Jim Hall: A Gentleman of Jazz

Given some free time over the holidays, I have finally gotten around to resurrecting this blog.  My goal was initially to share lots of great recordings I’ve collected and archived through the years, but less than six months after starting the enterprise in late 2011, Megaupload was taken down by the powers to be, and I lost access to any easy way to publically disseminate the recordings I have (without paying a premium).   Meanwhile, on the business end of things, time has moved forward, and the world is more networked digitally than ever, cloud computing is everywhere, the CD is dead and there are lower musical wages across the board; so my artistic, societal, and career concerns are more relevant than ever and could use a fresh examination.   On the positive side of the digital revolution, I am now able again to make some musical offerings, so here we are!


The past year or so marked two very great losses for me in the jazz world, two of my biggest musical heroes, Jim Hall and Charlie Haden.  Both were original voices and gentle souls musically with exquisite beauty and lyricism whose notes will be sorely missed.

I remember meeting Jim Hall in the lobby of a Marriott at the Rochester Jazz Festival a few years back.  Steve Laspina introduced me, and to my dismay, an 80 year old Jim Hall stood up, supporting himself with a cane, offering his other hand to me and introducing himself by name, as if I would not know who he was.  I was flabbergasted, and bid him to sit, telling him that he needed no introduction, and that I was quite musically and artistically indebted to him.  From “These Rooms” with Tom Harrell, the duet albums with Bill Evans, and so much more, I’d have to say he’s on some of my all time favorite albums.   And meeting him in person, you immediately had this sense of him being a “gentleman” in the truest sense of the word.

This past year, I’ve been revisiting all the live concerts I have of his, and thought this would be a great time to share a few.

The first is from a stellar 2005 European trio tour with Geoff Keezer and Scott Colley, great complements to Hall’s poignancy.


The second is a rare duo gem with Bob Brookmeyer, with Red Mitchell joining on two tracks…Stockholm 1982. Check out the beautiful interplay and ears of these guys interpreting standards contrapuntally and more.  This kind of classicism is something I miss in much of today’s straight ahead music scene.  There’s such a sense of space here which allows the music to breathe in chamber like quality, while never sacrificing the rhythmic feel.



Live: Sam Rivers and Paul Motian

In 2011 we bid farewell to some unique voices in the jazz world. I don’t think there’s much I can say about Sam Rivers and Paul Motian that hasn’t been said elsewhere; their music speaks for itself and is the greatest testament to the legacy they leave behind.  And not to leave out Bob Brookmeyer, but unfortunately, I have no live recordings of his to share.

Sam Rivers 

Sam Rivers had a brief stint touring with the Miles Davis Quintet before Wayne Shorter joined the group.  A live recording was issued as Miles in Tokyo detailing their Tokyo concert on July 14th, 1964.   The following evening, they performed in Kyoto, and here’s an unreleased recording of that concert from July 15th, 1964:


all audio is in FLAC format

Also, I highly recommend checking out Larry Young’s album Into Somethin’ with Sam Rivers, Elvin Jones and Grant Green.  Those late 60’s albums feature Elvin in his prime and it’s great hearing Sam Rivers in the group.

Paul Motian

My first offering here is a Paul Motian trio you probably aren’t familiar with, featuring David Izenzon on bass and Charles Brackeen on tenor and soprano sax.  This concert is from Germany in 1977:


and finally, a trio performance from Sweet Basil’s in 1984 with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell:



Elliott Carter: Individualist at 103

Elliott Carter

Today, December 11th, 2011 marks the 103rd birthday of Elliott Carter, one of America’s foremost living composers.  And not only has Elliott Carter surpassed 100 years of age, but he’s remained artistically active from before World War Two to the present day.  Carter studied with Walter Piston and Gustav Holst in Boston before moving to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger in the 1930’s.   Since then, he’s had over 70 years of artistic productivity, something any of us I think would count as an absolute blessing!  In the past 3 years alone, he’s composed over 14 works for wind ensemble, individual instruments and even voice and chamber orchestra and more, a feat I am certainly envious of in my 30’s.

