V5N7: September - October 1999
September - October 1999
Volume 5 Number 7
Table of Contents
Ephraim Owens is smooth. You see him walking through town, his black case carrying his bent trumpet tucked under his arm, walking from club to club to club, looking for something hot.
Many musicians feel the term "jazz" is limiting and eschew it for more descriptive terms like "improvisational music" or "creative music." They feel that the music has grown beyond the historical boundaries implied by the term "jazz."
Stefon Harris mentioned that there was a tornado in Austin last time he was here, I had to double-check which one he was talking about. One quite literally touched down just outside of town; its sister storm splintered the stage of the Mercury.
Cinematexas Film Festival will be screening an array of some of the best experimental audiovisual shorts worldwide.
Unlike the majority of young people recognized in popular media, Irvin Mayfield seems to transcend his ego in favor of a vision of self inexorably linked with collective history and environment.
Does it seem quieter out there to you?
Austin Bands Come Together for Legfest '99 by Doug Marcis
On Sunday, September 12, Stephen Bruton and seven other musical will perform live at La Zona Rosa as a part of Legfest, a concert and silent auction created for the purpose of giving hope to the 3,000 people who become new amputees each week. "The event is ground-breaking in many ways," says Bob Michaels, President of Galactic Group (a web-based company receiving top billing consistently on broadcast.com). Legfest is raising money for an important cause. The differentiator with Legfest is that it will be broadcast live on the Internet. This enables amputees all over the world to be part of the concert. It also allows people everywhere to contribute through online donations.
Bands include Stephen Bruton, the Ginger and Sarah Band, Brannen Temple Group, the South Austin Soul Sisters (SASS), Seela Temple, Funky London, Joey Love and Blues Express and Jimmy George (who will be opening for Tom Petty on September 16th). The event is the creation and dream of 30-year-old amputee Chandra Caldwell. She lost her leg twelve years ago when a driver slammed into the motorcycle on which she was a passenger. The driver left the scene of the accident, and when he drove away he took with him an eighteen-year-old's hopes of continued training as a gymnast and university cheerleader. In that moment, he changed her life forever. Never would Chandra have dreamt, however, that her nightmare would include a ten-year battle with insurance just to have a leg that fit correctly, thereby enabling her to walk without excruciating pain.
"The struggle of losing my leg and wearing a prosthesis has been difficult enough. But in the past ten years, I have grown three inches. I outgrew my prosthesis. Soon, the device that was first designed to enhance my life was now the cause of further medical complications that could have been prevented.
"I work and I am fully covered by insurance, and in all that time they continue to deny me a new limb. Therefore, I have spent every day in one leg that is a totally different length. And the inside is too big to stay adequately attached to my body, because I continue to lose weight. The prosthesis that I have now, I received at age twenty. I am now thirty years old. There are so many things that I have been inhibited from doing because of this constant battle with insurance; I want to live again.
"This battle was won only after someone with tremendous influence took on the CEO of the insurance company for me, and I thought, people who have disabilities should be encouraged to be as productive as they can possibly be, not forced to suffer as dependent and unemployed, when they can be alive, able, and indepedent." (Philanthropist and businessmen Ross Perot took on Chandra's insurance company, after hearing her story.)
"A decade of my life was basically robbed from me. I want others to experience hope and fullness of life, no matter what the challenge -- That's what Legfest is about, giving hope to people, to the people with disabilties and to those who love us." Tickets for Legfest '99 will be available at the door with a minimum donation of $5.
The following acts will be featured on the acoustic stage of the Austin Jazz & Arts Festival, September 17-18, at Waterloo Park.
Ariel Dance Theatre with Golden Arm Trio
Since 1993, Ariel Dance Theatre has been dedicated to developing community programs and producing professional company performances for Austin audiences. Under the direction of Andrea Ariel, the company engages in collaborative projects bringing together dance with other artistic disciplines in innovative ways. The company takes an active role in the community by offering a wide range of workshops, residencies and special projects providing creative, cultural and educational opportunities.
The Golden Arm Trio is the constantly evolving project of pianist/drummer Graham Reynolds. Performing in Austin since the fall of 1995, Reynolds brings his 22 years of experience, combines it with the talents of other musicians, and produces a balance of sophisicated structures, improvisational freedom, strong melodies, and gleeful chaos. Live performance venues range from punk rock clubs to posh jazz bars, and the band's projects also include films, performance art, and dance.
Frontera @ Hyde Park
Frontera commissions, produces and presents bold new works by America's most fearless and innovative artists working in theater, dance, film and music in an environment that values community participation and openness. Their goals include exploring the space between absolutes, serving Austin as a popular arts center, promoting freedom of expression and a dialogue between citizens, partnering with organizations that support teenagers and making art in the streets and neighborhoods of Austin. By the year 2001, they hope to develop Frontera Arts, a versatile home for contemporary performance in Austin equipped with a 300-seat theater, rehearsal space, shops and classrooms.
Irish Dance Company
Developed a year and a half ago as the performance group of The Irish Dance Center, Director Eimir Ni Mhaoileidigh's dancers have begun to make quite a name for themselves here and abroad. Here in Austin the Irish Dance Company has performed for Texas' first lady Laura Bush as well as in conjunction with Tapestry Dance Company at the Paramount Theatre. In Ireland, the dancers captured the attention of the Chieftains and won accolades from senior officials in Country Cork and Dublin.
Kinesis Dance Theater Project
Kinesis Dance Theater Project expresses social criticism through modern dance, and a mix of theatrics post-modern techniques.
Most know Chandra Washington as a professional African dancer of the Ancient Mali Empire tradition. Lately, the Austin native has been showcasing her musical personality.
As a vocalist, her primary musical influences are instrumental styles of jazz masters and other music of the African diaspora. Chandra utilizes her rhythmic, melodic and harmonic sensibilities when interpreting original compositions and classic standards as well as vocal improvisations.
As a future project, Chandra envisions "an organic vocal performance ensemble."
