Buy 'Hands' - my new recording with Dave Binney, Tom Rainey, and Chris Guilfoyle!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Amateur Hour - will the profession of musician go the way of the Blacksmith?

We live, in the arts at least, in the age of the amateur. Technological advances coupled with the ease of internet access, have flooded society with the work of amateur photographers, film makers and musicians.Nothing wrong with that in itself, people have always had fun with the arts as a hobby and hopefully they always will. Being involved in something artistic is so good for anybody. The problem these days is that the flood of material and the sophistication of the technology has blurred the lines between people who dabble and use software to help them look like they know what they're doing, and the people who actually know what they're doing. The torrent of Instagram/Photoshop/Garageband/Youtube type content online is testament to the fact that many people have a sense that they are professional standard artists, when to the professional eye, or ear, they clearly are not. The technology can make you look good for a minute, but as to producing anything high level over an extended period time? I don't think so.

Again, there's nothing wrong with people having a sense of hubris about their Facebook photos - in itself that kind of thing is a harmless human peccadillo. The problem these days is that the professional is being edged out by the flood of amateur content. The hubris has reached the point where the general public either can't tell the difference between high quality work and dabbling, or doesn't care. Professionals are finding it harder and harder to get paid for their work, and to be able to make a living at the arts discipline to which they've devoted years of their lives, and an incredible amount of work. Couple this lack of public discernment between high level work and amateur dabbling, with the reluctance of the public these days to pay for arts content, (especially music), and you have a perfect storm for the professional artist.

I've been thinking about these things for a while, but this post was brought on by a brief conversation I had recently with a part time musician at a performance by an incredibly highly skilled professional group. He said to me 'how can those guys play like that?' and went on to talk about them as if the reason for the gulf in class between him and them was because they were some kind of super-beings. I didn't get into it, because I didn't want to appear rude, and I was too tired at the end of the night, but my immediate mental response was that one very good reason why they could play so much better than he could was because they've devoted their lives to music, and he hadn't. Leaving aside the creative aspects, what we'd seen on the stage was at least partly the result of years of PRACTICE! 

There are certain musical things that can't even be approached unless you've devoted years of time and effort and thought to it, yet in this age of the amateur this aspect of being a high-level artist is becoming forgotten, or is not considered necessary. 'Why should I practice for years when I can use an app?', seems to be the kind of attitude displayed by many. My amateur musician friend thinks nothing of opening for true professional acts, and doesn't seem to see any reason why he shouldn't be up there with people who actually know what they're doing. He seems to think the only reason why he can't do what they can is due to some genetic disparity, and has nothing to do with the fact that he hasn't put in one hundredth of the amount of the work that the pros have.
Which is typical of the disrespect for craft that is so prevalent today

And is something which poses such a threat to the high-level artist. True professionals are competing with amateurs as never before, and trying to make themselves heard above the din of substandard content that floods the internet every day. Combine this with the death of mainstream media,  and the old way of publicising yourself, and the higher valuation given to the method of delivery of content (iPods, Kindle, Ipads etc), over the actual content itself (music, photographs, video etc), and an unwillingness to pay for good content, and you have a situation where the profession of high-level musician is under threat as a viable way to make a living.

It seems to me that unless something changes, the inevitable endgame of all this will be the disappearance of the high-level professional musician. Yes there will always be people playing music and writing music, but will they be any good? Probably not, since they won't have devoted any time to it, and why would anyone devote years of study and financial resources to something that nobody will pay you for? Will the profession of musician end up like that of the Blacksmith - once one of the most common trades in the world and now one of the rarest, maintained by a few very highly paid specialists? I can foresee a situation where there are just a few very highly trained jazz musicians, whom, if you want to hire them, will charge you a LOT of money. Listening to live jazz (or any music that takes a lot of skill and dedication to play), could become like eating in a Michelin-starred restaurant - something very expensive, only available to the well-heeled connoisseur. The rest will have to listen to the McDonald's of the music world  - low class dross, mass produced by amateurs costing little or nothing to produce or buy.

I hope I'm proved wrong, but at the moment it's only going one way - Amateur Hour is here, and looks like it's here to stay.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interview: Eric Ineke - The Big Beat!

Eric Ineke is one of Europe's most distinguished drummers, with an extraordinary career in which he has played with some of the greatest figures in jazz. For a full picture of the breadth of his career and a fascinating insight into a myriad of great players, and what it was like to work with them, you should read Eric's wonderful book 'The Ultimate Sideman', in which Eric speaks about his experiences and, in conversation with Dave Liebman, explores all aspects of being a sideman at the highest level over a long career. It's a must-read for any serious jazz musician.

