Hi, I’m Jack Poley, a season-subscribing South Florida JAZZ member. I’m also a jazz musician when I get around to it, which is not nearly often enough, alas. Jazz has been a lifelong passion for me, but not an ongoing profession. I couldn’t afford to be a jazz musician… which brings me to my point. Having been recently installed to the Board of Directors of South Florida JAZZ, I was asked to be a part of the voice of the organization, so hear goes…
I support worthy jazz efforts because a jazz career is a voluntary economic hardship for most musicians, born of love of listening and, if one is lucky enough, love of playing jazz. SFJ is one of those worthy efforts to sustain and foster jazz at the highest levels of accomplishment. Whether you know every name that’s coming into Miniaci PAC to perform, you can be assured the quality level will be very high. And because our founder, Dr. Ron Weber, is himself a jazz musician and educator, we have assurance that SFJ’s programming will always consist of upper echelon jazz.
Like Ron, I’m interested in helping to advance the awareness and preservation of SFJ and jazz, generally. I’ve had the privilege of hearing and playing with top notch musicians and, while that’s no longer possible these days, owing to my day job, and perhaps some diminished chops, I still love making music in my personal studio and will do so as long as I physically can.
Jazz is arguably the toughest musical form to get one’s ears around. I decided I wanted to play jazz piano at the late age of 19, but added guitar to the list when my mother bought me a Wes Montgomery album, Boss Guitar (it was an indelible moment when the track “Trick Bag” came to life). Having grown up studying and playing classical piano at recital level, then ‘advancing’ to Rock-n-Roll on my college campus, I asked a very naive question of a pretty nice-sounding jazz guitarist playing at the campus ballroom social: “How did you learn to do this”? He didn’t know how to answer. He said, “I just kept listening to records and practicing until I got it”. Not knowing any better, that’s how I began to explore jazz. Little did I know that’s how most of us began playing jazz. One immerses in it, and hopefully something useful and worthy of listen comes from it. So much for a definitive answer to the basic question, what’s jazz and who’s doing it ‘right’? Good way to start an argument. Doesn’t matter – it’s all dictated by your ear and your mind’s connection to it.
Thus, my mentor, via his records, was Wes Montgomery, whom I idolized, as did a whole generation of guitarists such as Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Emily Remler. Hundreds of wannabes were mesmerized by Wes’s arrival, with his fresh sound and the use of octave and chord soloing – the next phase of what Charlie Christian began – elevating the guitar’s prominence as an exciting lead instrument while still offering its rhythm function. I brazenly copied (and so did they) Wes until I could play his stuff close to how he did (never, of course, with his touch and tone, but the others couldn’t either). One thing for sure about jazz, it IS the notes, certainly but it’s also timing, the phrasing, all the latitudes that jazz gives one with which to work.
I later wished I had taken formal lessons, but there was no time, and by then all the bad habits and limitations were in place. Besides, I was never going to play music other than for fun. But what I got out of my idolization was to hear Wes play live maybe two dozen times in 5 cities over a span of years, becoming a now-and-then pesty friend of his, sitting solo in the front-and-center table of the club. Wes couldn’t read music, but who cares? It’s all about the music. I was devastated when he died in 1968 (he was only 45, sadly). But I had long since been hooked on jazz as my main musical outlet.
If you’re reading this you are surely a jazzer of some sort, even if on the fringe. I’ve always noted that jazz (whatever that really is) is a 3% ‘solution’ – there are very few people who religiously hear and support (pay for, either live or recorded) jazz on a regular basis. Hopefully you’ll reach out to friends who might want to join you, and bring them to an SFJ performance, keeping jazz alive through the generations. Trust me, in a 3% game everyone’s contribution is important, and there are precious few musical organizations like SFJ that strive to present a panoply of jazz at such a standard again and again through the years. Like classical music, ceilinged at ~3%, as well, with the advent of pop music, jazz is alive, but in constant need of regenerative support. And, like a lot of things, such as pro hockey games, live jazz shows all its energy and exciting elements in a way that media just cannot convey.
