A Walk Through “Indian Summer” with Graham Richards

Instead of bragging on about my Renaissance Husband’s debut album release, I decided to interview Crisman Show producer and composer, Graham Richards. Listen in as he walks us through the creative journey behind Indian Summer, his first collaborative release on PJCE Records with friend-of-the-show, Dan Duval. I personally recommend this album for meditation, yoga, sleeping, or during turbulent flights when you think you are probably about to die. No matter the chaos surrounding you today, these sounds promise to rejuvenate your spirit and bring you in to this bittersweet moment.

Listen to this episode (includes music from album).

Subscribe to The Crisman Show on iTunes.

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Jazz Bear Nest

Jazz Bear Nest

Comedian Keith Lowell Jensen and Crisman Richards discuss atheism, jazz, and multiple arrests. Featuring music by Snarky Puppy (courtesy of Ropeadope Records).

Listen to episode: http://bit.ly/1cCpj4Z

See Keith‘s jazz/comedy experiment, Session at Punchline SF on May 7th.

Produced by Crisman Richards. Theme Music, Engineering, and photography by Graham Richards.

Congratulations, Pups

Image

Our friends Snarky Puppy debuted Family Dinner at #1 on the iTunes Jazz Charts.  Since you listen to us, you clearly have a flair for soulful whimsy and will therefore enjoy this record.  Earlier this year, we talked to N’dambi about her experience working with the Pups .  Check out their collaboration “Deep,” written by herself and neo-soul pioneer, Maduku Chinwah.

Download N’dambi on The Crisman Show.

The Pups are eternally touring.  Go hear them play.  Please bring sandwiches.

Vintage Snarky Pups: Justin Stanton

Photography by Simon C.F. Yu

Photography by Simon C.F. Yu

The following is a direct transcript between two friends.  One of many in a previously-lost extensive interviews exploring the influences and culture surrounding the early days of Snarky Puppy.  

Interview conducted by Crisman Richards.

Justin Stanton reached his Denton Escape Velocity in December 2009.  The week before my talented friend wisely left Texas to live eternally on the road with Snarky Puppy, he and I sat down on my flowery orange living room couch to discuss his journey as a musician — from Tennessee through the halls of the University of North Texas Jazz program and back on down through the darkness of New Orleans.  Here we marvel at the irresistible call of the road.

When did you meet Michael League?

I heard about the band since I got to school about four years ago, everyone was always like “you gotta hear the band, man.”

What was your first Snarky Puppy show like?

It was at Dan’s Silverleaf, I think.  It was either Fall ’05 or Spring ’06.  I remember I was with Graham Richards.  I was always super into it from the first time I heard it – and I’m still a fan of the music.  I just happened to have the good grace to be asked to play with them.    I learn the tunes now instead of just listening to them.  I still enjoy them.

How much time passed between that first show and when Michael asked you to play?

They did their first tour that summer and after that Jay (Jennings)  was asked to play with the Polyphonic Spree, so Mike asked me to play trumpet with the band.  Then Kait (Dunton) moved on to some other stuff so he asked me to play keyboards.  At the time (when I came to UNT) I played piano a little, but I was here to play trumpet.  When he initially asked me to play keys, I thought he was joking.  There is no way I can play this stuff — I was kind of competent.  He was like, you’ll be fine, the piano parts are really easy.  Don’t worry about it.  So I jumped into it and started doing it.  Looking back now I put so much into it.  It changed so much about my personality as a musician.  Now some people don’t even know I play trumpet because I play keyboards all the time, which is cool.  I think Snarky Puppy had a lot to do with that – with my identity changing as a musician.

Is that when your hair grew out?

I’ve gone through multiple stages.

Did it change the way you approach the trumpet after playing the keys so much?

Yeah, definitely.  On trumpet you have three valves.  It’s more feel, because you can play multiple notes with the same valve combination.  Whereas with the piano it’s all in front of you, you can see it.  Having that visual representation of the notes transfers to any instrument.  That’s why a lot of teachers encourage their students to take piano, regardless of what their primary instrument is.  So you have that representation, especially as an improvisor.  You can picture it on the keyboard and play shapes and see chord changes in the way you play things.  You can see it in your head, and you just play it on the horn.  It changed the concept.  There are “trumpet things” that you can do, but playing other instruments forces you to think in different ways.  Think outside the box of what’s easy on an instrument, or what’s typical.

Where were you in school when you joined the band?

I started trumpet in 6th grade, and started taking piano lessons a year after that.  I was in Grad School when I joined the band.  I came to UNT to do my Master’s and learn to play jazz.  I did my undergrad at East Tennessee State University.

How was their music program different from UNT?  Was there a vast difference?

Way different.  ETSU was really small, and most of the music majors there were education majors.  They weren’t into being in a band, they wanted jobs.  When I started there, I kind of thought that was what I wanted to do.  I didn’t know anything.  I like playing horn, I’m into it, pretty good at it, so I’m just going to do it and see what happens.  That’s what I thought because that’s what everybody did.  About three-quarters of the way through it I started taking music education classes.  At the time I was like 20 years old and I thought, there is no way I am going to get out of here and be a band director.  I can’t do it, there is no way.  I had a professor who had a relative that taught at UNT, and he would tell me all about it.  At that point I was really into jazz.  So I did it and moved here.

So it must have been quite different being around musicians in Denton than the musicians at ETSU?

Totally.  They both have good players, but the goals are different.  As far as performing groups go, there was a lot of bluegrass and mountain music in Tennessee, and trumpet doesn’t typically fit into that realm.  Or at least, at the time I was too closed-minded to think it did.  There were maybe a handful of musicians there to play with.  Being here in Denton was just nuts.  Every time I heard somebody, I was just floored.  Oh my god, they’re so good – everyone!  Every drummer was so good.  Settling down was weird, because there were so many musicians.  Eventually you develop taste just being here, but when you’re thrown into an environment like that, it’s so overwhelming – and in a good way.  It’s totally amazing to hear so many people that are into music, that have an idea of what they want to do and are very goal-oriented.

