Improvijazzation Nation, Issue # 117

When the links below are SHADED, they already have content – if not, you’ll need to come back to check it for content (of course, I’ll also be posting the updates on FB, if you prefer to use that method):

REVIEWS – Clocked in about 30 reviews for # 116, & you will see many new artists and products in the queue (if you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to look at my ZZAJ REVIEW QUEUE page, which will show you what’s coming up… this can really be handy for promoters and artists who have sent me review material too)!

INTERVIEW – There are 2 INTERVIEW in this issue… veteran jazzmeister Fred Hess and debut artists Planet Z!

ZZAJRANT – Hey – if YOU would like to rant a bit, shoot me a copy of your RANT… if it’s something I like, I may publish it… all material should be emailed to rotcod@rotcodzzaj.com

HAPPENINGS – use this page (always on) to check the latest and greatest happenings… in fact, if YOU have music or poetry events you’d like announced, just REGISTER for our site… just hit the REGISTER button – at the TOP RIGHT side of the page; as a registered user – you can POST gig announcements, commentaries – the list goes on & on – so please consider REGISTERING with us – ok? It’s FREE – no charges or hidden fees! If your post is significant enough to me, I may add it into the HAPPENINGS page!

 

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Our latest reviews for your reading and listening pleasure!!!

Curtis Fuller – THE STORY OF CATHY & ME:  Believe it or not, it’s only “luck of the draw” that makes Curtis’ wonderful (personally narrated) CD wind up as our last review for this issue…. what a way to close out!  Just listen to his own words about his beautiful wife Cathy on the opener, “Interlude I:  My Name is Curtis Dubois Fuller” & then listen as that folds right over into the fantastic “Little Dreams” – all I can say is WOW!  The joyous bounce of “I Asked & She Said Yes“, most particularly on Curtis’ trombone solos, will cinch it up for you… if you’re a jazz fan – you’ve GOT to have this in your collection.  It was the moody “Too Late Now” that brought a tear to my ear, though… absolutely my favorite piece on the CD.  Curtis’ wonderful CD gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at his CHALLENGERECORDS bio page.     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Elspeth Savani – FLIGHTS OF MIND/PENSAMIENTOS EN VUELO:  You can bet yer’ last peso that I’ll be looking Elspeth up when I return the the great NW (she’s Seattle-based)… if you’ve never heard her before, you will TOTALLY groove out to the opener on her CD, “La Flor de la Canela“… it’s not just her peppy & high-spirited jazz vocals, either… that BAND is superb!  The excellent feeling of haunting (& bittersweet) mem’ries that her “Snow Language” composition brings on will stay with you for the rest of your life… simply beautiful!  The solid sax on and mighty fine piano the lilting “Mi Alma y Yo” made it my absolute favorite track of the 9 Elspeth & friends present for your aural pleasure.  You will be flyin’ mighty high by the time you finish this grand jazz CD!  I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at www.elspethsavani.com    Rotcod Zzaj

 

Takashi Suzuki – RESONANCE:  The chord changes on one of my favorite tracks on this debut CD in from Takashi, “Resonance In Blue # 3” let you “hear” his artistic vision… some absolutely beautiful chord progressions on this one.  I believe sonic painting is some of the most lasting art on the scene, because you don’t have to “be” any particular place to witness what the artist wants you to witness.  Takashi show total depth of talent in the composition and execution.  My only critique for future CD’s is that it would help if a bit of thought were given to the track titles… i.e., “Resonance 1-10″ doesn’t quite cut it for me.  In the overall, though, this is an excellent CD, very pleasant to listen to and certainly worthy of my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating… “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.96.  Get more information at CD BABY.    Rotcod Zzaj

 

Russ Hewitt – ALMA VIEJA:  If your spirit’s been down & needs a dose of guitar joy, Russ provides it massively on his latest release… it’s just so easy to “rise up” as you listen to “Samba Samba“… only 3:48, but I keep coming back to this one!  There are 11 sparkling tunes here, & I can guarantee that (unless you’re already a curmudgeon, so stuck in your ways that “nothing new” is acceptable) you’ll fall in love with Russ’s talent-filled playing.  The sax (and organ) on “Pacific Sunrise” will have you thinking coastally in only seconds… true groove!  You can definitely look forward to more musical power coming from this young player (+, you’ll soon hear more about him in his own words, right here in our pages).  It was the spirited “Moonlake Drive” that hit home (most) for me… clearly a favorite & a pick for my playlists.  I give Russ & friends a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED on this one, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.  Get more information at www.russhewittmusic.com     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Knitting By Twilight – WEATHERING:  To look at the rather extensive player list, visit the KBT page… a superb lineup, but even more importantly, some of the better music to come from our long-time friend John Orsi & his crew.  Especially as you listen to the “water washes” on “Biddeford Pool” (flash only, no direct stream available)… a truly mesmerizing track.  If you don’t get a contact high from the full-bodied “Harold’s Budds“, you’re far beyond repair anyhow… the synth washes here bore right down into your inner soul and propel you to angelic heights.  KBT doesn’t really do “jazz per se”, but I’ve been listening to their work for so long now that it’s like a trip every time I get into their zone (which is often, as John makes sure I always get the latest releases – thanks, John).  It was the 6:33 “Rainy Day Trains” that captured my vote for FAVORITE track, though… again, it drills deep and leaves a lasting impression on your head!  I give John & friends my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, particularly for listeners who demand creativity in their listening, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more inoformation at the KBT site linked in above.      Rotcod Zzaj

Lisa Hilton – UNDERGROUND:  The keyword that sticks in my mind as I listen to Lisa’s splendid piano compositions here is “fun”!  Especially on pieces like the opening (title track), “Underground“… just LOVE that left-hand stride… not “boogie”, definitely “jazz”, but it hints at the darkside (as any song with a title like that would, I s’pose).  She has a strong blues orientation on several of the tunes, too, which I love… one of the better tracks in that vein, for these ears, was the marvelous “Blue Truth“… the whole mood takes me back to my first days of listening to jazz in “exclusive” clubs around the world… superb!  The full-bodied presence of “Someday, Somehow, Soon” got my immediate vote for favorite track, though… great jazz colors painted here.  Truly one of the best piano jazz CD’s I’ve heard in 2011!  I give this my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at www.lisahiltonmusic.com    Rotcod Zzaj

