Our cats, Coco and Molly, are shedding.
Did I hear you sarcastically utter, “fascinating”?
I’m going somewhere with this. Trust me.
I’m not bringing up the subject of shedding because I am
a cat person. I am not. I got tricked into having cats. Almost
from the day Taylor said her first intelligible sentence, she
has been asking me if we could have a pet. I did not know that
eventually I would acquiesce out of guilt.
I fought hard.
When prodded by my daughter, I employed all the pet avoidance
tactics I could muster. I tried subterfuge - “We’ll
see”. I tried distraction, “What flavor ice cream
cone do want today?” Even substitution – “Let’s
get a hermit crab”. Somewhere, wandering around this house,
the ghosts of three lost hermit crabs are searching for their
Coco and I were destined to meet. Taylor caught me on the one
day when I couldn’t say no. “Let’s go see the
litter”, I said. With those words, my fate was sealed -
my cat-less existence was about to end. Cute and small enough
to hold in one hand – Coco was the one kitten in the litter
that didn’t look so much like a cat. He was the color of
Hershey’s unsweetened baker’s chocolate; a dusty brown
with no markings at all. And he seemed to not mind the awkward
way I cradled him in my arms. “Let’s take this one”,
I heard a voice say. It was my own voice.
Two years later, this is Coco’s house. He lets us feed
him, pet him, change his litter and pick up his discarded fur.
In exchange, he is pretty friendly – actually, spoiled.
At least he is not aloof. That is the one thing that I always
distrusted in cats – that superior attitude. Coco is a down-to-earth
Molly is an Earth-Mother type. She is chilled out, would be totally
comfortable in Birkenstocks and enjoys a good meal more than anyone
I know. I don’t think she gets high, but she sure has the
munchies a lot.
This past winter, Roxanne and Taylor started feeding this stray
black long-hair with white feet. (Insert your own punch-line here______)
She came to our porch with regularity, at first for a meal, and
then for companionship. Like Romeo and Juliet, Molly and Coco
would gaze at each other through the front window – Molly
perched on a porch chair, Coco on the windowsill - sometimes nose
When Molly was gone, our little Romeo would pine away for her.
During their courtship, Coco was amorous but not honest enough
to admit to Molly he was fixed. Men.
This is how Molly came to live in my studio. It was too cold
to leave her on the porch and we thought the couple - though they
wouldn’t be able to consummate their marriage - would be
good company for each other.
However, once Molly moved in, Coco started to reveal his dark
side. Either he forgot this was the same girl he longed for, or
he was toying with her feelings all along. Of course, now all
our cat expert friends tell us that cats are territorial. Thanks.
That would have been nice to know before my house became the set
of a feline version of “War of the Roses”.
Coco has possession of the entire house except my studio. Molly
got the studio.
What do I get? Cat hair. Lots of it. I’m not saying it’s
unbearable – it’s natural for cats. But if you’re
visiting and you’re wearing white, I’ll meet you outside.
Of course, cats shed because they don’t need all that fur
in the summer heat. Here again, cat experts, don’t warn
you about shedding, or fur-balls or the never-ending quest for
a cat litter that actually works. There is a conspiracy among
cat lovers to only speak about cats in the most glowing terms.
Nonetheless, today I think shedding is fascinating. Really. The
idea of letting go of something you don’t need anymore.
I’ll elaborate in the next entry. Isn’t this riveting?
I have been out of sorts today. It's a grey day here and I couldn't
seem to get going. At first, I wondered why, then I realized -
it's because of the terrible events in London. You try to put
that kind of news in a compartment in your daily life - a place
where you can just get on with things and not think too much.
It's possible - within limits. I've had a full day. Breakfast.
Bunches of emails. Practiced. Gave my daughter, T.J., her first
guitar lesson. Phone calls. A snack of Graham crackers and peanut
butter. Organized files on my computer. More emails. A productive
Still, after seeing the reports from London on TV, this morning,
I have been in a fog. I tried to read the faces of victims who
were interviewed. To me they seemed, more than anything else,
confused. I have never been through what these Londoners are experiencing
but I think I know that confused feeling. I went white-water rafting
once. Just once. Damon, the president of our South African distributing
label. thought it might be fun for me. He flew me and one of his
bravest employees to Zimbabwe for a day of frolicking on the Zambezi
river. I have a video tape of the experience. I'm easy to spot
in the video. Look for the person ducking just before the raft
hits a big rapid. Often. How big were the rapids? Rivers are graded
by the strength of their currents from 1 to 5. The Zambezi is
a grade 5. Yipee.
One more thing - I can't swim. In reality, I have taken adult
swimming lessons, but have always had to go on tour just before
the final test. The first time I dropped out of swim class to
go to Hawaii where, believe it or not, I went snorkeling. Maybe
I can swim, I'm not terrified of the water, I just don't know
my limits. I am also pretty dumb. The Zambezi guides are very
thorough in preparing you for white-water rafting. They warn you
about everything you can possibly encounter. Like your raft turning
over. If you don't catch a rapid with enough velocity and at the
right angle, at just the right time, your raft will flip over
and you will end up in the Zambezi. Apparently, this is disorienting.
