Thursday, January 1, 2015


Happy New Year,  everyone! I'm sure many of you have New Year's resolutions. It's great to have goals and get motivated and January 1st seems like the best excuse to have a new beginning. For example, I noticed that 24 Fitness is open today, so that folks can honor their resolution and start working out in the hopes that this is going to be the year that they finally lose that weight and get ready for those tight jeans everyone seems to love in Portland. Unfortunately, for some, January 1st might be the ONLY day they work out this year. This might be because we set our expectations way too high. I've always been one to have many goals, and this year is no different. I don't know, you tell me whether you think I'm setting myself for failure:

George Colligan's New Year's Resolutions:

1. Run a mile under 4 minutes.
2. Run a Marathon under 2 hours.
3. Run a 100 mile ultra marathon barefoot, on an empty stomach.
4. Improve my technical and improvisational skills on Piano, Organ, Drums, Trumpet, Upright Bass,
Electric Bass, and Marching Baritone.
5. Become technically proficient on Trombone, Clarinet, Bassoon, Flute, Guitar, Bass Trumpet, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, C Melody Saxophone, Baritone, and Ukelele
6. Learn 5,000 new tunes in every key. That means all major AND minor keys. So if the tune is in Major, I'll learn it in minor, and then take it through the keys again.
7. Transcribe every recorded Herbie Hancock solo, every recorded McCoy Tyner solo, every recorded Chick Corea solo, every recorded Keith Jarrett solo, every recorded Kenny Kirkland solo, every recorded Mulgrew Miller solo, every recorded Wynton Kelly solo. ( I'll leave every Bill Evans solo until next year.
8. Learn the complete piano works of Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Scriabin. Transpose all of these pieces into every key. (Major AND minor....remember...from before?)
9. Become a master of tablas and Indian music. ( This I can probably knock out over the weekend...)
10. Memorize the complete works of Shakespeare.( It's already on my Kindle so this one, again, piece of cake!)
11. Bench press 589 pounds. On an empty stomach.
12. They say most of the muscles in your body are in the lower body, so I guess I will probably be able to deadlift double what I can bench. So let's round up and say 1200 pound deadlift. Should be cool.
13. 5,000 pushups and 5,000 pullups. If this doesn't get me on the cover of Men's Health, nothing will.
14. Write a Rock Opera based on the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. Now, I know what you are thinking, "George, that writes itself!" Well, yes, it does. But I want it to be really really FUNNY as well as entertaining, informative, and life changingly transformatively inspiring. I want to take this one to Broadway!
15. Win a Tony Award for my Rock Opera based on the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. I guess the awards won't happen until 2016, so.....OK, scratch that one off until next year. (Patience, Colligan....)
16. Become the best Jazz Educator in the world. If you've been following my blog, you are probably like, " But, George, haven't you already accomplished this? And isn't it also highly subjective?" Well the answer is Maybe, and MAYBE, MAYBE NOT! I'm working on the book called "The Absolutely Definitive Completely Complete Guide To Learning Jazz: Becoming the Greatest Jazz Musician Who Has Ever Lived And Getting Every Gig In The World." THIS book is going to be the one. When you read all 1,003 pages of My book, you'll say, " Aebersold, SHMABERSOLD! Bergonzi SHMERGONZI! Levine SHMEVINE!" Or something like that. Pick your favorite jazz instructional
author and put SHM in front of their name.
17. Become the Greatest Jazz Musician Who Has Ever Lived And Get Every Gig In The World. I know what you're thinking, " George, isn't this impossible and again highly subjective?" The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT! If I'm going to publish a book called "The Absolutely Definitive Completely Complete Guide To Learning Jazz: Becoming the Greatest Jazz Musician Who Has Ever Lived And Getting Every Gig In The World," then I have to teach by example. If I can't do what I say in the book, who's going to buy it? Do you think anyone would have bought Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" if he didn't actually THINK AND GROW RICH? You KNOW Napoleon Hill was ROLLING in cash money! ( I mean, I assume. I don't have any proof.)
18. Win the World's Greatest Dad award. Pretty sure I won that last year, if my coffee mug has any legitimacy.
19. Solve the Middle East Crisis. Now I KNOW what you are thinking. "George, so many have tried and failed in the past century. What ideas do you have that are different?" Well, my idea comes from this: the history of the longstanding feud between legendary entertainers and former partners Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin( from an article by Shawn Levy in The Guardian):

