Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Questions: The Australian Edition

Although it was born in the U.S.A, jazz is a music that has spread throughout the globe. As a result, it now has practitioners on every continent, perhaps most significantly, Australia. One of the ultimate examples is pianist Daniel Gassin, who does not fit the stereotype of a "typical" jazz musician, as you will learn from reading his answers to my questions. (Actually, as someone who has gotten to know so many of these performers, I can safely state that there is no such thing as a "typical" jazz musician.)

Now, on to the questions and answers:

1. Why did you decide to start playing music professionally?

First of all I guess one has to define the term "professional." If you take a traditional/financial-based approach to this question, then you'd probably find that the vast majority of professional musicians actually aren't that at all, as they need to supplement their income with a "day gig." For most musicians (in Australia at least) this means teaching music privately, predominantly in high schools. For me, it means working about 30 hours a week as a lawyer (personally I prefer this to music teaching as I think it exercises a different part of the brain, and means that I'm still musically fresh after a day of work).

Turning to the more musical definition of the word (i.e. being able to play to a professional standard) I guess it's just something that has developed organically since I did my first paid gig aged 16. Jazz isn't like golf - you don't just "turn pro" one day! Playing professionally was just a natural progression in my musical development and in following my passion for jazz piano.

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

Firstly (let's be honest, here) I probably lacked the discipline and patience required to perfect the classical pieces that I played when I began learning piano. Often by the time I perfected a piece, I would be thoroughly bored of it, and this feeling of musical staleness counteracted any great feeling of technical satisfaction created by accurately reproducing a bunch of dots on page.

The more I reflect on this question, however (I've been asked it many times), the more I think that I was drawn to jazz because it suits not only my inherent musical strengths (improvisation, interaction, use of the ear) but also my personality and outlook on life. To me jazz is ideal because it retains the purist concept of the dedicated intrumentalist playing "serious" music, but without constantly being mired in the formality and stuffiness of other "highbrow" musical genres (this is not to say that jazz isn't taken seriously by those that perform it).

I am also a great believer in the idea that musicians communicate their true personalities through the music they play, and this is particularly true in jazz given the enormous improvisational scope which the genre offers. This wide scope of musical possibilities and potential decisions is also interesting because it places a real onus on the musicians to make their choices responsibly to create quality, meaningful music. It is by making the right decisions (despite having such scope to potentially make the wrong ones) that great jazz musicians can express their wisdom (musical and otherwise).

To see performance videos of Daniel Gassin, go here and here.

For much more info on Daniel than can be included in this post, you can check his website at:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Revisiting Sketches of Spain and Other Orchestral Works: Steve Richman

Since the earliest part of its history, there have been fusions of jazz with elements of classical music. Among them are Rhapsody in Blue performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Ellington's suites and the Third Stream works of Gunther Schuller. One of the most beloved examples, however, is "Sketches of Spain", which was originally performed by Miles Davis with an orchestra and arrangements by Gil Evans. A new version of this masterpiece has recently been recorded with Lew Soloff doing the trumpet parts. The orchestra is conducted by Steve Richman, who is equally adept at straight classical as well as symphonic jazz. He agreed to discuss his career as well as his current projects. My questions have been tweaked to reflect the wide spectrum of his musical endeavors.

1. What made you decide on a career in music?

Well, for starters, I didn’t choose music, music chose me. My parents wanted me to play something unusual, and they had two musician friends, one a bassoonist in the Met Opera, the other a French horn player. I chose the latter since braces on my teeth were slightly less painful to play with. And I was attracted to the beautiful and heroic sound. My father used to listen to light classical music on the weekends, Gilbert and Sullivan, Overtures, etc. But I was crazy about early rock n’ roll. At some point I began to get interested in classical music, and the sensation I remember is that it was already there in me. After university, where I got a degree in English, I went to Manhattan School of Music, doing a Master’s in French horn and conducting. I played in an orchestra in Carnegie Hall for 20 years, but gave it up to pursue my real goal, that of conducting. Some people go to Plan B. I went to Plan A. So in 1979 I founded Harmonie Ensemble New York, which I conduct, made up of the top classical, commercial, and more recently, jazz players in New York. We do symphonic jazz, symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, chamber music and whatever strikes me as interesting, which is plenty.

