Review – Twio – Walter Smith III  

  

  

The tenor tradition in jazz is, much like the music as a whole, in a constant state of flux. As the second generation of tenorists came to prominence young saxophonists fell under the sway of folks like Michael Brecker and Branford Marsalis. Bob Berg, Bill Evans, Dave Liebman, Billy Pierce, and the like all represented a tenor sound that cut like a laser. Power, it seemed, was the currency of the realm. 

Then a curious thing happened in the early 1990’s. John Coltrane receded as the dominant spice in the tenor stew and what bubbled up in its place was an amalgam. The brawny, muscular sound of Dexter Gordon became popular again (not that it ever went out of style; these things ebb and flow to varying degrees). Players like Joshua Redman and Eric Alexander drew a straight line back to Dexter. And as we see in so many periods of jazz history the curve of the universe trends toward justice and dichotomy, as the angular eclecticism of Joe Henderson (along with his “sandpaper” sound according to Bill Kirchner) and the methodical nature of Warne Marsh presented yet another path. We see this in the playing of folks like Mark Turner. 

Of course all of these descriptors fail past the surface since every saxophonist who dares to wet the reed does so with a healthy knowledge of the history behind it. While Redman’s sound might harken back to the boldness of Dexter (and his father, Dewey) his improvisations are fraught with the kind of jagged rhythmic exhortations that Henderson so brilliantly exceeded at. By the way, isn’t it time we begin talking about Henderson in the same breath as Rollins and Coltrane? Perhaps that conversation is best had in another writing. 

As we enter the generation after Redman, Alexander, and James Carter we begin to see the cauldron froth and bubble even more into a melting pot of tenor sounds. So it is with one of the finest examples of the current generation of tenor saxophonists Walter Smith III and his new release Twio. Not only does Smith synthesize the history of the instrument into an exciting original voice, he also puts out one of the finest albums of tenor-bass-drums trio records that are embedded into the tenor history. Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and Smith’s most immediate influence and predecessor Joshua Redman all excelled in the trio setting, as does Smith. And if you need any further proof of Redman’s spell being cast over Smith, Redman appears smiling and thoughtful in a picture with a fifteen-year-old Walter Smith III on Smith’s social media (which is worth a look, as he excels in that arena too). Also – Redman guests on the album. 

Smith has assembled a fantastic rhythm section on this adventure in bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland. This review focuses less on their contributions, being a saxophone-centric website, but anyone who spent hours pulling material off Joe Henderson’s State of the Tenor will find equally as rich a bounty here. Christian McBride, another member of the previous generation of young lions, guests as well and is his usual wealth of swing.   

Smith’s Twio directly acknowledges the past in many ways. On “Adam’s Apple” he boldly reinvigorates the stream-of-consciousness playing that composer Wayne Shorter is himself so remarkable at. While many of these chordless excursions can delve into chaos, Smith and company never lose track of the overarching harmony. Shorter’s harmonies are never cut and dry; manipulating them with only bass and drums is exciting. “Ask Me Now” tackles a similarly taxing harmonic mind, Thelonious Monk, in the fashion of Henderson’s aforementioned State of the Tenor and Redman’s “Trinkle Tinkle” from his self-titled album. To run headfirst into Monk’s changes with only bass and drums is for the bravest of souls, and Smith’s playing is rhythmic and energetic. His tenor sound brings Redman to mind first, but shades of Henderson and Marsh in the rhythm and Gordon and Rollins in the ferocity. 

The obvious callbacks to Redman’s work abound. His tenor/bass duet with McBride bring to mind Redman and McBride on “The Sunny Side of the Street.” Redman’s two guest appearances sound like an homage to Redman and Mark Turner on “Leap of Faith” from Redman’s Beyond. But the real magic is found when Smith and Redman take turns blowing over a trio + Redman version of Ferde Grofe’s “On The Trail.” Smith’s trademark humor is in view just by mere selection of this piece, with its Ellingtonian harmonizations. Smith and Redman set the high water mark for tenor interplay on this track, and Smith needles Redman with a string of jazz clichés pulled straight from the sacred cows of jazz education texts. For any other players it would have sounded like an academic exercise (not that Smith is unfamiliar, having just joined the faculty at Indiana University) but with these two the sly wink-and-nod is heard loud and clear. 

