Juilliard Jazz


On The Queen Mary ll with James Burton Jr, Xavier Davis, Jason Stewart, and myself.

Sorry I have not blogged in a while, as I sort of got loaded down with the summer activities. Basically I was 3 times to Europe for concerts since the last tour with Lenny White and Bob Franceschini.

From June 18-22 I had the privilege of teaching at The Juilliard summer jazz camp in Atlanta. I was selected to substitute for Carl Allen teaching drums at the camp, and of course playing on the final concert with the faculty. Many of you don’t know this , but I play a lot of drums as I studied with Elvin Jones as a youngster, and was and still am into Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Roy Haynes and all the there great jazz master drummers. So teaching and playing in Atlanta brought back many memories of playing with Kenny Kirkland and Rodney Jones when growing up. The camp was great as we taught many talented aspiring high school jazz players. On Friday night final day of camp the students performed in their combos, and the faculty band performed. What treat to play a concert with Ben Wolfe on bass, Frank Kimbrough, Miles Ozaki, Joe Magnarelli, Marc Vinci, and James Burton jr. I had a wonderful time. One of the highlights of the camp as well for me was Joe Magnarelli and I plunge for 45 minutes everyday during a free period we had. What ball jamming with Mags, trumpet and drums. It was wide open and free and left me with that great feeling of freedom in the music.

I returned to New York on June 23rd and had 4 days home before I departed for Europe. I flew to Napoli and spent 4 5 days there playing festivals. One of the festivals I did was the Marigliano Jazz Festival near Napoli Italy. I did several events at that festival. I played one night with the Craig Hartley Trio with Craig on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass, and Curtis Florian on drums. A great trio. I had a great playing with these cats. They swing their asses off. Next day I rehearsed with the Antonio Ciacca Big Band, and then did my 2-hour workshop on “Language Skills Fro Jazz Improvisation”. The next night I performed as a guest artist with that big band for the final concert of the festival.

Next day I flew back to New York. It was good to get back to NYC as I had a few gigs and spent 3 weeks with my family, which was great. One of the gigs in New York was a tribute to Bobby Hutcherson at Birdland NYC. This event was sponsored by WBGO and I played with George Cables, Buster Williams, and Victor Lewis. Accompanied by 3 other vibes players Steve Nelson, Warren Wolfe, and Jay Hoggard. We played all Bobby Hutcherson tunes. It was a great night with an all star rhythm section. Then on August 3rd I departed on another Juilliard School event. I performed on the Queen Mary ll cruise ship for a week as it gave me a trans-Atlantic ride to Europe which was my destination for some more jazz festivals.

On the cruise I had a great time playing drums and vibes with James Burton Jr., Xavier Davis, and Jason Stewart. On this setting I did a really interesting thing that I really have never done before. I played drums and vibes. So I would start every tune on drums and when the bass player was soloing I would fade away from the drums and move to the vibes and then take a solo with piano and bass only for a while. Then when finished I would subtly move back tot the drums and finish out the tune. The crowds loved it, and it was a new experience for me as well. Usually it is one or the other. Not both.

After arriving in Southampton the car transported us all to Heathrow airport in London and everyone went their own ways. I went on to Italy where I had a few gigs. One of them was the Isbani Jazz Festival near Salerno. It was a great night of music and I sold lots of CD’s.

Anyway after a few hits in Italy I returned home. Easier said than done as the car my manager sent for me to drive the 2.5 hour drive to Rome was 4o minutes late and then when we finally got on the road we had a flat tire that the driver could not change, and I subsequently missed my flight from Rom-London where I needed to catch my return flight that the Queen Mary 2 had provided. Anyway it cost my manager 434 euro to get me on the last flight out of Pescara Airport, which was 30 km from where the car broke down. Pretty much one of those act of god nightmares we all go through sometimes. Either way I arrived safely home after many hours traveling, but really exhausted. I am off the planes until my California tour and residency on Oct 4th, and then off to Europe again in November with my new band with Bob Franceschini, and Adam Nussbaum called. (THEM)

All in all a great summer with great music. For now it is back to Juilliard Jazz and my other teaching gigs at New Jersey City University and The New York Jazz Workshop.

Played drums and vibes on the QE ll. WHat a ball!

