Expertise and the Global Critic

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"Math is boring. Math is overrated. Math is washed up."

As many of you know, the Jazz bully bandwagon was alive and well this past week. First was Django Gold’s “satire” of Sonny Rollins’ “In His Own Words,” (Wall Street Journal) and later Justin Moyer’s op-ed “All that Jazz isn’t all that great” (Washington Post).

I’m not sure where the “humor” was in the Sonny Rollins piece unless you already hate jazz or are a fan of bitterness.

The silver lining in the Gold piece is that it elicited a thirty-minute video response/interview from Sonny Rollins that was an absolute treasure of humanity and inspiration. I think it should be required listening for anyone, but the message to young musicians is especially valuable.

Moyer has since (over 24 hours later) written in the comments section that his piece is also a satire. However, the “character” in Moyer’s piece is clear – he’s someone with perhaps a wider musical knowledge than that the typical casual music listener (he goes to great lengths to name drop and mention that he “studied” under some big names – and his exposure was brief). This lazy expertise has given Moyer enough musical ammunition and awareness to proclaim to the world the five things that make Jazz awful. His twitter account announcing the article even mentions a Real Book. He MUST know what he’s talking about.

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I’m not really upset by his article. If anything it draws attention (purposely or not) to a larger issue, and I hear this type of sentiment frequently, whether from fellow “musicians,” patrons, listeners, or random people with access to the world’s largest microphone. It made me think of this:

“Freedom of Opinion without the Responsibility of Knowledge”

Welcome to the world of the global expert. If you’ve ever heard music, or touched an instrument, please feel free to share your opinion on the various forums and comment sections of the world. Your opinion matters, you matter, you are a star and the world should listen to you.

Obviously, this isn’t unique to the realm of music. Politics, Literature, Art… Perhaps because information is readily available, we don’t value it, or the process of having to learn something and form an opinion. Why go through the trouble?

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Are you really? If so, does your opinion hold the same weight as someone who spends a lifetime honing their craft and developing a base of knowledge?

Maybe not. Maybe it’s easier to lose yourself in the drug that is “likes” and “re-tweets” and think about the consequences later.

I think the more accurate term would be: “Everyone is entitled to like or dislike something.” Don’t like Jazz – fine - but don’t tell me all of the things wrong with it and make a value judgment. Don’t tell me that something is awful and “out-of-tune” because your harmonic knowledge is limited to Top 40 radio (my favorite comment on a Dirty Loops Cover Video). Tell me you don’t like it, but spare me your “expertise.”

 

Year End Wrap-Up 1: Dave Douglas Quintet Live

Like a fulfilling sprint to the finish line (or perhaps a coming out of a deep exhaustion fueled haze), my second year teaching at Coastal came to a close last week. Although I was acutely aware throughout the semester, it wasn’t until I was writing my annual report that I realized how much happened… and how much I have neglected to write about it.

Just a few days after my album release this past fall and a few days before the release party in Nashville, Dave Douglas brought his Quintet (Jon Iragbon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh, and Rudy Royston) to Coastal as part of the DD50 Tour. This was the group’s (and likely most of the members) first time performing in South Carolina. We have a direct link from our main auditorium Sound Booth to the Recording Studio upstairs, and I offered to record the concert for Dave.

Despite a Bass malfunction (thanks to Marc Chesanow for saving the day) and Jon’s dinner order getting lost, the band performed beautifully and Dave was pleased with the performance and looked forward to hearing the recordings. I went to work (mostly over my Winter Break) on the mixes, e-mailing back and forth and putting samples on Dropbox until we ultimately decided on a good mix. Dave contacted me a few days later to ask if he could include a few of the tracks on a Live Compilation for Greenleaf Music Subscribers. The result is Dave Douglas Quintet: Live Fall 2013, and puts our live tracks in the company of The Jazz Standard in NYC, and Festival Performances in Seattle, Washington and Hamburg, Germany.

Live most of the amazing projects completed my the CCU Recording Studio this year, this would not have been possible without my student workers, Tevin Turner (who manages everything and has far surpassed me in knowledge of Pro Tools Keyboard Shortcuts), Mark Kendree, and Liz Kelly. Each one of these students were outstanding in the Recording Technology class sequence and have quickly established themselves as professionals in the field. We record, edit, mix and archive over 70 performances a year and it would be an impossible task for me to handle without them. Mark will be attending MTSU next year to pursue a Masters Degree in Recording Engineering. I couldn’t be prouder of their hard work, dedication, and talent.

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“Hey Everyone! Do you play the trumpet! Do you want to play high notes, or play them with better sound, intonation, and endurance?” (I imagine this being shouted in my favorite announcer voice – the guy who does the Grind House, El Rey Network promos).

My good friend Augie Haas has written a book entitled “Build Your Range: A Practical Approach on Building Range and Endurance.” I edited the text, exercises, play-alongs, and generally helped out when needed (which wasn’t much).

