Hi folks,

I was told some years ago by a senior record label that unless you could sum up what your recording was in one short sentence, it wouldn’t sell. The question, “Who ARE you?!”  had to be answered in the briefest of ways.

The search for new sub-genre, quick-handle terms has been a constant throughout my career. Often the incoming artist gets pinned to a more famous name – “The new Bill Evans, the new Michael Brecker, the new Miles” – so the audience has a quick handle on their style.

As audiences, we all need references. I’ve been toying with the following idea:

The whole development of our artistic culture has rested on promoting something new until it is something familiar. The whole culture of developing artists is to turn something familiar into something new.

It seems to stand up. I don’t know of an artist who didn’t start with familiar base material, no matter what they have gone on to do. Conversely, the promotion of the same artist will often rely on referencing back to these same familiar origins, increasingly in the language of a quick hash tag.

The word “New” will be used in any event. This isn’t cynicism, this is just how we roll.

One artist I’ve wanted to talk about is drummer Paul Motian, whose trio team with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell rocked my world throughout the 1980’s. Here was a band which most definitely made strong references to familiar music of the past whilst being breathtakingly original. I’d write more but Liam Noble has done it so beautifully in his blog already – please check out ‘Brother Face’:

https://liamnoble68.wordpress.com

Motian was hard to “package” quickly. I was grateful for that.

With its ‘built in rebellion button,’ the creative jazz scene does not lend itself to the creation of a unified voice which speaks up for its importance as a genre today. 

Sometimes I get the feeling that it is rather doughnut shaped, with a hole in the middle where that central, nurturing, reliable hub should be.

Within education, funding and jazz media we already have some great people nurturing the bigger picture.  Our music so often speaks of us all being branches of the same tree; maybe we should dare tend to its trunk a little more.

I’ve been totally loving two musicians’ work this week, which is what started me on this whole train of thought. Both I have followed from the beginning of their careers.

Kit Downes and his release Obsidian: I LOVE it. Church organ improv, texturally fascinating, daring and beautiful.  The sense of place it brings to bear is at times profound. The reworking of the Berio folk song arrangement was a joy to hear. Thank you Kit.

Many would also have heard Kit play in an urban / club setting too. This is just one side of the artist (Check out Enemy). We can do the stand up venues AND the sit down ones, despite these quick-handle boxes we are put in. Such labels float on the top of deep rivers.

In a similar way, Shabaka is now trail-blazing an amazingly high-energy dance club based music, totally plugged in to a broader philosophy and message – but I heard him (sitting down) in church too. Check out this link, with Shabaka on bass clarinet joined by Leaf Cutter John, and Cara Stacey. Brilliant.

https://soundcloud.com/shabakahutchings/life-cycle-live-at-stjohns-bethnal-green-church

Who wants to try and sum up their work as an artist in one short sentence?

We can, however, do our best to define each project we do, as best we can for a public swamped with content.

It is no secret that support for our music and its venues is precious and meagre, certainly here in the UK (just look at the funding opera gets by comparison, for example).

I’d encourage even the most idealist, separatist, anarchic young creatives not to distance themselves from our broader community. Beyond our need to press our rebellion buttons and go it alone, is a deeper unity that will actually determine our survival.

 

“The longest journey begins with a single step”  You’ve probably heard this quote that  originated from Lao Tzu whose name (I think) means “Old Man” in English.

Developing yourself as a musician should mean keeping a dynamic balance between the big picture and the seemingly little things you do, the micro and the macro. 

Think of it like this:

Every time we do half an hour’s practise, we are laying down another piece of track for our “train” to run on, so to speak. What is the ultimate direction of your train? Is what you are laying down right now, pointed in the right direction?  Lao Tzu was a wise geezer.

Musically, whilst focusing on particulars such as our sound, or sense of time for example, it will help to have also developed a clear long term aim. Why are so many of us slow to put our Big Picture into concise language?

