Sunday, January 24, 2016


The Case For Original Jazz

Imagine a world without Thelonious Monk’s music. Imagine a world with none of Wayne Shorter’s music. Imagine a world where no one would say, “ Let’s play something by McCoy Tyner.” In this alternate world, Coltrane never wrote “ Moment’s Notice, “ never wrote “ Naima,” never wrote “Giant Steps.” In this same world, Joe Henderson never wrote “ Recorda-Me,” or “ Serenity,” or “Black Narcissus.” He also never had a career resurgence with “ Lush Life: The Music Of Billy Strayhorn,” because Billy Strayhorn, in this alternate world, never wrote “ Isfahan,” “ Upper Manhattan Medical Group,” or “ Blood Count.” I think most true jazz lovers would agree that this is a world we would rather not live in.

 I want to make the case for original music. What do I mean by “original?” In some ways, “ originalimplies a unique approach, something breaking new ground, or something that revolutionizes a
musical genre or a group of musicians, or even a generation. That’s certainly a wonderful thing. However, I’m really just talking about new content. We can’t expect that everyone who writes a new song to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, it’s oftentimes difficult to see the unique approach or new ground being broken upon the first hearing. Then, the word of this new approach has to permeate the musical society. Thelonious Monk was doing innovative things in the 1940’s, but the world did not really recognize this until 20 years after the fact.

But the desire for the new is a natural one. Those who never travel want to see “new places” and
have  “new experiences.” Many of us get excited about trying a “new restaurant” or going to a “new” bar, even if they get the same alcohol they drink at the “old” bar. We love babies because they are
“a new addition” to the family”, and some of us fall in love with a lover because it all feels “new.” Many game shows enthusiastically offer “ A BRAND NEW CAR!” as their prize; I think if the prize was “ A USED CAR WITH 70,000 MILES ON IT THAT NEEDS A NEW ENGINE BLOCK,” I have the inkling that the contestants would probably not jump up and down.

In order to have a stable life, when we “settle down” ( meaning marriage, family, house, job, community, etc…) we accept that many things in our lives, at least in an overall sense, will most likely not be new. For this reason, in our artistic life, or in our search for entertainment( music, visual art, food, travel, movies, TV, plays, books, shopping, etc…), we look for “ the new” because it is the safest way to experience newness. Movies and books and paintings and plays take us to new places, spend time with new people, allow us to “experience” new things, without all of the hassle of ACTUALLY going to new places and so forth.

This is why I love to compose new music, and why I am an advocate of new music. The idea of
creating something new from scratch is another natural need of man. Some people cook food, some people make beer, some people build model airplanes, some people write short stories or paint. I write music. I do it because I love the satisfaction of putting melody, rhythm, harmony, and structure together to make something that perhaps a few hours or even minutes before didn’t exist. Furthermore, musical composition is a world where no one can tell you you’re wrong (which is quite untrue of the real world). Even a composition teacher cannot tell you you are wrong. They can only give you advice. You are never wrong when you are composing music.

Also it is essential to note that, in jazz, a composition might seem like it’s not comparable to a Beethoven Sonata. However, the beauty of jazz is that our compositions are “ improvisational vehicles;” they are topics of conversation given to us by the composer where we can improvise our own take of the melody or harmony or rhythms. To be perfectly honest, I really see composing and improvising as interrelated; they are the same process at different rates. The fact that you can “improvise” within a “composition” but also develop a “ composition” while “improvising” is what makes it all come together. Furthermore, a new composition makes you improvise differently.

I can’t help but lament the fact that, while in some American genres like Country, Rock, Pop, and Hip-Hop, there is an assumption that 98 percent of the time, an artist in this genre will bring their original music to the show or recording session. If a band in this genre has a book of music with the majority being tunes that are already associated with artists, they are usually considered “cover bands.” A cover band, while often lucrative for musicians, is usually a band that will never rise beyond local success playing weddings, bars, and local outdoor festivals. You won’t see a Journey cover band performing on Saturday Night Live. It’s just not going to happen.

In Jazz today,  it seems as though there is this increasing trend of “tribute” concerts. A jazz artist today has arguably less opportunity if they insist on performing their own original music. Instead, the pressure is to present concerts called “ The Music Of [ Insert Famous Jazz Legend Here].” Perhaps this type of concert draws more crowds in a world where jazz is steadily losing what’s left of it’s popularity. Jazz listeners might not know Steve Wilson, but they would come to a concert called “Steve Wilson presents A Tribute to Cannonball Adderly,” simply because they have heard of Cannonball Adderly. Steve Wilson has some truly great compositions, however, the public will never get to know them if he is always doing tributes to ( meaning the music of) someone else.

