The case for KASE

Unlike the Classical player, the jazz artist must achieve a technique that uncovers the self, that answers the question that Ellison says is the question of American art: Who am I?

-Robert G O’Meally, from the introduction ‘Jazz Shapes’ to Ralph Ellison’s “Living with Music”
(header photo by Bryan Mir)

I am musically restless. Sometimes I feel unsettled, unprepared, uneasy – maybe a sense of searching is a more appropriate (positive?) way of putting it. There are times when I think this is a good thing, other times – maybe not. I get bored with myself.

Many of my favorite musicians possess this quality of searching and evolution in their music. I am fascinated by musicians who started out playing a certain way, but evolved their style, sound, vocabulary, and musical identities. Keep pushing, keep moving, keep creating.


Maybe this is the way? Maybe this is a way. Maybe this is my way? I am finding my way.


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I am excited about this most recent project, KASE. KASE is myself on trumpet/electronics, John Christensen on bass, and Knowsthetime (Ian Carroll) on turntables and electronics. We will be inventing textural soundscapes – incorporating live beats, turntablism, electronic elements, and extended improvisations into the music we create. References for this project run the gamut from the contemporary mainstream to the avant guard to the classic … mixing jazz & hiphop is like mixing jazz and jazz – different branches of the same tree. That said, we hope to create something new and unexpected with this band and invite you to join us on that journey.

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Jazz is the new old hiphop

Music is life is music

In Make the Road by Walking I mentioned allowing one’s life experiences, personal relationships, childhood memories, visual artistic expressions (ie. the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds of daily life) to influence one’s music. Here, I would like to share with you a personal example of this concept put to action and a glimpse into my own compositional mind.

There are composers who can, on a dime, write endless melodies and complex chord structures without blinking an eye – music based on numbers, mathematical equations, cycles of the moon, quantum physics, on and on. Composers find inspiration from many different places, much like each musician has an improvisational voice informed by their experience. I do NOT have this particular musical gift, however, and when faced with writing for a particular project, band, recording, deadline or assignment, I would often hit a wall. I feel I cannot compose anything unless I have a “story” – a person, an experience, a feeling – basically some sort of narrative. Nearly every composition I write is tied to a memory of a person, place or thing. Duke Ellington makes a validating point for this concept in a 1944 article entitled “The Hot Bach – I”, for the New Yorker magazine.

“The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician,” he says. “Things like the old folks singing in the moonlight in the backyard on a hot night, or something someone said long ago. I remember I once wrote a sixty-four-bar piece about a memory of when I was a little boy in bed and heard a man whistling on the street outside, his footsteps echoing away. Things like these may be more important to a musician than technique.”

-Duke Ellington

The New Yorker, June 24, 1944 Issue / “The Hot Bach – I”
By Richard O. Boyer
newyorker.com/magazine/1944/06/24/the-hot-bach-i


To combat writer’s block and help “jumpstart” my creativity I started keeping a compositional journal at the urging of a teacher. I took the journaling one step further, however, to include musical AND non-musical items befitting Ellington’s above concept:

• photos from a family vacation, day trip, museum visit
• a particularly profound quote or idea from a video, poem, book, or interview
• a catchy chord progression or melody fragment I’ve overheard out in public or on TV
• an anecdote from a conversation, gig, lesson
• an inspiring visual art piece

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[As a side note, my “journal” is mostly my iPhone – voice memo, notes, camera, instagram/twitter, as well as a small “field notes” notebook. Above, a screenshot of my notebook/journal, including a quote from the 1969 documentary film, “Ornette, Made in America”,  describing Ornette’s uncanny ability to sound like Charlie Parker.]


I wrote the piece “Bender Park” based on a wild adventure I had with my three boys, in which we discovered a mysterious and hidden place. The film footage was taken by my then 9-year old son at “Bender Park” in Oak Creek, WI.