Which musicians were you hanging out with when you first got here that really had a big impact on your approach to music?

I used to go over to Jay (Jennings) and Clay (Pritchard)’’s house a lot, we would just hang out and play music.  I remember when Jay asked me if I wanted to come over and play some tunes.  I’d never really done that before –  just playing to play.  Playing a standard and making it sound like a song without relying on chordal instruments to outline the chord changes of the song.  That shit was really instrumental in my learning here.  That was a huge learning experience.  The school had a lot to do with it.  Jay Saunders is a great teacher and an amazing player.  It’s hard to pin down a few musicians, because everybody I played with was amazing in different ways.  Whenever I got gigs I would ask Mike League, Ross Pederson, Graham (Richards), (Chris) Bullock, and Brad Danho.  There was always something about going to The Greenhouse and listening.   I remember there was a group: it was Jay and Brad Danho, and Daniel Sledge, and Shawn Pickler.  They would just play standards.  No piano, no guitar.  Just bass, drums, and two horns.  That shit was awesome.  It was really amazing.

Of course, once I started going to Dallas, that was like the second phase.  Totally different learning.

Were you already playing with Snarky when you started hanging out in Dallas?

Yeah, I think so.  As far as that whole clique of Sput (Searight) and Bernard (Wright) and all those heavy, heavy, heavy guys.

What was it like the first time you went down to jam with them?  Did you go to Prophet?

No, we would go to Gezellig and the Walrus.

Where was the Walrus?

It’s in the West End, by the aquarium.  That was before the Prophet Bar, that’s what turned into the Prophet Bar.  Just going out to hear (RC Williams and the Gritz) was another level.  It was different in so many ways.  Those guys were doing what everybody was trying to do at North Texas.  It’s like you are destined to do that in a school environment – just be locked in.  You’re so concentrated, always learning.  You get through a class and start another class.  You’re always in a learning process.  You never have time to just chill out and internalize all this information or naturally use these concepts, play these concepts.  It’s hard to do that while you’re in school.  Although there’s a million good players in school.  You can definitely hear the difference.  That was a wake up call.

I think that’s how it was for everybody.  The Pups started off as a jazz ensemble.  They needed to be dirtied up a bit.  By the time you came around, they already had The World is Getting Smaller under their belt.  Did you tour with them before recording?

I did a small tour and then we recorded Bring us the Bright.  It was a Spring tour, because I was still in school.  It was just like three shows or something.  It’s weird looking back, but at the time it was great.  It was a really good tour.  It was even before Sput was in the band.  I was playing keys, of course there was Nate (Werth), League, (Steve) Pruitt was playing drums, I wanna say (Chris) McQueen was playing guitar, Maz (Mike Maher) was playing trumpet, Steve Smith was playing trombone, and (Brian) Donohoe was playing saxophone.   There were three horns.  It was fun, we got back and recorded Bring us the Bright, and by that time I was out of school, so I started touring because I couldn’t really do it before.

Was there a big difference in the way you approached music once you got out of school?  You were freed from these confines of actually learning things, you have down time to process, when did it start to sink in?  How long did it take before you were able to relax and enjoy music again?

Pretty much right when I got out of school.  I remember there was one semester where I was playing in so many groups: directing a Lab Band, playing in a Lab Band, and playing in three small groups.  It was cool, but everything together can get overwhelming.  You can’t really focus your energy.  You’re playing in someone’s group, but more often than not someone’s trying to do original music.  It’s really hard to develop tunes when you’re trying to develop a lot of people’s tunes.  I remember that one semester wanting to narrow it down a little bit and focus more.  I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s easy to get burnt out in school.  It’s just so different.  You’re always being evaluated when you play music, but that’s somehow okay when it’s not in school.  Or maybe it’s not.  I don’t know.  To be honest, there has never been a public review of us (that I’ve seen) that has been negative.  I’m not saying we don’t deserve it, there have been plenty of shows where we can all agree that it wasn’t a great show, and if someone heard us and was reviewing us, it wouldn’t be good.  But we’ve never had that.  We haven’t had that yet, where someone has slammed us hard, publicly.  Maybe that’s why I can say that.  In school, you’ve got teachers and that’s their job.  If they’re good teachers, they’ll be very critical.

Yes well, you are critically-embraced.  Those that love you, love you mad.  The music is infectious.   But even if you don’t know what good music sounds like, as a critic you can appreciate this is good music.     

It’s very accessible and it’s very good live, because all the musicians are very open, very communicative.

Who were your greatest musical influences as you were developing as a musician?

First, my high school band director gave me a Maynard Ferguson recording, and a Wynton (Marsalis) recording, and I was too stupid and stubborn to listen to them.  I started getting into Blue Note recordings, like late 50s-early 60s.  Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter,  Herbie Hancock – all those albums from when they were young and developing their careers.  That was my bread and butter for a while.  Just getting into trumpet players.  Miles, of course, but that actually took a little bit longer.  Now I love Miles.  Woody Shaw, Chick Corea.  More recently it’s been pretty heavy with Weather Report, Return to Forever, Don Blackman, Bernard Wright, and Parliament Funkadelic.

How many of these have you found as a result of being in Snarky Puppy?

Definitely Bernard and Don Blackman, you know, indirectly.  I think a lot of us have the same influences, if that’s the question that you’re getting at.

There are certain influences that everybody came in with before coming together.  I’m very interested, for example, to know who brought Weather Report to the table.  Obviously Miles is a staple, but then Michael dragged everyone down to the Dallas crowd and to Bernard Wright.  Then there are artists that influence one of you more than the others (like McQueen and Boston), and not everyone shares that.  I think it’s interesting to see where the melting pot starts and how it makes this new sound.  Everyone has a different background, and you have spent the better side of the past four or five years together – you’re family now.  

Yeah, now it’s like everybody’s got something to share.  We’re on long rides on the bus, let’s put on some music.  Everybody’s on the same page so much musically now within the band, chances are if someone’s into it, everyone else will be, too.

There is a lot of trust there.  