Are we afraid to share the question of what it means to be creative, or of being judged as an un-spontaneous intellectual or a new-age dreamer, or are we just a bit lazy?

Creative souls such as jazz musicians tend to follow their impulses and do not tend to go in for things that are already clearly defined. Writing down a list of personal aims for your future may well feel like over-defining things, against your nature.

How many people know that the origin of the word define  means to “bring to an end” ?  Musicians know that “fine” will mean the end of the piece, I guess that’s a clue. 

To define is to create a boundary, it is to make apparent that point where one thing becomes another: your garden, his garden. The lick you invented, the lick he says you stole from him etc.

Something becomes defined, say, a musical genre, through having a repeated experience of it. As soon as it becomes readily recognisable, familiar, we can stick a label on it, (and probably try and sell it).

Creatives are doomed to be at odds with this to some extent. They will take great pleasure in choosing a piece of existing material, say a still-life model or a piece of music, breaking it up and recomposing it so that the original definition is bravely challenged.

I was at Ronnie Scotts a few weeks back and saw TRIO HLK open up for Chris Potter’s gig. Travelling by tube I passed an advert for a new Tate Modern Picasso exhibition, with the wonderfully distorted picture of the seated girl (The Dream).

I connected the two experiences half way through the trio’s set. Creativity is to redefine. There can be beauty, humour and something rejuvenating in having the defined things in our experience twisted about, in fact we need this in our lives.

I have just finished my latest album, and needed a name, and artwork. From the furry edges of creative play had to come something very defined, I shiver to use the word “product” but that is essentially what “Weather Walker” is of course.

So how do we join together our need to stay loose, adaptable and spontaneous with the disciplined visualisation of a predetermined plan?

Lao Tzu also spoke of the “cloud of unknowing” where trust is necessary. Fog patches come and go and are actually a vital ingredient and a sign that you are moving forward.

If your train track stretched from America’s west coast all the way to New York, you wouldn’t spend the whole journey looking around exclaiming, “well that’s not New York, and that’s not New York!”. It is understood that the experience of the journey itself with it’s changing landscape, is what makes your destination the prize that it is. 

Put into practise, that would mean that the next time you set half an hour aside to work, it is as worthy a “life moment” as the goal, the final point, itself.

The very way we are processing information these days is short-term, rapacious, impatient and often unconnected to the body, like a brain on two restless sticks.

To be in that “final point” as you settle into practise means to sacrifice the Urge To Splurge. (Please read my earlier rant on smartphones).

Here is the pay-off: You will come to know whether your train is running on the very best track for you much more clearly this way.  So to get the Big Picture, increase the quality of the Little One.

 RADIO 3  SUNDAY 11th March  –  special live interview featuring brand new material
[mentioned in blog 1].
Hi folks,
Try Googling up the word Belonging in any kind of artistic or sociological context and you’ll be treated to several PhD’s and a clutch of cool famous quotes to adorn your fridge door.  To Belong is indeed a fundamental need, and a major motivator of our work as artists and performers.
A brilliant CD cover is Keith Jarrett’s “Belonging” from 1974. I learned to sing along with every solo on that CD by the way.  The strange gravity of those party-balloons on the cover is poignant:
 Our playfulness is grounding, it is our life-blood. Our music-making, fleeting and beautifully imperfect, represents something fundamental in us which only finds expression with fellow souls.
 
I remember flying from Heathrow to play one 90 minute concert with Chick Corea in Charleston South Carolina.
During the first couple of years of touring with Chick a very odd thing had started to happen, I was getting more and more nervous about flying.  It was something that just developed, isn’t that the reverse of what’s meant to happen?
It had much to do with having a good imagination, and being on my own. I’ll do a separate blog about this and how I made friends with fear, as we are a nomadic profession, it might be of interest!
Anyhow, this gig was three flights there and three back:
A deep sense of alienation took hold on the trip out, what with delays and tight connections and almost losing all my instruments during a transfer.
I remember finally, finally getting onto that stage and hearing Chick open up, freely improvising his way into the first piece.  He might not tell you what it was going to be, but you’d pick it up from the little themes and motifs he’d start to throw in.
That moment of his piano resounding through the concert hall, the freedom and the joy of exploring was a home-coming, a welcoming back into the fold and an invitation to co-create. I belonged there, I was home.
Within hours I was back at the airport, on that intensely anonymous journey that Joni Mitchell says “Scrambles time and seasons”.  Did the physical home I arrived back to, feel any more real than the musical one I’d just experienced thousands of miles away?  Not really actually.
 