In the subsequent years, they literally didn't speak. Once or twice they collided on the back lot at Paramount or in some Vegas green room. But often they deliberately ducked one another. In 1960, when Dean went off Rat Pack-ing, Jerry was persona non grata, and it's a sign of his hurt and resentment that he responded to the Rat Pack's Las Vegas shoot of Ocean's Eleven by going to Miami and making a resort hotel movie of his own, The Bellboy. By 1970, Jerry's career had spun out of control in a haze of drug addiction and the changing fashions in comedy, but Dean was a bigger star than ever, with a smash hit weekly TV series and a film and recording career to rival Frank Sinatra's.
In 1976, Sinatra tried to mend fences between the estranged partners, surprising Jerry during his annual muscular dystrophy telethon by bringing Dean out from the wings. It was a truly spontaneous and emotional reunion - the two stood patting each other and smiling through tears as though a loved one had returned from the dead. But despite Jerry's entreaties after the show, Dean never rejoined him on stage or even for mere social interaction. Finally, in 1987, when Dean's golden son, Dean Paul Martin, died in a plane crash, Jerry reached out to him, instigating, at least by Jerry's account, a sporadic telephone relationship.

Maybe it's naive to think that we could erase centuries of hatred, war, hostility, and mistrust by bringing Jews and Palestinians out on stage to surprise each other on a telethon. Well, has anyone ever tried it? Could it really hurt? It's probably as good as any other idea out there....

20. Achieve total enlightenment. This might be a stretch. I think I need the right mantra. Or maybe the right chanting shoes. I'm sure they have some stuff over at REI.......

Monday, December 29, 2014

The 2014 First Annual Colligan Awards

Since I've been on the subject of movies lately, one great film I saw recently was "Birdman," an incredible vehicle for Michael Keaton, who plays a former action star trying to produce a darkly serious play while trying to keep his dark mental difficulties at bay. The acting by Keaton and co-stars which include Edward Norton, Zach Galafanakis, and Emma Stone, is solid. However, the cinematography and special effects are absolutely amazing. Furthermore, the musical score, which is mostly solo drum set, really blew me away. It sounds somewhat improvised, but it really fits the emotion of the story, as any good score should. ( When I think of my disappointment with "Whiplash," it's nice to hear truly great drumming in a movie.)

I recently discovered that jazz great Antonio Sanchez is responsible for the score for
"Birdman." I also discovered that his score was rejected by the Academy of Motion Pictures for consideration for an Academy Award. Sanchez' fans are wondering why. The reasons the Academy gives have to do with the amount of original music related to known songs, I think bottom line it's because the Academy is stupid. And racist. And just plain evil. Do I think the Academy and it's members are worse than Hitler? That would be pushing it a bit too far. So then the answer is yes. 

Antonio Sanchez is an incredible drummer, having played with Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Miguel Zenon, and plenty more of the heavyweights. He's very successful as a musician, so I'm betting that he could probably care less about whether he is snubbed by the aforementioned Worse-Than-Hitler-Academy of Motion Pictures. However, since so many of these awards are so pointless and arbitrary, I'm starting my own Awards.

Good Evening And Welcome to the The 2014 First Annual Colligan Awards. I'm your host, Ellen DeGeneres. We have a really great show for you. We have many special guest, and so many great song and dance number. I have lots of great joke(Rim Shot)......ahem..... Moving right along, presenting the award for Best Musical Score is Jack Black.

Jack Black: ( In a loud, rock and roll type voice) Hey everybody, the nominees for Best Musical Score are:

Antonio Sanchez for "Birdman"(Roll Clip)
"Birdman," Antonio Sanchez (Roll Clip)
(Roll Different Clip)
" Big Momma's House 13," Kanye West ( Roll Clip.....Ugh..)
" Indian Jones and the Quest To Find A Good Hip Replacement Surgeon," John Williams( Roll Clip, I guess...)
Antonio Sanchez for "Birdman"(Roll Clip)

And the Colligan Award goes to......
Antonio Sanchez for "Birdman!" 

( This is Antonio Sanchez' first Colligan Award....)

Anyway, I have a vivid imagination. I recommend the film, Antonio Sanchez got robbed, and F the Academy. 

“What's with all these awards? They're always giving out awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolf Hitler.”
Annie Hall (1977) – Alvy Singer (Woody Allen)

Awards are like hemorrhoids. Sooner or later every asshole gets one.”
Swimming Pool (2003) – Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

There Is No Theory......Only Sound

"Man those cats be playing some THEORY!"
I'm finding that one of the huge challenges for teaching jazz at the higher levels is as follows; how do you teach skills, the history and the rules while also getting students to think for themselves, think outside the box, and be creative? I find that all of us may tend towards one side of the brain or the other. I'm left handed, so they say that I'm most likely more right brained, which is the creative side of the brain. I've always felt that the piano for me was more of a vehicle to find something new rather than try to play all of the existing repertoire. I try to practice classical pieces, but lately, they just make me think about how to let those pieces inspire me to write my own music. Yet I find myself stressing skills to many of my students. I have so many students that need to focus on sound, reading, knowing tunes, jazz vocabulary, rhythm. A lot of these things are pretty concrete. I believe that the skill side is needed as a foundation for creativity. However, I acknowledge that it's possible to get bogged down in the technique and never learn or love to be truly creative.

