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          As I look back at my life and career in music I often site many of the landmark opportunities, concerts, shows, workshops, residencies, and positions that have brought me to where I am today as globally performing jazz artist and educator. So when I ponder all this I realize, and must give huge credit to my opera singing mother, and Juilliard graduate (Edith Gordon) who pushed me to go to Juilliard which paid great dividends for me. I was already playing jazz drums with many great young players like Kenny Kirkland and Rodney Jones by 17 years old, but going to the Juilliard School was the biggest and most important part of my development. Rubbing shoulders with the best classical orchestral players in the world created roundness in my musicianship and experience. My mother insisted I go to Juilliard when accepted. I did not really know the value. I just wanted to play jazz.

And Juilliard had no jazz department, and this was strange to me as many other schools did. So I entered The Juilliard School in 1975 and began studying as a percussion major with the greatest timpanist in the world named Saul Goodman. This guy was nearly 50 years the timpanist in the New York Philharmonic, and head of the percussion program at Juilliard. I began rubbing shoulders with these incredible musicians and conductors like Leonard Bernstein, Sir George, Solti, and Herbert Von Karajan. Weekly a different conductor would come and conduct the Juilliard Orchestra in addition to the main conductor Sixten Ehrling. In this period the school president and Dean were Peter Mennin, and Gideon Waldrop, and the school was run very well except for one problem. NO JAZZ!! There was no jazz program at all. In fact the genre was rather frowned upon. The only jazz players at Juilliard when I was there were Wynton Marsalis, Dan Block, Ken Hitchcock, another percussionist Rob Waring, and myself. We played as much as we could anyway, but it was not what it is today.

About 4 years ago I joined the faculty of The Juilliard Jazz program under direction of the legendary drummer/educator  Carl Allen and administrative director Dr. Laurie Carter. I remember when I first arrived how blown away I was by the fact that they finally had a jazz program to develop great young players. I am so impressed with what president Dr. Joseph Polisi has done at Juilliard. Obviously he has great vision, and understanding of all the music. For so many years the jazz door was closed at Juilliard. Even with passed students like Keith Jarrett, and Miles Davis they never opened the door to jazz education until Dr. Polisi’s incredible vision. As it stands now Juilliard accepts only 40 students at a time in the program, but these students are the absolute cream of the crop of young talent in jazz. The level is higher than any I have seen. The students get to perform with many of their heroes in the music like Herbie Hancock, George Coleman, Hubert Laws at the many concerts at school. The faculty including legends like Sir Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, (artist in resident) Benny Golson and Christian Macbride and the rest of the incredible player/educators who teach at there. Additionally the name value throughout the globe makes this program the most valuable in the world. I travel all over the world, and it seems one of the most impressive things for people is the Juilliard name, and the fact that I played with these conductors I named. When you mention that Juilliard name, eyes light up.

The foresight to actually send students out on tour for a week at a time, and to have the students working the summer Juilliard jazz camps creates invaluable experience for these young players. SOmething virtually no other institution does. This is the type of experience I never got until I hit road with Peggy Lee Quintet and the many other jazz luminaries I have worked with over the years. Especially in the educational area, Juilliard really cultivates the students by allowing them to do workshops in the Juilliard School name. Gaining experience teaching, as well as communicating in foreign countries with language barriers, and cultural barriers. Learning to deal with promoters, and local educators in foreign countries is a social art in itself. Congratulations to Dr. Joseph Polisi, Dr. Laurie Carter, and Carl Allen for their free thinking and incredible as I have said “vision” to create this monster program for aspiring jazz players. It is an honor and privilege to be part of this. I highly recommend any aspiring  young  jazz players of level to apply to The Juilliard School. The greatest music school in the world!

Saul Goodman IMG_1248

Saul Goodman                                                                Carl Allen

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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

What a great 2 days I spent with Paquito D’Rivera and an amazing group of musicians. We recorded a piece he wrote by commission for the Jose Limon Dance Company. The work is titled “Ladies in White” (Ballet) for chamber jazz ensemble. With pianist/producer Daniel Freiberg in the control room, the band was Paquito of course, Alex Brown on piano, Marco Granados on flute, Diego Urcola, on trombone and euphonium, Jisoo OK on cello, Gregg August on bass,  Eric Doob on drums/percussion, Arturo Stable, and Paulo Stagnaro on hand percussion, and myself Mark Sherman on a concert marimba.

Let me start out by saying, Paquito D’Rivera is absolutely one of the finest musicians on this planet. I know he was a child prodigy saxophonist, and clarinetist. I believe he played a concerto with the main symphony in Cuba at 11 years old, and of course today he is known for his deeply rooted jazz playing. His cross of Latin flavored music with the bebop, and classical roots has made him tops in his field. The music he composed for the ballet is in 3 movements, and will eventually be performed live with the ballet. Hopefully many times.

I have done many recording dates in my life, but this one was absolutely one of the most challenging dates I’ve ever done. The music was extremely challenging. It required a lot of attention from all the musicians including Paquito himself. I know I practiced many of the lines and various marimba parts for many hours just to work out stickings, and just get it in my head and hands. Same I am sure for all the players. I was most impressed by many of the other musicians some who I had worked with before, and some not.

Marco Granados is a flautist I have never heard, but wow he sounded beautiful, as we doubled many melodies together. He was very precise with great intonation. The high end of the marimba with flute doubling is a great sound.

