Monday, July 14, 2014

Living Stories

Being at the counter at Sam Ash selling reeds is not much different than being a bartender for musicians. I cross paths with musicians from every scene. They often don't know what my allegiances are and I don't know theirs. I can usually find common ground for us to stand on. It gets deeper with people that are involved with music that don't have the need to immerse themselves into attempting mastery of speaking a musical language of their own. It gets deeper still when I have Spotify nearby on a big screen and I stream music not from the mainstream for all to hear. It often ends up being a subtle confrontation of sorts as people are placed outside of their musical safe house where 2-5-1 patters and great voice leading are demonstrated with great mastery.

Why just the other day I was playing the music of a living titan of the tenor saxophone up on the big screen. This musician was not interested in chord resolution by any means. He needed something more. I had the volume not too loud, but loud enough. Two older woman reacted as I rang up their sale. They spoke quietly as if it were a private conversation not wanting to offend someone. 

Karen: "Someone is murdering the saxophone."

Jane: (with a touch of sarcasm) "No...they're telling a story."

Karen: "Well what's this story about? Can you tell a story entirely in metaphor?"

Jane: "Well we're in no position to judge."

Karen: "I'm judging this. I'm sorry but it's just not good. What good is it if you can't understand it? What do you think young man?"

Me: (smiling) "I'm glad you asked that. When someone reaches this level of expression the feeling is paramount. It might be the feeling of what he experienced in his first marriage, or the feeling of trying to become a better person, or the feeling of trying to make the world a better place. It's obviously a very personal thing."
Karen: "But is he playing for himself or for the audience? I need the story to make sense."

Karen had me on the ropes and gave me something to delve into. I'm all about the story myself. I want to tell the real stories, but I enjoy science fiction big time. The line between reality and science fiction is paper thin to me. I like stories when the gloves come off. Stories with no limits. I'm looking for a way to bridge my literary world and my musical one. I came to the conclusion the other day that for me story is what it's all about. In music that's my new bottom line. Are you telling a story or not? I'm not just applying this formula to Jazz, I'm self-righteous enough to apply this to ALL music. Say what you will about rap and pop music, they tell stories. Problem is they usually suck eggs. I'm like Daniel Carter, everywhere I look I'm searching for gold. In Regina Spektor's song "You've got time" from the show Orange is the New Black she sings these lyrics:

"Taking steps is easy. Standing still is hard." I really took something from that. I've had lots of time on the sidelines. Orange is the new Black is loaded with stories. Good ones. It's the new crack but without the side effects. I still remember this guy on 8th ave in 1986 telling me "Got that crack, got that smoke, ain't no joke." He offered me a free hit. If I took it my story might be vastly different. Years later a friend told me at a diner on the Lower East Side at 3am that you can never match that first high anyway. This cat may have won the award for most firings by Cecil Taylor. 

Stories can be where we see something go down that relates to the core meaning and experience of being alive. Do the right thing, or not. The core message of a good story is usually to live life. It's by living life that you get the real benefit. The choices and consequences are where you get into the Nitty Gritty. I feel that music should contain ALL of that. It was Bird who said that music is the story of your life. Here in Fat Eb I have told the stories of Roy Campbell Jr, and Sir Hildred Humphries. They lived lives that are stories and testaments to the power of music. The quest to make music your life. They will always be remembered for living lives of music. Their music is their story. I've set up interviews so people could tell their own living story. More of those on the way. If you're alive right now then you're a living story. What is it? Have you dedicated your life to something or someone? What would you be remembered for if you cut out tomorrow?

That's why I'm at odds with Facebook. If you're a FB user could you stop for a day? Could you stop for a week? If Facebook charged $50 a month would you pay for it? Would you pay $75 a month for Facebook premium? Watching everybody else lead their lives on Facebook it's easy to forget that you're supposed to be living your own. Is it all about people needing approval they don't get in their actual life? There are different directions you can go. I like it when people challenge your perception of religious reality like Lonnie Plaxico. I like when Ras Moshe gets you to think about the true reality of music and politics in the world. Some people initiate necessary discussions that otherwise would not take place. I have dabbled in this in discussions about the Crop Circles and also asking everyone on Facebook to describe a musical experience that made them tremble. Big response on that one. My goal was to prove that those moments were more important than any top 10 list. The other side of Facebook is family photos, cat photos, comedy, tragedy, and lots of superficial crap thrown on top. When you click on "new stories" you're playing roulette with the world.