It’s funny to see the bands that people don’t like – the band that is a standard that everyone likes except for one guy.  It’s kind of a joke because everybody else is on the same page.  I think everybody’s got a band they’re not super into.  They give me a hard time about not liking the Beach Boys.  I don’t like the Beach Boys.  Never have, never will — well, maybe I shouldn’t say never will.

Really?  Not even Pet Sounds?   

I’ve listened to the Beach Boys.  I’ve heard it.

But you have to listen to Pet Sounds.  It’s completely different from the Woodies and surfboards.  

See, you make the same argument that everybody makes.  It’s like Pet Sounds is there alibi for all the other ridiculousness.

Whatever.  Pet Sounds is brilliant.

“Well, they did Pet Sounds so they’re okay.”

Yeah, they are okay.  Pet Sounds was groundbreaking.

You’ve proven my point right now.  Everybody’s got their band that against all odds they don’t like.  No matter what.

Beach Boys is yours.  It’s not as bad as not liking Zeppelin, though.  

No where close to Led Zeppelin.

You won’t be crucified like McQueen.  How long do you have to be out on the road before it counts as being “on the road?”

It’s weird doing two week things now.  Because at two weeks you’re just settling in.  When you get going there’s all this energy because you’ve left something.  You’ve left Denton or you’ve left Brooklyn or wherever you’re coming from – to live on a bus.  But then after a while the bus becomes your home.  Getting used to that takes a certain period of time.  We’ve talked about it, it seems like a month is the benchmark for when you’re in it.  You get used to it.

TJ Scott Photography

TJ Scott Photography

Do you see yourself on the road for a long time?  10-15 years down the line, still touring?

I don’t know.  I would love to.  It would be great to be able to tour and make a living of it.  That would be fantastic.  That’s the ultimate, I think.  I mean, I’m pretty open.  I have a lot of interests, but touring is a huge part of my life – the biggest part of my life in the last year.  It’s just so intense, being out.  And it works because all the guys get along super well.  It’s just a matter of, as people get older, you don’t grow apart, but you become more set in your ways.  Even as much as you try to fight it.  But you still have to fight it.  You gotta fight it.  It’s a beautiful thing to be able to ride around with a bunch of dudes for two months.  Then you get to the end and everybody still likes each other!  Everybody’s still friends and still likes playing music together.  That’s totally amazing.  It’s definitely worth fighting for.  It’s just a matter of being able to survive and do it at this point.  We’re all kind of in that place still.  I would like to say that in 10-15 years, if that bus pulls up in front of my house and we’re gonna be going on tour, I’m gonna be down.  I want to do that.  It’s what I’m passionate about.  I’m passionate about playing music.  I think it’s important to stay passionate about something.

That makes me want to get on the bus right now.  My experiences on the road have almost always involved you, I think there was only one time I went out when you weren’t there, and I can’t remember where that would have been.

I feel so sorry for you.

Poor me!  I remember about a week before we left that first time — when we were going out with Backside Pick — you asked me if I was going to be in New Orleans with yall, and I said I was, and you said you felt like you needed to start drinking right then and there to get ready.  So we did.  You taught me how to hang on the road, I appreciate that.

I have a sneaking suspicion you knew how to hang before that.

Some people are just cut out to be up all night in strange cities, running around with musicians.  What was your first time in New Orleans like?

I don’t remember.   I honestly don’t remember.

I believe you.

Where did we play?  We played at Blue Nile, and Howlin’ Wolf, and Maple Leaf.  So it would’ve been in the fall… probably Blue Nile.  I feel like we’ve been there so many times since then. But to recall my first experiences in New Orleans is an exercise in futility.

Indeed it is.

Was that your first time in New Orleans?

Yes it was.

I do remember your first time in New Orleans!

It was a pretty wild night.  I remember, we left Denton the night Michael Jackson died.  We only had 24 hours in New Orleans; I hopped on the bus from there and we went to Jackson.  I was all in.  I think I was there for an hour before I called Michael to see when the Pups were coming back through New Orleans and asked if I could come along.  I had already decided I needed to be back immediately and often.  There was just something in the air I was really, really into.  I haven’t been able to forget that since.   

I thought about moving there, definitely.  It would be so fun to just fucking move there and play all the time.  That’s how I picture it in my head anyway, I have no idea what it would actually be like.

There’s something very haunting and very beautiful about it.  The permeating darkness and resilience, always.  It’s so heavy, you can hear it.  And that’s the best part.  It’s gross and scary and at the same time, absolutely sacred.  I’ve never been in any place that has impacted me like that.  Where all I can think about is being there.  I don’t even know what I’m getting out of it, I just want to be there and listen.  Now you’re about to leave Denton and go back to Tennessee to sit in your room with your trumpet for awhile.  Where do you think you’re going to go after that?

I don’t know.  New York is definitely calling.

It’s a loud call, too.

It would be really fun and awesome.  It’s just so open right now, it’s hard to say. I feel focused in that I want to get better.  I’m at the point where I’m really focused on my instrument, but in terms of location, it could be anywhere.  I wanna do something cool.  It’s not gonna be something shitty.  It’s gonna be six to eight months in Tennessee and then take off.

Go build yourself a catapult.  

That’s what I’m gonna be doing in my room.

Maybe we’ll both land in New York at the same time.

That’s right.

That’s why I’m not sad that you’re leaving.  I’ll see you on the road, all the time.  So I’m not sad.  Not even a little.  You’ve reached your Denton Escape Velocity and you have to take advantage of that.  I reach mine every three weeks, and it’s exhausting.

I’m just trying not to be stubborn.  Well I’m leaving and I can’t come back.  I try not to limit myself with a certain mentality, but I have a picture of what I want, and maybe it will work out.  Hopefully that will mean getting really good and trumpet, and not drinking or smoking as much.  Just becoming a Buddhist.

You can always come back.  Here’s a question from a fan: Were there any songs on the new album that really inspired you, or any that you contributed to that you feel especially proud of?

