We are looking forward to this exciting December 10th concert, with guest tenor saxophonist/composer Bob Hanlon, and another fresh sound for big band from up and coming composer Joe Vilardi.
Bob will be the featured soloist, and playing duets with me on George Russell’s “Jazz in the Space Age”. We’ll also be performing two of Bob’s compositions: “Two Late Show”, “Eye to Eye” and “Umbria”.
Besides being a member of George Russell’s Big Band in the early eighties, Bob has toured with Pat Martino, and recorded with Gunther Hampel, Bill Frisell, Mike Kaplan and many others. He is on my quintet recording “Looking Forward, Looking Back”, which also features two current big band members Ben Williams and Andy Eulau, and our former drummer Barbara Allen. You can hear samples of that recording here.
Bob has a wonderful new recording out entitled “Trinomial”, with organist Mark Minchello, drummer Colby Inzer and guest guitarist Bob Devos.
Joe Vilardi is a young composer living in New York City in his final year at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. His medium ranges from sound installation to chamber orchestra and his inspiration comes from re-imagining nature. We will be performing his piece “Age of Fishes” which Joe describes as this: the first installment of a collection of pieces based on collective animal behavior. Special thanks go to bottle-nose dolphins everywhere for their great minds and inspiration.
I met Joe last year when he was a student in my “Sound in Time and Place; Music and Architecture” class at NSJCM. Joe’s music is compassionate, imaginative and will take you on a musical journey! You can read more about him on his website.
It was a remark made by Miles Davis when George asked him his musical aim which set Russell on the course which has been his life. Miles said he “wanted to learn all the changes.” Since Miles obviously knew all the changes, Russell surmised that what he meant was he wanted to learn a new way to relate to chords. This began a quest for Russell, he began to develop his “Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization.” First published in 1953, the Lydian Concept is credited with opening the way into modal music, as demonstrated by Miles in his seminal “Kind of Blue” recording. Using the Lydian Scale as the PRIMARY SCALE of Western music, the Lydian Chromatic Concept introduced the idea of chord/scale unity. It was the first theory to explore the vertical relationship between chords and scales, and was the only original theory to come from jazz. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, Russell continued to work on developing the Concept and leading bands under his direction.
That “quest” began In 1956, when George Russell formed a “Smalltet”, (sextet) and recorded “the Jazz Workshop”. Soon after that he recorded “New York, New York” with a a larger ensemble. “Jazz in the Space Age” (1960) was George’s third recording as a leader, while continuing to explore his Lydian Concept with an even larger ensemble. “Jazz in the Space Age” is a 7 part suite, with the main themes entitled “Chromatic Universe” as the beginning, middle and last section, and between those sections are “Two Dimensions”, “The Lydiot:Part 1 & Part 2” and”Waltz from Outer Space”. Pianists Bill Evans and Paul Bley were the primary soloists-duet partners throughout the suite. Bob Hanlon and myself will take on those roles.
The music is filled with overlapping multiple time signatures, Lydian Concept Modalities, with structured and free improvisation, and all of it is swingin’!
In this article written for NewMusicBox (10/25/13), Ratzo B. Harris describes George’s work.
“Integration of philosophy, theory, composition, teaching, and performance was key to Russell’s vision of making music unfettered by cliché, but still rooted in the jazz tradition. His strategy to achieve this included writing for ensembles with a fixed personnel of musicians who would learn to improvise by what he called “The Concept” (even to the point of writing out solo passages) or who had already developed their own unique musical language.”
After “Jazz in the Space Age”, George continued on with a few more somewhat space theme recordings: “Stratusphunk” (1960),”The Stratus Seekers” (1962), and ”The Outer View” (1962) where you’ll find the track “Blues in Orbit”, a Russell composition that would be arranged and recorded again at a later date by Gil Evans.
