Monday, February 22, 2010

The Two Questions: Winter 2010 Edition

My first 2010 responder to the two questions is the unbelievably-talented keyboard player and composer, George Colligan. He has been in demand as a sideman, for such legends as Buster Williams and Jack DeJohnette. When not doing that, he can often be found leading his own bands, where he expresses a unique and compelling musical vision on both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. George's many CDs illustrate the fact he can play seemingly everything from straight-ahead to fusion to free, plus the recordings showcase his ability to write songs in different styles yet manage to retain a point-of-view uniquely his. The newest recording, "Come Together," (where he's joined by Boris Koslov on bass and Donald Edwards on drums), has gotten wonderful reviews from jazz critics.

Recently, George took time out from all this and a teaching gig, to send me some answers. Well, here they are:

1) Why did you decide on a career in music?

I don't believe that I decided. I had no other choice. (My last job before music was in the late 80's, working at the Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Company in the Columbia Mall. I'm hoping I'll never have to go back to that.) But seriously, I would say that from 9th grade, the only thing I was any good at was music. It was weird because I didn't have any role models for becoming a musician. I did have some great role models as teachers, so initially, I thought I would be a band director. My middle school band director, Lee Stevens, and my high school band director, Don Cohen, were very inspirational. I should mention that my main instrument was trumpet, although I did mess around with drums and I was composing on the piano in high school. I had a lot of physical difficulty with the trumpet, and my high school band director actually told me at one point:" You seem to have a lot of music inside of you, but you just can't seem to get it to come out. Maybe you should play saxophone?" I think I hung in there with the trumpet just to prove him wrong.

At a certain point , maybe senior year of high school, I just was spending all of my time on music and I wasn't really interested in anything else. I decided to go to Peabody Conservatory as a classical trumpet/music ed major,despite my middle school band director trying to talk me out of it. In college, I started gigging at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore as a jazz pianist. It was great to have that steady income, since I didn't get a lot of money from my parents. My rent was $250 a month, and I was making $220 every weekend at the Hyatt. So I liked that feeling of being a professional musician. And in terms of the piano, I was only playing piano to be a better composer- I didn't ever intend on being a pianist for a living.

2) What is it you love about jazz that made you decide to focus on that particular type of music?

It's weird because I think I liked jazz the less I understood it. It always seemed exciting and mysterious to me. Plus I always liked the rhythm. I used to like classical music a lot, and I liked some pop, rock, and rap music at various times. But jazz always seemed to stand out to me. A neighbor gave me some really great records that I listened to a lot: Clifford Brown/Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis' " Milestones", and a record with Art Farmer and Donald Byrd called " Trumpets All Out." I also listened to Clifford Brown " The Beginning and The End" , Herbie Hancock's " Headhunters", and Coltrane's " My Favorite Things." I used to try to play my trumpet along with the records, even though I had no idea why I didn't sound like what the artists on those records were actually playing. For some reason, jazz always gave me a really vivid mental picture that I wanted to understand and be a part of.

I also like the fact that jazz is a living music. Since I wanted to be a composer, jazz has given me an opportunity to compose on the bandstand every night. Plus I have gotten to write a song in the afternoon and have it performed that evening. I like to be creative. I don't think that need would have been fulfilled playing trumpet in an orchestra!

For a virtual experience of George at a live gig, go here: