News

Back on the horse…full video from Bird and Beckett

slowly, and in fits and starts, I am beginning the long process of recovering after the death of my beloved mother, and so here is a full video from Bird and Beckett the other night that is part of that work. Bird and Beckett is a wonderful bookstore and venue in the Glen Park area of SF run by Eric Whittington,  a true lover of good books and music. I highly recommend you patronize this beautiful establishment. It is a haven for players and appreciators of jazz and fine reading.  For this show, I was joined by 3 superlative musicians and kind souls, and they helped me get back on the horse after my mother’s passing.  Take a listen and we hope you have as much fun listening as we did playing.

 

 

 

https://birdbeckett.com/

For Alice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mother was a dancer.  During one of the final few days of her life, as she was coughing in the hospital before we brought her home to be comfortable and calm surrounded by my sister, me, my wife and loving caregivers, as they were trying to stabilize her, one of the things that would calm her was music. I played her a bunch of different things, from Sinatra to jazz, Chopin, Beethoven, some sweeter songs of mine I knew she liked, and it always soothed her.  One song I played for her was To A Summer’s Day, based on the Shakespeare Sonnet,  At the end of it, her eyes still partly closed, she told me “I really like that one. It makes me want to dance.”  And she, wheelchair bound and with oxygen tubing in her nose, executed a graceful arc with her arms that would have made any ballerina proud.  

On May 17, at 6:00 AM, my mother, hands held by my sister Julie and me, was in her last minutes, breathing peacefully and softly, with my wife Dioni, one of her beloved caregivers Cheryl and the palliative nurse quietly in the living room of her apartment (along with her cherished cat Tigger). I sang “Dedicated to you” for her while my sister and I hugged and held her, as she loved Coltrane, and she slipped the surly bonds of earth. I am, at once, heartbroken and so glad she is not suffering, and am profoundly grateful that my sister and I were at her side telling her it was alright to go.

She was beautiful, my mother, shy, sometimes prickly, always caring, loyal beyond measure.  She was many things:  A math teacher, a fashion designer, a 3rd generation New Yorker (North Bronx and then Kew Gardens, Queens-raised, but always pointed out she was born in Mt. Vernon), grateful child of Phil and Nona, adoring wife for 58 years of her knight, writer Jake Zilber, proud and loving parent to my sister Julie and me, and generous Grandma to her grandchildren.  Musical, always in a happy trance with music she loved, which ranged from Beethoven to Chopin to Gershwin to Sinatra.  Always honest, sometimes blunt, but like a tootsie pop, a very soft center, generous, smart as hell and ethical. But as her memory receded and she basically recalled her first 20 years (3327 Fenton Avenue, she would proudly remind me), was her first house in the Bronx after they moved from a small apartment around the corner at 3476 Corsa Avenue, and how happy she was when Dioni and I visited both places last June and sent her pics and video of the proud single-family brick row house that still stood, well-kept in a working-class neighborhood just off Boston Post Road (a mile bus ride North of the Gun Hill Road stop of the 5 train, so she would save the nickel by walking down to school and taking the free bus back, using the nickel for a candy bar)…as her memory receded, what came more and more to the forefront was the intense period of ballet training she undertook starting as a pre-teen, moving to a scholarship to a prestigious dance studio by Carnegie Hall.  So after school for 5 or 6 years, Mom would get on a bus in the North Bronx, take it to the train, and trek down to the ballet lessons, a 1 hour ride each way, then take 2 hours of ballet classes “5 hours on weekends” she reminded me. When they moved to Kew Gardens in Queens when she was 15, she continued, taking the F train (or was it the E?) To Carnegie Hall environs.  Mom was always honest and not at all one to brag, either about herself or her kids, so when she told us she thinks she could have been a Corps dancer in a company but not a soloist? I believe her.  Of course, life got in the way, since her father put his foot down, thinking a career as a ballet dancer was no life for his daughter, and insisted she either get a job or got to school. Gramps was no villain at all, but he just didn’t see it, like so many parents from that era. So Mom went to the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she excelled, as you can see from the beautiful coat she was modeling (and yes, she could have been a model as well). Then she used her sewing skills to get a gig working with what we would call at risk youth at Godard on the East Side of Manhattan back when at risk youth abounded there. And yes, that is where, after annulling a brief marriage to a fellow ballet dancer, she quickly fell in love with my Dad, a social worker there, who I suspect may already have been in love with her.  Within 6 months of their first date they were married, and both of them remained in love as long as my Dad was alive, 58 years worth of mutual affection and respect.  

