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Today I was on the panel of faculty members from the Juilliard School jazz department for a forum on the subject matter “How To Practice”. The panel was made up of department chair, and drummer Carl Allen, saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Wolfe, drummer Kenny Washington, and myself. What an honor to do this, as well as it is a subject matter that I feel very strong about, as I have preached this to students globally for many years. I have seen so many of my students over the years return to the next lesson having not improved. Many times it is because their practice method is not good. As human beings we always want to improve fast, and be the best quickly. Unfortunately this approach does not work. Whoever  invented the expression “practice makes perfect” should be hung. It is a bad guidance quote. It should read “Perfect practice makes perfect”. There is that fine line between practicing properly, and not.  Many student come back week to week saying ” I practiced 5 hours a day”, but I do not see an improvement relative to 5 hours a day for a week. That to me means the student has wasted a lot of time.  Practicing wrong will surely waste your valuable time. That is what I spoke about. Practicing slow, and building the speed up slowly, rather than going fast and repeating constant mistakes. Focusing on one phrase, or measure at a time. How to practice scales, and other skills we work on as players, of jazz, and classical music. The other five of my esteemed colleagues had fantastic things to say, like learning the music away from the instrument in your head. Focusing on one thing at a time. making a practice journal. Using a stopwatch or kitchen timer to force yourself to practice one scale or drill at a time for a specific amount of time. Things like this. Anyway it was a really informative forum for the students who are already some of the finest young jazz students in the country, as the curve at Juilliard is extremely high. Getting into the school is probably one of the most competitive auditions nationwide. They just don’t accept anyone. I think it is even harder to get in than when I attended, and the year I got in they accepted only 2 students out of maybe 100 or more applicants. Myself, and Dan Druckman, the  current 2nd percussionist in the New York Philharmonic, and head of the percussion program in the classical percussion department at Juilliard. I really believe in this type of forum/masterclass, as with a group of faculty members such as the one mentioned here, the students get a really deep look at how these seasoned pros have dealt with the topic throughout their own quest for improvement. I sure wish they had a jazz program run by someone like Carl Allen when I went to Juilliard, although my extensive classical training has served me well in my own career, and has made me a better all around musician. I was watching these students suck up every word we said, as each faculty member got up, and spoke for 20 minutes or so, about there method for practice, and improvement. The funny thing was we all basically have similar approaches, but different wording, and slightly different concepts, but each approach was valid, and spelled the same formula for success. Those students are very fortunate to have faculty members who care enough, to take their valuable time to do this type of class. What a fantastic environment to learn in, being surrounded by this faculty of people like Rodney JonesRon Carter, Kenny Barron, Steve Turre, Eddie Henderson, Andy Farber, Billy Drummond, Bob Stewart, Antonio Ciacca, Joe Temperly, and the six mentioned above (forgive me if I forgot anyone). Next week’s forum is with legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. I will be there!

 

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Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Our final day in Shenyang China was spent at the Shenyang Conservatory. This is music like I have never seen before. There are 13,000 students studying at this school. I guess it is in line with the fact that there are 6-7 million people living in the center of Shenyang, and 23-25 million living in all of Shenyang including the suburbs. So with that huge population I suppose 13,000 students is not that much. It services students from elementary school all the way through college with music studies as well as academic studies, but I think mostly music. The campus is huge. We arrived and were escorted to a really beautiful concert hall lined with flowers, and the beautiful Chinese style of decoration throughout the hall. After the set up and sound check. We were escorted to another beautiful lunch at yet another traditional Chinese round table with tons of food and drink. Our concert was successful as normal, and then we were treated to performances by some of the conservatories finer traditional Chinese musicians. This was truly enlightening, and educational for all of us American musicians. First a very serious looking young man named Xu came out in traditional silk Chinese attire, and played with amazing command, and personality a guitar like instrument called a Pipa. I think John McGlaughlin, or Paco Deluca would have gone crazy hearing this kid play. He had fantastic command, and stage presence. He bowed to the instrument, and to the audience with deep respect. He played his ass off, and Tim, Jim, Tom, and myself were truly mesmerized. The a beautiful young female student named Xu Cunyu came out and sat behind a Zither, known in Chinese as a Yanghi. It is on a beautiful wooden stand and struck with thin wooden sticks with a little paddle on the end of the sticks. It is tuned for the constant use of the pentatonic scale, and she played a really beautiful composition. Then a absolutely knock you dead gorgeous girl named Lu Ting Ting came out in a really long blue full length dress and played the Erhu. This instrument is a 2 stringed violin type instrument that is bowed, but the bow is permanently fastened between the two strings. It uses mainly the Asian pentatonic scale as it is tuned to D and A. It is really a gorgeous sound and the girl who played it was emotional, and flashy. All three of these musicians had great stage presence. We were all really impressed. Afterwards when we were asked to comment, I said I was really enlightened by these sounds, and that as we go all over the world as educators bringing our American jazz music to all the different cultures, I felt as if I had just gotten an education. It was really a fantastic thing watch. There is sure a lot talent out here in the world, and I know Jim Ridl, Tom Dicarlo, and Tim Horner, and myself all fell very grateful to have witnessed this innovative, and traditional Chinese music. We were really moved.

