Oteil wraps up a ‘Dead and Company’ tour at the Hollywood Bowl the night before. This was recorded in 2003 but is worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9_bahwfpck *Oteil and his brother Kofi (RIP) both played on my album ‘Go There’, released in 2007.
On Friday Oct 1 I’m performing at the Sharp Nine Gallery with Dave Finucane, Jim Ketch and Ariel Pock. An evening of duo performances.
On Sat Nov 20 I’m performing at the Sharp Nine Gallery with pianist Keith Waters. We’ve known each other for many years and are planning to record an album sometime after Nov 20. The performance will be piano-gtr duo and we’re considering including music on the album written by Chick Corea and John Abercrombie. Keith is the author of ‘The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-68’ (check it out!): https://www.amazon.com/Recordings-Quintet-1965-68-Studies-Recorded/dp/0195393848
Durham Jazz Workshop is offering a series of Classes. Some begin this week, some next, and some in February. My current offerings:
1) In the Zone: Define Your Voice Exploring the art of Improvisation via writing
Composition can be viewed as Improvising slowed down to a dead stop. Everything comes from an idea; we’ll work with smaller ideas utilizing melodic variation, phrasing, targeting, and pentatonics.
Students will compose one or two contrafacts (or substitute an original tune for the 2nd contrafact). Weeks 1, 3, 5: we’ll meet as a group for 90-minutes. Weeks 2, 4, 6: I’ll meet with students 1-on-1 to review and discuss their work (to be submitted in advance).
Zoom capabilities are necessary for the course; computer or tablet recommended. Maximum 5 students, all ages welcome. The class runs for 6 weeks beginning Monday, January 25, 7pm. The class fee is $250.
2) Group Jazz Guitar: Harmony Working with Voicings and Voice-Leading
Working with Triads, Drop Voicings, Guide-tones with/without other notes, Quartal Harmony, and Oblique-Motion we’ll explore various approaches to comping and working with the harmony. Templates will include rhythm changes, a blues form, and 3rd tune (TBD).
Weeks 1, 3, 5: we’ll meet as a group for 90-minutes. Weeks 2, 4, 6: I’ll meet with students 1-on-1 to review and discuss their work (to be submitted in advance).
Zoom capabilities are necessary for the course; computer or tablet recommended. Maximum 5 students, all ages welcome. The class will meet for 6 weeks beginning Wednesday, January 27, 7pm. The class fee is $250.
1. In the Zone: Define Your Voice (Intermediate to Advanced) – Exploring the Art of Improvisation via Writing.
Writing can be viewed as Improvising slowed down to a dead stop. Everything comes from an idea; we’ll take some small ideas and develop them. Starts Mon Nov 23, 7pm (room for 1 or 2 more)
2. Group Jazz Guitar: Harmony — Working with Voicings and Voice-Leading
Fluency in comping leads to deeper improvising. We’ll explore various approaches to comping, and working with the harmony. Starts Tue Nov 24, 7pm (tentative)
3. A Personal History of Blues to Jazz Guitar: a look at some of the guitarists who’ve sparked my ongoing love affair with music — The Blues were my first musical obsession and the roots run deep; eventually they led me to Jazz. Jimi Hendrix, Michael Bloomfield, BB King, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, George Benson, Pat Martino, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Kurt Rosenwinkle…these are just a few of the guitarists that have inspired me through the years.
I’ll provide background and we’ll listen to selected performances of various guitarists. There will be time for discussion at the end of each listening session. Playlists of featured artists will be available and for those wanting to dig deeper, more info will be provided upon request. Starts Wed Nov 25, 7pm (may be full)
All classes will meet for 5 weeks. Class size will remain small to allow for discussion, all ages welcome.
Zoom capabilities are necessary for all courses (computer or tablet recommended). Headphones or good speakers are recommended for listening.
Here’s one you would probably miss in a blindfold test. A noir jazz album that sounds like it might have emerged from the Brooklyn jazz scene. Or maybe Chicago…or Seattle, or San Francisco? Perhaps a group of 20-something or 30-something musicians?
Night Visions comes from the North Carolina jazz scene, though the players all took different routes to end up there. Their bios are peppered with performance and recording credits for heavyweights like Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Mose Allison, and Sonny Fortune. Bandleader and guitarist Scott Sawyer, who composed all the music here, has been playing jazz and other styles professionally since the early 1980s, but aside from his work with singer Nnenna Freelon, he has had limited national exposure.
Sawyer has thoroughly absorbed the modern and post-modern jazz guitar traditions, from fundamentals laid down by Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall to the developments of the players like John Abercrombie and John Scofield who later set the pace. He’s got an exquisite touch and shares with Kurt Rosenwinkel the ability to dial in an elegant and warm electric guitar tone that doesn’t highlight signal-processing effects.