The songs change constantly.  I’ve never written any songs for the band*, but I definitely feel like a contributor of ideas.  The general mentality is that no matter how specific of an idea someone has about a song or a sketch, sometimes it will be pretty fleshed out by what people want to hear, as far as parts and what they want people to play.  Ultimately I think everybody realizes that whoever is on the instrument is going to have a more developed concept of what they want to hear.  I think everyone trusts each other to make good musical decisions.  As far as this is kind of what I want with this part, I try and stick with whatever somebody’s got and if I have an idea, I’ll play. If I get a weird look, I won’t play it anymore.  If I get a cool look, then I’ll play it some more.  There was something on Flood I played, that I kind of added.  Mike never said “this is cool,” and then we got to the recording, and right before I asked him if he wanted me to play it and he was like, “yeah, play it.” So it worked out.  Everybody contributes stuff, and if it’s good – the thing is there’s no ego.  I mean, there’s always ego, but everybody’s real cool with each other.  It’s never really weird if somebody starts playing something or somebody suggests something  that may make it better, or it may not.  The concern is if someone has an idea of what they want and they’re able to explain why they like that idea or why they want it to sound a certain way, then it’s cool.  But if someone plays something, usually if it hasn’t dawned on the person who wrote it, then it’s cool.  You know, to substitute and flesh it out.  Because everybody trusts each other.  It’s a matter of trust ultimately.

When you listen to music, what do you hear first: horns or keys?

Definitely not lyrics.  I’m trying to get better at it, but I just don’t hear lyrics.  Other than that, everything.  As a trumpet player I’m going to notice high pitch noises.  I’m trying to work on noticing bass stuff more.  Drums, of course.

Drums are hard not to notice, but you have to listen for bass.

That’s the thing playing pop music.  There’s a stigma of jazz players playing pop music, which has a lot to do with the sound of the band changing.  I think Mike’s always had the same concept, just going through different musicians you have to compromise a little bit.  But in terms of the pop mentality – of being able to play the same thing over and over again – it’s like a part you play.  Rather, in jazz you’ll have chord changes and it’s a little bit more loose.  You don’t have a drum part usually, you might have a groove.  It’s always changing.  But in pop music, you have to have the groove there because it’s a part of the hook, it’s something people can latch on to.  It’s not improvisational.  Playing in the band has helped me develop that.  Thinking about that more when I listen to recordings so that I notice what the beat is like or the bass groove.  If I’m listening I’ll notice if they’re playing the same thing, even if it’s a long, long sequence.  I never used to notice that stuff as much before, but now I notice it more.

Justin Stanton is based in New York City.  

Check snarkypuppy.com for perpetual international tour dates.

*Listen to Snarky Puppy’s Mr. Montauk, written and arranged by Justin Stanton (Ground Up, 2012)

 

About Brett McDonald

Brett

“The experiences and training I had at UNT have proved themselves indispensable in the post-graduation world of the music business. My teachers explained to me what was valued by contractors in the business, and prepared me for my time in New York City.”

Brett McDonald on the University of North Texas Jazz program.

Where  were  you  born?

McDonald:  I  was  born  in  Calgary,  Alberta,  Canada  and  lived  there  most  of  my  life.  My  parents  were

from  the  surrounding  rural  areas  and  met  while  living  and  working  in  Calgary.

Where  do  you  live?

McDonald:  Currently  I’m  technically  homeless  -­  I’ve  been  a  touring  musician  since  December,  but  I like  to  say  that  I  live  in  New  York  City.  That’s  where  all  my  possessions  are  in  storage  and  where  I spent  the  few  months  before  I  left  for  tour.

What  were  you  like  at  school?

McDonald:  School  was  an  interesting  time  for  me,  but  has  definitely  been  very  valuable  in  developing my  personality.  In  grade  school  I  was  generally  quite  introverted  and  shy,  though  all  of  those  barriers came  down  in  performance.  Most  of  the  time  I  kept  to  myself  because  I  enjoyed  reading  non-­fiction books,  practicing  and  listening  to  music.  My  favourite  thing  to  do  was  pretty  hilarious  for  a  high  schooler -­  my  other  friends  would  look  forward  to  Friday  nights  as  an  opportunity  to  be  social  whereas  I  would want  to  watch  the  CBC’s (Canadian  Broadcasting  Corporation)  documentary  showcase  “The Passionate  Eye”.  It  would  show  award  winning  documentaries  from  all  over  the  world,  and  I  found  it  all fascinating.  I  still  had  my  social  activities  -­  I  was  actively  involved  in  playing  competitive  soccer, badminton  -­  many  sports  really.

University  was  a  sharp  shock  for  me.  I  had  never  intended  on  choosing  music  as  a  career  -­  I  had planned  on  going  to  the  University  of  Alberta  in  Edmonton  for  Pharmacology  -­  the  science  of  how pharmaceutical  drugs  interact  with  the  body.  In  my  mind  music  was  only  a  hobby,  and  pharmacology gave  me  an  opportunity  to  combine  my  talents  in  my  favourite  subjects:  Mathematics,  Chemistry  and Biology.  I  sent  off  my  audition  tapes  to  The  University  of  North  Texas  on  a  whim  fully  expecting  to  be rejected.  In  my  mind,  UNT  was  this  glass  tower  of  jazz  education,  I  could  view  from  the  outside  but  I would  never  get  accepted  -­  luckily  for  me,  I  was.  My  academics  were  strong  enough  that  I  received  a large  scholarship  and  suddenly  this  dream  became  a  reality.  Going  to  school  in  Texas  was  then  cheaper than  my  subsidized  education  in  Canada,  and  my  parents  and  I  decided  that  I  really  had  no  choice  -­  I must  go  pursue  this  dream.

Needless  to  say,  my  musical  education  up  to  that  point  didn’t  prepare  me  to  compete  against 120  saxophonists  for  45  spots,  and  initially  for  a  few  weeks  I  didn’t  even  place  in  an  ensemble.  It  was  a dark  time  that  I  look  back  on  fondly  now  -­  even  though  it  isn’t  fun  to  relive.  Starting  from  the  bottom has  made  me  appreciate  every  little  thing  that  I’ve  worked  for,  and  my  whole  post-­secondary education,  including  graduate  school  has  been  geared  towards  growing  up  and  away  the  shy  kid  who shut  himself  out  from  the  world  -­  my  musical  and  interpersonal  experience  from  university  has  been responsible  for  that  transformation.

