The McBride Diaries (Vol.23)
Posted on 8/21/2007at 4:11 AM
Frankly, folks….I’m so very happy to be alive and healthy! This summer has been, by far, the most grueling, pressure-filled summer I’ve ever endured – and it’s not over yet!! Almost every gig I’ve had this summer has been “high stakes”. From Mingus “Epitaph”, to Queen Latifah, to Edgar Meyer, to the Jazz Museum’s fundraiser, to Jazz House Kids’ fundraiser, to Carnegie Hall’s salute to Oscar Peterson, to my “comeback gig” at the Village Vanguard, to “Jazz at the Movies” at the Hollywood Bowl, to Bruce Hornsby, you can rightfully guess that I’m writing this from an undisclosed, remote location somewhere far, far away! Man, when I hit that last note with Bruce Hornsby and Jack DeJohnette at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 11, I realized that my breathing had suddenly gotten better. I had figuratively been holding my breath for about two months!
Actually, I need to take you all way back to March….
One big gaping hole for me in 2006 was my lack of gigs as a sideman OR as a leader in New York City. I only played one gig in the city all year, and that was at B.B. King’s club, just before “Live at Tonic” was released. I have more than made up for that in 2007. Just off the top of my head, I can count up to 9 different gigs with 9 different bands I’ve already played with in the city this year. Management 101 would call that extreme overexposure, but I call it a necessity. You see, New York City is the central nervous system of the jazz world, so to play a lot in NYC is good for you. All the cats come out to hear you and keep you honest, dig? People are not afraid to tell you how you really sound. And they’re not ego-flexing (like, say, a critic), but because they see/hear/feel good jazz every week in all kinds of nondescript dives that don’t even make the back ads of the Village Voice, they just know. And not many gigs had me passionately sweating more than Charles Tolliver’s Quintet at Birdland at the end of March. What a band – Charles, George Cables, Victor Lewis, and the explosive and one of the criminally unsung heroes of modern tenor saxophone, Billy Harper. Man, so much music was played during that engagement, it was staggering. Each man played like they may never pick up their instrument again. That’s something that each of those men learned from their teachers – Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Dexter Gordon, and our recently departed great black father, Max Roach. That was my first time getting to play with Billy Harper. It’s amazing how such fire can come out of the horn of such a gentle, quiet man.
After Mr. Tolliver’s gig at Birdland, I played with my man Carl Allen at Sweet Rhythm. It always feels good playing with Carl. It’s like putting on some old slippers. Vincent Herring and Aaron Goldberg were also in the band. It was an on the money, in-the-pocket, swingin’ and bluesin’ weekend.
Off I went to San Diego to play a gig with one of my favorite musicians and composers, the CMB’s “X-Man”, Geoffrey Keezer. Among other things, Keez wrote a brand new piece entitled “The Longest Minute”. It’s one of the most melodic, exciting, sophisticated, and fun pieces of music I’ve played. The instrumentation for the piece was Flute, French Horn, Double Bass (played by “Mrs. Keezer”, Susan Wulff), Keez, Me, and T-Money (that’s Terreon). Unusual instrumentation for a talented musician of unusual skill.
After the gig with Keez, I stayed in the SD and hooked up with my friend, the great drummer, Greg Hutchinson, and we played on the upcoming recording of our friend, vocalist Karin Carson. It was a very good session.
I then flew back home and did a very nice gig with Melissa at the World Financial Center which is adjacent to where the Twin Towers once stood. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t spent too much time in that area since 9/11. There’s a feeling of sadness that still looms in the air in that part of town. But as artists, we did our duty and brought some happiness to the people who came. Aaron Goldberg, Clarence Penn, and Paul Bollenback were also in the band. Melissa put on a great evening of music. One of the best gigs I’ve ever played with her.
