Conrad Herwig: Amazing musician and teacher

This year has blessed me with a series of steps forward for which I am very grateful, many of them related to my work in jazz documented here from May through September.  I thought that a look back at this past year, the first in which I have really found a home in the jazz community, would be a good way to start my 2010 blogging odyssey anew.

2009 began with a big move:  just after Christmas, I drove from California to New Jersey, arriving on January 2nd.  Along the way, I stopped for lunch in Vernon, TX, Jack Teagarden’s hometown, which I learned was completely in the absolute middle of nowhere and smells like cow pies.  My girlfriend Marina joined me for the trip, and we celebrated the new year inauspiciously at a Days Inn in Roanoke, Virginia. 

After settling intomy New Jersey digs, one of my professors at Rutgers invited me to check out Winter JazzFest, my first taste (more like an inundation!) of live music in New York City.  I was a little too overwhelmed by the new surroundings to be able to take it all in, but I do remember digging William Parker‘s trio, Don Byron, Jason Moran, Sexmob and Claudia Acuna (where I proudly identified her cover of Violeta Parra‘s “Gracias A La Vida”, a reminder of my previous jazz adventure in Santiago, Chile in 2005.)  I look forward to checking this out again next weekend!

It would be awhile before I saw more live music in New York, as I was quickly engulfed in the academic life at Rutgers.  In addition to my studies in the MA program at Rutgers-Newark, I managed to get permission to moonlight in the jazz trombone studio at Mason Gross, the Rutgers school for the performing arts in New Brunswick.  It was there that I had the immense fortune to study trombone with Conrad Herwig, hands-down the most inspiring and talented trombone teacher with whom I have had the pleasure of studying.

Seriously, if you’re not familiar with his work, stop what you’re doing and check it out.  Not only did my trombone playing improve during my year studying with him, but his patience and attention as a teacher and mentor of the jazz tradition helped me better understand my place in it.

Skipping ahead a little bit, seeing Conrad lead his Latin Side Project at the Blue Note on October 5 was an absolute highlight of my live music listening this year.  Unfortunately, the sound in the room was very poorly handled, but the music coming from the musicians was bad-ass.

By the time the end of my first semester at Rutgers rolled around, I was starting to feel like I actually belonged in the jazz world, if not as a professional musician then at least as an observant fellow traveler.  My forays into the music’s history were especially inspiring, which led to my first writing “gig” with the Jazz.com Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians.  In studying the lives of the early jazz trombone pioneers, I began to get a better sense of my own love for the music, and became fascinated by the experimental, optimistic spirit that the young musicians offered.

I’m also grateful that my work in the spring produced the essay that inspired the launch of this blog.  I have since learned a great deal about the growing community of jazz aficionados on the internet, and had the pleasure of meeting many of you.  Sharing my thoughts on current trends in jazz provided a compelling counterweight to the in-depth historical work I was doing for Jazz.com.  I also convinced Josh Jackson to take me on as an intern at WBGO, enjoying weekly conversations and trying to soak up his experience and perspective as an insightful jazz advocate and commentator.  Take a moment to listen to some of his material at The Checkout — he’s got his finger on the pulse of the contemporary jazz scene better than anyone I know.  And he brought me along for a much more high-profile New Year’s eve celebration for Marina and I to enjoy this time around: The Bad Plus at the Village Vanguard.

September brought a new semester, new breakthroughs in my work with Conrad, and an especially emotional performance with the Rutgers University Jazz Ensemble in memory of William “Prof” Fielder, longtime trumpet professor, jazz advocate and mentor to many of today’s top trumpeters.  It was especially important for me, as I got a moment to personally thank Terrell Stafford (who later joined us onstage for a brilliant rendition of “What’s New”) for his part in helping me get hooked on jazz in high school — he had traveled all the way out to Portland, OR to give a workshop to my high school jazz band in 2001, the lessons of which I still haven’t forgotten.

Since then, I have sharpened my focus with regard to my MA thesis and my future plans in academia (looking pretty hard at a PhD in ethnomusicology) which will continue to inform my writing at Lubricity.  So for those of you still subscribed to my feed, or stopping through from wherever else the internet is taking you, I owe it to you to say thank you for being a part of my jazz-inspired adventures this year.  I look forward to continuing to share the music I love with you in 2010.

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