How  did  you  get  into  making  music?

McDonald:  My  parents  and  grandparents  all  casually  played  musical  instruments  -­  my  Mom  and Grandmother  played  piano,  my  father  played  piano  and  trumpet.  By  the  time  I  started  playing  piano when  I  was  7  years  old  my  brother  had  already  started  playing  the  trumpet.  I  actually  remember  the  first time  I  learned  a  song.  I  wanted  to  surprise  my  brother,  Reid,    on  his  10th  birthday,  so  I  decided  that  I was  going  to  learn  how  to  play  Happy  Birthday  on  the  piano.  I  figured  it  out  by  ear  (with  a  pinch  of  help from  Dad)  and  played  it  for  him  at  his  party  for  Reid  and  all  of  his  friends.  I  vaguely  remember  being volun-­told  into  piano  lessons  a  few  weeks  afterwards.  I  hated  the  lessons  and  eventually  quit  in  the  5th grade  after  completing  nearly  half  of  the  Royal  Conservatory  piano  curriculum.  It  is  one  of  those frustrating  decisions  that  I  made  in  youthful  ignorance  of  my  future,  but  at  least  the  foundation  was  there for  future  musical  development.  At  the  time,  I  was  so  bored  by  the  practice  of  scales,  and  since  music was  a  hobby  at  the  time,  not  the  media  of  creative  expression  it  is  now,  I  was  only  into  it  for  fun! Practicing  monotonously  for  hours  on  the  same  patterns  was  as  mind-­numbing  as  the  repetitive  math problems  I  was  assigned  at  school.

What  instruments do you play?

McDonald:  I  play  several  instruments.  As  a  woodwind  performer  I  play  saxophones,  flutes  and clarinets.  I  have  since  rekindled  my  interest  in  the  piano,  though  it  isn’t  an  instrument  I  regularly  perform on.  I’ve  dabbled  in  brass  instruments  in  grade  school,  playing  trumpet  and  trombone,  and  a  little  bit  of drums.  I’m  of  the  belief  that  having  a  fundamental  understanding  of  all  the  instruments,  even  if  it  is elementary,  is  crucial  for  performing,  directing  and  composing  effectively.  There  are  some  things  that  are particularly  tricky  to  play  on  a  saxophone,  for  example,  that  are  easy  to  play  on  a  piano  or  guitar.  If  I want  to  have  my  music  performed  well,  I  need  to  prepare  it  in  a  manner  that  makes  it  as  easy  as possible  for  other  artists  to  recreate.

Recently,  I’ve  been  exploring  the  computer  as  an  effective  instrument.  I’ve  been  working  with Ableton  Live,  a  MIDI  sequencer,  to  learn  about  all  the  options  available  for  music  making.  Electronic music  comes  with  it’s  own  aesthetics,  which  in  my  opinion  was  born  less  out  of  the  active  attempt  to formulate  a  “genre”,  but  the  limits  and  boundaries  of  the  instruments  used.  For  example,  making repetitive  beats  and  samples  is  really  easy,  as  well  as  combining  different  phrase  lengths,  key  centers and  new  textures  previously  unheard  (the  womp-­womp-­womp  of  dubstep,  for  example,  is  a  creative use  of  a  dynamic  range  compressor  and  an  effect  called  side-­chaining,  which  uses  the  signal  from another  track  as  a  type  of  switch).  Some  of  these  things  are  intuitive  and  simple  to  create  in  the computer,  but  are  extraordinarily  difficult  to  perform  with  live  musicians  and  instruments.  I  find  it fascinating  just  to  explore!

Do  you  write  your  own  music?

McDonald:  Absolutely.  I  feel  like  writing,  composing  and  performing  your  own  music  is  a  key  to developing  yourself  as  an  artist.  Not  only  do  you  get  a  familiarity  with  basically  all  of  the  musical principles,  you  get  to  play  with  what  is  effective.  When  you  are  at  the  helm,  you  can  claim  complete ownership  over  the  final  product.  A  producer,  guide,  or  mentor  may  make  suggestions,  but  ultimately you  took  the  time  to  manifest  any  of  those  ideas.  That  kind  of  propriety  over  the  musical  decisions  is important  and  makes  you  unique  -­  because  no  one  will  ever  make  the  same  decisions  as  you  at  the same  time,  in  the  same  order.

Mostly,  I’ve  written  for  jazz  ensembles  -­  instrumental  music  from  duos  to  full  18  piece  big  band. Nearly  all  the  recognition  I’ve  gotten  has  been  for  my  big  band  writing.  A  piece  of  mine,  “The  Beat  In Progress”  received  a  composition  prize  from  the  Jazz  Education  Network,  as  well  as  an  ASCAP  Young Jazz  Composer’s  Award.  The  appeal  of  big  band  for  me  has  been  the  dynamic  range  and  textural diversity.  My  goal  with  writing  music  is  to  induce  specific  sensations,  mostly  frisson  and  autosomal sensory  meridian  response (ASMR),  and  big  band  thus  far  has  been  the  instrumentation  that  can  really get  that  response  from  me  most  consistently.

Writing  is  also  a  very  engaging  activity,  it  uses  up  all  of  your  musical,  psychological  and  intellectual sensibilities.  Whether  you  are  planning  out  the  form  of  the  tune,  the  harmony,  the  dynamic  contour  or  the establishment  and  deviation  of  expectations,  you  must  have  developed  a  keen  intuition  for  how  people will  respond  emotionally  to  the  effects  you  use,  as  well  as  what  must  be  done  to  prepare  any  sort  of craft-­based  technical  construct  into  a  musical  “moment”  that  causes  goosebumps.  There’s  lots  of  trial and  error  and  hair  pulling,  but  it  is  absolutely  worth  it.  If  you  do  it  right,  and  do  it  for  yourself,  every  time you  hear  your  own  music  played  at  a  high  level,  you  can  initiate  those  euphoric  feelings  -­  after  all,  who knows  better  on  how  to  trigger  those  responses  in  yourself,  than  yourself?

