Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer 2016...

Gonna keep this post short and simply wish everyone a rewarding summer on whatever level you want to approach that.  I will be taking a bit of a break from traveling until this fall, when I will be touring the UK for the first time in some years.  I’m looking forward to that and will share more details as we get closer.

So that means I will be in NYC all of July and August, available for private lessons to saxophonists in particular although musicians on any instrument are welcome for improvisation lessons.  Please contact me via e-mail for more information.

In other news, I recently tried the new Selmer saxophone reeds and was very impressed.  I personally find many so called “jazz” style reeds to color the sound somewhat artificially towards something louder and brighter.  So I appreciate that these reeds, which are not made towards any particular style of playing, seem to allow the natural sound of the instrument to emerge, balanced and well proportioned, naturally vibrant but with a dark, focused core that has a bit more density than many other brands I’ve tried.  I was impressed enough to accept the Selmer company’s offer to become an official endorser of these reeds. Thank you Selmer!

Also, I’d like to remind you not to let the summer pass without picking up a copy of “Trio Willisau Live”.  If you don’t know what that is please read all about it here.

I kind of feel that posting on the blog should require something a bit more substantial than any of this.  But after that lengthy interview I did for Point of Departure last month I have the feeling there’s going to be little to say for awhile.  Kind of emptied my head on that one.  So I’ll simply offer something short and obvious, not original to me, but something that I remind myself of from time to time, as an improvisor. And that is…just start from where you are.

Enjoy your summer…

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Point of Departure Interview…

The online music journal “Point of Departure” has just published a rather extensive interview that I’m happy to share with you. I appreciate POD for offering a space in which to get a bit deeper into this whole music/life thing. Areas of focus: comfort zones, jazz as “the truth”, established practices, repertoire, studio versus live, state of the industry, technology, creativity and simply being human. Read the interview HERE.

And a reminder that:

The CD sale commemorating the release of the new recording TRIO WILLISAU LIVE continues with the addition of a few back catalogue titles that have previously been unavailable. Have a look at the discography page for specific information on these titles.  You can order them here.

ARCANUM MODERNE Ellery Eskelin, Andrea Parkins, Jim Black
VANISHING POINT Ellery Eskelin, Mat Maneri, Erik Friedlander, Mark Dresser, Matt Moran
TEN Ellery Eskelin, Andrea Parkins, Jim Black, Jessica Constable, Marc Ribot, Melvin Gibbs


TRIO NEW YORK Ellery Eskelin, Gary Versace, Gerald Cleaver
is nearly sold out…there are less than 10 copies available!

And Finally...

A one time only special offer…I do have a very limited number of “out of print” titles that are not listed on the ordering page. Occasionally I put together packages of 30+ titles for folks who want the entire catalogue. I’m down to my last such “package offer”. It’s a very discounted deal for anyone interested but is sold only as a collection. Have a look at the ordering page for more information…

Monday, June 6, 2016

Paul Smoker

The first time I met and played with Paul Smoker must have been in 1987, just prior to Joint Venture’s first recording project.  Joint Venture was formed out of a series of regular sessions at drummer Phil Haynes’ Corner Store loft in Brooklyn.  We had a trio with bassist Drew Gress and Phil suggested we invite Paul to come in from Iowa (where he had been living and teaching) to make a recording with us.  Paul was Phil’s teacher at Coe College and Phil became part of Paul’s speed / power trio with bassist Ron Rohovit.  They had made an LP or two, one of them featuring Anthony Braxton as guest artist.  Phil told me all about Paul, we listened to the recordings and somehow it seemed right to do this even as it was something of a risk, agreeing to make a studio recording with someone I’d never played with.  Paul was also a good twenty years older than us so it wasn’t quite like inviting one of your peers to go along with a speculative deal.  I wasn’t even completely sure about the “do it yourself” thing myself but Phil was thinking big and talking persuasively.  We agree, Phil makes the call. Paul agrees and books his flight, joining us a couple of weeks later to rehearse and get acquainted.

The night arrives and in comes Paul, tall guy, cowboy hat, cigarette. And of course his trumpet. His image would seem to match his reputation for candor and directness.  You could be forgiven for feeling a bit intimidated although he was also very relaxed and genuine, no games.  This is our first meeting.  A little small talk and now we’re gonna play.  I suggested we try “Just in Time”.  Paul kind of scoffed, in a good natured way, but still, tinged with a bit of incredulity and probably deeper down, a sense of WTF!?!  I think he may have wanted to give me a hard time but was giving me the benefit of the doubt instead.  So after a bit of hemming and hawing, subtle posturing and a couple of well placed sighs he reached back into the memory banks as we counted off the tune.  What came out of his horn could not have been more at odds with the attitude expressed just moments before. Total commitment, unabashed, emotionally engaged and dealing with the tune on multiple levels at once.

After this ended we kind of took a few minutes to let it all sink in.  A pretty intense performance for a first time meeting.  Almost a bit of a shock. Nothing much to say afterwards. Paul gradually catches his breath and comes back to that attitude he was working on before, saying, in a somewhat confrontational tone, “Man, you know how long it’s been since I played Just in Time”?  Pause. “Yea, about five minutes ago”, I shot back. At that point Paul’s face lit up with a beautiful smile and we all laughed at the fact that in spite of all the protestations to the contrary, we still could not have imagined Paul Smoker (or anyone else for that matter) making “Just in Time” any more “real” than we had just witnessed.  At that moment I think we all realized that this “Joint Venture” might work pretty well.  The music and the connection was palpable and just cut through everything.

We kept the band going for three recordings on the enja records label, which helped us all get a start in the recording and touring business branching out as individual leaders over the years. Joint Venture had a unique chemistry, four musicians each with individual and strongly felt approaches to the music, exploring common ground while allowing ourselves to be pulled in other directions at the same time.  As a result of this healthy tension I think we were able to touch on that “whole is larger than the sum of the parts” kind of thing.  It’s really beautiful when something like that can happen.

So thanks Paul for sharing such a wonderful spirit in your life and music.  Many people loved you deeply and you live on through them and through their music.

Paul Smoker passed on May 14, 2016 at the age of 75.