There’s been a lot of talk in the jazz world of late regarding cultural roots and such, and there certainly is a validity and point to categorizing music as a cultural phenomenon.  But to me, very often, the worth of an artist needs no cultural justification and an artist’s output transcends his time and place; merely being a creative individual producing works that have artistic merit is in itself enough for me.  For example, what I think is important about JS Bach is his monumental contribution to counterpoint and the genius of his works; the fact that many of his works were religiously based or that he was an 18th century German I view of secondary importance.  Bach’s achievements transcend his time, the Baroque movement, and 18th century Germany and Europe.  Does he stand as the summum bonum of German Baroque music? Yes, but in my view, his music transcends that and stands timeless, in and of itself.   I suppose in this view, I stand more with individualists like Nietzsche, Emerson, Ives and Nancarrow, though I don’t care to make all sweeping statements regarding cultural heritage and its relationship to music; for example, folk music is precisely its name, a music born of a specific cultural heritage, geographical area, and time, as in the case of the blues or Greek rembetika.  So I am not saying that we can simply separate music from the culture in which it is birthed, but I am saying that music can transcend its time and place.

For me, Elliott Carter stands as a modern example of that individualism I speak of.  He represents the artist as an individual, honing his craft and continually pushing the envelope of the music he creates, seeking to expand the medium past 100 years of age. He did not partake in a serialist tradition, although I am sure there are other ways we could quantify his work (as in a 20th century New York City urbanite…incidentally, Carter does quantify himself as an “American” composer and compares his compositions to the jazz idiom utilizing a “written out improvisation”).  He has continually sought his own unique vocabulary and way of approaching music, phrasing, and more as he has explored sonorities, soundscapes, and textures. But through all that, you can somehow hear that this is a man that has digested counterpoint, polyphony, and classical form on a deep level. As such, I don’t even feel I have to even like Carter’s music to recognize that it stands for something of great value.  In fact, Carter is not someone I listen to on a regular basis or find great beauty in (as I would Messiaen, Morton Feldman or Takemitsu); I place Carter in the “research and development” category of my listening: music I listen to in order to expand my ears, get new ideas, and break myself out of the sounds I’ve been hearing and producing.  There is certainly a beauty in some of his works, but not any kind of lyricism or groove/pulse that I can identify with; and ironically, this is precisely his allure for me.

What always strikes me about Carter’s music are the visceral sound clouds, the tension and release he creates without delving into traditional harmony, nor serialism or random abstractness.  Yet there are always enough structural elements in his works to draw me in and intrigue me. In his own words, “Every composition I write has to be an adventure.”  I think no more words are needed.  And even if his music doesn’t aesthetically entice you, I think we can all pay homage to a man who has successfully dedicated himself to an artform for over 70 years without pandering to popularity or giving up the desire to explore music and push his own boundaries.  In fact, Carter cites his composing as a reason to live. I believe that in itself is of the utmost value to society and the world, whether we listen to his music or not.  May Mr Carter’s journey continue for many more years!

This week’s musical offering includes a few bootlegs I’ve acquired over the years from various concerts, including his Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra,  Duo for Violin and Piano (featuring Pierre-Laurent Aimard),  Mosaic for Harp and Chamber Ensemble,  his Flute Concerto and more.  Enjoy!


you can find him interviewed on Charlie Rose here:


Jump Point

I woke up this morning to find an email in my inbox informing me I had just been paid $12.71 for digital downloads through various services, both sales and streaming.  Spotify was included, over which there has been a lot of talk of lack of compensation to the artist at  $.0025 per track played. Contrary to my own expectations, $.79 of that grand total was actually attributed to Spotify, a total of about 317 plays!  In Starbucks coffee terms, that covers about 40% of costs of a cup of coffee if I ran out to spend my earnings.  I had been expecting nothing from Spotify, so that was a surprise to the upside, though a very minute one to say the least.  Nonetheless, I’m still happy various people heard those 317 tracks.