After that, I had a big throw-down with the one and only Jeff “Tain” Watts at the Cutting Room. Tain celebrated the release of his new CD, “Folk’s Songs” – one of the most exciting CD’s I’ve ever been a part of. What can I say about Tain that I haven’t said already? Probably not much. As one fan said to me after the show, “You and Tain bring out the animal in each other!” I don’t know if I do that to him, but he certainly pulls the animal out of me. Marcus Strickland and David Kikoski were also in the band. That gig was a 15-round heavyweight title bout. Tain beat us all up! A great night. Tain and I also met 'Janet' from "Three's Company" - Joyce De Witt! That was a gas!
The morning after that gig, I flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to play a gig at Kirkwood Community College. I played with both the school’s big band, as well as a big band featuring some of the area’s finest local musicians. Tim Feldkamp, the school’s music director, takes great care of his students. They were very talented, and it was amazing to see how much his students loved him. He’s a great teacher and mentor. I look forward to working with those guys again one day.
I got back to New York and started to anticipate the resurrection of Charles Mingus’ epic work, “Epitaph”. Thanks to my job with the LA Philharmonic, I was able to secure a performance of “Epitaph” at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Sue Mingus was able to hinge a number of “Epitaph” dates around that one, starting with the one in New York at Rose Hall/Jazz at Lincoln Center. As much of a success it was musically, sadly, it was a poorly attended performance. Refusing to be stupefied by the light crowd, we instead reveled in the die-hards who were there to celebrate our reading of this immortal piece, including our emcee for the evening, Bill Cosby.
The week after the Mingus concert, I was quite happy to be reunited with my old boss, the one and only Freddie Hubbard. As many of you know, trumpeter David Weiss has acted somewhat as an angel of mercy for Freddie - putting together a large ensemble of players playing Freddie’s music, with Freddie acting as the host / conductor / soloist / uber-personality. Although Freddie can no longer play with the brashness and fire and brimstone he once thrilled audiences with, thanks to this group that David has put together, there’s not much pressure put on Freddie to recreate his zenith. I joined the ensemble for two nights at the Iridium. Check this band out - Night one: Freddie, David Weiss, James Spaulding, Javon Jackson, Slide Hampton, Ronnie Mathews, and my Gemini twin brother, Louis Hayes. (we share the same birthday) Night two: Freddie, David, James Spaulding, Craig Handy, Steve Davis, George Cables, and Joe Chambers. So many great memories came swarming back. Just standing behind Freddie again watching him with that classic “bad-ass” stance just made me so happy. The attitude is still unmistakably there. Chops or no, Freddie Hubbard is without question, still the man. It cracks me up how almost every young trumpeter on the scene today tries to play and act like him. I think as far as trumpet playing is concerned, Freddie, dare I say, maybe, just maybe, has surpassed Miles Davis as the most imitated trumpeter of our time. I’m honored that I got to play with him when I did.
I’ve heard many younger musicians and even a small number of critics say that they’ve considered the quartet Joshua Redman used on his CD “Moodswing” as one of the great groups of that era. That quartet featured Joshua, myself, Brad Mehldau, and Brian Blade. After 13 years, that group got back together again. (It’s funny, people still don’t think we’re old enough to say “after 13 years” or anything to that effect. Funny.) However, we did not play any of the music from “Moodswing”; we played what I thought was an absolutely smoking concert at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco recreating (sort of) the Thelonious Monk / John Coltrane 1957 Carnegie Hall concert. This year’s SF Jazz festival was dedicated to Monk, so all, or at least most, of the groups that performed on the festival this year played programs dedicated to Monk. For my money, it was one of the biggest musical highlights of the year. I feel that stylistically, all of us have grown quite a bit. It definitely did not feel like 1994 anymore.
After that show, I did a couple of “hit and run” gigs; Joshua and Brian (no Brad) in Boston, Melissa’s group in Boston and Philly, a “Situation” with Keezer and a very, very bad young drummer, Justin Brown at the Antioch Jazz Festival in Northern California.
