Author Archives: cambamboutros

Roy Hargrove @ The New Morning in Paris

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Was lucky enough to catch Roy Hargrove at the famous New Morning jazz club in Paris last Saturday. One of my heroes when it comes to trumpet playing and music in general: not only has he worked across genres from jazz masters like Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis to hip hop legend D’Angelo, but he talks, thinks, and teaches about music in a way that’s almost philosophical. And he’s fun; at the New Morning show he actually stopped part way through a song, put his trumpet down, and started dancing, motioning for the saxophone player (Justin Robinson – a beast) to do the same. For a couple of nearly fifty-year old musicians, they had some moves.

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One of the coolest things about Roy is his stage presence. I mean, outside of the raw sophistication and thrill of his soloing, there is such a grippingly visual aspect to his performance. Since starting work on this jazz video archive, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to what can be gained from watching jazz as opposed to just listening to it, and Roy is a shining example of why jazz is so important to see. First off, his style – he tends to wear well-cut, light-colored suits, paired with big, athletic sneakers. He literally embodies the jazz-hip hop aesthetic in his outfit. And if he doesn’t have sunglasses on when he walks out on set (indoors, in a basement-like jazz club), he’ll probably pull them out at some point, maybe while he’s dancing. Then, he’s never just standing around, looking like he’s bored or even waiting. Roy always appears to be listening. If he’s finished soloing, he turns his body and fixes his gaze on the next player, intently watching them take a chorus. Or he might walk off stage and give the spotlight entirely to someone else. Or (and he did this several times), he’ll go sit by the drummer and tap on the drums with him. And whisper to audience members, less than two feet away. And just… be interesting. Everything he did had some kind of intention behind it. A relaxed intention, to be sure; he always looks laid back and content. But definitely like he had a handle on the performance the entire time. He engaged audience attention and controlled it very well, never looking like he was really trying that hard to do so.

And then the music was amazing. I’m biased towards his composition “Strasbourg/St. Denis,” because I’ve watched his 2007 New Morning performance of it on YouTube hundreds of times (not an exaggeration). And of course, he performed it now, 10 years later in 2017, because he wrote it across the street from the club (the nearest Paris metro station is literally called “Strasbourg – St. Denis”). And it was fresh, even though I’ve heard it so much, because, of course, this is jazz: every performance is going to be different. This time around, Roy played the head and then grabbed a cowbell, and had a contest with the drummer (Quincy Phillips). Roy would play a rhythm, and the drummer would spit it right back, not after him, but with him. It was amazing. Eventually, they both stopped, leaving the piano player to do a solo that was truly solo. Nobody else in the band played, but the audience was clapping on beat the whole way through (the nice thing about a jazz audience is that they stay on beat, too). Suddenly, the whole group was back in an explosion of sound, and Roy and Justin took the head to finish out the piece.

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Going to see this trumpeter at this jazz club felt like a sort of pilgrimage to me as a musician, so I had to post about it. Some video clips of the performance are already up, check them out on YouTube.

Yazz Ahmed: UK Trumpet Feature

Even though I’m currently immersed in the English jazz scene, it was my home jazz authority, SFJazz, that pointed me in the direction of UK-based trumpeter Yazz Ahmed. She’s British-Bahraini  and recently released an LP critics have described as “Psychedelic Arabic Jazz.” As an Arab-American jazz trumpet player and composer myself, I couldn’t resist reading it, and it’s a truly enlightening perspective piece on the state of modern jazz and jazz musicians. Check it out here.

… And while you’re at it, be sure to give the album a listen toLa Saboteuse is joining my inspiration playlist right alongside Ibrahim Maalouf, Roy Hargrove, Hiromi, Christian Scott… etc.

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Hidden Treasure: Undiscovered Footage of Gerry Mulligan on SS Norway

There’s a lot to sift through in the Altman-Koss archives: the videos are long, they span a 75-year period, and the performers are sometimes barely known and other times household names, like Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald. While much of what I’m finding is up on YouTube or at least traceable via Google search, every once in a while I come across something totally unique and quite valuable.

My favourite instance of this so far is a video of Gerry Mulligan’s quartet performing on the SS Norway Jazz Cruise in 1995. This cruise journeys the Caribbean, launching from Miami and on to the Bahamas, St. Marteen, and St. Thomas, with epic line-ups of jazz shows on-board. A lot of the cruise is documented for advertising purposes, but little of the content is actually recorded.