This was the perfect incentive for me to begin penning a series of reflections on digital media and its transformation of the music industry and business.  It’s easy to grumble about a changing industry, but the world is not going back to vinyl and record players en masse.   And besides that, the globalization of digital information also has pros as well as cons.  Services like Spotify are game changers for the industry and music sales, but I have plenty of musician friends and students who love the service and get a lot out of it; they wouldn’t have heard a tenth of the same music if they had to actually buy physical media.

We all know the media industry has been changing rapidly, so let’s start with some random points:

1)   physical disc sales are declining, regardless of genre.

From 1999-2009, total revenue earned from music sales and licensing declined from $14.6 billion to $6.3 billion. The trend is projected to continue, reaching $5.5 billion in 2014.   Figures are provided by Forrester Research, which also offers some great articles on these trends and future projections. (ironically, I am unable to afford access to any of those articles at the price of $499 each. I find it interesting that a business article about the music industry garners a $499 access value while a track on Spotify garners a $.0025 access value.)

2)   the future of digital music and content may very well be “the cloud”, which also means a future decline in digital sales and move towards “digital rental/licensing” (which I am already seeing in my own miniscule income stream). The old model of personal and public libraries is being transformed, whether we are talking about music or books.  Future music revenues could be entirely in the form of “licensing fees” as opposed to “sales”.

3)   On the positive side, while revenue earned from music sales decline overall, the internet and digital age gives the artist global access to niche markets (where people like myself operate). At the same time, the costs of recording and producing an album, though not “cheap”, have also declined, so we do have greater access to the market in producing an independent project as independent artists without the need of major label backing/distribution.

4)   The “Bubble Generation” in general does not value copyright law and in general views information as being “free” by right.  Unfortunately, once music became digitized, it was lumped into this category.  I think the downfall here came with Napster and the lack of proper copyright management…once the tidal wave began, a whole generation grew up with a sense of “digital entitlement”.

I can go on and on with other notes about the consequences of the digitization of media, but I think if you’re really interested in topics like these, there are a few books worth reading which give you an overview of how the internet and global networking is transforming older business models.  We all know this is occurring, but these books really get inside different perspectives and start to ask questions about the future. And as musicians, this is a future we have to be thinking about if we want to remain professionally viable and relevant.

Jump Point

First off, I highly recommend Jump Point by Tom Hayes as a great overview of online global networking/marketing and how it is changing business models.

Quick Summary with some thoughts: In the next couple of years, over 50% of the global population (roughly the whole global workforce) will have internet access, which Hayes terms “the jump point”. Much like public clocks and the steam engine, the internet has had and will have a transforming effect on our day to day lives and how we function.  Our sense of time changes (the world now has 24 hr access to media, consumer markets, and information/communication), as the way this technology impacts us is not simply linear, but accelerating in a “non-linear growth surge”.  And with this paradigm change from the Industrial Revolution to an era of information exchange and online commerce, the ways we do business have already changed radically (honestly, I already buy most of my music, books, and household items online).  In addition, social networking communities take a greater role in our lives for recommendations, information, and advertising rather than traditional television and magazine media. Views on copyright are also changing as information becomes more accessible and operates in an economy of abundance vs scarcity (material goods have production costs, material costs, and more and are generally scarce. Digital material and information is absolute free to duplicate and abundant.  Of course, the advocates of “free music” often miss the fact that there are recording costs and the need to pay musicians to even create an abundant product in the first place. Incidentally, the terms economy of abundace/scarcity are not used by Hayes, but I find them very relevant in relation to my musical points).

Sidenote: Imagine the painstaking labor a composer spent in copying a score by hand in the 18th century or a monk spent copying the Bible?  Now I have a folder on my desktop in which resides 1,000 pages of PDF scores including the complete piano works of Bach, Mozart, and Schubert.  I’ve probably actually played through 50 of those pages.  The world has markedly changed and we have more information at our fingertips than we can ever possibly sift through.  This is a boon in terms of accessibility, but perhaps it also leads many of us to not fully appreciate former monuments of intellectual and artistic thought.  How many times did Beethoven himself hear his own symphonies actually played?