I then headed to LA for the “Epitaph” performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was everything that the New York performance should have been. Since we’d already played it once (they played it twice, actually. I couldn’t do the Cleveland gig.), the musical jitters were gone, so we played with more authority and confidence, and the audience was GREAT! The votes were unanimous all around – it was a magical evening.
We then took our show on the road to Symphony Center in Chicago. Like LA, it was a great evening of music. It was also a bittersweet end to this chapter of Mingus performances. Now that we finally had the groove of this difficult music, the shows were over. We were sad to say goodbye. However, one day, that piece WILL be played again. Hail, Mingus!
The following week took me to B.B.King’s club in Times Square to play a benefit concert for the Jazzreach organization. Thus beginning a new chapter in the career of one Mr. Bruce Hornsby. Bruce, Jack DeJohnette, and I played our first official gig since the recording of our new CD, “Camp Meeting”. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at Bruce’s go-for-broke-and-let’s-just-play attitude. That’s an attitude usually reserved for the most self-assured and seasoned jazz musicians. Bruce has often mentioned his own self-perceived limitations as an authentic jazz improviser, but his attitude for this performance covered those perceived limitations. He did one hell of a job. Jack and I have half-jokingly told Bruce again and again, “Be careful, Bruce. You start getting too good at this jazz stuff, your guarantees will go down, the venues will get smaller, you’ll lose your fans, you’ll sell less records, the critics won’t like you……but you’ll be swingin’!”
I then flew back to LA for a series of production meetings with the LA Phil staff about the July “Jazz at the Movies” concert. One evening, I looked in the paper to see who was playing around town, and much to my surprise, Roy Haynes was performing at Catalina’s Bar and Grill in Hollywood. I had to go and see my man. I caught up with Roy on the break, and the party got started! I went to take a seat, and there was Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the next table! A party, indeed. Roy asked me to sit in, and we played Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys.” After the show, Roy, myself, Kareem, Jaleel Shaw, David Wong, Martin Bejerano, and a few very hip people stayed late and shot the breeze. It was during this “breeze shooting” that Roy says to me, “Hey, man, did Sonny Rollins call you?” I said, “uuhhh…..NO!” “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s going to call you. We were talking about you the other night. I think he’s got something he wants to run by you.” Sounding way too good to be true, I gave Roy a quick, harmless “Yeah, ok.” And purposely put it out of my brain. More on this later…..
MAY 31/JUNE 1:
I spent my 35th birthday on a plane to Seoul, Korea to play three concerts with Pat and Antonio. Unfortunately, I did not have a good trip. The second we touched down, I felt myself getting sick. It felt like a common cold. “No problem”, I thought. Knowing that I had a firestorm of high-pressure gigs coming up, I think my body was just anticipating the oncoming stress. 24 hours later, however, my “common cold” had turned into awful stomach pains, migraines, and a 100-degree temperature. During the first of the three concerts, I couldn’t stop sneezing and I had an awful headache. Once again, I thought, “No problem” - a good night’s sleep should take care of all of that, right? Well, the following morning, I could not get out of bed no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t feel that sick, per se’, but I felt terribly, terribly weak and flaccid. During the gig that night, it got worse. I started feeling light-headed, and at one point, I thought my bass was going to slip right out of my hands. I was so scared. I somehow pulled it together mentally, and I got back to my hotel as fast as I could. The next day, our final concert was an afternoon gig. I felt the same way, only worse. It took all of my strength to get out of bed. When I got to the venue, the promoter looked at me and said, “You don’t look good. Do you want to go the hospital?” I must have really looked bad if he offered the hospital as an option. Carolyn Chrzan, Pat’s guitar tech, then said the same thing. “You should go to the hospital”, she said. I found myself being rushed into a town car with the promoter’s assistant and two Korean drivers with black suits frantically talking on their cell phones. I felt like an important diplomat or something. It was very cool. When we got to the hospital, Hana, the promoter’s assistant, translated to the doctors what was wrong. The doctor then gave me a booster shot. I’d never had one of those before. It was the first time I’d ever gotten a needle somewhere other than my arm. I’m glad I didn’t have to sit down on the gig! The booster shot helped me immensely. I was able to garner the strength to play the concert and go to dinner afterwards. The only problem is, booster shots wear off. And unfortunately, I started to feel sick again right as the plane was boarding to go home. The last thing I wanted was to be sick on the airplane. But, alas, that was the case. For 15 straight hours, I never stopped sweating, I had the most painful headache I’ve ever had in my life, and spent a lot of time in the john. Sadly, I don’t remember much about the actual gigs. I’m sorry, Pat. I’ll be good and healthy for the fall tour!
