A pleasant surprise this year was our concert at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse as the finale in their Summer Jazz Series. Kudos to Anna Cross, Jonathan Salisbury, and staff for putting together an excellent production. It was truly great to get world class treatment 23 miles from my house! Also thanks to the LA Arts Commission for funding the grant for the Mission Playhouse’s month long Summer Jazz Series. Unfortunately, this will probably my only featured ‘front line’ concert of the year. Opportunities to perform like this get less and less every year. We’ve watched it go from touring across the country and to Europe and Asia to just playing across the country, to just the west coast to finally just the local Southern California area. And we are a world class jazz band that has performed 3 encores in Sweden in front of an audience of 15,000 people!
Ah, those were the good days, but because we are the same people who did that, it can happen again. The problem is not with the audience. Don’t believe that lie that there is no audience for jazz anymore. True, it’s changed with the times. But the problem is not with the music or the listening audience, it’s with the music business and economic fear. On the commercial side, there’s an unwillingness to take risks with new or different artists and a preference for the tried and true safe bookings. On the art side, it’s simply a drying up of funding. As I mentioned, the LA Arts Commission provided the funding for SGMP’s Summer Jazz Series of concerts. We performed the last concert of the series. Funding like this enables it to be a free concert to the public, which for us ensures a nice turnout.
The only downside of the gig was not being able to use an acoustic piano and having to use a digital piano, which of course changed our ‘classic sound’. But after overcoming our initial reservation of this, it still turned out to be a very good situation indeed! To compensate, I decided to go for a more contemporary sound, thinking of the Fender Rhodes sound, a more upbeat, festive (read jazz fest) sound. I have a series of original compositions, that are designed to appeal to younger, more contemporary audiences who are not necessarily jazz fans. I’ve pondered this for years and thus created a type of music that is backbeat-oriented since modern listeners are more familiar with this type of rhythm as opposed to the swing or walking bass line rhythms of the 50s and 60s. But unlike today’s songs with that type of rhythmic background, my tunes also possess a more sophisticated harmonic structure and a melodic lead line. The music thus being harmonically sophisticated, allows the instrumentalist to solo and improvise in a totally free non-compromising, non-derivative way. You don’t have to play that nanny-goat sax style or play like Kenny G. (unless you want to!) There’s no difference soloing on these tunes than on any hardcore jazz tune. My one rule is that no matter how far out or different from traditional jazz I write, I want to always be able to play like Charlie Parker on top of it! To illustrate, I often thought of Donald Byrd’s last recordings for Blue Note such as “Stepping Into Tomorrow” where he had funk and r&b rhythms on the bottom, but Gary Bartz beautifully playing like Bird on top of all that soul! By adding a little more complex harmonic framework to it, it works and is beautiful! If you want to, you can even stretch out and play like Coltrane on top of my contemporary tunes!
Complete San Gabriel Mission Playhouse Playlist
Above, is the YouTube video link for the playlist of tunes we played. I hope you enjoy listening to them. My compositions that were played that evening written in this vein are, “Intrigue”, “Profane”, and “Precipice”. I felt they really connected us with the audience. I am not trying to be profound or re-invent the wheel with this music. These are simple short-form melodies that can be easily enjoyed by the listener. We constantly heard comments from the members of the audience on how much they enjoyed the music. One young usher pulled me aside and said: “I know absolutely nothing about jazz, and was certain I wouldn’t like it. But after standing here all evening, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to your music! You guys were by far the best concert of the series!” That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout! We heard that several times throughout the evening. It brings home to me the point that there is an audience for new original jazz music. It just needs to be given the chance. These people not only listened to totally unfamiliar tunes but many probably never even heard true jazz music before! And a good time was had by all!
Photos from my Facebook Page: