Sunday, July 6, 2014

True Stories

I remember my first trip to Japan with vocalist Vanessa Rubin. We stayed in Tokyo and drove outward to the suburbs for our concerts. Our driver wore a large black eyepatch. After a few days, I asked the promoter, "Can this dude drive with an eyepatch?"

 "Yes, of course, he is an excellent driver."

"Well….what happened to his eye?"

"…..Car accident."

I was invited to bring my band to a festival in Europe. Working out the details for this trip almost gave me a nervous breakdown. Among many other issues was the issue of bringing an upright bass. Most airlines do not accept basses anymore. I tried to explain this to the festival organizers.

" We cannot bring a bass, the airline will not accept the bass, so you will have to provide one."

"No, I'm sorry, we cannot provide a bass, so you will have to bring one."

" Uh, the airline will not let us bring one, so you will have to provide a bass!"

" I'm sorry, it's impossible. You can just bring one."

After much frustration, we ended up getting a friend of the bass player to drive a very long distance and let us use a bass. The kicker was that when we arrived at the venue, there was, in the dining hall, featured as part of the decor, a perfectly playable upright bass, just sitting next to the buffet.

I've performed in Russia a number of times. I've been fortunate to be featured as a band leader. It was interesting to know that at one venue in a small town, my name in Cyrillic was written as " Johnny McCloggin." I guess all Irish names sound alike to Russians.

I've been fortunate to fly business class to Japan a number of times. One time, before the flight took off, I decided to take a look at the First Class cabin. As I sauntered up to the entrance, a stewardess sternly said, "May I help you?" I guess I didn't look like First Class material! I said I just wanted to look. She smiled and agreed to let me bask in the glow of How The Other Half Flies. As I retreated back to my seat, the stewardess called out, "Better luck next time!"

I played  a week at Catalina's in Hollywood with Ravi Coltrane in 2001. One evening, I went to the club early to practice a bit. I noticed there was a table with a young man and an small, older woman sitting behind me. The woman turned out to be Zelda Rubenstein, an actress most known for her appearance in "Poltergeist." I sat down and talked to her for about 2 hours before the show started. After the energetic  first set, I went over to her table and sat down to talk to her, curious about her opinion of the music. "Wow, " she whispered, " that was really terrible……."

During my classical trumpet studies at Peabody Conservatory, I gave a recital at a church in Baltimore. I played a piece by baroque composer Henry Purcell. The edition of this piece had two versions in the same booklet-one for Bb trumpet (in the key of concert Bb) and one for D trumpet( in the key of D). I lifted my Schilke D trumpet to my lips and began to play the beginning of the piece. All of a sudden, I felt as though I was playing a work by Charles Ives. We stopped, and my accompanist whispered , "George , what is going on!" She was looking at the version for Bb trumpet! We sorted it out and finished the piece. I have to admit, the opening wasn't what what Purcell had intended, but it did sound kind of cool, in a bi-tonal sort of way.

I have a fond memory of a gig I did at Small's in the 90's. We were performing one of my tunes, and odd meter work entitled, "Spellbound." At the time, trumpeter Tommy Turrentine was living in a space right behind the piano. In the middle of the tune, Turrentine came out, looked around, and proclaimed, " I don't know what this is, but it ain't jazz!"

Sunday, June 29, 2014

List of Drummers

Although I'm primarily a pianist, I've always been fascinated with the drums. On the rare occasions that I play drums on a gig, people will ask me if I took lessons. I didn't have many lessons, but I consider my lessons to be the opportunities I have had to play with so many great and varied drummers. Since I recently got to play with a bunch of great drummers all in the space of two weeks(Warren Wolf, Bill Stewart, Chris Brown, Kelby McNayr, and John Davis respectively), I started making a list. I decided to try to think of ALL the drummers I had played at least one tune with since 1989-ish. The more I thought about it, the more drummers I had to add to the list. Some of these are drummers I have spent a lot of time with over the years. Some were drummers I played with in my formative years. Some are drummers I might have played with once at a jam session, or recorded with once. Be that as it may, it was quite a trip down memory lane compiling this list.( I know I am missing somebody-if you think I left you out, tell me! I didn't leave anyone out intentionally.

It's nostalgic to compile this list because it reminds me of my years in New York, and all of the great opportunities I had to make a living as a freelance musician. It's also a strange feeling to look at that list and think about people whom I spent time with years ago making great music and now I rarely see them. Facebook is no substitute for musical and personal interaction. Music is meant to be played, not ranted about on social media!

