Tim Daisy/Ken Vandermark Duo at Open Ears 7/26

I don’t usually use this space to push upcoming Open Ears events, but tomorrow night’s show should be special. We are fortunate to be able to host the New Orleans stop on the Tim Daisy/Ken Vandermark Duo tour. The show is in the Blue Nile Balcony Room on Tuesday July 26, 2011, sometime after 10 PM CDT. The concert will be broadcast on WWOZ (90.7 FM in New Orleans and wwoz.org everywhere else), so if you aren’t in New Orleans, or can’t get to the club, please listen online, or the radio. There is a $10 suggested donation.

Read the Time-Picayune’s preview of the show.

Ken tim

Tim (on left) and Ken rock their excited look.

Ken Vandermark plays woodwind instruments, composes, and makes things happen. He’s had a number of groups, and is probably best known for his long running quintet The Vandermark 5. In 1999 he won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

Tim Daisy is a composer and percussionist. He has been a member of several of Ken’s bands and on top of that is a busy member of the Chicago scene. I have heard a rumor that Tim is a Slovenian free jazz rock star, and I know he knows where to find the best pho in Chicago.

These guys are special, don’t miss it.

New Orleans gets Downbeat Critics Poll love

I just received the August 2011 issue of Downbeat Magazine, which contains their Critics Poll results. I have long been ambivalent about magazine polls. There is no doubt that being listing in these polls is a good thing, but there are always so many good musicians who deserve to be listed and are not. Of course there are the usual silly results, like people appearing in the main category and the rising star version, such as Nicole Mitchell who won both categories on flute this year. Then there is Julian Priester appearing in the Rising Star Trombone category. Mr. Priester is near 70 years old, and is on some truly classic recordings. His star has been risen for some time now. In spite of these peculiarities, it is still an honor to make one of these lists. I write all of this to set up this post about how much love New Orleans musicians got in this year’s Downbeat Critics Poll.

Of course this post about New Orleans musicians in the poll is just an excuse to mention that I am listed in the Rising Star Trombone category this year. While I could name a number of other trombone players whose work I admire greatly who are not on the list, it does feel good to know that people are noticing what I am doing. And apparently some other New Orleans musicians are getting noticed as well.

Critics poll

We have our already world renowned musicians who still live in New Orleans, like Terence Blanchard, Herlin Riley, and Nicholas Payton, who got their expected mentions in the Jazz Group, Drums, and Trumpets lists. Our clarinet scene is well represented by Evan Christopher, Dr. Michael White, and Tim Laughlin. NOLA placed 3 trombonists in 4 spots on the Trombone and Rising Star Trombone lists. Delfeayo Marsalis and Trombone Shorty made the grown-ups tableTrombone list, and Trombone Shorty and I were at the kid’s table on the Rising Star Trombone list. It was also nice to see Kidd Jordan get some critic’s love, along with Jason Marsalis on vibes, John Boutté (Rising Star Male Vocalist), and Matt Perrine on sousaphone. I was especially pleased to see Jonathan Freilich on the Rising Star Guitar list and Aurora Nealand on the Rising Star Soprano Saxophone list, both well deserved.

The magazine lists the critics who vote in the poll, and I believe that only two of the voters in this year’s poll are New Orleans residents. The way the scoring works, one must appear on the ballots of at least three critics to make the list, so it is nice to know that critics from outside of New Orleans are aware of what we are doing here, and not just the stereotypical “New Orleans Music” version of what we are doing here, but some of the more creative aspects as well. I got 32 points, which means that at least six critics had my name on their ballot. To those of you who have noticed what I have been doing, thank you, I deeply appreciate the attention.

I hope I can handle the huge influx of CD orders. That is what happens after one makes one of these lists, right?

Thoughts on an Astral Project show, or I feel like a teenager again

My step-son (Blake) asked me to take him and a friend (Taylor) to hear Astral Project at Snug Harbor tonight. One of the cool things about Snug (and there are many) is that young people are allowed to come in to the club and hear the music, when accompanied by an adult. There aren’t many places that 17 year old aspiring musicians can go to hear good live jazz.

I hadn’t heard Astral Project live in quite some time. I was nice to be reminded how great they are. When I was about the age of Blake and Taylor, I spent a lot of time listening to Astral Project. Many of my early musical inspirations and revelations happened at Astral Project shows. I hadn’t thought about that music much recently, but tonight I was reminded how much the sound of this band is a foundational aspect of my musical and aesthetic DNA. I realized that most jazz drummers leave me flat, because I want them to be Johnny Vidacovich. I remembered a night in Dixon Hall at Tulane, when I heard Tony Dagradi, and his sound made me want to find a voice on trombone that is that personal and vibrant. They are really a special band, and it was nice to be reminded of that tonight.