I've had the pleasure of working with Eric in recent years, and as a bassist, I can tell you that when you play with Eric, you're playing with the Rolls Royce of the swing beat - you just sit into it and it takes you away effortlessly! We were together at a recent meeting of the IASJ, and I took the opportunity to talk to Eric and ask him about his life, music, and experiences. Eric is a great interviewee -  in conversation, just like his playing, he is honest, passionate and humourous. What follows is a fascinating glimpse into the life and work of a great jazz musician.

RG: How did you get started playing the drums? What age were you and how did it start

EI: Thirteen. I was thirteen years of age, and there was a friend at school who had a snare drum, and I loved to see that and hear that. And plus, I was listening to the radio a lot – jazz programmes and so on. And a son of a friend of my mother’s, he had some drum sticks, and he showed me -  I saw that he was always playing along with records, with drum sticks, like this – {plays jazz swing ride beat}

RG: So, the swing feel

EI: That’s the swing feel! OK, so I got it down and I played along to all the radio programmes, tapping along on the chair

RG: So the first thing you did was the swing beat

EI: Absolutely – I was hooked on that, and I’m still hooked on that, fifty years later (laughs)

RG: So when did you get your first drum set?

EI: Thirteen

RG: Thirteen as well?

EI: Yes, it was an English drum set. It was a snare drum from…..there was an English drummer called Eric Delaney, and Eric Delaney invented a sort of snare drum with a cymbal attached, a crash cymbal. So my brother, my oldest brother, he brought me that snare drum and a hi-hat. So I had that and some brushes.

RG: So did you get any lessons at any point?

EI: Yes, I first got classical lessons for one year, but that didn’t succeed so much because the guy gave me this terrible book of Heinrich Knauer, the German – it already sounds not swinging! (laughs) But he also had a Gene Krupa book, that’s a book from 1938, and he could play that on snare drum. You know, one of those classical snare drum players who loves also to do that. And eventually that was the book I liked most. But after a year, things didn’t work out – I wanted the cymbal beat, I wanted some swing in there, and I didn’t get it from that. And he felt it also, and so I said well, maybe we should stop. But I had already checked out guys like John Engels and Cees See, and I wanted lessons off these guys – that’s what I needed. So I was doing some interviews for the school paper, with a friend of mine who was also a jazz fan, we said ‘let’s do some interviews’, so we did some articles about jazz musicians in Holland and we had a chance to interview the Diamond Five. 

(John Engels)

The Diamond Five was the first really good Hard Bop combo in Holland, and John Engels was the drummer and I thought to myself, ‘if I get a connection there, and get to his house and maybe……” So, I went to his house, and he said, ‘yeah come on, you guys can interview me, but I just have one hour because I have to buy a new refrigerator’, (laughs). So he asked me if I was playing anything and I said yes, I played the drums, and he said ‘here’s a pair of drumsticks, get down in the cellar and play’, so I played something and he said ‘OK, I will give you lessons’

RG: Fantastic

EI: Yes, and my oldest brother he said ‘OK, I’ll pay for 25 lessons’ (laughs). Of course it became a big friendship, and over the years………. That was a great thing, because first of all there were not any jazz schools. They offered me - ‘Eric, if you want to go to the conservatory, it’s possible, but it’s only classical’, and I didn’t want that. So then I had a chance to get lessons from Johnny, and that was great because he had all the recordings – Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Charlie Parker – there was a bottle of Jenever on the table, and as soon as he wrote out phrases, he wrote out simple triplets – {sings typical triplet based bebop rhythm} – and I said ‘Hey, OK – this is the way Philly and Max are phrasing’, so as soon as I discovered that, I could figure out what they were playing on the records. So I never transcribed anything, but I did everything by ear. And maybe that’s the best way.

RG:  Definitely. I used to transcribe things, but it was much later when I transcribed full solos, I used to take bits. And of course I didn’t write them down, mostly because I didn’t know how to write (laughs), but I used learn a bit of Woody Shaw, a bit of McCoy Tyner, a little bit of this and that, and they would somehow come together in the playing, or hopefully they would, so I know exactly what you mean.

So what was the first band you played with – how long was it after you started playing, that you began playing with other guys?

EI: That took a couple of years, till I was like around 17, then I started to play with real jazz guys. Slowly I came into that scene.