All that said, Sawyer would probably point out that he’s not making a “jazz guitar record” here, he’s just making a jazz record. Night Visions is his first full-length jazz album since 1992, though he’s released a couple of jazz-adjacent albums in the interval. It’s a mature and focused set, played with a quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Dave Finucane as Sawyer’s primary foil.
Finuncane, who early in his career was a part of the Boston avant-garde big band Orange Then Blue, ended up in North Carolina after 20 years on the New York jazz scene. Together, Sawyer and Finucane might remind listeners of two well-known guitar/tenor sax partnerships from recent decades, those of Kurt Rosenwinkel with Mark Turner, and John Scofield with Joe Lovano. Finucane’s burnished tenor tone has something in common with the sounds of Turner and Michael Blake, all of them eschewing the thinner and brighter jazz saxophone sounds fashionable from the 1970s through the 1990s. Finucane weds a particularly rich and smoky 50’s-Lester-Young tone to a post-bop jazz language.
The rhythm section — Ron Brendle on acoustic bass, and the crackling percussion of former Sonny Rollins drummer Kobie Watkins — gives the session a depth one might not expect from a self-published release like this. Sawyer likes to write slightly angular and playful tunes, like the Monk-ish “Biz” and twisty blues “Tripper”, and Watkins levitates these pieces with a swinging style that catches and prods the soloists in the tradition of drummers like Tony Williams and Elvin Jones. No thundering drum showcases here, but plenty to chew on when focusing on rhythm. Sawyer’s “Via” (a tribute to the late David Via, Sawyer’s regular drummer during the 1980s and 1990s) is a bit of a drum feature, and therefore a good track for listening to Watkins, but it’s far from the only track where he catches your attention. The sound engineering and production by Jason Richmond and the relatively open soundscapes Sawyer’s tunes allow the drums to play a truly equal role in the music.
At the heart of the album are a handful of ballads (“Passage,” “Safe,” and “To Be Determined”) that draw on the moody aesthetics of Wayne Shorter, Bill Frisell, and even Bill Evans, giving the record some of its most affecting moments. “Safe” in particular joins a haunting melody to a deep, minimalist bass groove (Brendle’s love of Charlie Haden’s perfectly-chosen notes is apparent here) and a melodic drum part that becomes as central as the guitar and saxophone parts as the song unwinds.
Balancing out the ballads and the post-Ornette bop are a couple of blusier, mid-tempo pieces that sound like soul-jazz with a post-modern twist. “Blue Lounge” starts with a deliberately lumbering back-beat and has the simplicity of Kenny Burrell’s classic “Chitlins Con Carne”, but the dirtier guitar tone and the caveman rhythms evoke some of the tunes of Bill Frisell’s early-1990s partnership with drummer Joey Baron. “Crawl” is another earthy tune, a gospel-tinged cousin of Peter Erskine’s “Sweet Soul” from the second Bass Desires album, with some choice soul guitar fills that show that Sawyer’s vocabulary extends beyond the bebop tradition. Listening to “Crawl”, it struck me that it would have been interesting to hear this band transform a rock or soul classic, the way that Michael Blake’s Slow Poke quartet re-imagined the Rolling Stones’ “Shine a Light” on its Redemption album.
The album should satisfy fans of musicians like John Medeski, Frisell and Scofield who mix a dash of the avant garde into accessible and catchy tunes that typically get the job done seven minutes or less. It’s real jazz, but it wouldn’t clear out a coffee shop if you played it over the house speakers.
* * *
Jim Dixon is a writer living in San Francisco. Night Visions is available through Bandcamp)
Online lesson availability is very limited and must be scheduled and paid for in advance.
A solid internet connection and a computer/tablet (preferred) or smartphone is required.
All online lessons include follow-up written or video feedback to submitted “assignments”. I have about 40 years of experience instructing and collaborating with guitarists, non-guitarists, singers, singer-songwriters, poets and dancers. I’ve had the good fortune of playing and learning from many accomplished musicians/artists, including some of my personal favorites.
My approach to instructing is fluid, not “cookie cutter”. We’re all individuals with varying interests, experiences and skill-sets; I consider it all. We can explore approaches to improvisation, accompaniment, composition and arranging ideas, and more.
I’ve been instructing online since mid-March 2020 and have found it to be a very effective platform. Email me with any questions firstname.lastname@example.org or text 919-423-4853 to schedule a phone call.
Guitarists: I’m looking forward to the maiden voyage of “Guitar Zone”, being offered by the Durham Jazz Workshop. If you’re interested in jazz and improvising (in general) but have been hesitant to dive in, this class is for you. If you’re already familiar with the music and want to up your game, this class is for you.
The mix of group and 1-on-1 instruction allows me to help you to work on things that YOU are interested in…this is not a “1 size fits all” group.
*The price is right…and even with my current online discounts is much less than my private instruction 1-on-1 rate .
If you have a solid internet connection and a computer/laptop/tablet (preferred) or smartphone, we can work together effectively; no matter where you are.