Teaching in Guadalajara with Tonica GDL (Part 2)

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

A recap of my teaching week in Guadalajara, Mexico as a faculty member of the 2nd Tonica GDL Jazz Seminar generates some thoughts about jazz education and its purposes. It’s also good to report on some promising young players encountered during my time there this year.

Education has become a big part of the jazz business, and maybe the most reliable part of it. It’s not just the province of the dedicated and specialized “educator” anymore; it’s a normal part of the career of the professional jazz musician. I taught very little in the first part of my career; I was somewhat diffident towards the idea since it didn’t quite fit the classic mold of the “jazz cat” that I was fully invested in, proficient at, and lucky enough to survive. My epiphany came at a later stage when I realized that figuring out how to transmit what little knowledge I had could also help me in filling the many gaps I felt I had in my playing. This is the main motivator in my teaching practice to this day.

The systemization of the resources of jazz and jazz related music has made it possible for talented young players to progress rapidly, as the school and jazz camp has replaced the gig and the street as the forum for generational exchange to a great degree. It’s been gratifying to be able to be of help to, and just plain be around, the accomplished students I’ve mentored at institutions like NYU, where my main teaching practice is at present, the Prinz Claus Conservatory in Gronigen, The Netherlands, The Stanford Jazz Camp, The Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony, and so on.Teaching the music in Mexico has been a somewhat different experience, but just as rewarding and has been personally very meaningful to me.

Students at the Tonica seminars are often proceeding from a much more basic level of knowledge of jazz than students I encounter in other teaching situations. At times, I feel that I’m exposing them to many aspects of the music for the first time. It’s very exciting when I feel I’ve been able to explain something important in a way that connects. Listening to the music and demonstrating with my own playing has been effective in this regard. It’s great to see someone’s face light up when something new to them reaches their hearts and minds.

At the same time, it’s always struck me that the students in Mexico are probably doing more actual professional playing than the majority of the students I work with at home. A lot of them are actually making ends meet playing, on dance gigs, rock bands, brass bands, etc. That’s the way cats of my generation made it through school, but you rarely see this nowadays, at least in NY. The kids are playing, but there’s no money to speak of to be made, mostly. Also, at Tonica, we get players from a wider age group, including many full time pros seeking to expand their knowledge.

Many of the students are repeat attendees from last year’s seminar, and some of my trumpet students date for me back to my first summers down there when the seminar was for brass students only. One of the most gratifying things for me has been to see their continued growth from year to year. These returning students are also being motivated by the increasing level of the new students that came in, not just from the Guadalajara and Jalisco region, but from all over Mexico including the big city (D.F.). The level of my ensembles was much higher than last year, and they were able to play challenging music like Wayne Shorter’s as well as my originals with aplomb.

My trumpet master classes and improvisation classes tried to cover a lot of ground. Fortunately I had some great translators to help me out.

My translators for the classroom sessions

A lot of the trumpet classes were devoted to technical basics, tone production and the like. I also brought a lot of music to listen to in class, from Louis Armstrong and Charlie Shavers through Fats, Clifford and Freddie, to today’s players. I even played some classical trumpet favorites of mine from Timofei Dokshitzer, the great Russian soloist. It was great to see the smiles as I turned on the class to some of this trumpet genius for the first time! Improvisation topics, always hands on with the students, ranged from the fundamentals to bebop (Barry Harris style) scale concept material.

Bob Sheppard commented to me about the sense of community the students at Tonica have with each other, and the cooperation they have with each other in working to assimilate the material we present to them. I’ve also seen this and its great to see this sort of camaraderie. Even with the most accomplished students, there’s very little sense of competitiveness and a lot of folks helping each other understand. They really value the information and the opportunity.