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Quingshan Lu Percussion Professor

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The Zither (The Yangqui)

The 4tet did a nice mini concert (3-4 tunes) and a master class at the philharmonic hall in Vladivostok Russia yesterday. There were 80-100 eager music students and enthusiasts there to watch us along with 2 or 3 TV cameras filming it for the news as on Sunday night we have a big concert in the same hall that will surely be packed. Everything went well as we opened up by playing 3 tunes. One of mine entitled “Little Lullaby”, which started as a slow sensitive waltz that I composed when my little girl Ella was an infant and we routinely rocked her in her rocking chair. This piece over the last 7 years with the 4tet has evolved into a hard driving waltz that is surely not a lullaby anymore, but a nice vehicle for our art form of improvisation. Then we played a beautiful ballad by Tim Horner who always has had my ultimate respect as a musician, drummer, and violist, but until this past 6 months I had know idea that he was a great writer as well. This ballad is an absolutely beautiful piece entitled “The Museum Piece” that he wrote while sitting staring at art at the museum in New York City with his wife Nitza, a fantastically talented sculptor and artist from Israel. Anyone who cannot get motivated by this piece is DEAD! It captures what I personally live for in the music. The use of beautiful melody, chords and a free approach to rhythm and form that reminds me why I play this music. It is a very emotional piece that has really gotten under my skin. Can’t wait to play it tonight at our concert in Nakhodka Russia. After that we played one of Jim Ridl’s compositions entitled “Smile Said The Drum” which is dedicated to Elvin Jones one of my teachers and heroes in the music. The title refers to Elvin’s infectious smile that was on his face all the time. Jim Ridl is absolutely one of the finest writers I have worked with in my life, and it is a total privilege to address all the music he has brought forth in this 4tet. His music has emotion, direction, deep harmony, and is flat out challenging and fun to play. Our bassist Tom Dicarlo is the youngest in the group, but addresses the music like a seasoned veteran. His sound is warm, and his intonation is note perfect. He locks up with Tim Horner underneath Jim Ridl, and myself to create the magic, and rhythmic current that flows through the music direct into my heart.

After the 3 opening tunes we opened up for questions with a translator of course. After many questions about the technical aspects of the vibraphone, someone asked if I ever play solo on the vibes. So I knocked out a quick solo version of “Stella By Starlight”. More questions continued and then we spoke about the musical handouts we prepared, and of course they were given out to each person who attended. Lots of handshakes, and autographs were signed, and some CD’s given out as well. All in all a great musical start to this month long tour. In our briefing with Jazz At Lincoln Center, and The US State Department prior to our departure they told us “get ready to be treated like rock stars”. Well they were correct. That is exactly how we have been treated. It was all filmed by a TV crew and was on the news several times last night and this morning. We are all having a blast! Today a 3-hour drive to Nakhodka, and a concert tonight. Can’t wait to play again. This band is on fire already, and we just began the tour!