I have been trying to do a good job of exposing Blake to good music, and giving him a chance to find the things that he likes. He returned the favor tonight by asking me to take him to a show that left me feeling just as inspired as it left him. I love the nights that remind us that music is fun.

Thoughts on computer based instrument paradigms

Over the past couple of years, I have been thinking about computer music instrument design, or how to turn my laptop into a musical instrument. Much of this is due to my participation in the Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana or LOLs. The process of writing a piece for the LOLs often involves designing an instrument, and in my thinking on the subject, I have been putting these instruments into two broad categories. Direct control instruments are instruments in which an action of the performer maps directly to a sound from the instrument, i.e. pull the trigger and sound comes out, move the joystick forward and the pitch changes, etc. The other category is code/process controlled instruments, or instruments where the sound is produced by a process, which is simply launched by the performer, or possibly live coded, but the performer does not have control of individual musical events once the process is set into motion.

I have tended towards direct control instruments in my own work. I think this is largely due to my trombone player DNA. I am used to playing an acoustic instrument (direct control) and so much of my performance world view has been formed by that experience. One of the difficulties with designing new direct control instruments is that it often takes a significant amount of time to learn to play them well. Like any instrument, one must spend some time with it to develop any technique or sense of musical connection to the instrument.

On the other hand, process controlled instruments allow for the creation of highly complex musical expressions with little or no time spent learning technique, but they lack the intimacy of control, especially in terms of timing, that one gets from direct control.

Tonight I was reading an article (from 1991) by David Wessel called “Improvisation with Highly Interactive Real-Time Performance Systems.” In this article, he describes a system that seems to be a direct process control system. He launches the processes (I use the term process to be consistent with my categories, I don’t know that he would use that word) from a direct control instrument. This returns the control of low level timing to the performer, yet allows the performer to still take advantage of what the computer processes have to offer. He also talks about mapping expressive gestures to entire phrases as opposed to single notes.

These ideas have started some wheels turning about my next computer instrument.

I love it when I discover that someone solved my current dilemma twenty years ago. That’s why we should always be attentive in history class.

June travels

I was on the road for about half of June. From the 14th to the 23rd, my wife Jennifer and I were in Italy. The trip was half business/half vacation. I played four different concerts with Marcello Benetti. Two in a trio with Helen Gillet on cello, and two as a guest with his Italian band Supuesto Blue.

Soundcheck silvia

Supuesto Blue bassist, Silvia Bolognesi during sound check before our performance at the UDIN & JAZZ Festival.


Our fabulous lunch at a privata near Cervignano, Italy. All of the meat, cheese, salad, and wine was a product of the farm at which we were eating.

Valley from castle

The view from Castle Runkelstein, looking back down the valley towards Bolzano.


The main course of our meal before the gig at the Mirano Oltre Festival. I called them tuna-scicles, which doesn’t come anywhere near doing them justice.

When we got back from Italy, I had a day and a half at home, before I left for a week long music information retrieval workshop hosted by the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University.


The Knoll – Home of CCRMA

The week was great. On top of the beautiful weather, the instructors were fabulous. They were each among the best in the world in their specialties, and came from a healthy mixture of academic and industrial situations. There is a course wiki that has lecture slides, and a wealth of material about what we learned over the course of the week.


Course participants and instructors, from left: Chris Colatos, Jeff Albert, Kamlesh Lakshminarayanan, Sean Zhang, Doug Eck, Eli Stine, David Bird, Gina Collecchia, Stephen Pope, Steve Tjoa. Not pictured: Jay LeBoeuf, Rebecca Fiebrink, George Tzanetakis, Leigh Smith, Dekun Zou, Bill Paseman, John Amuedo.

On the last afternoon of the workshop we took a tour of the CCRMA facility. They have a great vibe going there and some super cool stuff. There is a bit of a museum aspect to it at times, but also some state of the art gear for making sonic art.

Radio baton

One of Max Matthew’s Radio Batons that had recently been revived and played at Max’s memorial.

View from knoll

The view from the front of the Knoll, looking across Stanford’s campus.

Recent Reading – The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue

The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue

The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue
A Phenomenology of Music

Bruce Ellis Benson, Wheaton College, Illinois
ISBN: 9780521009324
Publication date: February 2003

This is the one book I finished during my many hours on airplanes in the past few weeks. I highly recommend it for those of you who like to look for the realities of musical practice, and not settle for the myths that we have adopted about what we do. It isn’t so much about improvisation, but it is quite interesting as a phenomenology of music.