The Swingtips are a group of lindy-hop performers who dance for the sheer joy of dancing, the thrill of performance, and to share lindy-hop with those around them. Lindy-hop is an original American dance created in the 1920s in Harlem and spread around the world. The Swingtips hope to preserve the original lindy-hop form and to instigate new ideas in swing dancing. This diverse troupe is composed of performers with various theater, dance, and art backgrounds but a common passion for lindy-hop.
ACC Guitar Ensemble
This five-electric guitar ensemble with bass and drums is directed by Russ Scanlon. They perform jazz, Brazilian and contemporary music. through a college-credited ensemble class at Northridge campus within Austin Community College. This is a part of ACC's Commercial Music Management and Music Department programs.
Woodwork is an eclectic quartet from Austin playing jazz-based rock and soul music on electric cello, acoustic guitars, drums and tabla (the traditional drums of North India). Songwriters Chris Downey and David Hess performed locally as a duo before enlisting avant-garde cellist John Pointer and drummer Jason McKenzie to form Woodwork. Woodwork recently released Viewfinder, a collection of 10 original songs featuring Ephraim Owens and the Grooveline Horns.
Austin Commedia Society
In the streets of Renaissance Italy, a brazen new twist to old theater conventions was born. This was Commedia dell'Arte, a theater style that was primarily improvised, based upon scenarios and stock characters. This art form evolved over a period of two hundred years, influencing such famous playwrights as Shakespeare and Moliere.
In March of 1999, a group of professional actors who earned their stripes performing at the Texas Renaissance Festival came together to form the Austin Commedia Society. Their goal is to revive and update Commedia dell'Arte. Future plans include expanding their web site (ACS Online) into a comprehensive database of information regarding the craft, and developing interactive workshops for children and actors. Currently, I Megalomani, the performance company of the Austin Commedia Society, is acquainting Austin with Commedia dell'Arte through performances.
Traditionally, Commedia is comprised of highly stylized movement and characterization, slapstick comedy, fast-paced wit, and bawdy humor.
The Blue Noise Band
Though the Blue Noise Band may find themselves lumped in the increasingly nebulous jazz bin, they are equal opportunity purveyors of fierce swing, demented klezmer, greasy funk, and riotous free-jazz assaults. Equally open-minded about where they purvey their sound, the Blue Noise Band has performed around Austin in punk clubs, jazz venues, and most any and everywhere in between, warming up crowds for The Roots and The Greyboy All-Stars.
Multi-Purpose, the Blue Noise Band's debut CD, captures the group performing live in the studio, treading an exciting middle ground between compositional rigor and wily improvising.
Nuance Section supplies danceable grooves with a healthy dose of Latin rhythms, but that's only the beginning. Tap dancer and choreographer Nick Young provides movement that makes Nuance Section a complete performance experience.
Nuance Section was concieved in 1997 when Chuck, Nick, and Coutinho were brought together on a gig organized by local sax player, Brad Andrew. The concept was not only to create a show but also explore and shorten the gap between dance and music. A year later the CD was created and currently Nuance Section is developing in clubs around Austin while cultivating a full performance that will incorporate a full dance troupe and live music.
Nuance Section can be found on the Internet at www.mp3.com/nuancesection.
Dawi Forté is a dynamic ten-piece percussion, dance, and vocal ensemble native to Austin that performis "Rump Roasting" traditional and contemporary West African-influenced styles of music. That's right -- It's time to shake your Boo-Day!
The following performers and organizations are a few of the featured activities in the children's area of the Austin Jazz & Arts Festival, September 17 and 18 at Waterloo Park.
Austin Children's Museum
The mission of the Austin Children's Museum is to provide interactive exhibits and resources which encourage curiosity, creativity, appreciation, and learning for all children, their families and those who work with children.
The Museum maintains permanent galleries and presents rotating exhibits and programs for families with young children and teens. It has an established volunteer program which draws on teens, college interns, and community volunteers. Current exhibits include the feature exhibit, "I'm Growing Up!" about the adventures of growing up from baby to teen years; the Time Tower, which tells the history of Austin from prehistoric to present time; the Weather Gallery; and Global Cities.
The Museum's program department offers early childhood, community, cultural, teen, science and multimedia programs. Events include the International Children's Festival and Austin's Own Youth Film Festival, both in October.
Zamarath the Interdimensional Wizard
Zamarath has performed on TV throughout the country, hosted one of the most popular cable shows in Austin for over five years, and entertained in concerts with some of the top superstars in the world (Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, doc severinsen,Ted Nugent, John Denver, and many others). Comedy,with amazing and unusual illusions keep the young, aged and ageless highly entertained. Audience participation keeps everyone involved and extra amazed (while cracking up laughing).
Jazz Combo Improvisation Clinic
Led by Irvin Mayfield, Jason Marsalias, and accompanying musicians. Wednesday, September 15 at Austin Community College, Northridge Campus.
Jazz Improvisation for Woodwinds: Master Class
Led by World Saxophone Quartet member, Oliver Lake. Friday, September 17 at Southwest Texas State University Jazz Dept.
Student Jazz Band Camp: The Music of Duke Ellington
Led by Austin composer/arranger Don Parker; camp designed for junior high and high school students; covers arranging, the role of soloists and rhythm section, and ensemble performance.
Jazz, Blues, Rock...It Will All Engulf You by Manuel Gonzales
Ephraim Owens is smooth. In all things, he is smooth -- as silk, as chocolate, as you know what. He is it. He picks up his horn and out from his lips flows heaven, glorious sun-filled streets paved in gold heaven. He has tone that will melt rock, solid rock stone cold hearts, melt them all down to nothing. His tone is rich and full and swallows you, engulfs you like that cold cold water in Barton Springs on a cold cold morning in the middle of winter. Shocking, at first, it wakes you, opens your eyes, makes your head turn. Then, after you have given in, relinquished all, submitted yourself to his sound like you would to that water, sinking deeper and deeper into the depths of his mad trumpet playing, it surrounds you, coats you, slides over and around and through you, and suddenly, you are warm. Inside and out, warm and warmer and warmer till you're all hot and his fingers fly over those valves, jumping through scales to hold, quivering, sustained on one long and sorrowful note. And only then, after that note plays out, after he drops that horn from his lips, only then are you set free. And then he smiles.
