Friday, January 20, 2012

Dave Robbins Electric Band Gig #2

Just following up from the last posting...

Our gig at Capilano U this morning was fantastic.  Hugh Fraser was able to make it over from Victoria at last.  I had almost forgotten what a force of nature Hugh is on the bandstand and how much energy he brings to music.  He just gives his whole self over to the experience.  Playing with him again reminded me that his all-out approach was really influential on my playing at a very early stage.  I just realized now that the gig we played today was in the same room where I met Hugh as a student 21 years ago.  His intense energy and commitment made a huge impact on me at that time and made me re-think what it meant to play improvised music.  Some of my favourite phrases from Hugh are "More is more!" and "Too much is never enough!"

Kerry, Dave, and Evan were absolutely great just like Wednesday night and showed some other asides of their amazing musicality.  I think we played the tunes a little differently; a little less precise perhaps, but with more energy and wildness, almost achieving a kind of Mahavishnu "Birds of Fire" kind of vibe at times.

The room was absolutely packed with students and people were lined up the hall hoping to get a seat.  What a privilege to play with people of this calibre for a packed house!  Thank you Dave for setting this up.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dave Robbins Electric Band Triumphs

I played an amazing gig with Dave Robbins Electric Band last night.  Brad Turner subbed for Hugh Fraser on keys (Hugh was stuck with the snow in Victoria). What a fun band. Dave's tunes are great and his playing nothing short of inspiring.  The tunes are really fun to play, are rhythmically interesting and just 'make sense' somehow in the way they are constructed.  I was sorry that Hugh couldn't make it, but happy to see Brad there. He was absolutely on fire and made all kinds of amazing sounds with his pile of electronic doodads. I always learn something from Brad and feel musically elevated and challenged by his playing.  It was my first time to play with the young tenor player, Evan Arntzen, who did his incredible musical family (see below) proud.

Lastly, it was really nice to reconnect with Kerry Galloway after 10 or 15 years - what a funky bass player! The last gig we played was with Bill Clark at some wedding reception with a lot of drunk bridesmaids at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.  Ugh.  This was a much better musical and social situation for us.  In addition to his great funkiness and absolutely complete professionalism as a player, Kerry is also tremendously funny and a great story teller.  I had forgotten that, but it was fun to be reminded.  This made me realize again that Vancouver seems like a small scene at times, but then I run into these monster players from time to time who I haven't played with in ages and somehow they have been playing a lot and doing interesting things without crossing paths with me.   There are so many good musicians in this town.

The 20 minute rehearsal for the gig was truly remarkable - one of the smoothest and most successful in recent memory. Everyone had worked on the music and was actually ready to rehearse instead of being there to learn their parts. Dave was very happy with the playing at the show, as were the musicians and the audience.  Dave is talking of recording at Brad's studio and of more gigs with the band.  I love it when I can contribute to a project like this where all the elements come together naturally, easily, and successfully.  We had a great turnout considering the frigid weather and snow still on the ground. Vancouverites are wimps about cold and snow! Lots of students from Cap were there, as well as some fellow musicians, Brent Gubbels and Steve Bagnell, and my good friends Dhavide and Meg.

Here's an interesting side story in connection with the gig...Evan Arntzen and I have an almost family connection.  His great Aunt Bev was married to my Grandfather's best friend, Ken, who we called Uncle Ken because of his closeness our family and who, obviously, is Evan's actual Uncle Ken.  Cool!  My Grandma was happy to hear that I was playing with one of the Arntzen boys and so was I.

I'm playing another gig with these guys at Capilano U tomorrow 11:30am in Fir 113 - free admission and good times if you are in the neighborhood. Looking forward to it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

When work is play

When you are a musician the word 'play' has many meanings.  We often call our work, the work of performing music with others for the enjoyment of an audience, playing.  This is true across musical genres in the English-speaking word as far as I can tell.  In the jazz world this word seems especially apt since what we do in our performing is closely related to actual playing that a child might do: imagining, experimenting, exploring, pushing boundaries.  Using the word play to describe what is also wage-earning work is problematic.  A photographer or painter might love what she does for a living just as much as the musician who goes out to perform at a concert, but we don't call it play.  This particular semantic confusion seems unique to music.  Why should people have to pay for us to get up onstage and play and have fun while they only get paid to do work?  This is a big issue for many musicians, but not the subject of my post today. 