Now we get started on the post-booster shot gigs….
I had all of two days to recover before the Jazz Museum in Harlem had a fundraiser at the Cue Art Gallery in Chelsea. I love working with the Jazz Museum so much because I don’t just have to play the bass, I really get to talk to people one on one in the community. Schmoozing, as some might say. But, hey, it’s all about getting to the people, and some of us don’t do it like we should. It was a great night of music and fun. Lonnie Youngblood came up and turned the joint out! He sang, “Let The Good Times Roll.”
The following night, I had another fundraising event. This one for Melissa’s Jazz House Kids organization. This night was equally as wonderful. The Ridge Street Kids Choir from Newark, which is mentored by Melissa’s organization, performed. JHK also gave lifetime achievement awards to Peter Jennings and Jackie McLean (each award accepted by their loving spouses), and an all-star band with David Sanborn, Mulgrew Miller, Lewis Nash, and myself topped off a great evening.
The following night, I participated in one of the most star-studded events of the year. Ettore/Stratta productions and Carnegie Hall gave a tremendous salute to the great Oscar Peterson. Originally, Oscar was scheduled to be there, but due to his health, he could not attend. I was very sad as I still have never met him. The performers read like a who’s who of jazz legends – Clark Terry, Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor, Jimmy Heath, Marian McPartland, Freddy Cole, Mulgrew Miller, Russell Malone, Lewis Nash, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wynton Marsalis, Renee Rosnes, and many, many others. Oscar’s wife and daughter were in attendance to partake of the evening’s festivities. A memorable night, indeed.
After three nights in a row of bow ties, martinis, and standards, I chilled for the weekend. The following Monday afternoon, as I was sitting in my office with my assistant, Ryan, the phone rang. I casually picked up the phone, looked at the Caller ID, and it said, “THEODORE ROLLINS”. I don’t know what my face must have looked like because Ryan very worriedly asked, “Who is it? Are you alright?” I said, “It’s friggin’ Sonny Rollins on the phone!!” He says, “Well, answer it!! What’s wrong with you??” I replied, “I CAN’T answer it!” My mother-in-law’s best friend picked up. She comes down the stairs and says, “Hey, Christian….Sonny Rollins is on the phone!” I was about to get on the phone with the king himself. I quickly flashed back to the hang with Roy Haynes in LA…..”Sonny’s got something he wants to run by you….” I picked up the phone, and there was the voice, “Uh, hello, Christian. Sonny Rollins here.” Man, I just about died. You see, not only have I never met Sonny Rollins, but he’s also someone I never expected to work with. Bob Cranshaw’s had that gig on lockdown for over 30 years, so I always knew that the bass seat wasn’t open, but alas…..
“Christian, I’d like to talk to you about a project I want to do at Carnegie Hall….”
As they say, the rest is history.
On September 18, 2007, I will have the great honor and fortune to participate in what has already been called “The most anticipated jazz event in decades.” Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes, and yours truly will perform the music from Sonny’s 1957 Carnegie Hall debut. There’s really not a whole lot to say, for I am humbled to be a part of this event.