The irony that my mother, a dancer and math teacher, married a writer who, while an excellent athlete, never danced and had no fascination for figures (other than my Mother’s), well, once more, the truism that seeming opposites can attract, was born out once again.  But both were strikingly decent people, never two-faced, and I never saw or heard either one of them say an insincere thing. They both celebrated the arts and encouraged my sister and me in whatever we wanted to try our hand at, and not one time did they tell me to find something to fall back on. In fact, they were there for concerts and music lessons, and always encouraged me to do music. So much so that, in my first semester in Boston at the New England Conservatory, taken out for dinner by my Mom’s sister and sister’s husband for a dinner, I was just confused at the “so what are you planning to fall back on if music does not work out?” question from my Uncle.  It had simply become a given in my family that I was going to pursue a life in music, and I have.  In fact, when I was 12 and had already shown a real aptitude for saxophone, I wanted to quit that summer, since I wanted to play basketball and just hang with my friends. My Mom always reminded me that I could, but I would need to tell the tall and imposing German itinerant band director myself.  Discretion was the better part of valor, and I will always be grateful she did that, since the sax thing worked out alright and I definitely did not have the hops for a pro hoops career!  

My father wrote a lovely play called Verbrentte Soup, and in it there is a couple consisting of a struggling 30-year-old writer and a slim and distracted ballet dancer wife of 21, with a constantly crying colicky baby (aka Jake, Alice and my older sister Julie), all living in a sweaty dank 5th floor walkup in Brooklyn.  The writer figure says at one point “If I could, what I’d really LIKE to do, is sit home all day and write one act plays.”  And Dad did get a version of that, co-founding the Creative Writing Department, and like all of us who get cushy tenured gigs in our chosen pursuit, got to spend as much time as he wanted writing what he wanted to write, (like me in music and many others, but shhh, don’t tell anyone).  

But my mother? She loved being the head of her HS math department, loved her life and her house, and was immensely proud of her marriage and her children. But I believe this to the core of my being that at the core of her being, she was a dancer.  At the end, I think Mom spent much of her time dancing graceful pliés and jetés in her head, and to paraphrase my Dad, I think my Mom might have said “if I could, the one thing I’d LIKE to do is dance.”  And you know what? My Dad would have been delighted if she had. There were no regrets for my Mom, since I believe she felt lucky with the life and family she had, but I imagine that in some parallel universe my Mom is dancing while we, her family, raptly and lovingly watch.  Maybe my Dad even joins her for a number…

I have heard that every now and then, and then again

Moon and stars are dancing in the wind, they spin and and spin and spin and spin.

 

Amazing Mike Drop review from All About Jazz

So grateful to Paul Rauch and All About Jazz for about as good a review as anyone who does this could hope for!

A first encounter with saxophonist Michael Zilber in a live setting leaves a very large impression. Enshrouding the marvelous facility and deeply melodic approach to improvisation is “the sound” which allows the listener to receive the music in a soulful way. When that sound and imagination are driven by the post-bop mastery of drummer Mike Clark, illuminating things can and will take place.

Celebrating a ten-year friendship, Zilber and Clark laid down this session in Oakland in 2018 for Sunnyside, pairing them with Bay Area stalwarts Matt Clark on piano and bassist Peter Barshay. The quartet lays into two Zilber originals, and covers ranging from Wayne Shorter to Thelonious Monk and Lennon-McCartney.

No matter the vehicle of song, the session is another opportunity to hear Zilber work his way through the tunes with artistic precision, the objective of beauty clearly leading the way. Beginning with Zilber’s “Barshay Fly” and “Sonny Monk,” the quartet immediately comes off as a group of voices well familiar with each other. That intimacy is there for the listener, moving forward through an interpretation of McCoy Tyner‘s “Passion Dance” and Zilber’s emotive take on Shorter’s rare gem, “Miyako.” Clark’s lovely brush and cymbal work illuminates this rarely-heard Shorter masterpiece.