RG: And of course you’re incredibly well known for playing with so many great visiting musicians. Who was the first guy you played with, who was the first….visiting American probably, though it may not have been.

EI: It was Hank Mobley

RG: That’s a pretty good start! (laughs)

EI: It was only one night, but that night, Hank Mobley came to Holland and I think it was Pierre Courbois who was supposed to do it but he couldn’t make the gig, and so they phoned me to do it. The first night Mobley was supposed to do it, but he got ‘ill’……

RG: Indisposed I think the English call it

EI: Exactly! (laughs) So, I got the gig, but instead of him they got Piet Noordijk, the famous alto player, to do the gig for him. But it was already with Ruud Jacobs on bass, Pim Jacobs who organized it, and Wim Overgaauw on guitar. And Ferdinand Povel joined also, he said ‘Eric I’ll come along as well’, and he came. That meant that everything went well because Rudi was such an exceptionally good player, so he got me off the ground immediately. So it was easy, I’d never experienced anything like that, with such a good bass player, because it runs by itself. And everything went fine and Piet Noordijk, said ‘hey, what’s your telephone number man, because I really like your playing’. So already, that thing got started and a couple of months later he called me for an important gig.

So Pim asked me, ‘could you make it in Groningen next week? Hank Mobley will definitely be there’, and Hank was there, and it seems, I heard that that was the best night of the tour, so I was very lucky to play with him. And I remember, and this is in the book too, he turned around to me and said ‘Yeah man, not everything is coming out yet but it’s swinging!’ (laughs)

RG: So what was he like? Do you have any memory of him?

EI: Not really, I didn’t talk to him – I was so shy, I was only 21 and was very shy. It was Hank Mobley, so I knew him from the records and Wim Overgaauw, the week before, told me that I should come to his house and I’ll give you the album of Hank Mobley with Grant Green’, the famous ‘Workout’ – ‘That album’ he said ‘you should learn’ – so I was listening to it all the time. And of course he didn’t play one tune from it! (laughs)

One nice thing – during the concert he said to Wim Overgaauw, ‘who’s you’re favourite guitar player?’, and Wim said, ‘Grant Green’, and Hank didn’t say anything. And then about 10 minutes later he turned to Wim and said ‘Mine too’ (laughs). But he looked like on the cover of the records with the sunglasses and the jacket – looking cool. And it was great because the phrasing was also different to what I had encountered with the Dutch players, you know, that little feeling of behind the beat, just a little – which of course with Dexter was enormous, but with Mobley it was just slightly behind.

RG: You told me that you went to New York for a while – how did that happen and what effect did it have on you?

EI: That was in 1966, I was 19. They had these student trips for American students from the Amrican Field Service, they organized that the students who studied in Europe could go back to their Daddies and Mummies, in the US in the summer. The Europe-Canada line always had a band on board, most of the time Dixieland. There was one great Dixieland band in Holland, the Beale Street Jazz Band, a very professional band – the piano player was Henk Elkerbout who was already playing in the Skymasters. But the drummer couldn’t make it – normally you go 10 days on the boat, one night in New York, and next night you have to go back. But this trip we could skip one trip, so we could stay three and a half weeks in New York. At our own expense of course, but the travel was free, we got some money on board, all meals – everything was free, so you only had to live in New York, or in the US, wherever you want to go.

The plan was for the whole band to go to California, hire a car – which most of them did. But the trumpet player said to me ‘Eric man, let’s stay in New York – I know some places’ – he had already been in New York before – ‘we’ll take a hotel and not drive through the corn fields!’ (laughs) So we took a hotel in Greenwich Village, and you know, when you’re 19 years old and you arrive in New York at six in the morning, and sail under the Verazzano Bridge, and see the New York skyline, and see the sunshine….. It’s tremendous – tremendous! You never forget that……….

So, we got a hotel – the Hotel Earl, which was right in Washington Square, and the Hotel Earl was where Charles Mingus always had his drinks, Eddie Coleman came there – it was a sort of musicians’ hangout. The hotel was a little bit, you know – funky. It’s still there by the way, though they’ve changed the name to the Hotel Washington, and it looks more decent now. But anyway, we checked in and he said ‘OK, let’s go down to the 5 Spot and see what’s happening’, and I said ‘The 5 Spot – wow!’ So we went to the 5 Spot, it was a Monday night, and there was this little sign hanging on the door of the club ‘Monday night – Elvin Jones Quartet – Paul Chambers, McCoy Tyner’!

