I had a trio night scheduled for the Jazz Standard. However, the night before, I went down to the Standard to hear the Mingus Big Band. I used to play with various configurations of the Mingus Band. It seems like another lifetime at this point. I really enjoyed the experience from the side of audience member; the Mingus Band always seemed more like a small group than a big band, in that the emphasis isn't on tight ensemble playing or fancy arrangements but more about the groove, spirit, and the strength of Mingus' compositions as melodies and improvisational vehicles. It's also great to hear Frank Lacy sing! Lacy is one of the more underrated musicians in jazz. In fact, any member of the Mingus Band could lead their own band; the bench is THAT deep.
Indeed, I am always ranting about how the level of jazz musicians is higher in New York than anywhere else. I believe this is not going to change anytime soon, even though many of the best musicians have moved out of New York for various reasons. As Benny Golson said, New York is still the Jazz Mecca and even in this period of doom and gloom for live music, there is still more jazz and there are more jazz musicians per capita in New York than anywhere else in the world. I think it's hard for folks who haven't spent much time on the New York scene to understand the depth of ability and understanding and expectation that is the norm in New York. I suppose if we want young musicians to feel good about themselves, we can ignore the New York standard and lower our expectations. I have the memories of 15 years in New York that in some ways drift away as I spend more time in Portland. However, even just a few nights of club hopping- from Small's to Mezzrow to the 55 Bar, even walking by The Garage, or even doing some informal jam sessions- has reminded me of the idea that to be a serious New York jazz musician is to have a DEPTH of ability and understanding of the music. Every town has it's local heroes, but some of those heroes would be just another one of the multitudes in New York.
At the Jazz Standard, I had the pleasure of working with bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer EJ Strickland. Although the turnout was not what I had hoped for, it was a very satisfying musical experience. Kozlov and Strickland are easy to play with because they have good time and a great feel but they also know how to take enough chances to keep the intensity and the interest level high. We had a guest on a few tunes- my former student and new resident of New York, saxophonist Nicole Glover. Although I usually try to persuade my students NOT to move to New York, Glover is one of the tiny minority of students I have had in Portland that I think has a chance on the New York scene. (I was pleased to find that many students from University of Manitoba are now in New York and doing well: Karl Kohut, Luke Sellick, Curtis Nowosad, Niall Bakkestad-Legare.....)
My trip is not over; I have two gigs in Connecticut. Tonight, I'll be at Firehouse 12 in New Haven with Boris Kozlov on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Then I will be playing drums with the great pianist Noah Baerman in Middletown on Saturday.
It's hard to balance performing and teaching and family. There are few places to play nowadays in Portland. I'm determined to try to continue to work in a trip to New York a few times a year in order to keep my inspiration. Despite the outrageous cost of living and the fall of the music business, New York is still the place for jazz of many kinds.