2. Before moving on to the project we'll be discussing soon, you worked on quite a few others, including ones purely classical, as well as ones more pop/jazz oriented. Can you discuss a few of these?

I’ve done a very wide variety of repertoire. Among many others, I did a Stravinsky CD which received a Grammy Award nomination. I also worked on a decade-long Dvořák Project, doing benefit concerts to put up a statue of Dvořák in Stuyvesant Square Park, New York City, across the street from where the great Czech composer lived in the 1890’s and composed the famous “New World” Symphony, among other masterpieces. But beginning in the late ‘80s, I began a series of Gershwin concerts at Lincoln Center doing Gershwin’s original orchestrations. All of his works were meddled with after his death, you never hear what Gershwin really wrote in his orchestral music. I did a CD which was released in 2010 called Gershwin by Grofé on the Harmonia Mundi label, which includes the original “jazz band” version of the Rhapsody in Blue as well as some “symphonic jazz” arrangements of Gershwin tunes by Ferde Grofé for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra,. The unbelievable clarinet/sax soloist was 93-year old Al Gallodoro, who had been soloist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra for 30 years! Jimmy Dorsey called him “the best saxophone player whoever lived.” It was a fantastic experience working with Al. The cd was reviewed by dozens of international publications as the Classical CD of the Year. Just previous to the Gershwin CD, I had done another with a similar title, except it was Grofé and Gershwin Symphonic Jazz on Bridge Records. It included the original Paul Whiteman Orchestra versions of Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and Mississippi Suite, as well as a piece Grofé wrote for Al Gallodoro called “Gallodoro’s Serenade” for Alto Sax and Piano, which Al recorded for us when he was 92! Most recently I made yet another departure, when we performed Henry Mancini’s original jazz band version of his music to the ‘50s TV show Peter Gunn, which was a heck of a lot of fun. The musicians loved it (as did the audience) and the solos were fantastic. We might record it in the near future.

3. Let's next discuss your current CD project: "Sketches of Spain". What made you decide to record a new version?

When I was a kid, a close family friend (I actually called him ‘uncle”) who was the top commercial trumpet player in New York, Bernie Glow, played on the original 1959-60 LP recording of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis Sketches of Spain. So I literally grew up with the record. It’s always been one of my favorites. Since we developed a relationship with St. Peter’s (“The Jazz Church”) a few years ago, I’ve been going in a gradually jazzier direction. I thought performing and recording Sketches would be a dream project, and a continuation and expansion of my symphonic jazz explorations. I contacted Anita Evans, Gil Evans’s widow, and asked for recommendations for a trumpet soloist, and she mentioned Lew Soloff, a name well-known to me and many others. Lew had played with Blood, Sweat and Tears, and played with Miles and was soloist in the Gil Evans Orchestra, so I thought he was the perfect guy for the job. We hit it off immediately, and have since become good friends. It was a terrific collaboration and an honor to do the first recording of Sketches of Spain since the original, 50 years before. I was amazed at how popular the original record was, since I was contacting friends and colleagues, both classical and jazz, around the world about the concert. One classical pianist in Prague told me it was his favorite record! Anyway, it was a fantastic experience working with Lew and the great jazz and commercial musicians. And as I said in the liners, we tried to bring something of ourselves to this very special masterpiece, while retaining the unique quality of Gil Evans’ and Miles Davis’ music. The cd came out in late 2010 on the Sheffield Lab label, and has received great press.

4. You have Lew Soloff doing the trumpet parts. What made you decide to choose him?

As I mentioned, Anita Evans, Gil Evans’s widow, recommended Lew highly. Lew brings a very special something to Sketches. We were surprised to find out in the original music, which we used, that much of the trumpet solos were actually written out, though they sound improvised. Gil knew Miles so well, and he was able to amalgamate the classical sources of the Rodrigo Guitar Concierto de Aranjuez, de Falla’s El Amor Brujo, and 3 flamenco ones as well. The combination is magical.

