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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

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I played a really nice concert as guest artist with pianist/composer Antonio Ciacca and his 4tet last night. in Lanciano Italy as part of  Estate Musicale Frentana 2011. We played many of Antonio’s compositions, and a few standards as well. Antonio is a fine writer, who takes already known songs, and song forms and makes them his own, by re-harmonizing, and re-arranging them. A very effective technique that many of us jazz musicians do. The musicians in the band played really well. Saxophonist Paulo Recchia, bassist Giuseppe Bassi, and drummer Francesco Ciniglio all swung really hard for the entire concert with Antonio, and I. It was a pleasure to work with them all for the first time. Those first time playing experiences are really the ones I love, as it reaffirms how the music is a universal language, and you can get on the stage with musicians you don’t know, never played with, did not rehearse with, can barely speak with because of the language barrier, and the magic can happen. It is what makes me excited about music. It is was what is so motivating about playing jazz. In the classical world there are always many rehearsals before a concert. In the jazz world, if you have good players, you need not even rehearse sometimes, and the music can just evolve. it is a beautiful thing. I love what I do. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Thursday the 21rst of July I will do the Farro Sabina Jazz Festival near Rome, with Antonio and a completely different rhythm section. I am sure this will a similar or even more powerful experience. Can’t wait!!

I will blog it after the concert.

 

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!

 

Well there is a first for everything. This time I really did myself in. I just returned from a really incredible European tour with my 4tet of 7 years of Allen Farnham, Dean Johnson, and the great Tim Horner. Anyway we did a bunch of great concerts in Germany, and Switzerland, and then I went on alone to Italy where I had several engagements with Italian musicians. So here is what happened to me in Avelino Italy.

I was staying with a friend and colleague Luigi Ruberti in the center of Napoli, and I had set the vibes up to practice the day of my concert in Avelino. So I practiced all day , and ate. Then came the time to get ready for the gig that night. I packed up the vibes. The dampener for the Yamaha vibe I use in Italy, and leave in Italy is an older frame, and the dampener that mutes the bars splits in half when packing it up. I packed everything and left one half of the dampener leaning on a case in the room. I did not notice it. I was picked up and departed for Avelino. It is 100 K away from Napoli. When I set the vibes up at the club my heart sunk as I realized I had forgotten this vital piece of the instrument. We were a little less than 2 hours before the gig, and it was raining hard, and certainly driving back was a real pain in the ass. After trying to call several friends to see if they could help by picking the piece up we went to plan B. Look for a complete instrument at 8pm on Friday night. The conservatory was closed. Everything was closed, and of course getting a vibraphone even when things are open is difficult. What a disaster. Anyway some very inventive people at the Charleston Jazz Club got together, and with tape, wire ties, and a piece of long plastic with table clothes wrapped around it,  we managed to extend the dampener and mute the bars so it was playable. We put 5 or 6 pieces of firewood underneath the sustain pedal to prop it up so the newly constructed pedal would mute the bars. In essence we turned the vibraphone into a metal marimba. I played the gig but for sustain I needed to roll all sustain notes, and chords. A really tough gig for me. I was literally hurting in my arms the morning after from all the extra rolling of the chords, and sustains. What a royal pain in the ass it was. The music was still swinging hard, as Giuseppe La Pusata, and Corrado Cirrillo ,and I played the run of standards, and blues we ripped through. I can’t say it was the most comfortable concert I ever played, but we pulled it off, and an enthusiastic audience from Avelino enjoyed it. Thanks to Danielle, the owner of Charleston Jazz Club, and his great staff, and friends for the assistance putting this contraption together so the concert could somehow happen! Check the pictures of what we did to save the gig.

