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A FEW THOUGHTS ON JAZZ & COMPETITION 

To my ears, “Jazz Competition” is an oxymoron. 

We’re going to have a contest to see who can be the most vulnerable? The most sensitive or sincere? 

To find out who among us can best lay bare our soul and play from the heart?

Every year on tour I hear dozens of excellent high school groups, all over the country, investing hours of rehearsal time, polishing the same Duke Ellington charts in preparation for the annual Jazz Hunger Games. 

While it’s gratifying to witness Duke’s music being disseminated so widely, I wonder if these young musicians might be better off exploring a larger repertoire of sounds and styles, learning to sight read, listen and improvise.

Of course, there is such a thing as “healthy competition” in the arts. Setting challenges and overcoming them is how we improve.

Competitive, however, is not the correct mindset for quality music-making. This art form is interactive. It’s about listening and openness. Conversation, not competition. ​


Personally, I don’t feel that I’m in competition with other artists. I’m competing with Netflix, spectator sports, video games, social media and all the other distractions that vie for your leisure time, attention and dollars. 

I welcome opportunities to work alongside and learn from my betters. I always try to surround myself with talents greater than my own. Art Farmer said “if you’re the smartest cat in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” 

One time Nicholas Payton dropped by my gig in San Francisco and schooled me on a ballad. It was like a ten-minute graduate seminar on understatement and grace. 

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a tribute to one of my longtime heroes, Tom Harrell, along with Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, Sean Jones, Johnathan Blake, and several other world class musicians, including the man himself, who has never sounded better. 

Everyone involved was more capable and experienced than I. It was humbling but thrilling. I learned a lot and felt nothing but love and support in the room. There was no vibe. Everyone was there for Mr. Harrell.

Wynton Marsalis says a cutting session is like a debate. And debates have their place, especially in the classroom. But wouldn’t you really rather have a conversation? 

Personally, I think cutting sessions are a drag. Everyone posturing, posing, showing off, going for house. The atmosphere of a cutting session is like a Michael Bay movie full of explosions. I usually end up resenting the audience for enjoying such tripe. 

Here’s a challenge: let’s play lower, softer, slower -- with intensity.

Let’s play more soulfully. 

Let’s just play.

2016 RESOLUTIONS 

The year of Scout! Train puppy to be a good home dog and road dog. 
Coordinate distribution of Jazz Noir to radio and reviewers. 
Prepare fresh DMG sets. Focus touring mostly in the northwest region. 
Fewer gigs, higher fees, larger audiences. 
Get back to playing long tones every day. Make it a habit. 
Continue to eat right, exercise, lose weight and build muscle. 
Take good care of Sassy, Scout, Ninji, Boo and the Fortress of Sassitude.  
Plant a vegetable garden and a Japanese Maple. 
Don’t be afraid. Play your way. Find your voice. 
Get out from under the master’s shadow. It’s time.

OZYMANDIAN DREAM 

Part One

 

I'm a young man, proud to be a member of the prestigious Philosopher's Forum. 

 

Our meeting place is a stately hall with white columns, not unlike a Roman temple, perched atop a steep hill.  

 

The names of the great philosophers, our wise elders, are chiseled on the marble wall.  

 

There's a grand salon where the elders speak and an archive where their lectures are recorded for posterity.

 

Our favorite days are when the elders visit to share their life experiences and ideas.  

 

My friends and I gather in the grand salon, listen attentively and ask many questions.  

 

Afterward we meet in the archive to read the great lectures of the past. 

 

We passionately debate the nuances and meaning of every phrase.

 

Part Two

 

It's now decades later. 

 

I'm honored to have been invited to speak at the Forum, but when I arrive, it is not as I remember.  

 

The columns are crumbling and the marble wall is covered in graffiti.  

 

The names of the elders, long dead, are barely legible beneath the chaotic scrawl.

 

The grand salon has been carved up into dozens of tiny rooms. 

 

There are too many speakers and everyone is shouting.

 

I struggle to communicate with a restless young audience. 

 

They seem distracted and have no questions.

 

Afterward, I ask if I may visit the archive. 

 

“Yeah, we don't really have that anymore,” I'm told. 

 

“It's a Chipotle now.”

MASTER FLUGELHORNIST ACK VAN ROOYEN 

If you're serious about the flugel, don't sleep on ACK VAN ROOYEN.
To my ears, now that AF and CT have passed, Ack may very well be
the greatest living practitioner of the Big Horn. Such subtlety,
style, soul and finesse. And what a gorgeous tone!
If I ever have occasion to return to Holland,
I'm definitely going to inquire about
getting a lesson from this
master musician.