Who  have  you  worked  with  production  wise?

McDonald:  I’ve  only  been  out  of  school  around  10  months  at  this  point,  so  most  of  my  work  has  been worked  with  my  teachers  at  various  schools.  At  Rutgers  University  I  worked  with  Conrad  Herwig, Ralph  Bowen,  Victor  Lewis,  Mark  Gross,  Frank  Lacy,  Joe  Magnarelli,  Charles  Tolliver,  Stanley Cowell.  I  also  started  meeting  some  of  the  best  that  New  York  City  has  to  offer:  performing  in  a masterclass  for  Chris  Potter,  performing  in  Jazz  Ensemble  with  Lead  Trumpet  phenom  Tanya  Darby, studying  Jazz  Historiography  with  the  Coltrane  historian  Lewis  Porter.  Each  and  every  one  of  these people  have  influenced  me  in  ways  that  I  struggle  to  put  words  to.  A  stand  out  from  my  time  at  Rutgers is  definitely  Ralph  Bowen,  who  isn’t  the  most  well  known  musician  outside  of  the  upper  echelon  of players,  but  has  to  be  the  most  knowledgeable  persons  I  have  ever  met.    He  was  able  to  make  every lesson  engaging  and  rewarding,  and  has  been  a  huge  inspiration.

At  UNT,  I  was  able  to  work  with  Brad  Leali,  Jim  Riggs,  Jay  Saunders,  Paris  Rutherford,  Steve Wiest,  Stefan  Karlsson,  Lynn  Seaton,  Mike  Steinel.  A  veritable  stable  of  thoroughbred  pedagogues. Each  one  has  their  own  specific  influences  and  pushed  me  in  different  directions,  which  was  one  of  the reasons  I  actively  sought  out  an  experience  like  UNT,  where  my  focus  would  be  on  growth  and diversifying  my  abilities.  A  stand  out,  however,  has  to  be  Paris  Rutherford,  and  his  adjunct  professor  at the  time,  Akira  Sato.  They  were  the  ones  that  got  me  writing,  and  at  just  the  right  time!  I  probably would  have  in  my  junior  year  without  their  guidance  and  encouragement.  Developing  an  individual  voice as  a  writer  was  so  intuitive  under  their  direction.

How  would  you  describe  your  sound?

McDonald:  An  artist’s  sound  is  something  that  is  really  difficult  to  pin  down,  in  my  opinion  -­  especially when  referring  to  myself.  Personally,  I  think  sound  is  defined  by  the  expressive  limits  of  the  artist  at  the time  of  creation,  which  a  lot  of  times  is  reflective  mostly  of  the  expressive  range  of  the  artist  as  well  as the  environment  the  work  is  created  in.    Another  way  to  say  that  is  an  artist’s  voice  is  defined  by  their humanistic  imperfections.  For  me,  there  are  countless  limitations  that  I’m  constantly  working  on,  and most  of  them  fall  into  a  technical  category  that  may  be  difficult  to  describe  to  the  lay-­person.

I  can  say  that  my  writing  tends  to  fall  in  contemporary  sounding  categories,  as  I  try  to  blend  in as  many  components  of  modern  music  as  possible.  Electronic  genres  like  Jungle  and  Drum’n’bass  and the  quality  of  fast  paced,  heart  thumping  drive  is  definitely  present  in  my  music,  but  then  at  other  times, sometimes  the  same  time,  we  have  the  textural  colour  palate  of  orchestrators  like  Maria  Schneider, Percy  Grainger  etc  -­  evocative  of  deep  seated  expressions.  My  best  analogue  is  to  describe  a  diverse artist  or  group,  my  example  being  Queen.  How  does  that  group  sound?  They  perform  in  countless different  styles,  with  hits  stemming  from  Rap,  Swing,  Bossa  Nova,  Country  -­  countless  genres  really.

If  I  had  to  define  my  voice  within  the  limits  of  words,  I  would  say  that  it  is  reflective    of  human expression,  especially  of  the  age.  There  is  a  very  unsettling  quality  to  the  harmony  I  use,  which  vastly differs  in  quality  to  the  largely  singable  and  “happy”  melodies  that  I  write.  The  whole  mixture  of  our prejudices,  preconceptions  and  definitions  of  what  makes  a  sad  song,  a  happy  song,  a  weird  song  is fascinating  to  me  and  reminiscent  of  Cole  Porter  and  Antonio  Carlos  Jobim-­  who  are  famous  among musicians  for  these  contradictions.

What  are  your  primary  musical  influences?

McDonald:  This  is  tough  to  describe  -­  the  components  of  what  have  gone  into  what  I  currently perform  are  primarily  saxophonists  and  jazz  musicians.  Michael  Brecker  was  an  enormous  influence,  as was  the  obvious  Charlie  Parker  and  John  Coltrane.  Cannonball  Adderley,  Kenny  Garrett,  Paul Desmond,  Sonny  Stitt,  Dick  Oatts,  Earl  Bostic,  Art  Pepper,  Jan  Garbarek,  Rick  Margitza,  Bob  Berg, Bob  Mintzer.  Each  has  their  own  aesthetic  that  can  be  learned  and  imitated,  but  never  copied.  The process  was  important  because  it  developed  my  aesthetic  sensibilities  for  different  goals  -­  whether  it  be a  lighter  sound,  h

heftier  sound,  harmonically  dense,  lyrical,  rhythmic,  etc.  The  goal  was  to  explore  all  of the  possibilities  and  let  my  subconscious  personality  take  over  and  prioritize.  I  also  explored  other instrumentalists,  trumpeters  Freddie  Hubbard,  Clifford  Brown,  Ingrid  Jensen,  Louis  Armstong;;  pianists Chick  Corea,  McCoy  Tyner,  Robert  Glasper,  Oscar  Peterson,  Bill  Evans;;  Guitarists  Kurt  Rosenwinkel, Charlie  Christian,  Jimi  Hendrix.

