Ernie Adams Worldtet

Mar 30th and 31st I’ll be performing at the Velvet Lounge with percussionist/drummer phenom Ernie Adams. Ernie and I have been talking about this project for a while and we’re so pleased it’s finally coming to life! Joining us will be a cast of creative musicians from Chicago: James Sanders (violin), Zvonmir Tot (guitar), Dale Prasco (guitar) and Josh Ramos (bass).

I’ll be debuting my “new” vintage tenor and soprano saxophones. I’m letting my trusty (and much beloved) Selmer Mk VI tenor take a rest. For some reason, I’m really enjoying playing two Conn saxophones I recently acquired: a 1926 tenor and a 1927 soprano. I’m really digging the sound quality of these horns and as a result the music that comes out my horns has changed a bit too. I’ll also be playing bass clarinet and assorted flutes (especially alto flute).

As always, I’ll keep posting details about this project. Hopefully we’ll get some video snippets I can post and share with you.

Larry Price Quartet

Last Saturday, I played with the Larry Price Quartet in La Crosse. Larry’s a fine pianist, Rich MacDonal is a powerhouse drummer with a really wonderful musical sensibility and Eric Graham is a chop monster of a bass player.

In fact, here we are:

We’ll be playing at the La Crosse Jazz Festival later in the summer – in August. Stay tuned and I’ll post details about that project as we get closer to the date!

artisanal economics – part II

I a previous post I wrote a bit about a new-ish concept to me: artisanal economics. Call them “cottage industry,” “entrepreneurial projects,” “startups,” or “some guy selling his wares out of the trunk of his car…” – whatever the name there’s a great creative spirit in this idea.

Especially for artists. The closer we can get to our audience the better off we’ll all be. Or at least I think so.

It does create a challenge for those of us dealing with a digital medium. Musicians, of course, have live audiences with which to connect. But most of our work is enjoyed via recordings. And the possession of these is often seemed to be just another item on one’s iPod (or similar device).

I received an e-mail recently from a fan. I was extremely pleased to know my music was being enjoyed in a land so far from my home turf. However, I also found it interesting that he told me quite openly that he found my music because it was left on a used iPod he purchased. In a strict sense, my music should have been deleted from the device. But, at this point in my career, I’m far more interested in getting my music out in the world as far as I can. So, just this once I’ll let it slide. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The point of this post is just to work out a few of my own feelings around this whole DRM issue. Who among can actually afford to actually enforce fair usage of our work? Even the majors have been unable to do it. So, why bother? Well, there’s that utopian ideal of musicians actually making a living from their art. That would be nice. Until then, I guess we’ll have to rely of alternative means of income to support our “musical habit.”

artisanal economics

Huh? Well, this is a bit of a stretch but please bear with me – it might be interesting.

I’m reading “An Omnivore’s Dilemma” and saw a reference to an article by Allan Nation which draws on theories of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter.

Basically it discusses how “artisanal” production methods (which consist of selling something special rather that as a least-cost commodity) must not adapt to “industrial” production models.

If I apply this thinking to creative music, that means creative musicians:

  • should do everything they can to appear cutting-edge or at least unique
  • should never try to achieve financial growth for the sake of growth (e.g., simply because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing). This is contrary to conventional wisdom that you should always be expanding your market. I take this to mean we should only strive to expand our market if it is truly meant to somehow better support our artistic endeavors.
  • don’t strive for uniformity. I suppose you could interpret this a few ways. But why not perform on the edge? Some nights might be rough, others might be stellar. If you’re not challenging yourself, why bother? People pay for artisanal products because they expect outstanding results sometimes and can live with less desirable results occasionally. Consider fine wine. Sometimes bottles are undrinkable but we’ve come to understand this as part of the artisanal production process. If you choose perfection over art, you get something like supermarket wine as a result.
  • Focus on local markets. Follows on from the above point: artisans can’t scale to satisfy global markets. Consider how to optimize your impact within your local market.
  • Rely on reputation, word-of-mouth instead of advertising

I’m finding thinking about this concept very interesting. Obviously, I don’t have a strong backlog of evidence to prove this is the right path for creative musicians. But I like the ideas now. Do you have thoughts about this? Reactions to this advice (which seems opposite what most musicians are doing)?


the impact of online media options

I’ve been struggling with the growing trend in the US where people just tend to stay home. ๐Ÿ™

We’ve grown into a society where we just don’t hang out anymore. Fast food, fast coffee (think Starbucks) and increasingly, fast entertainment. iTunes and the ubiquitous iPod have been increasing the rate with which we can go grab whatever media we want, when we want it.