James Burton Jr, Jason Stewart, Xavier Davis, mark Sherman on the Queen Mary ll

Bobby Huterson Tribute at Birdland in NYC with George Cables, Buster Williams, Victor Lewis, and 3 other vibes players. Warren Wolfe, Steve Nelson, and Joy Hoggard.

Marigliano Jazz Festival Napoli italy

 

 

Isbani Jazz festival view

Isbani Jazz Festival

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Featuring Lenny White, Bob Franceschini, and Martin Gjakonovski

We arrives safely in Cologne Germany on April 11th for our first concert at Altes Pfandhaus, which is the premier jazz room in Cologne Germany. Maybe the only jazz club there. Anyway it is a very cool venue with a circular stage with seating all around the band. While speaking to the audience I tried to sort of turn in circles to reach everyone, but after a while I just gave up that concept, and just looked one way. Anyway it was our first gig and the music began to take shape nicely. Our sets consisted of original compositions by Bob, Lenny, and myself. In addition we played a few standards. Hot House by Tadd Dameron, and Celia by Bud Powell. Really at this point in my career I feel this tremendous need to pay tribute to the jazz masters who have created the bebop foundation for the music we play. Although I have over one hundred original compositions I always play at least one or two tunes by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, or John Coltrane. For me it is correct to present the music in this fashion. Without these guys there would not be the music we live to play. They really innovated, and changed the way we all interpret the harmony. Bob Franceschini and I grew up together. I have known Bob for over 40 years as we attended Music and Art high School together in New York City, so it is such a treat for me to join with Bob on this tour. We have not played together in a while so it has just been amazing to reunite for this music. Bob is one of the fines saxophonists in the world. For me he is ranked in the top ten along with Mike Brecker, Joe Lovano, and Jerry Bergonzi. He is truly in that class. I remember when Bob and I were in high school how we were both Bird, and Coltrane freaks listening constantly to all of the records at high volume. We used to play the records without volume on 10. If there were an 11 on the volume control we would have used it. The short story is Bob flat out is a master of the art of improvisation. He has all the elements you need to play music. Great technique, a warm gigantic sound, and tons of bebop and post bop language to draw from. Just incredible! About a year ago the record producer David Chesky put a CD together for Lenny, Jamey Hadad, and myself to do which entailed creating music with a drums and percussion trio. Lenny and I had a ball together on this recording and spoke of doing some other stuff together, so I finally got the opportunity to put this tour together. Sharing the bandstand with Lenny White has been just a true honor and privilege for me. I was watching Lenny play with Chic Corea, and Return To Forever when I was 14 years old. Totally admiring that band, and Lenny is just an incredible natural musician. He plays the music with a vengeance, and a big smile. Incredible chops, and musicality. In addition he has brought some great tunes to the table for this band. One called “L’s Bop” (Lenny’s Bop) which is a true bebop line on the A section, and a bridge which opens up into some just lush, beautiful chords that are spelled with the harmony of jazz standards. It is very fast, and difficult to execute, but when we get it right it is just a burner. The other tune Lenny has contributed is a tune titled “Wolfbane” which has a middle eastern flavor to it mixed with a strong post bop set up. Kind of like a snake charmers dance with a jazz flavor. It also has some really cool rhythmic hits, which create a great rhythmic structure for the musician to work the language on. Lenny has an amazing ear. He uses no music for all the originals, and just learns everything by ear so fast. I have never seen any drummer learn music this way so quickly, and efficiently. It is really old school in a way, but he makes it work in today’s music perfectly. I am so used to handing the drummer a lead sheet to use. Especially on the first reading, but Lenny uses no music, and gets it right very quickly. He has just amazing ears, and experience in the music having played with the who’s who in jazz for many years. In addition he is a 4-time Grammy winner. A true legend in the music! Adam Nussbaum, and Daryl Hall recommended Martin Gjakonovski to me for this tour. Martin with great musical precision, and he has clearly done his homework. His intonation is first rate, and he has a great feel, and has integrated beautifully into this 4tet. It is a pleasure to have him on the bandstand, and on the road. Really when putting a tour together like this you have to always of course consider the abilities of the musicians, but in addition to the music you really need to consider the personalities of the players. You will travel and spend a lot of time together in some really stressful situations. Traveling these days has become so difficult with security searches, and delays, and all sorts of problems that can occur. So it is vital to select a group of musicians that not only play the music to the highest level, but can also enjoy being together. Otherwise you have some real problematic situations, which just can turn the entire tour into a drag. This time I really selected a great group of musicians who get along on and off the bandstand. Off to London for the next concert.