Augie currently lives in New York and is playing the coveted (and dangerous) lead trumpet chair for Harry Connick, Jr. in addition to working with Maria Scheider and numerous others. Augie and I met in 2006 when we were both graduate students and T.A.’s at the University of Miami. I sat next to Augie in the Concert Jazz Band and numerous gigs for 3 years and he’s an incredible musician and one of the hardest working and sweetest human beings I’ve ever met.

Augie’s dissertation was a survey on high note trumpet methods and approaches and as of a few months ago was downloaded over 18,000 times (just search “trumpet high notes” on google and it will come up). Just for reference, my dissertation on Visualization and Improvisation has been downloaded about 600 times over a longer time period!

Augie rightly saw an opportunity and started developing these exercises. While editing the book, I spent a good amount of time working through each Study and it’s incredibly effective. I use it as a go to method if I know I have a heavy amount of playing coming up – particularly in the upper register or with little rest. My pitch and endurance are better and some little tweaks in my playing, such as slotting certain pitches (like high Ab’s) have improvied greatly.

Augie also developed play along tracks (which are super hip) that can be downloaded via a code card included in the book. These are great as they are fun to play with and keep you honest on one of the primary goals of the exercises, which is to rest in-between passages. I should also add that Augie wrote these – they have some great harmonic twists and I’m pretty confident that most trumpet players with his chops do not have an equal familiarity with modal composition.

Check out Augie’s website to purchase the book. A great summer project for those of you with a little downtime!

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(Sonny Rollins’ Doxy)

Trio Session with Guest Artist Eric Thompson on Drums, CCU Faculty Member Marc Chesanow on Bass, and myself on trumpet - recorded as a live “session/clinic” for students in our campus recording studio. As we develop our commercial music and jazz curriculum, I’m looking to make these type of sessions a regular occurrence. We did something similar in the Fall with Jeff Coffin, Joe Davidian, Michael Feinberg, and Dana Hawkins (that track - “Black Valley” is also on this blog).

This session was particularly fun since Eric, Marc, and I had never played together, so we just called tunes and I brought the sketch of a new one I’m working on (which I’ll post here as well in a week or two). This take on Doxy is the very first tune on the session. 

This was a really great opportunity to talk about and demonstrate musical concepts of communication, language, and common repertoire. Although I’m certainly a fan of harmony and chordal-accompanying instruments in performance and my own compositions, playing “chord-less” and finding ways to explore the added space is really fun, particularly when you can establish musical trust with your bandmates so quickly. Freedom and Risk-taking were a priority that afternoon and it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

My studio student workers and members of my Recording Technology 2 class ran this session and this mix was handled exclusively by my studio manager, Tevin Turner, so he’s taken some nifty liberties with a doubled chorus effect on the trumpet, parallel compression, and a sub kick with a signal generator. Tevin is incredibly talented and has a bright future in this field.

Even with this cool “polish” these are unedited and raw live performances, but I wouldn’t trade the small blemishes (like me not taking charge on how to end the tune!) for the great energy and interaction. More tracks (with video) forthcoming!

Year End Wrap-Up 1: Gullah: The Voice of An Island

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After two years of work, over a dozen “field trips” to the Island, 7 hours of recorded material, countless hours in meetings, mixing and mastering sessions, and on the phone, Gullah: The Voice of an Island debuted this April at our College Gala and is now available via our Athenaeum Press Website and Amazon.

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The Box Set includes: a 22 page booklet with historical reference, photos, and singer biographies; and a 65 minute CD with 43 tracks of solo Spiritual/Hymn Performances and Oral Histories. There is also an ongoing free “Digital Publication” available via the press website for web browser or iPad that will feature regularly updated content.

The recordings focus on four “song leaders” that live and hail from St. Helena. Minnie Gracie Gadson, Garfield Smalls, Joseph Murray, and Rosa Murray. The transmission and learning of songs is still largely an oral tradition and without proper documentation, these songs could be lost with the passing of these elders. Deacon Garfield, who is 92, has a number of “old songs” remembered only by him. Supporting this project further supports the documentation, growth, and contemporization of this music.

This was a true collaborative effort, including students and faculty from Music, History, English, Linguistics, Digital Media, Southern Studies, Visual Design, and Photography to create this project – in one year! I imagine a product of this magnitude would be difficult enough, but additionally figure in our teaching schedules, student’s various studies, working remotely, and slowly building relationships with the people of the Island, I couldn’t be more excited or amazed at what we managed to accomplish. Most importantly, I believe we created something that is authentic and gives the proper respect and value to this amazing cultural treasure.

I should also mention that a majority of the projects profits go back to the singers in the form of individual payments or donations to keep the Praise Houses on the island functional and in-use.  Profits made by the University Press go back into the project, as we have a commitment for two more years (at least) into this research. We’re already brainstorming about what to do next and what that may look like in a physical (or digital) product.