DANIELLE CHARLESTON JAZZ CLUB OWNER

The Quartet

Well we set off on tour for our first stop in Oldenburg Germany to perform at Jazz Club Alluvium on Feb 23rd. A nice venue run by a singer named Al Yasha Anderson. She is originally from Brooklyn New York, and now residing in Oldenburg. The concert was a nice start to our 6 concerts in Germany, and Switzerland. We are preparing new music for a recording in Switzerland on February 26+27 live at Chorus Jazz Club. We have been playing all new music by Tim Horner, Allen Farnham, and myself. Some very challenging stuff. On morning of the 24th we drove to Rostock Germany where we played for the second time at Upsprung, which is a nice little club in Rostock in the northeast of Germany. The music grows each night as we pour our hearts and souls deep into what we love to do. Next day we drove to Schwann Germany where we played at this really fantastic little place called Kulterschanke, run and owned by Sylva Tkotsch. We met Sylva last year when we performed in Rostock, and she absolutely insisted we come to perform at her venue this year. It was a great concert as it was completely acoustic with no microphones anywhere. A little stage which put us very close to each other. It felt great on the stage, as I could hear really well, and the usual monitor systems that these clubs have were not there to ruin the sound onstage. It was like playing in our living room. The music really took off that night. Before the concert, as the audience filed into the club, I noticed there were many older folks coming in as well as a younger crowd, so I felt that it would nice to give them a standard tune to start the set. We did that and then continued with our original music as we prepare for the recording on the 26-27th. Much to my surprise they were very enthusiastic about the original music. They really ate it up. We sold many CD’s and it ended as a great night.

Now comes the tough leg of the tour. We departed at 6am on the 26th, drove 2hours to Hamburg airport. Unloaded, returned the car, checked in, and took our flight to Zurich. We need to be in the Geneva area, but the flights from Hamburg to Geneva were so expensive I chose to go to Zurich as we had 85-euro flights. Upon arriving at Zurich we caught a train to Lausanne to arrive for the concert/live recording at Chorus Jazz Club. We got to the hotel at 4:40pm. Rested I hour and went to the sound check. Ate dinner and hit at 9pm. 2 burning sets to a packed club. This club has become our home away from home. We are so well received in Switzerland in general, but it is our 5th year playing at Chorus, and the same faces, and friends keep coming. Sold a load of CD’s and even though we were totally exhausted from the trip that day, and no sleep, we played our asses off. This band is incredible. For me it is a dream come true to work the music to this level, and simply to be on the stage performing at this level at this point in my life. I have dreamed of this path since I was 13 years old, when I first heard Elvin Jones play live at The Village Vanguard. I actually broke in tears during rehearsal of a ballad that Tim Horner wrote titled “I Wish I Knew You”, as I became over whelmed with the beauty of the music, and the gratitude I have for these musicians, the music, my family, thinking of lost friends, and the difficulties of life. Another song we play is a beautiful waltz dedicated to the bass player Bob Bowen who was tragically run over by a truck while riding his bike in New York. The song is titled “The Place I Feel Free”, composed by Tim Horner as well. It refers to Bob’s stories of his life, as he spoke to Tim, and said how the one place he feels free is when he is riding his bike, as the day-to-day problems of life disappear when riding. How sad, and ironic he was killed in that place he felt so free! Life is so fragile out here for us all, and we must continue to be grateful for what we have. I miss my family when on the road, but my road family keeps me moving, and I am very grateful for the music. It makes me feel free, alive, and continuously motivated to, play better today than I did yesterday!! Second night of recording at Chorus tonight. Can’t wait to hear it when finished!

Mark Sherman in Rostock

Allen Farnham

Dean Johnson

Tim Horner

I had an amazing concert last wednesday night in Brooklyn at a concert series called Brooklyn Jazz Wide Open / Littlefield. I played with the Ron Horton/ Tim Horner 10tet. What a band featuring Marc Mommaas, Scott Robinson, John O’Gallagher, Nate Ecklund, Ron Horton, Alan Ferber, and a rhythm section of Frank Kimbrough, myself, Mark Sherman on vibes, Martin Wind, and Tim Horner. The music is mostly arranged by Ron Horton in tribute to the music of Andrew Hill legendary jazz pianist/composer. This band is currently looking for a home at one of the local New York jazz clubs, and certainly deserves one. Ron Horton has cleverly arranged the music and the players are really incredible. I hope the band will soon record. A project worth checking out.

Mark Sherman, Frank Kimbarro, and Martin Wind

The Ron Horton/Tim Horner 10tet

Blues For Yokohama mp3

I’m listening for the first time to pianist/composer Eddie Mendenhall’s CD that I played on .We recorded it a while back when I was on a west coast tour of concerts and workshops. Eddie is a really fine writer and all around musician. The CD features Eddie on piano with John Schifflet(Bass), Akira Tana(Drums), and myself on vibes. It is some of my best playing recorded to date. It will be released on Miles High Records on February 15th 2011. Check the sample above!

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