You see him walking through town, his black case carrying his bent trumpet tucked under his arm, walking from club to club to club, looking for something hot. A little blues. A little rock. Some funk, maybe. Always jazz. Good, cool jazz. He plays them all and he plays them well.
Ephraim Owens will perform at the Austin Jazz & Arts Festival at Waterloo Park.
From New Orleans' first family of jazz, drum wonderkid Jason Marsalis will perform with the Irvin Mayfield Quartet at The Clay Pit on September 15. Now considered "on the brink of reknown" by Bill Milkowski of Modern Drummer Magazine, Marsalis began his recording career earlier than most, so much so, that by the age of 20, he had performed on more than a dozen albums, including projects by his father Ellis Marsalis and the acclaimed pianist Marcus Roberts. His latest release, Los Hombres Calientes Project, is not only critically well received but also establishes his potential as one of the most influential drummers in jazz.
Jazz Photography Takes Spotlight by Staff
The 11th Annual Austin Jazz and Arts Festival presents a special show of jazz photography in the Little Gallery at 1705 Guadalupe, Suite 175. Artists Alan Pappe and Grace McEvoy present black and white photos from their Jazz Fest '95 archives to celebrate Austin's Jazz tradition. Grace McEvoy's work will spotlight aspects of the Jazz Fest from set-up to take-down. Alan Pappe's collection includes B3 organ maestro Jimmy Smith as well as a host of other local jazz talent.
Alan Pappe is a still photographer for the movie industry with a career spanning over thirty years. He has worked on over fifty movies, capturing photogenic moments from features like Grease, Lonestar, and teen beauty Brook Shields in The Blue Lagoon. He is in the process of developing a celebrity websight with his images. Artists like Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, Danny Devito, Jessica Lange and many more are sure to be included. His archives also include musicians Neil Young, Jimmy Hendrix, Aerosmith and Diana Ross.
Grace McEvoy has worked in photo preservation for the Austin History Center for 10 years. She has been photographing for 17 years. Her work spotlights people and art.
DiverseArts will hold a reception for the Jazz Festival exhibit at 7pm September 12 at the ArtPlex, 1705 Guadalupe.
Miles Showed Me His Trumpet by Larry Jaffe
Miles davis lived around the
block from me deep in the upper
west side of manhattan island
and he played like one man could be an island
living for his horn that paid his daily paid
and living in this house made of gingerbread
on west 77th street
while I lived on west 76th
and would see him every now and again
going into that brownstone
that his horn built
I got to meet miles
walked round the block
round the clock
where miles stood outside
proud as peacock
he told me how much
he liked san francisco women
cause their bottoms were so round
not flat from riding subways all days
he said with smile
nudging me guyhood joke
you know what I mean
he said with trumpeting grin
we went inside
past the new york façade
and into his musical domain
headquarters for lonely horn players
miles still smiling at this stranger
then he showed me his horn
the purity of miles' trumpet
leans into me
he sings it blue
my eyes tear uncontrollably
he has touched melodies
that riff with magic
I escape egos with
it is evolution of life
in notes counterpoint
my fingers feel broken
they want to make
the same sounds
that staccato lip thing
that makes the trumpet
merge with man
he showed me his horn
in this house of stalactites hanging
upside down from ceilings
made of sugar coated dreams
when I was a kid
I dreamed of playing trumpet
wanted it more than sex
but I wore braces on my teeth
and they said I would
cut my lips to ribbons
and bleed on my horn
I looked up with tears
and thought miles
always bleeds on his horn
© 1999 lgjaffe
Originally from New York, LA poet Larry Jaffe has featured in Austin on numerous occasions, most recently at the 1999 Austin International Poetry Festival. His latest collection, Jewish Soul Food, will be released on CD through Dead End Street Production later this year.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
Oliver Lake: A Voice Spanning Generations
Even though "free jazz" appeared on the scene almost forty years ago and is recognized around the world as an important part of the jazz tradition, for many listeners it still conjures up images of cacophony and abrasive noise. Fans of more traditional jazz frequently equate the term "free" with "structureless." This leads to a range of misinterpretations of the music, with the general result that free jazz is artificially isolated from the rest of the jazz tradition.
Instead, it is helpful to remember that jazz is an expressive process; while compositions and recordings may be fixed in time, the trajectory of jazz is in movement. Just look at how quickly the music has evolved and branched out in the course of one century.
Many musicians feel the term "jazz" is limiting and eschew it for more descriptive terms like "improvistional music" or "creative music." They feel that the music has grown beyond the historical boundaries implied by the term "jazz." Practitioners of free jazz put this philosophy into practice, not by ignoring the musical structures of the jazz tradition but by transcending them through the spontaneous referencing of various parts of that tradition, creating a "spontaneous structure" in the moment of performance. Since jazz continues to evolve, incorporating elements from all the world's musics, free jazz theoretically has no limits except those of the individual performers.
Oliver Lake is one of the more prolific artists, known best for his work on alto saxophone, but with a history of mixed media performance. He has appeared on the recordings of many other musical pioneers, including drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassist Reggie Workman, guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, and members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), just to name a few.
Explorations in free jazz in the 1960s paralleled the rising Black Consciousness movement, and the advocacy of freedom and self-determination in all areas of life. With this advocacy came a heightened awareness of African history and traditions. Music scholars began to dig deeper into the African cultural traditions, which have been a source of strength and inspiration for African American music, both through specific musical practices and more general aesthetic parameters.
For African American artists, the African aesthetic looks both to the past and the future. Learning and preserving traditional arts does not preclude experimentation and discovery, but reaffirms the underlying unity behind new explorations in music, dance, poetry and all the arts. For audiences to these explorations, it is helpful to have an awareness of the historical and aesthetic issues involved, particularly when the term "free" is invoked. This is especially true with regard to the work of Oliver Lake.
Lake's musical influences are complex and far-reaching. His intense and intimate energy creates a direct bond with audiences, but he simultaneously digs deep into the jazz tradition. The Penguin Guide To Jazz describes his style as containing "a sort of convulsive beauty that requires a little time to assimilate." There are connections to Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and the free jazz proponents of the 1960s, as well as the New York loft scene of the 1970s, and various avant-garde forays into the areas of funk and world beat (anticipating "acid" jazz by at least a decade). His musical voice spans generations, incorporating elements from across his wide-ranging artistic experience.
Lake's interest in mixed media performance, particularly music with spoken word, goes back to the 1960s. "I began writing and reciting poetry in the late '60s as a founding member of the multi-disciplined Black Artist Group in St. Louis, Missouri," he explains." He moved to New York City in the 1970s, continuing his work with poets, Ntozake Shange being the most notable. There he wrote a multimedia theater piece called Life Dance Of Is, incorporating music, dance and poetry. This work was performed in the late '70s in New York and Washington, D.C.
In 1977 Lake co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet, which is known for its free-wheeling explorations into various jazz-related genres such as R&B, New Orleans second line, ragtime, funk, and West African pop, often with a humorous and ironic approach to the material. Over the years the WSQ collective has included other modern reed luminaries such as David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett, all of whom have demonstrated a deep-rooted versatility with the jazz tradition.
Lake's recent one-man show, The Matador of 1st & 1st, draws on his musical and dramatic abilities, interspersing melodic outbursts on sax and flute with poetry, chant and song. "I like to think of the poet as storyteller, as The Matador, telling my life -- storytelling as an African tradition. Playing an instrument is one way of communicating with the audience, but using the voice is the most direct."
For those more familiar with Oliver Lake's work in the context of the WSQ and other collectives, his Matador show is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate Lake's charismatic use of ritual space.
"Taking the stage solo can be frightening. The performer must stay focused throughout, and have fun. This is a challenge and a complete and natural high." Oliver Lake performs with a multi-levelled expressiveness, evoking the revolutionary aggressiveness of '60s free jazz, the attention to texture and space of spoken word performance, the power and rhythm of dance music, the ironic humor of social commentary. He weaves these elements together in a performance ritual that is both new and very old, equal parts space-age explorer and African storyteller.
Stefon Harris Brings Spirited Improv to Fest by Tom Benton
When Stefon Harris mentioned that there was a tornado in Austin last time he was here, I had to double-check which one he was talking about. One quite literally touched down just outside of town; its sister storm splintered the stage of the Mercury in the form of the Blue Note New Directions tour, where Harris' vibraphone matched wits with a powerhouse sextet of the venerable jazz label's youngest stars, including such heavyweights as saxophonist Greg Osby and pianist Jason Moran. The group played each other's tunes, standards, and presumably pretty much anything they wanted, storming atypical jazz venues across the nation.
Though sending this group on the road might have been the brainchild of a Blue Note higher-up, assembling the sextet was not. "I pitched it, actually," explains Harris. "I noticed that when Jason would do a gig it was basically the same group and the same thing with Greg so it was a very natural evolution that we work together like that. And I was thinking it would be great to get this group of musicians together in one ensemble because it would actually sound natural. It wouldn't sound like that typical all-star group where a bunch of guys who don't really know each other particularly well get together and play."
Serious words from someone who has seriously been playing jazz for all of four years; raised in Albany, he was enjoying a full merit scholarship at the Eastman School of Music as a classical percussionist when a roommate hipped him to some Charlie Parker records. Harris promptly packed up for New York City and immersed himself in jazz, jamming, gigging, and studying, while at the same time finishing up his B.A. in classical percussion at the Manhattan School of Music. An M.A. in jazz performance followed, as did gigs with Max Roach, Joe Henderson, and Steve Coleman, and Buster Williams, to name but a few. In the midst of this activity, his exponentially burgeoning jazz skills coupled with positive word of mouth from all over soon found Blue Note calling.
The resultant album, A Cloud of Red Dust, is a vibrant yet meditative document, drawing not just from the experiences of a classical virtuoso turned jazzhead, but on a litany of non-musical inspiration as well. "A lot of the songs were written about literature I had read at the time. Some Sufi stories, some Middle Eastern philosophy -- that record was put together during the years that I was in college and it's kind of a document of that whole journey" he explains.
And as if finishing a classical percussion degree while at the same time busily studying and playing jazz weren't enough to keep a person busy, Harris' time in school also found him gigging with a variety of New York Afro-Cuban groups. Late nights of mambos and cumbias were clearly not lost on him, as an undercurrent of percolating Latin and African percussion is perhaps A Cloud of Red Dust's unifying theme, solidifying the groove as the leader and his stellar crew of players soar above.
A Cloud of Red Dust was almost unanimously hailed as one of the finest jazz debuts of last year -- or any year in recent memory, for that matter. Harris' rapid ascension up the ladder of in-demand jazz vibraphonists shifted gears to blistering and it would seem he hasn't had a spare minute since -- The Blue Note New Directions Tour, recording and gigging with Charlie Hunter and Cassandra Wilson, a brief Stravinski tour with the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society (just in case you thought those chops were getting rusty), jamming with Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
In the midst of this flurry of activity, Harris was able to return to the studio to record Black Action Figure. A large portion of the band from his first record re-appears and the new faces are, for the most part, musicians that he had played with in the interim between recordings -- including Harris himself, 5/6 of the New Directions band appears on Black Action Figure -- which gives the album a strong cohesion, though in a decidedly different direction. The dispositions of the players ensure that it is an unmistakably modern record, but in a certain respect Harris is stepping back, lightening up his compositional rigor and just playing, yielding a funky, fun, and completely engrossing album. Latin and African rhythms do not make nearly as overt an appearance as they did on A Cloud of Red Dust, but Harris hopes this album will make you move nonetheless.