5. Were there any challenges in regards to working with the Gil Evans arrangements?

Gil Evans wrote a unique composition based on Spanish classical and flamenco sources. His orchestration, for a 19 piece band and trumpet solo, is special, and in a category all its own. Gil, like many other jazz musicians, was influenced by 20th century classical music by Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, etc.. And vice versa. It was a thrill to work with Gil’s arrangements, since they create such a singular sound world, so evocative of the melancholy, passionate sound of Spanish music. As I mentioned, Gil wrote out many of the solos for Miles; Lew stuck to some of that, but also did many of his own improvisations, so I think we re-created a masterpiece, with our own special stamp on it, while keeping the spirit of the original, which was our goal.

6. Can you speak a bit about the other musicians you worked with here and any interesting stories about the actual recording, engineering, etc.?

Lew basically put the band together, though we used a few of the reed, percussion and brass players that I had worked with. They were all outstanding, but a few merit special mention. Bassist Francois Moutin, who works a lot with Lew, is a fantastic player, doing things I’ve never heard anyone else do; it really added another dimension to the recording. Our trumpet section was fantastic, including Dominic Derasse and Joe Giorgianni, and RJ Kelley leading the French horns. Jimmy Musto did a fine job on drums, and reedman Ron Jannelli played some great bassoon solos. Our engineer/producer, the multi-Grammy winning Adam Abeshouse, with whom I’ve collaborated on several varied recordings, did a great job. He was so excited about the historic project, he invited his family to the sessions. And 90-years young George Avakian, legendary Columbia Records producer, who signed Miles in 1955, attended as well, which was a thrill and an honor. He told me he thought our band sounded better than the original, but I’m not sure that’s for publication. By the way, Lew lost his mouthpiece bag before the sessions, but I think it was a blessing in disguise, since he used one that gave him a richer, deeper sonority perfect for the piece.

7. Do you have any new projects in the works?

Last September (2010) we did a concert called “Ellington Does the Classics” at St. Peter’s, including the Ellington/Strayhorn jazz version of the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite, and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. Both are fantastic; we recorded the Nutcracker and I plan to combine it with the original Tchaikovsky Nutcracker so the classical and jazz versions will be on the same cd, something I think nobody’s ever done before. I’m very excited about it. At the concert, we also did “Take the A Train”, something I never dreamed I’d conduct! What a blast. And the musicians had a great time too. There were a number of stars playing, including Lew Tabackin on tenor sax, George Cables, piano, and Victor Lewis, drums. You can hear the tremendous energy and enthusiasm on the recording coming through loud and clear. By the way, there’s an interesting coincidental tie-in on my last few projects. Dvořák taught the future teachers of Copland, Gershwin, and Ellington, which happen to be the last three composers I recorded!

For more information about Steve Richman and his fine musical organization, Harmonie Ensemble New York, please check out the following website:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Life is Good: another opportunity to hear a living jazz vocal legend in NYC

I'm quoting this verbatim from someone else's post, because I couldn't express things better.

"Legendary jazz vocalist Mark Murphy still has the magic - just ask anyone who's seen him recently. He exudes class, charm, sophistication, and originality. The kicker: the man's voice is still golden and rich, and can truly create magic.

This special Sunday summer evening at Birdland featuring his quartet, featuring pianist George Mesterhazy for two sets of gorgeous singing and expert playing, delivered with true soul by a master.

Get your tickets now, as you can be sure every vocalist in New York will be there!"

315 W. 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
Sunday, July 24
Two Sets, 9 pm and 11 pm
Tickets: 212-581-3080

(Since my birthday happens to be just a few days prior, this is one of the best birthday presents I could ever get--the opportunity to hear Mark Murphy at the top of his game, once again!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sketchy Black Dog - Father's Day gig

Sketchy Black Dog has a very special gig coming up this Sunday at Klavierhaus, a lovely venue where you'll be surrounded by some of the most beautiful pianos in the world, including the one which will be played by the amazing Misha Piatigorsky. But there's more: the strong bass pulse of Danton Boller, the rhythmic genius of Chris Wabich on drums and an exquisite string quartet. You'll marvel at the imaginative and audacious mashup of jazz, rock and classical. Plus there will be a wine reception. What an incredible Father's Day gift this would make for a really hip dad!

6/19 NYC
211 West 58th Street between Broadway and 7th Ave.
New York, NY 10019
(480) 789-1313

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Almost time for Mark Murphy's gig...