That following weekend, I did two quick gigs with Pat in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and at the “Rhythm & Ribs” Jazz Festival in Pat’s adopted hometown of Kansas City, Mo. We had two very nice gigs, although a very funny thing happened in Kansas City - the button hook on my jeans broke right before the gig, so all night long, I had the WORST time trying to keep my pants from falling down! I had to press my pelvis very strongly against the side of my bass to keep 'em up. Every time I took a solo, I looked up at Antonio, and he was biting his lip trying not to laugh. My pants started to fall down laughing at him! One of the stagehands saved the day by bringing me some gaffer tape. I didn’t have very good luck on the road with Pat this month. First, the flu, and now, my pants!
Then, it was off to Manchester, Tennessee for the country’s biggest and most popular “hippie” musicfest, BONNAROO. The Bonnaroo festival is considerably less hippie-like than it was, say, 5 years ago, but there are still plenty of tents, RV’s, and still reeks of plenty weed, incense, and patchouli oil. One of the big highlights for me, other than just being there, was seeing The Police back together again. Personally, I loved it. I very much dug the new vamps and the way that Andy Summers did NOT play the same solos he played on the original recordings, to the dismay of some fly-by-night fans who always view live bands (no matter how classic they are) as virtual jukeboxes. I was amazed how some fans could actually complain in the manner of “Duuuuuuddde….What’s up with that? That’s not the way they played it on the record!” DUH! Exactly! They’re real musicians, dummy! Whether you agree with the “jukebox theory” or not, I enjoyed the energy and excitement of seeing and hearing Sting, Andy, and Stu back together again.
But, The Police were not the reason I was at Bonnaroo. There was another Superband reunion that not a whole lot of people realized…
After six years, The Philadelphia Experiment was back together. Uri Caine, ?uestlove, and I took the stage at 2AM in the “Somethin’ Else” tent, which was sponsored by Blue Note Records. I commend Blue Note greatly for not only sponsoring their artists at the festival (Robert Glasper, Stefon Harris, Don Byron), but sponsoring jazz on a much broader scale at the festival more than anyone ever has. The Philadelphia Experiment CD was not on Blue Note, neither of the three of us ever had solo deals on Blue Note at any point, but because of them, we were back together again. Right on to Blue Note.
Starting at 2AM on one of the smaller stages we thought maybe wasn’t the best situation for us - especially since The Flaming Lips went on at 1:30AM on the main stage. We thought nobody would show up at our gig. Not to mention, Ahmir and I were a bit worn out from listening to The Police earlier that evening. But this is why we love the die-hards. Plenty of people showed up. But, of course they did - ?uestlove is like the pied piper! We had Lamont Caldwell on tenor sax on the gig with us, and as some of you may have heard, Gina Gershon sat in with us. Gina, who was in Nashville mixing her new CD, drove down to Manchester with her sister and some friends to catch the festival. Knowing that Gina rarely goes anywhere these days without her case of Jew’s Harps, I figured we could play something in D and let her blow a little taste. We had fun. Check your local bootlegger, and I KNOW you can find a copy of the gig! It was great. I think you’ll dig it.
A few days after Bonnaroo, I flew out to Denver to play a club date at Dazzle with Pat Bianchi. Pat is primarily known as an organist, but his piano playing is incredible. We played a very simple and sweet duo gig. Dianne Reeves also came and sat in with us. What an amazing night that was.
The following night, I played a gig with The Motet. They asked me to come and be a special guest. For those of you not in the know, The Motet is one of the most musical and funkiest bands in the country. Drummer Dave Watts leads this funky group of rocky mountain troops. Their bass player, Garrett Sayers is downright scary. He’s all over that electric bass! He also happens to be one of the nicest cats in the whole world, too.