The other part of FB I'm at odds with is that it's seemingly impossible for us not to invoke the love of our heroes and their music at every turn. I'm just as guilty as everyone else invoking Miles on a dime. We have to focus on the living stories. Some of us try to do just that. I've digested many living stories in many forms on multiple levels and extracted three core things that I think the human being is being asked to do. What we have always been asked to do regardless of where or when we lived.

Clean your body.

Clean your mind.

And the biggest challenge of all..

Clean your heart.


To be continued with the 12 Houses tonight at 10pm at the CSV. Peace.




Monday, June 30, 2014

Sir Hildred Humphries. It's all about the music.

Sir Hildred Humphries

Ahh Hump. My man. Hildred was my first mentor. Unlike most of the young guys today, at 44 I have spent extensive time learning from true masters of the Art. It was legendary music educator Bert Hughes who not only got me to spend a summer getting my chops back in 1986 so I could go to Russia, he would also introduce me to Hildred. Hildred was so much more than a mentor. For a period of about two years he was just about my best friend. This inexplicable relationship crossed all generational and cultural boundaries due to our shared prime directive. Just as Roy Campbell reminded us from beyond this world, the bottom line remains: It's all about the music.

Who was Hildred Humphries? Well Hildred spent 6 months on the road with none other than Billie Holiday.

"Everyone told me not to work with her because she was nothing but trouble, but they could not be more wrong. It was a true pleasure playing with her and one of the great experiences of my life."

Hildred was also someone who went deep with none other than the Count. Count Basie.

"I was on the road with Basie for a few years and we had a good thing going. I got tired of the road however and wanted to stop. Basie bought me a gold plated tenor to get me to stay! I stayed for awhile for the tenor, but eventually I told Basie I had to go."

In his up and coming days Hildred's main partner was trumpet king Roy Eldridge.

"When we were 15 Roy and I would practice Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins solos in the basement of my mother's house." 

Hildred was not alone. His brother Frank "Fat Man" Humphries was an extremely powerful swing trumpeter who could out Maynard Maynard before Maynard existed. I know because I tracked down a recording. I'll never forget when I played it for Hildred and his nephew Frankie, Frank's son.

"That's him!!! That's Frank!!! We all looked at each other with tears in our eyes listening to Frank blow the roof off a Louis Armstrong vehicle called "After You've Gone."

"Young Miles Davis used to come see Frank. He would sit in the front row studying his every move!"

When I met Doc Cheatham playing at Sweet Basil and mentioned Hildred, Doc went off. "Tell Hildred to call me right away!" 

It really started when I was living in Nyack New York in 1990 and I went to Hildred's house down by the riverside. It was a big old amazing house that he shared with his sister, who usually answered the door. I started bringing my horn as Hildred would spin stories about Jazz back in the day. Eventually I started bringing my Aebersold tapes and a cassette recorder. I still have about 5 hours on tape of us playing blues and standards. We always tried to come up with something different. We would always listen back and fall out laughing at some of the wild chances we took. I still remember his core advice:

"Start your solo off as exciting as possible. You'll have the audience hooked. Make sure you can keep it up though!"

Eventually Hildred started bringing me around to gigs and having me sit in. Then I joined an actual band he had. I can remember at least 4 places we used to play. The Hudson House. A place on Main St. A place down by the river, and a church. We played at least 2 festival gigs, one had Bill Crow on bass. Hildred had a great little band. The only time he really got angry with me was when he thought I called double time on a blues. It was the drummer man!

This brings me to a quintessential moment in my relationship with Hump, as we called him. (I nicknamed his big white Cadillac the Hump Mobile) We were playing a jam session at the Hudson House and somebody called Summertime. Erik Lawrence was there and took a phenomenal alto solo. When it was my turn I plunged into what could only be called free Jazz. I was slamming down into the low F# of the horn, playing wild. On the chord change I went into a Sonny-boy Williamson valve squeeze that came from blues outer space. I was playing Summertime on Mars. What would Hildred think?! He shouted out for all present to hear..