Just a gentle reminder about Mark's next NYC gig:

Wednesday, June 8, one set only, 9:30 pm
82 West 3rd Street (btw Thompson & Sullivan)
Greenwich Village - New York, NY

Mark will be ably assisted by Misha Piatigorsky on piano, Danton Boller on bass and Chris Wabich on drums. (This is same band that performs with him on his new CD release, "Never Let Me Go".)

Tickets: tel. 212-477-ZINC (9462)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Four Questions: Samba Jazz Edition

In the history of jazz there seems to be only a handful of musicians who have excelled in playing it on chromatic harmonica. There may be even fewer who have also mastered playing Brazilian forms, such as samba and choro, on the same instrument. German-born Hendrik Meurkens is a sensitive and lyrical musician who has the soul of a Brasiliero but can easily switch to straight-ahead. Even though he mainly performs on the aforementioned harmonica, he often doubles on vibes, definitely one of the more unusual combinations you'll find on any jazz stage.

I interviewed Hendrik prior to his first set at the Bar Next Door in New York City, before he embarked on a tour that will be keeping him in Europe for the next few months. He was so enthusiastic about discussing his music that the usual interview format has been expanded for this blogpost from two questions to four.

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

I didn’t decide on a career. It just happened that way. I was interested and the interest became stronger and there was really no room for a regular job basically. So my parents put me in a bank to learn the bank business and after six weeks, I went to my boss and told him that it’s nothing personal but I just don’t have the energy at night after 5:00 to practice so I have to give this up. So it’s really not something that I decided. Just the music became so important that it ended up what I’m doing, although I never really considered a career. It’s more like a calling. It’s not a conscious decision; I just have to do it.

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

I didn’t decide anything. I just heard it and there it was and I needed to do it. Actually, since I’m self-taught I was never involved in classical music, except for a few piano lessons as a kid. So I never really had any formal education in any other kind of music than jazz, because I picked out jazz; I learned it and eventually I went to Berklee for a few years, but when I got there I already kind of knew what I was doing, I guess, and none of this was intentionally decided. It just came to me, it got stronger and stronger and there it is. None of these things has been a conscious decision.

Why did you decide to shift your attention gradually to Brazilian jazz and, even though you still sometimes do, of course, regular straight-ahead jazz, why did you decide to focus on the former style more so?

It was, again, not a decision but something that felt natural. For one thing, it has to do with the instrument. Harmonica in straight-ahead jazz—it’s possible, it has its moments, but for me, it’s not the most comfortable instrument. If were to be a saxophone player, I probably would have stayed right in straight-ahead jazz, because I believe that certain instruments go with certain styles. They just feel comfortable like the violin in classical music or the acoustic guitar in Brazilian music. There are certain instruments that are made for a style, and they get the most of the style and the style gets the most out of the instrument. Harmonica in straight-ahead jazz—I don’t think that’s the ideal carry although there are great things that can be done. But in Brazilian music, it seems that the harmonica is a perfect match. In Brazilian music, I never for a minute felt that the harmonica was not the right instrument to play. In jazz, I’m always happy if I have my vibes on stage, just to give it a little break. So, and again Brazilian being a very melodic music, beautiful songs, I like compositions, I like real standards, real compositions vs. just blowing vehicles. I’m not too taken by, you know, blowing vehicles where the tune is not so important and the solo is everything. For me, the solo is not everything. For me, the composition is very important and the jazz solo is part of a whole picture, but it’s not the main thing for me. So Brazilian music gives me more on that end than jazz, although standards, of course, are beautiful—American jazz standards—but the jazz original compositions, not always to me. They seem to lack depth.

4. You just came back a short time ago from Jakarta. Talk a little about playing jazz samba particularly in front of a non-American or non-Brazilian audience.

