Saturday, July 23, 2016

Jazztruth On Hiatus

Jazztruth On Vacation

Hey there, jazz fans! If you are reading this, you might be thinking, “Hey, why hasn’t George Colligan been posting on his jazztruth blog lately?” Well, I have many reasons ( excuses you may say…) for not posting in months. In fact, I’ve decided to take a little break from jazztruth. It might actually be a long break. I’m not sure at the moment, but I wanted to post at least once to let you know what I’m thinking. I’m not ending the blog, at least for the time being; I still have a lot of opinions and ideas and I’ve had a great time writing these posts and I’ve learned a lot. However, I believe that after 6 years, it’s time to think about where I want to go next and how to focus my energy in a direction that makes sense.

As I write this, in fact, I’m dealing with my 18 month old son, Jordan. He’s tearing up the house as we speak. When you have two rambunctious sons( my oldest is 6 and a half) , you know that this can take up a lot of your time and energy. I have to fight just to get a few minutes on a musical instrument, or to get some emails done. Blogging is kind of a luxury at this point.

Also, maintaining my teaching schedule at PSU this year, combined with some road gigs with Jack DeJohnette and Savion Glover( I’ve blogged about this project previously), was a lot to juggle. I'm trying to look at a bit of a less is more approach for the coming school year. I'm going to be more selective about projects and where I expend my energy.

I was very pleased and relieved to receive tenure at Portland State University. A tenured position at a University is essentially a lifetime position. This is a tremendous thing for somebody who came from decades of pure freelancing. One thing that drew me to academia was a more predictable financial situation; as many of you know, the life of “waiting for the phone to ring” can be stressful when you look at your calendar a few months ahead and see lots of empty spaces. My income from 1988 to 2009 was almost exclusively from gigs. At 46 years of age, it’s a true blessing to have this kind of stability in my life; it’s especially good for my family as well.

Although having tenure should be a reason to relax a bit, I still have many musical aspirations; I’m still writing music and practicing when I can; I’m still trying to book may own projects, although the possibilities in the Pacific Northwest are becoming slim. The Portland scene is a sliver of what it was 5 years ago, and I’m not sure how to improve the situation. I’m hoping to still do some touring in Europe and other places where there’s more interest in jazz. I have a tour planned for the U.K in the fall- it’s a collaboration with some great musicians, including a wonderful saxophonist named Jon Irabagon. I’m going to be looking for dates between summer 2017 and fall 2018( hopefully I will be on sabbatical, which is another perk of being a tenured professor).

I’ve been enjoying the summer; in addition to some fun gigs with the DeJohnette/Glover project, I spent about 10 days in New York City. I had some really uplifting musical experiences( Deerhead Inn and Mezzrow with Marianne Solivan, Rochester Jazz Festival with Lenny White, and my own gig at Smalls with Steve Wilson, Nicole Glover, Boris Kozlov and Donald Edwards. I even got to sit in with Buster Williams at Smoke on a set…..) that made me really miss the jazz life. I also got to hear some great music and see old friends. Although I’m planing a short trip to NYC in August for a recording project, I’m hoping to get back to NYC next summer and refill my tank of inspiration.

I’m excited about two upcoming events. First, I’ll be headed to Pt. Townsend next week for the Centrum Jazz Workshop. This is a long running jazz camp and the faculty is truly an all-star lineup. I’m quite honored to be invited to teach and perform at this week-long festival.
I’m hoping to learn as much as I can. Secondly, I have been commissioned to write a work for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, to be performed during the Montavilla Jazz Festival in August. I’m basically done with the work, which I call “ Fathers And Sons.” It’s kind of a musical portrait of past and future Colligan men. I’m really looking forward to hearing the ensemble read and interpret this piece. Additionally, I’ll be performing a trio set at the same festival with Boris Kozlov on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. I hope Portland jazz fans will come out to hear this trio because it’s going to be high level New York style jazz music.

As I said, I’ve been enjoying my summer. I feel grateful in a world where so many are not as blessed as I am. So many in this world are suffering and there is a lot of fear and hatred in this world. The recent news has been really difficult to read. Our presidential campaign is a nightmare, it seems like there is some kind of mass killing every day, and there is a lot of uncertainty. I have fears about what kind of future exists for my children. I try to keep a balanced perspective; oftentimes I feel numb to the horrible things happening in the country and elsewhere.

Anyway, I’m not ending the blog, I’m just on a break. Thanks for reading and maybe in a few months, or sooner, I’ll be back with some interesting content. Enjoy the summer!

Monday, March 7, 2016

An Evening with Jack DeJohnette and Savion Glover

Savion Glover
Although the bulk of my time these days is spent in Portland either teaching or spending time with my family, I'm getting a few chances to travel and perform this year. A nice handful of those chances is with a project called, "An Evening with Jack DeJohnette and Savion Glover." Jazz musicians are most likely familiar with drumming icon DeJohnette, and hopefully you have at the very least heard of tap dance wizard Savion Glover. Mr. Glover may be best known for his work in "Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk", but he has been working on Broadway since his debut at 12 years of age in "The Tap Dance Kid." Gregory Hines, no slouch of a dancer himself, described Glover as " possibly the greatest tap dancer who has ever lived." Glover style is quite revolutionary, but at the same time pays homage to the past, and incorporates many different styles of music into his dance. If you've never witness the genius of Savion Glover, check out some youtube videos and you'll see what I mean by "revolutionary."

Jack DeJohnette

The first time we did this presentation was actually a few years ago; we did a one-off concert in Albany, NY at The Egg, a well known concert hall. Apparently, Mr. Glover really liked the unique collaboration and asked Mr. DeJohnette if they could take it on the road. We've had spot dates in the U.S. and there are some more upcoming in May and June. The show is in roughly four parts; Glover (and sometimes dance collaborator Marshall Davis) do a free form set, then the Jack DeJohnette Trio(including your truly and bassist Jerome Harris) do a set( fresh off a solo piano tour, DeJohnette has been playing more piano, which gives me an opportunity to play drums and pocket trumpet). Glover and DeJohnette will then do another duo set, and finally, I and Harris join them for a final number.

It's interesting because much of the show is totally improvised. One would assume that this could potentially turn off today's typical audience; however, we've had nothing but great responses at every show. The shows have typically run between two and a half to three hours; it seems as though the crowds are hungry for this type of energy. I've personally never witnessed any dancer with the stamina of Savion Glover; it seems as though his endurance has no limit. Furthermore, improvising with him is like improvising with another musician; he reacts with the same type of intuition and rhythmic interplay as an extremely hip drummer. ( As we discovered in a recent soundcheck, Mr. Glover can actually play the drum set more than excellently; hearing the drums from backstage, I
assumed it was Mr. DeJohnette on the drums until I walked back out to see differently!)

It's inspiring for me to be around people who are the best in the world. DeJohnette and Glover are more than the best; they are completely unique. One of the things that makes them unique is that they both have unlimited passion for creativity. It's a true privilege to witness it and to try to take the inspiration home with me. It's too bad we won't play in Portland, so my students will just have to take my word for it. I'm looking forward to more chances to be a part of this historic one of a kind collaboration  later this year.

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!