RG: Wow!

EI: And I said “Elvin Jones Quartet!? Wait a minute! That’s where I’m going to be tonight!’ (laughs). So that night, at 10 O Clock in the evening I was sitting with a beer in front of Elvin Jones

RG: You won the lottery straight away!

EI: Yeah, I said THAT’s where I want to be, and every Monday night I was sitting there, from 10 till 4. And at 4.O’Clock, Frank Foster went into the kitchen next to the bandstand, practicing till 4.30

RG: Amazing

EI: When I played with him later on, I told him about that, and he was already in his 30s, and he said ‘yeah, that’s when I was a kid!’ (laughs). But it was so great to see Elvin – it was amazing, he had his little Gretsch kit, two cymbals, wearing a suit – his grey suit. And the rhythm section was Chambers with his famous bass with the lion’s head on it – and took his bowing solos he stepped in front and then stepped back again. It was so…….I mean, it was like a fairytale.

RG: I don’t think there’s any recording of Elvin with Paul Chambers…….

EI: There is!

RG: Is there?

EI: Yeah, there’s a record with Tommy Flanagan – I think it’s Clifford Jordan, with Flanagan, Chambers and Elvin. I think there’s a trumpet player on it, I think Donald Byrd, it’s a Blue Note album – I think it’s ‘Whims of Chambers’

RG: I’ll definitely look for it. So would you say that going to New York was a major landmark in making you, or crystallising in your mind, how you wanted to do what you wanted to do?

EI: Yes, definitely! What I saw was 200% jazz, and I said ‘that’s what I want to do, and nothing else’. This was the vibe I got. And I spoke to Joe LaBarbera later on, and he said that this was probably the last year that they had this vibe in New York – the one they had at the beginning of the 60s, the 50s  - that was the last period, because you already felt that there was something new coming up – the free jazz was coming up, and rock and roll – the Mommas and the Poppas, they’re already playing in Central Park, the Beatles…. That whole thing was already coming up, and you felt there was something exciting coming up.

I also went to a free jazz concert, to see the Ornette Coleman Trio with David Izenson and Charles Moffat

RG: Did you? What was the experience of seeing that? Did you find it amazing? Interesting? Disturbing?

EI: No, because everyone talked about David Izenson, because he was a technical wizard. Maybe later on, when I got to know the music better, I realized he wasn’t the greatest swinger in the world (Laughs) But Charles Moffat, he could play really, he was a good drummer, there was something exciting in that trio, you know, like on that Stockholm recording

RG: The Golden Circle recording?

EI: Yes the Golden Circle, and it was in that period. But you know, the free jazz concert, first of all I had to sit through Frank Wright and all these guys….. I hated it! (Laughs) Horrible music – what kind of shit is this!? You know? It was a big mess for two hours, and finally , in the end, Ornette came on.

RG: Ornette must have sounded like Dixieland after that (Laughs)

OK, let me ask you a musical question now. You’ve played with literally hundreds of bass players at this point – of course I’m asking a bass player question (laughs). What do you really like in a bass player – to play with – and what do you really not like?

EI: I think the bass player, and with you that’s never any problem, that uplifting feeling, that springy feeling….. so that as soon as you {hits desk to represent downbeat}, you feel that it’s lifting off the ground right away.  It’s sort of like you feel the upbeat, the off-beat – which I think is a really important thing in swing in general. The offbeat makes it get off the ground, and when a bass player has that, I really like it, because then it’s so easy to play with, you know? Sometimes, some bass players when they play time, and they play good lines, and everything is fine, but you have to work….

RG: I know what you mean – the energy is not there in the quarter note

EI: No, and that’s the difference!

RG: And what do you really hate in a bass player

EI: Dragging! Dragging man – I always think about Jake Hanna, he said ‘don’t ever play with bass players who drag – it gives you back trouble!’ (Laughs) Which is a great remark, because it’s true man, if you stand up in the morning after a whole night working with a bass player who drags, you’ll have back trouble! Because you have to work. I’m the type who….. I have to have this energy!

RG: I know what you mean. Another musical question – a technical musical question. One thing I always notice about your brush playing is the enormous volume you generate from the brushes – you have this huge sound when you play with the brushes. Obviously it’s a conscious thing, but how did you…. (laughs) how do you do that!?

