Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 7:26 PM

Kickstarter campaign

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019 2:42 PM

The Saxophonist review of Songs of Love and Passion

Songs of Love and Passion reviewed by Jordan VanHemert

Founded in 2002 by alto saxophonist and composer Charley Gerard, the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet (BRSQ) is based in Brooklyn, New York. Songs of Love and Passion is the most recent offering from the ensemble. The record consists of twelve tracks, each based on a poem. The recording features vocalist Kristin Slipp, and The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet (Jenny Hill, soprano; Charley Gerard, alto; Jacob Teichroew, tenor, Dimitri Moderbacher, baritone).

Consisting mostly of Gerard’s music, which he chooses to call “alternative jazz”, Gerard’s music consists of crystal clarity in tonality and texture. Gerard’s music, as a whole, is incredibly evocative and dramatic, always taking a new twist or turn. However, these twists are not alienating to the listener. Jenny Hill contributes the only piece not written by Gerard, a clever play on passion, ending with a skillful and transparent arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance.”

The haunting purity of Slipp’s vocal is a perfect match for the counterpoint in Gerard’s compositions. The phrase lengths of are mostly symmetrical with clear cadences using functional jazz harmony. All of the members of the ensemble have very unique sounds befitting the material. These sounds make the counterpoint in Gerard’s arrangements clearer. This is particularly well­-articulated in “Between Breath and Death” where the text painting captures the lyric perfectly. Hill’s subtle soprano saxophone tone perfectly suits the text of this piece.

“Love and Then It’s Gone” was a suitable start for this album. The ascending melodic figures that cascade through the ensemble seem to evaporate into the ether, which I quite enjoyed. Gerard’s poignant writing shines as the quartet performs “Real.” Slipp’s phrasing is enhanced by Gerard’s arrangement and the quartet’s dynamic subtleties. Especially impressive is the way in which the quartet matches the clarity of Slipp’s diction.

The improvised solos on this record are intentionally sparse. However, in “Passion Dance” and “La Llorona”, we hear especially remarkable solos from the quartet. I admire the brevity of these solos. They are framed perfectly by the ensemble passages.

Overall, I recommend this album to anyone who is looking for a unique chamber jazz experience with interesting writing and a unique instrumentation.
Thursday, March 16th, 2017 9:38 AM

My Musical Adolescence

When I was a teenager I got into avant-garde jazz. While my peers listened to the Rolling Stones, I listened to Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre's 1960s trios, and Albert Ayler. At the time, I found the music easy to relate to -- especially Ornette's. This was pretty unusual for a 15-year-old.
> Most people could readily hear that the avant-garde musicians were seeking to use dynamically powerful walls of arrhythmic hammering to create a seemingly endless climax beyond rationality. And they hated the music for it! They missed that there were elements of great melodic beauty, too. For me, it was a waiting game: I waited out the long passages of  incomprehensible musical explosions until the musicians played something that one could comprehend as melody, harmony or nice rhythm.
When I was into avant-garde jazz my perception of music was much less advanced. In fact, I was only listening to the primary lines. Avant-garde jazz was based on musical interdependence, so the best way (if not the only way) to truly enjoy it was not to pay attention to the lack of coordination between the instruments. As I learned more about music I was able to hear music more like a 3-dimensional object. I could hear harmony and how musical lines could go together with a wonderful symmetry. Listening to avant-garde jazz became less enjoyable.Eventually, my musical interests changed, my avant-garde jazz records stayed in their jackets, and I never went out to hear avant-garde jazz groups anymore.
There was one exception: I went to hear the World Saxophone Quartet in Austria about ten years ago. I went with members of my own saxophone quartet while we were on tour. I didn't buy into the aesthetic the group was peddling -- an appeal to the hip to bond together and love what the bourgeoisie would seemingly run from because of its fierce unloveliness. It was almost comical the way the four saxophonists abruptly turned from comprehensible musical phrases and harmonies to cacophony and then back again.
The thrill was truly gone.
Thursday, March 16th, 2017 9:33 AM


