So far, this has been a year to remember. So many wonderful things have happened that I am going to take advantage of this very short pause in my activity and write about all the wonderful things that I’ve been blessed to experience in the last six months or so.
We’ll start with my 50th birthday in April which took place on the last day of recording of Michele Rosewoman’s album, “New Yor-uba”. This is the debut recording of this music, even though this band has been in existence for 30 years!
A description from Michele’s website:
On her landmark new album New Yor-Uba: 30 Years – A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America, pianist/composer/vocalist Michele Rosewoman pushes the envelope at the outer limits of jazz improvisation while keeping firmly rooted in both jazz and centuries-old Afro-Cuban folkloric tradition. Widely credited as being one of the first composers to synthesize sacred Cuban folkloric music with a thoroughly contemporary jazz concept, Rosewoman’s magnum opus, double-cd set – the debut album released on her own Advance Dance Disques label – is the realization of a distinctive creative vision thirty years in the making. Through a successful Kickstarter campaign and the generous support of her backers and co-producers; Neyda Martinez and Onel Mulet of Habana Harlem, Rosewoman’s dream has reached fruition.
Along with Rosewoman on piano, Rhodes and vocals, the album features a mighty three-piece bata (Yoruban talking drum) and conga section of Pedrito Martinez (who also contributes lead vocals), Abraham Rodriguez and Roman Diaz. The group also includes the all-star cast of Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and flugelhorn, Oliver Lake on soprano and alto saxophones and flute, Mike Lee on tenor saxophone and flute, Vincent Gardner on trombone, Howard Johnson on baritone saxophone and tuba, Yunior Terry on acoustic bass and Adam Cruz on drums
The album is set to drop September 10th. This music is incredibly deep and significant. These are master musicians and Michele’s talent and vision are beyond brilliant. Go to Michele’s Website for more info.
It’s an honor to play a week at the Jazz Standard with a living icon like Wallace Roney under any condition, but the magnitude of what we were playing exceeded even these lofty circumstances. The great saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter composed and orchestrated several pieces for a large jazz ensemble in the late 60′s which were intended to feature Miles Davis. Wayne was a member of Miles band at the time, but that particular ensemble disbanded before these pieces could be recorded. The scores were thought to be lost and Miles never did record them. A couple of years ago, Wayne discovered the scores in a storage facility in California and mailed them to Wallace with a letter than indicated these pieces could only be recorded by Wallace now. I was fortunate to be a part of the makeshift orchestra that read through these pieces in Wallace’s living room in the spring of 2012. During the third week of July this past summer, the 25 piece orchestra played through the pieces 10 different times at the Jazz Standard, one of New York’s finest jazz clubs. The premier of this ambitious music was a spectacular event – see Jazz Times review here. The first couple of nights of performances were well attended but once the word got out later in the week, we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of musicians and fans who packed the club our last two nights. Wallace Roney’s trumpet playing is a beacon of artistry and virtuosity. He was constantly inspired to new heights of creativity by the genius of Wayne Shorter’s pen.
Most people who know me and my music are by now aware of my 18 year old son, Julian Lee, who also plays the saxophone. Julian, pictured here with his professor at Juilliard, Steve Wilson, moved into his dorm room at The Juilliard School last week as the only jazz saxophonist accepted to the class of 2017. Juilliard’s reputation as the finest conservatory now extends to its ground-breaking jazz department. The audition and acceptance process were grueling and anxiety ridden (for the parents, at least). We can hardly describe how proud we are of Julian. He’s done the work. His dedication to and love of this music has been inspiring to me for 10 years! Julian joins another of my former students, Anthony Orji, as two of the six saxophonists currently enrolled in the Juilliard Jazz program. We’re excited to watch this next phase of Julian’s development and growth as a musician and person in this extremely challenging, yet nurturing environment.
During the first week of August, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of performing two concerts with the great clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band directed by bassist John Lee. The first date was at the Belleayre Music Festival in Highmount, New York and the second at the renowned Newport Jazz Festival. I was subbing for the legendary saxophonist, Jimmy Heath. An incredible honor in itself!
Since alto saxophonist Mark Gross couldn’t make the first date, John asked if Julian could make the Belleayre gig as a sub! I had alot of “pinch me” moments this year, but sitting beside my son while playing with the Gillespie Big Band was a dream within a dream. Then, of course, came Newport where we closed the incredible weekend of performances. Looking out at the sea of fans and playing with some of the legends of our music was a moment I’ll never forget.
While I was working on Michele’s album last April, I received an email asking me to join the faculty of a college music program (I’ll make that official announcement in my next newsletter). The only obstacle was my lack of any college degrees. I informed my would-be employers that I had most of my credits and could probably finish my bachelor’s degree during the upcoming summer if needed, not expecting them to insist. But, it became clear that the degree was needed before they’d submit my application. So during this incredibly rich, music drenched, high-flying summer, I completed the last 15 credit hours of my degree. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done scholastically. It felt like I was constantly reading, typing, studying while teaching, gigging, and chasing my kids around. I finished with a bang – straight A’s – and handed in my final assignments and took my last exam on Friday, August 23rd – two days before we dropped Julian at Juilliard (that worked out to a total of one day with no college students in the family!). Thanks to Thomas Edison State College, I was able to finish all of my credits on-line and pay instate tuition. We held a graduation party last week at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, NJ. Here’s a clip of “Come Rain or Come Shine” featuring George Burton on piano, Chris Berger on bass, and Otis Brown III, on drums.
At the conclusion of our fourth Jazz House Kids Summer Workshop in August, I was again asked to perform at the 3rd annual Montclair Jazz Festival. In addition to conducting the my wonderful “Jazz House Dynasty” big band I had a blast performing with Oscar Perez and his Nuevo Comienzo band along with special guests, Melissa Walker and Christian McBride. Oscar is a masterful young pianist and composer who creates a beautiful vibe at every gig. The two week work shop that proceeds the festival is a groundbreaking, life-changing, event that I had the distinct pleasure of helping to design and serve as director for it’s first three years. This year I stepped back into a faculty role which was fulfilling and considerably less stressful! Thanks to my great friends Ted Chubb and Ryan Maloney for carrying the camp forward. My big band was a delight. This was a very young , very gifted group that played unbelievable music together. We played at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola after only one week of rehearsal and were joined by Anat Cohen for our set at the Montclair jazz fest. Thanks to all the kids for making our week so special.
Through all this excitement, my steady gig keeps growing in quality, and in comradery. The Hat City Kitchen Wednesday night jam has been going on for a year and a half and has provided a community space where students, amateurs, and professionals share the band stand playing swinging, joyful music. This is a special event every week and I feel blessed by the world class musicians that make the house band set with me – especially the great Dave Stryker – who set up this jam session and plays with us whenever he is available. The musicians that sit in with us are some of the best musicians in the world. Just in the past couple of weeks, we’ve had Steve Turre, Claudio Roditi, Bruce Williams, Myron Walden, Brandon McCune, Ted Chubb, Tim Newman, James Gibbs, Dave Shoemaker, and a host of our area’s great musicians pop by to share a tune (or a meal). This is a clip from the house band from last week that captures the mood I strive to cultivate every week. Thanks to the great Bill Moring and the esteemed Alvester Garnett.
If you’ve read this far, I thank you for your time and interest! There are many exciting things on the near horizon (although I don’t know if I can maintain the pace established this summer!).
Hat City Kitchen Jam continues every Wednesday – Bring your horn!
Tuesday, September 17th with Oliver Lake’s Big Band at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. I hope to see you there, too!