The other day I worked a gig with Marcus Rojas, one of New York’s finest low brass players (tuba, baritone horn). As we both went to High School Of Music and Art in New York City, I began to talk of all the legendary players who I was close with musically, and as friends at Music and Art. School was packed with many of the worlds finest musicians, like Kenny Washington, Omar Hakim, Marcus Miller, Ray Chew, Bob Franceschini, Angel Fernandez, Bobby Broom, Francisco Centano, Danny Druckman, Rand Steiger, Clifton Anderson, Chris Tillotson, Carlton Green and Malleon Walker. All who have gone on to successful careers as sidemen, orchestral players, leaders, composers etc.
This story is about two other amazing, sort of legendary brass players named Carlton Greene, and Malleon Walker both good friends of mine through high school. First I heard of Carlton was when I was 13 years old at the school. I heard he was some hot shot Tuba player. He was a short stocky, strongly built kid. Well at 14 years old still in Music and Art Carlton played the Vaughn Williams Tuba Concerto as  a winner of the Young Artist Concerto Competition with the New York Philharmonic. I heard the legendary tubist Roger Bobo said that Carlton was going to be the greatest tuba player to ever live someday. Well this was incredible that still in high school Carlton had already accomplished this. There was a big buzz at the school. Carlton went on to substitute with the New York Philharmonic and became a young great classical player around the city. When college entrances time came it was pretty exciting for everyone as many of the group of musicians at the top of the school went on to some incredible institutions like Juilliard, Curtis Institute, Manhattan School of Music, Berklee School, and playing jazz as a sideman with no formal school, but a school in itself.  Well Carlton was accepted at The Curtis Institute. A very elite place, and equally as difficult to get into as Juilliard. At Curtis you study with the Philadelphia Orchestra personnel. And of course I believe he subbed with the orchestra as well. Carl also played in Howard Johnson group for a good while. Eventually Carlton got one really big gig. He was heard by Ricardo Muti the conductor at the time of The LaScala Opera Company. He was given the position as tubist with the La Scalla Opera in Milan Italy. A huge gig. Remember there is but only one tuba in any orchestra. Even the percussion section has 4 chairs. So Carl went on to Milan to do the opera. Never heard too much about Carl for about 2 years. I met him on the street two years later. He was hanging out in front of the New York Philharmonic offices. He was dressed in an army jacket and carrying his horn. When I saw him I gave him a huge hug, as we had not seen each other in a long time. We were really close in high school and went opposite ways as I went to Juilliard he went to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. When hugging him I smelled a pretty nasty odor. I figured not too much about it, and invited Carlton over to my house the next day for a little lunch and a hang. When he arrived he smelled so bad that he stunk up the entire house. We talked and I asked him what happened to him. He went on to tell me about his time in Milan with the opera. He said he eventually was drinking 2 cases of champagne a week and doing other shit as well. In addition they threw him out of the orchestra for not bathing for a year. Well Carl and I talked for a while and then I needed to leave for work. I said to Carl let’s go downtown. I need to go to a recording session. At this moment Carl sat down in the corner of my apartment and pleaded with me to let him stay at my house. This went on for a while and I told him that was impossible as I had a live in girlfriend and roommate at the time. I argued with Carl until finally I was forced to call the police to remove him from my house. I never expected this to happen as we were friends at school for years, and he had been such a highly respected player. I was really upset in tears from the whole incident.  I went on to realize the Carl had gone all the way down. This may be a legend,  I heard the reason for him finally getting kicked out of La Scala was that he got busted for pissing on people off his balcony as they passed by…and that he was ridiculously bored because after getting to Italy a Mozart festival began that obviously doesn’t have tuba and he had a great gig but nothing to play,  and of course no one to talk to or hang with, and then there was the bathing and hygiene factor. Even in the late 80’s black people were relatively rare to see in Italy, especially in the smaller towns. Eventually he ended up on the streets of New York City. Well I can certainly understand his removal from the opera, but the real issue is why did he go down so fast. I don’t know if it is true, but I heard there was some racism within the orchestra. I could see him possibly being the only black man in the orchestra. In those days there were not many blacks in the orchestral scene. Jerome Ashby was another great Music and Art product that was one of the only blacks in the NY Philharmonic in those days. Jerome passed away several years ago. Wow, if so it sounds like Carl was mistreated inside the orchestra a bit, and maybe that drove him to the heavy drinking and other problems. I don’t really know the answer other than what Carl told me that day, but what a crime it is if he was mistreated for being black. You can’t blame the gig in Milan totally for anything, but life affects us all in different ways and some fall off the edge easier than others. Some depression sent Carton over the edge completely. He was definitely on his way to being one of the greatest on his instrument and had achieved at a young age what many try a lifetime to achieve and never get. Such a tragedy, and I still have no idea if Carlton is alive or not today. I have not heard that he died. But I haven’t heard of anyone seeing him.
One other great player of the low brass world was Malleon Walker, who joined Carl at Curtis and subbed with the Philadelphia orchestra as well. Malleon also played with Howard Johnson, and was a always one of the best bass trombone players around. Both Malleon and Carl were part of what we called kiddingly “The Acid Section” along with Chris Tillotson(son of the great french horn player Brooks Tillotson), Clifton Anderson, Danny Druckman, Rand Stieger, and myself in the Music and Art Orchestra. Malleon died a few years back from a heart attack.

Here is what Clifton Anderson had to say about Carlton Green  and Malleon Walker. ”

When I got to Music and Art, the first person that I met was a young Tuba player named Carlton Green. The way I met him was, I was walking down the hallway and I heard this tuba playing incredible stuff and I was thinking, “What is that this guy is playing?” So I went to the practice room—they used to have little windows so you could look in and see. His back was to me; I saw him playing his tuba. He was reading this music that looked like flies on paper. I knocked on the door and asked him what he was playing. He said they were violin concertos. I said, “You can play violin concertos on the tuba?” Turns out that this kid was a prodigy and was a soloist at the age of 14 with the New York Philharmonic. He was the best student in the school. We became friends.
From that point on, the school had an amazing brass section. There was a bass trombonist in there by the name of Malleon Walker who went on study at Juilliard and graduated from Curtis Institute. He was known around New York (he is no longer with us) as a premier bass trombonist for European classical music”.
Also there was a really talent great young trombonist named Henry Mitchell who eventually ended up living on the street with big problems. Why did these three guys, who had so much talent, and proven ability simply disappear from the scene? Obviously the abuse put on a person can just knock you out of reality, but why must there be such frustration in the world to create these types of tragedies? That was the gist of my conversation with Marcus Rojas. I am grateful for what I have. It prompted this blog