 

Sajjad – WHERE I BELONG: Sajjad bills his music as “contemporary instrumental”, and that’s a pretty apt description.  As you listen to tunes like “In My Spirit“, you’ll hear the contemporary influences he alludes to, but you’ll also hear some stunning vocal mixes… I liked this particular 5:04 tune a lot.  Ten all-original compositions that are very pleasing to listen to, and that will stay in heart/mind for a long time to come… the beautiful and haunting “Eternity Falls” soothes, but at the same time reminds the listener that they are part of something larger than just a “disco/hip-hop” frenzy.  The best tune (for these old ears) was the string-laden “Unseen Sacrifices“… ultra-high talent and sensitivity is displayed on this one – my favorite track, to be sure.  I give Sajjad a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Sajjad’s site.     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Charlie Apicella & IRON CITY – THE BUSINESS:  I’ve been reviewing this group since way back (2009) in issue # 88 (once a year, actually, looks like), & they are STILL cookin’!  They play that bone-chompin’ kind of jazz that goes equally well with a bottle of Rolling Rock ( down&funky as on Cantaloupe Woman) or th’ smooth uptown strains of Glenlivet (definitely groove city, as on “Ironicity“) !  The key thing about the flavor of jazz they play (Charlie on guitar, Dave Mattock on Hammond organ, Alan Korzin on drums, Stephen Riley on tenor sax & Mayra Casales on congas/percussion) is that it’s totally ACCESSIBLE – this is the kind of stuff I grew up on, & these guys have taken th’ roots, dressed it up in 21st Century clothes & made it WORK for listeners of any stripe.  I give them my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99… they also get the “PICK” of this issue for “best all-around jazz”!     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Mark Winkler – SWEET SPOT:   Man, this gent KNOWS how to swing those tunes… the opener, “Like Young“, is full testimony to Mark’s high-energy vocal jazz talent…. wow!  All 12 files just jump, in fact… to be truthful, I’m often not wide-open to male jazz vocalists, since they’re often (just) Perry Como or Andy Williams wannabes, but as you listen to “Jazz Is A Special Taste“, you’ll hear that Mark (& his whole playing crew, which is too long to itemize here) is his own unique voice!  Most every jazz style is covered, but the uptown, hard-slink, straight-ahead jazz sound of “On Broadway”  was my pick as FAVORITE, without question…. Mark makes this tune his OWN – & he OWNS it by the second bar.  I give this one my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at www.markwinklermusic.com   Rotcod Zzaj

 

Lisa Kirchner – SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT:  If it’s “smooth vocal” work you’re yearning for, Lisa’s CD will give you 18 totally satisfying instances.  Everything you would expect (& more) from her renditions of classics in The Great American Songbook.  The strangely titled “Suicide in C Minor” will haunt you for hours after you listen to Lisa wrap her emotion-laden voice around the tune.  For those who want a tad more jazz in their tunes, “Crazy Love, Crazy Heart” will thrill you again & again.  It was the 3:21 “Night Make My Day” that got my pick for FAVORITE… Lisa’s presence on this quite bluesy track lends so much to it!  I give Lisa & crew a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.95.  Get more information at www.lisakirchner.com     Rotcod Zzaj

 

AO Music – …AND LOVE RAGES ON:   What gets a CD reviewed here is HIGH energy… high SPIRIT & HIGH talent… as I listen to the opener of AO Music’s latest CD, “Gaiya Lo Mane“, all 3 of those qualities are fully evident & gloriously displayed for all to hear – simple, but beautiful!  I was so excited (again) about their music that I did an INTERVIEW with them… if you’re interested in music that can improve the world – read it!  The 5:31 “Ena Na Lena” is a wonder to behold, and full of the joy of children singing… I love this one, & you will too.  It’s “Kumale Saleyo” that gets my vote as FAVORITE track… no “actual” words, but you’ll hear their message, to be sure!  This one gets an immediate MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who love hearing expressions of JOY!  “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is a stellar 5.00 (the top score).  They also get a “PICK” of this issue for “best music of joy”!  Get more information at AO’s BIO page.     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Rick Stone Trio – FRACTALS:  I’m not exactly sure of Rick’s rationale for the title of this totally excellent guitar jazz CD, except for the connotations it may have with “gems”.  In my mind (& my ears), I get a much stronger vibe of “textures” as I listen to tones as smooth & silky as melted butter on “Key Lime Pie“!  On the other hand, when you listen to the title track, “Fractals“, Rick & crew (Marco Panascia on bass & drums by Tom Pollard) create a totally different mood, of parts of a whole split into many facets.  It was the majestic & upbeat blues on “Nacho Mama’s Blues” that easily & quickly captured my vote as FAVORITE, though… 6:12 of totally original energy!  I’ve been reviewing Rick’s work for many years now, & can tell you that this CD is one of his best… it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, especially for fans of jazz guitar.  “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.98.   Get more information from the “ONE-SHEET“!     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Claudio Scolari – COLORS OF RED ISLAND:  What I find most attractive about this CD from Claudio & friends (Daniele Cavalca: drums, percussion, vibraphone and bass;Simone Scolari: trumpet) are the “colors” that Claudio paints with his drums, percussives, flute & piano synth!  The second track, “Movement Inspiration” reminds me of some of the rather long improv sessions I used to play on right next to the waters of the Puget Sound (quite some many years ago).  Recording quality is excellent, but I do recommend that you do your first sitting with this 1:19:10 album with your headphones on!  Particularly with tracks like the wonderful “Earth Dances esplosions“… though it only clocks in at 4:49 (compared to the other 10 tracks, which are all much longer), it packs a power punch you won’t soon disremember.  I give Claudio & crew a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for listeners who groove on exploration!  They get an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Learn more about Claudio on his BIO page!     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Paula Lammers – DEEP PURPLE DREAMS:  My first review of Paula’s grand jazz vocal style was in issue # 75… she got a great review there, & nothing less on this fine CD!  As I listen to the high-energy she projects on the opener, “In The Still Of The Night“, I’m impressed all over again!  The downright bluesy intro to “You Must Believe In Spring” melds right into one of the most sultry jazz vocals you’ll hear this year.  The nice Latin touches on “Not That – South Of The Border” will wrap you right into the cocoon she weaves for you quite nicely.  It was the beautiful mood she created on “And So It Goes” that got my vote for favorite, though… 13 splendid vocals that will stay right up at the very top of your playlists.  I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who can’t go a day without a bit of high-talent vocalization, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Paula’s site.     Rotcod Zzaj

