INTERVALS: THE NEWSLETTER OF DAVID LIEBMAN-SUMMER 2001
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A few recent events have highlighted to me aspects about jazz which go far beyond the music concerning its ability to rise above the human condition and be a voice for freedom. The first concerns a trip to Poland in May for a concert and recording date with trumpeter Piotr Wojastik, a wonderful musician in the Freddie Hubbard mold (along with drummer Ronnie Burrage and bassist Clarence Seay). The Polish musicians are renowned for their skills and great passion, which was very evident to me during those days in Warsaw and Katowice. But it was the story of how jazz first came to Poland and the manner in which the Poles learned jazz during the Cold War that was inspiring.
I had an interview with the editor of Jazz Forum, the Polish jazz magazine which has been around for decades. I remember getting the magazine during the 80s and being impressed with the depth of the interviews. Sure enough, my interview with Pawel Brodowski was intelligent and detailed, but it was his historical accounts that really left an impression. It seems that Sidney Bechet was in Poland in the 20s as well as other groups, but an influx of German musicians escaping from Hitler brought a flurry of activity in the 30s. These same musicians went to Russia when Hitler invaded Poland, but their legacy was entrenched. For Eastern European musicians who had access to Radio Free Europe, which was the U.S. government’s propaganda station during the Cold War, it was Willis Conover’s Voice of America show where they heard modern jazz for the first time. Pawel told me that since their were no records available (jazz was frowned upon as decadent) and no tape recorders, the musicians would sit around the radio and assign two bars apiece for notating, going continuously around the circle for the duration of the song. Talk about wanting the music badly!! No transcription books, or slowing the speed down or other tools which are at our disposal now. Jazz musicians were considered cultural heroes in Poland, looked upon as revolutionaries and forced to perform underground for the most part. Pawel also told me about a book, soon to be made into a movie by Roman Polanski about a pianist and how playing saved him from the Holocaust. I have yet to read it---“the Pianist” by Wjadjslaw Spilman.
An unrelated article which I read in the Jerusalem Post is similarly inspiring. It was about a Dutch trumpeter named Louis Bannet who was known as the “Dutch Louis Armstrong” since he played so well in that style. In fact Louis heard about him and they met in 1934 in Amsterdam. Bannet, who was Jewish ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp when he was given up by a fan who happened to be a Gestapo agent in 1942. What follows is an account of how Bannet’s life was saved.
He was told that an orchestra existed in the camp so he was taken to the room where instruments were lying all around. As he entered, he saw two other prisoners, also blue as he was from frost bite, surrounded by guards. Lying on a couch just a few feet away, eating sausages ad potatoes was the leader of the music detail, who had summoned several new prisoners for an audition. He signaled to begin and the first prisoner asked for a trombone. When he tried to play he couldn’t make a sound and was led away as was the next prisoner who failed in his attempt to play the saxophone.
“I was standing toward the back of the room and I noticed a small stove in a corner…I inched toward the stove and placed my hands on top. My lips were frozen, so I started rubbing to warm them. As my friend placed a trumpet in my hand…and I’ll never forget this…he said “Louis, you must play for your life. “Mr.Bannet raised the trumpet to his lips but could only manage a faint sound. He tried again and this time a few notes sputtered out. As the guards walked toward him, Louis raised the trumpet and played “St.Louis Blues”. Until his liberation in 1945, Bannet was in the camp orchestra.
These stories and probably many others make you think about the way music and in these cases, jazz rises above the human condition and can inspire acts of courage and freedom. This to me is what musicians are privileged to be part of-something that people do which doesn’t harm anyone, has no negative feelings and is spiritual and beautiful from the outset. I have said this before—I have never heard music that is mean, resentful, hateful and so on. Music offers us a chance to be clear of at least some of the less positive aspects of our species, at least for a minute! Stories like these are inspiring.
I have formed a relationship with a wonderful Indian flute (bansurai) player, Jayanta Banerjee, who is studying at present with the famous sitarist, Vilayet Khan. Accompanied on tabla by Sai Sham, we have played a few gigs together with myself exclusively on soprano and some wooden flute. In the 70s Badal Roy played tabla in my first group, Lookout Farm. We first met on John McLaughlin’s “My Goals Beyond” and for the Miles Davis epic recording “On the Corner”. In 1975 Lookout Farm did a State Department tour of India and the next year I returned for a more personal trip with my mother. I also studied some bansurai with a teacher from the Ali Akbar school when I lived in the Bay Area for a few years in the mid 70s. For my taste Indian classical music (both North and South) is among the most sophisticated idioms in the world. The intricacies of melodic nuances (which directly interest me as a wind player) in combination with the incredible complex rhythmic cycles is fascinating and at the same time deeply expressive. Playing once again in that atmosphere has a grounding effect and at the same time reminds me of what is important in music-expression and feeling. Of course, I am for the most part completely lost when I try to deal with the higher complex rhythmic cycles, but my Indian friends aren’t about to play “Giant Steps” either! As with all cross cultural fusions, the important thing is to use good taste in relation to how far one ventures into an exotic style, especially when you consider how closely the music and the culture are related.