Again, if I forgot you, tell me! Also, these are in no particular order.

List Of Drummers I've Played With:

Jack DeJohnette
Bill Stewart
Ralph Peterson
Al Foster
Lenny White
Terri Lynne Carrington
Cindy Blackman
Billy Hart
Rodney Holmes
Billy Higgins
Carl Allen
Jeff Watts
Mike Clark
Harvey Mason
Dave Weckl
Marvin Smitty Smith
Dennis Chambers
Clarence Penn
Greg Hutchinson
Jon Seligman
Mike Smith
Matt Wilson
Phil Haynes
Keith Carlock
Jordan Perlson
Johnathan Blake
EJ Strickland
Towner Galaher
Gene Lake
Gene Jackson
Nate Wood
Steve Johns
Keith Kilgo
Adam Cruz
Jeff Ballard
Victor Lewis
Jochen Ruckert
Ari Hoenig
Brian Blade
Idris Muhammed
Greg Bandy
Rudy Royston
Quincy Davis
Lewis Nash
Ali Jackson
Joe Saylor
Jeff Hirschfield
Steve Williams
Mark Johnson
Byron Landham
John Arnold
Jimmy Cobb
Mickey Roker
Vince Davis
Owen Hart
Jeff Williams
Aaron Walker
Lenny Robinson
Nasar Abedey
Kush Abeday
Damian Reid
Tony Martucci
Warren Wolf
Larry Banks
Alvester Garnett
Adam Niewood
Lee Pearson
Bryan Carter
Harold Summey
William Goffigen
Tom Rainey
Peter MacDonald
Sylvia Cuenca
Vanderlai Pereira
Larry Bright
Steve Hass
Bob Moses
Lionel Cordew
John Lampkin III
Billy Drummond
Howard Curtis
Colin Stranahan
Marc Miralta
Jordi Rossi
Adam Stranburg
Jamire Williams
Donald Edwards
Billy Murphy
Chris Perry
Paul Hildner
Chuck Carna
Phil Cunneff
Micah Hummel
Milo Peterson
Ben Dixon
Jim Hannah
Leon Parker
Obed Calvaire
Tommy Campbell
Owen Howard
Tyson Stubelek
Morten Lund
Anders Mogensen
Alan Jones
Mel Brown
Troy Davis
Howard Franklin
Ron Steen
Todd Strait
Mike Kuhl
Chris Brown
Jason Palmer
Reinhardt Melz
Terry Clarke
Jesse Cahill
Jeremy Blynn
Scott Peaker
Vince Ector
Cecil Brooks III
Kenwood Dennard
Jim Douglas
Nick Fraser
Sam Foulger
Jaime Carrasco
Woody Williams
Dwayne Cook Broadnax
Jim Orso
Drori Mondlak
Adonis Rose
Mark Kolenburg
Steve Davis
Hans Schumann
Dion Parson
Rodney Greene
Scott McLemore
Kendrick Scott
John Bishop
Matt Jorgensen
Curtis Nowosad
David Gibson
Keith Hall
Ted Poor
Ulysses Owens
Alvin Atkinson
Terreon Gully
Ted Warren
Pete Retzlaff
Ian Fromann
Marcello Pelletteri
Kenny Wolleson
Ben Perowsky
Ben Whitman
Mark Griffith
Daniel Freedman
Allison Miller
Shingo Okudaira
George Schuller
Ryan Biesack
Danny Fischer
Falk Willis
Gabriel Globus-Hoenich
Adrian Greene
Vinnie Colaiuta
Marlon Browden
Brian Melvin
Johnathan Pinson
Tom Williams
Shane Endsley
Nicholas Payton
Eric Harland
Phil Stewart
Eric Halverson
Roland Schneider
Louis Hayes
Gary Hobbs
Jaimeo Brown
Darrell Green
Camille Gainer
Ricky Loza
Rick Montalbano
Jakob Hoyer
Dana Hall
George Fludas
Bobby Durham
Greg Grainger
Will Calhoun
Chuck Braman
Joe Farnsworth
Henry Cole
Aaron Kimmel
George Gray
Jay Moody
Steve Weinless
Tony Jefferson
Tony Leone
Tony Sweet
Eric Kennedy
Joe Strasser
Wilby Fletcher
Pete Van Nostrand
Phil Yoon
Adam Carlson
Fred Kennedy
Charles Neal
Darren Beckett
Grant Pierce
Dave Lang
Jon Wikan
Eric MacPherson
Nasheet Waits
George Jones
Warren Shad
Steve Lyman
Tim Paxton
Michael Raynor
Dafnis Prieto
Tyshawn Sorey
Rob Garcia
Ryan Diehl
Dominic Smith
Oleg Butman
Eugene Ryaboy
Joe Chambers
Dick Berk
Guillermo Magill
Susie Ibarra
Otis Brown III
John Davis
Adam Nussbaum
Karriem Riggins
Herlin Riley
Kendrick Scott
Jon Rae
Gene Caldarazzo
Tom Bancroft
Sherrie Maricle
Kenny Grohowski
Tina Raymond
Neal Smith
Nathaniel Townsley
Willard Dyson
Tim Rap
Kelby McNayr
Tom Pollard
Kevin Congleton
Duncan Branom
Randy Rollofson
Charlie Doggett
Mark Ferber
Jon Huteson
Mario Sandoval
Brandon Braun
Dana Elizabeth
Jason Marsalis
Winard Harper
Dan Weiss
Scott Cutshall
Carlton Jackson
Brad Turner
Don Daumit
Harold Mann
Sean Rickmann
Jim West
Rod Youngs
David Haynes
Matt Mayhall
Tony Moreno
Gerry Gibbs
John Hollenbeck
Justin Faulkner
Anthony Pinciotti
Josh Dixon
Dan Reiser
Justin Tracy
James Johnson III
Mark DiFlorio
Pheeroan Aklaff
John Mettam
Dane Richeson
Cordero Kingsley
Charles Ruggerio
Tony Reedus
Chuck Redd
Mark Taylor
Horacee Arnold
Mark Gilmore
Marcus Gilmore
Jeff Boudreaux
Shai Zelman
Masanori Amakura
Richard Seals
Mike Sarin
Bruce Cox
Justin Greville
Billy Kilson
Tommy Crane
Bernard Purdie
Derrick Phillips
Chris Dave
Mike Petrosino
Diego Voglino
Paul Wells

