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Playing Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” to my beautiful bride Marina.
Photo by Greg Cohen

The last time I posted here, over six months ago, I wrote:

Next up: I’m flying to Chile on Thursday to start a month of fieldwork in South America. Wish me luck on the next step of this adventure—and let’s hope that it generates lots more writing in the near future!

I’ll say! But more than just writing, I have been incredibly fortunate to start this new chapter in my life with projects that incorporate many aspects of what I enjoy, including writing but also music, teaching, improvising, reading, making new friends, and—most important of all—the love of my life, Marina.  Read the rest of this entry »

glenn

For a long time, I used to get really jealous of my jazz musician peers who grew up in musical households. So many of today’s great young players—Gerald Clayton, Anthony Wilson, Zack and Adam O’Farrill, the list goes on—come from families of jazz greats (not to mention, of course, the Marsalis Dynasty.) I remember hearing Clayton, for example, as a precocious dreadlocked teenager wowing all of us in jam sessions at the annual Port Townsend Jazz Workshop, where he is now on the teaching faculty, and his dad John is now the Artistic Director.

Even as a young player, I could tell how skillyfully these musicians soaked up new musical ideas, plugging them into a seemingly inborn musical logic. Of course, they woodshedded harder than the rest of us; still, I’ll never forget feeling like they had access to some secret formula. These guys had something special—and everyone knew that their proud papas had a lot to do with it.

What I never realized then, but have since come to appreciate since taking a dive down the Jazz Writing Rabbit Hole four years ago, is that I was getting a similar father-son transmission all along—I just don’t think that either of us knew it before.  Read the rest of this entry »

Photo courtesy of reddit, dottylemon

Photo courtesy of reddit, dottylemon

When I logged into my WordPress account for the first time in a few weeks this morning, I was greeted by a cheerful note:

Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com 4 years ago! Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!

Wow — not only is that a lot of exclamation points, but four years is, like, a really long time. For those keeping score at home, that’s one seventh of my life, and the same amount of time that I spent pursuing my B.A. It also reminded me that this blog has roughly coincided with my return to academia as a graduate student — in fact, my first post was also a paper that I wrote for my first class at Rutgers (and later became the introduction to my MA thesis.) I’m not sure quite what to make of the milestone, but I’ve been meaning to put up a stuff-I’ve-been-up-to-recently post anyway, so here it is!  Read the rest of this entry »

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In MLK Days past, I have shared a famous quote that outlines Martin Luther King, Jr.’s love of jazz, a passage that has been something of a mantra for me ever since I first came across it in 2009.

Today, I’ve linked to it again but also want to share another, perhaps less-well-known quotation that ought to resonate with what jazz can mean for our continued struggle against racism in the United States and around the world.

I first got hip to this quote via the prolific and oftentimes hilarious antiracist advocate John Randolph, aka Jay Smooth. Here’s his video of ten OTHER things MLK said:  Read the rest of this entry »

The first UCLA cohort of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock

The first UCLA cohort of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance with new UCLA professors Wayne Shorter (bottom left) and Herbie Hancock (bottom right)

A Brief History of Jazz Education: Part 1 and Part 2

By Alex W. Rodriguez for A Blog Supreme/NPR Jazz

The second half of my latest contribution to A Blog Supreme is now online — part one was posted in November — and I learned a lot from putting this together. It turned out that part two went up on the same day that UCLA announced the appointment of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter as Professors of Music there — auspicious times for jazz education, indeed!

Kid Ory

As the quarter gets underway again here at UCLA, I have added a new wrinkle to my academic grind: being a Teaching Associate for the Department of Ethnomusicology’s undergraduate survey course, Jazz in American Culture.