Despite the guest appearances and throwbacks the real star here is not the past, nor the homages, but Smith. His tenor is fluent in every shade of detail, from underhanded skirting of the implied chords to full-throated bluesy swagger. If there is one thing Smith does that differs from his predecessors, it’s that his thoughtful improvisations do actually cause you to hear the missing chords in your head as the trio plays. Previous trio albums were profound in that they exceeded at being high art – the level of playing remained superb with an obvious hole in the texture, like a racecar driver on only three wheels. Past trio albums feel like an accomplishment in spite of a deficiency; Twio is a conceptual success from the beginning. Consider the track “We’ll Be Together Again,” where Smith and Eric Harland need not the bedrock of bass nor the scaffolding of piano or guitar to make you feel every corner of the song. This is no celebration of sparsity – it is a complete showing in every way. 

Walter Smith III deserves all the accolades certain to come his way. Twio is not only an album of intense thought but one that swings at every turn. There’s something for the intellectuals of jazz to marvel at, and those of us who live by the dictum of “swing, baby, swing!” will find marvels in equal measure. The beauty of the tenor tradition, as with jazz, is you never know what’s coming next but the surprises are always good ones. Smith has expanded the tenor tradition and a common format into a 21st-century edition. It’s relatable musically because Smith is relatable – he doesn’t take himself too seriously (but he takes his art VERY seriously), he uses social media effectively, he plays video games. He is one of us sitting around the stereo listening to Joshua Redman’s first album with eyes wide and jaw open, and we no longer have to wonder what would come of that inspiration. Smith has transformed into the next great step, and now the generation coming after him will do the same with this record.

Motivation at the end... 

I am nearing completion of my doctorate, and I'm going to be straight with you - I am nearing total burn out. My nerves, emotions, patience, body, you name it is on the brink. There are several reasons for this.

First the obvious - I've been in school a long time. I'm done. The only jobs I can get that work around my schedule pay horribly and destroy my body. I'm lucky to have a great private studio, and an adjunct job, but that's not enough. Also - writing an entire book is stressful and time consuming.

The not so obvious - I am heavily invested emotionally in this project. If you haven't checked out www.roilives.tumblr.com you can see more about that there. The Cliffnotes are - LeRoi Moore was very much a saving grace in my life. There is a void in his legacy and I have jumped in to fill it. Never mind the people who knew him that could be let down, or my committee members who could bash it - if I screw this up I will never forgive myself.

In the midst of all this I still have a family to support. My wife is carrying a monumental amount of the load on her shoulders; I was raised to carry her, so this bothers me.

In a constant effort to shore up the financial situation, I ran across a mentorship position which asked for student appraisals. So I contacted some former students and asked if they'd consider writing a letter. What I received was the shot of motivation I needed. The letter, written by former student Dylon Jones, is posted below. Dylon is a fantastic musician, writer, and human being. He received a full ride to Louisville to study jazz, but decided that journalism was more his speed.

His letter struck a nerve with me. I have always tried to be the teacher I didn't have growing up, the support system that didn't exist in my life. At a time when I was feeling at my lowest, Dylon reminded me that what I do is positive and makes a difference.

This is not posted to pat myself on the back, it's posted because there are a lot of guys out there asking tough questions. Why am I doing this? What's the endgame? A lot of cats eating ramen, trying to tell their kids that Chuck E. Cheese is not happening in the foreseeable future, and packing up their gear to trudge off to a studio or school and keep hammering away. I have been second guessing myself a lot, and Dylon's words reminded me how silly it is to do that. It also helps that Dylon is a gifted writer. Thank you for the kind words, my friend.
 


To Whom It May Concern: 
  
            My name is Dylon Jones, and I’m an editor at Louisville Magazine in Louisville, Kentucky. I met Bob Fuson when I was a sophomore in high school, and I cannot overstate his influence on my life. 
           
