Monday, December 5, 2016

Ted Panken Interviews

Ted Panken is one of my absolute favorite journalist/researchers. He had a broad framework of reference and responsibly investigates instances, facts and history in preparation for his interviews. I consider his perspectives to be among the most sensitive and accurate of any contemporary music writer.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Inside Jokes

Posted below is a photo from a New York Times open panel discussion hosted by Ben Ratliff which featured Danilo Perez, Master Roy Haynes, Michael Brecker and myself. After a short briefing backstage, we met onstage to answer questions from Ben as well as the audience. I found the storie sand anecdotes from Mr. Haynes to be exceptionally historically compelling. Mush of what he offered can not be accurately found (if at all) in any biography or music history book. He clearly illustrated why it is imperitave that younger players seek the truths directly from the sources and contributors themselves - without filler content or embellishment.

However, situations such as this can be challenging, depending on the participant's state of mind, attention span or the level of fatigue that they may be fighting. As active, traveling artists we often have to summon inordinate amounts of energy to stay attentive during panels and interviews. Methods may vary, and those efforts are not always detectable to outside parties. Here, Mike and I are trying not to laugh out loud in front of the audience and are recovering from one of my many under-the-breath wisecracks - that were probably responses to questions that were not necessarily directed to us. I enjoyed trying to make him lose his composure, while he snickered with a straight face. That evening, he didn't crack. Perhaps because Roy Haynes was on the set. It didn't prevent me from trying though. Mike was a very interesting guy, and I always admired his work ethic and the way that he crafted his exceptionally recognizable identity in music. I met him during my early New York days when I toured with trumpeter Jon Faddis and he was always generous with information and very inspiring. He used to leave lines and melodic phrases on my (cassette tape based) answering machine that I would play over and over.

Now if I can only locate those old tapes.....  I have no idea where they are.

Sometimes when I would see him through the years, when no one was around I would speak to him in a fake robot voice. I did this and would tease and call him "Roboticus" because I kiddingly joked that his playing sounded contrived and completely devoid of spontaniety. I accused him of over-practicing and dehumanizing everything, to which he always got a kick out of me doing so. This wasn't true,  of course, and speaking to him that way was only a thinly-veiled attempt to goad him into proving me wrong on the spot. If we were backstage, in the dressing room or if he had his horn, he would laugh and answer my robotic voice with one of his mind-blowing signature blazing lines - played super fast. He was only giving me a musical response to my jokes. But I wasn't laughing at that point.

Needless to say, I would stop speaking in that robot voice immediately. lol.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fred A -STARE into the UNKNOWN

I conducted a private lesson for a very talented international student today. This young man is the recipient of a national award from his native country (I won't reveal his identity or where he's from) which requires him to have a number of one-on-one sessions with a US-based artist of his choice. He contacted me via Skype. We chatted for a bit and I suggested that he send me a sampling of his playing, to which after hearing only a few minutes of a recording that featured him performing without accompaniment, I consented to meet with him for study.

He arrived in a timely fashion and was very polite. He immediately put together his instrument and as he warmed up, he flawlessly played some of the most fantastic technical melodic patterns that I have ever heard anyone play. I was absolutely impressed, and listened in admiration as he effortlessly glided around his saxophone with ease and precision. This went on for some time, and since his lesson was timed I reminded him that we should proceed with the information and procedures that I'd prepared for him - which is why he came to me in the first place.

Blank stare. Silence. No acknowledgement whatsoever. 

Not him, but pretty close.

He then resumed playing by himself and kept at it. No break. He simply ignored me and continued with a barrage of more incredibly difficult and lengthy patterns. I figured that he was going through a personal ritual and he needed to finish before we entered into the actual session, which I must admit, can be quite demanding. However, it became aware to me that something wasn't quite right. This guy eventually became oblivious to my presence and my repeated suggestions that we should get to the heart of the discussion.

His dazzling exhibition, in his own mind, WAS the lesson!

He was not open to any additional information, suggestions, evaluations, anything. In fact, he played by himself for practically 1.5 hours and did not stop to ask me one single question. After he finally did stop (which was a relief, to be honest), I suggested that we improvise with a play-along track and trade choruses on a familiar standard song. It was at this point that the truth was finally revealed...

It immediately became painfully clear that the guy excels at playing solo passages alone, but he had the worst time and concept of form that I have ever witnessed from someone who plays the instrument so well. It was obvious that he has put practically no time into the actual act of group interplay or session participation. The idea of keeping his place in the form or acknowledging the environment was completely foreign to him and the sad truth is that he didn't know that he didn't know. I'm at a loss of just who is responsible for this because he is not a beginner by a long shot, but I would make a guess that his teachers did not bring these issues to his attention. In fact, I feel that his education has been hijacked, because it will be overwhelmingly difficult for him to un-learn whatever it took that allowed him to believe playing solo patterns is acceptable or to embrace the methodology which is prerequisite for functioning effectively in an improvising environment. For all of his technical prowess, the young man has been debilitated by his education, or lack of a proper one.

At any rate, I will continue to meet with him and hopefully be able to illustrate to him that, despite his dexterity on the saxophone, he is well below the level of acceptance in the real world of contemporary improvised music. Perhaps I'll lend an update to this saga in months to come. I'm as curious as any to see the outcome.

Next lesson: Stop staring and STOP PLAYING!