First of all, you can't tell up from down, right from left. Secondly,
you are swept by a current that has no regard for the fact that
you are neither a boat nor a fish. You are confused and not in
control. The strategy for dealing with this is to find your arms
("they must be here somewhere"), place them along side
your body and wait. Eventually, you will come to the surface (at
least your lifejacket will) and you will reach calmer waters.
This is how the Londoners looked to me today; like they were disoriented,
but anticipating calmer waters. Calmer waters. You have to believe
it can't go on like this forever.
7/4 The 4th of July is a big deal in Philadelphia.
A really big deal. This is the place where, I'm sure you know,
a lot of important events happened to create this idea called
America. Declaration of Independance, Constitutional Convention.
As an ex-pre-law major, I'm still fascinated by this stuff. Separation
of Church and State, System of Checks and Balances, Right to Free
Speech - brilliant. The folks that founded this country, people
like: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and my personal
favorite - Ben Franklin had the kind of forethought that we will
never see again. When you're staring up at the sky at a fireworks
display it's easy to forget what all the fuss is about. I am forcing
myself to remember.
Words. I am intrigued by them. We use two very good words on
this holiday: Liberty and Freedom. The problem is we use some
words so much that they lose their juice. I had a debate once
with a friend of mine who claimed he never told his wife "I
love you", because it is so overused in our culture (he is
Armenian) that it no longer means anything. I get his point but,
I wouldn't try this at home. The other problem is that sometimes
the English language doesn't quite capture what we really want
to say. Liberty. Freedom. Good words. Patriotism - also nice,
but I'm looking for a word that describes "honor in the face
of futility". The following story needs that kind of word.
On my recent trip to Cleveland I was in a battle of wits with
Continental Airlines, over my bass guitar. Since 9/11, all air
travelers have undergone a new level of inconvenience, from having
to go through metal detectors shoeless, to having to wake up at
4:00 AM in order to make a 7:30 AM flight. My friend the percussionist,
Pablo Batista, has had the misfortune of being profiled incorrectly
because he happened to have his passport photo taken while wearing
a Kadafi syle scarf. Bad timing. My particular burden is wondering
whether an airline employee will let me take my bass onboard or
whether it will be taken from me and tagged as though it's a big
and durable as a surfboard. I realize that my custom instrument
could survive the wrath of overworked baggage handlers, but I
hate risking it. Besides, it fits in the overhead bin of almost
every aircraft, thank you very much. Do you get the idea that
this is important to me? On the flight to Cleveland, I made it
past the ticketing agent. I made it past the gate agent. I was
flagged by the flight attendant. There was no more room in the
overhead bins. I didn't panic, I simply asked if there was room
in the first class closet. The flight attendant's response was,
"I'll check, but if there's no room, what's your final destination?"
This was not reassuring.
Knowing our departure was already delayed, I played the only
ace I had. "Please try to find space or I'll have to take
a different flight", I said, bluffing just a little. It worked.
Obviously the thought of having the flight delayed even further
by an irate bass player was enough to motivate the flight attendant
to be creative. He found a space for my bass. I gloated over my
victory, but it turned out to be hollow in the end. In fact, the
pride of winning this battle of wits only lasted as long as took
to fly to Cleveland's gate C14. I'll never forget that gate number.
When we arrived at Hopkins airport, the pilot announced that there
was a Marine on board who was on a special detail and that he
was returning from duty in Iraq. There was spontaneous applause.
The pilot also asked for our cooperation in allowing the Marine
to disembark first. Nobody dared show a hint of impatience. As
for me, I was basking in the confident glow that my bass was safe
and sound. I closed my eyes and relaxed.
I must have dozed off, because I was surprised to hear the sound
of sniffling around me. Two or three people at first, then a chorus
of sniffles. I opened my eyes to see the other passengers looking
out the windows on the right side of the plane. Moreover, they
were focusing on the area below my window. I was not prepared
for what I saw next. A throng of ordinary people in street clothes
were lined up on the tarmac staring at our plane and next to them,
a Marine honor guard. Six Marines in dress uniforms were directly
under my window removing a casket which they were draping with
the American flag. A brown hearse was waiting to receive it. A
voice inside me said "that's somebody's son". It was.
Or somebody's daughter, mother, brother, father or friend. The
weight of that thought brought tears to my eyes. I also felt the
shame of my concern for my wooden instument while all along there
had been priceless cargo onboard.
In moments like these, we feel our patriotism and our reverence
for liberty - for freedom. These words become less abstract and
more real - like the idea of a cake. There's a big difference
between reading the recipe for a cake and smelling one coming
out of the oven. Everyone on that plane - everyone at gate C14,
tasted patriotism and smelled freedom. I thought about all those
young men and women sacrificing their lives for the ideal called
America. I particularly thought about the ones who are in Iraq.
You cannot think about them and not feel bad. They are indeed
young and their lives are on the line. They are a world away from
their loved ones, the people they left behind to wait - people
who brace themselves when there is a news report on television
from Iraq. They serve honorably. No matter how you feel about
the war, they serve honorably. This is where we need a new word.