            I grew up in a dried-up coal town in McCreary County, Kentucky, a place of grocery stores and graveyards. No park, no art, no cinema, nothing. I knew poverty like I knew pine trees; it seemed a part of the landscape, natural as the oak beyond my bedroom window. My mother kept the two of us alive on her own, working as a secretary at the Department for Family Services, where she helped some of my friends from school, victims of domestic and sexual abuse, kids who knew meth from crack by the smell. For many of us, the future seemed a story already written: struggle, marry early, try to keep off drugs. What else? Grocery stores. Graves. 
           
            But I had something else: a saxophone, and, a few towns over, in Williamsburg, a mentor. Every week, my mother drove me over a winding mountain road for private saxophone lessons with Bob Fuson. He built my technique, familiarized me with classical repertoire and theory, introduced me to jazz vocabulary, and encouraged my interest in art. We worked hard, but it never felt like it. Each new scale, tune, record, and concept was a revelation. I won first chair seats in district- and regional-wide honor bands. I played in the all-state jazz ensemble my junior and senior years. Both times, I was the only student from my school. Both times, I was the poorest kid in the sax section. Both times, professors scouted me out at the concert, asking me to audition for them. Eastern Kentucky University offered me a full-tuition music scholarship. I turned it down for an identical offer from the University of Louisville. I owe my education to Mr. Fuson’s tutelage. 
           
           But none of that matters. What Bob Fuson really did was show me I could do anything, no matter where I came from. In a region that dismissed art as a mere hobby, Bob Fuson worked hard at his craft, and made a life sharing knowledge. He wrote his own story. Now, thanks to him, I’m a musician and journalist, making a living writing mine. 
  
Sincerely, 
  
Dylon Jones 
Associate Editor 
Louisville Magazine 

 

Consortium Projects 

This past year I was fortunate to play a piece for saxophone choir by Daniel Baldwin. Daniel is a very accomplished composer who is quite popular in the double-reed world. The piece he wrote for the UNL Saxophone Choir was just gorgeous, so we talked about working together to get some things written for saxophone. Daniel's music is melodic and compelling, and I would love to see him break into the saxophone community with the same popularity he has within the double-reed community.

We have been working together to assemble a consortium project for two compositions - a sonata for alto saxophone and a saxophone quartet. I have posted the details below; if you are interested use the contact information below. Daniel and I would love to have you on-board!
 
Daniel Baldwin

Daniel Baldwin




Consortium Announcement - Alto Saxophone Sonata

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to announce an exciting commissioning opportunity with world-renowned composer Daniel Baldwin. This project will commission Daniel to write a Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano.

This new Sonata will be approximately 15 minutes in duration. The flavor of the work will be in his typical neo-romantic style with long lyrical lines and beautiful sonorities comparable to the music of Barber, Vaughan Williams, or Copland.

In the past few years, Daniel has written major works for some some of the top performing artists in the world to include concertos for members of the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and National Symphony among many others.  His music has been performed at many prestigious venues around the world including the Midwest Clinic, MENC National Conference, Isisi (Italy) Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, and at the International conferences of the associations of flute, clarinet, double reeds, horn, trombone, and tuba. His Triple Concerto for 2 Bassoons, Rock Band, and Wind Ensemble will be performed at the IDRS conference in August by the West Point Band. He is currently working on Concertos for several prominent musicians (including Joseph Alessi of the NY Phil). He has written Sonatas for oboe, bassoon,
contrabassoon, horn, and violin. These have been performed many times around the world in countries such as Belgium, England, Australia, Japan, China, Canada, Italy, Costa Rica, and Germany, just to name a few.

With this new project, commissioners will have a chance to be part of the creation of a major new solo work and be recognized in the score for their contribution.

All participants will be listed on the title page as contributors with their affiliation; they also will receive a solo part and piano score. All participants will have a one-year exclusivity agreement on performances before the piece is made available for the general public (the piece will be commercially published at the conclusion of the exclusivity agreement). Once we get a number of people signed up, Daniel would anticipate completing the Sonata by August, 2015.  The exclusivity period for programming your premiere performance would extend through the summer of 2016.

There are three levels of participation in this project:

Silver Level: $50....gets you the score and part for the new Sonata and your name included as a contributor.

Gold level: $100.....gets you the score and part for the new Sonata and your name moved to the top of the contributor list in a special "gold contributor" listing.