I had a very interesting lecture at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston as a guest of the Neural Surgery Department of Harvard Medical School. Through the chief resident, whom I had met in Dublin, Ireland years before, I was invited to speak on the subject of how I perceive the workings of the brain as an improviser. The whole study of what is going on in the brain during musical activities has grown a lot over the years (Mozart effect and more) and researchers are quite sure that musicians have a more developed area in that certain part of the brain wired for sound. Colin (the chief resident) told me the day is coming soon when they will be able to give a musician a kind of cap to wear which would monitor electrical and blood stimulation as we are playing. I am always fascinated with what the brain might be doing while we are improvising. Am I thinking about chords and scales, whom I am playing with, the sound, the room, how my stomach feels, what I have to do tomorrow, a personal situation, etc? It seems to me that when we are actually playing, all these things and more are flashing before us. It would be incredible to have it described in some way. I spoke about how I think the listener responds to music, depending upon characteristics such as intensity, dissonance, the rhythmic feel, familiarity with the idiom and so on. All in all it was a great hour spent in the “Etherdome” at Mass.General where anesthesia was first used on a patient in the 1840s. (I think you have seen this room in movies before.)
I had several wonderful days in Aarhuus, Denmak at the Conservatory. Bill Warfield accompanied me to perform his big band suite based on the artistic life of Paris in the 1920s, “Le Jazz Hot”. I also did some of my chamber music for string quartet. The point of these days was to use me as a teacher in a rehearsal/performance manner, rather than straight teaching as is the more usual situation. The man in charge, Jens Jensen, wanted me to just rehearse and play, thereby providing a real hands on atmosphere for the students. So instead of lecturing, I was playing ….not a bad idea!!
With the support of my saxophone company, Keilwerth (Boosey and Hawkes) I did a master class near Bari, Italy. What was interesting was sharing these days and performances with an amazing French classical saxophonist, Fabrice Moretti. First of all, to listen to him play was astounding. I have to admit that after hearing someone like that it makes me feel like I can just about play the instrument because his technique is so flawless and smooth. But what was most interesting was observing his master class. For the classical side, the idea is to play a piece and have the teacher critique and demonstrate. Fabrice spent most of the time with the students (who were at a very high level and often quite young) discussing interpretation, not technique. In other words, the students came in already playing the pieces at a high level so that Fabrice could skip the fundamentals and go to the heart of the music which is the feeling of course. Sometimes, in jazz teaching I sense that students are not technically ready meaning a lot of time is spent just doing basics. Of course this depends upon the level, but more and more I am starting to think that requiring classical studies, at least on the saxophone is not a bad idea for a jazz player’s course of study over several years. They do that in some schools here and in parts of Europe already.
I had a great opportunity to do what is called a “Portrait” at probably one of the best clubs in the world, the newly renovated Porgy and Bess in Vienna, Austria. The first night I played duo with my mate, Wolfgang Reisinger from the World View Trio (bassist Jean Paul Celea plays bass). We were joined the second set by a keyboard player whose recordings I have enjoyed, Wolfgang Mitterer. I can’t say what it is that Mitterer plays, but he uses a combination of keyboards, computer and piano to set things off in a direction that is very different than I am used to-maybe it is referred to as European Art Music where sound, color and shapes provide a very characteristic atmosphere. The second night I played standards with Reisinger on drums, the great Fritz Pauer on piano and Peter Herbert on bass. Trombonist Ed Neumeister joined me for the second set and we burned!! Finally, the last night I played all my chamber music for strings plus some things written for me by Henrik Frisk and Ronan Guilfoyle with the Koehne String Quartet lead by violinist Joanna Lewis. This nearly three hours of music for strings and soprano was quite a challenge. I figured out that I could have 7-8 nights and never repeat a style or genre. (Maybe some day!) It was also an honor to meet one of the icons of European jazz, saxophonist Hans Koller who is 80 years old and still active both as a saxophonist and painter. We had brunch together and he was fit as could be. It gives me inspiration for the future to see that energy in front of my eyes.
