What a month I had between Europe and Turkey. I first went over to do a tour with Herbie Nichols SUNG; after that I ran two masterclasses on my own at Bern University of the Arts in Bern, Switzerland, then moved on to Istanbul, Turkey to join the New York Jazz Workshop team for a week of master-classes at Bogazici University, truly the Harvard University of Turkey. Three different scenarios and each deeply fulfilling.
First off the Herbie Nichols tour…a small dream that revealed so much about where Nichols’ music can go and how open people were towards it. We’re taking an elastic approach to the forms, full of detours and improvisations that crop out of nowhere. So wonderful to hear how the music unfolds over four back to back concerts, every concert different from the other and always exploratory. I couldn’t have asked for better partners in pianist Achim Kaufmann and reedist Tobias Delius on this journey. These musicians know Nichols’ music inside and out, having played his pieces from years, a fact that left the possibilities endless. It was a revelation. I learned so much and see Nichols music in a different way now. Not just tunes that are a master-class in themselves of form, harmony and thematic development, but now as fluid materials so strong that those melodies are indestructible beacons of light carrying feelings, sounds and intuitive joy. The feedback and reaction to the tour were amazing and I was floored by the reaction to our unorthodox approach. The concert in Amsterdam, where the tour started had quite a few members of the Instant Composers Pool coming out to hear our way, musicians that know the Nichols’ book just as well, arguably much better than I do. The great reedist and shakuhachi player Ab Baars said “Good you came over to give us a great view on Mr Nichols’ music.” !!!
After the HBS tour ended in Berlin, Germany, I spent a few days there getting to know that great city during springtime. Always a lover of history, I learned more about the history of the city as East Berlin, with enough evidence around to back up the conversations. The night before heading out of town, I got to check out the Bad Plus in Berlin doing Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction with a front line to die for: Ron Miles, Tim Berne and Sam Newsome. Very honored to be Sam’s guest at the A Train and sit front row taking in all the beauty. Just in awe.
Then it was on to Bern, Switzerland where the master classes went so well at Bern University of the Arts, I almost cried. It was a small group of 5 amazing students in total, diving into a deep place looking at vocal confidence and audience connection. Every time I’ve given this workshop, there’s been a deep emotional response from at least one of the participants. This occasion was no different. The second class was on improvised group vocal improvisations with a rhythm section joining us exploring improvisation by ear over the blues, Stella by Starlight as well as free improvisation. Great discussions with these students, many of them at the Masters degree level in music and composition and it looks like I can go back! I was thrilled. The stay in Bern was brief, just a night before the master classes there, taking the night train back to Amsterdam that same evening. Amsterdam now just as a mini vacation, seeing friends and family. A cool spring, hell everywhere was cool – yet sunny and beautiful too. I left there wishing I could stay just a few days longer. It felt so good and connected this time.
Istanbul, Turkey. I was the vocal instructor of the New York Jazz Workshop team and after a successful run last year, we were invited back Bogazici University to teach over 40 students during their Spring Break. The vocalists were so excited after last year’s proceedings that we doubled the amount of vocalists this year! The students aren’t music majors but they’re brilliant students in their own fields. From freshmen chemistry majors to biomedical engineers working on their Ph.D’s…all for a love of this music. The week was dynamic and the team was immense: Drummer Tony Moreno, pianist Nikolaj Hess, bassist Jay Anderson, guitarist Kenny Wessel…alongside our ring leaders and co-directors of the New York Jazz Workshop – tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas and Marco Chelo. Last year, I had the group of vocalists entirely and this year, I had all of the vocalists in the morning, and floated around in the afternoon to the ensembles that they were a part of. Such a new way of interacting for me, which was uncomfortable at first but I got into it and learned so much about myself and the power of those vocalists integrating themselves into the different ensemble lead by the instrumentalists on the team. Last night when we put on the final concert…we were floored by the range, depth and power of the performances and the audience of a few hundred people responded in kind. How lucky I feel to have had anything to do with this amazing outcome and what a place in the world to have this opportunity. Istanbul is incredible.
I started to fall in love with Istanbul…the people, sounds (the call to prayer blows my mind), the food, the love of music, the chaos and the love people show. Passionate beautiful people…warm and appreciative was my experience. It’s such a beautiful city too, almost like a shining jewel. The house we stayed in on campus was decadently comfortable, with views from on high of the Bosphorus at every turn. The five minute walk from my room to where I taught each morning was like walking past a postcard with differing views depending on the light. The amazing barges colored orange and red..stood in gorgeous stark contrast to that Bosphorus’ blue hue, sounds of the water moving through the trees just outside my window took my breath away too many times to mention. We also played a great concert at Nardis, the famed Istanbul jazz club. Marc Mommaas lead the band and featuring his compositions, and I joined the band with a couple choice standards and two originals of my own. A packed house and a gleefully vocal audience!! An intense period of deep connection to great people in a dream like location with jazz as the catalyst.
This has been a dream month for me. I can’t begin to express the deep gratitude I have for my life and music in this moment. The force of it. The BEAUTY of it!!!! What it does to people. A few months ago…I questioned the importance of music and my place within it. I couldn’t see the value as I saw it before when I decided to become a musician in the first place. I went through a period of reflection and trying to find meaning, lasting months. I live in a country that doesn’t really care about these things unless someone is successful or making a wave. New York is too hard a city to get carried away by beauty alone. How would you eat and take care of yourself? How do you show the importance of beauty in a throwaway society such as ours. I had to come away and throw myself in the deep end in places that understand what that means. To make it real, we were here because someone decided they wanted the students to have this experience, simple as that. I write this post on the flight home from Istanbul where the experience hasn’t been processed enough but I can say that I had the time of my life, connecting to friends, students, musicians and people just happy to be where we met. I come home a renewed being, having gone through some sort of metamorphosis that I can’t quite put my finger on yet…but you’ll hear it soon.
Great love and thanks to Achim Kaufmann, Tobias Delius, Tom Baeten, Nico Chientaroli, Danielle Oosterop, Renate De Rin, Wolfgang Glode, Lukas Frei, Ali Yekta Ulgen, Marc Mommaas, and Marco Chelo for contributing so much to make this month happen and unfold the way it did.
So what’s next? More music of course! Back at the 55bar on THURSDAY, APRIL 30th with cellist Marika Hughes and pianist Aruan Ortiz…playing a wide range of things. 7-9pm. No cover. . Then I’m a special guest with the ICP Orkest at Roulette on WEDNESDAY, MAY 6 alongside trombonist Ray Anderson. I love that band and it’s an honor to play with them once again! Later on in May, I head to the West Coast for a concert and workshop at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, CA on SATURDAY, MAY 23 and SUNDAY, MAY 24th respectively. The concert will feature fantastic Bay area musicians Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and John Finkbeiner on guitar – with special guest Steve Adams from the Rova Saxophone Quartet. The Workshop on the SUNDAY, MAY 24th is called “Improvising without Scatting” and I’m excited to share with participants all the interesting ways we can use our voices outside of the scat realm. Learn more about all of that here. Then it back to NYC, ending May 2015 at the 55BAR featuring guitarist Kenny Wessel and bassist Ratzo Harris doing a totally jazzy Early Set on THURSDAY, MAY 28th.
Ahh music…you weave a thread so deep that carries across my life. In deep gratitude for what I do and for what others allow me to bring into their lives as a musician and teacher. At this moment, I’m full and have what I need to keep going on. We’ll meet along the way.
So much love to you all,
All photos by FV…2015