"I've always thought of music in terms of physical gestures. I believe you should be able to play a phrase and someone should be able to dance to the theme of that phrase. That sort of concept definitely further developed on this album," he explains.
Stepping back from the mindset of academia was integral in finding inspiration for the album's first composition, "Feline Blues." Based on a dazzling, angular theme that briskly hums along like a well-tuned sports car, Harris insists that the tune is actually deceptively simple, fueled by none other than the primogenitor of jazz himself: "I reached a certain point in my studies where I was checking out Charlie Parker, and I was listening to Red Garland at the time. That's when I met Wynton and I heard everybody talking about this Louis Armstrong guy. So I bought a couple of records and transcribed a couple things and it just amazed me that this guy made so much music with such basic structures. Like if it was a triad, there were three notes in that chord, he didn't need 50,000 chromatic passing tones. He would take those three notes and make so much music out of them."
Harris' playing on Black Action Figure confirms this more minimalist approach; whatever remnants of bebop phrasing that turned up on A Cloud of Red Dust are gone. Now one can almost picture him striking a handful of notes, looking curiously at the tines for a sign or omen, and then skittering up and down his instrument in increasingly unsettling intervals. Harris chuckles when it's suggested that his improvising has taken on more "abstraction" in the space between the two records, but admits it's not an inaccurate description for the whirlwind progression his playing has taken in the course of studying the masters and working towards developing his own voice.
"I'm a late comer to jazz. On my first record, my improvisations...it was cool, you know? But then I was able to spend a lot of time focusing on it and I think there's been a big improvement."
The conceptual motivation for Black Action Figure also provided a nurturing forum for improvising. "On A Cloud of Red Dust I was very focused on documenting the compositions, and on Black Action Figure that of course is still a goal, but I definitely wanted to jump in there in terms of the improvisation and be more experimental. To keep that relaxed, ambiguous feeling, almost like I don't know what's going to happen," he says. Keeping with this sense of spontaneity and thoroughly defying obligations to convention, Harris is continually experimenting with alternate techniques to have at the ready while improvising. "On this record you hear this clicking sound where I flip the stick over and I play holding the mallet head, creating an overtone sound that was kind of nice. I also created this wah-wah sound that I did with my mouth -- I place my mouth over one of my high notes after I strike it and it creates this kind of...I don't know to describe it, really. I've been trying putting coins on the instrument to create a sort of buzzing thing."
Might we see him putting a bow to his instrument (a popular technique in modern classical percussion) any time soon? "It'd be interesting. That's actually a good idea, I haven't done that in years. I'll have to pull that out and see what that sounds like."
Harris' group for his Austin appearance will include a twist in his fervent dedication to spirited improvisation. His quartet, with bassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheed Waits -- both of whom played on the new directions tours, Mateen also appears on Black Action Figure -- will be completed by a newcomer to the group, pianist Billy Childs. "Billy brings a different sort of compositional approach to the music. He has a really broad sense of sound and harmonically I think that it's going to work well balancing the adventurousness of the bass player and the drummer. Extreme adventurousness. Billy knows how to really listen to balance things out so I'm trying that sort of thing."
A variation on a theme, it would seem -- making the music fresh and new by reigning in the wild ones. In any case, Harris' dedication to innovation and keeping things interesting doesn't cease, with his only guideline being one simple credo. "It's all sound. I don't have any judgement on sound -- it just depends on how you organize it."
Stefon Harris will perform at the Clay Pit's Bombay Room, 1601 Guadalupe, at 9pm September 18.
Sunday Brunch at Manuel's by Patricia Fiske
Even Jazz can be lonely
Music from my youth Jazz days
And lest I forget, oh those nights
Hormonal harmony at Birdland
ImprovisingÝ life with Passion
Taunting fantasiesÝÝ Memories,
Today, I'm alone, still improvising
Jazz comforts me, still wears so well
Give me the forties big band beat
"Stompin' at the Savoy" aw rooty.
"Prelude to a Kiss" utter bliss
The set is over, and I am WIRED
Still improvising, alone,Ý not lonely
Did I say Jazz couldÝ be lonely?
Jazz won't stand still for- ÝÝÝÝ or
Give the time of day to- or
Stay in the same room with- hey man -JAZZÝ Won't even be seen withÝÝÝÝÝÝÝ Lonely
© Patricia Fiske.
A late bloomer, with a background in theater, Patricia has cast her creative seeds at stage, screen, radio, television, and puppetry; as writer, actor, director, producer, singer, and dramaturg. A past board member of Austin International Poetry Festival, she is presently planting poetry and writing plays.
A Treat for the Eyes and Ears by Micah Magee
As the last lights dim on this year's Jazz Festival, as the final note fades from your inner ear, as the teardrop ripples the surface of your drink, as you contemplate the utter bleakness of a future without this synthesis of brilliance and energy, have hope. You do not have to fall back into that dark parade of tired uninspired trudge just yet. From September 22 to 26, Cinematexas Film Festival will be screening an array of some of the best experimental audiovisual shorts worldwide. Especially interesting to those musically inclined will be the newly added Eye and Ear Film and Music Series, presented in part by Epistrophy Arts.
Eye and Ear celebrates artists who have partaken in the fusion of avant-garde music and improvisational film. Guest of honor Michael Snow will grace Central Presbyterian Church with his free jazz ensemble, CCMC, Saturday night, while Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Ken Vandermark's Aaly Trio shake the foundations of Ceremony Hall.
"For a long time I've been interested in a series examining the parallels between the musical techniques of jazz and the way in which film is visually carried out," said Jen Procter, who runs Cinematexas with Rachel Tsangari and Bryan Poyser. "Austin is so interested and savvy to both film and music that there is a really strong audience for specialized screenings and events."
In the four years since its founding, Cinematexas has developed an international reputation as a festival that explores the short film genre and celebrates film as art. The Eye and Ear series is a natural outgrowth of the festival's commitment to providing an outlet for films that take risks and cross the boundaries of the medium. Each of the artists featured pushes the limits of what is known as music. Each has inspired the process of experimental and improvisational filmmaking.