12th ANNUAL JAZZ MEETING OF THE IASJ
With students, teachers and representatives from 21 countries, the meeting hosted by the Berklee School in Boston was a huge success. The atmosphere at Berklee is very serious with state of the art equipment, media center and library, as well as a first class hall where the final concerts were performed, the Berklee Performance Center. (An interesting note-the McDonalds next to the school must be the only one in the world where there are pictures of Miles, Bird and other jazz legends rather than Ronald McDonald!!) I was very gratified to see first time participation by teachers and students from Greece, Hungary and Argentina as well as the usual attendees (Israel, Japan, most of Europe and the U.S.) Besides the normal activities which include jam sessions, performances by both teacher and student ensembles, pedagogical meetings and the like, we had some very interesting lectures by Gary Burton (improvisation), Steve Prosser (intervallic ear training approach), trumpeter Tiger Okoshi (Japanese music) and several members of the technology department. When one thinks of my story above about the Polish musicians transcribing two bars at a time from the radio compared to the amazing tools demonstrated to us for notation and developing one’s own play along tracks, it is like night and day. After twelve years of this meeting held in different countries each year and participation by nearly 1000 people, it still amazes me at how the students interact to perform at such a high level. We had the opportunity to record all the groups for a CD and the final ensemble concerts are being streamed at the Berklee web site (www.berklee.edu) listed under activities (IASJ Meeting). Our organization which is completely volunteer-based provides a real service for both the jazz and world community and I am gratified that my vision goes on and on. Next June, the 13th Annual Jazz Meeting will be in Helsinki, Finland, jointly hosted by the Sibelius Academy, the Pop and Jazz Conservatory and Helsinki Polytechnic Institute.
MASTER TEACHER PASSES ON
For saxophone players over the past several decades on the east coast of America, there were two notable teachers-Joe Allard who taught me as well as people like Mike Brecker, Steve Grossman, Eddie Daniel and others. The other man in Boston was Joe Viola, teaching Joe Lovano, George Garzone and Jane Ira Bloom as well as many more at the Berklee School of Music. He was loved and respected, taught all the winds (my wife Caris studied oboe with him). His passing marks the end of an era.
We always miss something in our listening over the years and for me that was Andrew Hill. I just recently listened to “Point of Departure” and am amazed at how advanced, intricate and passionate the music on this recording is. I look forward to diving into the boxed set of the Blue Note years. What an incredible player and writer!!!
What can you say about Billy Higgins!! I never played with him but of course marveled as we all did at his musicality on the drums- touch, grace, flow and sheer wizardry. He will be missed by all jazz lovers and musicians.
Maybe for most of the musician readers this is already familiar, but I recently read an article in a tax magazine about a musician who used his studio only for practicing, not necessarily for business transactions, meeting students, etc. These latter conditions were formerly the more stringent rules applicable in order to claim home office deduction. In this case, the musician was allowed to deduct expenses related to that amount of square feet for household expenses (rent or mortgage, electricity, upkeep, etc.). For sure, all of us should at least get some help for our practice space.
Also I just learned from my new accountant that royalties on recordings or books are not considered ordinary income and therefore not subject to self employment tax. It is reported separately on form 1040 and should result in some savings. Of course you should keep all the statements from the company paying you to validate this claim.
Hey, anything that helps the self employed is of use!!!
In the May issue of Time Magazine there was an article called the “$111 Reunion” about the various ways one could donate basic survival kits which would address the immediate needs of children separated from their parents around the world at a very economical cost. For example, for $28 a seat would be opened in a school for one of the 9000 separated children in Guinea. The easiest way to donate is to call 1-877-refugee, ext. 100 or send a check to Netaid.org Foundation, 336 East 45th St. New York, NY 10017. Their sight is netaid.org
July:Concert in Glasgow with Scottish National Big Band arranged and written by saxophonist Tommy Smith; Manchester, Birmingham and Pizza Express in London with Tommy Smith Group doing Coltrane tunes; workshop and performance with Toots Thielman and Kenny Werner at the Vienne Festival in France; with Far North (Stenson, Chrisetensen, Daniellson) at the North Sea Festival in the Hague, Netherlands and Fasching in Stockholm, Sweden; Saxophone Master Class at East Stroudsburg University, PA-guest speaker:Phil Woods.
August: Bethlehem Music Fest, Pennsylvania with Lehigh Valley Big Band; opening of new club with UMO Jazz Orchestra in Helsinki, Finland; concerts and recording in Italy with various musicians (Mirko Signorile, Gaetano Partipilo, Alessandro Fabbiani) and performance with pianist Franco D’Andrea at Termoli Festival and large ensemble featuring saxophonist Maurizio Giammarco.
September:COTA Festival in Deleware Water Gap, Pennsylvania with singer J.D.Walters;concerts in Florida (St.Petersburg, Orlando) in duo with drummer Abbey Rader;clinic at Roberto’s Saxophone Store, New York City; opening Jazz Masters Seminar with Dave Liebman Group at East Stroudsburg University, PA
WISHING YOU ALL A HEALTHY AND WONDERFUL SUMMER