This Sunday I’ll be interviewed at Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival.
 “The One And The Many” is the theme, looking into the differing roles some of us juggle as composers, performers sidemen and leaders.
Taking ourselves very seriously at the 606. Myself, Gwilym Simcock, Joe Locke, Nadja (great friend and Joes manager) and my very own Joe (family family)!

I’m not sure what I’m going to be asked so in case I don’t say this on air, (find out by tuning in!)  I’ll say now that these musical hats we wear are informed constantly by our relationship to a group. They are part of a broader unity, for me anyway.  This broader sense of unity, a Belonging with capital B, is so important to me that I’ll travel the whole world to experience it.

 
 
I’m fond of the definition of the word play that children are familiar with. To play music without much goal orientation, centred in the moment, is something we don’t speak about that much.  Music education is, for better or worse, largely goal orientated, but isn’t playful absorption  just the best feeling?!

To find kindred spirits that share this view is wonderful, it is family.

I used to watch the Paul Motion Trio and note that Paul’s drumming had a knack of taking very serious things with humour, and taking all the humorous bits very seriously.
I heard this approach only the other night when I joined some musical “family members” Joe Locke and Gwilym Simcock who were deep in duet brilliance at the 606 club. What a privilege to have this musical family, it is a heart that  beats meaning and love into our work and our world.

Hi folks

I thought I’d share a pic of my new baby, a soprano sax made by Rampone, their curiously half-curved Saxello model which I customised a bit!

Apologies for being a big bore non sax players, but that’s just what this horn has, a big bore, meaning it can get a pretty big smooth sound, even if it’s just a little harder to tune than the brilliant Yanagisawa model I’ve had for twenty years. Some may remember me playing a fully curved silver soprano in the 1990’s and I wanted to approach something like this again.

Our instruments become part of us don’t they.  I’ve grown to love this one.

I decided to feature it on my latest CD Weather Walker, which we finished mixing just recently. I thought I’d share some personal footage, really made just for my own archive,  of me soloing on the title track. The string section was recorded earlier at Abbey Road, and the string group varies in size right up to forty three players on some pieces,

Photo: Joe Garland

more on that nearer the release date. I got completely hooked on an old folk tune from the North East called “The Snows They Melt The Soonest” and it became a presiding spirit during the writing of Weather Walker. You can hear a whole track on Radio 3 on March 11th when I am interviewed during this years Free Thinking Festival at The Sage Gateshead.

So…

Listen to the mighty Jason Rebello and Yuri Goloubev (who play stunningly well on this CD along with Pablo Held) and me, falling in love with my new baby. Just a little 2 minute clip here:

https://youtu.be/lk0kowfj5SI

Hi Folks
Fancy being a Jazz Judge?!
When you get to a certain age you may find yourself adjudicating, testing, evaluating the creative work of others. Behind that desk, pen in hand trying not to look too scary,
you’ll be balancing professional detachment and the evaluation of musical data, with what your soul, your gut-reaction screams up at you, through layers of acquired socially acceptable expedience.
Well, that’s what it might feel like to you. In fact that inner “truth” the judge may or may not feel when someone pours out their musical heart on the other side of that desk, may just be plain old personal taste.
If something  played or composed,  triggers enough familiar influences in the listener, quite often acquired during their OWN formative years, they’ll find themselves writing down how good it is. That’s when the professional detachment stuff has to kick in!