Michael Snow, for example, is regarded in some circles as the most important living North American artist, due to his prolific, groundbreaking activity in painting, sculpture, video, film, photography, holography, drawing, writing, and sound. Over the past forty years he has established himself and CCMC (John Oswald, Paul Dutton) at the forefront of electro-acoustic spontaneous composition. In addition to the CCMC concert, which will be opened by Austin's Tina Marsh, Michael Snow will screen a four-and-a-half hour "sound film," Rameau's Nephew by Diderot (thanks to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen, the short film Seated Figures (a 40-minute exploration of landscape from the perspective of an exhaust pipe), and So Is This (a text in which each shot is a single word). A tribute to the avant-garde films of the 1950s through 1970s, the development of which paralleled the free jazz movement, will feature Snow's jazz and film fusion piece, New York Eye and Ear Control (1964).
Ken Vandermark, another free jazz great and recent recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, performs Sunday with the Aaly Trio. Like the Golden Arm Trio, who will open the show, the Aaly Trio performs live with film screenings and has toured Europe with a film whose soundtrack they helped create, Dutch Harbor. Thurston Moore, Ikne Mori, and Jim O'Rourke are billed to play together Friday night. If Sonic Youth fans grab all the tickets to that show before you get a chance to stand in line, you can still catch Miranda July, the grand winner of last year's festival and 21-year-old multimedia legend, who will be showing her latest performance piece, Love Diamond, in another festival program.
There is, naturally, always the possibility that the end of the Jazz Festival does not upset you whatsoever. Maybe the tear in your beer was one of relief at not having to pass up one wondrous act for another any longer. You might be looking forward to curling up under your covers, exhausted, full of enough sights and sounds to tide you over for the long winter. In that case, may your dreams be swell and simple and the night long enough to accommodate the flicker in your inner eye.
USAF Band of the West: NightHawk Jazz Ensemble by Allyson Lipkin
The United States Air Force's Band of the West performs at the 11th annual Austin Jazz and Arts Festival with its newest specialty group, The NightHawk Jazz Ensemble. NightHawk will perform the classic sounds of the 1940s Glenn Miller Army Air Corps Jazz band. NightHawk plays the tunes and wears the suits of the '40s to faithfully reproduce the music of the World War II era. Where space permits, the band includes a slide show.
The NightHawk Jazz band includes twelve excellent musicians who perform about 100 performances annually, entertaining over 500,000 people. They have performed with some of the biggest names in the music business -- Lou Rawls, Dizzy Gillespie, Rich Matterson, Mike Vax, Bobby Shew, Frank Mantooth, Ed Shaunessey, Bill Watrous, Marvin Stamm, Louie Bellson, Bob Hope, and others.
Commander/Conductor Captain Gena R. Stuchbery has a Bachelor of Music Degree in Instrumental Education from North Texas State University. She has served as Deputy Commander/Associate Conductor for the Air Force Band of Liberty, Hanscom, AFB, Massachusetts, as well as Deputy Commander/Associate Conductor of the United States Air Force Band of the Rockies. She also participated in the 1984 Olympic All-American College Marching Band at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
In 1942 Alton Glen Miller wrote to the Army expressing his desire to provide support for the troops with music. For 34 months Captain Miller's Band enhanced the sounds of military music. Glen Miller wrote, "I should like to go into the Army if I could be placed in charge of a modernized Army band. I have an idea that might put a little more spring into the feet of our marching men and a little more joy into their hearts."
He was commissioned into Special Services and built 30 Technical Training Bands and one "special modern" band. He served his country by writing original jazz compositions that are now part of our national heritage. Now, in 1999 the NightHawk band tours to entertain and rekindle the spirit of Glenn Miller. As Air Force Bandsmen they are full-time professional musicians in peace or war.
The NightHawk Jazz Ensemble will perform at the Clay Pit's Bombay Room, 1601 Guadalupe, at 8pm on September 14. Admission is free.
Where the Music Is: Irvin Mayfield in New Orleans by Micah Magee
Irvin Mayfield is barely legal. Talented, dedicated, extremely intelligent and armed with some killer trumpet skills, the twenty-one year old composer is to be taken very, very seriously. Mayfield's arrangements for his group Los Hombres Calientes, which combine African-based rhythms with acoustic modern jazz, and the precise articulation of the Irvin Mayfield Quartet, which will perform as part of the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival, have already won him international recognition as one of New Orleans' top musicians -- no small accomplishment in a city home to Terrence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, and the Marsalis clan. Despite this early success, Mayfield has a deep appreciation of the network of ideas and personalities supporting his art. Unlike the majority of young people recognized in popular media, Irvin Mayfield seems to transcend his ego in favor of a vision of self inexorably linked with collective history and environment.
"I am a part of something that's real old and at the same time real young. That's what jazz is. It's the paradox. The paradox is that I can sit here and have a conversation and talk about different things that a 90-year-old person can relate to, I can talk about and learn from them, and at the same time I can be twenty-one," Mayfield explained over the phone recently as he prepared for a Los Hombres gig in Tokyo. His international career began over seven years ago with a two-week trip to Germany in high school, an experience which expanded his perception of his work. "For a fourteen-year-old black male from New Orleans, going to an all-black high school, doing something like that was what started me to be open minded and start trying to figure out what other things support what I am doing, what other things are going on in the world.
"I think that a lot of times you can do a lot of hard work in one thing," he continued, "and it is your ignorance of the other things around it, that support it, that makes it a struggle to get to that one thing as easily or as efficient as you need to. That's the importance of understanding a lot of different types of art and how they work together -- understanding other fields. Being a musician is only one part of existence, of what you do. Being a great musician, that doesn't necessarily mean because you are a great musician you are a great man. And just because you are a great man doesn't mean you are a great musician.
"It's like a guy who is a great musician and then he never falls in love or has problems in his relationship, you know, what's the point of that? It's all about life. I would hope that everyone's existence on earth, they want to enjoy a pleasant and wonderful life. In that sense, I think you want to be well-rounded. I think that is a very important thing, for someone who is doing hard work."