Platinum level: $500.....gets you the score and part for the new Sonata, your name listed in the gold level listing, and your name printed in the  dedication above the title on the first page of the music.

If you would like to participate, please send your contribution now directly to Daniel (check or money order made out to Daniel Baldwin):

Daniel Baldwin
912 F Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

You may also use PayPal to submit your contribution. Send to
daniel@danielbaldwincomposer.net.


For more information on Daniel and his music, please visit his website:

www.danielbaldwincomposer.net


Or visit YouTube to hear a recordings of his music.

"As the Sun Sets" for Saxophone Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er078HEv-qE

"Landscapes" for clarinet, bassoon, horn, and piano, (or search YouTube for "Landscapes by Daniel Baldwin"):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZj8WaL0JDI


You can hear Daniel's works on the following recordings:

"Into the 20th Century", Jeffrey Powers, Horn
"Buffalo Ballads,” Heidi Huseman Dewally, oboe and english horn
"Double Reed Music of Daniel Baldwin"
"Vocalise," Scott Pool, bassoon


If you are unfamiliar with Daniel's music, you may hear more representative works at the following publisher website:

http://stores.imaginemusicpublishing.com/daniel-baldwin/


If you would like to visit with Daniel, feel free to email him at :

daniel@danielbaldwincomposer.net or call at 620-805-9555


If interested in this commission project, please contact me at:

bob@bobfuson.com

Sincerely,

Bob Fuson
 


Consortium Announcement - Saxophone Quartet


Dear Colleagues,

I would like to announce an exciting commissioning opportunity with world-renowned composer Daniel Baldwin. This project will commission Daniel to write a new work for Saxophone Quartet.

This new Quartet will be approximately 7-10 minutes in duration. The flavor of the work will be in his typical neo-romantic style with long lyrical lines and beautiful sonorities comparable to the music of Barber, Vaughan Williams, or Copland.

In the past few years, Daniel has written major works for some some of the top performing artists in the world to include concertos for members of the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and National Symphony among many others.  His music has been performed at many prestigious venues around the world including the Midwest Clinic, MENC National Conference, Isisi (Italy) Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, and at the International conferences of the associations of flute, clarinet, double reeds, horn, trombone, and tuba. His Triple Concerto for 2 Bassoons, Rock Band, and Wind Ensemble will be performed at the IDRS conference in August by the West Point Band. He is currently working on Concertos for several prominent musicians (including Joseph Alessi of the NY Phil). He has written Sonatas for oboe, bassoon, contrabassoon, horn, and violin. These have been performed many times around the world in countries such as Belgium, England, Australia, Japan, China, Canada, Italy, Costa Rica, and Germany, just to name a few.

With this new project, commissioners will have a chance to be part of the creation of a major new chamber work and be recognized in the score for their contribution.

All participants will be listed on the title page as contributors with their affiliation; they also will receive a score and set of parts. All participants will have a one-year exclusivity agreement on performances before the piece is made available for the general public (the piece will be commercially published at the conclusion of the exclusivity agreement). Once we get a number of people signed up, Daniel would anticipate completing the Quartet by August, 2015.  The exclusivity period for programming your premiere performance would extend through the summer of 2016.


There are three levels of participation in this project:

Silver Level: $50....gets you the score and parts for the new Quartet and your name included as a contributor.


Gold level: $100.....gets you the score and parts for the new Quartet and your name moved to the top of the contributor list in a special "gold contributor" listing.


Platinum level: $500.....gets you the score and parts for the new Quartet, your name listed in the gold level listing, and your name printed in the  dedication above the title on the first page of the music.

If you would like to participate, please send your contribution now directly to Daniel (check or money order made out to Daniel Baldwin):

Daniel Baldwin
912 F Street
Lincoln, NE 68508


You may also use PayPal to submit your contribution. Send to
daniel@danielbaldwincomposer.net.


For more information on Daniel and his music, please visit his website:

www.danielbaldwincomposer.net


Or visit YouTube to hear a recordings of his music.