I don't feel good about our involvement in Iraq and fewer Americans
do every day. I do feel good about the soldiers, airmen and sailors
who serve in Iraq. Therefore, I'm looking for a word that describes
"honor in the face of futility".
Patriotism doesn't seem to say it quite well enough. I don't
profess to know how things will turn out in Iraq, but it feels
futile. This doesn't diminish the service of these young men and
women one bit. In my opinion, it makes it more remarkable. The
fact that so many, can sacrifice so much, in the face of so much
uncertatinty, only makes me that much prouder of them. It also
reminds me of how significant the 4th of July really is and how
insignificant our personal battles can be. This year, when the
fireworks are blazing in the sky, I will say a prayer for every
family who has a loved one serving on the other side of the world
- for each family that is watching and waiting.
7/2 You gotta have a gimmick. This is the advice
I heard early on in my career and it's still suggested to artists
today. Maybe the word "gimmick" is not used, but the
concept is the same. Do you remember Kriss Kross? This was a pre-teen
rap duo discovered by Jermaine Dupri. They wore their clothes
backwards. It created quite a sensation. Many of their fans emulated
their ground-breaking fashion sense and the result is hip hop
history - sort of.
Some artists have gotten by quite nicely in spite of their lack
of gimmickry. Take Luther Vandross, for example. I was fortunate
to see him in concert. A Luther Vandross show was, by today's
standards, as simple as an egg sandwich. No fancy choreography,
no props, no computerized laser light-show. No motorcycles. Just
great singing and great songs. Well, actually more than that.
Luther had an unfair advantage over many of his R&B counterparts
- a buttery voice that he used with a controlled intensity. He
also had infallible musical instincts that inspired him to create
and re-create R&B classics. What's more, he did all this with
class and style. As far as I can tell, he did not wear his clothes
backwards. I happened to hear the writer, Nelson George, on the
radio yesterday talking about Luther Vandross' contributions.
He said something that was right on the mark, "If Luther
was in town, and you cared anything about your girl, you took
her to the Luther concert". Roxanne and I are driving to
Pittsburgh today. It's typically a boring drive, but in the spirit
of Nelson George's excellent advice, I'm going to serenade my
girl with some Luther.
7/1 Let's face it. It's a DIY world. Do it yourself.
From home improvement to building websites, people now have the
information, tools and inspiration to rely on themselves rather
than the experts. I even think the explosion of reality TV is
an extension of the DIY mindset. Why hire a trained, spoiled actor
for an expensive sitcom when a telecast of the girl next door
eating cow intestines can be just as entertaining? And cheaper.
I am gradually becoming like that too. DIY, baby. Got my own band
and my own club to put on shows with my own band. In my own way.
It's not that I'm not open to doing things with others, it's just
that sometimes I need to do things in my own way. Yes, I'm a Leo.
I have a narcissistic nature.
At least I admit. There is nothing more intoxicating than seeing
your name in print. Gerald Veasley, Gerald Veasley. Try it with
your own name. What a buzz! Unfortunately, I can't always count
on music journalists to write about me to get my fix. I have a
new CD coming out, so that's good for a while. Some journalists
administer tough love, however, and will not write about you,
no matter what. Take Ben Ratliff, for example. He writes for the
New York Times and was given the assignment of reviewing the Portrait
of Jaco show at the Beacon Theater. The review was mixed. That
is not as important to me as the lack of "Gerald Veasley"
in it. I won't quote from the review because I don't want to be
sued by the New York Times, although my career could use it. I
won't complain either.
Instead, I have decided to write my own reviews, from now on.
I know how to do it. This is the format for writing a review of
1) Write something clever to show you are smart. It is important
to do this at the beginning of the article.
2) Foreshadowing. Suggest from the outset that the show might
be either great or a flop. However, don't commit until the very
end of the piece.
3) Give a few essential facts about the show. Time, place, names
of musicians, titles of songs. That's plenty.
4) Use interesting vocabulary - especially adjectives. Ben Ratliff
talked about the "astringent strings" on one song. Cool.
5) The Big Finish. You absolutely must write a brilliant ending
to the review to wrap it up. Ben came up with a doozy. If you
want to read it, it was published June 24.
The New York Times did not cover my CD release concert at the
Jazz Base last night. I am not upset. I've written my own review,
of my own concert, with my own band, in my own club. Here it is:
Brilliant Bassist Shines Bright Once in a century, Haley's comet
passes through our solar system in all it's splendid, though ephemeral,
glory. How fortunate we are indeed that the bass luminary, Gerald
Veasley, can be observed more often. Blah, Blah Blah, etc. Considering
the industry hype over Veasley's new CD, At The Jazz Bass, I frankly
wondered whether he could deliver in concert. Blah, Blah. Clever
Stuff, etc. Last night's show in Reading, PA...Blah, Blah. Jazz
Base, Veasley's own club...etc. Greatest band in the universe...
the astringent strings on Forever...blah. Chris Farr...salacious
saxophone...blah. Gerald Veasley... Gerald.... Veasley, etc. This
new century has witnessed two cultural phenomena, The DaVinci
Code and Veasley's concert, At The Jazz Base.
