 45 min drive to Tarbes due east of that majestic range. Today we have an all day rehearsal of the music of Sidney Bechet, the Creole genius of clarinet and soprano saxophone. A hell raiser and musical hero in France after WW2, Sidney brought the emotional power and glory of New Orleans jazz to the world. We love playing this music (with special guests Olivier Franc and Bob Wilber (who studied with Sidney) because early jazz is optimistic, hardy, and always fun to play. Wycliffe Gordon is also on this concert, so Vic and I will have a great time playing 3 horn collective improvisation with him.

    For twenty years, in Marciac, I stay in the home of Marcel and Christiane. Their three kids are around my age and they have shown me and my kids much love through these many years. All of my kids have studied French and love France because of their experiences in Marciac and in the house of Laberriere. They are family to me. We sit at the kitchen table (Frank Stewart's picture of that same table is in our book Sweet Swing Blues on the Road) and speak in broken Spanish about all kinds of things. When their daughter Cathy is home, she translates, all the while adding her own passionate commentary and arguing with her father.

    We talk this morning about: the quality of ham in Bayonne; the various shapes of tomatoes from south america (they pull out a tomato that looks like a pepper and another shaped like a heart); the glories of a pepper festival in the city of Espellete; how they loved taking their kids to the Basque region when the family was growing up; how Basque people adorn the outside of homes by hanging peppers on draped strings (also, I observe, a tradition in the U.S. south). Out comes 4 or 5 Basque cookbooks with commentary on memorable past meals.

    We are eating confit de canard and sliced potatoes fried in duck grease. They say you can only get a proper magret in homes because it takes 6 to 8 months of soaking the duck in its own grease and restaurants don't want to take the time. This meal reminds me of the cuisine my great aunt used to make in a little bitty shotgun house on Gov. Nicholls street in New Orleans (my momma and them speculated her recipes came from slavery, well, my great uncle was born in 1883 so that's not far fetched)…. anyway, New Orleans was founded by the French and we eat the same bread and like our coffee the same way and, regardless of economic status, have that same high regard for savory sauces and ornate sugar bowls and taureens.

    Marcel and Christiane have been married for 48 years. Yesterday we had a long conversation over a section of roasted pork. This was an intense back and forth about black and white folks and France and America and imperialism and Charles DeGaulle and wars and generations and what people know, want and expect, and progress and, of course fraud and frauds. Cathy and I represent a younger more progressive and liberal (we think) way of thinking. Marcel says when he was young, he was with Gen. De Gaulle who was against all kinds of imperialism (including American) and long before that, he remembers German soldiers occupying his family's house. He is proud of what his generation has achieved and, like most who remember the American effort in WW2, he loves the United States.

    In his early 20's (1958), he fought in northern Africa for 2 and a half years. He says war opens you up for life (for better and worse). As we get deeper into a rumination on black and white folks and old and young folks, he becomes more forceful. He says France fought in Senegal and the Congo and Algeria, Vietnam and so on and a lot of lives were lost over trying to oppress people and take their things because their skin color was darker.
    He says he understands what is the battle of the races and that the loss of life in those wars made many people in France realize they would rather accept people of different colors and cultures coming together than continue to die trying to prevent it and or trying take people's stuff free of charge (or so cheaply as to be free).

    About the generations he says you go to school you think you know something.
    You do something (like fight in a war)——you know something.


  • Mr. Freddie Green

    Posted on August 3rd, 2009 | 0

    Today I am working on the 'guts' of one movement of my symphony……. thinking about the late great Freddie Green who played guitar with Basie for so many years. Freddie spent 5 decades of nights playing those steady springy quarter notes that undergirded everyone else's rhythmic flights of fancy. He was the key to the infectious Basie swing. Mr. Green said that his role required a lot of humility AND aggression.

    His playing was dependable and flexible like bamboo. I am thinking about that constant stream of on the beat quarter notes (or eight notes depending on tempo) that is found in classical symphonies, tango, and some rock bass parts, in latin music (sometimes on the güiro), marches, and a lot of viola parts. I'm remembering how Mr. Freddie Green told me there's a lot of motion to be found when you're being still.

    I guess he was talking about all the little melodies and nuances he would find in that steady stream of rhythm. Or he could have been talking about what those whirling dervishes achieve: through motion——-stillness. I mean the swing is also a circular motion.

    Well, Mr. Green was so intelligent and experienced by the time I met him—-no telling where he was going. I should have asked better questions back then.