     The most striking aspect of Jump Point for me is thinking about the Bubble Generation (Hayes’ term for the Millennial Generation or Generation Y), which I just missed being a part of, having grown up without internet.  A generation he cites as having with such differences as 1) the avoidance of traditional news media sources (I’m all for that, never having had television as an adult until this year), 2) viewing access to information as a “right” or even “free by right”, and 3) a generation of consumers in which social networking and social communities garner a higher value as advertising than traditional media advertising.   Now though I welcome a change in the paradigm of getting information from non mass media sources and a world that enables more choice for the individual, having the ability to choose good sources of media is another matter.  I also find the intellectual reduction of works of art into merely information to be disturbing.  Reproducing a piece of digital information is free (take mp3’s), but there has to be a recognition of the value of a work of art’s creation and the fact that economic support and incentive will provide a means to an artist producing more and similar works of art.  And there has to be a differentiation between “entertainment” and “art”.  Art can function as entertainment, but all entertainment is not “art”.  At its core, I think the heart of the matter is a relativistic view that all 1’s and 0’s are created equal, rather than being the painstaking ouput of an individual.

Inarguably, I think we can all agree that traditional media will continue to evolve.  Someday television networks, record companies, video stores, movie theaters and more will become a thing of the past, or at least be radically transformed from what we grew up with.  And there’s really no fighting that tide.

Ironically enough, since Hayes published the book in 2008, I believe in some ways the world has been transforming much faster than he anticipated, particularly with the birth of cloud computing and a whole new projection of media access as a result across multiple device platforms, not to mention the book industry with the Ipad and Kindle.  And of course, that change might not seem all that rapid here in the US right now, but imagine in Asia and emerging markets as the internet continue to open up access to global markets and information (and even political movements: Arab Spring, etc).

My synopsis is surely simplified and by no means comprehensive, but I think it gives you an idea of the scope of the book and how easy it is to relate to our musical world in terms of artistic output (scores, recordings, and “advertising”/networking).  As the means of producing an album becomes cheaper and digital, it becomes easier for us to afford marketing an independent album; it also becomes that much more difficult to earn any proceeds and recoup our recording costs.  Recording studios have been closing for years with the proliferation of home studios and greater competition, not to mention our declining wages, and inability to maintain copyright protection on our product (interestingly enough, the movie industry exercised a whole lot more restraint in terms of copyright restrictions, but DVD sales are now falling off a cliff as well with Netflix and Hulu).  So it’s a tricky area to navigate with both pros and cons and we’re pretty much on our own now as independent artists to find a path. And I suspect as technology continues to advance rapidly, we are going to be changing our direction more than a few times in the next few decades.  Thankfully, the core of what we do remains fundamental; the medium in which it is distributed is of much less concern to me, as long as we have an viable means of distribution!

Our grandchildren may very well look at mass marketed books as antiquated, our CDs and vinyl as leftovers from an ancient era. And on an environmental scale, it certainly makes sense for us to not be printing millions of books, magazines, and more when the same information can be transmitted and accessed digitally at a lower cost, with a much lesser expense to the environment.   As I see it, we must flow with the inevitability of this digital transformation and hopefully find ways to maintain relevant as artists without sacrificing the integrity of what we do.



In the Listening Room: Miles ’67, Krzysztof Meyer, and Patrick Cornelius

I think every jazz musician dreams of that ultimate gig: touring 6 months out of the year playing listening venues with a creative group that you aesthetically love and can develop in musically. Unfortunately, such situations are quite rare (and besides the modicum of such extensive touring opportunities, fulfilling those musical requirements is pretty rare as well).  So as a musician interested in the creative process of the historical bands that did have those opportunities (when you could actually play at a single venue for a week or two), I’m always open ears to newly released live recordings from the day.  When I heard about the new Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe ‘67 box set, my ears perked up, but I remained a skeptic. Could there possibly be high quality unreleased material that has taken over 50 years to see the light of day?