“The Good Land” on Shifting Paradigm Records
SPR: http://www.shiftingparadigmrecords.com/lesser-lakes-trio.html 
Bandcamp: http://bit.ly/TheGoodLand
iTunes: http://bit.ly/LLT_iTunes
Amazon: http://bit.ly/LLT_Amazon

 

Make the road by walking

Life experiences, personal relationships, childhood memories, visual expressions – the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds of daily life… the musicians who I am connected to most have this in their music. It can be explicit or implicit – but it can be felt. Can I hear your story in your music? Am I telling my story in my music?

As musicians/artists/humans, it is our ultimate goal to “find our own voice”. Finding one’s voice is a seemingly endless journey. It is a lifelong pursuit and a beautiful struggle of self discovery. We spend years listening, analyzing, emulating, studying, and we hope that the end result is that a unique identity develops. I often think of Clark Terry’s famous “Three Steps” to learning the art of improvisation, “Imitate, Assimilate, and Innovate”. This is a complete yet simple distillation of the process we spend our entire careers grappling with. In 2017, we have a universe of music to choose from; limitless paths of discovery – so which direction to choose?

I have swung back and forth wildly (mostly in my own mind), struggling with my identity as a musician – going through phases like an adolescent going through puberty. I have great admiration (jealousy?) for musicians who are secure in who they are. Am I playing enough bebop? Too much bebop? Too angular? Too weird? Not weird enough? Do most musicians struggle with this? I feel like I am beginning to get a grip on these questions, however. It is ok to like Barry Harris AND Cecil Taylor, Clifford Brown AND Don Cherry (who hung out btw), Charlie Parker AND Ornette Coleman, and the result of that might help me to “be me” or you to “be you”.

I once had a very important lesson in which a teacher told me not to leave out any influences from my music. “What do you like?”. The point being, if you enjoy certain types Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 7.49.11 PMof music (rock, pop, hip hop, polka, etc) you shouldn’t try and stifle those influences. “Let it all come through”, I was told. I took that bit of advice very seriously and it was incredibly reassuring, comforting and validating – especially considering the source was someone I respected so much. This was something I had already been thinking about and trying to exemplify in my music. It takes courage to “be you” and oftentimes we get in our own way.

To borrow a phrase from friend and author Todd Lazarski, we “Make the road by walking.” This phrase passes through my mind regularly.

It’s very important to have non-musical influences I think. You try to put your life experiences in your art no matter what. This is true of anything. Your social life, your romantic life, what you love in general, you know, the stuff you hate, all that stuff should somehow be in the music, or what you do as an artist for sure.
-Ethan Iverson

from  The Bad Plus: On Jazz, Humility, and Finding Your Voice by Todd Anderson

“Not leaving anything out” goes beyond musical influences. Life experiences, personal
relationships, childhood memories, visual artistic expressions – the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds of daily life… the musicians who I am connected to most have this in their music. It can be explicit or implicit – but it can be felt. Can I hear your story in your music? Am I telling my story in my music? I have a need to surround myself, in both study and in performance, with music and musicians that have this personal quality.

Ultimately, it is about the journey not the destination. Never be satisfied, always be searching, and keep pushing. Like LeVar Burton said, “…You don’t have to take my word for it.”


“I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is ’cause I’m changing all the time.
-Charles Mingus

“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am: my faith, my knowledge, my being.”
-John Coltrane

“The real innovators did their innovating by just being themselves.”
-Count Basie

“Music is your experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”
-Charlie Parker

“When it comes to music, don’t lie to yourself; just tell yourself the truth.”
-Art Blakey

“Forget about upholding the tradition and just play who you really are.”
-Terence Blanchard

“When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them.”
-Don Cherry

“A chimpanzee could learn what I do physically, but it goes way beyond that. When you play, you play life.”
-Jaco Pastorius

“I find my inspiration in myself.”
-Thelonious Monk

“Your humanity is your instrument.”
-Wayne Shorter