In fact, this is the first time that I have actually sat in on an old-school undergraduate jazz history survey, so I am learning a lot about how certain stories about jazz are told and retold. The real fun, though, lies in being able to supplement the text with some of my own perspectives during the two discussion sections that I lead on Fridays. As an experiment, I have been posting links and outlines on the course website, which are also viewable to the public. Tomorrow, the topic is early jazz in Los Angeles:

Read the rest of this entry »

Fred Wesley at the Oceanside Jazz Festival

In case you were wondering, Fred Wesley still knows how to get down. At the tender age of 68, the Funkiest Trombonist of All Time overcame a long cross-country flight and a bout with acute bronchitis to serve as the guest artist for the Oceanside Jazz Festival, an all-day celebration of local college and high school jazz ensembles.

I drove down to Oceanside to catch the final concert, which featured the Mira Costa Jazz Collective and Mira Costa Oceanside Jazz Orchestra (operating under the clever acronym MOJO) directed by Steve Torok with Wesley as the guest soloist.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow night, I will be driving down to Oceanside to see perhaps the greatest living trombonist, my childhood trombone hero Fred Wesley, sit in as a guest artist for the Oceanside Jazz Festival. I’m looking forward to checking out the vibe, and hearing what Fred has to offer the next generation of potential funkateers.

Tickets are still on sale — do you really want to miss a chance to hear a living legend doin’ it to death?

Behold: A white piano trio that is not full of shit

This morning, I finally caught up with the jazz internet hoopla surrounding the Toronto-based trio Badbadnotgood (BBNG). I will not link to any of their music here, because they have received plenty of attention already.

I will, however, link to Peter Hum’s excellent take.

Read that, and then come back to see why I even bothered weighing in: because this group exposes the racist underbelly that haunts today’s systems of music distribution and consumption, something that many jazz musicians have been diligently and intelligently resisting for decades.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Back home again at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall

Wow, that was a crazy month! And another begins, as I return to campus for spring quarter here at UCLA. This quarter system is a real trip . . . between the 10-week courses and the lack of seasons here in Los Angeles, there is a very different academic ebb and flow than the one became accustomed to on the East Coast.

But enough complaining — I am eager to take on some new courses and extremely grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to present at last week’s EMP Pop Conference. Despite the fact that our panel was programmed at the same time as a gathering of powerhouse music writers (Greil Marcus and Ann Powers, anyone?) we had a solid turnout, including a number of my friends and former classmates at Rutgers. David Adler, Nate Chinen, and Phil Freeman all gave fantastic, engaging papers, and we had time for a lively Q & A session afterwards. Thanks also to the Music of our Heart for a nice blog recap.

I’d add a small quibble, though, to the characterization of the conference as a “Deep Hang.” I would call it wide, perhaps — the sheer size and buzz of the conference was invigorating, but the depth was uneven at best. There was plenty of deep thinking going on in some places, though: a fantastic roundtable conversation moderated by Greg Tate featuring Vijay Iyer, Jose James, Mazz Swift, and Butch Morris was one highlight. Morris held court for much of the session, defending the word jazz from its recent slough of detractors, and all four shared heavy insights into the role that cities have played in shaping their unique musical visions: “nodes in the network,” as Iyer eloquently called them. Guthrie Ramsay’s panel “Cities, Hegemonic Sound, and Blackness” was another deep and real take on issues of representation in African American music culture, and the closing keynote speech by ?uestlove was highly entertaining for its charming geekiness.

Best of all, though, was the simple act of reacquainting myself (just a little bit) with the city that I left behind last year. Attending the opening reception at Le Poisson Rouge, I caught a whiff of nostalgia for my first concert in the City, hearing Claudia Acuna, Jason Moran, William Parker, and others at the 2009 Winter JazzFest. And I had the pleasure of reconnecting with my three closest friends from Rutgers — Sean Lorre, Paul Brady, and Jared Negley — while catching the Gerald Clayton Trio’s impeccable set at the Jazz Standard. This confirmed the theory that I presented in my paper on Saturday: that “the hang” plays an important role in shaping music communities, and that jazz musicians are especially astute when it comes to making hangs happen.

As I return to my nose-in-the-books life here in Los Angeles, then, I’m exceedingly grateful to have stocked back up on the New York vibe, and hope that the spirit of the hang continues to help me along for another ten-week dive into the depths of academia.

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