On the one hand, this is fantastic! When I hear of a new recording, I can go preview it, buy it and listen to it almost immediately. Now with the introduction of TV and movies, we’re moving closer to that. And, of course, there’s YouTube which gives us a whole new genre of video entertainment: fanstastic “bootleg” videos of our favorite musicians (just search for “Eric Dolphy” or “Art Tatum” or “Woody Shaw” or “John Coltrane” or whoever – it’s truly amazing what’s lurking within that site).

But where is all this headed? The BBC recently posted an article asking that question. They’re already seeing an impact to “normal” TV watching.

The graphic shown here shows 43% of people are already choosing online or mobile video instead of normal TV. I like it! It means people are empowered to take a more active role in their entertainment – instead of passively just turning on the TV and watching whatever is on.

Maybe, if I dare to dream a bit, that will lead to more people seeking out live music, interacting with real people and getting a far more enriching experience!

It’s quite a dream, I know. But it’s one of my hopes for the future: where people grow weary of home entertainment and seek out something better: art museums, theatre, live music, performance art, etc.

the spirit of the moment

Saturday, Bill Neil and I performed a great concert with Hanah Jon Taylor. Hanah’s a truly gifted improviser and flautist/saxophonist.

There were many, many great moments – even if I do say so myself. Pianist Bill Neil is really making amazing music right now – there’s an urgency and richness to what he plays that is definitely worth checking out! Add to the that, Hanah’s great spontaneous improvisations and I hope you start to understand what I’m so excited about. It was truly enjoyable to perform with like-minded players who are open and able to play in the moment, to uncover the music that needs to be heard.

A perfect example of that was a new piece Bill composed for Hanah. It’s called Soul Drifting and was essentially a duet for flute and what Bill calls an audio soundscape. Hanah had never heard the piece before the performance. Bill just gave him a print out of the audio wave – which, as it turns out, is a pretty good way to visualize the emotional curve of the piece. Hanah cranked out a masterpiece! It was breathtaking to behold. His flute playing is among the best I’ve ever heard.

Fortunately, we recorded it – hopefully we’ll post it to the web soon and you can share in the joy of the moment!

The music was certainly deep, spiritual and meaningful. But I’ve also been completely blown away by the response from the audience! They really got into and have been lavishing praise upon us. This was a really adventurous concert (which I had wrongly assumed would be difficult for the audience to fully enjoy) but they really got into the spirit of the moment. Which, of course, is what this music is all about: drop our prejudices and just enjoy the moment. Hmm…could even be a maxim for living our lives as well…

Unexpected learning about live music

I just got back from a week in Prague. Beatiful city! And I had the good fortune to sit-in with Prague saxophonist, Frantiลกek Kop ( ) at a really good jazz club, U Maleho Glena ( ). I highly recommend checking both out the next time you’re in Prague!

Anyway, after leaving the gig I was talking with a friend and he said “Now I get it. You have to listen to jazz live.” Yes! That’s it!

Of course, many of us already know this but it struck as one of those profound little gems that help you discover new meaning in music. Jazz is all about the live experience. It is at its best in the jazz club. Recordings are never fully able to recreate the experience.

I think that popular music is quite the opposite. Live performances are mainly in support of the recording. The main intention is to recreate the studio recording – often even including playing solos exactly as recorded!

To me, it’s all about playing live and that’s where I intend to put my energy. Real people listening to real musicians – all together “listening for music.” That’s what it’s all about.


Sometimes you need to change things up a bit. I have been playing the same Selmer Mk VI since I was in high school! We have been through a LOT of gigs together.

