Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Summer Concert in the Garden

I blogged about this last year, but once again I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that played at the ND Museum of Art's Summer Concert in the Garden series last night. The featured artist was Paul Peterson, a saxophonist, composer, and arranger from St. Paul. He's a hell of a musician, and I got to read a lot of his charts and can say he's a hell of a composer as well.

I got together with Paul, John Behling (guitar), and Mike Blake (drums) over my lunch break to run through the songs as a group. It's funny, because looking at a piece of music, especially a "head chart" (which is chords and melody only), you don't know what path it's going to take when the other guys look at it. Even as we rehearsed, things tightened up - punches became more clear, rhythmic figures took shape, and dynamics came into play.

Later, as we took the stage and had time to let the music simmer in our heads all afternoon, the songs often took an entirely different path. Improvisation lends well to this phenomenon as well - when you rehearse you really don't improvise much because of time constraints. However, during the performance, what was a 2-minute song in rehearsal can end up 7-10 minutes long.

Improvisation is something that is dear to me. I think the key word is "improve," because perfection is always beyond reach - and I think necessarily so. There isn't a jazz musician out there that thinks they played a perfect solo at any point in their lives. That may be different from an audience perspective. Take, for instance, Sonny Rollins' solo on St. Thomas, or Miles' solo on All Blues. To many aspiring musicians, these improvised solos are perfection; we often strive to duplicate such moments. The funny thing is that such moments are just that - a moment in time, albeit one that is immortal because of the technology offered in recording, but nonetheless, it was but a moment. If you heard Miles play that song 10 times, you would have heard 10 different solos.

That is the essence of jazz, of improvisation, and especially of live music. Miles may not be around anymore, but he inspired so many and his spirit lives on, along with that of so many others. We are fortunate to have plenty of jazz in Grand Forks and if you haven't seen any, I highly encourage you to. That sounds like a shameless plug, and it is in a way, because big audiences ensure my continued booking as a musician, but it's also a sincere plea because I feel that strongly about jazz. We may not be of Miles' caliber, but we're trying, dang it. :)

So often jazz gets pooh-poohed because it's not hard enough (as in the dynamics of rock music); or too cerebral, too clique-like. That doesn't need to be the case. The next time you have the opportunity to hear live jazz, just close your eyes and listen to the interactions of the musicians - the soloists, the background, the harmonies, the way the melody is changed around each time it's played, the mistakes, the recoveries of those mistakes.

That's what jazz is about. God, I love it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Farmer's Market

Unlike the cold, wet, and windy, experience the 229 Groove Collective had at the Grand Forks Farmer's Market two weekends ago, SFI only rated a windstorm. However, the wind failed to keep the patrons and vendors away and it looked like a great still-early-in-the-season turnout. Still Fighting It had a really good time playing and we feel really honored the comments we got.

It's not easy keeping a band together for 3 years, especially when we've weathered the departure of three drummers, and we're, um... Still Fighting It.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. I digress...

I have to give major props to Austin Winger, our new drummer, who I called on Wednesday afternoon to fill in for our outgoing drummer at the Blue Moose on Wednesday night. He did an excellent job and we're excited to have yet another drummer who knows his stuff. It seems like our flavor changes a little every time we switch personnel, so we'll see where it takes us this time around.

Our next pubic show is at the Moose on August 27th, but we're trying to book somewhere mid-August, so hang tight and check back here for updates.

Oh, and remember the Jazz Jam session at the Urban Stampede tonight, 8:00.

That's all - see you soon!