With our partnership with the Penn Center on St. Helena, Eric and I will be conducting a presentation this weekend at the Original Gullah Festival and holding a formal “release party” in July with live musical performances. Stay Tuned!

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The Black Valley

Matt White - trumpet

Jeff Coffin - tenor saxophone 

Joe Davidian - keyboard

Michael Feinberg - bass

Dana Hawkins - drums

Recorded for a student audience live at Coastal Carolina University on September 16, 2013 in the Wheelwright Recording Studio. Engineered and produced by my recording student assistants. This is the second of two takes.

The Black Valley is in Southwestern Ireland and is a leg of the Kerry Way. My wife and I hiked it this past summer. It’s one of two tunes I wrote for this group’s mini-tour, the other one being “The Copenhagen Garment Bag Incident” (true story) which has yet to be played, or recorded. Geography, whether it be real or imagined, has been a source of compositional influence lately and may be a thematic aspect of my next project. 

The form of this tune is long, so the solos are divided up among myself, Jeff, and Joe. We also did a live version that evening in concert that was much longer, but also had some great moments. This is pretty much the tune as I brought it in, although Jeff suggested that we repeat the interlude 8-bar phrase - descending motive starting on the Gminb6. I think it was a great call. 

Enjoy and thanks for the support!

Matt White: The Super Villain Jazz Band

Another review for The Super Villain Jazz Band via Jeffrey Uhrich at AllAboutJazz. Check it out!

The Super Villain Jazz Band Reviews

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Big News this month as the newest issue of Downbeat Magazine is out and my album was covered in the review section. Thanks to Jon Garelick for taking such a detailed listen and writing so beautifully about the record. You can click on the link in the post below to read it for yourself. 

Jon starts by mentioning that I am a former Downbeat Student Award Winner. Like-Woody, which appears on The Super Villain Jazz Bandis the first song I ever wrote that wasn’t based on an existing tune. It won in the Best Original Song and Best Arrangement categories in 2004. At that time, I was an undergraduate student at The University of North Florida and spent a healthy amount of time transcribing Woody Shaw and Clifford Brown. I still remember practicing Clifford’s solo break on I’ll Remember April for weeks. Just two bars - trying to get every nuance and articulation perfect. (Thanks to Kevin Bales for that assignment!) 

The two melody “breaks” on Like-Woody are taken from Woody’s solos on There Will Never Be Another You and Moontrane (in different keys).The rest of the song material is original, but I was certainly trying to capture the angularity and excitement of Woody’s music.

Like-Woody pre-dates all the other originals on The Super Villain Jazz Band by at least 5 years. I felt it was a good fit for the album because it’s one of the few “tunes” (in the traditional head-solo-head sense) that I’ve written that still fits tone-wise with my more recent compositions. It’s also deceptively tricky to solo over. Since then, I’ve been moving towards longer forms, interludes, different solo sections, linear arranging, backgrounds, etc. in my writing. I like composing that way - the only downside is my music requires much more paper (the rhythm section part for The Muse is 6 pages long).

Oddly enough, Like-Woody was also the hardest tune to record. We did four takes on the first day and couldn’t quite get it to feel comfortable and settle into the groove. We moved on and I was somewhat resigned to leaving it off the album. We were ahead of pace on the second day (Alice and The Muse are first takes). Before breaking I asked the guys if we could try it one more time. It’s the take that made the album.

So what’s my point? Submit things to Downbeat when you’re a student and have a great publicist (Terri Hinte)! I’ve been an avid subscriber since Middle School. Made the pages as a student (I also got an “outstanding performance” in the soloist category in 2009 and won 5 times as a member of school big bands throughout the years - those stories are worthy of their own posts). I have some very fond memories of waiting on my newest issue of Downbeat as a young musician and it’s a great treat to see my album get some love in its pages now.

What a tangent… Anyways, here are a few other reviews to check out. Thanks to all these writers for taking a listen. If anyone out there actually reads this blog and has checked out the album - thanks to you too! Each one of my tunes has a little (often ridiculous) story, and this may be a good forum to share them.

Ron Netsky - Rochester City Paper

George Fendel - Jazz Society of Oregon

Stephen Graham - Marlbank

Brent Black - Bop-N-Jazz

-Matt-

The Super Villain Jazz Band - 4 Stars in Downbeat Magazine

Click on the title (link) to preview the January 2014 Issue of Downbeat Magazine, which includes a great review of my debut album, The Super Villain Jazz Band by Jon Garelick.  If you haven’t already, buy a copy of the album so I can make another one!