A creative artist is faced with limitations. I can easily imagine how artists in all fields are affected by limitations, but it is as a composer and jazz musician that I really know about it: there's a budget that determines how many instruments are in the ensemble, the musicians you are working with are skilled in particular ways only, the instruments you are writing for have their own peculiarities such as the ranges that they sound the best in, and so on. But what is especially interesting to me are self-imposed constraints. It's like you're inventing a game with your own rules that you can choose to ignore. It's fun!
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 10:44 AM

Weak jazz

Why do some jazz performances put me to sleep or make me irritable? Improvised solos using strings of even passages are mostly boring. Keeping a regular tone - no grace notes, no vibrato, no dynamics - makes me weary. Recapitulating the head with the same notes strikes me as uncreative. I’ll almost always prefer the soloist who plays with syncopation. Someone who plays with a sense of humor? S/he’s got my vote. Someone who changes up the texture by playing different rhythmic values or in a different range or with a different style.? Another vote from me.
Improvisation is by definition arbitrary and unpredictable. Unless a soloist can keep my interest, I’d always prefer one chorus to 20. There are really not too many jazz players that can sustain a long improvisation. What about having a riff backing up a soloist? Too dated? I don’t think so. This is a sure-fire way to strengthen the music. Is it OK to use the same background figures for each soloist? Sometimes this kind of repetition works great. But I discovered that in one of my favorite arrangements - Eddie Durham’s 1937 arrangement of “One-O’clock Jump” for Count Basie - each soloist gets a different background figure.
I guess dissonance is hip, and so is non-danceable meters. Do I care? Is unrelieved dissonance effective? I don’t think so. The self-serving composer Arnold Schönberg told his 1940 composition class “There is still plenty of good music to be written in the key of C major.” His own music was wonderful before he developed his own theory of unresolved dissonance and stuck to it.
When you combine together relentlessly even passages, regular tone, unrelieved dissonance, little or no syncopation, no background figures and lengthy improvisation you get the musical equivalent of a browbeating. If you “don’t get it,” sometimes it isn’t because you aren’t hip enough.
Monday, July 4th, 2016 2:33 PM

Tom Olin

I just found out that Tom Olin died recently after prostate surgery. Tom played in the BRSQ for 8 years and contributed so much to the group. His music is on two of our CDs. Tom was an excellent musician and a great guy. I loved playing with him! My heart goes out to his wife Janet.
We will be performing his compositions and arrangements at his memorial service on July 10 at the Musician's Union in NYC
Thursday, February 6th, 2014 5:15 PM

Getting People to Come to a Gig

Jenny Hill asked me recently about audience-building. Here was my response.
I just don't know how to do it - except to keep being inventive. Some of it has to do with choosing the right program. I learned in a recent study of successful Kickstarter campaigns that originality is a low indicator of success. You have a better chance of raising money for a "music-for-lovers" CD of 1950s ballads than for a recording of "my own compositions performed by my unknown band." Original music gets an audience when it's connected to contests (as in contest winners) or has ethnic appeal (as in Israeli music bands). Some of the reasons why one artist has a following is beyond comprehension. Why is so-and-so popular? Why does anyone support avant-garde jazz and classical music? It's easy to think that youth has an advantage in seeking an audience, but my own experience belies this. I didn't seem to get much mileage out of my youth when I was young. Most of the reason is that I assumed that an audience would just materialize. It never does. Getting an audience is hard work. I believe that building an audience is always personal. Audiences are built one person at a time. Although I'm not aggressive enough to do it, just making a phone to each close friend will improve the chances of him or her attending an upcoming concert. 
What about our experiences at the brooklyn Conservatory of Music? It seems that the first concert we did there - several years ago - got a nice-size audience. That was the Vivaldi concert. So I thought that the key was "classical music with jazz." But the concert with Carl Banner (Mozart plus my piece and the Dick Hyman suite) didn't draw much of an audience. I even connected this event with a party. The best audience we've gotten there was the Film Muisc concert. Now was this because the brass players brought in their friends and students or because of the program? I think it was the program - a non-jazz element with wide appeal. 
Does this mean that we should do programs just because we think they can engage an audience? Yes! If we can do it and be creative musically then it's great.   
Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 9:44 PM

