Thursday, October 28, 2021

Across Breath, Voice, Silence...

Last month my wife and I traveled to Virginia where I had been invited by David Pope (the saxophone professor at James Madison University) to do a solo concert and teaching workshop at the school.  Afterwards we took a couple of days to explore the Shenandoah mountains, this being our first opportunity to get out of NYC together since early last year.  It was also the first opportunity I’ve had to perform publicly since the December 2019 European tour with Christian Weber and Michael Griener.

A solo saxophone concert seemed appropriate given that playing alone is essentially what I’ve been doing all of this time here at home.  In that sense I was well prepared and yet was reminded of the power of being on stage with a roomful of people in the audience.  The performance space was ideal, a two hundred seat recital hall in the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the university.  The folks at JMU are finely attuned to creating and maintaining optimal conditions for their season of musical events.  It’s a vital cultural center not just for the school but for the entire area.  Most importantly, the folks in attendance gave themselves to the music as much as I did.  I could not have felt more welcomed. 

The concert was recorded and I feel it worth sharing.  I always strive to keep the process of improvising as simple and natural as possible given that what happens, especially in a more lengthy musical journey, can become quite detailed and developmentally complex.  After nearly two years of playing the horn alone there was much to say and yet there was also nothing to say, simply a matter of putting breath across a reed, shaping the sound as it goes out, amidst the silence.

If you’d like to have a listen, the recording is offered on bandcamp.

I want to especially thank David Pope, a wonderful musician and dedicated teacher.  We first met in 2003 when he extended an invitation to bring my group with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black to the school for a performance.  We’ve kept in touch since then and I’ve learned a lot from our exchanges on all things saxophone.  This time we got to spend an evening together listening to music as Dave shared with us stories of his time as a student at the University of Massachusetts where he studied with Yusef Lateef.  One of Dave’s cherished items is the mouthpiece that Yusef played for his entire career.  When he showed it to me I asked him to put on Charles Mingus’ “Prayer for Passive Resistance” which features an emotionally riveting performance by Yusef.  Listening to the music on a state-of-the-art sound system while holding that mouthpiece in my hands I wondered about the ordinariness of a piece of metal, hearing the reflection of a musical event from many years past and being alive here in this moment, knowing that in whatever seems missing, nothing is lost.

The teaching portion of the week was a blast, listening to each student perform, prodding them with questions and then giving them another go.  I could do that kind of thing all day long.  As a number of the performances were for solo saxophone I was impressed with how the students found themselves in the music, whether bringing to life someone else’s composition or one of their own as was the case for a student who composed her own solo piece. 

Bringing music alive from any time and place, in this time and place.  All in all, a very affirming experience…