"As the Sun Sets" for Saxophone Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er078HEv-qE

"Landscapes" for clarinet, bassoon, horn, and piano, (or search YouTube for "Landscapes by Daniel Baldwin"):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZj8WaL0JDI


You can hear Daniel's works on the following recordings:

"Into the 20th Century", Jeffrey Powers, Horn
"Buffalo Ballads,” Heidi Huseman Dewally, oboe and english horn
"Double Reed Music of Daniel Baldwin"
"Vocalise," Scott Pool, bassoon


If you are unfamiliar with Daniel's music, you may hear more representative works at the following publisher website:

http://stores.imaginemusicpublishing.com/daniel-baldwin/


If you would like to visit with Daniel, feel free to email him at :

daniel@danielbaldwincomposer.net or call at 620-805-9555


If interested in this commission project, please contact me at:

bob@bobfuson.com

Sincerely,

Bob Fuson

Print is Dead 

Harold Ramis 1944-2014


I've been meaning to update this blog but life has been incredibly, wonderfully busy. Things have been going extremely well, and while I'd love to unload all of that positive energy into this blog every piece of free time gets filled with a new opportunity.

What spurred me to write was the unexpected (to me at least) death of Harold Ramis. Anyone who knows me from about age five onward knows that my favorite movie, hands-down no-contest, is Ghostbusters. I know every line, every sound, every gesture of every inch of that movie and its sequel. An entire portion of my home is dedicated to the 'collection' of various figures and memorabilia I've accumulated (the crown jewel is my 1987 Data East Real Ghostbusters arcade cabinet). The only thing I have inked on my body is the famous no-ghost logo on my arm.


The death of Ramis, known for his role as Dr. Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters, was a real punch to the gut. I found myself sitting at my desk Monday trying not to cry over a guy I'd never met, and only known superficially, and feeling really silly about it. I texted my wife, who asked if I was ok, and I said that I was but I had to text her again immediately and say no, I was definitely not ok. Then I kind of lost it for a bit; luckily I was home with our three-year-old, who wasn't feeling well that day, who tried to cheer me up by asking if I'd like to look at his butt. He's the comedian of our little troupe.

It's interesting to me how people react to my love for all things Ghostbusters; people around my age generally light up and ask when they can come and play the arcade game. Younger people haven't seen the movie or have seen it in passing, and I'm more than happy to loan them my backup copy (yes I have a backup, please return it Brian). My mother-in-law furrows her brow and scowls disapprovingly at the Ghostbusters corner and makes subtle references to moving the entire thing to a family room someday. My dad is amused by it I think but it seems an oddity to him.

I guess I felt like I should write down somewhere why I'm still so entranced by a movie three decades old, and why I've devoted a significant portion of our already small living space to its honor.

My initial exposure to the movie mirrored a lot of kids' who grew up in the 80's. I remember my dad renting a VHS player at the Hollywood Video up the street from my grandmother's house in Kentucky, and bringing Ghostbusters along with it. I remember being totally mesmerized by the ghosts and the equipment, all the gadgets and gear they used to trap the paranormal. Every Christmas and birthday was a guaranteed bounty of Ghostbusters toys. I remember when we get the original four Ghostbusters - we each got two. And we didn't fight over them! The thought of having duplicates was ridiculous. There were four Ghostbusters, and having any doppelgangers hanging around the firehouse offended our fanatic sensibilities. I can remember how they smelled when you opened a new package. I remember the Christmas we got the firehouse, and the Ecto-1. These memories are as vivid as any that I have. Most of all, I remember that my brother and I were amateur Ghostbusters in every sense. We fought the good fight against things that go bump in the night as well as two little boys could, with the inspiration of Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston of course.

Childish playthings naturally go the way of the dodo as you get older, and it was no different with Ghostbusters. Even though it was a comedy targeted at adults I began equating it with my youth and pulling away from it. Around the same time my parents got divorced - that was a really dark time my friends. I won't go into it here - its not appropriate and you haven't bribed me with the requisite amount of bourbon. But I was thrust prematurely and unnaturally into adulthood, and all of the innocence I had as a Ghostbusters-loving kid evaporated. Playtime was over, and Ghostbusters became a painful reminder of a much happier time.