  • Marciac Magic

    Posted on August 2nd, 2009 | 0

    The JLCO playing at Marciac Jazz Festival 2009Onto the stage of the Chapiteau…… 20 straight years. Everybody cheering, Jean Louis, Marcel, Christianne, Noé, Vincent, Sammy, and pretty girls from Gascony named Celine. The seer of the American vernacular, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Miller, has scraped up enough money to get here from Bolivar, Tennessee and he's 'loaded for bear'. And here comes the band and Elliot is doing his absolute trombone thing on 'Mendizorrotza Swing' and chops are flying everywhere.
    And Sherman steps into his own arrangement of 'Sweet Papa' Lou Donaldson's 'Blues Walk'——— has people in every corner of the big tent shouting with sanctification in the spaces of his solo and all that Alabama soul in his sound also works in the country region of France…. then Chris takes us to Georgia by way of the chitlin' switch and we know we're gonna have a good time tonight. Carlos starts walkin basic quarter notes way down low and falls deep in the pocket with Ali.

    Me and Ryan glance at each other with that "yeah" look. (And Ryan is not given to any gratuitous demonstration whatsoever)….those men are swinging.
    Here comes Duke's 'Paris Stairs' and Sean weaving quirky lines of pure harmonic sophistication while Vic adds luster to Jimmy Hamilton's part (Jimmy played on the original recording and he played in the first JLCO). I can see him now telling Vic some obscure clarinet fact, happy that this music is being played still in the world and still to great affect. You should have heard Vince's 'Up and Down' and all the horn Ryan and Vic played.

    Young phenom Cafiso sittin in for our brother Ted runs wild on 'Epistrophy' and Printup plays some of the most eloquent muted trumpet we've ever heard on Horace Silver's 'Peace'. Dan puts moonglow on the ensuing improvised chorus over a carpet of velvety saxophones. Before we look up, Vince finds the holler in Monk's 'Bye-Ya'. It feels so good he don't want to stop. Carlos gets loose too, shaking the sweat from his eyes so he can keep playing the bass on this, his beautiful arrangement… Joe has been waiting to do his thang on Thad's 'Counterblocking' and does, leaning back in his chair and digging into the time making the big horn sing.

    Then 3 sections of my Abyssinian Mass and we end with '(you got to watch) The Holy Ghost' and sean, Chris and Sherman blow encrusted soul from the bowels of their horns and ali stomps and shakes and shimmies the tambourine and bass drum to kingdom come. All the while dan has been comping and soloing and making his 'I'm here to play' face and that Marciac audience, second to none in the world, takes us higher and higher till we touch the scalding hot notes ryan has been hitting all night and so deep in the pocket we pull away with handfuls of gris-gris Marciac magic. And the tour is over.

    But not until Ali parades us down the street with 'the sanctified blues' and Victor renews our faith in what New Orleans did for the clarinet so long ago and still today that Creole spirit lives through him— then kenny dorham's 'stage west' at breakneck tempo allows walter to say what we all know what Carlos said when he kept the time, challenging ali to maintain the superfast tempo AND the form on a mach-speed drum solo and what we (all arched in holy anticipation of a drummed cue that comes unpredictably streaking towards us) joyously reiterate as we strike the final choruses of blazing lines: All Jazz is Modern brothers and sisters. And it's in the minds, souls, and feelings of everyone here and everywhere that knows.

    This is what we been doing and still do with ancestral pride and swagger. And our beautiful listeners in the Chapiteau tonight let us feel that it's worth doing again and again….. and the cats are all gone. And I am up at 4 o'clock, after drinking a little armangac with Marcel and Christianne and Jean Pierre and Françoise, in a solitary room working on this symphony, grateful to have had the best seat in the house.

    And John Miller is off somewhere in a complete drunken stupor shouting words of encouragement to soloist who stopped playing hours ago but whose guts remain forever in the foamy lather of what was, is, and continues to be. A thing never seen again as Yeats liked to say, but always seen forever (as the real hipsters love to point out). like making love to someone you love.

    It never dies. Ever……


  • BIG 12

    Posted on July 31st, 2009 | 0

    Jeff "The Jedi Master" Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Carlos Henriquez, Walter BlandingIt is a week ago from this past Monday morning; we are recording at the Conservatorium de Musica Jesus Guridi in the Aula Magna Isaac Albeniz. Several years ago, I did a big trumpet master class in this same room with about 30 trumpeters of all ages from 6 to 67. The Jedi has been here all last night setting up the space. We are desperate to sound good because we all know this is a golden period for the band, and we want to be documented sounding our best.