Drummers I would like to play with someday:
Roy Haynes
Marcus Baylor
Ben Riley
Billy Cobham
Peter Erskine
Joey Barron
David King
Jim Black

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Shed-PSU's 3rd Annual Summer Jazz Camp

 I'm getting geared up for our 3rd annual jazz camp. Our special guest, Dr, Alex Norris, is one of the greatest musicians you will ever meet. There are few trumpet players with as much information. His improvisational vocabulary rivals saxophone players! Additionally, we are happy to have another special guest: bassist David Ephross, who has been on the New York scene for over 20 years. The camp is geared towards all levels. We hope to see you there!

 Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble in Co-sponsorship with Portland State University present “The Shed” Third Annual Portland State Summer Jazz Camp, July 14-18  in Lincoln Hall on the campus of Portland State University
Director George Colligan
featuring special guest New York trumpet star Alex Norris
additional faculty includes
Darrell Grant
Charley Gray
David Ephross
David Valdez
Dan Balmer
Ryan Meagher
Jeff Baker
and many others
(for more infö email or go to
Now in its 3rd year, Portland State University’s  Summer Jazz Intensive Workshop is open to high school, college and adult instrumentalists. “The Shed” is based around a select repertoire of jazz tunes. We accept students of all levels and ages. Activities include jam sessions, coached ensemble sessions, masterclasses, lectures, group lessons, and concerts. It’s a great way to develop your skills as a jazz improviser in a fun and friendly environment.
Our special guest this year is trumpeter Alex Norris. Dr. Norris has spent 2 decades in New York playing with many of the greats in jazz, including Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Chris Potter, Stefon, Harris, Carl Allen, Eric Alexander, John Pattitucci, and Brian Blade. Additionally, in the Pop/R&B world, Norris has toured and/or recorded with Incognito, US3, Philip Bailey, Steve Winwood, Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine, and Jon Secada.
Workshop Tuition plus $368.60 PSU Tuition & Fees
Limited scholarships available.
Students will audition for placement in combos on Monday morning, July 14th.
Check back soon for information on what to prepare for this audition.
On campus  lodging is available for student enrolled in The Shed Workshop through Portland State Campus Housing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