What if Thelonious Monk only performed the music of Duke Ellington? What if McCoy Tyner only did tributes to Gershwin, or Cole Porter? What if John Coltrane couldn’t work unless he did “ A Tribute to Lester Young?” What if Wayne Shorter couldn’t work unless he did “ A tribute to Jerome Kern?” Back in our alternate world, an entire body of jazz composition has been wiped out. One of the hip things about the Hard Bop era is the efforts to return to the roots of the music ( blues, gospel, danceable rhythms) in order to have a wider appeal, and YET, the great Hard Bop composers like Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, and Benny Golson never stopped creating their own music. What if they had only played jazz standards? We would missing a HUGE body of work.

Jazz is a living music. Jazz musicians improvise, and we write our own music, and we have our own concepts. it doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel; it’s having the freedom to make our own musical decisions. If jazz musicians can’t do that, then jazz will become like classical music: music which reminds us of history, a musical museum, a look back in time. I’m not anti tradition; indeed, I teach Jazz History at Portland State University, for crying out loud!Plus, I insist my students know other people’s tunes as part of their repertoire studies. I think that jazz, differently from American genres like Country, Rock, Pop, and Hip-Hop, uses the lessons of history to move forward. The question is, do we want to move forward?
"I wish I could get The Rite Of Spring played, but I'm too busy with these Mendelssohn tributes....."

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions II: Electric Boogaloo

New Year’s Resolutions 2016:

1. Read and Memorize all the works of Shakespeare. Be able to quote key verses at will, especially during faculty meetings, awkward dinner parties, and while buying groceries at Whole Foods. ( So when the Portland native cashier says , “How’s YOUR day going?” I’ll reply “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” Hmm, maybe “ It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves” is more appropriate….)

2. Memorize every song, tune or piece of music written between 1600 and 2016. (Actually, I’m going to make it easier on myself and just start at composers of the Baroque Era. I mean, If I’m leaving out Josquin De Prez, then I might as well leave out Constantijn Huygens, I mean, let’s be real, people!)
What? You Don't know any Constantijn Huygens tunes? Ok Let's play a blues....

3. Teach my 6 year old son and 1 year old son Latin, Greek, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Urdu, Finnish, and Hungarian.
( Note to self: Teach myself Latin, Greek, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Urdu, Finnish, and Hungarian.)

4. Get back into stand up comedy; maybe warm up with a few Portland open mikes, then schedule a tour of stadiums in North America, and then record my own one hour HBO comedy special by the end of 2016. Should be able to check that one off pretty quick….

5. Develop a 12 octave vocal range. I just bought renowned vocal coach Ingmar Hugenot’s 14 DVD series entitled “ How to Develop a 12 Octave Vocal Range in 13 Weeks.” The vocal warm-ups are a little odd; one of them involved sticking my head in a preheated oven….

6. Exercise: this is important because I think I need to balance cardio with strength training as well as flexibility. I’m determined to stick religiously to 7 cardio sessions a week, 8 weight training sessions a week, as well as two 90 minute yoga sessions a day every day. Since I belong to 24 Fitness, they will probably let me sleep in the men’s locker room.

7. I need to purify my diet. I think a no sugar, no salt, no fat, no meat, no fish, no dairy, no carb, no protein, no fructose, no gluten, no wheat, no calorie, no cholesterol, no soy, no nuts, no poultry, no starch, no yin, no yang, no fiber, no kosher, no halal, no frozen, no imported, no cooked, no raw, no sliced, no diced, no refrigerated, no spicy, no non- organic, no genetically modified, no flavor, and no pleasure diet would probably work wonders.

8. Find time for a second viewing of the cinematic treasures of our time, such as Dirty Dancing, Top
This won some Oscars, right?
Gun, Jaws 3, Battlefield Earth, Showgirls, and of course Plan 9 from Outer Space.

9. Figure out a solution to homelessness in America. Also, figure out how to use that solution to make an enormous profit.

10. OK, I’ll admit that last year, one of my resolutions was to solve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict And I’ll admit that I fell short on that one. Hey, I’m only human! You can’t win them all! I mean, clearly, the middle east is moving in a positive direction, and things are getting better, of course. With a little patience, and the power of positive thinking, I think that by this time next year, everything in the Middle East is going to be A-OK!

Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Melodica: Yamaha P37D Pianica

My new Yamaha P37D Pianica
I just received a nice surprise in the mail; direct from Japan, a brand new melodica! The Yamaha P37D Pianica( it's a melodica, or whatever you like to call it) was highly recommended by a website I recently discovered called ( I actually ordered another recommended model, the Suzuki M-37C Melodion, but as it is also coming from Japan, I don't expect it for another few weeks.) I've been playing melodicas since 2010 when I discovered how much fun it was to play something that used piano keys and air like a wind instrument. Clearly, melodicas are not everyone's cup of tea, and in some ways, they are more of a novelty instrument. However, I enjoy the advantages of the melodica: it's more portable than a piano or a keyboard, it's actually an acoustic instrument, it can sustain notes with the air, and it's almost like the harmonica of Stevie Wonder! ( Well, maybe that last one was a stretch.) I played a Hammond 44 Melodion a lot until one of the reeds stop working and the intonation went really bad (which seems to happen on all of them, even expensive ones). I am too busy/ fearful/ lazy to try to fix it myself, and I can't seem to find anyone else who can repair them. I also frequently play a Suzuki Pro 37; in fact, I used it on my album entitled " The Endless Mysteries. 
The Suzuki Pro 37 which I still like alot

The Suzuki Pro 37 is a bit of a different sound than the Hammond 44( although they are made, or were made by the same company); it's rather bright, but it's still more interesting than most cheap toy melodicas, and it cuts through in a jam session.  Honestly, I hadn't really had the opportunity to play melodica in quite awhile, and after seeing the Yamaha and the other Suzuki model reviewed on, I decided that maybe a new instrument or two might inspire me. Since both of these were around 100 bucks or less, I thought that it was worth the risk.

The Hammond 44, which is amazing but 5 times the price of most other melodicas
My first impression of the Yamaha P37D is that it's a pro level sounding instrument; it's in tune, it's a warm, healthy sound which can bite if you push some air. It feels pretty sturdy and the keys, while maybe not as smooth as the Hammond 44, are still pretty good.

I'm looking forward to messing with it some more in the new year. In the meantime, I made a little youtube review. I think it gives a good example of the sound. I would be playing it some more, but my infant Jordan is asleep and Liam, Kerry, and I are spending our New Year's Eve watching a movie about a rat who gets flushed down the toilet and ends up in an underground rat civilization. Hopefully we'll be in bed by 10pm. Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Self Promotion?

When it comes to self-promotion, I'm probably the worst of all time. When I booked my Senior Recital at Peabody Conservatory, I didn't even put posters up in the halls; the only people who attended were my parents and some vagrants who wandered into the concert hall looking for free soup. ( I think the vagrants really liked the Hummel Trumpet Concerto, but they did not care for the heavy dissonance of the Hindemith Sonata.) I'm a pretty shy guy, although I've developed more confidence over the years; nevertheless, whenever I think about promoting myself as a musician, I always feel like I'm bragging. "Come down to the jazz club, see and hear how great I am and observe how others think I'm great, also..." Whereas some artists are natural born self promoters, and that gift has lead to their success, I've always put promotion low on my list of priorities. I'd rather practice than send out emails; I'd rather compose 10 new songs that no one will ever hear than book gigs and promote myself so that those 10 songs might actually be heard by an audience! (I hope they never ask me to teach a Business Of Music Class. " OK Class: Music Business. First lesson: FIND ANOTHER BUSINESS! See you next

I'm trying to come up with ways to promote my UPCOMING PERFORMANCE AT JIMMY MAK'S MONDAY DECEMBER 7th AT 8PM CD RELEASE. I've contacted local press, done some radio interviews, bought a Facebook ad (Lord knows who is seeing these ads) and put up posters( well, a grad student put up the posters.....) But I think maybe I need to do more. I'm sort of brainstorming on how to generate some last minute interest .  Some of my ideas include:

1. Buying a Megaphone and driving around Portland saying " HEY COME TO JIMMY MAK's ON MONDAY DECEMBER 7th AND SEE ME PLAY JAZZ MUSIC!" ( Hmm, maybe leave out the fact that it's jazz. Maybe if I say "COME SEE ME PLAY INDIE ROCK" and then maybe they just won't notice...)

2.  Coordinate my gig with Hanukkah celebrations( The 7th is the first day of this popular Jewish holiday. I could have a Menorah on the piano? Free dreidel when you buy a CD? Oy gevalt...)

3. Coordinate my gig with the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. ( I wish I was joking, but most of my students did not know what happened on December 7th, 1941. I think some said, " stock market crash?" Oregon, are you teaching these kids ANY history? I guess December 7th is not currently living in infamy.)