    I am worried that the room will be too dry (not reverberant enough). In the 1970's, the technology of recording changed to accommodate the newer electronic instruments which sound good going directly to tape (no room sound necessary). The optimal studio became a very dry room so that engineers could conrol the sound electronically without fighting what took place in the room. All ambient sound could be created by artificial echo machines and the like. Tones could be plumped up and everything but soul added by the sound engineer. This innovative step forward gave control over the music to the producers and led to groups recording individual members in separate, isolated spaces relying on headphones to hear each other play. This further liberated us (a few years later) from even having to be in the same studio at the same time when recording. This freedom from the requirements of developing a tone and balancing with other musicians in a room hurt jazz, which places a premium on an individual, nuanced tone and features the struggles and triumphs of musicians communicating and balancing with each other.

    One example of this struggle is the drum-bass dynamic. The drums are the loudest instrument, the bass-the softest. The drummer, the most powerful definitive instrument on the bandstand, must fight to play with enough control to allow the acoustic bass to be clearly heard. Just like the power concept in the U.S. Constitution – checks and balances. The bass checks the power of the drummer. Once the bass plugs in, and is as loud as the drums, the drums are free to play as loudly, and a central tension is gone. The characteristics of the music change for the worse. There are many relationships like this in jazz. Get a monitor, and you can play as out of balance as you want (just make the instruments you're drowning out louder in your personal mix, and everything will be ok).

    We will be struggling with these issues today because we don't use headphones or anything to impede our hearing. There is a funny saying in the studio, "We'll fix it in the mix." The great Steve Epstein, my producer for many years use to say, "It's not magic. If it sounds good out there (in the room), it sounds good in here. Fix it in the room." We believe in playing in balance and with intensity. That's why we need a good ambient room – to feel good about our balance and general sound.

    Well today the room, if anything, is too reverberant.

    It's 11am…time to hit. Chano and his men are ready, but no El Piraña. We are ready. The saxophones even had a self- inflicted, three hour section rehearsal yesterday (Sunday), so you know they are chomping at the bit.

    Iñaki is ready. This is a dream come true for him as he convinced the city to sponsor this recording. We have never made a record in a studio outside of the U.S., and I am more nervous than usual because I want Iñaki to be happy.

    Time to go, and the computers don't work. Down through the years, when stuff doesn't work in the studio, I always feign extreme anger and say, "Two million dollars worth of shit, all kind of college degrees and can't nobody figure out how to turn on a damn microphone." Jedi is 6'7, about 315 pounds…I don't say anything. And I don't want us to lose our concentration over something we can't do anything about. We have six sessions to record a lot of difficult music.

    Anyway, El Piraña is not here (he went to Barcelona on the day off). We go outside and start throwing softballs and footballs around…waiting. Two hours pass, an infinity when recording, and the glitch has been fixed. As if on cue, here comes El Piraña as calm as can be (New Orleans musicians are always late too, especially the ones that can play).

    We begin. The hall is so reverberant; we have great difficulties hearing each other. Add Chano's men to the mix, and we have a touch of early pandemonium. Ali has anticipated some of these issues. He has learned all of Chano's music from memory because," I don't want to have to look at music and worry about everything else going on." He is crisp and definitive with the cues and groove changes. The drummer is the de facto conductor so his preparation pays immediate dividends. He and Carlos will talk and argue about the tempo and the grooves for the entire session but have a mutual respect and love for each other that fuels the entire band. Slowly we adjust to the room and get "De Cadi" recorded to Chano's satisfaction. Blas sends chills down your spine with his 'deep song' singing, and Piraña is pure root. Tomasito keeps everyone loose. Our ensembles play in two different concepts of time and volume, so there are legitimate challenges for which no one is culpable.

    Next, we record the two movements of Vitoria Suite which will feature us, Chano's men and Paco de Lucia. Paco has graciously agreed to play on these movements, and his musical assistant, Javier Limon, is here with a most soulful presence. We do the Bulerías (Paco says it’s really Bulerías por Solea) El Portalòn, so it is.

    Normally we play each piece twice and that's it. On rare occasions we have to record more takes. In my experience, we almost always go with the first thing played or maybe the second…never the third or fourth. The first two takes of this piece are too fast and rushing. We decide to do it again at a slower tempo…a drag because at that pace we won't come close to finishing all the pieces.

    The hall is hot and stifling. It's summer in Spain, and the air conditioner makes too much noise to be on during takes. It stays off.

    Recording the way we do really taxes your concentration, you feel as if you're playing for the ages, and every note or musical choice is extremely important. You perform under the pressure of swing time when improvising under any circumstance. When recording you also perform under the pressure of actual time. Time is very limited, and it is not possible for the whole group to re-concentrate on the same piece 3 or 4 times. It loses its freshness.