RIP Horace Silver

Horace Silver was one of the giants of jazz. One of the creators of Hard Bop, Horace Silver brought jazz back to it's funky, soulful, bluesy roots. Furthermore, he was one of the most prolific jazz composers. As a bandleader, he was comparable to Art Blakey, Miles Davis, and Betty Carter, in that getting a chance to play with him meant the "seal of approval". As a pianist, his percussive attack, thundering left hand, aggressive comping, and clear, direct right hand were unmistakeable. Horace Silver has left us a huge body of compositions to play(everybody knows "Song For My Father," "Peace," Strollin," and "Nica's Dream") as well as a huge discography to listen to. I've always thought it was interesting that as great a musical force as Horace Silver was, it seemed as though most jazz pianists don't claim his as an influence. Horace Silver died yesterday after a number of years of declining health. I did a tribute to his music this past December in Portland for the PDX jazz series. Let's continue to listen to Silver's music; let's continue to perform his compositions. RIP Horace Silver.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Luka and my son Liam getting ready to perform
During one of our student performances, one of our loyal community supporters leaned over and said, " You must be kvelling right now, no?" I said, " Absolutely!" She smiled, " Do you know what kvelling means?" I said, " Yes I do!" I'm not fluent in Yiddish, mind you, but I know the words that have infiltrated every day conversation (at least in New York City, bubelah). It means, " bursting with pride." When you teach students for an extended period of time, they almost become like your children; you want the best for them and you want to see them succeed. So when they do, you feel pride, and it's a joyous occasion. Hence, the kvelling( I'm a little verklempt over here....).

It's recital season at Portland State University, so we are seeing a lot of students present finished products, or close to finished products. While there is always room for improvement, it's nice to actually step back and listen to the music the students are playing and enjoy it. Sure, train wrecks happen and wrong notes occur. Guess what? It happens to professionals as well. While I want to hold students to as high a standard as possible, I don't want anyone to become so worried about performing that it sucks the enjoyment out of the experience.

 It's interesting for me to observe how students really put a lot of effort into their recitals. It's a special occasion; people dress up(for Portland, anyway), they put lights on the stage, they invite their families, they make food. I have fond memories of getting geared up for big performances when I was in high school; as a professional, even playing with greats and getting paid, a gig is a gig is a gig. I'm a bit jaded after being a professional for almost 25 years. It's great to see folks at the beginning of their careers who are full of promise and energy.

Last night, I went to a different sort of performance; my son Liam performed at his pre-school with all of the other kids. He played one of the dragons. He really enjoyed getting up and "roaring" in his costume. Most people had a good time, but one little girl who was playing one of the fairies got nervous and started crying. It made me think of how being a musicians and being an actor are similar yet different. We are both "performers," yet, musicians can hide behind their instruments. Actors tend to be people that "love the spotlight," that feel comfortable getting up and jumping around in front of everyone. Musicians spend so much time alone in the practice room and can oftentimes end up being introverts. As comfortable as I feel being on stage with an instrument, I don't know how comfortable I would be getting up to do acting. I definitely couldn't be a dragon as well as Liam!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Search Of Rhythmic Humanity

Although I've had more than my share of luck and success as an accidental jazz pianist, I was very interested in the drums. I recall that during my frustrating freshman year at Peabody Conservatory, I had secret fantasies of transferring to Berklee College of Music or The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and switching my major to drums. I did graduate from Peabody with a degree in Trumpet and Music Education, however, by that time, I was pretty much on my way to playing piano full time. ( I actually sold all of my trumpets upon graduation in 1991, and didn't own a trumpet again until 1998.) Even so, I still maintained a fascination with drums and drumming. I believe that rhythm is the essential and distinctive element of American music. It's the most primal and universal regardless of simplicity or complexity. ( I have a great memory of hearing Steve Coleman's group at the Jazz Gallery many years ago. I had ingested a large quantity of Nyquil, as I had a terrible cold. I didn't know what meter Coleman's music was in, but I really enjoyed the grooves and the angular improvisations. Coleman's music is based on drum chants, which are essentially complex "claves" similar to African or Afro Cuban music, and it gives the music a foundational structure from which to expound upon. I remember thinking that people could have easily danced to this music if it wasn't a "jazz club.")

