This weekend I saw two concert put on by SFJazz, both at Herbst Theater.

Redman and Mehldau

On Saturday I caught the late set with the Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau duo. It was everything you could expect from the pairing.

Their originals were haunting and complex with Mehldau usually holding down the rhythm in his distinctively pianistic fashion. During the first tune (I forget the names), he kept a very muted five going the entire time, richly accentuated with deep base notes and flowing inner lines. His playing had the deliberateness of a late Romantic piano sonata, but kept the flexibility to keep up with Redman’s improvisational nimbleness, and to adjust to a broad variety of textures during his own solos.

When the duo played standards, however, their combined creativity and synergy truly shone. This is not a criticism on playing originals, but playing a tune you have heard thousands of times, and played thousands of times, and the audience has heard thousands of times probably lends itself to much more interplay and freedom. This was especially apparent in their rendition of Anthropology. At one point of his solo, Mehldau managed to stretch the first five note phrase over the entire 8 bar A section. I do not know if he was keeping the form the entire time, but something tells me that he was, and that he managed to stretch the laws of space and time to play his solo. Redman managed to fit that same five 8th note phrase into every nook and cranny of every change in the course of on chorus. Seeing the duo’s utter comfort over familiar repertoire, such as rhythm changes, or Monk’s Dream, gave me a good understanding exactly what we were dealing with as an audience, and how they could breathe such beauty into the less familiar original compositions.

Jim Hall

On Sunday I saw Jim Hall.

Most of what I know about Jim Hall are from two classic albums he contributed to: The Bridge, and Undercurrent, so I expected some virtuostic straight ahead guitar playing from an old master.

I was surprised to find instead, that Hall was playing spaced out versions of standards. I guess by the time you are 80 (it was his 80th birthday) and you have been playing jazz professionally all of your life, and you have repertoire you have played hundreds of thousands of times you don’t need as many notes, do not need to stay strict to the melody (or even the harmony) to play a tune.

I was also surprised and delighted when he played a couple “free” pieces with his quartet. I saw some people leave at the points of the set he did this, but for the most part, I think the audience enjoyed it. His quartet exhibited great sensitivity at these moments, which they also needed during the rest of the two sets.

Hall opened up pretty much every piece with a little solo cadenza, with the band joining in at an appropriate moment. I got the sense that he was deciding things as he went along, doing whatever he could to make things fun and interesting, including doing All the Things You Are in 3. I feel like, he was just having fun with the tunes, much in the same vain as Redman/Mehldau had fun stretching/obliterating the standards they mixed in with their original compositions.

I almost passed up Jim Hall, wondering if two concerts in a weekend was going to be too much money and time. I am glad that I ended up going. The whole weekend got to be a great SFJazz presented lesson on musical mastery, and the great flexibility that seems so achievable in jazz when played by the greats.

Someone asked me how I got into jazz. It seemed like such an innocuous question that I could oblige a quick answer, and then it quickly spiraled out of control into the paragraph below.

I guess it is kind of serendipitous how I got into the genre, but the thing is, I did not quit, despite the odds having been stacked against me. I should have realized how hard this was going to be, and how much easier and more fun getting into rock, singer songwriter stuff, or blues, or any other kind of genre; and how much more popular I could be.

You could say it’s not too late, but it really is. When I go to a punk show, or listen to more pop oriented kind of music, I have a lot of fun, but it does not inspire or excite me the way good jazz does. Maybe it will again someday – just not today.