Review by Hector Heathcliff Hector is not opposed to assignments
from the New York Times, by the way. If you have any connections,
please let me know.
What do you do after a 12 hour trip from St. Kitts to Philadelphia?
Moderate a panel discussion, of course.
I like the variety of activities I'm in engaged, but somtimes
I think I'm pushing it. In this case, though, it's for a good
cause, the Philadelphia Chapter of the Recording Academy.
I've been an elected leader in this organization for ten very
rewarding years. Most people know the Recording Academy's signature,
the Grammy Award, but most are unaware of the educational, philanthropic
and advocacy apects of it's mission. I am honored to take an active
role in helping to do some of this work.
Take a moment to visit www.grammy.com. I'll be here when you
See - I told you I'd still be here.
Tonight's event was a free-wheeling discussion about the craft
of being a recording and touring musician with panelists, Frank
Romano and Matt Cappy. These two young musicians have a wealth
of knowledge to share and they were more than willing to share
The conversation ranged from getting a break to protecting your
business interests. They offered tips that had the whole audience
so engaged, that it was hard to stop the Q&A.
Rather than name dropping, a habit I am trying to get under control.
"Very addictive, indeed", Robert Downey, Jr. told me.
If you want to get a sense of who Matt Cappy and Frank Romano
have worked with, visit www.allmusicguide.com.
As for me, I'm not going to name names.
There's more than a little name dropping in these journal entries.
It's purely accidental, yet embarrasing. As I was telling Quincy
Jones the other day, "I can't stand name droppers".
One particular problem with name dropping is that the person
you're talking to may not be impressed with the name dropped.
Some names are more impressive than others, for sure. Fame, status,
wealth - these are all sure fire pre-requisites for a good name
reference. However, you also have to know your audience.
If, for example, I mention that I ran into Barry Scheck at 30th
St. train station in Philly, you might be fascinated if you're
a Court TV junkie.
In case you're wondering, I did run into Barry - we didn't exactly
exchange words, but I nearly clobbered him with my bass. If you
ask him, he'll probably deny it. Barry (I call him Barry) is more
of a laid back guy than you would think, in spite of all the DNA
I can just tell.
If you are an E! channel fan, you would be more intrigued by
my recent sighting of a crumpled Kevin Bacon crossing a Manhattan
intersection. I'm not casting aspersions, but he had that kind
of "I'm trying to walk straight" walk that usually indicates
participation in a contest to decide between "less filling"
and "tastes great". If only we had spoken, I could have
known for sure. Moreover, a little tete-a-tete with Kevin, would
have qualified me as a degree of separation, I think.
Unfortunately, some of my references to people named in this
journal may be obscure. This is a problem that must be corrected,
especially when it comes to the mention of bass players. So, in
the interest of cultural education, I am going to provide a list
of bass players you should know.
Feel free to Google their names:
Francis Rocco Prestia
Donald "Duck" Dunn
If I've let out a name you think I should have included - tough.
Make your own list.
Seriously, this is just a list, not a poll and by no means exhaustive.
I am writing this on an uneventful flight from Puerto Rico to
Philly, relying on nothing but my slowly evaporating memory. You
are welcome to add to my list of essential bass players by leaving
a message in the Guestbook.
Let's work together.
As I was saying to Oprah at lunch the other day, "we can
accomplish amazing things when people join forces for a common
"You're so right, Gerald", she replied, in between
bites of her caesar salad.
From bass heaven to guitar paradise. Today I woke up in St. Kitts.
This caribbean island is shaped like a guitar. I went for a hour
long walk on the neck of the guitar.
If you wanted to design an island you might do it this way. Use
the very best ingredients: clear inviting water, sand that's earth-colored
but finely textured, lush green mountains and a sun that is hot
by 9 AM.
You would inhabit it with friendly and proud people - St. Kitts
became independant of Great Britain in 1983 - and for good measure
throw in a music festival along with more typical tourist treats.
The St. Kitts Music festival is pretty eclectic. Try topping
this: Pieces of a Dream, Ronnie Laws, Atlantic Starr, Wyclef Jean
and Kenny Rogers. I'm assuming Motley Crue was unavailable.
Anyway, between this guitar paradise and bass heaven, I was in
Cleveland. This is not a punchline.
Heads Up Records hosted an all-star party at the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame on Friday. The R&R convention, which is one of
the must-attend radio events of the year, was held in Cleveland
this year, so Dave Love, the president of Heads Up thought it
would be a good idea to offer the conventioneers a good time.
Oh, and the public could by tickets as well. Which is smart because,
let's face it, radio people have heard and seen it all.
It was a packed house.
Why woudn't it be? Heads Up has quite a contemporary jazz roster
to draw from for a concert. Dave called up Walter Beasley, Alexander
Zonjic, Marion Meadows, Najee, Pieces and me. The result was a
show that won't soon be forgotten. The first jazz show in the
Rock and Roll of Fame, ever. Guess what? It rocked.
Good thinking, Dave.
Now, back to my tan.
