Thursday, November 22, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving. This has been a crazy, and sometimes very rough, year. As we continue to deal with Joey's college search, applications, and decision; uncertainties about the economic future and the ramifications that may have for the arts, and Steph's own adventures in health the thing I keep coming back to is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for family. I use that word to cast a pretty wide net. To my gurus, mentors, and teachers: I am grateful for the knowledge that you have and continue lay on me and guidance you offer - both in music and in life. To my Navy Music family: I am grateful for your professionalism, fellowship, and unconditional support. To my brother and sister saxophonists: I am grateful for the path that our instrument and our goals place in front of us and that we walk it together. To my friends, old and new; close and distant: I am grateful that you are in my life - even if it is only through FB these days. Finally, to my Family: your love and presence keeps me going every day. 

As I sit down to my favorite meal of the year with a happy high school senior and a wife who has redefined the idea of positive outlook (and, she's a badass!) I wanted to take a moment to wish all of you Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The constancy and consistency of practice

The economic situation for musicians has been more difficult than usual. As I struggle to become part of the scene in New England, I hear stories and see evidence of the $50 jazz gig becoming the norm. Serious cats in NYC tell me of similar things in their world as well. In the light of this reality, it has been easy for me to become discouraged about the state of the “business” when it comes to playing creative, acoustic music. That is until I came across a great article by the saxophonist Tim Price. Tim’s thesis is that the daily work of a musician is not the performance as much as it is practicing. It’s become very easy to adopt an attitude of practicing for the next gig. This is a common model, especially for the busy musician with much on his or her plate. But, what happens when there is little on the plate. The voice may tell us that “I’ve got nothing coming up, what is the point of developing new material etc…?” As I reflect, I realize that I have been, and continue to be stuck in that mind set. I think that I have it backwards. Visual artists seem to have this figured out. They make art to make art, shows and sales almost seem to be bi-products of their work. It seems to me that it should be the same for me. If I wait to practice until I have “something to practice for” I fall into a slippery rabbit hole of artistic sloth. I’m not practicing because “nothing’s happening” and “nothing’s happening” because I’m not practicing. Tim writes: I practice everyday, and I practice for at least 2 hours before I do anything. I don't do it because I think that Mike Stern or Sting is going to call. < I wish they would > I do it because it's the one thing in life that has been a constant for me. So few things in life ever remain the same, if any.” This really sums it up for me. The job of a saxophonist is to practice saxophone. If we let performance opportunities dictate our artistic path and choices, we are veering away from the path that the masters like Trane and Newk have left for us.

I acknowledge that I have an advantage and a blessing of having a gig that allows me not to “want” for much. I equally feel that because of that I have even a greater responsibility to be true to the artistic duties of practice and self-improvement. Who am I to sit on my skills when so many artists are struggling daily and so many masters have paid SERIOUS dues for this music. Being a musician is not a typical “service-oriented” job. I would presume that it is on par with what someone called to service in a religious order feels.

I think I need to re-focus my goals on becoming a better musician and less on being “part of the scene”. I feel like I’ve had them mixed up lately. Being part of the scene will not make me a better musician, but being a better musician almost always makes it easier to be part of a scene.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion

These are a couple of videos I made on my iPhone during a rehearsal of my trio. The tunes are a couple of my originals. Here they are, warts and all!

Friday, January 27, 2012

RIP Clare FIscher

Sad news today. Clare Fischer was a wonderful composer with a very rich harmonic pallete. Here's some Freddie with Blakey as a tribute:

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Possibilities?

I am optimistic by nature.

I really love the end of the year. Looking back over past events and thinking about the future always makes me feel hopeful. This year, however, I feel more optimistic than usual.

This could be for several reasons, but my take is that this will be a year of milestones for me:
- I turn 40 in October
- I've completed my Master's coursework and will "walk" this Spring
- One of my best gurus, David Liebman, will be conducting his 25th Saxophone Masterclass (I attended his 10th). This will be a "reunion" class and I WILL attend this.

But, I am tempering my optimism with a sense of deficiency. Looking at others in my peer group, I still feel like I am "behind". My playing and my writing all seem like they are behind where they could be. In that spirit, I am using some of the milestones above to focus some of my artistic work and projects for the upcoming year.

Speaking first about Lieb's Masterclass. When I left his class, I was very focused on what I needed to work on. Over the last several years, that focus has really widened - I think prematurely - beyond the principles that he gave me. In preparation for going back to him this Summer, I am focusing my practicing back to the principles that I got from him. Mastery of sound and technique as well as the assimilation of primary sources through transcription. I'm putting everything else on hold and dealing with my instrument and transcribing for the next several months. Eventually, I'll work some writing back into my routine, but I need to really narrow my focus to prepare for the masterclass.

With regard to my MM being completed, I have some decisions to make academically. DMA? If so, do I start right away or take some time. I am inclined to take some time, both to focus on the work detailed above and because the balance of academic work with my responsibilities to Navy Music was an incredible challenge during my Master's work. I'm not sure I can split my brain into that many horcurxes again. Also, having had a look "behind the curtain" of academia as a teaching fellow I have some thinking to do about my future in that world.

As far as turning 40 goes, I do feel the need to mark this event somehow. I wonder if the time is right to make a serious recording towards the end of this year.

Looking back over the past year leaves me a little disappointed with my artistic growth. I am most optimistic about the potential for more growth this year.

Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Are we (musicians) our own worst enemy?

I want to get these thoughts down before I slip into a food coma...

I have been thinking a lot about the current scene here in Rhode Island/New England and I realize...I have seen the enemy, and I am he. I always notice when I am playing, a lack of fellow musicians in the audience. This makes me grumble a least it did until I took an objective look at myself. When I am not working (which, like most of us, is more often than not these days) my behind is most often fused to my sofa watching Rachel Maddow or 30 Rock, NOT out at a club supporting my colleagues. This is unacceptable. If there is to be a sustainable jazz scene in Providence then it is up to us to support each other and this is a commitment I am making tonight. I have come to love Providence and I can see myself settling here someday. There is such potential here for a healthy creative music scene, but we need to get out of the house and support it. The commitment I am making: if there is live jazz happening and I am not working, I will be there. I have left too many of my friends and fellow musicians hanging...if I'm not on my gig, I'll be at yours.

A scene is created by showing up. I want to show up.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!


Friday, June 10, 2011

Everything can be practice

I played a graduation today.

It was a concert band setting, light classical and the inevitable "Pomp and Circumstance"...a LOT of consecutive quarter notes, imagine the "motor" behind the melody and that's what I was playing. This would be a tempting place to go on auto-pilot and mentally visit the Azores as we repeated the melody over and over, but something about the way we were playing the quarter notes reminded me of something from my undergrad days. My teacher Stephen Duke has an exercise that he called "The Scale and Arpeggio Exercise", the specifics of which are to deep to go into here. Suffice to say, that a portion of it involves tapering notes to silence in time.

I decided to take this few minutes of playing quarter notes and be hyper aware of my note lengths, taper, and attack. Could I make each taper the same length? Could I control the taper in such a way that there was true silence between each note? Could I EXACTLY match the tapers of my colleagues?

In playing this passage while asking myself these questions, I was able to take a simple gig in terms of technique (in terms of "fast fingers") required and make it into a valuable practice session in instrumental control (every bit as much "technique", yes?).

It can be tempting to mentally check out from time to time on simple music. But, if we look deeply enough, there is a lesson every time we pick up our instruments.