Clark is well known for his work with luminaries such as Herbie HancockWoody Shaw, and Bobby Hutcherson. Zilber, though in many ways underappreciated, is a talent of that stratosphere in jazz. Looking to the Duke Pearson ballad, “You Know I Care,” the master tenorist passes through the bones of the tune in melancholic, rich tones. Clark offers a lovely, articulate solo, playing through the delicate framework provided by Barshay and Clark. Ballads are the true test of melodic engagement in soloing,

Zilber’s beatific work on ballads in general speaks to his master status in modern jazz. Shifting to soprano, he plays in and through the melody of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” with Clark’s spacious, musical cymbal and drum work. The piece features intuitive rhythmic dynamics which separate the piece from its traditional framing.

Zilber and Clark in turn have a musical and social dynamic which asks for more down the road. These are two names that can unjustly fly under the radar in the world of modern jazz. Both have the innate ability to elevate a piece of music into something welcoming and special. Mike Drop is a worthy vehicle to introduce you to both.

Paul Rauch/All About Jazz September 3, 2021

https://www.allaboutjazz.com/mike-drop-mike-clark-and-michael-zilber-sunnyside-records

 

New Release on Sunnyside Records: Mike Clark and Michael Zilber “Mike Drop”

Hot off the presses, here we go. My new release, co-led with Drumming giant Mike Clark, on Sunnyside Records of New York, and featuring Bay Area stellar swingers Matt Clark and Peter Barshay.  Done live in-studio in the same room  (no punches or redos) at Oakland’s own 25th Street Recording.  “Seriously swinging free-range jazz” is what we played and is what you get.  As of July 16, the second most added Jazz Record in the country on Jazz Radio.

Really proud of this one, and what a nice way to re-enter the world after the pandemic!

You can check out and get all the tracks here: https://sunnysiderecords.bandcamp.com/album/mike-drop

 

Sometimes there are musicians who seem to be fated to collaborate. They can come from different places and, even different generations, but their connection will be immediate and deep. This is the type of relationship that has developed between legendary drummer Mike Clark and stellar saxophonist Michael Zilber. Their friendship and musical cohesiveness can be felt immediately upon hearing their new recording, Mike Drop.

Originally from Northern California, Mike Clark has been one of the most celebrated drummers of his generation. Having made a name through his tenure with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, Clark left his home base in the Bay Area in 1979 to pursue opportunities in New York City and beyond. It proved to be the best move of his life, as this allowed him to play with his heroes, the true New York City cats.

Michael Zilber grew up in Vancouver, Canada but always felt deeply connected to New York City, coming from three generations of New Yorkers, including his parents, who met and fell in love in Manhattan. Zilber pursued his musical path in Boston before settling in the Big Apple for almost a decade. In 1992, a teaching opportunity shifted the saxophonist’s attention to California, where he relocated and has been a fixture in the Bay Area jazz scene ever since.

New York City has a natural pull for jazz players and so it was for Zilber, who continued to visit the City regularly, playing gigs and sessions, immersed in that fierce and focused environment. It was during one of these trips that he was introduced to Clark by their mutual friend, Michael Barsimanto. Their appreciation for each other’s skill sets was immediate, as Zilber’s New York City hard driving style fit well with Clark’s impeccably swinging and focused drum approach. Their sessions were also conversational and fun, not to mention a good hang.

In early 2018, Clark was booked to play the San Jose Winter Jazz Festival and capitalized on the opportunity to return to his old stomping grounds in the Bay by finding a number of gigs and clinics. Zilber joined Clark on the San Jose gig and they received a tremendous response. In addition, the booked a week’s worth of gigs with a mutual friend bassist Peter Barshay and the talented pianist Matt Clark.

The situation was so opportune that Zilber suggested getting the quartet into 25th Street Recording in Oakland for an old school recording session, where they eschewed separation for a more live and relaxed feeling. The pieces that the group played were pieces they had played over the previous week, along with a couple of originals and arrangements by Zilber.