This was the most important moment of my musical life. It was the key defining moment. The message was so clear, so loud, so perfect.


Getting validation from somebody from the swing era was the supreme seal of approval. I have never looked back. Hildred gave me an incredible gift that day which I will forever be grateful for.

One day when I stopped by, I found Hildred with 3 music stands lined up. Laid out was John Coltrane's Countdown solo. Hildred said "Watch this" and then played down the whole solo note for note. I was flabbergasted.   

"You know there are people today still not feeling Coltrane. I'm here to tell you that not only is he one of us, but he may the greatest of us all."

Again Hildred gave me an incredible gift, opening the door to the world of Trane. I had been listening to music from all over Trane's history and was perplexed, but so drawn to the spiritual intensity that was always present.

Hildred and I continued to hang out. I used to drive him around in my insane red pickup truck. I took him to the Wiz to buy a boombox. I took him to the barber and the shoe repair guy. I took him to this Blues guy's house so we could jam in his basement. I took him to my house to listen to Louis Armstrong and watch my copy of the Sound of Jazz video. I'll never forget his reaction when Coleman Hawkins appeared.


Eventually I got a scholarship to the Berklee College of music. I wrote Hump letters that said stuff like..

"This is some bullshit man. You can play better than everyone here. Everything you've taught me surpasses this."

Time passed as time does. On a break from school I stopped by Hildred's place on a Sunday around 10 AM.

"It's a good thing you're here man. I need somebody to make breakfast for."

I then got the supreme honor of watching Hump cook up a vicious soul food breakfast. He refused help and made me sit down and tell him about school. It reminded me of a few times we did that at his sister;s house and another time at a church where his wife had made all these sweet potato pies. It was a church where we would play our last gig together. I recall playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Hildred was also a great singer you see. I watched as he sang the Pops classic "What a Wonderful World." I watched how there was not a dry eye in the house. Hildred had silenced the place and filled it with Love once again.

It was Bert Hughes who called me a few months later to inform me that Hildred had passed on. I was devastated. I played at 2 memorials for Hildred after that. I was playing My Funny Valentine a lot back then.

I often think about Hildred today. His story is where mine begins. I would go on to eventually learn on the bandstand with Sabir Mateen, in the Chamber with Ornette, and then finally from iconoclast Giuseppi Logan who once exclaimed:

"You know you can play right Matt? You can play man, you can play!"

Every note I do play these days comes back to a great gift I received from getting to spend time with a great friend and teacher, the great Sir Hildred Humphries. No you, no me.

I love you man. Peace to you always. I will forever cherish your gift of music.

May God bless Sir Hildred Humphries.







Friday, June 6, 2014

Trumpet Prophecy

Maybe Roy Campbell set it up somehow from up on Trumpet Mountain. There I was drowning in the hustle and grind when none other than Hugh Masekela walked in with a small entourage. That's what we trumpet players need more of, give me an entourage. Having recently heard Hugh and then written about him, I never dreamed I would get a heavy one on one session, but here it was. Right away I told him I would never forget what he told the audience at Lincoln Center: "For many of you here, this is the first time you have screamed in your entire lives!" Hugh fell out laughing and gave me a big hug. What a beautiful cat, so full of life. I wasted no time in getting to whatever the core connections were between us. I learned so much. Hugh told me about one of his greatest life experiences when he returned to South Africa after a 30 year exile and then played 4 months of 5 hour concerts!  Hugh told me about his experiences with his good friend Lee Morgan, and how he and Miles would hang out after playing festivals together. Having Miles come up in conversation I probed a little deeper and we got to the crux. Hugh broke it all the way downtown.

"Anybody that plays with a mute after Miles is just fooling themselves."

And then Hugh got really real. Skip this part if you don't enjoy getting to the crux.

"What is a mute anyway? A mute is a condom. Take if off and get natural."