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Now, Gerry Mulligan is big in the jazz world for bringing in Chet Baker, the trumpet player, but also for his innovations – for example, removing the piano from the quintet, which apparently shocked jazzers and revolutionized the way quintets do things. So Altman-Koss #44, a private recording of his performance on this cruise, was already interesting to me, despite the low video quality. But what made it appear invaluable was finding this quote from Phil Woods, another saxophone player on the cruise, speaking about it on Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective:

“I saw Gerry just before he died, when he was playing on a jazz cruise on the SS Norway in November 1995. Gene Lees and Johnny Mandel were there, and we all hung out with Gerry and had a great time, even though we realized it might be the last time we saw him. He was playing beautifully, more poignantly than ever. He was a lovely writer, and he played some of his new tunes, and the group with Ted Rosenthal, Dean Johnson, and Ron Vincent sounded great. He performed from a chair, and I’m sure he knew it might be his final performance, but he was playing so well and finding new ways. I’d love a tape of that concert, because there wasn’t a dry eye in my part of the house.”

-Phil Woods, Ch. 27 of Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective by Gordon Jack

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Gerry Mulligan died two months after the performance, in January 2006. According to Phil, not only was this performance one of his last, but it was also one of his best. And it’s possible we may have found the only recording of it, hidden in this archive. I wish Phil himself were still alive; I’d try and send him the video.

Touchdown in the UK

Hey all! As usual, this blog is getting a jump-start for the summer so I have a place to share where I’m going and what I’m doing musically. This time around I’ll be in the United Kingdom, stationed at the University of Sussex in Brighton (I’ve actually been here for a couple of days now, though the jet lag makes it feel like way more than that).

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As for what I’m doing here: after graduating from the Bachelor of Music program at UC Santa Cruz, I was nominated for an International Junior Research Associate at the University of Sussex, to work on sorting out and building up the Altman-Koss Jazz Archive, the content of which was donated a little while back by John Altman and Eric Koss. The two musicians, themselves highly distinguished in the world of jazz, spent years recording and archiving as many jazz performances as they could – the result is a massive collection of 1600 VHS tapes, each 2.5 hours long. A few hundred of them have been digitized already, and my job will be to rifle through the collection looking for any rare or noteworthy performances, as well as to create a database so that other jazz-lovers can access it and do the same.

This “Private Collection of  a Video Freak” (the collectors’ words) spans music from the 1920s (perhaps earlier – we’ll find out) through to the early 2000s. It has huge sections dedicated to performances by very famous jazz musicians (there’s well over 70 hours of footage just of Oscar Peterson), but also names that bring up nothing on YouTube (and very little on Google).

Will keep active as I explore more of Brighton and the collection. Hoping to come across some gems.

Monterey Jazz Fest 2016

September 16-18 saw some of the world’s best jazz musicians playing in Monterey, with Wayne Shorter, Kamasi Washington (!!!), Gregory Porter, Joshua Redman, and Branford Marsalis  all playing in the main arena for an incredibly stacked lineup.
Buuut I didn’t see any of them, partially because my student ticket ($22 for a full day) didn’t cover the main arena (not bitter), but mostly because my attention was totally focused on Ibrahim Maalouf and Elena Pinderhughes, the former being my favorite trumpet player, and the latter being a flute player and vocalist who tours with my second favorite trumpet player (Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah), and who is a phenomenal musician in her own right.

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I sped down from Santa Cruz late in the afternoon, having had to stay in town for the most of the day, and got to Monterey just in time for Ibrahim’s show. I had to go back to Santa Cruz immediately after, despite having an all-day ticket; and it was absolutely worth the time and money. Ibrahim performed his jazz combo’s rendition of Alf Leila wa Leila (1001 Arabian Nights), one of the most famous Arabic music classics by Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum. Everything about the song makes it a cornerstone of Arabic culture: the singer, the style, the literary reference. Ibrahim, who currently lives in France but is originally from Lebanon, put a modern spin on his take of the song, parting it into four-movements (it’s originally an hour long). The version he played was a fusion of jazz, rock, and traditional Arabic music, including a cadenza where the rest of the band cut out and Ibrahim and spun the themes through Baroque, bebop, and even a hip-hop breakdown. He’s even able to hit the quarter tones in the Arabic maqqams because he added a fourth valve to his trumpet. The full song is on Youtube (minus the hip-hop).

After the performance I slipped backstage to meet him; he’s only in the United States once or twice a year and I had to hi. Despite clearly being tired (and probably not in the mood to meet fans), he was really nice and talked with me for a bit. Since my father’s from Lebanon I asked him about his roots; it turns out he’s from a village barely ten minutes (walking, not driving) away from where my dad grew up. Which of course made me want to ask a million more questions, but soon after I let him be and headed back to Santa Cruz.

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The next day I came back with a bunch of housemates for a fuller day at the jazz fest, with the ultimate goal of seeing Elena Pinderhughes’s evening performance. We relaxed, ate good food, and enjoyed being some of the few people under 50 at the event. I’ve never seen so many happy drunks in my life. Maybe the key to drinking is just experience; on the shuttle over I sat with an elderly lady who was drunk out of her mind and forgot everything I said ten seconds later, but was laughing the entire bus ride, and totally thrilled by Davina’s performance.

