Monthly Archives: December 2011

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.