Alex Brown is a pianist to be heard more of. He plays his butt off. Not only did he execute the parts beautifully as a classical pianist, but also his solos were really great jazz solos. He has a bit of a Lyle Mays feeling at times, but again deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, with great command of the language, and he played the Latin grooves really well. A pianist I would call anytime!

Gregg August is a bassist that I had worked with in the past, but I really got to hear him play at a higher level on this session. His intonation is beautiful, he plays Arco (with the bow) really well, his groove is strong, and of course he reads well in order to play this piece in the first place. Very solid with a beautiful sound.

Jisoo OK was another highlight of the date playing cello. She was much more than OK. She was amazing. An incredible body to her sound. It is rich, in tune, and passionate. She played the parts with a vengeance for the music. She had technical precision and a lot of emotion in her playing. I think she touched us all with that. The cello is such a beautiful instrument.

Diego Urcola played trombone and a baritone horn, or I think they also call it a Euphonium. What a beautiful player. He played both instruments with great skill. He blew some beautiful solos on the Euphonium that had the smoothness of a flugelhorn. His improvising skills are excellent, as he has a broad understanding of the language. I have had Joe Magnarelli playing trumpet, and flugelhorn on several of my CD’s in the past. I love that sound of flugelhorn, and vibes, and immediately upon hearing Urcola play I had the same smooth feeling except a bit lower, and deeper.

I found Eric Doob to be a very multi dimensional drummer, covering all the styles needed in this piece. He had a broad understanding of the various Latin feels, as well as could swing well.

Latin percussion, and hand percussion is an area of music that I have always faked very well on many jingles, and film dates in my life. I used one groove my whole life, and it worked for those types of music, but whenever I was asked to play a real Latin gig with authentic musicians, I always told the leaders, “please get an authentic player. I am just a jazz musician. I never really knew all the traditional types of hand drum grooves, but the two percussionists Arturo Stable and Paulo Stagnaro that Paquito hired for this recording sure did. They were grooving in their booth with an amazing array of instruments.

A group of musicians getting together to honor the code we live by, which is to take the music as serious as life itself. To come together having never really known each other at all, but all with the same goal. In this case to do justice to the incredible work of music Paquito D’Rivera composed. Every part written mattered, and had great purpose. Clearly this work was well calculated, and thought out. I really admire the work done on this project, because rather than remain in a pattern, Paquito seems to be always forging ahead looking for new things to create, and new ways to contribute to the art form.  That is something I have always tried to do in my own life, and working with masters like Paquito only sets a great example for us all. Hats off to you Pacman for this incredible contribution, and thanks so much for having me on the recording. I am very grateful to have been part of it!

Paquito D’Rivera

RIF 1 Baseball

Unfortunately 15 years ago I tore a ligament in my back between the sacroiliac, and the spine. It was down low near the L5 disk. I was around 40 years old, and Dr. Richard Bachrach told me it was a very dangerous spot to do surgery, so we opted for a revolutionary therapy called Prolotherapy in which I received injections, and trigger points for 12 years. It worked well, as it rebuilt the ligament so it holds the disks in place. Unfortunately I was left with 2 herniated disks, which are for the most part I am able to maintain with stretching. Once in awhile the old back does slip out a little, and I can go into spasm for while. As we all know it creates intense pain, and inability to even walk or sit properly.

Well here is what I discovered. You take a baseball, and lie on the floor and roll on it. Put the baseball near the top vertebrae next to your spine. Lie on it for 5-10 seconds and then roll the ball outwards away from the spine to the outside of your body. Remember do not put the ball directly on your spine. Put it next to the spine in the vertebrae space, and roll it outwards. Do this for each vertebrae going down your back to the L5 at the bottom. Do it on both sides of the spine, and it will create the balance. It is sort of like Shiatsu pressure points. The pressure opens up the space between the vertebrae. Use a RIF 1 baseball made for little kids 7 years and under, as it is a little softer than a hardball. A hardball will work, but it is not as comfortable. The RIF ball is a little softer, but hard enough to create the necessary pressure. It is amazing. It works to relieve the pain, and pressure of the back shift that happens during spasm.

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

Wow! It sure is a different scene in the studios these days than when I was in the thick of it in the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. The other day I recorded 23 cues for a motion picture entitled “Should’ve Been Romeo”. The amazing thing is the engineer, composer, and other musicians are all working in LA. I recorded my parts in my office at home in New York. I have done this many times now for various jingle, and film composers. They send you pdf’s of all the music, and a reference mix of each tune in wave format with click track, and I add the  parts requested on vibes, or whatever instruments they want using my Apogee ONE’s and Pro Tools to record with. Then I upload it to a site like Media Fire where you can upload heavy memory files for them to download in LA. Then they put it up on their mix in their studio, and make a few adjustments, and that’s it. I email an invoice, W-9, and I-9 form, and I get paid.

In the studio scene in the 80’s and 90’s I used to have to travel down to the studio. Pay for parking. Go to the studio and record for a while. Then we would all break at “Possible 20’s” bar on 55th st. This place was named after the standard studio call of 1 hour with a possible 20 minutes overtime. So when you finished one date and had a 40 minute break till the next date, you would hit Possible 20’s for food or drink. These days you need not leave your house to do a high profile film date. What a world of technology we live in. Most of that  possible 20 studio scene is now dead as there is much less studio work in New York these days compared to the old days. Now everyone has Pro Tools , and the equipment necessary to record with, so it eliminates a lot of studio time to be purchased by the producers. It has closed many fine studios in New York City as they just cannot stay alive.

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