The Brazilian audience does not necessarily have to be the perfect audience for my music, because Brazilians have a very clear picture of how they like to hear Brazilian music, and I might not fit that. And also, I’m really not playing Brazilian music. I play my own version of Brazilian jazz which is really neither jazz nor is it really Brazilian music. It’s kind of my version of it. And I travel a lot and there are countries that have a very natural perception of music without any prejudice, without any clichés to be met. The Russian audience is one of them. A lot of the Asian audience are like that. They just appreciate good music. They are entertained by good music, and if they happen to like my music, I take it as a compliment. American and European audiences are more educated, more experienced. They usually have an opinion before they even listen, especially the Europeans. They know a lot about the music and they already come in with a certain load of knowledge that makes them a critical audience. The Asian audience or other audience in countries where they don’t have that much jazz are much more open. They just enjoy it, and for me that is the perfect way because jazz started as entertainment and I hope it will continue as entertainment because that’s what it is. You go to a club, you have your dinner and your drink and you go and listen and enjoy, and it’s not meant to be an analyzed and criticized. That for me is not the right approach. And countries like Indonesia, Russia, other countries in Asia, sometimes South America—they just like it, and that’s a good thing.

To see an example of Hendrik Meurkens playing one of his originals, a beautiful Brazilian choro called "Menina na Janela (Choro No. 5)", on harmonica, click on this link. You can also see him on vibes, playing "Slidin", a straight-ahead original, by clicking here.

For more information on Hendrik's music, including his recordings, and to find out where he's gigging next, check out his website,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mark Murphy--the New York State tour!

Mark Murphy is definitely back (not that he ever really left) and has two upcoming gigs right here in New York State. Check out the details for both of them below.

Wednesday, June 8, one set only, 9:30 pm
82 West 3rd Street (btw Thompson & Sullivan)
Greenwich Village New York, NY
Tickets: tel. 212-477-ZINC (9462)

Friday, June 10
Two Concerts: 5:30 pm and 7:15 pm
Harro East Ballroom
155 North Chestnut Street
Rochester, NY 14604
(585) 454-0230

Access with ClubPassor purchase a ticket at the door for $20.
No advance sales. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Two Questions: Sing into Spring

Jane Stuart is a very creative vocalist who has performed in many different styles of music, but ultimately settled on jazz as the medium for her most personal artistic expression. She just released a new CD, "Don't Look Back" and will be having an official release event at the Kitano in NYC on March 31, 2011.

In the interim, Jane also agreed to be the subject of my latest blogpost. Here are her answers to my questions:

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

I started writing songs at 3 years old; on the wonderful, old upright piano we had in our 3 room apartment in Jersey City, NJ. I usually remembered these little 4 note ditties and would make my father, mother and older brother my captive audience, on a regular basis.

I just recently started to write, for real, and have an original, “Let It Come To You” on my new CD Don’t Look Back”.

My mother took me to see Peter Pan on Broadway when I was about 7 years old and that did it for me. I remember the moment I said to myself, “I can do that!” …and so I did.

I would create shows in my neighborhood, just like Our Gang/Little Rascals. I was the producer, costume designer (paper plates, crayons, crepe paper etc.), director and of course The Star!

There was no doubt about it. I lived and breathed music and dance and was bossy enough, as a kid, to “produce” my little shows. I now wish I had movies/videos of them.

I was a show biz kid. Went to tap school, in NYC, with fellow tap schoolmates, Christopher Walken, Alan Paul (Manhattan Transfer) and Jeff Conaway. I studied ballet at Carnegie Hall as well as singing and acting. I auditioned for shows, modeling, movies….everything.

From the ages of 7-13 I wanted to be a Broadway star! But when I went on auditions, and there were many, I was always pegged as sounding too jazzy. That’s funny. I would think I was singing a tune very straight and come to realize that I was naturally interpreting a lyric or melody. Nothing outrageous, just a little too stylized for the ‘legit’ crowd.

I did have some success in theater, with my tap dancing and acting skills.
So, in answer to the question, I don’t think I actually made a decision, I just always knew that I was born to do this. May sound corny, but that is the truth.

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

My father died when I was 13. My mother, a legal secretary, worked long, hard hours and my brother was away at school. I spent a lot of time alone. Looking back, I realize that I had a strong jazz sensibility already at that time; I just didn’t have a name for it.