I completely understood this, and now have to rethink my obsession with mutes. The sexual aspects of music and trumpet playing in particular are understood but not discussed. To deny it we would just be fooling ourselves. I was truly blessed to have a continued exchange with master Hugh. Upon reflection I understood the concept of the Trumpet Shaman on a deeper level. I saw a similarity between him and Roy Campbell in their energy and way of communicating. Like Henry Red Allen might say I was right there with em'. I asked Hugh about how he could possibly dance like a 25 year old on stage and he told me how. 11 years of Tai Chi. Beautiful. My intense Hot Yoga transformation was validated. Hold up, Woody Shaw was into Tai Chi.

A heavy Roy Campbell Jr story comes to mind. Roy and Woody were hanging out and going to a jam session uptown. Woody said "C'mon Campbell", always calling him by his last name. As they were leaving by the bar Woody said "Hold up Campbell".

Woody then picked up a bar stool over his head and HURLED it over the bar destroying the mirrors and all the liqueur. As the last of the glass shattering subsided and every liqueur at once spilled out onto the carpet Woody said calmly,

"Ok, now we can go." 

I hear it all at the Ash. I'm not unlike a bartender there except I serve up reeds. Choose your poison. Sonny Fortune came through today and I told him a new Miles story I just heard from a customer a few days ago. The customer was a kid back in the 70's and he and his crew were riding bikes not far from Miles place on West 78th, just christened Miles Davis way by NYC in 2014.

As they were riding they saw Miles arguing with a woman standing in front of a limo. They stopped and watched, all knowing who Miles was. The woman really lost it and started screaming and acting crazy. Miles got back in the limo and left her outside.

2 guys got out. One guy handed the woman a BIG wad of cash. Both men got in the limo and then they drove off leaving the woman standing there dazed and confused.

"Sounds like Miles", Sonny Fortune told me. I put on Sonny's record with Woody Shaw up on our Spotify machine to close out.

My big brother Daniel Carter has a Miles in person story as well. I have another Miles story from a friend who ran into him in a bar in Harlem one time. But to hear our Miles stories you'll have to come hear us in person. Just this past Sunday a long time dream of mine came true as I got to feature Master DC with the 12 Houses . THANKS DC. THANKS 12.

As usual we talked about Miles afterwords. We don't know what's up with that new film that Don Cheadle is doing about him. I just hope he deals with the REAL Miles.

To deny that we would all just be fooling ourselves.

That's all from Trumpet mountain for now. Someday I'll be teaching a Jazz History course. I'm going to teach the real history. I'll open talking about my first mentor and bandleader, the great Hildred Humphries who played with Billie Holiday and Count Basie. You never heard of the great Humphries brothers?

Stay tuned here at Fat Eb. 

TBC with Sabir Mateen live at the Clemente Solo Velez June 16th.


For Karl Berger  

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Blues for Fritz

The human race is a massive story composed of millions of stories. Digital storytelling has really changed how we are all collaborating on what really is the most important story of all time - us. Just where are we going with all of this? I went back to school recently in order to pursue a masters in teaching Jazz history, but I never even finished getting a Bachelors. My first two courses upon returning are the history of Math and digital storytelling.

Digital storytelling led me to create this

Please peep this out my friends. The creative process behind this got my Mom going back through her own memories which in turn allowed her memories to unlock more of mine. Going deeper I'm looking at making music videos as a whole new medium that I now have access too. Maybe I'll stop writing and switch to music videos and attempt to go VIRAL.

Telling my grandfathers story began here at Fat Eb, in maybe my most important piece besides "Roy Campbell and Bright Moments", Grandpa's Rainbow  

This is more or less part 2 of that entry . The whole thing is leading up to my making a record about and for my grandfather with the 12 Houses, my orchestra that is going to tune the world.


In 1978 my teacher Mr. Napoli handed me a list of instruments and told me choose one to play.  I didn't know what any of them were. These days, I tell parents and kids to go on youtube and listen to the different instruments before they choose a path. I chose the trumpet, having literally no idea what it was or that it would consume me in years to come. Dhortly before their impending divorce, my parents rented me a Bundy Trumpet. After looking at my teeth, Mr. Napoli said it was a good choice.