4.  Coordinate my gig with basketball Hall Of Famer Larry Bird's birthday. That might not be a slam dunk- pun intended.

5. Tell all of my students that in order to pass their juries, it is a REQUIREMENT that they have to attend my concert ON DECEMBER 7TH AT JIMMY MAKS 8PM. If they ask why they didn't know about this requirement earlier in the term, I'll just yell condescendingly,  " IT'S IN THE SYLLABUS!" And then hope that they don't read the syllabus.

6. Maybe I can become a famous Hollywood actor by next week, and then use my fame to promote my gig! I don't know, that's been done, I think.....

7. Promote the show by touting " special guests": jazz stars like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and McCoy Tyner. Then, when Chick , Herbie, Keith and McCoy aren't there and people complain, just say something like, "Oh, their flight was delayed," or " they locked themselves out of their car," or " their babysitter never showed up." This actually just might work.

8. Maybe tell people that we'll show clips from " Chappelle's Show" between songs. This also might actually work...

Spiro Agnew: One of the worst Vice Presidents, but very underrated as a composer
9. Bill the concert as " A Tribute To Spiro Agnew." Let me ponder that one...

10. Call Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and tell them to mention my gig on the next Epidsode of "Portlandia." Hopefully it airs before next Monday.....Does anyone have their phone number?(Armisen is a drummer, maybe he will come down and sit in...)

At the very least I can post the fact that I'M PLAYING AT JIMMY MAK'S ON DECEMBER 7th AT 8 FOR MY CD RELEASE FOR "WRITE THEM DOWN" as much as annoyingly possible on Facebook. But, as all good advertising people know,  I need a good SLOGAN for my gig. What should it be?

" No Taxation Without George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's"
"Proletariat Of The World, Go To Jimmy Mak's on December 7th and Unite!"
" Tippycanoe and George Colligan's CD Release, Too!"
"Ma? Ma? Where's My Pa? Gone To Hear George Colligan, Ha Ha Ha!"
" The Best Part Of Waking Up Is George Colligan's CD Release"
"54-40 or Go To George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's!"
"George Colligan: The Pause That Refreshes..."
"George Colligan: Good To The Last Sixteenth Note..."
"Ask not what George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's on December 7th can do for you.....Ask what YOU can do for George Colligan's CD Release at Jimmy Mak's on December 7th"
"Sic Semper Colligan...."
" Genius is 10% inspiration, and 90% GOING TO GEORGE COLLIGAN'S CD RELEASE AT JIMMY MAK's"
" We have nothing to fear but fear itself. ALSO, PLEASE GO TO GEORGE COLLIGAN'S CD RELEASE AT JIMMY MAK's ON DECEMBER 7th"

I think some of these are stronger than others. I'll tinker with these and let you know which one works the best. Maybe I should have been in advertising.......

Friday, October 23, 2015

New York Is Still Now

I'm currently away from Portland and on one of my Jazz Fantasy Camp trips. I performed twice in Canada: once at The Rex in Toronto and once at The Jazz Room in Waterloo-Kitchener, about 90 minutes away from Toronto. Joining me on bass was the great Neil Swainson, and on drums was the powerful Ted Warren. I had a great musical time with them, the audiences were very appreciative, and it was a good warm up for my trip to New York.

I had a trio night scheduled for the Jazz Standard. However, the night before, I went down to the Standard to hear the Mingus Big Band. I used to play with various configurations of the Mingus Band. It seems like another lifetime at this point. I really enjoyed the experience from the side of audience member; the Mingus Band always seemed more like a small group than a big band, in that the emphasis isn't on tight ensemble playing or fancy arrangements but more about the groove, spirit, and the strength of Mingus' compositions as melodies and improvisational vehicles. It's also great to hear Frank Lacy sing! Lacy is one of the more underrated musicians in jazz. In fact, any member of the Mingus Band could lead their own band; the bench is THAT deep.
Frank Lacy

Indeed, I am always ranting about how the level of jazz musicians is higher in New York than anywhere else. I believe this is not going to change anytime soon, even though many of the best musicians have moved out of New York for various reasons. As Benny Golson said, New York is still the Jazz Mecca and even in this period of doom and gloom for live music, there is still more jazz and there are more jazz musicians per capita in New York than anywhere else in the world. I think it's hard for folks who haven't spent much time on the New York scene to understand the depth of ability and understanding and expectation that is the norm in New York. I suppose if we want young musicians to feel good about themselves, we can ignore the New York standard and lower our expectations. I have the memories of 15 years in New York that in some ways drift away as I spend more time in Portland. However, even just a few nights of club hopping- from Small's to Mezzrow to the 55 Bar, even walking by The Garage, or even doing some informal jam sessions- has reminded me of the idea that to be a serious New York jazz musician is to have a DEPTH of ability and understanding of the music. Every town has it's local heroes, but some of those heroes would be just another one of the multitudes in New York.