An interesting thing happened about ten years ago. People who had grown up idolizing the movie and the cartoons started becoming consumers. They longed for some of that nostalgia of opening that Christmas gift, of popping in that well-worn VHS copy for the 100th time. A market developed around them, and before you know it there was a real demand for action figures, toys, prop replicas, and comics. That's how I got caught up in it again.

I don't feel much longing for anything that happened to me before I turned eighteen. It's a time I'd rather not think about. But I discovered that some of those positive feelings never went away, that incredible sense of anticipation and joy of finding something to add to your collection. In fact it was better! I didn't have to beg my parents to take me to Toys 'R' Us and buy me something, ANYTHING, so i could have some new Ghostbusters toy to play with. As an adult I could pick and choose and collect as far as my budget (and my wife's patience) would let me. The best part of it - it's contagious. When my kids know something Ghostbusters is coming to add to our collection they get as excited as I do. They've gone fully down the rabbit hole with me, watching the cartoons and everything. Every Halloween after trick-or-treating we have a tradition - we sort the candy and watch Ghostbusters.

It is my bridge over troubled waters. It reminds me of a time when my brother and I were innocent little kids whose world was free from agony; when we were your typical suburban middle-class family filled with love. I can still feel six-year-old me giddy with excitement when a new Ghostbusters item is added to our shelf, and adult me can laugh at the numerous jokes that went right over my head as a kid (I'll go back to Ms. Barrett's apartment and check her out...). It reminds me of people I love when they were at their best - many of whom have been anything but since then.

And plus, it makes me laugh.

I did not know Harold Ramis. I never met him. God's honest truth, I'm not super familiar with his other work. I was so Ghostbusters obsessed as a youth that I refused to see any movie with any of the actors that was not Ghostbusters. I remember my parents taking us to see Scrooged and being so royally pissed. Bill Murray in a movie with ghosts and he's not Peter Venkman? THANK YOU BUT NO.

I don't know anything about Ramis but this- he and his comrades brought an immeasurable amount of joy and happiness to my life and I will be forever grateful.

I saw this somewhere and I'm going to steal it: If my sadness were a twinkie, it would be a twinkie 35 feet long and weighing approximately 600 pounds.

- Bob



 

Summer Update 

It's been quite a busy summer; soon the breezes will be cooler and the days a little shorter as another school year begins. It's an interesting place to be in for me because soon I will be totally, completely done with school (to the surprise of many, I'm sure). None are happier about this than my wife, but barring any catastrophes this part of my journey will come to a close.

The reason for this nostalgia has to do with a big piece of news - I have received my first commission as a composer. My alma mater, the University of the Cumberlands, is in its 125th year. In celebration my friend and teacher David Threlkeld is assembling an alumni jazz ensemble and yours truly has been commissioned to write for it. This would be exciting enough on its own but is made even moreso because of the affection I have for the school.

My first forays onto the campus of then Cumberland College were to partake in the swimming pool. As a youngster I spent my summers in Williamsburg, Kentucky at my grandmother's house and I loved every minute of it. She signed us up for swim lessons at the school - I remember being in awe of the columned buildings and freshly scrubbed brick. I think my going to Cumberland was always a dream of hers, no one in my family had ever been to college and if I went there she could keep an eye on me.

I started my freshman year of college at Cumberland College in August of 2001; I was incredibly arrogant (as most 18 year olds are). Prof. Threlkeld (or as we call him, T) was amazingly patient with me. He was the first teacher of mine to take the attitude that we were exploring and discovering on this journey together. His own abilities and knowledge never made him cynical. I remember being in his office while he showed me some Michael Brecker tracks I'd never heard before. You would swear he was hearing them for the first time as well. His enthusiasm was contagious.

When I came back to Cumberland in 2007 I had been burned by my own ego and in the process of rebuilding things I had torn down out of pure selfishness. T welcomed me back on the journey as if it hadn't been interrupted. He took me under his wing as an arrogant, obnoxious 18 year old and helped me rebuild when I came back as a man humbled by the world. For that I will be forever thankful.


A lot of who I am is because of the school, the place, and the people I met there. I can't wait to return in the fall.

- Bob

Trying to keep up! 

