New York State Council on the Arts cuts

I have been the lucky recipient of three grants from NYSCA, one of which was a huge asset to my career. The money I got to write my piece for string quartet and jazz quintet, “The Wheel”,  allowed me to make a leap forward artistically, and this piece led to many more grants from various organizations. Now I hear that NYSCA has cut its staff in half and cut much funding. I know that we are in troubled times fiscally- I just hope that everyone remembers how important art is to our world. As I’ve often said art makes us more human, it ennobles us, it lights the world in ways seen and unseen. Let’s hope NYSCA funds are soon restored.

String Choir – Downbeat Review

String Choir

By Jon Ross, DownBeat

Guitarist Joel Harrison’s latest group of arrangements – Paul Motion tunes arranged for string quartets – belongs in a gray area between classical and jazz. this isn’t simply jazz with strings, the subgenre that once bewitched Charlie Parker; Harrison’s record leans more toward classical music, but it’s certainly not the jazz-as-classical mishmash more recently explored by Wynton Marsalis. (more…)

The Music of Paul Motian

String Choir

By John Kelman, All About Jazz

Joel Harrison has stretched the boundaries of form and freedom for over fifteen years, but Urban Myths (HighNote, 2009) and, in particular, the ambitious The Wheel(Innova, 2008), have represented significant evolutionary leaps. The Wheelmarried a conventional horn-led jazz quintet with a classical string quartet, its collection of Harrison originals pushing the limits of cross-pollination by eliminating all preconceived stylistic delineators. The Music of Paul Motian takes The Wheel‘s advancements a step further, focusing on Motian’s writing, rather than the textural and temporally implicit playing approach that has made him such an ongoing role model for generations of drummers. (more…)

Amazement at Classical Music Offerings of Late

Saw an amazing concert at Tullyscope festival- Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. Something remarkable about all the creativity in classical music festivals these past months. Ecstatic, Tune In, Thalia….There is Nowhere near the same dimensionality in Jazz festivals going on. Why? I welcome your view. We can list funding as a reason- but…that alone cannot be the reason. . Most of my life I saw classical music as the hidebound, conservative sector…now, I think there may be more happening there creatively than in jazz, although comparisons are perilous and possibly pointless. It’s quite exciting, a bit surprising. Somehow there is a youth movement that has caught on… How, why? A bunch of these younger devotees are championing Xenakis, Varese, Feldman…It’s quite amazing! Who would have predicted this? Meanwhile, I see a lot of young jazz players who are super talented, but I don’t know if they are advocates for NEW music as opposed to…JAZZ. Yes, there are amazing solos being played, but you probably won’t hear anything with the gravity of Rothko Chapel being presented. Or for that matter, music for 72 percussionists, or a 45 minute work for 18 musicians that is so freaking beautiful it lights up your week. My angle on this is that the walls between so called jazz and classical need further deconstruction, so that Feldman’s piece for bass clarinet and 2 percussionists can be paired with set of, say, Marty Ehrlich, Andrew Cyrille, and William Winant. But! (!!!!) how massively challenging it would be to even come close to the rapture of Feldman’s piece. Improviser beware!

On Reading George Lewis' AACM Book

A Power Stronger than Itself- the AACM and American Experimental Music

First things first- this is one of the finest books ever written about music, any kind of music, not just improvised music. It is part history, part biography, social and philosophical treatise, musical guide, and in all ways a gift to any serious musician. One can read it to learn about some of the finest musicians of our time, to see quite clearly how they think. But one can also read it to learn about how a social movement is created, how race played and still plays an enormous role in the music world. One can read it to learn how collectives are formed, how they can perish, or read it to understand the musical landscape of Chicago in the 1960’s, the intersection of civil rights and Black self-determination with music, New York’s so-called “loft scene” in the 70’s, and corallaries to other movements of the time, rock, fusion, European classical and improvised music, and experimental culture in other art forms. Lewis allows seminal figures such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie and countless others to speak for themselves as to their process; however, he goes further by placing these people in a broader historical context. Lewis tells an involved, important story that, for me, has been hiding in plain sight. His work succeeds for a number of reasons: he is a terrific writer, and composes from inside the story, somehow managing to combine a journalistic objectivity with a participant’s subjectivity. How rare is it that a Black man tells a Black peoples’ story, that a musician tells the musicians’ stories? Lewis pulls back the curtain on what almost seems a secret society. What his book does is show just how important and influential the AACM has been to all improvisers- whether they know it or not. In a climate in which scores of books are written about the same few heroic figures, in which we are inundated with every last note that Miles, Trane, Bird and Duke ever recorded, in which we hear about what Charlie Parker ate for breakfast on June 3, 1943, in which their primacy is not only considered an a priori truth, but an institutional mandate, how thoroughly refreshing, no ENORMOUSLY refreshing it is to know the history of this parallel universe. (more…)

Responding to Jason Marsalis

This is in response to a you tube video circulating where another Marsalis (Jason) pretends to have answers for all.

Responding to Jason Marsalis

It is astounding to me that this conflict still rages between old and new trends in jazz. Anybody who cares a wit about culture knows that the only way forward in life is with change. Some change may be lasting and some not, but the dust bin of history is littered with individuals like Jason who fulminate against modernism, only to find that they won the battle but lost the war. Remember Louis Armstrong putting down Dizzy Gillespie? Does Marsalis accept that as fact, 70 years later? (more…)

George Russell and the Conundrum of Large Group Jazz

Small Groups vs. Larger Groups in Jazz: Issues for me, and for others

I have been listening to George Russell’s music of late. A symposium on his life that Jerome Harris led last month piqued my curiosity, and when I began to dig deeper I discovered a treasure trove, cd after cd of fascinating music. The fact that I’d missed so much of his work was dumbfounding. If I, who profess to be a serious jazz composer, haven’t heard much of Russell’s work, who has? (more…)