I then started what was, I think, one of the most important gigs of my career. After ten long years, I took a band into the Village Vanguard – the most hallowed ground in jazz history. Knowing that the particular types of experiments that I’ve been doing for the last number of years with the CMB and others would certainly keep me out of the Vanguard, and places like the Vanguard, I decided that it was time to go “home”. This was what I called a “just in case you forgot” gig! After all of the pop, rock, hip-hop, and soul projects I’ve done over the last few years, I wanted to make sure that the jazz world didn’t think I forgot where “home” is! The guys in the band were Vanguard favorites (and personal favorites of mine) such as Steve Wilson, Eric Reed, and Carl Allen. That type of band left no doubt as to what was going to happen on that bandstand – some hard drivin’ swingin’! I did, however, add one special touch. A tremendously special young vibraphonist named Warren Wolf joined me for the week. He had jaws dropping all around. And all I could do was stand behind my bass and go, “Heh! Heh! I knew you’d like him…and he’s all mine! HAHAHAHAHA!” I was very proud that I could introduce someone who I believe will make a huge contribution to the world of jazz to the Village Vanguard audience. If by, say, 2015, Warren Wolf is not a household name in jazz circles, I’ll be very surprised.
We played some material from my first two CD’s as well as some new material that I somehow found time to write during the previous weeks. Also, when it came time for the stage banter, if I must say so myself, it was pretty good. But there’s a reason for that. You see, one of my favorite comedians of all-time is the late Robin Harris. Both Eric Reed and Carl Allen, like me, are Robin Harris experts. Eric and I know almost every line Robin Harris ever had in ANY movie he appeared in, and we without question, know the “Bebe’s Kids” album from beginning to end. So, when it came time to talk to the audience, I was always making some kind of subtle reference to a Robin Harris routine, and whether the audience knew it or not, the egging on I got from Eric and Carl just made it funnier. Without question, it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever done. The music was great, the good times were abundant.
After the Vanguard came THE QUEEN. Ms. Dana Owens. AKA: QUEEN LATIFAH.
I flew to LA to start rehearsals for her Hollywood Bowl debut. The material was a combination of music from “The Dana Owens Album”, her 2004 release, and her upcoming recording, “Trav’lin’ Light”, due out in September. It was my job to put the band, the arrangements, and the rehearsals together. Not an easy task having the Vanguard, Bonnaroo, Denver, Metheny, and the fundraisers going on in the previous weeks. But I pulled it together as best as I could, and let me tell you, Jack, the shows were GREAT! First of all, Queen Latifah is the greatest person in the world to work with. No ego whatsoever, no quirks, she’s just straight ahead and highly professional with an attitude of “Let’s do it, and let’s do it right.” When Dana and I were having discussions before rehearsals started, she said something like, “Now, be cool with me, Christian. You know I’m still a baby at this whole jazz thing…” My response was, “No, I hope you’ll be cool with me! I’m not exactly Quincy Jones, either, you know?”
After rehearsal one day, Dana says, “Christian, I need the ten essential jazz CD’s of all time. Can you hook me up?” I said, “I think so.” So there we were, Dana and I, walking down Sunset Boulevard on our way to Amoeba Music. I asked her, “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to get mobbed?” She sort of laughed and said no. The people who were stopped at red lights all along Sunset Blvd. proceeded to stick their cameras out of their car windows, little girls were screaming “QUEEN LATIFAH, WE LOVE YOU!!!“ It was trippy, man! I’d only witnessed something like that once before with Sting, but that was in New York where people are considerably way less star-struck. In New York, it was like, “Yo, what’s up Sting?” But folks were losing their minds on Sunset Blvd! As for Dana? She just so calmly and sweetly waved in the direction of the screams from wherever they came, and was just so, well….cool! I can imagine that Princess Diana was probably the same way. When we got to the record store, I just knew she wasn’t going to have a moment’s rest, but everyone was pretty well behaved. One kid came up to her and said, “Hey, uh…..you’re Queen Latifah, right?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “....cool, man!” and walked away! That was so cute.