    The music we are playing with Chano and his men today is so unusual, we maintain our interest and intensity as the day wears on. Tomasito takes off his shirt. He jumps up suddenly and does an impromptu dance at the end of El Portalòn. As we fade out, he mutters some funny phrases ending in "It's ok". He does it at the end of the next take, and cats are disappointed. We hate anything like a routine. Cats tease me for saying the same things about songs in our regular sets. We tell him to do something different, and he obliges with another whole commentary and dance.

    The next piece, Deep Blue (from the Foam), goes down relatively easy even though the last section has tricky entrances. Thankfully, Chano changed the groove on this one and made it more playable.

    The first day is over and we have recorded 45 minutes of music…on schedule. Iñaki is doing better. The Jedi has a long night ahead of him putting the tracks together and tweaking all the tech problems. He has a local production crew who already love him (they call him ‘Pequeñito’). They are astounded by his encyclopedic knowledge of the technology, his intensity, and his warmth. After tonight they will understand something else – the Jedi’s energy and work ethic is unequaled in the free world. We are bone tired. There are two more days to finish ten movements.

    The next day we are very businesslike and efficient. We have adjusted to the peculiarities of the room and Jedi is hitting his stride. I break after every take, and the process seems to be very tedious. I tell cats I think we are being too careful, trying to play everything perfect. Vincent says we are going too slow. The other cats chime in, "Yeah man, let's go." I understand what they are saying and make an immediate adjustment. Cats start jumpin’ all over the music. Vic, Sean, Sherman, Elliot, the Equal Opportunity Rhythm Section…everybody is dealing.

    We record six movements in a row, and the day is done. Jedi is happy, Iñaki is even more happy and I am relieved even though I know tomorrow will be a hard day because all three of the pieces have peculiar difficulties. I can't sleep for wondering how my chops will respond to #5 (Blood Cry).

    We start the next day with me and the clarinets. I know I have to play this correctly the first or second time. Since I had an operation on my lips 3 years ago, my chops are not the same. Sometimes they feel ok, other times……well. On this piece, I have to bend a lot of high and sustained notes. I can hear Ali and Carlos saying I played better when I had a mustache. The first take – I start off messing up. I didn't stop and played it all the way through to figure out where my chops were. We finish and the sax section looks back at me with an expression that says, "You were joking, right?" Right away we go into what has to be the one. It was. Then Vic says, "We messed up one section. Let's do it again." I say, "Oh, no. That's it for me." Ted says, "That one had the feeling in it." They go over that one part without me, and we go on to the next piece, the hardest of the session…

    Big 12

    Most jazz musicians act cool and unflustered. We joke all the time, especially in a serious or tight situation. Now, no one says anything. The brass know that the reeds have practiced their parts on the off day, and we also know that we messed up many of these brass pyramids in the concert. It left an unacknowledged bad taste that we are about to wash from our collective mouth. Ali sets the tempo and checks it against a metronome. We start.

    Every man is concentrating and determined to let every other man know what he is about in relationship to this hard-ass music. A pure, single-minded sense of purpose engulfs the room and sucks even more air from the space. We try so hard to put an exclamation point on this piece. We start rushing. Ali tries to reign us in by slowing the tempo. We look at each other and he says, "I can't hold them back, man." We are gettin' after it. We adjust to a faster tempo. Then the JLCO shows who and what it is. Ryan Kisor has one unplayable, double high 'A' quarter note on four to complete a brass pyramid. It is played today. Ryan is good luck. He loves to play poker and has the nerves and countenance for it. The brass play two takes of this and miss maybe two or three notes. The reeds are all over their parts. Ali, Carlos and Dan swinging with a willful sharpness. For us, this is the highlight of the session, and we were not bullshitting…at all!

    Movement 7 goes down in two takes despite the reed parts in C# which should have been written in Db. Things I never have to worry about: the trombone section (they comes to play); Ali (understands the seriousness of recording); Carlos (policing the groove). The session is over. Dan stays and records his intro. Then, we enjoy relief and satisfaction.

    If these posts give you the feeling we are sightseeing, well believe me, that was three days and nights of concentrated work. Whew!

    Iñaki is very happy, and so are we. He treats us to one last, excellent repast at the restaurant Sagartoki. "The best tapas in Spain," Iñaki says. We hang for a minute after all the cats have left, enjoying the moment. Iñaki's family is here tonight and so are many of the cats’ wives and girlfriends.

    Bags packed and in the truck at 12am. Fernando, Irene and I are in the car at 1am on our way to London…16 hours.