Music theory is not music. Theory is how we analyze and understand music. How do we get beyond the rules? Sometimes breaking the rules is not only acceptable, it's essential to making good music.
This recent video made me think about this:
Ok, Marta Altesa is cute, let's move on from that. The cool thing about this Jamiroquai song is what? Well, the bass line is killing for sure. The groove is great, it's got a nice melody and a catchy hook. But it occurred to me that the harmonic movements are actually the best part about it for me.
The song starts in D minor and simmers there for a while. Then we jump to Fminor, with one of those sort of reverse progressions you hear in R&B often: F minor, C minor,7 Bb minor7,  Gbmaj7, Fmaj7, Bb minor 7 Eb7, Abmin7, Db7, Gmin 7, F#7( or C7 at the end of the phrase). And then it jumps back to Bb7 to D minor. Later the verse has the progression G-7 to A7 ( altered I think) and then F min7. This really lifts the song for me.

But wait a minute. A7 to F minor7. When was the last time you studied a progression like that in theory class? Usually we spend so much time on ii V I's and their variations. Everything has to be justified as a substitution of something. A7 to F minor 7 is a pretty jagged movement. It's particularly jagged because many of the other chords are rather functional. But for me, it's the best part of the song. It's the hippest part of the whole thing, for me.

So why don't we teach that in theory class? Why don't we start with A7 to F minor?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Haitian Fight Song

Chris Rock in "Top Five"
I recently wrote about my disappointment in regards to a movie I went to see with my wife; part of my lament was that I don't get to actually go to the movies often. Well, I actually was able to get out again to see "Top Five," a hilarious film starring one of my favorite comedians of all time, Chris Rock. I was a fan of his HBO program in the late 90's, although he hasn't made a ton of great films. I really enjoyed this one, especially one scene with a famous rapper surprising us with some of his "unknown" talent( don't want to spoil it for you). Rock  and supporting actors Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove as well as a host of other surprise comedians really made this one work for me.

Rock is great with observational humor, but he's not afraid to push the political envelope. Rock's character, Andre Allen, is a comedian turned actor who had financial success with a string of "Hammy The Bear" films. Allen, a recovering alcoholic, decides he wants to make "serious films" (perhaps a nod to one of my favorite Woody Allen films, "Stardust Memories") and ends up starring in "Uprize," a movie about the Haitian Slave Revolt of 1791-1804 in which thousands died and Haiti gained independence from France. It's amazing to me how Chris Rock is able to make the idea of this film ( which I'm fairly sure no one, even a Hollywood superstar would have an easy time financing) into something hilarious. It's kind of a complex idea; it's funny because it's such an intense departure from the silly "Hammy The Bear" character; it would be like Tyler Perry doing a movie about Nat Turner.....( actually I would pay to see that!) During a scene where Allen sneaks into a theater to see whether people like his new movie,  I was pleasantly surprised to hear Charles Mingus' "Haitian Fight
Song" as the background music. ( I wonder if Questlove, who is credited with the score, was responsible for that choice?)


All levity aside, the Haitian Revolution was no joke; considered the most successful rebellion in history, it culminated in driving out the French and appointing governor-general Jean-Jaques
Haitian Rebellion
, who in 1804 ordered the massacre of almost all of the remaining whites on the island. I guess I can't help but wonder why we study the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Russian Revolution in school- but not the Haitian Revolution? It seems like this would have been interesting to mention.....

In the fake "Uprize" movie within a movie, the Allen character plays Dutty Boukman ( which I hate to say but it sounds like somebody from the Pootie Tang bits from the Chris Rock Show......never mind, I'll be quiet...) who was a voodoo priest and leader of the Maroon slaves. Haitian voodoo religion originates in Africa and uses mystical dance and music ceremonies where spirit possession is involved. This reminded me of a recent performance I saw while visiting Birmingham, U.K. A young composer named Bobby Avey recently released an album entitled "Authority Melts From Me." This is a large form suite which is inspired by the Haitian Uprising; Avey actually traveled to Haiti and recorded actual voodoo ceremonies, transcribed them, and used the musical and political inspiration to create some incredibly intense music. Pianist Avey and his all star band of Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, Ben Monder on guitar, Jordan Perlson on drums, and bassist Michael Janisch created a dense musical jungle full of dense chromaticism and brain-bending odd meters; the severity of the music made me see things differently upon completion of the performance. 

I need time to study the Haitian Rebellion. I think it's strange that such a striking and significant event seems to be relatively forgotten. I'm under the impression that the tragedy of modern day Haiti may have a lot to do with the circumstances under which it became a nation. I didn't expect a history lesson this evening, but I'm glad to get to laugh and also learn something.

Hey, what about Tyler Perry as W.E.B. Du Bois? Ok, never mind, I'll shut up.....