St. Helena Spiritual Project and the Athenaeum Press

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(Jenkins Praise House - St. Helena Island, SC)

It was nearly a year ago that I met Eric Crawford in the parking lot of Bethesda Baptist Church on St. Helena Island for our first “field recording” of a traditional Praise Service. Since then, I’ve traveled to the Island 5 times. We’ve recorded over 6 hours of songs, oral histories, and performances.

Last year CCU started an “experiential learning campaign.” Each College was awarded a budget to develop specific programs or courses that would give students real-life working experiences. The Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts wisely chose to invest this funding into a University Press – in essence a student run research and creative endeavor in which a final product(s) is developed every year. Eric and I pitched the St. Helena Island Spiritual Project – hoping that the music could be the driving force in educating a wider audience about the rich history and culture of the Gullah people. Students working together from Visual Arts, Music, History, Literature, Linguistics, and Design could collaborate and create a multi-faceted product - the proceeds of which will go back to the Island and its people.

Last years project was a beautiful coffee table book with augmented reality (via your smart-phone) – focusing on the recreation of Nathaniel Bishop’s journey down the Waccamaw River. This year it may be a digital publication, a box set, a traditional publication, a documentary… It’s really up to the imagination of the students. Our job is to advise, remain authentic, and push the students to explore and appreciate the potential scope of this work.

Last weekend was the first time Eric and I traveled to the island with students and institutional support in an attempt to create further community buy-in and involvement with the project. The support has been overwhelming and as always, I went home with a head full of ideas and new knowledge.

One of the main themes Eric and I have been preaching with all our newcomers to the project is patience. “Visiting” and taking the time to get to know each other is a fine practiced art on the Island.

Saturday evening we visited Deacon Murray and his wife at their home. My student worker and studio manager Tevin came along. We spoke to Deacon Murray about his life on the island (after a good short sermon) and he offered to sing two songs for us.  After the first, we mentioned how much we ‘d like to record him and let him hear it himself. He said sure, and before we knew it, we had another hour of new songs and stories. This included an amazing description of the “Nightwatchman Service” traditionally performed on New Years Eve (which is promptly followed by an outdoor party until the sun comes up).

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(Eric and I in the Murray’s Living Room - photo by Tevin Turner) 

As an aside – one of the most rewarding aspects of this work is doing a quick EQ and mix and playing back the songs for the singers once the “session” has ended. Many of them have never heard themselves recorded before.

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(Nina, Eric, and I at the waterfront) 

With the help of the wonderful Nina Cordova, we were also invited to a traditional Sunday evening “Praise House” service in one of the three plantation Praise Houses (Jenkins Praise House - shown above) on the island still standing. Leading the service was Irene Shipmon (89 years old), Ms. Baby Ruth (91), and Deacon Garfield Smalls (93). Deacon Smalls knows a number of the “old songs” and was unable to meet with us earlier in the day as he was digging fence posts on his farm! Seeing them all together, singing songs that have been passed down for generations, further strengthened my resolve as to the importance of documenting and preserving this music.

While on the island we heard from Anita Prather (the famous Aunt Pearlie Sue) that her Pastor’s Mother had a few of the “old songs.” One of particular interest to Eric was the old Spiritual “Stay in The Field” (circa pre-Civil War, but also used during both World Wars). The version typically sung on the Island is most likely derived from the Hampton School (sister school to the Penn Center in the Northeast). Eric has always suspected that the song was from the island, went north, and came back, but has had nothing to support it. The earliest documented recordings are from the Hampton Collection in the 1930’s.

We were supposed to meet Ms. Gibbert early in the day, but she decided to take an unannounced trip with church members to a retirement home to visit friends. We got the call at 9:00 p.m. that she was available to chat. We packed up the equipment and drove to the country, taking a hidden turn down an old gravel road. The entrance was unlit and I noticed long rows of trees on either side of the drive. Eric mentioned that we were likely on an old plantation. When we arrived, we found that we were, in fact, on a former plantation – the same one that Ms. Gibbert’s great-grandparents and grandfather were slaves on. During Reconstruction, her Grandfather was purchased the land for $.25 an acre, but was later swindled out of the property. Ms. Gibbert’s son, a successful preacher, bought the land back piece by piece and has built homes on the property for himself and his mother. By another interesting twist of fate, the State of South Carolina paid him 1.5 million dollars to use dirt from his land in building a nearby highway – allowing him to complete years of slowly progressing building projects.

Ms. Gibbert grew up about 30 minutes north and inland from the island and learned the song from her great-grandmother. She is 92. Her version was noticeably different from the Hampton Collection, which may add some proof to Eric’s claim as her song being the earliest version and may have originated in that area.

All in all, a wonderful trip and I’m excited to see how this project takes shape moving forward. Our hope is to preserve, contemporize, invest in the artists, and build a wide, appreciative audience. I have a feeling that we’ll be working and expanding the scope of this work for quite some time.

You can learn more about the Athenaeum Press here.

Sample audio forthcoming!

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