At the Jazz Standard, I had the pleasure of working with bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer EJ Strickland. Although the turnout was not what I had hoped for, it was a very satisfying musical experience. Kozlov and Strickland are easy to play with because they have good time and a great feel but they also know how to take enough chances to keep the intensity and the interest level high. We had a guest on a few tunes- my former student and new resident of New York, saxophonist Nicole Glover. Although I usually try to persuade my students NOT to move to New York, Glover is one of the tiny minority of students I have had in Portland that I think has a chance on the New York scene. (I was pleased to find that many students from University of Manitoba are now in New York and doing well: Karl Kohut, Luke Sellick, Curtis Nowosad, Niall Bakkestad-Legare.....)

Damian Erksine
The next thing was a performance with electric bassist Damian Erskine's band, which consists of Reinhard Melz on drums and Tom Guarna on guitar. We did a performance and clinic for Aguilar amps. The audience was probably 98% bass players! Although we only played 4 tunes, it was fun to reunite this group, which has played merely twice in Portland at Jimmy Mak's.

My trip is not over; I have two gigs in Connecticut. Tonight, I'll be at Firehouse 12 in New Haven with Boris Kozlov on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Then I will be playing drums with the great pianist Noah Baerman in Middletown on Saturday.

It's hard to balance performing and teaching and family. There are few places to play nowadays in Portland. I'm determined to try to continue to work in a trip to New York a few times a year in order to keep my inspiration. Despite the outrageous cost of living and the fall of the music business, New York is still the place for jazz of many kinds.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Alphabet City:" Brian Charette's Triumphant New Album

Brian Charette
Hammond B-3 organ is kind of a thing unto itself. It's not just an instrument, it's a lifestyle. You could take that literally when you consider that, whether you play a "clonewheel" ( meaning a digital keyboard which is designed to emulate the B-3 sound) or an actual B-3, C-3, or what have you Hammond organ, you need at the very minimum a car, or maybe a van, a storage space, and perhaps 3 friends to help you carry the organ into the club
( hopefully not up the stairs!). Don't forget about the Leslie speaker! I have always considered myself a dabbler in the B-3 lifestyle( I've recorded and toured as an "organist" but I'm not anyone's first call...also didn't have three friends to help with the lifting....ha ha). It seems as though older generations delineate clearly who is a pianist and who is an organist( meaning you won't see McCoy Tyner playing organ, or Jimmy Smith playing piano....not that I'm aware least not frequently.....). Among the younger generation, you have the dyed in the wool organists like Joey DeFrancesco, Cory Henry, Pat Bianchi, Jared Gold, and then you have the guys who went from piano to organ, like Larry Goldings, Gary Versace, Mike LeDonne (and I guess yours truly.....come on Downbeat give me a chance......).

Then you have Brian Charette. After reading Charette's bio, I see that he has a classical piano background. I am familiar with some of his writing in Keyboard magazine on the harmonic techniques of Olivier Messian.  Charette could be put in the latter category of pianists turned organists; however, after listening to his latest release on Positone, " Alphabet City," he has convinced me that organ is his true calling. He's so convincing on the instrument; the bass lines, the groove/hookup with drumming wiz Rudy Royston, the fluidity of his right hand, the cool drawbar settings he uses for "comping" for guitarist Will Bernard's solos- all of these things for me put him in the solid " organist's organist" category.

"Alphabet City" has something for every jazz fan: clever, brainy up tempo burners( "East Village"), funky jams( "They Left Fred Out"), medium tempo groovers( "West Village"), psychedelic fusion experiences( "Not A Purist"), soulful second line sermons( "Sharpie Moustache"), music for driving on the highway( "Disco Nap"), music for haunted houses("Hungarian Minor"), music for 70's TV shows("Avenue A"), and so much more. This is not " Back At The Chicken Shack" by any means, and yet Charette, even with the weird sounding smattering of synths and variety of moods, convinces me that the Hammond B-3 is his voice, and he's taking it out of the box and bringing it into the 21st century. Essentially, Brian Charette's "Alphabet City" is the type of  record I wish I could make!

Catch Brian Charette at the Jazz Standard on October 13.