EI: It’s just that I keep the brush on the head and I press it a little bit. And then I get a fat….. always when I heard Elvin and Philly Joe, they had this tremendous fat brush sound. Johnny Engels was always, and still is, a great brush player, and he also could generate a fat brush sound. And when I heard the album ‘Tommy Flanagan Overseas’, with Elvin and Wilbur Little, that’s – in my opinion – the best brush record ever! Because there is a sound with brushes from Elvin that is unsurpassed. It’s so fat and so deep, and when I heard it I said ‘that’s the sound I want to know’, because it gives such a …. I don’t know. It’s like eating apple cake with cream, the best! (laughs) How do you say that…..? It’s the….

RG: The richest thing you can eat

EI: Yes, right! And that sound, that brushes sound – there are so many different ways, there is not ‘a’ way…. when I teach brushes, I just show them the easiest way, but there are so many different ways to do it. Philly has his different ways – I play the circle…….how do you say that?

RG: Clockwise?

EI: Yes, clockwise, but Philly plays the circle the other way around  - that way, and Shelly Manne does the same thing. But I do it the easiest way, I just do it clockwise. But as long as you get the sound you want to have, it doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s just a matter of getting the sound.

RG: And I think that’s a very interesting point, because one thing I notice about a lot of modern drummers is that they don’t get a sound from the brushes

EI: No, that’s true, they are great technicians with the brushes and they could play anything, and could probably play ten thousand times faster than I play – but it’s the sound I want, I love that sound.

RG: Would it be true to say that with brush playing, that one of the reasons the drummers don’t get the same sound, is because they don’t do as many gigs on brushes that you guys had to do because of amplification etc?

EI: Maybe so

RG: And working with singers etc

EI: Yes, both playing with singers and playing nightclubs. My brush playing really came together when I had these guitar/bass/drums gigs, you know, in a bar – I’d just say to myself, ‘Tonight I’m not gonna use even one drumstick, I’ll just play brushes. I’ll go four-to-the-floor with the bass drum, and play brushes’, and that’s what I did. And people would say ‘Hey Eric, will you play the sticks?’ – no way!  

RG: I heard a funny story about some saxophone player who was playing with Philly Joe, and Philly Joe was playing the brushes – completely killing as alays, and the saxophone player turned around to Philly and shouted ‘Sticks!”, and Philly Joe shouted back, ‘Flute!’

(Both laugh)

EI: That’s very good!

RG: One person I’ve been listening to a lot recently is Jimmy Raney, and he’s a very underrated guy, almost forgotten, even among the guitar players. But he has this gigantic sound, a wonderful sound, apart from the great lines – now you worked a lot with him…..

EI: I did four tours with Jimmy. I first met Jimmy in ’77, because Gerry Teekens, who later started Criss Cross Records, he was bringing those guys like Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Peter Ind, and Raney. Because Raney was back again, he didn’t drink anymore, he was getting clean and he came back to New York. So he (Gerry Teekens) heard that and he said he should come over again, so he brought him over. Al Levitt was the drummer, but at the end of the tour Jimmy fired Al Levitt, because he said to Al Levitt , ‘Can you play me a decent intro, like 8 bars?’,  and Al Levitt played him a march! (Laughs)

So there were some gigs left, like one in Lausanne in Switzerland, and Gerry called me said ‘Hey Eric can you do this gig?’ And I’d heard some stories about Jimmy, that he was not easy for drummers, because he just wanted to have this nice light and swinging thing – easy to play with.  So I was afraid, and I knew he played with Tiny Kahn and Osie Johnson and all those guys – he liked those drummers. I’d already met Doug in The Hague, his son Doug was already hanging out in The Hague, so I’d met him also, just right before that. So I met Jimmy at the airport in Amsterdam, Gerry called me and told me that there was a flight ticket for me for Switzerland and so and so… and I met Jimmy, and he was such a decent nice…..

RG: So all the stories that had frightened you weren’t true?

EI: He was so nice, and polite and easy, and then as soon as we did the soundcheck in this hall in Lausanne – that’s where Jarrett did that solo recording, in that hall – he played, I think it was ‘There Will Never Be Another You’, just doing the soundcheck, and he immediately turned around, smiling at me, he said, ‘that’s what I like!’  - so the ice was broken immediately. So after these couple of dates we did, we said goodbye and he went back, and then in 1980 I met him in Nice, I played at the festival with a Dutch band, and Jimmy was there with Lee Konitz. And I bumped into him – I get offstage and there he is. He was on this big package – George Wein package tour, he got everyone on the plane – Hank Jones, Roy Haynes, Jimmy Cobb, everybody together on stage (laughs)

RG: Like a circus!