Me and my friends sprawled on the grass in front of the Garden Stage while the Montclair Women’s Big Band and the Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy played. Right when the sun began to set it was time for Elena Pinderhughes and her band.

Every musician on stage was phenomenal. The drummer (Corey Fonville) and guitarist (Gabe Schnider) both were with Christian Scott for Complex’s Complex City Cypher, (featuring A$AP Ferg, Wiki, Your Old Droog) – one of my favorite modern jazz and hip hop collaborations. I hadn’t heard the bassist, Josh Crumbly, before, but his playing was so lyrical, both in solos and his regular bass lines. And the piano player was none other than Elena’s older brother, Samora Pinderhughes; together, he and Elena composed most of the songs they performed that evening.  And the songs were beautiful: Elena switched between playing flute and singing, and in both cases she had a warm, gentle, flowing sound that still carried a ton of emotional power. Something about the way the music itself – definitely jazz, but definitely different than any kind of jazz I’d ever heard before – would effortlessly shift from tranquil and introspective to explosive, energetic, and complicated in a way that perfectly suited her playing made it impossible to look away. I was completely invested and absorbed, which is really rare for me; despite being a musician and loving listening to music, I tend to get really restless at concerts. I had no desire to leave at any point in time during this one.

But my attention was shaken from time to time by a red-faced gray-haired man, lying on his back front and center and less than five feet away from the stage, who was completely passed out except for an occasional eruption of hacking and coughing.  It was so rare that he would wake up that we weren’t even annoyed, but we had the hardest time keeping our laughter in. I mean, it was to the point that the first few times it happened we thought he might need medical attention. I can’t imagine the band didn’t notice; but they didn’t show it if they did.

Summer 2016 (Quick update, more to come)

So I did it again: I waited a YEAR to post anything about what I’ve been up to.

But I’ve finally started up a new, personal website (in addition to this blog), and the plan is to catch up on performances and travels on this website, and then keep both sites up to date.

It’s half for myself, to keep organized. I’m starting my last year at UC Santa Cruz, and I’ll be performing more than I ever have: jazz combos, big bands, orchestras, brass quintet, a senior recital, shows around town, and personal projects with WabiSabi, a hip-hop/jazz fusion group started by me and four other musicians earlier this year.

I’ve also watched more performances this year than in any other, and 2016’s been a huge year for hip hop and jazz album releases; I’m filled with (late) critique that will show up here.

Keep checking back – I have plenty of reviews, recordings, compositions, and stories to put up from this summer (and with any luck I’ll get the bulk of it done before class gets back next week…)

In Memory of a Friend: October 21, 2015

*** Support Hashem’s family and donate by visiting the gofundme page here ***

Last summer, when I visited and worked in Palestine, I had the pleasure of meeting Hashem Azzeh, who showed us his home in Hebron and the atrocities of the settlers and the IDF there (you can read about the visit here). Of all the people I met while in Palestine, Hashem inspired me the most. It saddens me to learn that after spending years of nonviolently resisting Israeli occupation of his home, he was killed today by tear gas thrown by IDF soldiers.

First, he was Palestinian. Second, he was educated, a medical doctor. Third, he was a leader in his community. Which brings us to his next offense, he was a peace activist. Finally, and perhaps most aggravating for the Israeli state, he adamantly refused to be forced from his home in Hebron’s Old City – though the IDF and Israeli settlers, who lived in houses perched right above his, never tired of using intimidation and violence to try and push Hashem and his young family from their home.”

Hashem, his wife, and four children have endured beatings, shootings, crop poisonings, arrests, and more while living next to Zionist settlers in an Israeli government occupied zone, yet Hashem never turned to anger, violence, or hopelessness. Instead, he fought for his beliefs: his belief in education, by working at a local school and by giving free tours of the occupied zone in Hebron to outsiders. His belief in peace, by teaching the children at his school not to hate, that the Jewish people and the Israeli government are not the same thing and that violence is never okay. His belief in resistance activism, first by refusing to sell his home to the government for millions of dollars, and then by refusing to leave when they turned to more intrusive and violent methods.On top of all this, he was a fully-educated medical cardiologist.

And on top of that, he was an incredibly warm, kind, and hospitable person. When Tessa, Giulia, and I dropped in on him on short notice in 2014, he went out to meet us and gave us a tour of the occupied zone: his neighborhood, school, and Shuhada street. Then he invited us into his home for drinks and pastries, where he introduced us to his family. After we left he kept in contact with us, and in his messages he always referred to me as first as “friend.”

My heart goes out to his family, who has bravely stood with him in resistance against a violent and oppressive regime.

May his story continue to inspire,

Thank you, Friend in al-Khalil.