Michael Brant DeMaria – IN THE FLOW:  If you’ve been reading this magazine over the last year or so, you’ll know that I became totally enchanted with Michael’s wonderful music primarily because of his approach to using it as a healing tool.  As I sit here listening to the opener (for about the 8th time, actually), “The River“, I’ve no doubt you’ll realize the same enchantment!  He weaves flute sounds, keyboards and some great kalimba sounds into the follow-on song, “Journeying“,  in a way that will have you spellbound in a matter of a few bars.  Some players who attempt this kind of music come off sounding too “rushed”, or like they’re “trying too hard”; Michael’s approach to his art is nothing like that, as you’ll hear on my favorite track on the CD, the beautiful “Moonlit Sea“!  Is it jazz?  No!  Is it “new age”?  No!  Is it “spirit”?  A resounding YES!  I rate this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any listener who demands depth in the listening experience, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at the SOUNDS TRUE label site!    Rotcod Zzaj

 

 

 

The Rich Halley Quartet – REQUIEM FOR A PIT VIPER:  It must be “reedist week” here… every CD in the queue is comin’ up with sax players… Rich has been reviewed a LOT here lately (use the SEARCH function to find all the reviews)… I’m always highly impressed with what he performs, especially since (like on this album) the songs are frequently (if not always) originals.  As I listen to “Snippet Stop Warp“, it’s easy to hear why I love his work so much… & then when trombonist Michael Vlatkovich kicks in (at around 4:40, there’s no doubt this zugger is takin’ ORF!  My top pick (i.e., favorite) of the 10 tracks, though, was “Circumambulation” – all the players, including bassisst Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley, are in top-flight form for one of the most kickin’ jazz quartet compositions I’ve heard in 2011!  I give Rich (yah, yet another) MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.  Get more information at www.richhalley.com     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Ernie Krivda – BLUES FOR PEKAR:  You can see from the CD cover that Ernie’s tenor sax is jam-packed with jazz energy, but the proof’s in the HEARING… “The End Of A Love Affair” leads the session off in high style, as pianist Claude Black, bassist Marion Hayden and drummer Renell Gonsalves (along with trumpeters Sean Jones & Dominick Farinacci) join Ernie in high tribute to Harvey Pekar (who was a big fan of Ernie’s playing).  Another scorcher was the closing title track, “Blues For Pekar“, a Krivda original… if ya’ weren’t feelin’ th’ blues when you started listening, you surely will be by the end of this tune, lol!  It was the Cleveland-based Ernie’s original track “One For Willie” that got me truly spun-up – it’s my favorite track of the 7 on the CD – probably ‘coz his reeds are right OUT in front.  I give this one my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for jazz listeners who love sax-fronted music, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at www.erniekrivda.com     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Yo Miles – Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser – SHINJUKU:  There are far too many players on this CD to itemize, but what this feel like is “action music”… just imagine a musical equivalent for ju-jit-su & you’ll have some of the images you’ll hear during the marvelous title-track opener… “Shinjuku” captures every little nuance of the downtown Tokyo district you could imagine!  I also found “Willie Dixon” (6:51) to be awe-inspiring… some humongous drum work on this one.  It was the closer, “Muhammad Ali (Live)”, that got my clear vote as favorite, though… the call/response between the bass & Wadada’s horn (at just over 3:00) easily transported the listener to a land of fantasy – much like I imagine this district of Tokyo is every night.  Free jazz doesn’t get any better than this… I give this my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.  Get more information at Henry Kaiser’s blog!      Rotcod Zzaj

 

Silvano Monasterios – UNCONDITIONAL:  There’s a keyword that best fits Silvano’s piano work on this CD – wonderful! His fourth album has 8 original gems, including one of my favorites, the opener, “Farmacia Del Angel“, one of the most “on-time” jazz tunes I’ve heard this year!  He’s joined by some fantastic players, which has a lot to do with the stellar quality of the music/recording – Sax by Troy Roberts, bass from Jon Dadurka & Gabriel Vivas, drums from Rodolfo Zuniga and percussion from Gregorio Hernandez!  I fell in love immediately with the 2nd track, “Monsieur Petit Noir” (that’s Silvano’s pooch, by the way), but it was Silvano’s electric keyboards on the closer, “Black Saint”, that got my vote for favorite track… 6:08 minutes of pure aural pleasure.  I give Silvano & krew a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for this sparkling jazz album, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at www.silvanomonasterios.com    Rotcod Zzaj

 

Vicious World – PLAYS THE MUSIC OF RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: This late-June (2011) release (led by Aaron Irwin on sax, trombonist Matthew McDonald, with guitarist Sebastian Noelle, bassist Thomson Kneeland, drummer Danny Fischer, violinist Eliza Cho and cellist Maria Jeffers) captures the spirit of Rufus Wainwright’s music with high energy and total skill.  Just listen to “Natasha” to get a feel for their talent in slinky down-low fashion.  Then they switch gears on “This Love Affair” – you’ll love the heavy-duty guitar licks talkin’ back & forth with the trombone!  The bass-walk into on “Leaving for Paris” will make you wish you were on the plane already.  It was the 6:17 “The Art Teacher” that got my vote for all-round favorite of the 11 delightful tracks…something for every listener.  I give VICIOUS WORLD a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Aaron Irwin’s site.   Rotcod Zzaj

 

Michael de Salem – SOMETHING GETTING WRONG:  Michael’s CD is, quite simply, one of the best “new age oriented” collections I’ve listened to in 2011! The title certainly gives a hint that “all is not well”, and on the down/funky (yet disturbing) “Metropolitan“, you immediately realize that his stated intention of “to make people consciously aware of certain unpleasant and pleasant incidents” is totally fulfilled through his extreme talent.  There are 9 wonderful original compositions here that penetrate your brain for the long-term.  His guitar on “Tribal Interlude” is absolutely haunting, along with all the “voices” he weaves in – + which, his changes are flawless (on this one, as well as the others).  My favorite track was the 6:13 “Higher“, without a doubt… you won’t be able to forget this one (instant “contact high”)!  Michael gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for listeners who want to explore their innermost turbulence… his “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.98.  Get more information via his EPKRotcod Zzaj