Me and some of my improv class students

The cream of the student crop was selected by the faculty and put together into a special group for the last three days of the seminar. Named the “Ensemble Tonica”, this group will now be kept together to rehearse and perform throughout the year, including an appearance at the Panama Jazz Festival this coming January. They will serve as a standard bearer for the great work Tonica is doing for jazz and music education in Mexico. I was proud to be able to work with and coach these talented young players for their debut performance during the seminar, and look forward to more contact in the months to come. I think you will be hearing about these talented youngsters in the future, and it’s worth introducing them to you now. The saxophonists are Jerry Lopez (alto), who has studied with Miguel Zenon and is already very active on the jazz scene in Mexico City with a CD out, and Diego Franco (tenor), at 17 already a fluent soloist with a great sound and “a vibe” on the changes. Yaury Hernandez (drums), who I already Angeberto Arcegia (chromatic harmonica) was at last year’s seminar; his progress since then has enabled him to more than hold his own in the group on this unusual axe. Ignacio Alcantra (guitar) provides the sole chordal support in this piano-less band, which he does with taste and skill as well as playing fleet and melodic solos. Sabino Paz (bass) really impressed me with his intelligence on the instrument and his ability to lay down a hip line in swing or Latin feels; he’s also a good soloist. Yaury Hernandez (drums) was not a stranger to me. He played my music as part of a student group from the Conservatory of Puerto Rico that did some gigs with me on the island a couple of years ago. He made a quite good impression on me then and he’s just kept improving since.

Ensemble Tonica: Yaury, BL, Ignacio (Nacho), Angelberto, Sabino, Jerry, Diego

I foresee a lot of good things ahead for the ensemble along with Tonica GDL, and I hope to keep growing together with them in what I think is some important work.

Teaching, Playing & Hanging Out in Gudalajara, Mexico (con Tonica GDL) Part 1

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I’m just returning (missed connection in Mexico City and 7 hours to kill) from my yearly visit to Gudalajara, Mexico to take part in the Jazz Seminar of Tonica GDL, a jazz promotion, advocacy and educational group run by two great folks who have become good friends over the last few years, Gilberto Cervantes and Sara Valenzuela. This year was my fourth summer down there for Tonica; I’ve been a part of the Seminar from its beginnings as a brass camp to its transformation into a gathering for jazz students on all instruments as well as vocalists for its last two editions. The week was focused around teaching and coaching of ensembles with the goal of preparing music for a student concert on the last day of the seminar, but there also was a teachers concert, master classes, and a lot of informal interaction between students and teachers, as well as some good old hanging out. (more…)

Europe In July Wrap Up

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I’m luxuriating in a couple of days of rest and comparative indolence after returning from more than three weeks on the road in Europe, quite a saga and the longest I’ve been out for a good while. My last post chronicled the first part of the tour, with Eddie Palmieri and then a special appearance with Orlando “Maraca” Valle’s Monterey Project. Instead of an attempt at a chronological narrative or rundown of the second half of the trip (days in Paris and another stint with Palmieri), I’d like to share a few thoughts that have emerged from the overall tour experience.

It’s a beautiful thing to be together with folks you know, trust, and love making music and seeing the world with. Even when things get funky (not in the musical sense), you come out enriched for the shared experience, and the music always yields a rich harvest. Thank you Eddie Palmieri, for making it possible. Thanks to Eddie Palmieri the 2nd for making it happen in real time. And thank you to Jose Clausell, Luques Curtis, Yosvany Terry, Little Johnny Rivero, and Louis Fouche for making the bandstand a inviting and invigorating place. Even after all these years of being on the stage with Eddie, it’s still a fresh challenge every night. That’s what keeps us all going out there dealing with the road in order to do it…..

Eddie’s band played really well throughout both the tours this month. Our sound was a little different on the second half of the tour; Luques left his travel bass at home and used full size basses at each venue, which worked out well; the more natural sound of the bass inspired Eddie to go for the acoustic piano more over the keyboard, I think. This can be tricky since it’s very hard to get the regular piano to cut through enough to dominate the way it needs to in the music we play. While it wasn’t always a walk in the park to get the mix right, overall I enjoyed the sound a lot. Like I said, everyone played their butts off, every gig. We had a couple of strange experiences; in one venue (which I won’t mention) the presenter’s representative and venue staff had the weirdest sort of animosity going on like I’ve never seen – they even counted the towels after the gig! It reminded me of some of the stuff we used to see in Art Blakey’s band- I thought that kind of stuff didn’t happen any more! Guess again, son.

