It’s All About the Music

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments, concert, night and indoor

What goes up must come down – laws of physics – I sure hope I don’t have to come down from this wonderful experience of creating musical magic for these past three days. While it’s still fresh in my memory I’ll try to capture some of the moments. We did a series of concerts to celebrate Women’s History Month and advocate for equal participation in jazz over the past weekend with rising stars Hannah Marks on bass, Hannah Johnson on drums, Amanda Gardier on saxophone and one of the world’s best trumpet players, Ingrid Jensen. And no it’s not a gimmick, it’s not cute, it’s not a group of chicks – it’s a group of serious players that have overcome serious hurdles and have a voice to contribute to the overall musical soundtrack of jazz. Thanks to everyone who came out to support and enjoy – here are a few special moments and some reflection on what it takes to create these special moments!

Usually months in advance, I start putting music together – very few jazz standards written by women are available and I like to adapt songs from other genres as well as find hidden treasures and get them ready for performance. Since this year is Ella Fitzgerald’s Centennial, I created a tune based on her birth date in tribute as well as an arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. I also pulled Carla Bley’s Lawns and Marian McPartland’s A Delicate Balance out in addition to various of my own compositions. The next step  is booking a series of events and securing the players. Ideally I like to bring in at least one international star to elevate the level of the performance, the impact on the younger players, and to reach audiences as far as possible. This year I reached out to trumpeter Ingrid Jensen – an amazing musician but also strong personality and powerful advocate for equal participation. Ingrid has a very busy touring and teaching schedule and is also the mother of a young child – chances were low for finding the right timing and financial support to get her to Indiana for a weekend. With a combined effort of getting some clinics in the area and recruiting my family for babysitting she actually agreed to come and support the cause. I was absolutely ecstatic and humbled and went to work securing further clinics to make her visit worthwhile.

On Wednesday, March 29, I drove to the airport at 10pm and picked up Ingrid and 5-year old Karinna. I brought them back to our house where they settled in and Karinna got very excited about the prospect of taking home many toys and other treasures that my kids had grown out of. On Thursday, we drove to the Eskenazi Hospital on the IUPUI campus for a lunch concert. It’s a beautiful facility with a Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, indoorgrand piano in the center and frequent programs for the patients. Several were already seated around the piano and Ingrid and myself pulled out several of the tunes that were going to be the concert program for the weekend. Just before Carla Bley’s Lawns, Ingrid came up with the brilliant idea of triggering the strings of the piano by blowing the trumpet into the soundboard while the pedal is pressed. The sounds that filled the hospital lobby were absolutely mesmerizing. We also demonstrated the process of taking a number sequence and creating a melody and improvisation with it. Hopefully a lot of spirits were uplifted during that hour towards swift healing.

Back in Bloomington, we joined David Miller for the Jazz Fables Series at Bear’s Place. Saxophonist Amanda Gardier, bassist Hannah Marks, and drummer Hannah Johnson joined us and we were able to quickly look through a few charts before the concert started. The house filled up quickly in support of Ingrid. During the first set, the group had to find its dynamics – the young rhythm section was nervous and hesitant, the older players wanted to push ahead – Ingrid proved her leadership capabilities by bringing everyone together towards a common center. The second set had beautiful magical moments and for the first time I saw standing ovations at Bear’s Place!

On Friday, I had to send Ingrid with Hannah J. to do a clinic for the Columbus North High School jazz group as I had another guest from Vienna at IU. We met up in the evening at the Jazz Kitchen – one of the premier jazz clubs in the country. After evaluating the previous day’s performance we decided that it would be better to string several tunes together to help the group get focused on the music rather than interrupt the flow with announcements. It turned out to be the perfect strategy. We found transitions between tunes and kept the flow going over extended periods, thus mesmerizing the audience and creating an exciting story. Of course, I still had plenty of opportunities to provide background information on the music and engage the audience. It was a very special night – and I was flattered to have the owner of the club showcase my new pink beanie merchandise in appreciation!

Saturday had a bit of a rocky starts as Ingrid realized that the schedule was jam packed with little time to go explore the town and do some shopping. Even worse was that we didn’t have the right Espresso Machine for the important morning fix. We finally got relieve at Soma Coffee with a burrito order from the Laughing Planet upstairs. While Ingrid presented her clinic for the IU Jazz Department, I took Karinna to the free gym hour at Bugs – love it when I find the perfect fit for everyone, one hour later everyone was glowing! Our evening concert was hosted by Robert Hay-Smith, incredible actor/ writer/ bassist/ bohemian, at his Harlequin Theatre in Columbus, IN. The Columbus North High School group opened with four high-energy charts. I had missed my chance to practice with them on Friday and had to sightread – never underestimate High School charts! The feature they gave him had some cool funk grooves, which I mostly managed to catch except the moment when you turn the page – to the wrong page – but you’re supposed to play a solo groove passage – time to do a Cecil Taylor imitation…. Anyway, I didn’t turn on the video camera until our set, so we’ll keep this a fun personal memory. The group did a tight set that night – we had found our center and balance in transitioning and storytelling, videos coming soon. Some of my favorite moments were Amanda  driving the drums during her solo on The Whole World in Her Hands and Ingrid’s beautiful melodies on my tune Make It Count.

Image may contain: 3 people, people playing musical instruments and people on stageIt’s hard to explain in words the weird dichotomy of living a life of crazy and unpredictable schedules, organizational nightmares, and low financial rewards for the intrinsic rewards of the magical moments on stage when everyone finds the flow of the music. But we sure found some of these moments that weekend and I’m forever grateful to Ingrid Jensen for her trust, support, and leadership and the willingness to travel to Indiana and share her artistry.