 

Laszlo Gardony – SIGNATURE TIME:  I’ve no doubt the promoter knew I’d be a sucker for Laszlo’s marvelous keyboards from the very first note… especially true on tracks like the opener,”With You At The Bridge“, where you instantly hear what punctuality & high-spirited rhythm is all about!  Laszlo has a powerful playing style that you’ll recognize for years to come, too.  There’s some excellent sax joining in on “Johnny Come Lately” – this track will stay at the top of your playlist for the long haul.  I dug all 10 tracks in a big way, but found Laszlo’s super-smooth interpretation of the Fab Four’s “Eleanor Rigby” to be my absolute favorite… a far more soulful performance than you’ll hear any other artist do!  I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at www.sunnysiderecords.com    Rotcod Zzaj

 

Fred Thrane – ANGELS OF THE SUN:  Don’t believe I’ve heard heavy stratocaster-type guitar like Fred plays here in quite some time…maybe that’s ‘coz my mind hasn’t been exactly where the angels are.  The supreme swirling atmospherics (at about the 3:00 mark) on “Big Sur” will definitely “do it” for you – very nice sonics that have a decidedly angelic pitch to them.  There are some very beautiful blends and mixtures on “Moraga Raga“, too… quite tasty morsels indeed.  It was the haunting percussion and cymbal work behind guitars on the 4:24 “Dawndancer” that easily won my vote for favorite of the nine pieces on the CD – he has a wonderful talent for creating different moods for you!  A very pleasant listen that jazz guitar lovers will find very lasting.  I give Fred a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at FRED’s page.      Rotcod Zzaj

 

Jane Bunnett & Hilario Duran – CUBAN RHAPSODY:   To thoroughly enjoy this unique Latin jazz experience, I strongly recommend that you listen to the entire 51 minutes with your ‘phones on… this isn’t Latin music like you’ve ever heard before.  Jane’s soprano sax and flute work is the ultimate compliment to the wonderful piano work by Hilario… especially on pieces like the intimate “Longina“, one of my favorite pieces of music in 2011! If you’re thirsting for something just a bit more “danceable”, you’ll also love “Danza Lucumi“; simple, but beautiful and satisfying! To be quite frank, when I saw the CD cover, I was thinking “B” CD, like something out of the ’50′s, but since it’s the music & energy that counts here, my opinion was easily swayed to the top of my positive energy scale!  The 10 songs they perform for you here will be at the top of your playlists for a long time to come, no doubt.  I give them my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99, as well as the PICK of this issue for “most unique Latin jazz you’ve ever listened to”!  Get more information at www.almarecords.com     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Les Doigts de l’Homme – 1910:  This French gypsy jazz quartet debut CD will be on the hearts & minds of those listeners who have to have their “fix” of tasty gypsy jazz… they definitely rock it, in a jazz sense! Their spirited interpretation of “Ol’ Man River” is pure delight, though I could’ve used another 3 minutes length… still, totally enchanting!  I just zoomed out on “Blue Lou” – each & every swingin’ guitar note seems chosen for the space it’s in.  The other beautiful thing about their playing is that it’s not “just gypsy”… scope out my favorite track on the CD, “Indifference” to get a clear feel for the diverse range of talent they represent.  This is an absolutely essential album for your collection, & gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) of 4.97.  Get more information at www.almarecords.com     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Claire Dickson – SCATTIN’ DOLL:  It almost goes without saying that debut jazz CD’s are always a thrill… & in Claire’s case, it’ not just a “thrill”, it’s total energy, totally vibrant & fun!  When you hear her soaring scat (right at about 1:20) on “Caravan“, you’ll know you’re in the presence of vocal talent that just won’t quit!  She’s got one heckuvva’ krew supporting her wonderful vocals, too… Michael McLaughlin’s piano, Greg Loughman’s bass, Eric Rosentahal’s drums, Gary Bohan’s trumpet/flugelhorn, Dan Fox’s trombone & Glenn Dickson’s bass clarinet all join in the joy of the moment & create a listening experience that will stay at the top of your playlists for the long haul.  It was the slink & crawl of “Black Coffee” that (easily) captured my vote for favorite of the 10 tunes on the CD.  This one gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for folks who can’t do without a touch of vocal jazz every day, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) of 4.96.  Get more information at www.myspace.com/clairedickson    Rotcod Zzaj

 

Falkner Evans – THE POINT OF THE MOON:   In this ol’ piano player’s mind, there’s nothing cooler than a piano-fronted jazz group.  Falkner pulls “cool” off in a huge way on his June 2011 release; if you don’t trust my words, listen to the opener, “Altered Soul“, which has shades of that ’60′s stuff I grew up on, but is re-invigorated with high-end 21st Century energy!  All nine tracks are full of life, but “Cheer Up” is a perfect track to wake up to… it will get your motor running, to be sure!  The down & funky organ on “Tune” (titled “Off The Top” on the Amazon page) made it an easy pick for FAVORITE track for me!  I’m highly impressed by the skills & talents on this CD, and you will be, too.  I give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at www.falknerevans.com   Rotcod Zzaj

 

Jim Connolly – IT’S ONLY GRAVITY THAT MAKES WEARING A CROWN PAINFUL:  Our friends at pfMENTUM have scored another clear winner for those of us who love high energy chamber music.  Jim & friends perform 20 exciting pieces with the “Gove County String Quartet”… just listen to the surging strings on “Tealight No. 1” to get a taste of the challenging journey they’re going to take your ears on.  The title track, “It’s Only Gravity That Makes Wearing A Crown Painful” clocks in at 3:58… it turned out that was my favorite track on the whole CD… heavy, HEAVY string action.  This one won’t be for “average” listeners… while it’s not jazz, it certainly meets my criteria for music with HIGH ENERGY.  I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at the pfMENTUM site.     Rotcod Zzaj

 

Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic – HEART’S REFLECTIONS:  Y’all KNOW when to get yer’ “groove hat” outta’ th’ closet, right?  Well, I can tell you, this 2-CD adventure will rock yer’ sockz’off!  Wadada & krew will blow you away (for nearly two hours) with this fantastic set of music that takes me back to sessions like “Bitches’ Brew”, albeit with a true 21st-Century twist.  Scope out the opener on CD 1, “Don Cherry Electric Sonic Garden” – over 20 minutes of pure sonic/electric pleasure for yer’ ears!  The intricate weave on “The Majestic Way” will hold you spellbound for the whole 9:12, no doubt about it.  It was the two-part “The Well:  From Bitter to Fresh Sweet Water” that got my vote for favorite, though… it’s got everything a jazz fan could want, & wraps you right in!  I give this 2-CD marvel a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.  In fact, I also give it the “PICK” of this issue for “best epic jazz journey”!   Get more information at Wadada’s ORGANIC page!     Rotcod Zzaj

 

 

The Ray Brown Great Big Band – KAYAK: I don’t get nearly as much “big band” review material as I used to get here, but what comes in is usually highly charged & full of life.  As the title of Ray’s band indicates, this is double (maybe triple) charged!  The superb guitar intro to “Indian Summer” segues very nicely into a full-fledged swinger that you won’t be able to stop listening to!  The jumpin’ 4.49 “Tricotism” will have you up & steppin’ in only moments.  It was the 5:53 “Del Sasser” that got my vote as favorite track & carried me into “the zone”… this just HAS to be a hit in “Maidenform” land (where they dance th’ night away, eh?).  An all-around swingin’ set that gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at www.raybrownsgreatbigband.com Rotcod Zzaj

 

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Issue 117 Interview with PLANET Z

As soon as I heard the scorching violin/guitar work on Planet Z’s (Susan Aquila and Rob Tamaro) debut release, I knew I wanted to interview them… this is one dynamic set of player, and I’m exceedingly happy they opted in to doing an INTERVIEW for our readers… I’ve no doubt you’re gonna’ love their high-energy playing just as much as I did… & their INTERVIEW just RAWKZ!!!

 

 

 

Zzaj:  As I understand it, Planet Z is (basically) Susan (Aquila) and Robert (Tomaro), though there are certainly other players on the CD.  You escalated to the very TOP of my review queue because your music was totally energetic.  Give us your thoughts on why your energy quotient is so much higher than other players/bands?

Rob Tomaro:  Hello ZZaj.  Thank you for your cogent question.  Before answering, please allow me to express my gratitude, on behalf of Susan and the band, for your warm and greatly appreciated reception of our debut CD.

Regarding the energy on the Planet Z CD, I think it comes from several sources.  First, our remarkable battery of drummers, Paul Pizzuti and Ray Marchica, worked very carefully to construct a  web of polyrhythmic texture throughout the CD that kept the material pulsating at full throttle. Then, there is the fastidious and relentless bass playing of Irio O’Farrill.  He does an amazing job of keeping the groove on track.  Playing bass with two drummers must be like jumping onto two wild horses and riding them with one set of reins. He is amazing.  And, Joe’s keyboard playing adds so much to the groove in smoothing out the texture.   Next, Susan’s energy is so kinetic and infectious that we all rose to the occasion to play with her.  Next, we were under a very proscribed time constraint to produce this disc, two rehearsals and three days of principal recording, so everything has a spontaneous feel that might not have otherwise obtained.

Finally, Joe Church, our producer, did a stunning job taking the raw tracks and sculpting them into the final product, a really amazing feat which he accomplished with great artistry and aplomb, in my view.

Susan Aquila:  One of the things I love about Planet Z’s music and Rob’s music is the vibrant and unrelenting groove. The music is rhythmically driven and the melody comes out of that rhythm. Part of what creates that strong groove is the fact that we have 2(that’s right-2) drummers with full kits pounding away. Also, Rob has a fantastic sense of setting a groove that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The other reason for the high energy is that Rob and I have a lot to say in a short period of time so we really go for it!

Zzaj:  I notice that both Robert and Susan have “Broadway” credits listed… are you “more than musicians”, then?  In other words, what are your goals, separately and/or individually?  Are you planning on using the big stages of the world to take it over anytime soon?

Rob Tomaro: I am sure you will find Susan’s answer to this very interesting.  As for me, yes my work is rather diverse.  After a long period of jazz guitar work in Chicago and New York, I played the pits of Broadway shows, then attended graduate school at New York University, where I met the album’s producer, conductor/composer Joe Church, who did such a remarkable job of crafting the overall sonic design of the CD.

Upon received my PH. D. in Composition, I actually began a conducting career.  At present I am the Music Director of the Beloit Janesville Symphony in Wisconsin and I conduct orchestras throughout the world.  My goal for Susan and Planet Z is, as you’ve stated, Zzaj, to tour as widely as possible and to continue to record our music.

Susan Aquila: I really enjoy a lot of different styles of music and a variety of performing opportunities. Starting off as a classical violinist, I love playing in symphonies, chamber orchestras, ballet and opera pits. But I also love the energy of being on stage with a rock show. I not only like to play the music but I like to feel it so the added element of physicality in entertaining is really exciting. My favorite part of music is connecting with people. I would love to continue making good music and performing for people for as long as I can.

Zzaj:  On a track called “The Fire Of The Planes”, I seem to hear a lot of riffage on both violin and guitar that takes me back to the heyday of players as divergent and exciting as Grapelli and Santana… are my ears wrong?  Tell us which players were your primary influences, please?

Rob Tomaro: Well Zzaj, you’ve hit the nail on the head with your reference to Grapelli and Santana.  My first inspiration to study jazz guitar was after hearing a Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grapelli record, which completely changed my life.  A few years later, I had the opportunity and honor to serve as the opening act for Mr. Grapelli in Chicago in 1977 and was stunned by his alacrity and fluidity, even in his seventies.  So, the concept of a dynamic interplay between the guitar and the violin has been in my blood for years.  In riffing back and forth with Susan, I find that her playing invigorates and inspires me to greater and greater heights.  As a composer, one couldn’t ask for a more inspiring artist to write for.  Her musical soul is very deep, and is married to a technical proficiency that invites the composer to soar and be free.  There is nothing I couldn’t write that won’t sound better after she’s touched it.