I really dug having days off in Paris in between Maraca’s gig and Palmieri II. Saw a bunch of friends, had lunch with Phil Woods, who also had a few days off before playing in Paris, met with Herve Sellin and started planning our project. Had some good typical Parisian meals, and one crazy one, the signature dish at Le Pied au Cochon:

Had a lot of fun hanging out, playing trumpets and listening to our hero Woody Shaw with my buddy Mike Missiras. Let’s do that project, Mike! Took long walks in the morning and got on the subway a lot. Got to know the city a little better again and I hope to have some more experiences in and of the City Of Lights (am I getting that right?) soon.

It’s a blessing to be able to play music together with great players in front of folks who appreciate it. That’s always the pay off.

Here’s a little clip of one of my solos with Eddie from the tour – “In Walked Bud”.
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Mid-Tour Notes Europe

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I’m on the way back to Paris from Rotterdam, riding in a van amidst some fairly heavy rain. Going through a city at the moment, think it’s Lille (France)? Last night I was at the North Sea Jazz Festival, playing with Cuban master flautist Orlando “Maraca” Valle’s Monterey Project. We had a good gig, with the only downer being that the Netherlands lost in the final of the World Cup about halfway through our set. This was one of the less ebullient North Sea Festivals I’ve attended, for sure. I still had a great time, not only yesterday but over the days before rehearsing in Paris with Maraca and the band. It’s great to have the opportunity to rehearse the music you’re going to play more than once; a lot of people don’t realize what a relative luxury and rarity that is in our jazz world. It makes a difference. (more…)

Road Chops

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Sometimes playing the trumpet can be hard. Every day you essentially start from scratch on the thing; building as sturdy of a structure as you can from the raw materials of air, vibration, embouchure and neuro-muscular control. It’s a highly psychological instrument as well, a “mirror of the mind” in the phrase of the great trumpet teacher and theorist Prof. William Fielder. Being a professional means you make it work even when you aren’t quite feeling it physically or mentally, and not wearing your unease with the instrument on your sleeve. If you’ve developed that ability, I think you can appreciate even better when things are going well with your relationship with the horn. Sometimes this can happen in the stability and regularity of your home base and familiar surroundings. At other times, the dyanmics of travel and change can make it come to you. When you’re playing a lot and you can keep it fresh, you occasionally get to a place where it almost feels natural to play the trumpet. That is what I would call “road chops”.

My Milwaukee visit had me practicing in a very familar environment indeed, Room 5 in the basement of the Wisconsin Conservatory Of Music, my alma mater. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in that room in my formative years, practicing and playing, so it’s a pretty cool feeling being back in there doing my thing! The concert with Charles McPherson was great; McP was in typically great form and was truly taking no prisoners! A challenge and an exhilerating experience to try to hang with him on the bandstand, just as it was 30 years ago when I first played with him as a youngster in San Diego. That’s the sort of thing that will get your attention and let you know where you are at for sure! I also enjoyed playing tunes the next night at the Jazz Estate with fellow trumpeter Eric Jacobson, a fine player and good cat. I had a lot of fun on that gig with my main man, pianist Mark Davis, who was also on the WCM concert and directs the jazz program there. He’s a wonderful, swinging player with all the right stuff.

After the hang at the Jazz Estate, it was an early morning flight to Seattle and a busy day; two rehearsals and the start of a two day residency at Tula’s, the local mainstay jazz club. My good friend (and great jazz trumpeter) Tom Marriott had hooked this up, one night with a fine local trio playing my quartet book (Marc Seales, piano; Jeff Johnson, bass; Matt Jorgenson, drums) and the next with the Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra, performing my big band charts and other compositions by Jim and other members of the band.

Going right from the plane to the rehearsal; grabbing a quick warmup at the soundcheck; running down a night’s worth of music with a new band in one hour: if you can make it work like that, you will indeed get road chops!

I’m off for a couple of days down in San Diego visiting my folks, then back up to Seattle to play with EP (Eddie Palmieri).