Bass Heaven. I borrowed that term from Will Lee. He used it to
describe what he saw last September when he pulled up to the Idyllic
fields in Tennessee last September where Victor Wooten holds his
Bass Nature Camp. He witnessed bass campers walking in the sun-drenched
grass with bass cases on their backs. Through the clearing, he
could see Chuck Rainey sitting on the porch of a cabin surrounded
by basses that are on display. Among them is Stanley Clarke's
Alembic bass. Later that day, Stanley shows up in the flesh.
Yep, bass heaven.
I had my own celestial sighting as part of the JVC jazz festival's
Portrait of Jaco.
OK. Tribute shows can miss the mark. They can. After all, if
the artist being honored is so significant as to warrant being
honored, then there is a danger of falling short by not having
the honoree present to perform. Sometimes there is no substitute
for the real thing.
Jaco did not perform, but his music was present and accounted
Will Lee singing and grooving Come On, Come Over,
Felix Pastorius effortlessly coming into his own on Havona,
Matt Garrison tackling and handling the abstract, unrecorded
Thoughts on Florida,
Christian McBride swinging hard on Dania,
Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey reinventing Portrait of Tracy,
Oteil Burbridge rendering a sublime version of Three Views of
Jeff Berlin blazing through the wickedly difficult Donna Lee,
Richard Bona just being the always brilliant Bona and,
Anthony Jackson hanging out at sound check. The erudite Sir Anthony
Yep, bass heaven.
What did I play, I hear you ask? Liberty City, the most joyous
Pastorius tune of all.
Thanks Jaco, for bringing us all together.
Today I'm in bass heaven!
Before I describe what's going on today, I have been remiss in
not talking about the June 12 show in Harrisburg with the Heads
We played an evening of the music of Ray Charles, a program we
first presented at the Berks Jazz Festival in March
Some of you may know this project featuring Joe McBride on keys
and vocals. I always tell the audience "if you're going to
play the music of a genius, you better have a genius". That's
what Joe McBride is. At one time "genius" was a word
that was overused. Now it's a word that's not heard enought. We
need to celebrate people who are blessed with enormous talent
who share those talents with us.
If ever you get the chance to see Joe do his thing live, take
it. He plays any style of music you can think of with conviction.
As a pianist, if he has limits, I haven't heard them. Most of
all, Joe is known for his soulfulness. He brings all that and
more to Ray's unforgettable songbook.
What a songbook it is. The first two syllables of the "old
sweet song", Georgia, is enough to transport you to another
time and place. Then you've got tunes like Night Time Is the Right
Time, our opening number that includes the "Joelettes"
the background singers, Tony Lynne, Suzie Ernesto and featuring
Veronica Menyweather who does a scorching rendition of the co-lead
Kenny Blake is featured througout the set on alto sax and really
let's loose on the steamy blues ballad I believe.
The Berks Jazz Fest Horns, Mike Anderson (tenor sax), Rob Diener
(trumpet), Bill Miller (trombone) are as tight as usual. What's
cool is that they are showcased as soloists too. By the way, the
horn arrangements were done by Chis Heslop who joins the horn
section on baritone sax. Chris and trade licks on "Hit The
Road Jack" - he plays the bass line while I solo and vice
versa. Big Fun.
Keith Carlock is one of a kind. I met Keith when he was living
in Dallas and playing in Joe's band. He was young and, excuse
me for saying it - green. Now he has a resume that most musicians
dream about which includes stints with Steely Dan and Sting.
Never mind all that. Keith is just "bad" on the drums.
He is the drummer that other drummers talk about.
Keith let's loose on "Unchain My Heart" which has one
of those 60's latin boogaloo beats. You have to see Keith solo
on that some day.
Put this date on you calendar: October 12, 2005. We're going
to playing at the Rehoboth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival in Rehoboth,
Delaware. You've got to see the Heads Up Superband - if nothing
else, check to see if I'm exaggerating.
I'll tell you about bass heaven tomorrow.
I'm here, at the club (the Jazz Base, of course) Chuck Loeb is
playing with his band. They are tight. Naturally, Chuck is burning
on guitar. His solos are always well-crafted yet exciting. I am
always impressed with Chuck's music. He is my favorite composer/producer
in the smooth jazz genre.
Tonight, he is "smokin" at the Jazz Base with his hot
As I type this, they are playing a very funky piece called Upper
Cut, that features a keyboard solo from Matt King. Matt's chilled
demeanor belies his ability to play with amazing facility and
Chuck's got a killing drummer, Josh Dion, who is fascinating
to watch. He never seems to just strike the drums, it's as though
he's coaxing them to speak.
OK, now they're going into a guitar/drum duet, that has got the
By the way, why aren't you here? You are missing something special.
The atmosphere is great, if I do say so myself. The food is excellent
- try the crabcakes. Of course, the music is first-rate.
Back to the music. I am very impressed by Brian Kileen's ability
to anchor this band. This young bass player is the epitome of
I am also impressed by how tight the band is. They haven't been
with Chuck very long, in fact, the longest tenured member is Josh
at a year and a half.
You would never know.
Great show Chuck.