On plane Germany-London

 

Mark Sherman Quintet with Jerry Bergonzi @ The Kitano Jazz NYC

What an inspiring weekend of music at The Kitano jazz room in NYC with my band of 8 years with Tim Horner, Allen Farnham, and Dean Johnson. Jerry Bergonzi was a guest with us this weekend. In addition Jerry stayed at my house for the weekend so we played a lot of music at home, and at the club at night. He is flat out an incredible musician, and certainly one of the top 5 saxophone geniuses alive today. His playing is so fluid, and his language is so deeply rooted. It was a truly motivating to play and hang with him for 3 days. In addition he is just a great cat full of love, and music. Many colleagues, and friends came out to see us, as we tore up tunes like Quasimodo, Hot House, and many originals, and re-harmonized standards. It was a fantastic weekend.

Time To Practice, And Write

I have one week until I depart for Napoli, and then Germany for festivals in the north. I reside for the next week in my house in Colledimezzo Italy. My vibes are set up in the garage of my father in law here, and I will practice, and write for one week. It is rare in my life when I have this much down time to practice, and write, and relax a bit. When I was attending The Juilliard School in my college years I used to practice, or shed as we musicians say for 6 hours a day. It always amazes me how even at my age of 54 years old, I still have the desire to practice my craft. To perfect the many diminished, and altered patterns, and scales. To search for new ideas, and possibilities, as well as to simply write a few new tunes, and learn new tunes that I still don’t know. The motivation in the music is for life, and I expect to play until I literally drop. Hopefully that is a long time from now.

The art of jazz improvisation is a continuous quest. It never seems to get old, and the constant searching for new stuff to play on the vast amount of standards, blues, and rhythm changes written by all the music masters. Of course these days I work a lot out of the Nicolai Slonimsky book titled “Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns”. This book was Coltrane’s handbook. It has a huge amount of information in which he dissects the octave into multiple parts. The “Sesquiquadritone  section is the division of the octave into 4 parts, and gives you many different diminished patterns, and scales that are all applicable in the jazz genre, and the classical genre as a composer. So I practice a lot from this book , and learn the different scales, and patterns in all keys, but of course I try to live by the advice I give to my many students, and that is, “Practice does not make perfect”. PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT”!!!  Practice everything slowly and correct. Not fast and wrong.

Fast and wrong 1000 times will give you no results. Slow and perfect  10 or 20 times will give you major results!

Mark Sherman

The Orsara Jazz Festival Faculty Band

The Orsara Jazz Festival Faculty Band

I had just an amazing week in Orsara Italy from August 2-7. The faculty and band for the festival was Jerry Bergonzi, Jim Rotundi, Mark Sherman, Antonio Ciacca, Lucio Ferrara, John Webber, and Joe Farnsworth. Everyday we taught workshops, private lessons, and ran combos for 100 students at the camp. At night there were concerts, and all night jam sessions, and of course the food as usual in Italy is amazing. We ate incredible meals every night and lots of wine. I am not a huge drinker, but it is impossible to turn down. In fact if you try to say, “no thanks I don’t want any”, people look at you like your nuts. Anyway, I want to say something about each faculty musician individually.

Jerry Bergonzi is a musician, and saxophonist who I personally have looked up for many years. Especially since the death of my colleague Michael Brecker, Jerry is certainly the closest living sax player to Coltrane. Clearly he is deeply influenced by Coltrane, and of course all the great masters on his instrument. He has a deep understanding of the language, a fat fat sound on tenor sax, and the heart of giant. Deeply sensitive, and in touch with all the positive, and negative things happening in the world today. I truly enjoyed bonding with Jerry, and of course sharing the bandstand, and the music with him. He is gentle giant in the music, and his presence made it a very special week for me. It was really an honor, and I look forward to touring with him next year in a quartet setting.

Jim Rotundi is trumpet player that I certainly knew of as he has a huge reputation as a great player, but I had never really worked with him on the bandstand. It was great to meet him and play quartet with him on a separate concert in Foggia Italy sponsored by the festival. Jim is a humble, yet powerful player with incredible technique, and sound. And of course his language, and solo concept comes straight from the heart. I consider him one of the best trumpet players in the world. In addition he is a great guy, who clearly cared about the students, and bonding with all the musicians. A great guy to have on the bandstand, or on the road. Currently he is a professor of trumpet in Graz Austria, where he has relocated, and surely is bringing his genius to that program.

