I have a few shows coming up in the next couple weeks, and there are a lot of special ones, so check your schedules:

Friday, April 20, 7:30pm-10:30 Cafe Claude 7 Claude Lane, San Francisco CA (near Kearny and Sutter)

dinner jazz, come over after happy hour and hang out with me if you work downtown.

Sunday, April 22, 7:30pm

Momi Toby’s 528 Laguna St, San Francisco CA with First Day

Momi Toby’s Revolution Art Bar and Cafe is my main trio’s home, and we are sounding better and better every Sunday we are there. So come out.

Thursday, April 26, 7pm-1am Amnesia Lounge All Together Music Festival

I’ll be on at 11pm for 30 minutes, but you should come to this show because it is a special night put on by my new organization, MusicianCorps, featuring the intergenerational All Together Band, which is comprised of middle school students, veterans, and local musicians.

Friday, April 27, 8pm Verdi Club Barbary Coast Burlesque with Mari Mac and the Monitors

This one just sounds like fun, there will be swing dancing, delicious food, and of course, a burlesque show. bring the kids!

Saturday, April 28, 2-5pm

Vessel Gallery, 425 25th St, Oakland, CA with First Day

This will be our first time back at Vessel in a couple months. We miss this beautiful venue with its wonderful all wood acoustics

Saturday, May 5, 7-9pm Vessel Gallery, 425 25th St, Oakland, CA with Brendan Liu’s Honors Project Quartet (Brendan Liu, Roger Kim, Oscar Westesson, Cairo McCockran
Sunday, May 6, 7-9pm 125 Morrison, UC Berkleey with Brendan Liu’s Honors Project Quartet

I’ve been rehearsing with, and watching Brendan’s Honors Project group for a few months, and I have to say it is shaping up to be something really special. His compositions all evoke special places and feelings; also the musicians he chose are joy to work with, especially the virtuostic duo of Oscar and Cairo. I am hoping this band stays together for a long time, but in case it doesn’t, you ought to catch at least one of these two shows.

Also coming up, I am planning on being at Momi Toby’s the other three Sundays in May, but you should check the schedule to be sure.

I know you are all dying to check out this famous Momi Toby’s, but in case you are impatient and can’t wait, here is a little video of us to tide you over.

Let’s be Friends Miss Missouri
This is our first real time running this tune, and it is mostly me not being able to play this polyrhythm.


PS. In case you care nothing about music, or at least my music, you may can contemplate this instead. Amida Buddha spent many Kalpas (a very long immeasurable measure of time) meditating, not only so he could attain enlightenment, but so that everyone could attain enlightenment and so he could end all suffering. One of the vows he made was: should he not be able to let everyone attain enlightenment, may he not attain the highest enlightenment. And attain enlightenment he did.

Seven Concerts

Posted on April 13, 2012

In the past two weekends I saw no less than seven concerts, including four of what I consider the world’s greatest pianists still alive. Everything I saw (heard) was incredible, which is bad, considering I am really trying to save money at the moment, but I count it as a blessing that I am able to experience music by the best musicians and performers around pretty much all of the time.

I am probably going to talk about the concerts out of order, so I am listing them here:

March 31 My friend’s handbell concert
March 31 SFJAZZ collective plays the music of Stevie Wonder
April 1 Keith Jarrett

April 5 Tin Hat
April 6 Hiromi Trio
April 7 Vijay Iyer
April 8 McCoy Tyner and Gary Bartz

One thing I have noticed is that I am getting much more out of each performance than I used to. Despite being overloaded/overstimulated by the sheer number of concerts I attend, each one captivates me to the point in which I cannot sit still in my seat. Artists that I have seen more than once seem to now have an order of magnitude more of power over my mind and body. While I am sure some of this is circumstantial (groups getting tighter, players getting better, witnessing of off nights in that past), I think mainly I am getting better at listening, and am more receptive as a whole to everything musical, emotional, technical, and spiritual that is happening onstage.

Seeing Hiromi’s trio demonstrates this point the best for me. This was the fifth time I’ve seen her and I was beginning to suspect that she was doing a lot of the same thing. She has such incredible technique, and puts such exuberance into her playing that it is almost impossible to imagine how she could be any better. Somehow she was better than I remember. This time I could hear the quirks in her rhythms, the masterful use of sparseness and density in her chords, and where her melodic wanderings slipped in and out of diatonicism. All of her solos are incredibly inventive, yet they come from the heart. you can see it in the way she plays the piano, with her entire body, and her facial expressions that give away the pure joy, plaintiveness, and seriousness of what she puts into the music.

Keith Jarrett is the same way – perhaps the epitome of this kind of playing. His solo concert at Zellerbach was beyond words for me. I always make fun of Jarret’s wild gesticulations and nasal whining that goes with his music, but I truly believe that he could not play the way he does without some sort similar by product overflowing from his person.