Instead of 10 CD’s, I wound up picking her up 22!! It was 10 instrumentals, 10 vocals, and 2 extras. I was heavy on the Sarah Vaughan and the Wayne Shorter since they’re both from her hometown of Newark. When we stood in the check out line, that’s when people started to get a bit unraveled. “Oh, my God! May I please have a photo with you?”....“May I have an autograph for my cousin’?”....“Yeah, Queen Latifah, remember Bruh’ Slim from Newark? Yeah, I knew him and your father back in the late 60’s. Let me get an autograph.”....“Oh, Miss Latifah, may I have a photo for my reverend?” It was harmless, but I was so worried, because I could only imagine that some celebrities aren’t so cool. Where was Dana’s cutoff point? Would she snap? Would she throw down her CD’s and say ‘Let’s get the hell outta here’? Nope. She was great. She gave everyone what they asked for. A true celebrity.
As I said, the gigs themselves were fantastic. The show at the Bowl went off without a hitch. She had all 18,000 people in the palm of her hand. The following night, we played the Napa Opera House. That show was even better now that we’d gotten over the Hollywood Bowl jitters. Sadly, a small cloud was cast over the Hollywood Bowl show as the LA Times gave a very unfortunate review of an otherwise triumphant show. As I’ve said many times, I really could give a rat’s ass about these over-thinking, no soul having, so-called intellectuals, but they used Dana’s show as a platform to question the authenticity of the LA Phil’s jazz series. Basically, it was a potshot at me since I’m the Creative Chair. Two things bothered me about that review - for starters, last season, we had James Brown, Al Green, Sting (doing his classical program – on the JAZZ series!), and The Neville Brothers. The LA Times didn’t seem to have a problem with those “jazz” shows. Secondly, out of the 10 songs we played with Dana, at least SIX of them were straight up jazz songs like “I Put a Spell On You”, “Georgia Rose”, “I’m Gonna Live Until I Die”, “Travlin’ Light”, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (although that song didn’t seem to work for Cannonball with the critics in the 60’s, either), and not to EVEN mention her encore, “Lush Life”! Did I miss something, or were the other four songs so funky that they undermined the jazz tunes? I didn’t think so, but what do I know? I’m not a critic, I’m just a musician. That review bothered me so deeply because I know how hard Dana and I both worked to get that show together. I hope that critic breaks his ankle trying to dance to some funk one day. (Actually, he probably already has!)
ALL HAIL THE QUEEN! WE LOVE YOU!
No rest for the weary, however, as it was time to head to Aspen for my annual duties as Artistic Director of the Jazz Academy. As wonderful as the bands were this year, as they always are, my focus was now on yet another do-or-die-as-your-rep-is-on-the-line gig. This time, the great (and I don’t say that loosely) Edgar Meyer and I played a duo concert in conjunction with both Jazz Aspen and the Aspen Music Festival. How can one possibly prepare to play with perhaps the greatest living virtuoso of the instrument? Well, for starters you don’t go on that person’s turf - find common ground! Edgar and I came up with a varied list of music - some standards, some bluegrass, some blues, some originals, a little bit of everything. As I said about the Village Vanguard gig, this was one of the most important gigs I’ve ever played in my career. Edgar and I had so much fun, and the audience absolutely loved it as well. Edgar and I have been talking about maybe doing a recording and maybe some more dates in the future. Stay tuned.