Irvin Mayfield is definitely a well-rounded individual. In addition to his work with Los Hombres and the Irvin Mayfield Quartet, he arranges baroque and classical music and can swear in thirteen different languages (including Greek). He has studied under and played with the some of the best musicians in his field. Terrence Blanchard, the Grammy-nominated trumpeter, has been a mentor and a teacher since 1996. Staying with another idol, Wynton Marsalis, on his first visit to New York led Mayfield to better understand the demanding lifestyle required of a serious trumpet player.
"I would hope that when they hear me they don't put their head down, you know?" Mayfield said when asked what he would like to give back to those who have augmented his education. "I think that is the best thing anyone could ever do for a mentor or a teacher. When they are coming in, I want to be playing, I want them to be proud and say 'yeah, you sound good.' Of course you always want them to give you advice on what to work on, but you don't ever want them to leave saying 'Man, what the hell was he doing?' "
Judging by the quality of work demonstrated on their recordings and the overwhelmingly positive critical response, it is unlikely that anyone in Austin will be asking themselves that question when the Quartet comes to town. With Jason ("the youngest") Marsalis' conversational drums, Victor Atkins III's piano melodies, and the grace of Edwin Livingston's much-missed bass, the Jazz Fest appearance could be nothing less than a stellar show.
For those who were fortunate enough to hear Edwin Livingston play during his three-year stay in Austin, it is also an opportunity to follow his development since he left for New Orleans last March in search of apprenticeship opportunities. Through hard work, reliability, and fine musicianship, Livingston has found excellent people to learn from and to play with in the relatively short period since his departure. Around the time that Edwin Livingston moved to New Orleans, Irvin Mayfield was recording with Wes Anderson, Wynton Marsalis' saxophonist, in New York. When Mayfield got back to town, he met Livingston through the new band that Wes Anderson was assembling.
"You know, Ed has a certain look to him, a very unique and nostalgic kind of look. That's the first thing I noticed about him," Mayfield said. "Talking to Delfayo Marsalis, he was highly impressed with the way Edwin Livingston was playing. Every time I would call a bass player for a gig Delfeyo Marsalis would say, 'Man, you need to call Ed Livingston, call Ed Livingston.' So I got these tours and my record started taking off and I started working more and I needed to find a bass player who could be committed and so I said, well, I'll give Ed a call. The first time I heard him [with Wes Anderson's band] I really wasn't paying attention because we had just gotten back from New York and it was a different band with a different sound. But when I got to hear him play at my house I could not believe that I had let him sit around that long -- which wasn't that long -- but immediately he should have been playing with me, I feel."
"I can't make a contribution to creative music without knowledge," Livingston said when asked about his feelings regarding his move. "Here I really have a chance to be a full-fledged sideman. I am cutting my teeth on my roadchops and the music scene in general. I have learned tremendous amounts about the influence of the music business and about working in a band and being cohesive. How a good attitude is essential to good musicianship. Also about Afro-Cuban music, thanks to large extent to Bill Summers [also a member of Los Hombres], who has played with everyone I can safely say. He is on a record with Cachao, the godfather of Cuban music -- that is just a telltale sign of how really bad Bill Summers is. He has given me priceless information."
"Edwin Livingston," said Irvin Mayfield, "is probably the most in-demand bass player or becoming the most in-demand bass player right now in New Orleans and probably on the jazz scene. He is definitely making his way up. Every time we go anywhere people are asking 'Who's the bass player?' and 'Where did you find him at?' We play in two bands and Ed works out perfect in both situations, he can switch and do a lot of different genres and styles."
Although New Orleans has the number one jazz scene in the country right now, there are certain aspects of Austin that Livingston misses very much. "The food selection in the grocery stores in New Orleans is just not happening," he said reproachfully. "I am not sure what I was expecting, but Austin has New Orleans beat in the grocery store selection. I have to drive way out of my neighborhood here to find a twenty-four hour store. And they have no produce selection whatsoever."
More importantly, Livingston had to leave behind his fiancee and some very close friends. "Being in Austin really set the stage for me to come here. I learned a great deal in those three years. I was very lucky. I played with a lot of good musicians and I keep in touch with those folks that I played with on a regular basis -- Elias Hasslinger, Tina Marsh, I still play with Hot Buttered Rhythm. That sort of friendship and musicianship you can't forget."
Despite the fond memories it generates, Austin is still working to develop a network that can support and maintain artists like Edwin Livingston on its local scene. Irvin Mayfield credited the rebound of the New Orleans scene from its depression in the '80s to a number of things which Austin struggles to provide: businesses willing to invest in music that might not be as accessible to the general public, places where people can play, the presence of independent record companies that promote jazz on the same level as major labels, an established presence of musical education for young people, and, most importantly, musicians.
"You have to have those who are doing it as a profession really living in the city," he said. "The great thing about New Orleans is that we have all the Marsalises and we have Nicholas Payton and Terrence Blanchard -- we have a lot of people who are playing on a national and worldwide, universal level and that's what keeps the scene growing. Y'all have some [in Texas]. You know, Roy Hargrove! But it's hard because you need at least four or five of those people in one place at one time all wanting to do something. Then it brings interest. Because people go where the music is, and if there is good music, people are going to go check it out. Ellis Marsalis teaching at University of New Orleans, you get more and more people who may not know anything about jazz who take a class.
"The scene wasn't like this in the '80s. Wynton Marsalis and Terrence Blanchard and Donald Harrison all had to leave. Now they were able to come back and from that the scene has grown."
Edwin Livingston maintains that the heightened competition of the New Orleans scene affects the energy and attitudes of players in the city. "Being in New Orleans, I have humbled myself and been humbled. The vibe in Austin is fairly lax and that can be a deterrence if you want to get something done. New Orleans is also relaxed, people here just take their time, period, but when it comes to jazz, gigs can be few and far between and everyone is eager to play the best at all times. You don't know who's listening. The players here have a much stronger sense of urgency about themselves when they approach an otherwise normal gig, because somebody can come along and take it. In Austin, a lot of times we were like, 'We need to be killing.' But here we have got to be on the ball. The vibe stays serious."