His improvisations ranged from blocky atonal, to funky, to incredibly poignant without a single poorly placed note or silence (except maybe the first piece, which seemed not to have an end (Keith immediately spoke up after he ended saying sometimes he plays himself into a corner and can’t get out, and isn’t it great that he can just stop and start over since this is an improvised concert anyway?)).

For Keith Jarret, there is spontaneous composition of the truest sense. No tonality, chord, polyrhythm, melody, groove, or combination thereof is out of his reach when he plays. He simply a storyteller with unlimited vocabulary. Combine this with a rigor/conscientiousness/consciousness of the architecture and arch of what he is playing, and there is not choice but to call what he does an act of genius.

I came to this concert a casual Keith Jarret fan. I was excited nonetheless because I kept hearing how great his solo concerts were. My buddy Nicki came with me and asserted that Jarret could possibly be the best jazz pianist alive at the moment. I had my doubts, but was converted by the end. Not only was I impressed by his command of his instrument, but I was moved by how much he put into the music that emanated from the stage that night.

Tin hat moved me in a similar way. Their arrangements of ee cummings’s poems were haunting. Something about Carla Khilstedt’s vocals, the mixing of violin and clarinet in the upper registers, and the foundation of guitar and accordian works perfectly with this set of musicians. Their collective playing is incredibly facile. Carla Kihlstedt and Ben Goldberg seem to effortlessly trade phrases, while Mark Orton and Rob Reich build up the bottom layers of something in perfect cooperation. It is worth mentioning that all of the arrangements and compositions are beautifully done.

The SFJazz Collective, too, seemed to be a triumph of arranging and collective musicianship. The eight piece configuration allowed for some great flexibility in the arrangements and showed off how well a group of acclaimed musicians can sing together in perfect harmony, rhythm, and feel. And it was nice to hear this caliber of musician play pretty much only soulful funky tunes by Stevie Wonder. This was another concert that I could not stay in my seat. After I shook hands with, and generally made a fool of myself in front of Mark Turner, Avishai Cohen (He is the man. If I could possibly even dream of playing in the SFJazz collective, it would have to wait till Avishai was done. He plays trumpet, but his feel and tone going through a wah, distortion, and a phaser is more soulful guitarism than I’ve ever touched), and Stefon Harris (I’ve never seen a vibes player play like that. I didn’t know you could play vibes that fast. Then, of course, Nicki duly pointed out that if anyone played like that on any instrument you should be equally impressed), someone came up to me and said that I was more fun to watch than the band (I was sitting in front, and I guess I was visibly enjoying myself).

About a week later, I got pretty much the same seat to see McCoy Tyner.

I saw McCoy Tyner once before and was underwhelmed. I was thoroughly disappointed at the time, because I had built up a lot of excitement over seeing, not only living a historical figure, but a man known for powerful technique and sound at the piano. I blame the band that night, which was mediocre (the drummer approached his solos with the idea that you should always be hitting every drum) and the weird appearance of Marc Ribot, whom I felt did not fit well within the context. Ribot was a little over-comfortable with Tyner, and at one point, while playing a minor blues refused to play the turnaround that Tyner was using, so obviously clashing, that Tyner actually stopped comping for a couple choruses before continuing with Ribot’s changes. Perhaps this is simply a sign of how good a relationship the two have as musicians, but at the time I was not digging what was happening.

This time however, whether it be because the band was better (Gary Bartz on Saxophone, in a addition to a tasteful drummer, and a bass player who could play Tyner’s complicated basslines and match his aggressive feel, in addition to swing), or because I’ve grown a lot as a musician and listener in the past three years, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I could finally hear McCoy’s technique, savor his choice of extensions and chord substitutions, and scrutinize his methods for building solos and creating excitement. The band this time was great, but my favorite part of the night was a solo piano rendition of “I Should Care.”

Vijay Iyer was incredible. Just trying to figure out what Marcus Gilmore was doing on the drums was too hard. This was the only concert where I had the feeling that things were too difficult for me to begin to comprehend, but it was still good in the best way. There is a category of things (new music, abstract art, dance, James Joyce) that go over my head, yet I get this feeling that they are important, serve a higher purpose, or are otherwise artistically meaningful, and I wish I could understand them. Half of what I heard at Herbst with Iyer was that, except that it was incredible and I loved it. Seeing the whole band change tempos and time signatures on a dime in perfect unison was, to borrow a cliche, mind blowing. Iyer, Crump, and Gilmore must have the internal clocks of the best contemporary classical players, on top of the mass of chops, and incredible creativity in their imrovisations, and their ability to listen and play together and create something transcendent over the raw material that is often what you get on a jazz chart. The other half of the concert that I did understand simply rocked. Hopefully one day I can sit through an Iyer concert, or one of Rudresh Mahanthappa or Steve Coleman and grasp what they are doing with time and rhythm, but that moment is not today.

Just my experiences as a listener shows me how far I have come as a “guy that likes music.”