There is no doubt that George Russell was a pioneer in jazz composition and arranging, constantly seeking new ways to explore the tradition of jazz by developing his own concept for improvisation and composition. He also invited other composers like Carla Bley, whose composition, “Zig-Zag” appears on “The Outer View”.
The music only grows when we all share in the process, a philosophy that drives our big band as well.
While I was “mining” the internet for more information on “Jazz in the Space Age”, I came across a program that had aired on Indiana Public Radio; ”Goin’ Up:Space Age Jazz” from the program “Night Lights” with Host David Brent Johnson.
This is a great program that you can listen to online. Johnson compiled a list of various artists who composed, arranged and recorded what he calls: “Space Age Jazz”–the story of how some 1950s and 60s jazz adventurers were influenced by the Cold War race for space”. I talked about this in a previous post, so I was delighted to find a kindred soul who is just as fascinated about this as I am!
Johnson provides a wonderful overview of this time period and chose a very diverse selection of music, all dealing with space themes. On the program you’ll hear:
Mist o’ the Moon-Samuel Hoffman — Music Out of the Moon/Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman and the Theremin (Basta, 1947)
Saturday Night On Saturn-Les Baxter — Space Escapade (El Records, 1958)
March of the Martians-Shorty Rogers — Martians Come Back/Way Up There (Collectables, 1957)
Race for Space-Curtis Counce — Exploring the Future (Dootone/Boplicity, 1958)
Ballet of the Flying Saucers-Duke Ellington — A Drum Is a Woman (Jazz Track, 1956)
Four Moons-Gil Melle — Complete Blue Note Fifties Sessions (Blue Note, 1952)
Swingin’ On the Moon-Mel Torme — Swingin’ On the Moon (Polygram, 1962)
Mars-Gil Melle — Complete Blue Note Fifties Sessions (Blue Note, 1952)
Saturn-Sun Ra — Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel (Evidence, 1956)
We Travel the Spaceways-Sun Ra — Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel (Evidence, 1962)
Venus-Russ Garcia — Fantastica (Basta, 1959)
Out of This World (check this out, complete with theremin!)-Frank Comstock — Project Comstock (Mr. Nobody, 1962)
Up There In Orbit-Earl Bostic — Dance Music From the Bostic Workshop (King, 1959)
Blues in Orbit (alternate take)-Duke Ellington — Blues In Orbit (Sony, 1959)
Johnson also includes excerpts of Duke Ellington’s essay (1957) “The Race for Space”.
The essay wasn’t published at the time that Duke wrote it, he only typed his thoughts on a piece of paper which then ended up in the Duke Ellington Collection at the Smithsonian Institute. You can now find it in The Duke Ellington Reader”, 1996 Oxford University Press, edited by Mark Turner.
I did a little digging and found the essay online and included a few excerpts below.
“In jazz, as in the sciences, I am in a medium for creators. Those who write the great symphonies and those who write the great jazz classics are of the same creative mold of the men who put Sputnik into space and those who will follow this mighty Russian achievement with other space satellites and miracles. All of them-musicians, physicists, mathematicians, geneticists, biologists,geologists, astronomers, atomic researchers-are motivated by the same burning urge to create, whether in science or in jazz. I consider Sputnik a work of art in the same sense that I view a great painting, read a great poem or listen to a great work of music.”
Ellington goes on to talk about people of different races and ethnicity who have come together and made sacrifices for the advancement of science, politics, and most importantly freedom. He talks about this in terms of harmony between peoples is much like harmony in music; “For, as in music, harmony-harmony of thought, must have prevailed in order for the scientists to make a moon that would work. To obtain harmony, the notes must be blended in such a fashion that there is no room for discord.”
He then goes on to talk about where harmony is missing in America; in politics, social life, religion, expression of freedom and much more. He ends the essay with this:
“So this is my view on the race for space,” he concluded. “We’ll never get it until we Americans, collectively and individually, get us a new sound. A new sound of harmony, brotherly love, common respect and consideration for the dignity and freedom of men.”