To those of you who have become accustomed to seeing me perform
with Pieces of a Dream, I want to inform you that I won't be touring
with the band this summer. After 5 years of working together we
have decided to move on. True, I did do shows with them last weekend,
and may do an occasional performance, but not many.
Pieces of a Dream and I have a history together that pre-dates
the time I spent touring with them. We all worked with Grover
Washington at one time or another and that was our common bond.
In fact, it was at Grover's funeral that we reconnected and shortly
afterwards began playing together. It has been a nice ride.
They are a very talented group of musicians whom I respect and
admire. I hate to dissapoint the reader who may be hoping for
"Jazz gossip" but, we get along great. I've been fortunate
in my career to work with artists who become lifelong friends.
The members of Pieces of a Dream are no exception.
Last weekend was busy. It started with shows with Pieces of a
Dream in Omaha and Winona, Ontario. The show in Omaha was a gala
for the Urban League. Swanky but funky.
Winona, Ontario is about an hour from Toronto and was the site
for a open air smoot jazz festival. One of the headliners was
the ubiquitous Dave Koz.
This was the first time I saw his current show with special guests
Jeffrey Osborne, Marc Antoine and saxophonist Praful. Excellent
performance. Dave is presenting a revue in the tradition of Motown.
His concerts, in addition to providing a fix for his fans, serve
as primetime showcases for artists that are signed to his label,
Rendezvous Records. Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler, and Praful
are among the Rendezvous artists that have shared the stage with
Dave, resulting in more than marriages of convenience but genuine
musical synergy instead.
As for Pieces, the band had a great show in Winona, evidenced
by the standing ovation, and also by the disaapointed fans who
didn't manage to buy a CD before they were sold out.
A word about theses Canadian fans - devoted. This was a two day
fest consisting of about 11 hours per day of music. It was actually
held at a fruit farm, which is another story, on two of the hottest
days of the summer so far. It had to be 90 degrees in the shade,
and there was no shade. No complaints from the fans up north either.
These loyal music lovers who paid $117 per day, per ticket may
have been entitled to whine just a little. They didn't. Armed
with sunscreen and an array of summer headgear, they partied on
Growing up in the era of LPs, I loved looking at album cover artwork
and reading credits. I would imagine what the people were like
who contributed to the records I loved. Names of engineers, record
execs, managers and, of course, musicians were memorized and discussed
among me and my friends and held in high esteem.
I wonder if people are still as fascinated by credits and artwork
in this era of miniaturization. Remember those great album covers
like Miles' Bitches Brew? Would they have had the same impact
as a CD cover?
Anyway, if you've taken the time to the read the credits of my
CDs, there are certain names that appear again and again - like
Doug is my computer guy; an authorized Apple guru. After trying
to get the "best deal" elsewhere, and getting burned,
my musician friends eventually all buy their computers from Doug.
He is simply the best.
I am somewhat biased. We have been friends since we were in our
teens. Though you might not be able to tell from his demeanor,
Doug was a wicked drummer.
These days, instead of pounding out funk beats on a chrome-colored
drum set, he gets his musical rocks off as an audiophile. Most
people know an audiophile or at least someone who is divorced
from one. Thankfully, Doug's wife, Celeste is supportive of his
sonic desires. It's an expensive hobby.
How expensive? If someone asked Doug to swap his system for,
say, a Porsche, they would have to throw in some cash as well.
He is constantly upgrading things like cable. His cable expense
eclipses the annual budgets of some small countries.
Keep in mind that this is a never ending quest for better, purer
sound. True audiophiles are not buying for the sake of conspicuous
consumption, they are not even gadget-heads who are in search
of the newest toy. They are looking for the Holy Grail - a perfectly
simulated concert in their den. In a way, it's like cloning. With
the right equipment, you could conceivably bring back John Coltrane.
You could close your eyes and your house could become the Village
Vanguard. You could hear the sound of Trane taking a breath before
unleashing a torrent of soprano saxophone. If you listened really
closely, you could hear a bead of his sweat hit Elvin Jone's ride
Audiophilia is a madness. I love Doug like a brother, but, he
is crazy. I mean no offense, but he is nuts about sound. If Doug
was here right now, I'd tell him to his face. "Man, no offense,
but you're crazy", I would say.
It's a good thing I'm in Omaha today.
Last night, my crazy friend invited me and a few of our sane
friends over to his house to listen to my new CD on his system.
By the way, Celeste prepared some food that was sublime. The recipe
for her ribs are in a vault somewhere, I'm sure.
It was an eclectic menu of "Texas Caviar" (a delicious
bean salad), her homemade salsa, tender roast beef and too many
items to mention here. All prepared with love and a pinch of tolerance.
After eating to the point of inebriation, we retired to the listening
room. Normally, Doug's room has two recliners in it, perfectly
situated for optimum listening. Ever accomodating and creative,
he added four additional chairs for the unveiling of my new recording.
Six seats (two rows of three). Like the middle section of a passenger
Roxanne and I sat in front - in "first class", of course.