It was tough early on. I recall trying to cheat by writing the fingerings down on the music and getting busted. I was always playing louder and more aggressively than the other kids. Right or wrong. After the requisite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star phase I went on to stage two. During the second concert I played, I'll never forget misreading the chart and exploding a huge loud fanfare at the wrong place and time. Mr. Napoli was terrified, as I could have thrown off the whole band, but everybody kept their place. I see now that even then, I was demanding a solo. Staying quiet in the ensemble would never be enough. I MUST be heard no matter the cost. Eventually I ended up in a little dixieland combo that played at the library, of all places. I was so into it.

Stage three was a solo feature playing outside in 6th grade. I was placed into the middle school band of 7th and 8th graders, which was a big deal. The solo? Popeye the Sailor Man, and I was terrified of not only an F but a high Bb above the staff. It was too hard and I was freaking out. Showtime came on a hot summer day and I was late, got lost, and was the last to set up. I was sweating bullets when it was time for Popeye. Once I started playing it felt like I was watching a movie of myself playing. I wasn't even sure of some of the notes but it came out sounding like Popeye and I had been eating spinach together for decades. My grandfather was in the audience and as my mom recalled, he was always smiling when he saw me play more aggressively and over the other kids. Leading the way. Even today, in free Jazz situations I end up sometimes forcing everybody into cohesion.

Eventually I would end up in the all-county band where I played 3rd trumpet on a record that played "March of the three Oranges". My stellar career would soon spiral downwards however, as my parents divorced, my grandfather died, and I would gain 50 pounds or so. A lot for a kid. My next teacher in middle school was a Mr. Sherman. I bristle at the mention of his name. Sherman made fun of me in front of the whole orchestra saying I was always "making love to my mouthpiece." He switched me to the- Tuba, making my typecast as the fat kid so much worse. I sucked on Tuba and eventually gave up playing and switched to art, where I ended up drawing pictures of trumpets all the time.

It wasn't then until 1986 or 87 that I played again, when the legendary music educator Bert Hughes found out I used to play was in need of a trumpet to go to Russia! I spent a summer with Bert getting my chops back. Bert introduced me to the blues scales, which would open the door between me and myself. Later on the late Bill Garbinski would become my teacher. I upgraded to a super Olds trumpet that I really miss. Soon my mentorship with Sir Hildred Humphries would begin. Hildred had played with Count Basie, Billie Hoilday, and Roy Eldridge. My path was clear.   
I wrote a piece about Hildred once and it seems lost. To be continued here at Fat Eb.

It all comes back to seeing my grandfather in the audience. I have never had more respect for a human being. His being an artist resonated with me on a profound level, even as a kid. His approval meant everything to me. I'll never forget showing him my painting of the solar system which was so so at best. As he looked at it, I saw him switch from critique to support, and tell me it was good with a slight restraint. He would soon teach me how to play Chess and then allow me to checkmate him in order to build my confidence.

My grandfather's art was everywhere in my life. His paintings adorned the walls both where we lived and also at my Uncle Fred's house. I would watch him work on his sculptured head busts (seen below) of Beethoven and Dr. Martin Luther King. I'll never forget watching them cook in his Kiln!

My Grandfather was a devout catholic and his artistic and spiritual worlds were linked. I would go to church with him during the week and sit in the front row praying louder than everyone else. One of our greatest moments together was when the sermon was about the kid in the front row who was more dedicated to God than all the adults present. My grandfather gave me a big hug when the priest pointed at me during the highlight of the sermon. I'm still testifying in my own way these days with a trumpet in my hand, in an endless tribute to my grandfather Fritz.

Dark times were ahead as ominous storm clouds gathered, turning the Sun dark as night. Just where did the Sun go?

Liver Cancer had arrived to tell my grandfather it was time to head home.

In his final days I would witness him leave his death bed to help my grandmother walk to the bathroom, as she was ravaged by Parkinson's disease. Strength beyond strength.

He would call me to his side the night before he died and whisper that I was now the man of the house. I was only 13 but I told him I would handle the responsibility.

At his wake a couple of days later one of the defining moments of my life would take place as I would witness the priest openly weeping in sorrow at my grandfathers transition. Tears streamed down his face in a profound sadness. That a man of God would be so touched by my grandfathers life had a profound effect on me. This memory has been sealed in my soul as perhaps the most important of all.

