Mendizorrotza Swing!

Posted on July 26th, 2009 | 0

The Mendizorrotza is packed and steaming tonight. We play with a lot of passion, and everyone wants to rise to the occasion even though my lack of planning has hurt us. But as the hours pass, chops, heat, concentration, lack of preparation and fatigue begin to congregate. Not good. It's like the game of chess, when you see bishops and knights congregating around your king, Hmmmmm…

The first three movements are great. The fourth, "Bulerías El Portalòn", features Chano's men and ends with Tomasito and Jared dancing their behinds off. The audience goes justifiably crazy. This is a real example of virtuoso musicians and dancers coming together and enjoying each other’s craft at a very high level. We try to impress and inspire each other and invent new things…always new things. Of course, people love Jared. He is brilliant and so for real. That one piece was 15 minutes long and felt like a good ending to the concert…only 8 movements to go and Chano's "De Cadi".

Movements 5,6,7, and 8 are the most difficult logistically. I have a lot of little problems in 5 (Blood Cry) which features the tpt. and clarinets. Then 6 (Big 12) gets away from us in the brass. It has many complicated bell tone patterns and a long form that requires concentration. We hate messing up a big brass part because the brass and woodwinds always tease each other. This competitive ribbing goes back to the earliest big band jazz which featured call and responses and riffs juxtaposing reeds and brass. We accuse the saxes of taking up most of the rehearsal time. Actually, reed parts are generally more difficult because the reeds function like the violin section in a symphonic orchestra and carry most of the melodic material.

Whew! We had a hard time with it.

I always say don't judge something as you're playing it because: 1) it takes your concentration away from what is being played (never leave what IS for what should have been). 2) you're under too much pressure to accurately assess what's going on. 3) even if you're messing up, everyone else could be making up for you. 4) you lose your enthusiastic discovery of what's coming up and destroy your receptiveness to the immediate inventions of the improvising musicians around you (the best part of playing jazz).

Still, it's hard not to observe yourself messing up.

Here comes the 7th section, (“The Tree of Freedom”). The tree of Guernica is very important to the Basque people so this piece has a very difficult piano intro, a lot of intricate woodwind filigree in the treacherous key of C# major (something I know our saxophone players doubling on flutes and clarinets will love) and has been played only once and so on. However, our audience stays with us, and we acquit ourselves well in a difficult situation in public. Our guys have handled their business and did what they know how to do…play.

Chano's piece goes well. His musicians, El Piraña, Blas, and Tomasito live this music. After flying in and waiting all day, they light up the stage. The people here love them and with good reason. Chano has discovered a very unique and earthy way to combine flamenco and jazz at the root. He is one of the few people on earth that can actually fulfill the principal requirements of both jazz and his native music. Most musicians from other cultures play jazz, the first thing they discard is blues- the second is swing—-the two most definitive essentials of this music. After flying in from Russia, he stands backstage and intently checks out all 2 hours and 30 minutes of our set. When he comes on, they give us a needed shot of energy.

27 hours after realizing we did not know all of the music we had to play, our band has travelled 400 miles, rehearsed 4 hours, learned or relearned 4 new pieces, played a 3 hour concert for 4000 people, addressed the particulars of all types of grooves from 4/4 swing to samba to bulerias, Ryan has hit over 50 high G's, Ali has had 2 hours of sleep and did not miss one cue, Dan handled his difficult part on movement 7, Joe got all the entrances in movement 8, and we did justice to Chano's music to his satisfaction…all at 1 o'clock in the morning and in 95 degree heat! I'm proud of my men.

The audience stays with us and the 3 hour concert is successful, even if sloppy. Iñaki is happy. We go back to the hotel, and a great jam session is brewing. There are local people spilling out all into the lobby and street, just loving the informality and romantic freedom of it all.

I went to my room and worked on my symphony, then couldn't sleep…I hate messing up music. Tomorrow will be Sunday. A day off.

One of the cats calls me, "Man, you need to come get a piece of this session."
"Man, y'all gon' hold it down…just like you did tonight."

Wynton