I have a musical confession to make…I’ve never been a big fan of the legendary Miles Davis 60’s quintet with Wayne, Tony, Herbie, and Ron.  I love all these musicians in the projects they worked in as leaders and sidemen. But though I recognize the innovation and high artistry of the quintet in this configuration, the music just never appealed to me on a deep personal, aesthetic level (I know, it’s almost anathema to say! And I do really like the album Nefertiti). Nonetheless, I still own practically every Miles album and put in my study hours on their group interaction, dynamics, textural changes, metric modulations and more, as it’s a must for any contemporary jazz musician.

After a few rave reviews from friends and a recommendation on the high sound quality for a live concert, I made the leap and got this Live in Europe ’67 box set (which includes a DVD of 2 dates as well) and was not disappointed.  This set of live recordings has definitely become my favorite of the group.  The sound quality is great for a live “bootleg”: not overly compressed, all instruments distinct and separated, and the bass prominent throughout (often a missing element in bootlegs/radio broadcasts).  The band is absolutely burning, and each song is marked by an exploratory fervor made even more brilliant by the group personnel having been together for three years.  This is the quintet with another level of freedom than you hear in the studio albums, and a few more years developed since the famed Carnegie Hall ‘64 Concert and ’65 Plugged Nickel recordings.  Tony Williams is on fire with marked dynamics and tempo superimpositions, complemented by Herbie throwing out interesting idea after idea. On practically every track, Herbie grabs my ear with fabulous accompaniment ideas, not to mention endings (a 5/4 pattern over Footprints, a 7/8 pattern over Agitation, and more). And from a musical perspective, it’s fascinating to hear 5 nights of music from a single tour with almost exactly the same setlist; hearing how the group approaches the same material with different ideas each night is a study in itself.  For me, this European set of live performances trumps the Plugged Nickel by far and features a Miles much more on top his game.  And from a historical perspective, the last acoustic quintet album Nefertiti was recorded in June/July of ’67;  these live dates stem from a European tour in Oct/Nov 67 and comprise the last recorded material I know of with the quintet in an acoustic format. This release is entitled Vol 1 and the liner notes hint of more concert releases on the way, so I am looking forward to more quality gems like this if they’re out there!

Now since the music is copyrighted, I can’t offer you a download, but I certainly can offer you a live bootleg from the same time period.  Here’s the Quintet on the same tour, from October 30th, 1967 in Rotterdam, also of high quality sonically and musically.  The files are in FLAC format, you can play them in XBMC, Play, or some similar media player (not supported on Itunes/Ipods). Or convert them to Mp3s with a program like Toast if you want Ipod compatibility.   Here’s the ’67 bootleg from that same tour:


Driving in the car the other day, I chanced across a string quartet on WNYC that caught my ear (no easy feat).  It featured driving rhythmic elements reminiscent of Bartok, non functional harmony, memorable melodic and thematic development, and symmetries and shapes guided by the ear rather than serialism or such.  I was stumped as to who this composer would be, a composer exploring chromaticisms and sonic textures without sacrificing lyricism and classical development. The mystery was revealed with a composer who I immediately added to my music library: Krzysztof Meyer.  Meyer (b.1943) is a contemporary composer from Poland who presently teaches in Cologne.  He studied with Nadia Boulanger as well as Lutoslawski, and spent years performing contemporary music as a pianist as well. In the 60’s he explored aleatoric music as well as twelve tone technique before moving to a more “traditional” style which I find much more appealing (I am not a lover of serialism).  For me, Meyer’s string quartets are intensely visual, and always informed by and accessible to the ear without being overly esoteric or abstract.  In his own words: “I would like my music be meaningful sound-stories told with musical elements that the listener would care about, and not just a stream of acoustic stimuli that involuntarily fly past the ears.”  And that’s precisely what I hear in his music which I miss in so much contemporary abstract classical music.  This music is grounded, developmental in classical terms while not adhering to traditional forms, and does not dispense with lyricism. But instead of trying to describe his music with inadequate words, take a listen!  Here are some links to the 1st and 3rd movements of his 6th string quartet, featured on youtube.  I love the texture in the first movement (as well as the “walking bass” and rhythmic drive)  and the chromatic lyricism of the 3rd. Not to mention, this was my introduction to the Wieniawski Quartet, who are spectacular and earn my added praise as the rare string quartet that understands the necessity for rhythmic accuracy and drive.