The recording begins with Zilber’s ode to their virtuoso bass player, “Barshay Fly,” which takes a bass line Barshay played on a gig as inspiration and creates a grooving piece for the ensembles’ solo flights. Zilber reimagines elements from Sonny Rollins’ iconic solo on “Tune Up” and a four-note motif from Thelonious Monk’s “If I Were a Bell” and a bit of the bridge from “Ruby My Dear” to create “Sonny Monk (If I Were A),” a hard swinging piece that allows for a bit of solo trading between Clark and Zilber. Clark introduces McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” with an emphatic drum solo, setting the tone for a true quartet workout.

The quartet shows its romantic side on Duke Pearson’s “You Know I Care” with wistful solos from all and Clark’s warm, gauzy brush work. The Beatles are one of Zilber’s passions, as he even leads a Fab Four centered funk band called John & Paul Reimagined. Here Zilber presents his tremendous arrangements of “Blackbird” and “Norwegian Wood,” the former with a bouncing pulse, harmonic reworking and Zilber’s poignant soprano while the latter finds the meditative tune traversing through six keys. These prove to be Clark’s first attempts at playing the Beatles material and he owns them.

Wayne Shorter’s gorgeous “Miyako” is haunting with Zilber’s mournful soprano, Matt Clark’s thoughtful keys and Mike Clark’s sparkling cymbal work. Barshay’s playful arrangement of Monk’s “Monk’s Dream” makes clear the joyous feel the quartet could blossom and provides a showcase for the bassist’s outstanding solo voice. The recording concludes with Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling In Love with Love,” the well-loved standard taken at an infectious up-tempo swing only cementing the quartet’s effervescent character.

The moving performances on Mike Clark and Michael Zilber’s Mike Drop show that kindred spirits can be found no matter the distance. Though both Clark and Zilber came from the West Coast, they found their connection in a love of the serious soul of one of New York City’s distinctive styles: a seriously swinging, free range jazz.

credits

released July 16, 2021

Mike Clark – drums
Michael Zilber – tenor & soprano saxophones
Matt Clark – piano
Peter Barshay – bass

A conversation with The Corporation author Joel Bakan

Joel Bakan is a highly-lauded and brilliant legal scholar, author, and filmmaker, including the powerful books and movies The Corporation and The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel.  He is also a very good friend of many years, going back to our teen years in Vancouver, Canada, where we talked, laughed, discovered Vietnamese food, and most importantly played jazz.  As Joel says, in his heart, what he really is? A jazz guitarist.  I could write a lot of words about Joel and our 44 years (and counting) friendship.  We have both experienced some true highs and lows, including some truly good music, from the joy of being ushers at each other’s first weddings in 1987, to bearing witness to the tragic loss later on in our personal lives, but I am delighted that he is happily remarried, and he and his wife Rebecca remain 2 of my favorite people to visit when I get back to Vancouver.  He is very funny, easy to laugh, insightful, and incisive, but simplest just to say he is a mensch.

We got together over zoom for a wide-ranging conversation about everything from jazz to politics to his new film and book, not to mention maybe even a little basketball versus hockey. (Hoops is jazz, Joel!).  Here it is, unedited.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CC0l8ZzokB2mZaPYISWE_3fRFssvI0U6/view

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/621948/the-new-corporation-by-joel-bakan/

Phree-Range Philosophy

So since I have been posting what I refer to as “free-range” recordings, maybe a brief statement of aesthetics is in order, in case you are wondering what does a term for poultry have to do with recordings?  Let me try to clarify:

Simply, it means having all the musicians in the same room, with NO baffling, NO separaton, NO headphones, just some very good directional microphones in a room conducive to that (Not too live, not too dead) and we all play, just like we would on a gig.  And then, as always, no studio “fixes” (punched in solos or pitch correction) or gating/compression surgery.  Just a touch of reverb added and perhaps a little EQ to adjust for the room, but otherwise what you hear is what we did.  I like this approach so much, since it is honest, and it confirms for me that the endless baffling, gating “fixes”, riding of solo levels, punching in, etc does not do much of anything for acoustic jazz, and can often kill the spontaneity and interaction that is the heart of the jazz I love.