Once seated, you can appreciate the height of the speakers -
big. The amp and pre-amp - also big. Is it obvious that I don't
know the brand of anything? If you are curious, visit Doug White's
website: matrxsystems.com and bug him for that kind of info. The
only brand I know is Bose.
I was prepared for a big sound. I would not have been surprised
at a clear sound. I wasn't ready, however, for how "true"
the musical performance was.
It was as though my band had been freeze-dried, vacuum sealed,
brought to Celeste's kitchen, heated on top of her stove and served
piping hot in front of us. I'm not saying it was great, I'm saying
it was true.
I'll let others tell you how great it was.
I solicited one-word descriptions of "At The Jazz Base"
as heard on Doug's Porsche, uh, stereo.
Here's what the critics said:
"That's my husband"
Soon coming to a record store near you...
"At The Jazz Base" will play on all audio systems,
I have a great publicist at the Heads Up label. His name is Mike
Wilizesky. His job is to make me famous. This is a difficult job.
One of things we do is brainstorm about "angles" to
pitch to magazines. Magazines have the power to make people care
about my music. This is an important role of the free press in
America. Especially when it comes to my music.
So, in one of my flashes of brilliance today, I wrote Mike the
following email about my soon-to-be released CD. I am trying to
make his job easier:
I think this record fills a genre void. There are jam bands, rock
bands, smooth jazz, bands, "look at me, Ma" fusion bands,
avant garde, Indian reggae bands with a twist of polka! "But
ain't no band like mine", he said modestly.
Really, though, the live CD allowed me to show we don't fit neatly
Admittedly, anyone who is not that savvy about jazz may not get
To some, anything with a saxophone fits in the jazz box. Did you
the Cosby episode where one daughter describes jazz as "music
I'll keep tryin'
It's all about the angles, all about the angles.
I am still jet lagged from my recent trip to Hawaii and the previous
trip to Germany. Now, I'm not complaining, but 6 hours in one
direction on the globe,back home, then 6 hours in the other direction
and back home again, can make your body clock protest a bit.
So I'm a little loopy - more than usual. Still, I know what I
know. For example, I know I played in one of the best jam sessions
in my life.
In Hawaii, I was involved in long Recording Academy (Grammy)
trustees meetings during the day, and at night had free time to
do other things, such as jam with other trustees.
The following event is the kind of moment you wish you had on
tape. I especially wish I had documentation for the non-believers.
Kurt Clayton (aka KC) , quite a funky keyboard player, was on
the piano in the hospitality lounge of our hotel in Maui. He was
"riffing" - playing a soulful (very soulful) groove
befitting his Memphis roots. There were maybe 20 people there,
including a few folks around the piano waiting for something to
happen. Ducks at the park wait this way - eager but confident
- knowing with certainty that somebody passing by has something
tasty in a paper bag.
Since I had my bass with me (don't leave home without it), I
plugged in and KC and I became a duo. We played through this chord
progression that had an element of traditional jazz ("rythym
changes" for those who care about jazz theory details).
When we finished, Kurt Elling stepped over and started singing
the blues standard "Centerpiece". If you don't know
Kurt Elling, he is a Grammy nominated vocalist who is at the very
top of his game in terms of style and substance. The man can deliver
a jazz vocal performance like nobody around today - period. In
this little lounge, Kurt was singing like we were in Carnegie
By now, everyone was enjoying these musical morsels - including
our trustee from L.A., Dave Koz, who ran to his room and came
back with his alto sax. Can you tell this was not an ordinary
Dave is known as a modern day smooth jazz renaissance man. What
doesn't he do? Recording artist, producer, songwriter, radio personality,
record label owner and entertainer. If you've ever seen his show,
you instantly know why Dave is so popular. He is a ball of energy
and enthusiasm. Dave knows what his audience likes and he gives
it to them - in hepas. He is the polar opposite of the self-absorbed
jazz artist. The man will work a crowd unlike any instrumentalist
since Cab Calloway.
Here's a little known secret, though, Dave can swing - hard.
If you don't believe me ask jazz writer Neil Tesser (Grammy trustee
from Chicago). He was sitting ringside.
Dave played a burning blues solo that got everyone's attention,
even the people you might think are indifferent to jazz. That's
one of Dave's secrets to success, though, isn't it?
After the blues, the piano player changed, but the straight ahead
jazz intentions didn't. We were joined by another Memphis soul
man on piano, Marvell Thomas. Must be something in the water.
Marvell took things to another level. He's got an old-school respect
for playing the tunes "right". And we did - one jazz
standard after another.
Kurt Elling called "Bye Bye Blackbird". Nice choice.
Miles Davis' version is a quintessential interpretaion. Here's
a weird little sidenote. On the way to Maui, I heard the Miles
recording of "Blackbird" in an airport book store. I
took special note of how Miles, the master of space and drama,
started his solo and sustained tension with very few notes.
Now here's the weird part - Kurt Elling sang the Miles trumpet
solo - note for note. You can't plan this stuff.
Meanwhile, Marc Dicciani (former Philly trustee and chair of
the Advocacy committee) managed to sneak in a drum set. How do
you sneak in a drum set? Somehow, he did and then we (officially)
had a band.
