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.

June 28th, 2015 PRIDE

First and foremost – a HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to the LGBTQ community for the Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage a right nationwide! Justified by the14th Amendment, sexuality and gender orientation are no longer legally legitimate reasons to prevent couples from the right to marriage (and the consequential state and federal benefits marriage affords American citizens).

But before I go on, I think it’s important to note that this symbolic ruling, as noteworthy as it is, is not the end of the fight for equality. There are alarming rates of violence, sexual assault, discrimination, and suicide among every group represented by the acronym LGBTQ, and especially for those who also belong to an ethnic minority and/or are unwealthy. For example, “one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives,” a tragic statistic that underscores how important it is to keep on fighting for equal rights, instead of simply being content with the recent good news.  If you’re looking for some way to help, I’ve compiled a quick list of charities that you could check out. But I’m by no means an expert, so I recommend doing some research before contributing:

General LGBTQ charities

Charities for homeless and youth LGBTQ 
Charities against Trans Violence

This whole weekend, New York has been bursting with celebration. On Friday, when the decision was handed down, crowds of people gathered at the Stonewall Inn, the site of  the 1969 protests against police brutality towards the queer community and the birthplace of the modern Gay Rights movement. The site also officially became a national landmark this week. We joined the crowd gathered there and couldn’t hear ourselves over the cheers and fireworks.

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Stonewall Inn on June 26th, 2015

I’m a little upset at having missed several great DJs who played for Pride on Saturday, including Ruby Rose, the Australian musician, model, and now actress for Orange is the New Black . But the main event was on Sunday, with the NYC Pride Parade, marking the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. I took a lot of audio recordings and pictures, so I think I’ll let them speak for themselves…

The loudest speakers I’ve ever heard….

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… and here’s how they sounded. It doesn’t come across well on my field recorder, but I could literally feel the bass in my entire body, head to foot.

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Black Cindy and Flaca from Orange is the New Black!

Black Cindy and Flaca from Orange is the New Black!   20150628_134107  20150628_142231

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The whole thing generally sounded like this for three hours.

Are there problems with Pride celebrations? Yeah, definitely, especially when it comes to appropriation of the movement by corporations and wealthy, mostly white partiers who basically just want another occasion day-drink and hookup. For every honest, progressive grass-roots organization I saw marching at the parade (like the Anti-Violence Project and Identity House), there was a Coca-Cola or Walmart float rolling through, with their go go dancers shamelessly flinging logo-emblazoned drinks and tee-shirts at the crowd and their DJs turning up the speakers to be heard over everyone else in the line-up.

And as I mentioned up above, there’s still a lot of work to do before any semblance of true equality can begin to make an appearance. But that doesn’t take away from the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision, and that is definitely cause enough to celebrate.

June 21, 2015 Sunday

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There’s always something going on in any part of New York you happen to be in – especially in the summer, and even when it’s so foggy you can’t see a skyscraper a mile away, like it has been this past week. I don’t think June 21st is any sort of special holiday in Chinatown (other than father’s day, nationwide), but the whole area was filled with music, fruit stands, and board games. Walking through Columbus park, I saw crowds of people huddled around xiangqi tables, and every fifteen feet there was a different band of musicians, contributing to this blooming sound tangled but pleasant noise. One guy sat by himself at the base of a statue, holding an erhu. He caught me looking at it and beckoned. I hesitated, knowing I had no money for a tip, but I couldn’t resist when he held the instrument out for me to play. It’s kind of like playing a violin, except it has more of a keening sound. After a while, I handed it back to him and asked if I could get a recording of him playing it (which you can listen to here).

One of the first things I did here (other than work) is set up a lesson with Michael Blutman, a fantastic trumpet player and Julliard graduate who, among other things, plays for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. After two hours with him out on Long Island, I left with a mind-blowing amount of new music-related knowledge and a vague feeling that I suck, which is good for a trumpet player.

Mike also referred me to a tribute concert for Lew Soloff, a legendary trumpet player who recently passed away. Many people consider Lew responsible for blurring the line between jazz and rock, especially when he and Blood, Sweat, and Tears came out with “Spinning Wheel” in the 70s. I’m starting to learn just how small the music world is; the guest musicians at Lew’s tribute included some of the best in the world, including Wynton Marsalis and Miles Evans. Mike went to school with these guys, and I know Mike because my teacher knew him, and my former teacher in Chico knew my teacher… and so on.

Last thing – if you’re ever in New York for the summer, be sure to catch the New York Philharmonic when they’re giving their free concerts in the park. FREE. This year is the 50th anniversary of the event; how cool is it that what is arguably the best large music ensemble in the world gives free concerts to the public every summer? For the past 50 years? I got to go to the one in Brooklyn, and it’s 100% worth wading through the mass of picnicking tourists and locals.  If you’re in town, there’s still a few more performances left in Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

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June 7th, 2015

Aaaand the summer blog is back!

This time I’m in New York, ostensibly for something completely unrelated to music, but I’ve brought my trumpet with me and will be writing about our adventures in the music scene of this city.

Here’s my situation: I’ve been placed in the middle of Manhattan with an 8-hour work day, a list of names, and a few vague leads on possible venues and jam sessions. I have 10 weeks to try and meet people and scrounge up a few gigs before going home. With any luck, I’ll have some recordings to post here soon, even if they’re not of me. So with that – if anyone reading this knows a musician in New York who wants to jam, let me know!