Hello interwebs! I'm trying to keep up the blog this summer, my diligence hasn't been great but my resolve is strong!

This will be short post just to say I posted a new song on my Soundcloud page called "Lost" written by guitarist Aaron Stroessner. It was recorded by the UNL Gradtet a few months back as part of a session we did. Video game fans, keep your ears open!

My goal is a new blog post once a week. Let's see if I can keep up the pace!

- Bob

Long Overdue Site Update 

Well, it was time. I finally bit the bullet and updated my site. Lots of new information since the last time!

I have been extremely fortunate to play in the Graduate Jazz Combo (christened the Gradtet) here at UNL. Our book consists of original tunes and arrangements; it's been a blast to play. Being in a band made up of 50% doctoral jazz comp students has really forced me to stretch my limitations. I've gotten to play some alto flute, which is fun but a continuing adventure in pitch.

A few weeks ago the Gradtet and the Jazz Orchestra traveled to the Elmhurst Jazz Festival just outside of Chicago. For those who don't know, Elmhurst is probably the premier collegiate jazz festival in the country. When I was much younger and more impressionable I remember being in awe of groups like the University of Kentucky's Megasax Quartet, who went to Elmhurst and came away with great acclaim for both them as players and their program. It was really an exciting experience, not to mention getting to hear the Dave Douglas Quintet and the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Walter Smith III and Rich Perry on tenors two nights in a row! And I managed to snag a picture with Mr. Perry:

Bob and Rich - it's a Selmer Soloist, for those wondering

I am also proud to say that both the Gradtet and the Jazz Orchestra received awards for Oustanding Collegiate Ensemble.

More good news - I have been accepted into the doctoral program for Jazz Studies at UNL. I can honestly say it's a little surreal; sometimes you just spend so much time with your nose in books (or the practice room) that things fly by. It's strange to look up and go "Oh, hey, I might actually pull this off." Still waiting on word about assistantships, but a big step was been hurdled.

I will try to update the blog more frequently with my thoughts about, uh, stuff. For the gearheads among you, I have updated my gear page to reflect a change in mouthpiece. I've been really into Joe Henderson and Rich Perry recently - the core and vibrancy of their sounds. I've long been one of those open tip/soft reed players, having cycled through Links, Guardalas, before finally settling on a Strathon 8. The Strathon is an interesting piece. For those who aren't familiar with it, it has a sliding baffle that is supposed to allow the player a leve of customization in the sound. Slide it all the way back, you get a Getz type thing. All the way forward and it's bright and edgy. Tom Scott and Gary Thomas use them on tenor, Nick Brignola used one on baritone. Great full sound, but I realized I wasn't speaking in my voice. My teacher, Paul Haar, loaned me a great mouthpiece made by Gottsu in Japan. It's called a Sepia Tone and this version was an 8; I loved it immediately. It was full and beautiful while very much in the Henderson vein. Henderson's sound was once described as like sandpaper, rubbing away at the chord changes. I've always loved that, and hoped to capture it.

Well it's one thing to be a Gottsu artist, it's another to try to acquire one as a regular joe. The only place I could find one was in France for a hefty sum. I was willing to spend the coin, but then I came across a deal on a Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso. The Espresso is designed to be like the old Selmer Soloists played by Henderson and Perry. So I was looking at $300+ to get the Gottsu shipped from France, or $250 for the new Espresso I'd been eyeballing. By some stroke of luck I found a guy getting rid of an Espresso for a good price and I bit.

I was blown away. It felt like I was really speaking in my own voice for the first time. The Gottsu was an amazing piece (and I'd still like to acquire one) but this was itNow, of course, I'm really tempted to try an old Soloist. The mouthpiece carousel never stops...

In the next blog post, maybe I'll discuss how my smartass mind is getting me in trouble naming big band charts...

- Bob

Heartland Quartet Tour 

This January I got a chance to tour with the Heartland Saxophone Quartet from UNL as we made our way to the Navy Saxophone Symposium. We got a chance to play for many middle and high school kids in Kentucky, and finished with masterclasses and a performance at the University of the Cumberlands (my alma mater). Here's a nice article about the performance. Also, check out my quartet and office mate Wade Howles at his website here.