After Aspen and the concert with Edgar, I went back to LA to play a concert with Vince Mendoza and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for our "Jazz at the Movies" program. It was a very interesting show as we played along with movie clips that featured music written specifically by jazz musicians. With some of the movies, we played along with the actual scene, or a 4 to 5 minute montage of a particular film. We played music from movies such as "Death Wish" (Herbie Hancock), "The Pawnbroker" (Quincy Jones), "Paris Blues" and "Anatomy of a Murder" (Duke Ellington), "Bird" (Lennie Niehaus), "Trouble Man" (Marvin Gaye/J.J.Johnson) (betcha' didn't know J.J. was a co-writer with Marvin, did ya'? Heh! Heh!), "Elevator to the Gallows - AKA 'Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud'" (Miles Davis), "Bullitt" and of course, "Mission: Impossible" (Lalo Schifrin), among many others. One of my favorite clips was from a Jerry Lewis movie called "The Errand Boy." In that movie, Jerry Lewis does a mime to "Blues In Hoss's Flat" by the Count Basie Orchestra. If you haven't seen it, it's pure genius! I invited my man Wallace Roney to come and be a soloist with the Orchestra. He sounded great. Also, Jamie Cullum came and added some flavor to the evening's festivities. It was a great night.
After that, I thought I was going to be able to breathe a little easier heading up to Yoshi’s with a “Situation” consisting of my girl Patrice Rushen, Dave Ellis, and DJ Jahi Sundance, but you know, playing two sets of completely improvised music is hard, man! It takes a whole lot of listening, paying attention, sensitivity, and musicianship. Basically, it takes a whole lot of energy. There are times when there are going to be some dead spots making music in that fashion, and I just pray that the audience hangs in there in those dead spots, so I was just killing myself mentally every set at Yoshi’s thinking, “Man, I sure hope they dig this.” They seemed to do so. I was very happy. I was especially happy to discover, I mean really discover the genius of Jahi. I’d seen and heard him many times with Me’Shell N’Degeocello, so I knew he was bad, but I didn’t know he was that bad. We had a smokin’ four nights at Yoshi’s and one night at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz.
During a quick pit stop back at home, Melissa and I went to see The Police at Madison Square Garden. The second go ‘round was even better. They now had a nice flow happening. The song order was almost the same as Bonnaroo, but this show was much better. After the show, we were invited to an afterparty where I finally got to see my old boss again. It was great to see and talk to Sting & Trudie again. Since the party was so crowded, I knew I wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to catch up with him before he got whisked away by someone, but we did get to hang for about a good 15-20 minutes. We took pictures and reminisced about the “All This Time” tour and the “Sacred Love” session. Both Sting and Trudie got a big kick out of meeting Melissa, too. Sting said to me, “I thought you’d never do it!”
I then got together with the “Superfriends” - Blake, Keezer, and Gully - and did the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival in Oregon and the Bach Dynamite & Dancing Society in Half Moon Bay. As usual, it was great. The Half Moon Bay gig was videotaped. There will be some new video footage of the CMB. HALLELUJAH! My old college pal, the world renown flautist, Viviana Guzman, came and sat in with us, too. A fun gig, indeed.
(Coming into the home stretch…..)
I flew down to LA to do a recording with John Beasley. "Beas" and I have worked together many times through the years, and I was honored to be a part of his recording with Roy Hargrove and Jeff “Tain” Watts. "Beas" put together a Herbie Hancock tribute recording. It's hot.
Then, it was Bruce Hornsby time again as he, Jack DeJohnette and myself played at the Calvin Theater in Northampton celebrating the release of our new CD, “Camp Meeting”. We had a great time playing the music from the CD as well as celebrating Jack’s 65th birthday.
The next day, I did double duty at the Newport Jazz Festival with both Bruce and Joshua Redman. Josh’s set was on fire. Joshua, Eric Harland, and myself got the day started right. Since I had no rehearsal with Joshua, it was a little difficult to get into the groove as I was reading music the whole time, but trust me, the fire was burning hard and bright. Then, I basically stayed on stage during the set change and waited for Bruce and Jack. We kept the fire burning as best we could. I then took a deep breath and sat back and enjoyed the other performers that day – Dave Brubeck, Marcus Miller, Zap Mama, and Branford Marsalis.
Now, I’m sadly waiting for my wonderfully long overdue vacation to be over. So, I will sign off so I can get some more sleep after this mind-pounding, back-breaking summer!!