From the other side of the desk, don’t believe the judges who might tell you afterwards that they were completely impartial (if so, they were probably asleep), a thousand personal likes and dislikes were being triggered by what they just heard and some of them WILL be a completely unfair appraisal of you, when acknowledged in isolation.  This is the first reason why there should be at least two judges, preferably not close friends with identical jazz-on-vinyl collections. 

playing flat
This is also a great reason for you, the  candidate, to feel EMPOWERED and not scrutinised like a medical exhibit: The beating heart of you is beyond judgement, it is life, burning with creativity.  It has little, if anything, to do with the ego or with your more experienced fellow artists , however wise, scribbling things down as you perform.
Your true worth is a given, so a good question is,
 Can I make this apparent to others?
 If at times you may have not made this so apparent to others, it is THAT which has been judged, NOT the passion itself  or that wonderment you feel in the core of you.
This is beyond question, always. 
Your artistic practice should retain a magical umbilical cord. It stems from your most fundamental, elemental and honest urges to create. Nurture this influence, which NEVER REQUIRES judgment, and it’ll have a chance to shine out of you. This might be the most impressive thing to the judges.
Isn’t that ironic!
It is a present-moment phenomenon, animating all that hard-acquired, yet mechanical, skill.
So how to prepare for an audition?
The same way you’d prepare for a performance. What do you owe your audience? Everything, actually.
So your practice room becomes a Chapel, and your breathing is consciously slowed and relaxed and you enter into something sacred, knowing that people before you have been persecuted (and still are) for keeping the right to do what you are privileged to be doing right now.
Don’t be afraid of approaching big grandiose subjects and feelings, as long as you maintain the ability to laugh at yourself too.
It is not really YOU, but your ability to communicate YOU that is ever being judged.

Hi all!

It has been wonderful to be in contact over the years with Bob Mintzer, not only an incredible tenor sax player (plus being the first jazz player I ever heard playing the bass clarinet – with some consequence), but a brilliant writer, arranger and educator. Check out his work with Jaco Pastorius, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones, The YellowJackets….. This guy has TOTALLY been there and holds a teaching position at the University Of Southern California, with a collection of great educational books and videos available worldwide.

This week’s slot is dedicated to Bob’s wonderful response to my last blog, how our ability to concentrate is REALLY at risk. I was going to ask a few great players, who happen to hold high places within jazz education, about their thoughts on keeping everyone, AND yourself, motivated when busy bringing along those less experienced than you. Who better to possibly start with than Bob, here he is in full:

“I think having come up in an era where these sort of distractions were non-existent, we naturally focused more intensely on what we were doing, both in a practice and writing capacity. Furthermore, when the new Miles Davis LP hit the stores (remember record stores?) we saved our money and ran out to buy  the much anticipated LP.  It was something we listened to incessantly for weeks, digesting every note and nuance. I would practice playing along with the recordings, again delving into as much detail as I could. 

       In some way practice and writing sessions are similar to a form of meditation, where I turn off the phone, tune out the world, and launch into the world of musical imagination. I try to quiet the mind and focus on a singular thing.

For me this is a recluse full of amazing possibilities. The trajectory  that develops in practicing/writing takes on a momentum of it’s own. One thing leads logically to the next, and a flow is established where time gets very rubbery. Several hours can fly by in what seems like an instant. I usually feel like it is not me playing or writing, but rather some greater force that I am able to tap into. It is fairly easy to focus on what I am doing mainly because it is so damn pleasurable. 

      As far as conveying the importance of focus to students in a classroom setting, the best one can do is set limits on the use of cell phones and computers during class time.

We can’t go home with them and monitor their device use. I see USC students on skateboards texting while zooming down the street. Insane! Perhaps talking about our experiences without internet and cell phones, and the importance of focus in everything we do is the best we can do. 

Tim: As a musician who, as you say, is self- taught at least in arranging, what / when were the times you had to self-impose discipline on your practice and study, the times when it WASN’T the only thing you wanted to be doing right now, but you did it anyway

Bob:    I don’t ever remember a time when there were things other than music I would rather be doing. My parents had to tell me to stop practicing. I was driving them crazy!