I probably got into jazz in high school, when jazz band was the only band to join. I started playing guitar in middle school because I heard a Stevie Ray Vaughn record and I wanted to learn the blues (the first real thing I learned to play was “Testify”). I started doing jazz thinking that it was the genre that encapsulated blues (my music history was a little backward back then). I didn’t get serious about it until college, though, when I realized that everyone my age was already 10x better than I was and I needed to practice. By then, the thing that attracted me to jazz was it’s cerebral nature – I liked that you had to be able to count, know everything about harmony, and be able to apply different scales and harmony and substitutions at will on the fly. I figured that if you knew everything about music, you were probably playing jazz. About a year ago, I came to the realization that the real heart of music is something less tangible than how much I studied. In order to really swing, you have to be able to accent the right notes, and there isn’t a pattern, or a special way to divide the eighth notes. And in order to play a solo, or write tune that makes musical sense, you really have feel something in a way you can’t describe in a paper. Good jazz has those things for me, while also being open to any kind of possibility (odd meters, no meter, complex harmony, total freedom).

Pay for Publicity

Posted on October 23, 2011

Lately I have been receiving unsolicited e-mails about my music.

This partly feels like a victory, since it means people are finding my website and actually clicking through to contact me. A publicist once told me that if you do not have an internet presence then you do not exist. What he meant was, you should have a website, or a facebook, or a blog, or any kind of landing page where someone can look you up after a gig, or hearing you on the radio, or any other kind of exposure. I can check that off the list. People can find me on the net.

While it warms my heart that someone would willingly go to my website, listen to my music, and then reach out to me, the requests I have been getting are from writers who want me to pay them for articles.

I actually have no idea if this is standard practice. I would think not, since it has been mentioned on Jazz DIY that jazz writers and interviewers tend to be swamped with cds and one sheets and requests. Then again, this could be where they are making the little money they do get.

I am not terribly concerned of these guys being scam artists or ungenuine. They could make plenty more money aiming at other genres besides jazz. I just wonder if it really is worth my hundred bucks or so to get a couple articles published about me in All About Jazz by a writer I have not heard of. My first tendency is to believe that these kinds of things should come about organically, or they will not be worth so much.

A friend of mine recently subscribed to a service that gets people to “like” your facebook page. While it may look good to a promoter booking gigs to see a band with 6000 likes, I was a little wary of this idea as well. I have a good relationship with the two venues I regularly perform at because they do not expect me to bring my own traffic to their space (which I cannot presently do) and I do not expect them to pay me. They enjoy my music, and I get to play the music that I want to play. I would hate to get hired on the basis of my thousands of fans and have a venue expect me to bring fifty or so paying guests who will run tabs at the bar. The honest truth is I am not ready for that yet.

I understand that you have to pay for publicity, but I am a little unsure of what the right direction would be. What I do not like is the idea that I am paying to prop up my stats, whether it be facebook likes, or articles written about me.

Paying a guy who really enjoyed my music, and could champion it to the real journalists and get it out to real people, however, would make more sense. I just do not feel like I am ready for that yet. Maybe a little more exposure around the bay, finding more opportunities to play, as I do, will help me get a better grasp of where I stand in this oddly overpopulated jazz landscape.

I think when I am getting real sincere e-mails about my music, though, I will feel better prepared to get going.

“First Day” First Day First Day

Posted on October 20, 2011

There will be more videos from my CD releases last weekend. For now enjoy these two.

I feel a little weird uploading yet another version of “First Day.” This one might be the first to have three distinct solos, rather than a long group improvisation. I like how it almost makes the performance into a mini-suite of three improvised shorts, bookended by the theme. At the same time it is clearly one single piece.

Here is a clip of Jacob and Forrest channeling their excitement into a pretty great duo improvisation right before our first set. It set a pretty good tone for the day.

First Day CD Release

Posted on October 18, 2011

First Day is out on CD Baby! Finally you can order the CD if you missed out on the presale.

First Day

You can get a physical CD delivered to you for 10 dollars, or get a digital download for $4.95. Distribution on iTunes should be coming soon.

Also coming soon, will be video from my CD release concerts. We had Forrest Reige back in First Day for our two CD release concerts (augmenting current regulars Jacob Richards and Brendan Liu) and the groups sounded as good as ever. I will try to post up performances of new pieces.