In fact, since you mention  “Dance of Ecstasy” in your review, you might find it of interest to know that, just before recording that number, I wrote an entirely new version of the last 16 bars of the head the night before and gave the violin part to Susan, written on the back on an envelope in my hotel room.  She came to the session the next day and performed it, as you can hear, like she’d been playing it for years, that way.  Incredibly gifted artist!!

Susan Aquila: Wow! I consider Grapelli the master. He could express so much with such ease. He had the perfect match of great mastery of the violin with great artistry. I also have been influenced by the rawness of Jimi Hendrix and the soulfulness of Eric Clapton.

Rob Tomaro:  Matter of fact, Zzaj, a great New York violinist just contacted Susan and suggested a mathematical equation that attempt to sum up her playing:  Jean Luc Ponty +Yes+ Eric Clapton=  Susan Aquila.    I must say I agree.

 Zzaj:  I have found that my travels ’round the world have greatly influenced my music, by giving me new ideas and forms; is that also true for you?  If so, tell us how and why?  If not, tell us why not?

Rob Tomaro:  This music, aside from Cajun Queen, was inspired by two consecutive trips I made to India in the 70’s.  They constituted  a kind of spiritual journey, culminating in a visit to the tomb/estate of Indian spiritual master Avatar Meher Baba in Maharastra, in Southwest India.

The Bombay Express begins the CD because it began my journey in India. It was inspired by the train ride on The Deccan Queen from Bombay to Poona, and is a reflection of my joy at realizing that my physical journey was also a metaphysical journey, bringing me closer to my spiritual Goal with every thrum of the engine as it traversed the Deccan Plateau.

Horizon’s Edge was written on that same trip in India, as well, in a cottage in a millet field very near Meher Baba’s tomb. I tried to capture the feeling of expansive release and freedom I felt, for I knew that my life was changing on that trip.

For Mehera is my homage and elegy to Mehera Jehangir Irani, Meher Baba’s devoted companion and one of the most spiritually pure and inspiring people I have ever met.  If only a tiny bit of her sweetness and love comes across on this recording, I will be happy.  Also, Susan plays it with such ineffable sweetness that it breaks my heart every time I hear her do it.

The Fire of the Planes is a reference to an inner spiritual journey, up through the ascending planes of consciousness on the soul’s way to God, which is described by Meher Baba in his book God Speaks, and which captured my imagination when I first read it.  I hoped, in the music, to evoke a  struggle between the soul, aspiring to achieve its real destiny, and the opposition it experiences a the hands of the lower aspects of the self, which, finally, are vanquished and drowned in the fire of God’s presence in the end.

Finally, the most fun tune on the CD is Cajun Queen, which is Susan and my homage to NOLA, birthplace of jazz and one of the sweetest cities on earth.  I think you can see how happy we were to be there when we filmed our video of the tune.  You can view it on our website:  www.PlanetZtheband.com

Susan Aquila; I think that being able to travel around the world and experience other cultures is so exciting. You learn so much from seeing how other people live and special places in history. This really opens you up emotionally and it always effects what I am doing musically.

 Zzaj:  How did the songs on your recent debut CD get chosen?  Were they culled from hundreds of recorded tracks, or was the selection and recording pretty much spontaneous?

Rob Tomaro: Remarkably, Susan happened, quite by accident, to hear five of the seven tunes as they were recorded in an earlier version by the first line up of Planet Z in 1989.  The CD happened to be in my car and I played it while driving her to dinner one night. The original Planet Z consisted of Paul, Ray, myself and bassist Bob Cross, a remarkable and inspiring artist who was my musical partner throughout the 1980’s and a guiding light to crafting the overall sound of that first Planet Z.  Bob passed away in 2001, but his presence very much permeates this disc.  Hope you dig it Bob, wherever you are!

Susan Aquila: I always knew that I had something to say but I couldn’t find the right words.  It wasn’t until I accidently heard Rob’s music that I found the voice for which I had been searching. His music really hit me hard and now Rob is stuck with me. This was the beginning of the CD.

Zzaj:  In your mind, which is better?  Music that is “scripted” (i.e., written down for you to read), or music that is created spontaneously?

Rob Tomaro: I am most comfortable with a mix of the two, in jazz.  I find that a written structure serves as a good framework that inspires improvisation.  The two cross -pollinate each other.

Susan Aquila:   Both. I prefer music that is written down so that there is a structure to where the climax, emotional tension and releases will occur. Within that, I like to have the freedom to play around and see what happens.

Zzaj:  A bio somewhere (or maybe just liner notes) says that Susan “bridges the gap between rock and classical”?  Why is a bridge needed?  Isn’t all music just energy?  (Yah, this is a bit of a “ridiminous” question, but I’m interested in your view, because both of you seem to have significant educational background in music)

Rob Tomaro: We are fortunate to live in an eclectic musical time.  The energy that prevails now finally supports the breaking down of traditional boundaries in music unlike in previous centuries, when boundaries were far more rigid.   Susan’s classical background “feeds” her jazz and rock sensibilities, in my view.

Susan Aquila: Unfortunately, there is still a gap between classical and rock audiences. Many people who haven’t been exposed to classical music view it as stodgy and old (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Some classical people feel that rock music is simplistic and noisy. In my mind, it is all the same vocabulary and we can choose which textures best suits what we are trying to express.
 

 Zzaj:  Susan, please tell us how the “Viper 6″ (electric violin) became your favorite axe?  Is it just because it looks cool, or are there some technical features that make it ultimately attractive for you to play?

Susan Aquila:  I wanted a violin that had lower strings so that, for the first time in my life, I could play a cool bass line. I had worked with Mark Wood, the creator of the Viper violin, with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and I noticed that he had 7 strings. Also, the Viper has a harness so that you don’t have to hold it. This would open up a lot of possibility of freedom of movement on stage. I could play and then let go of the violin and start dancing or running around. I really enjoy having that flexibility.

Zzaj:  Though readers here probably aren’t the sort to scan the grocery checkout racks for news about aliens, they ARE interested in finding out what projects you have coming up… please give us some “inside scoop” about your upcoming releases or productions?  If there are online samples somewhere, maybe provide a link?