I’ve known and played with alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius for years now, and expected that his albums would be high quality, swinging jazz.  But finally acquiring his 2010 release Fierce, what really caught my ear beyond the top shelf playing was the fact that Patrick put together a stellar sounding recording that highlights the musicians on the album.  If you want to make a good sounding recording, the sound starts with the players and the instruments, and that’s a given with a lineup of Johnathan Blake on drums, Nick Vayenas on trombone, Mark Small on tenor, and Michael Janisch on bass  (the unknown for me with a deep, rich full bass tone, strong attack, and solid quarter note rooting the music). If you want to capture the essence of a band’s sound and dynamic, you need a good recording with good microphones, a good room, and a solid engineer and leader/producer at the helm. And then you need to write material that highlights the band, which is exactly what Fierce does. The sound of this album is superb, something I think every jazz musician should take note of and follow suit with!  Patrick recorded this album at Bennett Studios which sadly enough closed this fall, falling victim to a failing economy, high overhead, and the death of the recording industry and declining recording rates. But by no means do I mean to overlook the music, which is most important.  This is great writing and playing; a few odd meters (The Incident, New Blues) serve as vehicles of exploration and colors rather than esoteric intellectual exercises. The group is also chordless, which I find texturally appealing as a welcome change from most releases and allowing for the transparency of horn counterpoint and harmonies.  Patrick just released a follow up album Maybe Steps, and the CD release party is this Wednesday November 16th at the Jazz Gallery at 9pm. Check it out!  www.patrickcornelius.com

New Beginnings

Welcome to my new blog!  Rather than proselytizing on my personal life and political views, I’m hoping to create a forum here to share ideas on music and media as well as to post some transcriptions and other odds and ends. And as an audiophile and “recording archivist”, I thought a blog would be a great way to discuss and share some rare historical live recordings I’ve acquired through the years (and hopefully get some leads from readers as well in return!). And to my fellow musicians, we are all facing an era of rapid change in the music industry and society with the acceleration of the digital age; there are many issues that I think merit our attention so that we can remain vital and continue to bring our art to the world. Hopefully, a thoughtful discussion of such topics would be helpful for all of us!  Accordingly, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the music industry, book reviews, and more that I think could help all of us grapple with our roles in a changing world (and our desire/need to continue making creative music!). But more than anything else, I’m hoping to have a dialogue here on all the above, put our heads together and share resources and ideas from favorite practice routines to independently releasing an album to putting together a budget friendly hifi digital music setup.

But all that will all come in due time, as there’s lots of ground to cover!

So in the meantime, here’s my first audio offering:

1) Ever wondered what Coltrane sounded like at 25?  Here’s Dizzy Gillespie’s sextet and septet, radio broadcasts live from Birdland in early 1951 with Coltrane, Milt Jackson, Billy Taylor, Percy Heath, and Art Blakey (probable personnel).  I’m pretty psyched about the bass level in the mix, considering the source. It’s also interesting to hear Trane on Good Bait in 1951 and compare it to the 1963 Showboat recording 12 years later.


2) and for you classical enthusiasts, here’s one of my favorite pianists, Claudio Arrau, performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic in 1953 and 1982.  They make for an interesting comparison with a 29 year separation in performance dates.


as will always be the case, I intend no copyright infringement or violation (a topic of future posting); to my knowledge, these recordings are not commercially available.  The attached notes in the files are the original uploaders’.  And finally, if you are not familiar with megaupload, it is free and easy to use, no signup needed, just wait 45 seconds for the “regular download” link to be available and you can download the file in zip format easily.

Hope to see you back here!

-Thomson Kneeland