If  I  had  to  describe  who  I’m  most  similar  to,  I’d  have  to  say  a  combination  of  Dick  Oatts, Kenny  Garrett,  Charlie  Parker  and  Paul  Desmond.  Keep  in  mind  that  I’ve  stolen  artistic  sensibilities from  all  of  them,  so  my  tone  may  be  most  similar  to  Kenny  Garrett,  but  my  rhythmic  concept  may  be more  similar  to  Dick  Oatts,  and  my  melodic  ideas  to  Paul  Desmond.

Compositionally,  I’m  a  little  easier  to  track.  Most  of  my  melodic  and  harmonic  ideas  come  from the  work  of  Wayne  Shorter  -­  my  favourite  jazz  composer.  Orchestration  wise,  Percy  Grainger  holds  a very  special  place  in  my  heart,  as  well  as  John  Adams,  Steve  Reich,  Maria  Schneider.  The  electronic music  of  Aphex  Twin,  Deadmau5,  Daft  Punk  have  also  been  influences  and  for  big  band  the  writing  of Thad  Jones,  Bob  Brookmeyer,  Chuck  Owen,  Vince  Mendoza,  Jim  McNeely,  among  others,  have  been very  important  in  developing  my  big  band  voice.

What  did  you  grow  up  listening  to?

McDonald:  I  definitely  departed  from  the  popular  tastes  of  my  peers  at  an  early  age.  I  remember listening  to  a  huge  diversity  of  classic  rock  -­  an  influence  of  my  dad,  and  a  lot  of  early  grunge  -­  an influence  of  mostly  my  brother.  Nirvana,  Soundgarden,  Pearl  Jam  were  constantly  being  played  and  I grew  a  strong  affinity  towards  that  sound,  though  I  was  younger  than  10  years  old  and  had  no  context for  what  it  was  supposed  to  represent.  In  fact,  most  of  my  affinities  for  music  are  largely  unrelated  to  the supposed  intentions  of  the  artists  -­  I  was  far  more  fascinated  with  my  own  interpretations  and  feelings than  what  the  composer  or  lyricist  was  trying  to  convey.  That  was  a  curious  quality  about  art  that  I grasped  at  an  early  age.  Creativity  is  cathartic  for  the  artist,  but  the  end  result  most  often  acts  as  a  mirror to  our  own  souls  as  audience  members  as  opposed  to  a  window  into  the  soul  of  the  creator.

I  got  hooked  on  jazz  and  instrumental  music  pretty  quickly.  I  bought  “The  Jimi  Hendrix Experience”  when  I  was  11  years  old,  and  picked  up  the  saxophone  shortly  afterwards.  I  quickly  dove into  the  world  of  jazz,  and  the  rest  is  history.  My  study  of  saxophonists  continues  to  this  day  -­  there  are several  musicians  with  extraordinarily  unique  approaches  to  the  instrument  and  the  music  that  may  not have  the  same  historical  exposure  as  a  iconoclast  like  Coltrane  or  Charlie  Parker.

Do  you  come  from  a  musical  family?

McDonald:  Nearly  everyone  in  my  family  plays  a  musical  instrument,  at  least  casually.  Music  was constantly  playing  in  the  house,  though  by  the  time  high  school  came  around  that  was  mostly  due  to  my practicing  and  listening  habits.  Music  was  considered  so  important  to  our  family  because  it  is  an expressive  activity  that  teaches  many,  many  of  life’s  lessons.  In  many  ways,  practicing  and  performing helped  me  deal  with  bullying,  stress,  and  the  many  emotions  that  pass  through  a  young  person’s  mind.  I also  was  able  to  derive  confidence  through  the  ability  to  do  something  really  well  -­  playing  saxophone. Studying  a  technical  skill,  such  as

instrument  does  wonders  for  self  esteem,  and  I  think  that  was  the main  goal,  if  anything,  of  my  parent’s  continued  push  to  perform  music.

What  do  you  enjoy  most  about  what  you  do?

McDonald:  Currently,  I’m  playing  saxophone  and  flute  on  the  international  tour  of  “Dreamgirls”,  and the  best  part  of  this  experience  is  the  opportunity  to  travel  across  the  continent,  and  out  to  Japan  in August  of  this  year.  I  get  to  spend  my  free  time  with  wonderfully  talented  people,  and  see  parts  of  the world  I  would  normally  pass  over.  At  the  end  of  the  North  American  leg,  there  will  only  be  4  states  out of  50  that  I  have  not  visited  and  performed  in  -­  something  most  Americans  don’t  get  a  chance  to  do, especially  something  a  Canadian  would  rarely  do.

In  terms  of  writing  and  performing  my  own  music,  I  think  the  most  enjoyable  aspect  has  to  be the  study  portion.  I  listen  to  all  sorts  of  types  of  musics,  and  analyze  what  I  hear  into  manageable  chunks that  I  can  combine  together  in  a  manner  that  works  best  to  get  a  response  out  of  me.  When  you  finally hear  the  fruits  of  all  your  labor,  and  your  music  hits  that  climax  you  planned  out  weeks  ago  on  a  napkin at  a  bar,  the  chills  running  down  your  spine  and  out  to  your  fingertips  is  all  I  need  to  continue  on  the  path I  have  been  on.  The  euphoria  is  addictive,  even  though  the  process  at  times  can  be  extraordinarily painful.

What  makes  you  different  to  the  current  wave  of  artists?