Moving on my friends. At some point in our lives the past must be undone so that we may live into the future.

There's music to be made, art to be created.

But I'm taking this moment here to pause in reflection and call a special tune. . .

Blues for Fritz.


Dedicated to Fritz Klueber.


                                             Hildred and Frank "Fat man" Humphries


Monday, May 5, 2014

The Palm Reading

On the great Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy record Louis Armstrong tells a story about going to see a gypsy during a rendition of St. Louis Blues. Pops gets into it and says..

"And when I went to the Gypsy she had fortunes all over the place.

Yes, the Gypsy had, fortunes all over the place.

But when she looked in my hand, she slapped me right in the face!"

Been a minute since I danced with the dark, so when I walked by a Latina today on Broadway and 159th st in the Heights sitting outside inviting everyone that passed by to a palm reading, I found myself considering walking through a door to madness. I'm somewhat of a mystic myself and wondered how she would respond to my own power. I feel many trumpet players carry around an almost supernatural energy inside. I couldn't not think about the tale Louis had woven about his exchange with the Gypsy. 

I had never seen this palm reader before. She had a sign that said $5. This would most likely just be a quick attempt at a hustle on her end, but I figured I would open the door to possibly get a snapshot of what I believe to be my reality from a different perspective. I was eating an egg & cheese as I walked over to her and suggested we get into it.

She quickly agreed, and suggested I finish eating first. As I did I asked her how long she had been doing this and she explained over 12 years, but that she received the gift at 5 years old. She might have been in her 30's. I mentioned that I was telephone psychic for a year. She asked what lines I worked on and was familiar with one of them, California Psychics. Once I was done eating I gave her the 5 dollars and we went upstairs. She asked me sit down in a lawn chair of some kind that was too low. The prerequisite family watching TV in the next room was present, along with one of the strangest looking hairless cats I have ever seen. The cat jumped over and starred at me briefly with her wide and oval onyx eyes. My reader, who never asked for my name, gave me back my $5 and explained this wasn't about money.

"God has brought you to us today", she explained as she took my right hand. She first noticed a very long life line. Dag, I'm not trying to stumble around here for a hundred years. I was then shocked as her entire energy changed, and she started speaking in a completely different voice, more like an Indian man than the Latina from the heights. She held my hand tighter and started drawing a pyramid on my palm over and over. She stopped looking at my hand and started looking right at me making eye contact. Her energy became urgent.

Now THIS I didn't expect. She was channeling! I know when somebody has real access or when their fronting. Even if she was a great actress, this still had the energy of a spirit speaking through her. I've done channeling myself so I recognize the vibe. The whole thing reminded me of when I borrowed this book Ornette had on Santeria. I was sitting on a bench reading it with some shells on my wrist when I was explicitly informed that Santeria was not my path by someone that I could not see.

The spirit told me I was not happy with my line of work. True. Told me I had been involved with a woman that had 3 kids. True! Told me that a different woman had hurt me in some way. Possible. Told me the woman in my life right now truly loved me. True. The spirit then told me I was on the verge of a HUGE breakthrough and was about to receive an enormous blessing that would change my life forever. That's true as well actually.

Then the urgency vibe really started boiling over. The spirit started telling me that I was supposed to have great success long ago but that I had been hijacked by 2 evil woman and a man that had stolen my power. In order to have this true success this evil must be purged from my being! "This is serious brother!" she exclaimed as her grip on my hand got tighter.

This is where it became fascinating to me, as the reader returned to power in her own body and told me to buy 2 white candles for $40. She would pray with these candles to release the evil that had invaded my body. Then the spirit returned and said that money must be given as a symbol of a positive energy exchange.

That's when the needle went scraping on the record. Hold up. I was just doing a $5 check-up and now your running down a spiritual infection on me? That's cold, but I knew the potential for hustle was high. Don't get me started on my 3 card Monty experience near Penn station in 1990.

I wasn't trying to buy the candles so my girl called in an older woman who was clearly the power point.
She came over and wasn't channeling but instead came right out and said "Open your zipper so I can perform the blessing on your stomach." She was mad close to just doing it herself.

She elaborated:

"These 3 people are your enemies. We MUST get your power back! It's only $100. Money doesn't mean anything but this curse does!