EI: Yes, and Jimmy said ‘Hey Eric, what are you doing here?’, I said, ‘playing’ and he said , ‘come to the hotel’, and I went, I had my wife with me, and he said ‘let’s get you a cup of coffee and talk’. So I went and, and he invited us to the concert with Lee, and he told me ‘You know Lee, he’s playing so behind – terrible!’ (laughs) He hated it! And when I came home, Gerry Teekens called me again and said, ‘I heard you met Jimmy Raney, how is he, is he good? Because I want to bring him over again’. And I said yes, he’s OK, he’s fine.  So the next year he called me to do the tour with Doug and Jesper Lundgaard. And then every year, for three years in a row, we did a long tour – Holland, Germany, Paris, Belgium, and that was great. And he always invited me personally with a letter

RG: Very nice

EI: Very nice – ‘Eric We’d love to have you on….’, and I thought, ‘wow….’

RG: I hope you kept those letters!

EI: Yes I kept them of course. And to be on the stage, and hear the sound of Jimmy – it was just a huge sound. I mean it wasn’t loud or something like that, but it’s a huge sound. And the time Ronan, was the best time I ever heard from any guitar player. It was so good – and the lines he played…. It never stops, it goes on. He just sits there like this {imitates classic Raney pose – see photo above}, foot on one and three, and aaww… was…. The only thing I had to do was play time – it runs by itself! I never encountered anything like that, I said ‘this is what time should be’, for me, eventually this is what it should be. It’s relaxed, it’s not like, hanging……. It’s relaxed, it’s easy, it’s not rushing. In fact I think a lot of guitar players, they want to play so much guitar. It’s like piano players who want to play….

RG: All ten fingers

EI: Right. But the real bebop players, they play those lines, like Barry Harris. And Jimmy was the same thing – they play like horn players, and I think that’s probably what made him different.

Here's a track from 'Raney '81'  - 'Bill Evans' 'Peri's Scope' - with Eric on drums, Jesper Lundgaard on bass, and Doug Raney on second guitar

RG: I know in your book you talk about many different people, but maybe for the purposes of this interview, maybe you could tell me about someone you have particularly fond memories of – either playing or as a person, or both – and someone that you found quite difficult.

(Frank Foster)

EI: Well I was fond of Jimmy of course, and I was fond of Frank Foster. With Frank Foster you hear the whole history of the tenor saxophone – it goes from Coleman Hawkins up to Coltrane. It comes along over the whole night, sometimes even in just one blues! We played ‘Billies’ Bounce’ I think it was, in Belgium, there’s a tape of it, he started of like Coleman Hawkins, and in a twenty minute solo, a twenty/twenty five minute solo, by the end he was completely screaming, like Coltrane – it’s incredible! (Laughs) Very nice man also, and I found it great the way the energy came off him.

But there were so many good ones…. I loved Pete Chrislieb, easy to play with, great time feel – great time feel, reminds me of Cannonball on tenor. There are so many easy players, some real mainstream players, like Scott Hamilton. But I love to play with Dave (Liebman) too, because he generates this………. They’re so different, there’s no such thing as the best of whatever, you know what I mean?

But a guy like Lee Konitz? He can be a pain in the ass! (Laughs) I tell you……… because his personality – one day it’s this and the other day it’s that.  Maybe he’s very unsure about himself, it’s a sort of insecurity. Sometimes you know, he wants the rhythm section to play more free, and it doesn’t work, and then he’ll say ‘OK let’s play like this…’, and so every night it’s different, but I think the best way with Lee is to just go straight ahead, and let him go, you know? Sometimes he’ll just play one note, and nothing happens because he’s not inspired, he can’t find it. But some nights it was great, he even started singing! He made the whole band do enforced scatting – even me I had to! Not play the fours on the drums, but scatting – he’s nuts! (laughs)

(Ack Von Rooyen)

But on the other hand, on the last tour I did with him, his behavior was very strange. We had Ack Von Rooyen…

RG: Right, the trumpet player

EI: And we thought it would be nice to get these two older statesmen of jazz together – Ack a lyrical player, Lee a lyrical player together, for seven or eight concerts. And Lee was behaving…. I don’t know if he has… I think he has a big ego – the whole concert he was standing behind the rhythm section

RG: While he was playing!?

EI: Yes! Ack was standing in front!

RG: (Laughs) That’s bizarre!