McDonald:  I  think    one  of  the  biggest  differentiating  factors  between  myself  and  the  current  wave  of popular  artists  is  my  education.  There  is  a  large  group  of  people  who  feel  like  education  has  hindered their  creativity,  but  I  felt  like  education  was  the  key  to  a  wider  expressive  range.  The  popular  artists  I enjoy  usually  have  enlisted  the  assistance  of  highly  educated  or  experienced  individuals  to  help  them bring  their  artistic  vision  to  life.  My  best  example  is  Quincy  Jones,  a  talented  jazz  trumpeter  and arranger,  who  brought  his  musical  sensibilities  -­  through  decades  of  experience  -­  to  the  ears  of  millions on  the  records  of  Michael  Jackson.    The  principles  he  learned  writing  big  band  charts  for  the  Count

Basie  Band  are  present  in  his  work  as  a  producer,  and  I  believe  it  can  be  heard  and  felt  -­  and  your layperson  recognizes  it,  but  struggle  to  define  it  since  they  don’t  have  the  education  to  apply  technical labels  to  what  they  are  hearing.  Those  labels,  as  arbitrary  as  they  might  seem,  are  of  huge  assistance  in bringing  ideas  to  life.  I  feel  like  with  my  education,  I  have  been  taught  to  create,  recognize  and communicate  labels  in  an  effective  way  to  get  my  ideas  across  -­  and  more  importantly  than  anything, I’ve  gained  insight  into  the  learning  process.  Learning  is  so  crucial  to  stay  on  top  of  what  is  new, because  as  an  artist,  one  has  to  have  the  capacity  to  evolve  with  the  changing  times  in  order  to  be relevant.

What  would  you  do  if  you  weren’t  doing  music?

McDonald:  I  mentioned  this  before,  but  it  is  likely  that  I  would  be  pursuing  a  career  in  the pharmacology  field.  The  maximalist  attitude  of  the  discipline  is  what  draws  me  to  it,  still  to  this  day.  I also  feel  like  it  would  be  an  excellent  career  in  which  to  be  creative,  as  the  whole  industry  is  based  upon innovation.  I  would  be  spending  hours  pouring  over  research,  trying  to  find  the  unexplored  -­  much  like  I do  currently  on  my  instrument.

Dreamgirls is still touring the United States, finishing June 9th in Dayton, OH. The remaining tour dates can be found athttp://www.dreamgirlsontheroad.com/ and the production opens in Tokyo on July 29th.

Contact:
Brett McDonald
brett.mcdonald@gmail.com

   

Episode Five: What Weird Edit

Oh look, Dear! It's a teeny-tiny Faerie door with itsy-bitsy stairs.

And some priceless modeling advice from Sarah Crisman.

The Crisman Show is proud to present: The Crisman Show Podcast, Episode Five: What Weird Edit. In this episode, we hear from Adam Schatz about Search & Restore, an “organization committed to bringing the artists and audiences of new jazz and improvised music together in new ways, while never forgetting it’s DIY roots.” We love them and you should, too. Also, settle into the backseat while Sarah and Mark Lettieri cruise around suburbia blaring Mark’s new (fantastic!) album, Knows. And of course there’s also the usual nonsense we all love. Don’t use iTunes? You’re still welcome to enjoy The Crisman Show through Feedburner. If you like what you hear, share it with your friends and foes and leave us reviews!

Are you ready for your close-up? Sarah Crisman recorded a video full of modeling advice for everyone who is willing to watch. (That should include you. Trust us, you don’t want to miss this!) Also, she has some upcoming gig news for you Dentonites.

If you want to give a little more love than your usual ratings and comments, consider donating to The Crisman Show through our FundRazr page. Your donations can be as large or as small as you like and you can rest assured that each dollar you donate will go straight to producing more podcasts and even video episodes for your enjoyment. We love what we do and we love to share it with you. Your support makes The Crisman Show possible.

G Koop + O-Man: from Berklee to Beats

G Koop & O-man is an effort to capture the creative process of hip-hop collaboration in a simple, streamlined, and public way. This project, broadcast on YouTube from an unassuming studio in Oakland, provides a weekly push to produce new music and invite guest artists into the fray as they welcome the world to experience this process through the magic of technology.   Graham Richards and Rob Mandell first connected at Berklee College of Music in ’98.  The kindred wits began collaborating on several bands and hosted a regular jam session at a Boston tavern under names like Shivery Delicious , Teen Chat Room, The Pirates of Relaxation, and, of course Busty Nutsack.

The pair eventually found their way to the Bay Area where they quickly became a part of the artistic community, spending much of the time in a little jazz club bouncing between piano and bar.  Graham and Rob were heavily influenced under the mentorship of legendary jazz drummer, Donald “Duck” Bailey.

“Duck taught us how to play, how to listen, how to treat ourselves and other musicians with respect.” Graham said.  “He told first-hand stories of a by-gone era, gave us insight into how things really went down in the jazz clubs back in the day.  He played music with us and never judged us by our technical facility; rather by our willingness to let go of ego and preconception and just play music with him.  It was kind of a boot camp that Rob and I went through together.”

This history is important in understanding the evolution of G Koop & O-man.  Graham returned to school to receive a Master’s Degree from the University of North Texas’ legendary Jazz program and wrote a groundbreaking piano method book, Piano, Yeah! Meanwhile, Rob spent ten years in an intense hip-hop tutelage working with great producers such as Jake One and Easki.

“We each have our own trip, and we have always been 100% supportive of each others’ creative endeavors.” Graham said.”  Rob is one of the most prolific artists I have ever met; his discography is legendary and growing every day.”

“Working with a musician of Graham’s caliber is like holding a musically loaded weapon;” said Rob. “His skill knows no boundaries, and his openness to follow the creativity wherever it may go is unparalleled.”

“My job is to make the language we use more universal,” said Rob. “Less is more.”

Their unique collaborations are reminiscent of individual style augmented by trusted teamwork.  The team takes impassioned ideas and filters them into a product palatable for a wider audience, often taking live gig inspiration and transforming it into a worthy beat.  They work together, trading off on the driver’s seat based on the stronger musical vision at hand while the other offers guidance and suggestion.  When strong ideas strike simultaneously, Graham and Rob explore both ideas, thus revealing the duality of G Koop and O-man

“Because of our history, we trust each others’ ears completely.” Graham said.

The trust is what makes our thing work so well; “Rob adds, “We’ve been doing this so long that we know neither would lead the other astray.”