    Before we pull off, Iñaki wishes us safe travels. We watch him walk slowly down the desolate, night-lit street, full of emotion. He crosses the avenue, and we feel his contentment with increasing intensity as he fades into the distance. He has taken care of us in the highest style as he has always done. I tell Fernando how much I love and respect Iñaki. Fernando says, "Yeah, that's one bad motherfucker, boy."

    Yeah, he is.


  • Dato Street Fiesta

    Posted on July 27th, 2009 | 0

    Wynton Marsalis, Senator Javier RojoLast week I received the gold medal of Vitoria. Iñaki told me to make sure I was on time for the ceremony. I was. For all the honors I have received, I'm always embarrassed by any official type of public recognition. When I was younger I would clown during the reading of the citation. Now, I just stand uncomfortably there. At one point I wanted to just not accept any awards, but my mentor Albert Murray said, "The ritualistic giving of awards allows a community to come together in celebration of what is significant for them. The ceremony itself, its reenactment, places present day heroes in the context of past heroism and says, 'our values still resonate in the present' which gives confidence for the future." I now accept awards graciously. The last time I had an official ceremony in Vitoria, a female journalist informed me that my pants were unzipped. That was 6 years ago and I still remember it. It's hard to quietly zip up your pants at a public ceremony.

    This time, I made sure everything was tight. We arrived at the medieval center of the old city, and there were guys with green and gold embroidered, medieval guard uniforms holding formidable looking battle-axes. The mayor, Patxi Lazcoz, was young and energetic, and I had a wonderful (and beautiful) translator. This ceremony was unforced and lyrical. It was a radiant Sunday morning, and everyone was dressed up. Reminded me of the South and so many Sundays with people all dressed up with their best clothes…all colorful. We would get our clothes for the year from the Sears catalog, and you always had something for Sundays.

    Gen and Stew are there. Gen is my assistant and office manager and everything. She was George Butler's secretary at Sony (when it was CBS) in the early 80's. Branford and I were 19 and 20. We used to go to the office just to see Gen. It broke our hearts when we found out she was married, but her husband, we just call him Stew, is one of the coolest people on earth. He doesn't come out that often, so to see the two of them and their two college roommates in Spain was a treat and a comforting touch of home.

    Mayor Lazcoz read the citation in a warm and brisk manner. I looked at Gen for reassurance that I wasn't talking too long in accepting the award – Gen and Susan John (our director of touring at JALC), between the two of them I get a sense of when to stop. Chano then played for me an exquisite "Solea Blues". I loved the fact that he played at this. He always brings a good time with him, and when he started to play, it became a great time. This was a hip ceremony— not all stuffy. Members of city council were there. I thought about the city council of New York. I love them because they ARE the communities they represent.

    We went to an outdoor reception under a tent. Very soulful. Food and drink excellent. The dedicated volunteers and hard working staff of the festival were there. There was a big Styrofoam sculpture saying ‘THANK YOU WYNTON’. I joked in my mind about how I would send a picture of that to my sons when they start telling me how I didn't do this or that. There was much lively conversation about politics, and Señor Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain (from Vitoria), won the sartorial splendor award. We joked and compared shoes, ties…it went all the way down to the cuff links. He is a very gracious and humorous man. We had a spirited repartee about American politics.

    I took pictures with other recipients of the gold medal. Each one has made some important contribution to the city: Amelia Baldeon in archaeology, Eduardo Anitua in biological investigation, Joaquin Jimenez in popular and folk traditions, and Inaki and me in jazz. I was the first non-Spanish to win. Of course, with the legacy of American slavery and being from New Orleans, I might have some Spain in me.

    After taking pictures with the Festival staff, a smaller group went to IKA to eat. They understand about food there. We had a lively, lively political 'discourse' over some special tuna and local rioja. The discussion got so heated at one point, I forgot I was 'company'. Senator Rojo has a passionate way of discussing the issues (something I always relish because it makes you feel alive and is real education). That was a great lunch.

    As the repast ended, the Director of Protocol, Señor Gosu Alberdi (himself with a deep blue, three-button suit that he appeared to be poured into and spit-shined shoes so well polished, I checked the position of my tie in them) told me three things: – Do not misconstrue the heated nature of the debate as disrespect. – Thanks for being well dressed. – Learn more about Spanish politics.
    We all laughed while acknowledging the truth in those words. Senator Rojo and I exchanged cuff links, and we all saluted each other as we went off into the late afternoon, down the glorious, sun-drenched avenues of Vitoria, well equipped to face the night.

    I had to be super-organized for the next day. We were recording Chano's music, then movements 4 and 8 which would be augmented with Chano's group. The Jedi was in town and we had to adapt to a new recording environment.