EI: I mean, what is this? A new wave or something? He was standing all the time behind me!

RG: That’s very strange

EI: And he didn’t have any contact with Ack, and Ack was feeling very uncomfortable! (laughs) So things like that – Lee Konitz, in other ways he could be very nice, Lee, but no he’s not easy – one week of Lee Konitz is enough!  (Laughs)

RG: You’re playing for how long now? Fifty years?

EI: Yes, something like that.

RG: And I know one of the great things, from watching you play, and playing with you, is the vibe, the enthusiasm for playing.

EI: Yes

RG: Is this something you…. I mean, how do you maintain this? Because this is a very interesting question, and especially for young musicians. Because when you’re younger, it’s easier in a way. I don’t mean that in any kind of dismissive way, but it’s a bit easier because, you know, you’re young, you have energy, you have your life in front of you and all that stuff. But when you get older, you know, life becomes more complicated, everything becomes more complicated. And it definitely becomes less easy to maintain the enthusiasm, as you get older, because your life is different.

So, for you, as someone who has literally played thousands of gigs, and I watched you play the jam session last night, and you were having the time of your life – after midnight etc etc, and you looked like you couldn’t be doing anything better with your life than what you were doing at that moment. So, and this may be a stupid question, how do you maintain your enthusiasm, after all these years of playing?

EI: It’s the energy I have I guess, in myself, and also I love the music so much. And, I need to swing! It’s just a life source, it’s still a life source. I wouldn’t dream of retiring!  My wife said, ‘You retiring!? Man, you would be a pain in the ass! Please shut up!’ (Both laugh), ‘you would be the most difficult person in the world!’ And also, the thing is, that’s my way of teaching I guess – I’ve heard it many times from people I play with, that they love that I kick ass – and that’s what I do with students too, to give them the input, to make them play, and make them study, and give them the enthusiasm for the music. I love jazz…. Ronan, I love jazz so much man. It’s my life……

RG: Fantastic…..

Thank you very much Eric

EI: Thank you Ronan, it was a pleasure

And to finish - here's a clip of Eric playing with Sonny Fortune and Benjamin Herman - all the trademarks are here - the spacious beat, the powerful quarter note, the commitment, the relentless swing. You can see from this clip why Eric has been in such demand for so many years, and why he's the master of the Big Beat!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Boston And Corfu - A Tale Of Two Jazz Schools

A couple of recent trips I’ve taken have shown the breadth of jazz education and how it can function in very different environments and on different scales, (no pun intended!). 

In the middle of October I went to the Berklee InternationalNetwork 20th Anniversary meeting at the renowned Boston school. The BIN network is an international organization made up of schools from all around the world, all of whom collaborate with Berklee in a range of ways, from curriculum sharing to credit transfer. The school in which I work, Newpark Music Centre in Dublin, has been a member for almost 10 years, and like most of the schools in the organization, we operate on a tiny scale compared to Berklee. We have 120 full time students in our school, and Berklee has 4,400 – that gives you an idea of the disparities in the size of our respective organisations.

Berklee is a giant organisation, and one which is still growing, with a new campus opened two years ago in Valencia in Spain and a new building currently rising into the Boston skyline (pictured above on the left), as well as the numerous buildings they also occupy in that city. Its facilities are second to none, with state of the art studios and performance spaces, as well as the usual classrooms and practice facilities. Berklee's giant size and fame has generated hostility as well as admiration in jazz education circles, with a viewpoint sometimes being put forward that Berklee's size mitigates against a student there getting a true quality and artistic education there. This is both inaccurate and unfair. I never studied there, but I have been a guest teacher there, and of course at our school we have wide experience of dealing with Berklee on an ongoing basis, and the reality is that Berklee has teachers and courses that are every bit as good as the physical facilities they provide. I think it's true to say that in an institution the size of Berklee, it would be easy for a shy and retiring student to get lost, but that's probably true in any school. If you go to Berklee, and you have a good idea of what it is you want to do, you can get great teachers that will help you towards that goal, as well as the benefits of living in a large musical community with a huge amount of activity going on.

One thing Berklee has always been, is a weathervane for jazz education -  as far as the world of professional music making is concerned, it has generally got its finger on the pulse of the music industry and how it relates to musicians. So at this meeting of the various schools connected to Berklee, it was very interesting for me to see how many schools were diversifying away from traditional performance studies and into the worlds of music production, composing for Gaming, film scoring, and other non-performance related pursuits. Berklee themselves have been at the forefront of many of these developments and have also pioneered online learning.