I'm still interested in developing my skills as a drummer. One thing that drummers spend a lot of time
doing is practicing rudiments or exercises with a metronome. The metronome is a device which we use to set a mechanically consistent tempo and play selected passages along with the device so as to make our timing as consistent as possible. Although there were earlier attempts to invent such devices, the metronome as we know it was invented in Amsterdam in 1814 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel, although someone named Johann Maelzel may have lifted the idea and patented it himself in 1815. Beethoven was the first famous composer to write "metronome markings" in his music ( for example, Quarter Note= 150 and so forth). Now, stand alone metronomes are quite advanced; musicians use things called "Dr. Beat" to program odd meters and other complicated rhythmic training exercises. Furthermore, the use of computer software has given a whole new meaning to the idea of rhythmic precision. Studio drummers are expected to be able to play along with "the click," or "click track." (I've had to do this in various studio settings as a drummer, and it is not easy. Many "jazz" drummers have a hard time with this.) In fact, the use of virtual software instruments has gotten to the point where if you want your drum track to be absolutely 100 percent precise, you can just program drums that sound almost exactly like real drums, thereby eliminating the need to make a drummer sit there and try to "play with the click."

It's interesting that when I looked up "metronome" on Wikipedia, I discovered this controversy:

Human beings seldom play music at an exact tempo with all the beats exactly the same. This makes it impossible to align metronome clicks with the beats of a musically expressive performance. This also has led many musicians to criticize use of a metronome. "Metronome Time" has been shown to differ from "Musical Time". Some go as far as to suggest that metronomes shouldn't be used by musicians at all. The same criticism has been applied to metronome markings as well.

And there were several interesting quotes which were against the metronome:

The metronome has no real musical value. I repeat, the metronome has no value whatsoever as an aid to any action or performance that is musical in intention. [...] refer by analogy to the sister art of drawing. Graphic artists understand well enough the essential and generic difference that exists between mechanically-aided drawing on the one hand and freehand on the other. Similarly, musicians ought to distinguish between (1) the sort of timing that results from dull, slavish obedience to the ticking of a soulless machine, and (2) that noble swing and perfect control of pulsation which comes into our playing after years of practice in treating and training the sense of time as a free, creative human faculty.
The Amateur String Quartet by James Brown III
 ... this series of even, perfectly quantized, 16th notes, is no more evocative of samba, than a metronome would be. In fact, this representation neglects what makes up the samba essence in the first place — the swing!
Understanding the Samba Groove by Pedro Batista
 [...] using the metronome as a constant guide to ramp up the speed or to keep the rhythm. This is one of the worst abuses of the metronome. [...] If over used, it can lead to loss of your internal rhythm, loss of musicality, and bio-physical difficulties from over-exposure to rigid repetition
Fundamentals of Piano Practice by Chuan C. Chang

Reading these quotes makes me very conflicted; one of the first things I ask my students who are having trouble with rhythm is, "Do you practice with a metronome?" (It's also weird because I don't practice with a metronome very often, although I did when I was younger. I used to spend a lot of time recording seqence tracks on keyboards and then in the computer program Logic, so I spent time "playing to the click," so to speak.) My students will say that they use the metronome, but It's hard for me to tell. I think you should use the metronome for practicing certain grooves or passages, but it's true that you also have to develop your own sense of internal time; you can't use the metronome as a crutch. You can't(well, you shouldn't....) have a metronome on stage while you play( I realize some bands play to a click....). You need to develop your sense of how to play with others. This might be actually more important that having good time. Bands that sound good fluctuate TOGETHER; they shift with each other as they play. I also suggest playing along with recordings, which I think can be highly beneficial for young musicians.

I found something called "In Search Of The Click Track" which really blew me away. The site shows various drummers performances with the tempo fluctuation interpreted by a graph. The real human drummers had lots of fluctuation, while the pop songs with "The Machine" were flat-lined. Stewart Copeland, the drummer from The Police, had a lot of fluctuation, as did Bernard Purdie on James
Bernard Purdie, one of the most recorded drummers
Brown's "Say It Loud(I'm Black And I'm Proud)." It just made me think about whether we want our music to be metronomic or just have a good feel and not worry about it so much. I think if you are rushing or dragging enough to where it's really noticeable, then it needs to be addressed. However, I think having a little bit of wiggle room is good for the future of music made by humans rather than by computers. Computers and metronomes are tools for humans to create music. We shouldn't be slaves to them.

On that note, I leave you with a decidedly human track from a forthcoming album I'm working on. This features my band Theoretical Planets, which is Jon Lakey on bass, Nicole Glover on tenor and soprano saxes and Joe Manis on tenor and alto saxes. Enjoy!