Letter from Richard Dorsey

Couldn't find any photos of Richard, but this is his family business  where we worked for years
Richard Dorsey, a wonderful tenor sax player Baltimore native was the first great jazz saxophonist with whom I got to play. He recently sent me this written recounting our first meeting in the late 80's.

Recently I came across a blog post about George Colligan's first gig. I was amused and entertained by his well-written recollection. What a surprise to find out the first time he and I played together was his first job as a pianist. As I read about it didn't take long to start wondering if I had  tapes of any of those nights. I knew I recorded at least the first night at J-K's Pub in Columbia, Md., a place I characterized as a "fern bar", regardless of whether it had ferns or not. That term was still in use in 1988, referring to attractive places just like J-K's Pub. Clean walls. Neon lights. Up-scale pick-up bars in upscale areas, with background music like Christopher Cross and Journey. I have not much against all that....not entirely, anyway. But it seemed an unlikely place to have a welcome mat out for the brew of music I was carrying in the front door.

I recall those gigs at J-K's Pub pretty clearly. It was the first time meeting George and bassist David Ephross. I had met drummer Chris Perry socially, and always liked him, but had never played with him.

I'm pretty sure David secured that playing job, then got my number from someone in town and called me. When David phoned he said he couldn't decide which of two pianists to get. He said one guy was a pianist. I thought to myself, "That's good, isn't a pianist what we need?". David made even less sense when he stated the second option, saying that the other choice was a trumpet major at Peabody Conservatory who was learning piano. OH MY GOD! I had visions of a serious crash and burn gig. Not only did it sound like there was this trumpeter, someone who might not actually play piano, but also that the bassist, the leader David, might not know the difference whether this trumpeter could play piano. The scene was highly suspect at that moment.

At that point on the phone I said to Dave, kind of firmly, "NOOOOOOOOO! Get the first pianist, not someone just starting !" or something like that, something driven by deep fear from the way I heard David present the options. It seemed apparent to me that David was going through a thought process involving me looking toward getting the answer he wanted. It was evident that Dave had made the decision for George to command the piano chair.  As my phone call with David was coming to a close he held his ground for George as the pianist, sticking with it so firmly that he convinced me of the choice.

Arriving at the gig I saw drummer Chris Perry. I decided no matter what happened we would lock in and keep it together. George and Dave seemed friendly and confident.  We started with Coltrane's "Moment's Notice". I thought in case there might not be much piano solo time taken I would stretch out from the start and assure a reasonable song length. Perhaps I did play 25 choruses. Then everything rolled along smoothly. George played without incident, the way it always was thereafter. It sure seemed like he'd done this all before. I wasn't wiser, just somewhat older. I quickly realized not only his skill, but David's bass playing acumen as well. We played that same gig, well, perhaps three, four times. That was at least more than I thought we were going to. Termination came not as much of a surprise as being there at all. After all, though, we jazz musicians play wherever we get the chance.

Starting shortly after this, I was happy and fortunate to play with George over the next four-five years with a group that included Alex Norris called the Peabody Underground. On and off. The usual opportunities. We had a year-long weekly (mostly) gig at Chambers in Baltimore that people seemed to like and talked about. Of course, not like they talk about George nowadays. And along the way I learned another thing: George could also play the trumpet pretty darn well.

Richard Dorsey

December 11th, 2014
Baltimore, Maryland

Friday, December 26, 2014

Kansas City Lightning: The Rise And Times of Charlie Parker

Say what you want about Stanley Crouch's opinions on jazz; I've always been impressed with Crouch's writing. "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise And Times of Charlie Parker" is an enthralling read. It's history that reads like fiction. Crouch gives an intimate account of the humble beginnings of Parker, arguably one of the most if not THE most important early figure in jazz. Crouch is so descriptive, you feel like you are actually there in depression era Kansas City. Many books on jazz history can be dull, easily getting bogged down with names and dates. Crouch's presentation draws you in not only to the twists and turns of the life of a troubled genius, but he also helps us understand the foundation on which Parker's genius was built in terms of jazz before bebop: why Kansas City was important in the development of blues and swing in jazz, why musicians like Walter Page, Jay McShann, Count Basie, and Buster Smith were essential to the next step in the development of the music.

Reading about music and musicians can often make one want to put down the books and listen to the music instead. Crouch may assume that the reader is already aware of Parker's musical genius. Crouch's in depth descriptions of the drama of Parker's personal turmoil, whether with drugs or his first wife Rebecca or his yearning to be a great musician beyond Kansas City, will hopefully make the jazz novice seek out recordings and make jazz aficionados revisit Parker's music. I've definitely gained more detailed inspiration for my jazz history classes from this book. "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise And Times of Charlie Parker" will make you look at the transition of jazz from swing to Bebop in a whole new way.