What Mayfield and his colleagues play, however, does not seem to struggle under the weight of musical knowledge or professional concerns. They sound as though they could fly. "I think that what excites me now is that I have a really good band." Mayfield said thoughtfully. "It feels good when I have musicians that are willing to work with me and we have a really good time. We are really enjoying it. Sometimes it can be a job, playing with musicians who are really good but don't really want to play with you and are just doing it to get exposure. But these musicians, like Victor Atkins, we are really good friends, and the band members call each other on the phone all the time and we hang out and talk about music. We're excited because we all want to go through this thing together, we're all at the same place. When I wake up in the morning, the thing I feel good about, even today, is that I'm having a rehearsal with the band."
Edwin Livingston agreed. "I am enjoying the ride. I am doing all I can here. I am concentrating on being a strong and supportive accompanist. That is my role and it is not a limiting one. As long as it lasts, I'm down for it."
Livingston said he had a good amount of film to take pictures with, hopefully enough money, and was going to try to assimilate very quickly with the local culture on his first trip in Asia. Mayfield sees the upcoming experience as an indication of how "your music brings you outside of the normal idiosyncrasies of life." The wisdom in that is applicable from either side of the stage.
The Irvin Mayfield Quartet will perform at The Clay Pit's Bombay Room, 1601 Guadalupe, at 8pm on September 15.
Verities by Christopher Hess
Does it seem quieter out there to you?
Maybe not quieter, but definitely different. More subdued. Hesitant, almost, as if the whole town is sort of holding its breath, sure that something is about to happen, knowing that all there is to do is wait.
Me, I've been spending a lot of time at home. Watching a lot of movies, hanging out with my girlfriend and my dogs, getting acclimated to the slower pace that all things inevitably shift into during the summer months in Texas. And it ain't all bad, this slowing up, once you get used to it. The proliferation of time-saving technology and devices has created so much more work for the average shlub that during any day there is no down time. What, read a _book_? OK, but only if I can listen to the news on the radio, return a list of phone calls and eat dinner all at once. One thing at a time is simply not enough to do anymore. But, if you want to keep up, you gotta do it, right?
Not during the summer. Screw it, let 'em get ahead. It's too damn hot outside. So maybe the huge changes that have descended on the face of the Austin music scene with all the gentility of plastic surgery performed with a baseball bat have come at a good time. Though it's premature and uninformed to call the morgue to cart away the gasping body of live pop and rock music, it's getting close to too late to notice that things are changing in a way that a lot of people don't like.
Over the seven-odd years I've spent in Austin, the vast majority of my evening hours (and a good number of the daytime, too) have been spent in music venues, watching bands. I went pretty much everywhere and saw a whole lot of what there was to see at one point or another. It was just what I did -- I couldn't think of a better way to spend my nights than being on the receiving end of someone's version of what rock music was supposed to be about. Time spent trudging through the clubs and the record stores and the music media of Austin opened my eyes to a world whose depth I had not previously imagined and introduced me to people and to music that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
When the Electric Lounge, the small and beautifully divey rock club next to the railroad tracks at 4th and Bowie, closed its doors in the spring of this year, a big chunk of that world disappeared. It was my favorite place. Away from downtown parking nightmares and close enough to stumble home, the Electric Lounge was always the place I wanted bands to play. Likewise for Liberty Lunch -- if a band was too big for the Lounge, the Lunch was next in line. It too had easy parking and was just the other side of the river from the Lounge. Now that's gone as well. It'll be relocated, sure, and hopes are high for the partnership with Stubb's, but it won't be the same old warehouse with the uneven floor and history of sound ringing through the air.
And that's not all. This year, for the first time in many years, there was no jazz festival in June. There was one, the brand new Austin Music Festival put on by the folks at the Mercury, that took place over two days at Antone's and at the Backyard. The lineups were great, but attendance was poor. At the very least, though, the event gained the confidence of some top-notch jazz artists for its vision and effort, and we can look forward to it being bigger and better next year. The other June jazz fest, the one put on by DiverseArts, is happening this month. This whole issue is dedicated to it, so I won't dwell on it here, but suffice it to say that the rosters are impressive, and the shows -- both the evening touring acts and the massive gathering of local talent over the weekend in the park -- have the potential for greatness.
So, it's not that there's no music happening. On the contrary, the music scene in this town keeps chugging along, producing increasingly high-profile pop stars and an underground rock scene that refuses to die despite losing its own Lunch and Lounge in the form of The Blue Flame and Bates Motel, two rat-hole punk clubs that were of utmost importance in giving bands who could not yet get gigs at Emo's or the E-Lounge or Stubb's stage time and a chance to win fans. It all keeps going, regardless of measures taken by city council to stop it or development interests aimed at the new money of the high-tech insurgence. Just look at what's happening to Steamboat now, the venerable rock club on 6th Street -- one of the last ones down there, if anyone's keeping count. They're getting the boot to make way for a more profitable use of the space, which will be severely renovated. They too will relocate, but it's a sign of the changing face of this town.
But, hey, clubs close, bands break up, and entire thriving sub-scenes can disappear without explanation or warning. It happens all the time, and it shouldn't be a shock to anyone who pays attention. Why, then, does this seem like such a big deal? Perhaps because the changes taking place are on such a massive scale that it's altering the look and feel of Austin that are so intrinsic to its appeal -- namely, that this is a city that feels like a small town largely because of its Liberty Lunches and its Steamboats and its sweltering summer music festivals.
When it comes down to it, though, I suppose it's a change happening on a smaller scale -- namely, me. I've hit 30. I enjoy waking up early on a Sunday morning without a hangover, or spending a Friday night having dinner with a few friends without having to rush off to a club to see a band. The turtle's pace of the dog days, at least for now, is suiting me just fine. Besides, the music will still be there when I change my mind.