I always had a strong desire to learn more, play better, hear great music, and be the best musician I could be. I wanted to get to a point where I was so familiar with the subject matter that I could lose myself in the musical creation while having an innate grasp on matters such as form, color, melody, harmony, rhythm, and orchestration. Something told me that there was a great prize at the end of this experience, where years of practice/study/writing and playing would set you free. Experience has proven this to be the case.

            Perhaps the only times where I had to impose some sense of discipline on myself was when I was under a deadline to write something for a given situation. I wrote the arrangements of Herbie Hancock tunes for the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra rather quickly to meet a deadline back in the late 70’s.  At some point the stress and fatigue of sitting for a week straight writing 6 arrangements turned into excitement and satisfaction over the emergence of things different than what I had ever written before.  Then there was the excitement of the prospect of hearing your work performed and recorded. 

            I think there is no replacement for logging in lots of miles when it comes to writing and playing. The more you do it the more oiled the machine becomes, and on some level, the more gratifying it can be. Once at this level, it is a joyous thing to sit down and write or practice. 

           In my practice sessions I generally start by working on music I am currently playing followed by learning a new tune or two, and then a good amount of improvisation. Inevitably something pops out that warrants further scrutiny. I try to freeze frame whatever caught my attention, and develop it into something I might use in an improvisatory setting. One idea usually leads to another and then another. It’s good to write these explorations down and revisit them, although I don’t always do this. I do, however, spend a good deal of time on an idea so as to develop it into something I can call my own. 

       Getting off topic here. I guess the point is, I really dig doing this stuff! 

….and about being an engaged human being:

 I’ve found that it is important to keep abreast of what is going on in the world and to be proactive in the betterment of society. The first and foremost thing we can do is VOTE in elections. The next thing would be to donate to worthy causes, partake in peaceful protest, and even run for a public office. Granted, full time musicians generally don’t have a lot of time for all of these activities. It becomes critical to determine what level of involvement works best for you. 

              As a musician of some prominence I felt that I could use this pulpit to express political and social views. At a certain point, though, I realized that complaining about the injustices in the world might be a waste of energy and time, better spent on creating wonderful musical situations and spreading the word on the importance of the arts and education in society through teaching and performing. 

               I think we should all remember that musical creation and the sharing of said music with an audience is a positive endeavor that can heal a lot of the divisiveness we now face in the world. If our music is honest  and coming from a place of love and dedication, we are doing a huge service to human kind”. 

 

Hi folks, this one has been in danger of turning into a middle-aged rant!:

The hijacking  of Concentration

When I was a student (at the Guildhall, London in the early 1600’s) I divided my time between
contemporary composition and saxophone practise, a lot of it.
As a kid I had a wooden pyramid wind-up metronome but now I had bought a new-fangled digital version, with volume control, small enough to carry in my case.
As the practice rooms were a little resonant and I didn’t like wearing an earpiece, I sticky-taped the thing to my shoulder so I could play at louder volumes and walk around the room, allowing my concentration to deepen into the groove I was internally constructing over this incessant “blip blip” pulse.
In the end I would silence the device but my inner ear would trick me into still hearing and playing along with that click track, again, an act of concentration, in fact unless I got to a certain level of concentrated focus, no work of any importance was ever done.
What if that metronome also kept sending me messages from friends and family, pictures of cats and cappuccinos, all of which I simply had to respond to? What if the upright piano I studied my harmony on, was equipped with a computer-window into everything else on the  planet, tempting me to surf the web every half an hour?
I’d be screwed.
I know that I would have faced a barrier to a most vital thing in creative endeavour, the development of concentration.
Why are there folk around that think they are going to get good enough at anything with such diluted, flimsy concentration that makes practising even for a single hour almost impossible?
With the opportunity to talk to virtually anyone, virtually, – virtually all the time, comes the necessity to reactivate and hone that most unpopular, despised and berated attribute,  that of restraining the senses. We need to block out the din, seeing ALL of it (even important stuff) as distraction, whilst working at our craft.
I am aware that many students naturally have the capacity to do this, thank God, you are better than I would have been!
BUT…I feel that the 24 / 7 social media life that many of us share is, above all, ONE thing:
It is somebody else’s business plan.
My generation may be the last to know that NONE of what Instagram, Facebook and the others have to offer is actually necessary to sustain life on earth.
The main reason we have become hooked on it all, is very effective business / marketing planning by those who make a fortune out of our need to be distracted.
It is little different, when stuck to your phone in every “down-time” moment, to feeding an addiction to say, Mars Bars, the folks who invented them rub their hands together at our helpless neediness.
The difference now is that aspects of living, not just frivolous memes and cappuccinos, but all the most serious stuff, depend upon the same products. Very cool, but cancerous to the still, creative Soul in us,.. if you can roll with my turn of phrase.
So I would make a plea to anyone wanting to create something other than surface level imitation of all the stuff beamed at us, try turning all the toys OFF. Go and Woodshed, look here’s a picture of a shed:
                                                                 