Rob Tomaro: Susan and I are preparing a symphonic suite culled from the Planet Z CD material, which she will premiere with the Beloit Janeville Symphony in April of 2012.  I am writing new pieces for the next Planet Z CD and Susan is also working on what promises to be a very dynamic solo show.

Zzaj:  If there was one player or group you could play with (either first time, or again) that you haven’t already performed with… who would that be & why?  What specific (or kind of) music would you perform with them? 

Rob Tomaro: Although impossible, I think it would have been wonderful to write for, and even sit in with, the original line up of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Their first album, Inner Mounting Flame, remains a constant source of joy and inspiration to me.

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Issue 117, Interview with Fred Hess

As many of you know, I’ve been reviewing Dr. Hess’s works for many years now… I had asked him earlier to do an interview for our readers, but it kinda’ got lost in between moves ’round the globe…. so you can imagine how delighted I was when he said he was still willing to do the interview… & a most insightful and revealing interview it ’tis!  Thanks, Fred!!!

 

Zzaj: I notice (from one of the bios I read) that you’re originally from Abington, PA (I grew up in Erie, PA), though you seem to have moved on from there to other regions.  Please give us an “off-the-cuff” bio sketch, something that tells us how you came to be the “current Fred Hess”, where you’re at right now & where you (think) you’ll be 10 years from now.

FH: Listening to some jazz recordings at age 13, I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician.  After hearing tenor sax player Bill Perkins play “Yesterdays” with Stan Kenton, the sax became my favorite instrument.  My mother balked at the idea, describing the saxophone as an instrument that sounded like a duck.  A trip back to the record player and hearing Frank Rosolino play, I settled for the trombone.  Bad Choice!  My face is not intended for the trombone and it wasn’t until college in Trenton, NJ that I made the switch to sax.  One of my fellow students commented that a great sax player lived across the river in New Hope, PA, so we began steady lessons with Phil Woods the next fall of 1963.  Phil married Chan Parker and the house was full of Charlie Parker’s memorabilia.  Down Beat plaques were on the walls and Bird’s horn was sitting in the corner.  We always felt we were in some “special” atmosphere when we took our lessons.

Phil moved to Europe in 1967, so I studied privately with the great sax teacher, Joe Allard, and kept practicing the studies that Phil presented to me.  Phil returned in the mid 1970s and I started another round of lessons with the emphasis on writing as I was conducting a Monday night “kicks” band of musicians in the Princeton, NJ area.  He said, “Do you know how many people would give their right arm to be leading a big band”.  You should be writing music for them.  That’s how I became involved with the compositional side of jazz.

By the mid 1970s, I finally realized I was never going to be better than John Coltrane, so I began to wonder what alternative I had as an improvising musician.  That’s when I discovered there was a “creative improvising” community that had found different approaches to the common jazz language that so many musicians had become comfortable with.  Ornette Coleman had created a revolution in jazz and I was curious about how people had developed personal systems of making music.  In the summer of 1979, I attended a five-week seminar in new composition led by Roscoe Mitchell and featuring several of his associates, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, and Leo Smith among them.  We gathered at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY, and my eyes and ears were introduced to new sounds and concepts as about thirty of us formed an orchestra to try out this amazing open-ended music.

When I returned home, the woodshed beckoned and it took about two years to incorporate this mind blowing information, learning to squeak, squawk, and sound like a duck (I guess my mother was right all along).  This led me to realize that most of the giants in our field had created a personal music and I needed to really study composition.  So, in 1982, I moved to Boulder, CO with an armful of music from CMS and looked for some players who found these concepts interesting.  Within a year, the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble was formed and I was back at school working on a Doctorate in Music Composition at CU Boulder.  Since graduating in 1991, I’ve been busy trying to bring these facets together into a personal music language that’s led through various phases of exploration, including jazz repertory, small groups, and leading up to the big band recordings I’ve recently produced.  What I feel and love about the long, wonderful history of jazz is in the music I produced in my CD discography, bringing the past with us, but retooling it for the future.

Ten years from now, I hope I’m still waking up each morning.

BCME: L-R Glenn Nitta, Ron Miles, Wade Sander, Fred Hess, Mark Harris, Glenn Taylor 1988

Zzaj: You’ve played with; composed for & collaborated with a whole host of jazz characters… please write a few words about whom your most memorable jazz experiences were with.

FH: I’ve been lucky to perform with some truly great musicians, but picking some memorable ones, I’ll mention a few drummers that have been influential in my musical experience.  In the 1970s, I had the good fortune to perform in the Tony DiNicola Big Band, based in Trenton, NJ.  Tony had played with Harry James’ Big Band in Las Vegas during the 1960s.  It was a great learning experience for me to sit along side the best local players, many of whom had swing era careers with the name bands.  They knew what to do and Tony pushed the band with great power and swing.  Also, sax man Charlie Ventura would often perform.  I learned a lot just absorbing what was going on around me.

After Moving to Boulder, CO in the 1980s, I had the great fortune to become a member of the Bruno Carr Quintet.  Bruno had done long stints with Ray Charles and Herbie Mann and recently settled in Denver.  During the 1950s, Bruno was an active player on the NY scene and would bring in photos of him playing with numerous jazz greats.  Pianist Art Lande once introduced Bruno as “The Encyclopedia of the Drum”.  We were playing at El Chapultepec, a bar/restaurant that had recently switched to a seven night a week jazz policy.  My front line compatriot was trumpeter Hugh Ragin and the band became a minor sensation doing a lot of the Miles 60s songbook.  Bruno’s energy level was truly intense.  He would come behind you like a tidal wave and one could just happily ride on top of the foam. I consider that stint as my initiation into being a jazz player.  I owe a lot to Bruno, who died in the 1990s.