That’s it for the commercial – going forward I’d like to draw/invite you into a dialog about jazz, any level, any topic, any opinion, perhaps an anecdote. Please participate as you like, but do participate.
Though I got a brief chance to express my thanks to Marlies and Helmut Kraemer for their generous underwriting of the great concert given by Tomås Cotik & Tao Lin last night, I want to express it herein as well, in behalf of SFJ and its members. If you were fortunate to be at this Piazzolla-centered performance on SAT night, JAN 10, 2015, you saw yet an aspect of music that many haven’t had the opportunity to experience, and you had to stretch your ear some to assimilate this performance for all that it offered. The strong applause rendered during the performance tells me this concert was well received and appreciated. Here are some takeaways I got:
• It is always refreshing to see and hear great musicians perform in virtually flawless manner, and that’s what we surely got – two highly skilled, confident and practiced players who beautifully, seemingly effortlessly, conveyed their passion for the music they gave us. Though the technical performance bar is getting higher and higher, especially in the jazz world, classical musicians still set the technical standard, the standard that gives the musician the power and capability to convey the composer’s intentions without hindrance. Piazzolla’s compositions convey a lot of passion, requiring a masterful touch to achieve what we heard. And it’s LIVE music!
• While Dr. Weber put it right that no one would call the performance a jazz-based one per se, there were numbers of improvised phrases by Mr. Cotik, particularly in the last few pieces, and especially in ”Libertango,” likely the most performed Tango Neuvo work ever. As to improvisation, my studies of classical piano implied that many of the composers played variations on their compositions regularly, probably to keep from getting bored, likely to experiment with harmonic and other combinations, but surely to show off, as well. Maybe they were the first jazz musicians? Mark-André Hamelin has done a number of Chopin inventions of which I have copies. They’re fun to listen to.
• Modern tango music strikes me as very ‘folkish’ in feel, but more formal, of course. Do you get that sense?
• Mr. Lin’s wife, Catherine, is not only beautiful and a competent page-turner, but I was advised she also has a PhD in music and is a dynamic, powerhouse classical pianist. This is a stiff group to break into for any aspect of the performance!
• Lastly it strikes me that we, the audience, not exactly sure what to expect until it happened, were pleasantly surprised. That’s kinda what a great jazz performance is like, isn’t it? One never knows how it will play out until the playing begins. That’s the beauty of live music, and with no safety net, no do-overs. And at the level we heard at this concert, ‘remarkable’ just doesn’t cut it.
What did you think of the Artists and their music? If you didn’t attend this concert but are interested in dialoging about other concerts in the SFJ series, past or upcoming, please let us hear from you. This is a collaborative forum that can benefit from anyone’s input. The subject is, simply, JAZZ.
Jack Poley for South Florida JAZZ 1-14-15
FEB 15, 2015
Last night Larry Coryell, Larry Gray and Paul Wertico made 3 sound like 4, playing with a high energy level and covering a variety of modes and shades. It is VERY challenging for a guitar player to play without chordal accompaniment inasmuch as he must supply both chords and melody/solo in the same phrase, or bridge that phrase with very carefully selected and placed single notes to sate the listener’s expectations. Larry did it as well as I’ve heard him so do. Gray and Wertico were paying full attention and complementing the guitar beautifully.
• Our Love is Here to Stay was dedicated to Larry’s wife for Valentine’s Day, played beautifully as a solo effort. Larry quoted Barney Kessel twice from Kessel’s ’54 Jazz Standards album while he was at it. Tasty appropriation – Kessel was one of the first chord ‘expansionists’ in guitar jazz, with a huge vocabulary in that department.
• Manha de Carnaval also featured numbers of quotes and layers of bell-like harmonics
• Coryell also paid tribute to Wes Montgomery, both in play and in introducing the tune to the audience. Most jazz guitarists will usually own up to a huge debt to Wes. Following Charlie Christian’s lead , he changed the way guitar was played, making it a featured instrument once and for all. Bumpin’ On Sunset is a good ‘jam’ tune – mostly modal (few chord changes, if any) and easy to get a groove on. The group did just that.