If you've ever seen any old movies with the impromptu "jazz
jam session" scene, you recognize this story. It was just
like that - the gradual entrance of players, the casual nature
of it all; not really a performance as much as a good time, and
folks gathered around bobbing their heads to the music inciting
the musicians to a kind of riot of swing. The only thing missing
was cigarette smoke. Modern life.
The jam session ended with a duel between Kurt and Koz. I won't
tell you who won. Actually, the real winners were probably the
onlookers who got a free glimpse of artists playing for the sheer
ecstasy of it.
This all really happened, I think. As I said, I'm a little loopy.
If you see Neil Tesser, ask him.
I'm here at The Jazz Base listening to Meg & the ClifTones.
This band performs delicious jazzed-up versions of classic rock
tunes. Tonight I've heard Allman Brothers, War, Donavan, Edgar
Winter and more.
Imagine a reggae influenced "Groovin'". Everybody in
the club was smilin'. Right now they're playing George Harrison's
"Here Comes The Sun" - beautiful.
I have to be honest; this approach has the danger of sounding
corny. BUT, the Meg and the band are so tasteful and so sincere,
that you instantly get caught up in the magic - and it is magic.
The band by the way, are some of my favorite musicians. The project
is the brainchild of vibraphonist Tony Miceli who always plays
as though possessed. Total focus and energy. As he told me "I've
been doing this (playing these rock classics) for 20 years.".
It shows. He's found a way to do what many of us jazz musicians
seek to do, blend the old with the new - make the unfamiliar familiar.
Tony's joined by Kevin McConnell a virtuoso bassist who never
sacrifices the groove for his own pleasure. There's pleasure enough
in re-inventiing those signature bass lines.
The drummer, Butch Reed is an old friend of mine. In fact, some
folks may know Butch from my CDs. He's force and finesse on the
drums. In this setting, Butch's playing is truly inspired. I forgot
how musically sensitive he is.
The guitarist, Matt Davis is new to me. A wonderful player who
at the age 26 plays with an admirable degree of restraint.
Meg Clifton is a marvelous singer - great phrasing and amazing
ability to connect with songs written before she was born. What
I really like is how she is respectful of the music without taking
herself too seriously. She has a refreshing lightness.
OK. The encore tune is The Beatles' "Come Together".
It is rock without the bravado.
The concert today with The Odean Pope Trio was better than I could
have hoped. Sometimes when you want to play well, when you really
try to perform your best, the opposite happens. My best performances
seem to come when I'm relaxed, not so relaxed that I don't have
the energy, but in a state where you don't have the energy to
try too hard. I felt free and "in the moment".
The trio had a cohesiveness that you wouldn't necessarily expect
after not having played together in 20 years. The preparation
didn't hurt. We had 5 rehearsals for this one 90 minute show.
I also had to practice quite a bit, because Odean wrote new pieces
with very difficult bass parts.
Equally important to practice, however is concept. For a group
to work, everyone has to be on the same page musically. There
also has to be a high level of mutual trust. Odean Pope is wonderful
at providing direction on a conceptual level, then trusting the
other musicians to make music. Powerful lesson in leadership.
Thanks to Odean for bringing us back together!
I'm riding in a van on a highway between Dusseldorf and Moers,
Germany and the radio station is playing Snoop Dog. I could be
dreaming - it was a long flight from Philly to Frankfurt. But
no, it's Snoop.
It's a grey day here which contributes to the dream-like state.
This trip is a deja vous experience. I played the Moers Festival
years ago with this group, the Odean Pope Trio.
Odean is a legendary saxophonist who has had a huge influence
on me. Through working with him, I learned some important things
about harmony and freedom of expression.
The trio is rounded out by Cornell Rochester, as dynamic a drummer
as you will ever hear. Fluent in many styles, Cornell is a master
improviser, who is amazing to watch.
The three of us are back at the "scene of the crime".
It's no exaggeration to say this group caused quite a stir when
it first took the stage at this avant-garde festival in 1981.
It had a furious energy that excited a German audience that was
probably used to seeing everything - the cerebral Anthony Braxton,
the fiery pianoworks of Cecil Taylor and the inpenetrable man
who started it all, Ornette Coleman.
Still, the Odean Pope Trio was something different, a free flowing
funk without the funky cliches, a hot swinging affair that conjured
Coltrane's sheets of sound, while not being boxed in by a relentless
chord progression. Yet, here's the paradox, there was form.
I have to confess, I didn't really know what I was doing, at
least not consciously. I could not have explained to someone,
say another bass player how to play that music, the way you could
explain to someone how to play a jazz standard, a fusion opus,
a samba, or a funk groove. It was a sound that had a system, but
one that was below our level of understanding.
Back to the present. Today is an off day. Tomorrow, we'll see
how much we remember about this music. Certainly, we're prepared
after 5 rehearsals; what I mean is I wonder if remember how to
deconstruct and reconstruct Odean's material. By the way, he's
written all new material for this reunion concert.
I learned so much from Odean Pope - about growing, experimenting,
but most of all, about trusting yourself. It will be great to
be back in the our old classroom, The Moers Jazz Festival.