There was a radio show that I loved, called “Symphony Sid“. Sid Torin’s show was my classroom, my refuge and my inspiration. I heard Coltrane, Miles, Nina Simone, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynne, James Moody, King Pleasure…you name it. All the greats. The music I would hear on that show, coupled with my tap dancing really informed my natural affinity for the music. I would make up arrangements of old standards I knew, or songs I heard on Sid’s show and sing them in my head while doing a tap routine on my fingers. I remember so many of those songs now, when I am looking for material to sing.

In my long and varied career, I have sung Broadway style, Rock and Roll, R&B, Country,…just about everything except Opera ( I just don’t have the trained voice for that or I would’ve tried that too). Jazz is my nature. I swing, that’s my nature. I feel and interpret a lyric. I have an inner sense of time that allows me to play with time. It’s just the truth for me. I love having the freedom to explore and stretch myself. Jazz really requires that the players listen, listen, listen and respond. At its best, it is a give, give and take and share experience.
There is always so much to learn and step up to. I have so much to learn and I look forward to it.

Ornette Coleman said it best: “Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time."

Following are the complete King Pleasure lyrics to "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid":
"Jumpin' with my boy Sid in the city,
Jumpin' with my boy Sid in the city,
Mr. President of the DeeJay committee,
We're gonna be up all night gettin' with it
We want you to spin the sounds by the minute
From down in the land that's really a-pretty.
"Make everything go real crazy over 'JZ,
Make everything go real crazy over 'JZ,
Play anything cool for me and my baby,
We don't want to think we're listening to Lacy,
It's got to be Prez, Bird, Shearing or the Basie,
The dial is all set right cloo-ose to 80,
Let 'er roll." (JZ" refers to radio station WJZ.)

To watch a video of Jane Stuart performing "Getting to Know You", go to

For more info about Jane Stuart's gigs and recordings, go to

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Two Questions: Late Winter Edition

Jake Herzog is a daring young guitarist who has managed to blur the line that separates jazz and rock, using the best aspects of each style to create a fresh approach to improvisation. I had the privilege of hearing him live recently in a trio with bassist Harvie S and drummer Victor Jones. The musical interplay among the three of them was fluid and exciting, a true union of heavy metal with straight-ahead.

As a result of this audacious breaking down of the barriers one would normally expect when different genres merge, I was very enthusiastic about getting Jake to participate in my "two questions" interview. So here it is folks!

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

I think music chose me. If I asked myself, what could I live without, well, I could live without literature, history, or mathematics. I could survive just fine not studying physics, biology, chemistry. But I couldn't keep the small bit of sanity I have left without music. So when it came time to go to college and move on from just being a high school student, music was the only thing I wanted to do.

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

The spirit of jazz, to me, has always been complete freedom and creativity, that's what improvised music is all about. So, in a phrase, I decided to focus on jazz because, of all the musics (I'm a singer songwriter as well), jazz and improvised music has the most freedom. I love the thrill of unpredictability, chaos and, and when the performer doesn't know more about what will happen next then the audience does. That said, this spirit of jazz is not confined to one language, like bebop, or fusion, or modern jazz. It's in all of them and far beyond. So my whole thing with the rock influence, to me, is that's the next place to go. We had jazz in the 70s that was influenced by the rock bands at the time, so why should jazz today not be influenced by every other style of music. The way I see it, you leave style and language behind and just focus on being creative and moving people with improvisation. The rest doesn't matter. I think if you can do that, Charlie Parker would be proud.

To get a better idea of Jake Hertzog in action, go to his You Tube channel:

For even more information about Jake's music, check out his website at

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Two Questions: Tango Jazz Edition

Since the earliest days when Jelly Roll Morton combined jazz with what he called the "Latin tinge," there has been the incorporation of elements from the music of other cultures. One of the latest and most innovative performers to carry on this tradition is Argentine born bassist and producer, Pablo Aslan. While maintaining the elegance and melancholy of traditional tango, he has brought it into the 21st Century by combining it with contemporary jazz improvisation. Pablo has performed and recorded with a long list of other performers and groups from Argentina and the U.S. Among them are Adrian Iaies, Paquito D’Rivera, Marco Granados, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Yo Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Shakira, Joe Lovano, Gary Burton, Lalo Schifrin, and the New World Symphony. Pablo has also been involved in many prestigious musical projects such as The Tango Group with composer/pianist Roger Davidson, the New York Buenos Aires Connection and New York Tango Trio with bandoneonist Raul Jaurena, and as featured artist of the Lincoln Center Institute.