• Larry also called out Jim Hall, a minimalist guitarist that made every note count, and did a great rendition of In a Sentimental Mood (Ellington) in Hall’s honor.
• Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way is a lovely ballad, and had been played, too, by Wes Montgomery on his second album with Riverside records, one of my very favorites. But Larry changed up and played this a bit up-tempo, more like a fox trot. Very nice treatment nonetheless. Coryell used a huge amount of string harmonics (overtones) throughout several pieces in this concert, showing considerable skill in this less frequently used technique (as well, most cannot perform the process cleanly).
• The closing number was a tour de force, particularly for Larry Gray and Paul Wertico who performed extensive solos at the outset of the closer. Gray demonstrated some difficult chops, producing very pleasant alternate timbres and effects. Wertico went ‘nuts’ at his turn – so much so that after the group closed it out, the audience ‘understood’ no encore was forthcoming (or needed). This group’s genuine enthusiasm was easily detected and received by the audience fortunate enough to have been to this gig.
Jack Poley for South Florida JAZZ – FEB 15, 2015
While student attendance was sparse (sadly this event was for their benefit) SFJ members and friends were treated to a virtuoso performance by Dana Leong on FEB 19, wherein he demonstrated his masterly skills on cello and trombone whilst providing us with a great deal of history, anecdote and music, using a computer (correctly) to enhance his Master Class performance. We were all knocked out – my expectations were well exceeded and I’m certainly glad I was invited. Dana lives in NYC and both teaches and performs there. I hope I will cross his path soon when I’m next in NY and, if I find he’s performing on a stage I can get to, I will surely make the effort. I advise you to look out for him via his website: www.danaleong.com
This SAT last we were again treated to a special group at Miniaci Performance Center, organized by South Florida Jazz to hear the phenomenal Warren Wolf and his band, Wolfpack, featuring Benny Green as a guest on piano. While Warren lived up to his billing as a true vibraphone phenom, starting out with a pulsing number and a barrage of sixteenth notes that had to track at about 160bpm, maybe more, Benny Green, a veteran maven on piano, shared center-stage to my ears. I’ve never heard him play better, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him maybe a dozen times – always walking away wondering why I bother to play piano. Put another way he was in perfect form with some memorable solos and fantastic comping and support. He showed very high concentration and interest at the outset of each tune, being certain he knew exactly what Warren was going to do and was expecting. For a master craftsman to do that on every piece is truly exceptional. The duet that Warren and Benny performed was both a technical and moving musical experience, with both at their very best in technique and enthusiasm. Stellar performances. It is appropriate to mention the two additional rhythm players, Kris Funn on acoustic bass and Quincy Phillips on drums, the latter a regular with Wallace Roney. They made their presence felt throughout.
Jack Poley for SFJ, MAR 16, 2015
Cecile McLorin Salvant and her well-polished piano trio treated us to a great performance on SAT, MAY 9. Generous, too, as it seemed they were going to play through the announced break but, no, they were just stretching out with a lot of energy before taking a break and repeating the extended effort.
I saw Ms. Salvant at the Monterey Jazzfest in 2014 but this performance was more cabaret-like and could have been a Broadway musical, so many show tune types did she perform. As well the trio has an enormous amount of ‘breaks’ and fills to muster, particularly pianist Aaron Diehl, a master musician, interplaying in duet fashion with Cecile on several occasions. But the trio as a whole (Leonard Leathers drums, Paul Sikivie bass) was stellar.
That Ms. Salvant has arrived is evident by the sold-out performance and great audience enthusiasm. She is easy to like and, at only 25, has a developed voice and musical maturity well beyond her years. That SFJ could present this fabulous performance at its customary bargain seat rates is amazing unto itself.
Jack Poley for SFJ, MAY 11, 2015