(Representatives of the BIN schools, including yours truly, gather for the family photo)

And listening to my colleagues around the world speaking and talking about their schools and courses, it struck me that as the environment for performing musicians gets more economically challenging by the day, we're already seeing a reaction from the schools in moving away from teaching performance, and towards these other more financially sustainable areas. I can see a situation where in maybe only twenty years time, high level music performance students will be in the minority in non-classical schools, and these other areas will make up the bulk of a typical schools' activities. Demand and supply. After all, who is going to spend four years, (minimum), and a lot of money on learning an instrument, and then play for the door in their professional life?

I do believe that the profession of high level performing musician is completely under threat, and could go the way of the Blacksmith in being a job that was once common, but now only done by specialists...

But this is a whole other conversation, back to the subject matter. So, having attended this meeting with colleagues from all over the world, at the world's biggest music school, a few days later I was off to teach for a few days at the Ionian University on the small and beautiful Greek island of Corfu, and it wouldn't be possible to think of a greater contrast between these two educational events.

(The view from the cafeteria!)

Berklee is in Boston, one of America's largest cities, Corfu is small and extraordinarily picturesque. It is an island very popular with holiday makers, but in October, most of the tourists have gone and you get this end of season feeling from the half empty restaurants and shops - a bittersweet atmosphere that I remembered so well from my last visit there, which had also taken place at this time of the year. I've loved Greece from the first time I went there, and I've loved it more ever since, for so many reasons.

So when an opportunity arose to to go there and teach again, along with the great Dutch drummer Eric Ineke, I jumped at it, and a few days after returning from the hurly-burly of Berklee and downtown Boston,  found myself in the quietness and Mediterranean beauty of Corfu. And from being in an institution that had more than four thousand students, I found myself working with a student body of less than fifty.

I also found myself going from one of the world's richest countries, to one which has been buffeted by economic travails in recent years - a buffeting I know all too well since Ireland has also gone through similar economic ill fortune, and our people have also been immorally impoverished in order to keep rich people rich. Greece is having an even harder time than Ireland and has suffered the economic strictures of the IMF and EU in an even more brutal way than we have. So, apart from any other reason, I was very happy to go to Greece and talk to, and work with the students there, and to be able to remind them, and me, about what is really important and of true value to us all in these horrible days - music.

Eric Ineke

So having ensconced myself in my small hotel, I met Eric for dinner and as always with this great and experienced musician, the talk turned to music in general and jazz in particular and we had a particularly stimulating discussion about the evolution of the rhythm section as a unit in jazz, and who were the greatest exponents of the art of accompaniment. It's always a pleasure being with Eric and his knowledge and experience is in evidence whether you're talking with him or having the immense pleasure of playing with him. Eric has had an amazing career and soon I'll be publishing an interview with him here on this blog in which he talks about his life and career in music. Watch this space.

For several days Eric and I worked together with the students, covering as many different areas as we could in the short time we had - how to make your music feel good, rhythm section playing, a great overview of Elvin Jones' career and music given by Eric, how to improve your rhythmic technique, ensemble playing, and individual bass and drum lessons.

Students from the Ionian University jazz programme

It was a pleasure to work with the students, who were both talented and enthusiastic and the whole programme is a credit to the course leader Dimos Dimitriadis, who has fought heroically to keep jazz education going in 3rd Level education in Greece at a time of great economic difficulty. The musical highlight of the week for me was the gig Dimos, Eric and my old friend the great pianist George Kontrafouris, did when we played at a local arts club to a packed house, and just had so much fun swinging as hard as we could and playing for such a great audience.

Corfu itself is beautiful and my daily commute to work - a twenty minute walk along the seafront to the school - was a highlight in itself. To get an idea of the beauty and character of Corfu that I experienced while there, have a look here.

At the end of my time I was genuinely sorry to leave this beautiful island, these committed musicians and the wonderful people that I met there in everyday life. But this very intense two weeks of travelling between, and working within two very different jazz education institutions showed again the adaptability of the jazz education model, and how it can flourish in two very different environments, and on two very different scales. In both places I met people who love music, who care about it and want it to succeed and who put their talents and energies towards that end.

There are a lot of naysayers about jazz education, but the most charitable thing I can say about them is that they don't understand anything about jazz education and how it works. To see what I saw in two weeks, is to see something inspiring and hopeful, and indeed touching. Despite all the crap, music lives, creativity lives, jazz lives.