Since 1985, I have performed with trumpeter Ron Miles, starting with the BCME.  In the later 1990s, Ron informed me drummer Ginger Baker (of Cream Fame) had moved into the area.  His passion was polo (he owned a group of polo ponies) and he was looking to form a jazz band to play at his weekly polo matches.  The quintet he fronted included Ron, guitarist Jerry Hahn, bassist Artie Moore, and myself.  I would go early and play the national anthem in front of the mounted horses.  Needless to say, my versions were quite succinct and to the point.  Ginger told us he always considered himself a jazz drummer and we quickly realized he was quite serious and engaging as a jazz drummer.  Of course, for the fans, the real highlight of each concert was an unaccompanied drum solo Ginger could successfully pull off for extended periods of time.  We’d play in a picnic enclosure after the polo match until it got too dark to see.  Ginger had a multi-album record deal with Atlantic Records.  Two CDs with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell had already been released.  They were at first skeptical about recording his “local” band but agreed, and “Coward of the County” was recorded and released.  We traveled to NY to play a week at the Iridium Jazz Club and there was talk of future festivals and gigs, but, Ginger’s status as a US citizen became an issue and he transplanted his polo ranch to South Africa where he still resides.  One thing I learned from this experience is, when you’re a Rock Star, you sees things from a different perspective than us ordinary Joes.

 

Ginger Baker recording “Coward Of The County” 1998

Finally, I like to mention the drummer whom I’ve been fortunate to have on my last seven CDs, Matt Wilson.  In 2004, I asked Ron Miles for a recommendation and he told me about Matt.  I emailed Matt, he agreed (he had seen us with Ginger Baker at the Iridium), and sight unseen, I picked him up at midnight at the airport.  He was the only passenger on the plane carrying a cymbal case.  I can’t imagine anyone not liking performing with Matt.  He’s such a quick study and can adapt musically to a situation almost effortlessly, and his teamwork with bassist Ken Filiano has thrilled me time and again.  He’s brought such subtle elements into my musical compositions that I’m always amazed how much better they sound after he puts his imprint onto the performance.  I guess the unifying element about all four musicians is how, with their contributions, they make music-making seem easy, when, in truth, as we know, it is not.

 

Fred Hess Quartet: L-R Matt Wilson, Fred Hess, Ron Miles, Ken Filiano  2004

Zzaj: Which is more important to you as a player/composer?  The awards, or the respect they (often) imply?  What is your main goal with the music/teaching of music you do?

FH: I think we all like awards and respect from our colleagues.  That gives us a gauge to measure how we are perceived from the outside.  As a creative artist, I believe most of us have an inner gauge that keeps checking our progress against our heroes.  The spirits of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, etc., etc., are always peeking out to remind me that I’m Fred Hess, one fish in the great pond of jazz.  They (I’m not quite sure who they really all are) say you can’t teach talent and I do believe that is true.  But in composition, you can show students the craft that goes behind the music and the contributions of the many greats who have gone before.  They will have to take it from there, for curiosity is really the spark that makes each person unique.

Zzaj: From the standpoint of improvising music, is it the “feeling” or the “skill” (i.e., musical education) that count more towards a successful piece/performance?

FH: That’s a question each person will have to answer for him or herself.  It has to do with how we are made up internally and what drives our engine.  I’m a more cerebral person than many, so my ear is not necessarily the key element in how I put things together.  I do admire the “gift” the great ear-players bring to the music, that wonderfully inventive melodic sense Chet Baker or Lester Young had, but I also admire the technical prowess of a Michael Brecker or Bob Brookmeyer where the intellect seems to be driving the car.  Obviously, both working together is a great wonder to behold.

Zzaj: How important is it for a musician to play live.  Is “studio” better for creating, or do you find an “audience situation” to be better?

FH: They say Sonny Rollins fear of the recording studio has inhibited his ability to produce great recordings, a talent Miles Davis put to use on many occasions.  Also, John Coltrane seemed to know how to make a great record.  I’ve found that mental preparation is the key.  If you feel confident about your playing and have a feel for what you what to do, you can get into that Zen moment where you remember what you just did and can stay focused to finish the job.  I do recall one recording where I was playing a solo and just coming out of the bridge of a tune; I suddenly thought to myself, ”wow, I’m taking a really good solo”.  Of course, that totally broke my train of thought, and for the last eight bars, I held on to the seat of my pants trying not to screw up!

Playing live is always great, but since there are usually many distractions, the room, the audience, the sound system, the length of the gig, etc., the dynamic is quite different, but certainly, no less exhilarating when the “vibe” is in the air.

 

FRED HESS BIG BAND recording “Hold On” 2009

 Zzaj: What kind of things do you do when you’re not playing or creating music?  All the way from “mowing the lawn” to more art-oriented hobbies, please (assuming there are any).

FH: My wife would like me to develop an overwhelming passion for gardening.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t quite succeeded, at least up to this date.

 Zzaj: Is it possible for there to be “too much music” in one’s life?  If so, tell us why, please; if not, tell us why, please.

FH: I started doing music in 1958, that’s over fifty years ago.  I still have a passion for it, but have found there can be periods where the flame burns a little lower on the stove.  One thing that helps me is having more than one specialized area.  I play an instrument, I compose, I teach others about musical principles, I read books about music theory and the lives of composers, and I keep abreast about happenings in the jazz world (the internet is a great resource).  This combination can rotate a bit when one thing seems to lose its bloom.  I remember grad school composers who’s entire worth were tied up in the composing.  When things weren’t going well, their whole world would fall apart and they would think they were worthless beings.  Best not to put all your eggs in one basket.  I think I heard that one before?

 Zzaj: Give us a little discussion on what your favorite instrument to play is?  Since you’re a reedist, please give the players in our readership the benefit of your knowledge on your best techniques for playing reed instruments.

FH: Get a good teacher!!

Zzaj: My sister has a doctorate in music (theory, I believe)… it took her several years to get there… please tell us a bit about how you achieved yours, and offer any insights you may have for artists thinking about pursuing the “higher” aspects of musical academia.

FH: Academia has its own set of rules.  You are watched over by your committee.  My best advice is to take their suggestions (because they’re not really suggestions, if you know what I mean) and get along with them.  My committee would often comment, “Fred, You’re not really a classical composer, are you”? “You’re really a jazz guy”.  I, of course would reply, “No, I’m a classical composer”.  That was our go round for years.  That’s academia.

 Zzaj: Who (if any) are YOUR musical heroes?  Have you gotten to play with any of those heroes?  If not, when?  If so, why was it exciting?

FH: When attending some festivals and workshops, I’d get to play with folks like Ray Brown, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Haden, and others.  My heroes, however, are the people who invented their own version of jazz, often taking their lumps, but sticking by their values.  Their contributions are now the mainstream of the art.  Names like Lester Young, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll, Bird, Monk.  I could go on and on.