Furthermore, Pablo Aslan has done numerous recordings, and his latest release on Zoho Music, "Tango Grill," has been nominated for a Grammy in Latin Jazz.

I was very glad when Pablo agreed to answer my questions. The second has been tweaked to reflect his unique musical vision.

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

Love of Music made me decide! Besides having a visceral attraction to music since I was a little kid, I discovered as a teenager that I had a certain facility for playing music, particularly the bass. I did not grow up in a musical household, and music education in high school was a joke. I took lessons wherever I could, but had my eye on an education in the US. So the big decision in my life was to leave Argentina as an 18 year old and come to the US. I first came to California to study (UCSC, Cal Arts, UCLA), and after 10 years moved to NY to go into it deeper. Early on in California I started playing gigs (jazz, symphony, latin jazz, tango), and over the years I’ve made my living primarily as a musician. I love the lifestyle, the work, the co-workers. I’ve also worked a bit as a producer, both for live shows and in the studio, and in several aspects of the music business. Music has taken me around the world and introduced me to so many aspects of life and so many great people that my life is richer because of my career choice.

2. What inspired you to blend jazz and tango?

My parent’s record collection had a bit of Beatles, Bossa Nova, Piazzolla , jazz, and classical music, so that’s how I started forming my aesthetic. In my teen years I started buying progressive rock and jazz records (particularly ECM, but also Mingus, Coltrane, etc.), and when I moved to the US, I got into tango (beyond Piazzolla), while I completed my studies in classical music. At some point I became interested in searching for a mode of expression that resonated completely with who I am and what I love about music. In a more general sense, it was a search for identity as an Argentine-American. As much as I loved playing jazz and classical music, I did not see myself being 100% immersed in them as a career. Tango struck me like a lightning bolt and brought it all together, and gave me a creative place to go towards. A deciding moment was to hear bassist Charlie Haden play duets wtih bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi. I felt like the answer to my search was right in front of me. That was in 1986. I’ve been on that path ever since, and I feel fortunate after so many years to have been able to unlock a few doors in what now is generally called Tango Jazz.

To see videos of Pablo in performance, here's a link to his You Tube channel:

To get more information about him than can be included in this short post, go to Pablo's site at

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Two Questions Redux

My latest blogpost subject is the only jazz artist I personally know who has played with Blood Sweat & Tears. His name is Tom Guarna, and he is an extraordinary guitarist who has been sideman with a long list of bands and individual jazz greats including the Yellowjackets, Randy Brecker, Lenny White, Bob Dorough, Buddy DeFranco, Javon Jackson, Les McCann, Joe Locke, the Mingus Orchestra, and Billy Drummond. He has gigged very recently with pianists George Colligan and Kerry Politzer. Tom has led his own groups in clubs such as the Blue Note, Sweet Rhythm, Fat Cat and Smalls. Furthermore, he holds an undergraduate degree from The New School and a Masters Degree from The Juilliard School.

Tom Guarna enthusiastically agreed to answer the familiar two questions. Those answers now follow.

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

Well, a career in music really decided on me. My father played guitar and would have people over the house to play. He would also take me to band rehearsals. There was a lot of music happening around the house, so when I really developed a serious interest in music in my late teens, it was a natural progression.

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

I grew up listening to classic rock, funk and R and B. Then I got into the classic Jazz Rock groups like Return To Forever and Weather Report and Tony Williams Lifetime. Once I started to research all the artists that these band members worked with, I discovered Miles and Coltrane and I was hooked. I just kept working back from there listening to Bird, Monk, Bud Powell, Ellington, Mingus, etc. I have always loved to improvise. Even when I was playing in rock and funk bands I would always rather play improvised solos rather than play the solos on the recordings. The tunes and wide harmonic palette that jazz offered was something that drew me in as well.

If you'd like to experience Tom Guarna live, he has an upcoming gig with the John Benitez Group. It's happening Monday, January 24th, at the 55 Bar, from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The next best thing would be to check out a You Tube video of him at Fat Cat, performing his original composition, "Shambleau". You can see it by clicking here.

For further information about Tom and his music, go to his website, .