But recently I bought an old Conn Chu Berry and have been having a blast (literally) playing it. It’s nice to play since it feels so different from my Mk VI.

I highly recommend changing on occasion just to re-discover and re-appreciate what you already have!

Is jazz relevant anymore?

So, I’ve been doing some thinking about how to reach audiences. I mean really make a connection.

It’s generally come pretty easily for me when it’s a crowd that has really come to dig the music. I love feeling that connection with one or more people out in the audience. It’s the thing that keeps me motivated.

But that generally only works when the crowd is in the right place. That is, it only reaches out and touches people who are already jazz enthusiasts. Most of the others just leave scratching their heads thinking jazz is somehow beyond their grasp.

I think if that’s the case then I’ve failed as a musician. I don’t think that’s where our forefathers (Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, etc) wanted us to be.

Of course, we’ve all noticed the current trend among jazz records to include more recent hit tunes – such as Brad Melhdau’s covers of Radiohead tunes, the Bad Plus doing their thing and even Don Braden doing popular tunes with an organ trio.

I don’t think that’s the answer, personally. Well, it might be but the current situation misses the mark for me. Why? Because they’re approaching these rock tunes from a jazz perspective and the musics are fundamentally different: jazz expects rather complicated chord progressions and rock tunes avoid them. Thus, to simply play rock tunes in a jazz setting is going to produce very bland results. ๐Ÿ™

I think we’re at a point where a new approach to reharmonizing these tunes in a more profound way is required. That’s what I’m experimenting with back at the wood shed. Hopefully you’ll be hearing the results from a recording project I’m spinning up later in October…

Stay tuned! ๐Ÿ™‚


I began, like most kids in the US, when I was 10 years old. You know, middle school band. But I was extremely lucky to hook up with a fantastic teacher, Larry Kirkman. He produced a whole gang of fine saxophonists through his charisma and dogged insistence on excellence. I learned the fundamentals of sound production, technique and musicianship from him and I will always feel immense gratitude to him for all he taught me (both in music and in life).

One of the “gems” he gave me was to appreciate the importance of sound. Sound is one of those words that takes on many different meanings. If you think only in terms of tone quality, you’re missing a large part of the subject. Through Kirkman, I learned to think in terms of tone quality, phrases and the emotional output of music as one thing, sound. They must all work together to make good music. I needed no explanation when I heard the masters talking about someone’s “sound” – I knew they meant their entire musical being.

Later, when I was studying with Eugene Rousseau at Indiana University this same concept held and was strengthened by Dr. Rousseau’s gifted insights into music. But, given what I think to be an excellent education, David Liebman’s book “Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound” finally gave me the information I needed to really find my “own” sound. I had already been using the overtone exercises for a long time but what helped me tremendously were the mouthpiece alone exercises (playing scales, arpeggios, etc. on only the mouthpiece). These studies exaggerate the techniques involved in playing the saxophone and really help you master them quickly. I highly recommend them along with lots of long tone and overtone exercises.

Because I have such a strong fundamental base to work from, I have achieved a high level of technique with the saxophone and can pretty much always play exactly what I’m hearing. I am comfortable playing in all registers between low Bb and double F and rarely miss phrases I attempt to play. Sorry to sound like I’m bragging here but what that really means to me is that I’m free to conceive the music any way I please and am not limited, to a large degree, by what I can play on my instrument.

I have to admit though that I made a large mistake that I hope you won’t. I came up learning jazz with the Aebersold play-a-longs and all the books. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the technique and analytical sides of the music. Despite repeatedly hearing my teachers and clinicians tell me (and most of my colleagues) to listen and transcribe, I stubbornly went down the wrong path. I was determined to be able to play as fast as Bird and Trane and mistakenly thought I was picking up the music at the same time. I was quite accomplished in the bebop tradition and got one of my dream gigs – the J.J. Johnson Quintet – in 1988. It was there, playing every night with J.J., Cedar Walton, Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis, that I learned what real music was. I am so thankful for that experience because it changed me into the musician I am today.