Really, I have not heard modern acoustic jazz recordings that use separate rooms and punches and fixes sound any better, and in so many cases, relying on headphones and on the kindness of engineers to recreate what we did seems misguided to me.  And I have never had a headphone mix feel as good to me as playing live, phoneless,  in the room with my fellow musicians, when it comes to jazz.  Obviously, there are many kinds of music where this makes sense, layered pop productions, situations where musicians can’t be in the same town or there at the same time, and more. And I love great engineers. Some of my best friends are engineers!  However, I do think that, in a variation of “to a hammer everything looks like a nail”, to MOST engineers with all these tools and controls, every recording session looks like an opportunity to “fix and improve on” the original live performance. Frankly, I do not like separation, fixes and “improvements” to acoustic jazz, thinking it generally sounds more sterile and disconnected.  (See Relaxing at Camarillo with Joe Henderson and Chick Corea as an example of overmanaging and separating truly great jazz musicians.) You should be able to hear your favorite jazz group live in performance and have it sound and have them play like what you heard on the recording.  Also, when I play with kindred souls, the best performances we do in the studio are just like live gigs, in the same room, no phones, playing and hearing each other well and in the moment, and those are also many of my favorite jazz recordings (and others, such as Sinatra, etc). Just look at the photos of Coltrane recording Both Directions with his quartet at van Gelder’s…No baffling, no headphones, and somehow, between the room, the microphone and the musicians, it sounds amazing. NOT putting myself in that company, but just increasingly convinced that the best way to hear jazz, even on recording, is by letting them record naturally and unencumbered.   Great engineers set a balance in consultation with the musicians, and essentially that is what you get.  So that is a long version of expressing my feelings on free-range Jazz.  It is the way I plan to record from now on, wherever possible. So whatever your take on it, you will know that what you hear is what we played!

So THAT is what I mean by Free Range Jazz…

 

Draymond Green on Jazz

Got your attention? Didn’t know the fiery Basketball heart and soul of the Warriors was a Jazz fan? Well, not exactly, but what he said about basketball applies EXACTLY to Jazz. I am going to print his quote word for word, with the exception of substituting Jazz for Basketball, Gig for Game, etc..and italicizing the words and phrases where I swapped jazz in for hoops. We who play and try to teach this music have conversations similar to this all the time, and bemoan that we have these absurdly highly prepared “hot house flowers” who do not get to (or do not choose to) learn on the bandstand. It is yet another way that great jazz and great basketball are such perfect analogs. Preach, Draymond:

“There’s no better teacher than playing Jazz,” Draymond Green said. “If you teach a guy to do a practice routine all the time and he never plays and then you throw him on the gig, he’s going to sound like somebody who practices all the time and never plays gigs. So the reality is him being on the bandstand, there’s no better teacher than that. You can’t simulate that pressure. You can go play in a pro-style jam session in the summer at summer jazz camps, with all pro players, and it still does not simulate the real-life experience of a gig with real players. So the only way to feel that is to get out on the bandstand.”*

*The original:

“There’s no better teacher than playing basketball,” Draymond Green said. “If you take a guy to do a basketball workout all the time and he never plays and then you throw him in the game, he’s going to look like somebody who works out all the time and never plays basketball. So the reality is him being on the floor, there’s no better teacher than that. You can’t simulate that speed. You can go play in an NBA-style pickup game in the summer, with all NBA players, and it still does not simulate the speed of the game. So the only way to feel that is to get out on the floor.”

Mike Drop 8 – more from the shed

So here are 3 shed tunes done in the past week that I hope you will enjoy.  A duo each with Jeff Marrs on drums and Peter Barshay on bass as well as a trio tune with the two of them. As always, first take, no edits, no surgery, no compression, no gating, just live in the room as we did it.  I always dig playing with these characters, going on 28 years now!

Sax and Bass:  Black Orpheus

 

Sax and Drums: Romburn (loosely inspired by Softly as in a…)

 

Sax, Bass and Drums:  Never Let Me Go

 

And with love and gratitude to Chick Corea for six decades of beautiful music and amazing compositions.  You changed the music we love for the better.

Chick Corea (Photo by Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images for OGR )