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!
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 Band, is 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.
(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).
(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.
(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!
My first album as a leader, “The Super Villain Jazz Band” is officially out and can be purchased via iTunes, Amazon, and Google Music.
You can also download the Album and buy Physical Copies of the CD via CDBaby and Bandcamp. Physical CD’s include packaging and a 6 panel booklet designed by artist Nathaniel Clark (who also did the album cover) and liner notes written by Russ Musto of the New York Jazz Record.
There are already some nice reviews out there, which I’ll post links to shortly - you can also link to them via my new website:
Been a very busy few weeks coordinating the release, performances, and research. In mid-September I did a short SE tour with saxophonist Jeff Coffin, fellow Miami grads Michael Feinberg (bass) and Joe Davidian (piano), and the incredible Dana Hawkins on drums.
(The Band in Atlanta)
The tour was a collaborative endeavor between Michael and I and was really an incredible experience. We all submitted a few of our original compositions (I wrote two new ones) and hearing the evolution of the group over five days was really special. This culminated in a pre-release performance at Coastal (where we played none of the album tunes) and a short recording session and clinic for CCU students. It was a great weekend and has gotten me thinking on a few new writing topics based on my experience playing in the frontline with Jeff and developing an instant musical relationship with Dana.
(recording my new composition “The Black Valley” in the CCU Studio - video coming soon)
Tonight we’ll be hosting the Dave Douglas Quintet at CCU as part of our Cultural Arts Series. I could not be more excited as Dave is a constant inspiration as a musician and artist. Wheelwright Auditorium at 7:30.
Tomorrow morning I fly to Nashville for the CD Release Party at the Nashville Jazz Workshop, which is free and will feature a set by the reunited album band - Evan Cobb, Don Aliquo, Joe Davidian, Jonathan Wires, and the amazing Jim White. 3-5. There will be snacks and it’s my birthday!
Next weekend I’ll be on St. Helena Island for the next in a series of trips related to the “St. Helena Island Spiritual Project” - currently taking shape as a multi-media interactive experience. Amazing music, culture, and good for the soul.
Oh, and I’m also now playing with the Long Bay Symphony. Great American Composers concert last weekend with music by Gershwin, Copland, Ives, Schuman, and Barber. The amazing Philip Powell (also my boss) killed the Piano Concerto in F.
Planning on getting some sleep in November. Stay tuned here for continuing posts on the album, Spiritual Project, and general musings on music.
We’re well into August and my calendar has suddenly filled up with meetings and responsibilities. The school year is nearly upon us and I’ve managed to make myself busier than ever!
Georgia and I spent most of July traveling through Europe and Ireland (more on that later). The Super Villain Jazz Band is printed and set for release on October 1st on Artists Recording Collective. You’ll be able to buy the physical CD (with Nathaniel Clark’s amazing artwork and liner notes by Russ Musto) via CD Baby. Downloads will be available via iTunes and other reputable services.
I was home for about a week and received a call from my old friends, The Mavericks. Raul, Paul, Robert, Eddie, JD, Elio, Michael, Max, and the gang have been touring non-stop since I left the band last summer, and asked me to come to Nashville and play a show to be video-recorded for a National PBS Special (airing in December). I happily made the quick trip to Nashville to be reunited with the best live act in Country Music.
In addition to fine-tuning and adding material to their 2.5 hour set, the band is really hitting on all cylinders. The rhythm section groove is deep, the solos are inspiring, Eddie is playing the crap out of the guitar, and Raul is singing better than ever. It was an absolute blast - and I had the sore chops the next morning to prove it.
The St. Helena Island Spiritual Project is again in full-swing and will start off this school year with a student “Un-Conference.” Students from different disciplines will be able to attend workshops and create breakout sessions to develop the direction and content of our Interactive Educational Experience. I’m also happy to announce that one of the Island soloists, Ms. Gracie, will be spending some time with us at CCU and recording her songs in the Wheelwright Recording Studio as part of the days festivities.
There will also be some serious music happening on campus this fall. In September I’ll be joining my good friend bassist Michael Feinberg for a short southeastern tour - hitting Atlanta, Nashville, and culminating in a faculty recital and pre-release party here in Myrtle Beach. The band will also feature the amazing Jeff Coffin on saxophones, my favorite pianist Joe Davidian, and the talented Dana Hawkins on Drums. September 12 - 16.
Oh, and did I mention that we’ll be hosting one of my musical heroes, the Dave Douglas Quintet, on October 4th at CCU? We’ll be helping Dave check off South Carolina from his DD50 tour (50 states played in for his 50th birthday).
Stay tuned to this space for further announcements regarding album release events, performances, and projects. I also have a few new “articles” in the works.
"Jazz for Irish Sheep" 2013 continues. Bradia Valley before dinner and after a long "craic" with the inn keeper.