Upcoming String Quartet Concert

My music is nearly always jazz-based, so I certainly don't mind having my string quartet music identified that way. But there is more to them than "just jazz!" String Quartet no. 3 is subtitled In Memory of Don Schott. Don was my lifelong friend and a super-talented drummer who I enjoyed playing with informally for nearly a decade before he died of lung cancer. Don had problems with drugs and alcohol, but his major demon was bipolar disease. After being hospitalized for a manic episode he had to be re-hospitalized to detoxed from alcohol. He woke up in his hospital room one night and realized that he had no interest in getting high ever again. He attended AA meetings regularly and, like most ex-alcoholics, he was a chain-smoker. Several years before he died, he managed with great difficulty to stop smoking. Alas, it was too late. Two years after he stopped smoking, he was diagnoxed with lung cancer. Two years after the diagnosis, Don died at the age of 61. 
The movements in String Quartet no. 3 consist of music Don and I played together as well as music that Don enjoyed playing on his second instrument, the saxophone. 
“Death and the Flowers” consists of 3 movements, each named after flowers that are poisonous or, in the case of Columbine, associated with death. As you probably remember, Columbine was the site of one of the first school killings. This music has a tragic side that rarely comes out in my other pieces. Jazz-based? Yes, I suppose so, although there are other influences as well.
Violinists Andrea Vercoe, Sally McLain and cellist Jodi Beder have performed in Washington Musica Viva concerts over the last decade as well as in many Washington ensembles, while violist Karl Mitze is a newcomer. I hope you can come and join me for the premiere performances of these works for string quartets. I never thought I'd ever hear them!  
My son Dr. Adriel Gerard and his wife Caroline Hagood along with Washington Musica Viva are producing the concert. 
Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 9:02 PM

Jimmy Giuffre

I studied with Giuffre privately for about 6 years on and off. I studied jazz sax and composition and occasionally, clarinet. Giuffre was the first teacher I ever had who told me to call him by his first name. 
Jimmy was not an especially warm person, and he insisted on doing things his way. Once I complained to him that he was spending too much time on embouchure. Jimmy said quietly, "There are a lot of other saxophone teachers out there you could go to." That was the end of my complaining. Jimmy believed in detailed study. We spent a lot of time working on phrasing jazz tunes. It was kind of cute that we took turns playing chord changes on the piano. He was a very rudimentary-level pianist. We taped all the lessons - kind of a rarity back then. Jimmy was the first (and one of the few) teachers who treated me as a colleague. Even though I was just a teenager, he considered me a fellow-musician. Jimmy emphasized the beauty of music rather than precision and skill. This had a huge impact on me. Jimmy was one of the few teachers who played with his students - a lot. This way I had his beautiful sound as a model. 
In some ways, the problem that we had was that he was from an earlier generation. He sometimes came off as an old-school hipster. He had no interest in, say, Frank Zappa. and in the late 60s he wasn't part of the current jazz-rock scene. In fact, he wasn't performing too much then and it wasn't very high quality, either. Despite his lack of warmth on a personal level, Jimmy was the sort of person who was there when you needed him. He was very helpful to me when I didn't have too much money. He gave me a free lesson once, and he let me sit in regularly with his NYU band. In his own way, he gave me a lot of confidence in my ability.
Jimmy Giuffre's music is neglected in jazz history. Also neglected and nearly forgotten are his colleagues George Handy (1920-1997), George Russell (whose ex-wife Juanita became Mrs. Giuffre), John Benson Brooks, Teddy Charles and John Carisi - all first-rate jazz composers with big ears whose heyday was the 1950s.  
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 9:25 PM

Stravinsky and George Handy

When queried in 1964 by a New York Times reporter about the origins of the Elegy to J. F. K., Stravinsky described “a melodic-rhythmic stutter of my speech from Les Noces to the Concerto in D, and earlier as well—a lifelong affliction, in fact.” The comparison of his melodic writing to a stutter, perhaps offered as a slightly acerbic riposte to frequent critiques, in fact serves as a clever metaphor, for it links the fragmental, dislocated, and repetitive aspects of the composer's melodic style with underlying connective origins inherent in speech. 
from Gretchen G. Horlacher in Building Blocks: Repetition and Continuity in the Music of Stravinsky
George Handy was an admirer of Stravinsky's music, and I hear a lot of these abstractions of melodic cells in the saxophone suites.
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