Antonio Ciacca is a truly fine pianist, arranger, and composer, and it was because of Antonio’s recommendation that I was chosen as a teacher, and performer at the Orsara Jazz Festival. I am quite grateful for this. Heavily influenced by all the bebop piano masters like Bud Powell, Sonny Clarke, Tommy Flanagan, Red Garland, Oscar Peterson etc. Antonio and his wife Giusy have for many years been on the forefront of the jazz world as they together have a jazz booking agency call C-Jam productions, and have promoted many huge jazz concerts, and tours with the likes of Elvin Jones and the Jazz Machine, and many others. Because of Antonio’s extensive knowledge of the music history, and business, he was chosen by Wynton Marsalis to be the director of programming for Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York City for the last 5 years. He is also on the Juilliard faculty with me, where he teaches the business of music. These days however Antonio is all about playing as he has stepped up to performing, and composing full-time. On Saturday August 6th the faculty band of the Orsara Jazz Festival played a work Antonio wrote specifically for the festival, entitled “The Orsara Suite”, in which each musician was featured in a movement. A well-calculated work with great purpose that gave each of us many solos on all the movements, but between each movement each one of us had an extended solo feature. We rehearsed it several times during the week, culminating with a kick ass performance, and recording of the Suite on the Saturday night concert on the big stage. It was mobbed with maybe 1500-2000 people as we ripped through this piece. Antonio used a composing technique that we all often apply, in which he takes well-known tunes like “Woody And You”, or “Like Sonny”, and changes the melody, and or chord changes a bit, and turns it into his own version. It is quite effective, and of course we all had a ball playing this extended suite. It has been my great pleasure to work with, and befriend Antonio since I recently met him at the beginning of last school year at The Juilliard School. He is a fine musician.

Lucio Ferrara guitarist, and director of the Orsara festival has only recently become one of my colleagues. He is a fine guitarist, influenced heavily by guitar master Wes Montgomery, and truly plays as if he loves the music deeply. On Friday night August 5th Jim Rotundi, and myself were driven about 30 minutes away from Orsara to the city of Foggia, where we played quartet with Luca Santaniello, and Joe La Piore, two fine Italian jazz players currently living in New York. Lucio played trio with Luca, and Joe before Jim, and I did our quartet segment of the evening’s festivities. I loved the deeply rooted bebop approach that Lucio takes towards the music. Much like my close friend and colleague Rodney Jones who also comes out of Wes Montgomery, and Kenny Burrell. What better place to come from as a jazz guitarist today. As a director Lucio did an incredible job managing, and administrating the day to day activities of the festival, as his cell phone never stopped ringing, as with 100 students, and the faculty he had to constantly deal with many issues that had nothing to do with playing the music, but when it was time to play Lucio really sounded great. A crisp clear sound, with great command of the jazz language.

John Webber is clearly one of the finest bass players around having performed with just about every big name in the business. I know him from his work the great tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. I really enjoyed hanging with John as he has a great sense of humor, and many great stories of his experiences having played with Benny Golson, George Coleman, Cecil Payne, Pharaoh Sanders Jon Hendriks, and list of jazz masters that goes on and on. He plays immaculately in tune with a great feel that sends the message of authentic jazz. Flat out a fun guy to have around. His playing made me feel very comfortable which I see as the goal of any musician. When you walk into a playing situation make those around you feel comfortable. John quietly does a great job of just that.

Joe Farnsworth is a drummer deeply rooted in the tradition of jazz. As a drummer myself having studied with Elvin Jones as a youngster, I am always in touch with what the drummer along side of me is doing. If I can swing harder than the drummer on the bandstand, then it is the wrong guy. Joe is absolutely the right guy, super experienced having played with many of the same jazz masters that John Webber has played with in Eric Alexander, George Coleman, Junior Cook, Johnny Griffin, Pharaoh Sanders, and the list goes on. Actually the two of them are truly a great combination. They fit together stylistically like a glove. Joe sounds to me as if you mixed Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, and Elvin Jones all together. He clearly loves to play as do all of us, but when you mix the three drummers styles together that I just mentioned you get magic. Joe is an original player that creates that authentic sound of jazz. A fun guy who deeply loves the music. He is just a ball to play and hang with.