With the first week of school this semester finished and another one beginning, I am thinking about how much I enjoy my teaching work at Capilano U.  While many people enjoy their work and find fulfilment in their jobs, I think you will find that the majority would not go on doing what they do if the wage were taken away.  If you had a plumber who suddenly became independently wealthy,  would that plumber head out every morning to clear blocked drains just for fun? Even within the music world there are many sad souls who would rather not play the kinds of music they are called upon to play.  A good wage is a serious part of the inducement to most kinds of work.

Don't get me wrong, I like money as much as the next person and have no desire to go without for the sake of my art, though I have done so many times and expect to do so in the future.  Nevertheless, where performance (playing) is concerned, it is pretty easy to see that most musicians would continue to play with or without a wage.  I feel that way about teaching too.  I think I would do it even if I wasn't being paid to do it, just for fun.  Maybe I wouldn't do it at 8:30am, but I really feel teaching is a kind of play for me just as much as music performance is.  Now of course I expect and demand to be paid and I need to be paid for my playing or I would have to spend my time getting wages some other way and thus be unavailable for teaching.  Same thing with music.

All this is to say that I am really enjoying teaching more than ever and count myself very blessed indeed to be able to go to work each day and talk about music with really intelligent and creative students and colleagues.  Of course there are small frustrations here and there and ups and down of various kinds and degree, but overall, I think this is a great way to spend my time.   I am thankful for a great job where I get to play for a living.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Pizza in Vancouver

Vancouver is the home to a lot of cheap but mediocre pizza.  It is a staple for jazz musicians coming home from late night gigs and I have eaten more than my share over the years.

Pizzeria Barbarella has finally opened at 654 E. Broadway.  I took the family down there tonight and it is absolutely fantastic.  There is no doubt that this is the best pizza I have ever had and the best you can find in our fair city.  Jennifer and the kids agreed.  We have eaten a lot of pizza together and take our food very seriously.  My son, Isaac, and I in particular have eaten at dozens of different places in town and have heated discussions about pizza regularly.

The owner and chef is Terry Dean. I first met Terry more than 20 years ago when we were both fledgling jazz players, though Terry was way better than me and just about everybody else our age.  Terry was soon off to NYC and other places and, in addition to playing the tenor saxophone incredibly well, has done a lot of different things to make a living in the intervening years.  His tenor playing is still really amazing but has now taken a backseat to an intense passion for pizza making.  Terry makes a real New York/Italian style pizza with very thin and crispy, hand-stretched, crust cooked in a super hot (870 degree!) oven.  The toppings are simple and of the finest possible quality, including house-made meats (salami, sausage and pancetta),  fresh fior di late, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, etc.  Terry does all the cooking himself. with just a couple of kitchen helpers to move pizzas in and out of the oven.  They also have salads etc, but we were just there for the pizza. The house stereo played Sonny Rollins nice and loud. No top 40 at Barbarella!  My friend (and wonderful trumpeter) Kevin Elaschuk, showed up with his wife Lori just as we were leaving.  I'm sure this will become a major hangout for Vancouver jazz people.

What an amazing meal.  I wish Terry all the success he deserves and for which has worked so hard.  The place was quite full when we were in and I hope it will continue like that.

Don't wait - head down to Pizza Barbarella as soon as possible.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Incredible Thelonious Monk video on You Tube

Clyde Reed turned me on to this incredible footage of the Thelonious Monk Quartet in Belgium.  This particular band has Frankie Dunlop on drums.  Clyde and I have had a long running discussion with our drummer friend, Joe Poole, about who was the best drummer with Monk.  Clyde and I have always liked Ben Riley while Joe insisted on Dunlop.  After hearing this, I have to go with Joe.  This is incredible footage and the sound is fantastic - like having a whole new Monk record!  I just love this.  The music is really alive and exciting. I think I like this even better than the Monk with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


From  the stats I have recently looked at, it seems that there are actually a lot of people reading this blog and that makes me feel like I need to fill it up with things for people to read.  I'm glad that people are interested in what I'm doing.

January will be a month of musical reunions. First is a gig with Dave Robbins' Electric band featuring Hugh Fraser on January 18.  Hugh has been an important musical influence in my life and I haven't seen him in ages.  I'm really looking forward to playing with him and with the rest of the band. My dear friend and wonderful trumpeter, Bill Clark, will be coming home to Vancouver from New Mexico for a few months at the end of the month and we'll be doing a gig on February 8 with a trio with Stan Taylor on drums.  Lastly, Len Aruliah is coming over from England for a few months as well.  I'm looking forward to picking up where we left off in the summer with Len's Sextet and to just hanging out as well.  The new year is shaping up pretty well!