Photo by Mike of Luminosity Photo Blog

Well, it’s been three months since I’ve found the time to get back to the blog. But now that I just wrapped up my first quarter of coursework at UCLA, it seems like a good time to poke my head out from the mountains of reading and say hello to all my friends on the internet. If Andrew can do it in the middle of a book project, and Rachel can find the time between coursework, a radio internship, and the unrequited love of jazz nerds, then who am I to complain?

As the photo shows, winter in Los Angeles can be tough, but so far I’m managing to survive. This city is a strange and different urban animal, but I do feel extremely blessed to be here, even when I have been overwhelmingly busy and unable to enjoy an afternoon in the Santa Monica sand. 

Despite the workload, though, graduate life here has been good to me. UCLA’s PhD program in ethnomusicology so far has had me studying the works of previous ethnomusicologists, going all the way back to Alexander Ellis’s musical pitch experiments in 1885. For an often-hilarious perspective on how Europeans reacted to the sounds of the peoples they were busy colonizing, check out Richard Wallaschek’s Primitive Music. If nothing else, it confirms that even in the 19th century, one could make “a great impression on the ladies by means of a banjo.” (Yes, that is an exact quote.)

So far, the highlights of the experience have come thanks to the eight other sharp, talented aspiring ethnomusicologists in my cohort. It’s very different from my experience at Rutgers, where I was surrounded by jazz musicians there to study jazz; here, I’m the “jazz guy” but experiencing that with other big-eared, open-minded students of different musical  traditions. As a result, I have already begun to learn about Egyptian Pop, Mexican Trio Romantico, Tuareg Ishumar, Irish fiddling, reinterpretations of 19th-century Armenian music, and all kinds of other cool stuff from my new friends and colleagues. (Click the links or check out the videos at the end of this post.)

Also, the professors I have had the pleasure to work with have been fantastic. In particular, Steve Loza’s history seminar and James Newton’s course on jazz since the sixties really blew my mind. What’s more, both of them are baaaaad jazz players! (Seriously, if you haven’t heard James Newton, you are missing out. Because he has a self-proclaimed “deep aversion to fame,” a lot of musicians my age probably haven’t heard him, but he is kind of a big deal.)

While I’m here, I have also started to get some trombone chops back together–this past quarter, I played lead trombone with the UCLA Jazz Orchestra. A couple of weeks ago, we played a tribute concert for recently-passed saxophonist and arranger Frank Foster, which was a lot of fun and a good way to ease back into the playing routine (few things are more musically satisfying to me than knocking off some Basie charts with a good band.) Led by guitarist Charley Harrison, the group is enthusiastic and hard-swinging; hearing sophomore trombone phenom Jonah Levine (solo at 6:44) rock the solo chair all quarter was one of the many highlights. Jazz critics take note: this guy will be on your radar soon!

Although it has been tough to find the time, I have also  managed to do a little extracurricular writing. That  includes a recap of Kenny Burrell’s 80th birthday concert in November for the Friends of  Jazz at UCLA newsletter, and a review of Kevin Fellezs’s new book Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion for the UCLA graduate student journal Ethnomusicology Review. (While you’re there, bookmark that page–the journal’s newly-redesigned website has a lot of really interesting content to peruse.)

But really, nothing sums up my last three months better than this ridiculous, expansive and fascinating array of music that has been making its way through my ears:

Irish Fiddler Martin Hayes, to whom Kevin Levine hipped me:

Los Tres Reyes, to whom Leon Garcia hipped me:

Tuareg Ishumar, to which Eric Schmidt hipped me:

Amr Diab, to whom Darci Sprengel hipped me:

Isabel Bayrakdarian, to whom Alyssa Mathias hipped me:

Jack Teagarden, to whom Chilean jazz connoisseur Pepe Hosaisson hipped me (but that’s another story . . .)

Fits right together, no? As always, feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what you think of this funny business I’m up to out on the Left Coast.

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