Saturday morning before the big concert I did a solo vibraphone concert in an unbelievably beautiful 1000-year-old church in Orsara. The acoustics, and the physical setting were enough to make one see god. I played solo versions of “Along Came Betty”, “My One And Only Love”, “Celia”, and one of my originals entitled “Solitude”. I felt it was a very spiritual and motivating performance for me as 50-70 people showed and listened very eagerly to what I brought musically.

I look forward to returning to the Orsara Jazz Festival and jazz camp for years to come. It was an incredibly motivating, and rewarding musical week.

Jerry Bergonzi

Jim Rotundi

Mark Sherman

Antonio Ciacca

Lucio Ferrara

John Webber

Joe Farnsworth

Jerry Bergonzi and Mark Sherman

Great concert in Fara In Sabina just 40 km north of Roma. Wow way up high in the mountain above Roma with the most amazing view. I was a guest artist with the Antonio Ciacca trio. We played Antonio’s well calculated re-harmonizations of standards and a few normal standards like “Bolivia” by Cedar Walton. Antonio opened up trio with his bass player and drummer from Italy of many years, Nicola Muresu from Sardinia, and the drummer Nicola Angelucci. They were really relaxed, swinging players. It all swung real hard from the opening standard “You’re My Everything” until the final Antonio Ciacca composition Lago’s Blues, a straight eighth tune that any great player could dig into. I had visions of what my colleague and friend the late Michael Brecker might have done to this tune. He would have torn it up, as it combines and F vamp, and F blues. I had a blast playing it. The great a show with Antonio Ciacca is it is packed with music that is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, filled with standards, blues, and rhythm changes, as well as Antonio speaks before the tunes about the history of the music. He is so knowledgable about jazz. There is a lot info music history information behind each description of the tunes. I can see why Jazz At Lincoln Center, and Wynton Marsalis chose Antonio as the director of programming. A position Antonio held for the last 5 years. So each show is filled with the great performances, and the music history. Something I myself could incorporate more of in my own shows as a leader.

After the concert we slept in a Monestery that looked to be thousands of years old. Just a spooky, maze of rooms that I guess the nuns, and priests from the church stayed in. Really an amazing looking place. All in all a great night.

Antonio Ciacca Quartet

I was hit by a taxi cab while crossing 42nd street, and 6th avenue in New York City on April 22nd. I suffered a nasty head shot with a bad hematoma, concussion, and 25 stitches,  2 broken fingers, a broken shoulder in 2 places, and a terrible cut down to the bone on my left thumb. Actually I am lucky to be alive. It is a humbling experience to be walking across the street, and then to wake up from being knocked out to a stranger holding your head saying, “don’t move, your head is bleeding really badly”. Anyway I have healed up pretty well since the accident except for my left hand which is still messed up. I can play, but I feel I am still working at 60%.

Last week was the first week I worked in 8 weeks as a jazz player playing vibes. The great Italian pianist, Antonio Ciacca a big figure in the jazz world, was kind enough to give me 6 nights at The Setai Hotel “Bar on Fifth” on 36th street and 5th avenue in New York.  I played trio and quartet with various different drummers, and bass players. Antonio played with me to make it a quartet for 3 of the nights, and the bass players were David Wong(Roy Haynes band, and Jimmy Heath), Martin Wind, and Mike Karn who is as good a saxophonist as a bass player. A super talent he is!! The drummers were Pete Van Nostrand (Kenny Barron band, Jimmy Heath band) for 5 nights , and Quincy Davis for 1 night.  The music was rewarding, motivating, and spiritual all the way through. These players are all at the top of their game, and we just ripped through many standards, blues, and rhythm changes all week. I am truly grateful to Antonio Ciacca for this opportunity to come back playing strong. I play 3 sets a night for 6 nights which allowed me to test my stamina, and of course have a great time playing, which I live for. Of course after each night I was on ice like an athlete, and in physical therapy in the mornings. I was really hurting, and swollen after each night, but the music keeps me going, and I am grateful to still be here to play. It is like being an athlete without the 15 million dollars a year, whirlpools, massage and 24/7 physical maintenance. Not easy. Thanks to Antonio Ciacca for a great week!

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