Go through the mini- cold turkey and jitters, and dig deep enough to find something that is worthy of you. You are NOT somebody else’s business plan!
Slow-cook your food, slow-cook your practise, your listening, your creative writing. Use all the tech that you need like an athlete consumes nutrition, you being in charge of IT, (see what I did there.. I.T.?)  You probably won’t die.

HI ALL!

Welcome to the new BLOG page which will incorporate bits of current news on projects I’m currently immersed in, plus some questions from students and fans.

BBC FREE THINKING FESTIVAL – The One And The Many

From left to right: Jason Rebello, Yuri Goloubev, Tim Garland, Pablo Held, engineer Ronan Phelan, at Masterchord Studios

I’ve long been a fan of the BBC’s Free Thinking Festival, with its curiously diverse bunch of lively academics and artists. This March I’ve been invited to share my music and thoughts on Radio 3 as the focus of this years festival ties in with the contrasting sides of my music-making, and how they remain unified.

By now, the definition of that word JAZZ  is so multifarious as to start limiting  its usefulness altogether.
Nothing will ever take away the greatness of what we consider Jazz’s historical golden age, but it might be more accurate, in these times, to call jazz an approach we have to Music, rather than a defined genre.
Anyhow, I’ll be discussing this,  how modern composition ties in with improvisation, and music’s application within visual media circles, with Radio 3’s Sarah Walker this March. This will also be the first time my new CD Weather Walker will get an airing, due out in June.

As I get older I increasingly appreciate the mastery of younger musicians with whom I come into contact. Enter Pablo Held!  the German pianist is my latest case in point. We played together for the first time a few days ago at Masterchord Studio, (surely the best recorded piano in our fair city!). Pablo is another stellar artist whose invention just keeps pouring out!.

Yes I do sometimes wish I’d stuck with the piano!  When you are in the same room with not just Pablo but Jason Rebello (they both feature on Weather Walker along with bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev), you leave the ivories to the big boys! Weather Walker features a string orchestra which is at times 43 players strong, in studio 1 of our famous Abbey Road Studios and its iconic sound. More on this in future news, but the journey to the albums release continues to inspire me!

 

How do YOU get inspired? How do you STAY inspired? This will be a recurring topic in these blogs.  Well….
What kind of question are you starting your creative project with? A good one might be “What is my “life-blood”, what gives me that surge of energy whenever I think of it or encounter it?!”
Try holding that feeling as you begin, and start from a place of energy, joy and enthusiasm. Get that feeling as a prerequisite to starting the adventure, and find others who inspire.

This blog will often feature a link to a track I find inspiring, check this out..and check in again soon! This time I’m actually going to try and keep this up!

Track of the moment:
Django Bates
Horses In Rain (with Sidsel Endresen)