Saturday, September 27, 2008

Great Gig: Turn of the Century

Goodman Theatre in Chicago is hosting the premiere of a new romantic musical comedy by the same creative team that spawned the uber-successful Jersey Boys. Opening this coming Monday, September 29, Turn of the Century stars Jeff Daniels and Rachel York as a couple of musicians who mysteriously travel back in time to the year 1900. They become overnight sensations by claiming to have written songs by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and some of the other composers of the American songbook. It's a goofy premise but the show is very entertaining and, of course, features a lot of great songs.

I'm very fortunate to be a member of the pit orchestra for this show. It is my third "premiere" at Goodman. In years past I played The Visit and the unfortunate Sondheim flop Bounce. It is pretty exciting to be in on the ground floor of the creative process of launching a Broadway style musical. The musical side of things is being very well handled by orchestrator Steve Orich, music supervisor Daryl Waters and music director Michael Biagi.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Charlie Haden Bridges the Jazz/Country Gap

Along with Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden's sound was most in my ears when I was first getting fired up about jazz. I heard Haden first, as most jazz listeners did, in the context of Ornette Coleman's recordings in the '50's and 60's. That woody gut string sound, so in tune, attracted me more to Ornette's music than anything else, at first. The saxophonist's sound takes some getting used to but the luxurious purity of Haden's sound is difficult to dislike.

Haden's heroic approach, rooted in folk melodies, along with his primary use of the lower register of the bass, is the antithesis of upwardly mobile players like Scott LaFaro, Eddie Gomez, George Mraz, Marc Johnson and so many other great modern bassists. Haden plays deliberately; he takes his own sweet time spinning out melodies and bass lines.

The contrast between Haden's style and the playing of LaFaro et al evokes an unfortunate schism in the jazz world with regard to bass playing. So many players (and some listeners as well) seem to have a prejudice for a certain way of approaching the bass that excludes all other possible sounds and means. I've touched on this before, and I imagine I will address it more thoroughly in a future post. For me, however, Charlie Haden is the master of low and slow, just as LaFaro demonstrated how effective the upper range of the bass could be. If you're interested in hearing this stylistic diversity directly, check out Ornette's seminal Free Jazz. He uses both great bassists on that recording.

Then came the Liberation Music Orchestra, Quartet West, and Haden's duo recordings with so many wonderful musicians over the last couple of decades. Now he has gone back to his familial roots with a recording of country music called Rambling Boy. It features his family and some of the most accomplished Nashville artists. I've yet to hear the project but I am looking forward to checking it out, despite my lack of interest in country music generally. Anything Charlie is associated with deserves a deep listen, since his concept and playing are always full of sincerity and integrity.

There's a nice piece in the NY Times by Nate Chinen about Haden and the new project. And Haden was interviewed by the ever insightful Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Upcoming Gig: Megon McDonough at the Mac

OK, I never do this, but I am going to plug an upcoming gig that may be of interest to my friends, family, students and whoever else in the Chicago area. On Friday and Saturday, November 28 and 29 I will be performing with the always fabulous Megon McDonough. We will be playing Megon's show called Her Way: An Interesting Bunch of Gals, in which she pays tribute to many of her favorite jazz and pop singers. Click the link for more info and sample video clips from our DVD.

The venue is the McAninch Arts Center on the campus of College of Dupage in Glen Ellyn. For more info please go HERE.

What do I like about this gig, you ask? First of all, Megon is the real deal. I've not worked with a more gifted and accomplished singer. The energy she brings to the stage every show is contagious - it makes me play at a higher level when I'm backing someone like this. The excellent arrangements were written by my great friend Peter Polzak. We play everything from A-Tisket, A-Tasket to Nick of Time; there's quite a batch of styles in between.

It's not a heavy "jazz" gig by any means. But it is a very entertaining evening. Come check it out.