"There are many people jealous of you. They are nice to your face but talk about you behind your back. This blessing will reveal their identity or cease this negative energy."

This was deep. They had taken the whole thing from $5 to a battle of wills over my soul. It was me vs them at this point. Truth be told I was getting off on the confrontation. Bottom line I'm not dropping a Benjamin Franklin over this. I ain't got it.

I told them they could get $30 bottom line, just in case somehow they were on to something. The older woman proclaimed she would not only take the $30 but that I would receive a blessing so large in the next 3 days that I would return and willingly pay the other $70. She would perform the blessing at a spiritualist church later that day.

I asked if I was now an enemy to them because I didn't drop the 100 beans. She said God would not allow such activity. I told them as I left that my trumpet has the power I need but that if I did indeed receive a giant blessing that I would return in good faith.

Well, at least she didn't slap me in the face. Course some people enjoy that kind of thing. 

I wonder if Miles ever got his palm read.

Now about that blessing. Cue the music, I'm ready to receive.

To be continued tonight with orchestra DAVE, as I go straight Derby with the Dave the jewel Sewelson big band at the Clemente Solo Velez courtesy of Arts for Art. The stars align at 10pm.




Monday, April 28, 2014

Transfiguration Blues

The truck that collects every last piece of recycling trash all over Kingston New York is backing up to drop off another load. That incessant backup warning beep is assaulting my aural reality. Oh no. Not again.

The whole flatbed of the truck then lifts up by design allowing an avalanche of Coke bottles, Clorox canisters, piss-bottles, and random pieces of plastic trash to descend into the pit where I'm waiting to push it all towards the conveyor belt. I'll use my vaunted recycling trash pit device which is a combination of both an axe and a rake. I'm up to my ass in the trash of civilization now as I redirect the slime of the world up towards my crew above who will attempt to sort out the trash by type. I hope my boy Ed is wearing his freakin' caked up gloves. This is some truly nasty shit that gets under your skin and never really washes off. I'm the supervisor and we have a quota to meet. My New York State job as work site supervisor for those with mental and developmental disabilities has  reached an all time low. My self-imposed exile from the straight ahead Jazz scene in NYC is not working out as planned.


Sheila. I'll never forget her. Beyond tough. Sheila started her life being thrown from the roof of the projects. She landed on her head, but was so tough she would not allow death to take her. I can hear her shouting down death even now.


Sheila ran point for me at the Bard college dish-room. An evil place where we process 500 students trays in a span of 2 and a half hours. A giant dish washing machine took everything on a conveyor belt through 3 sections of mad hot water pressure where all the collective slime drains off into tanks that I had to clear out at the end of service. At the end of the machine I needed people with fast hands. We couldn't let the machine stop. Ever.

Sheila worked the front window with great fierceness and tenacity. She often refused gloves and ended up with food somebody didn't finish eating in her hair, but that would never stop her. NOTHING stopped her. Many times I joined her on the line. Her love for me was boundless. One time after picking her up to take her to work I was filling the van up with gas while she went inside and stole 2 cases of chocolate bars for me. Once we pulled out she revealed the gift she had procured and the plan she had devised.

"All for you Mack. Make you fat I will. HA HA HA"

Vaya con dios Sheila, wherever you are today, I know your not taking any shit.

My escape route from exile was soon discovered on a break at Bard where I saw a sign that said Jazz jam session at the Rhinecliff hotel. When I arrived to see if I still had any chops the bass player warned me that the drummer coming was "one of those out cats." His name was Ryan Sawyer.

Ryan would turn out to be my savior when I left my lady at the time. Not only did he get me a room with him in Jackson Heights Queens, but he would leave a note on the table for me one day that read:

"Go see William Parker at Tonic. He's playing a matinee." I didn't know who WP was but trusted Ryan that this was important music. I went down and walked in on a rehearsal of the Little Huey Music Orchestra. William was saying something like "There's a city in space, and it's on fire." Roy Campbell was there, the first time I ever heard him. How come Wynton never told me about this? Right then and there I dreamed of being a member of this amazing band that was to me from another reality.

14 years later now and I'm just getting closer and closer to the source of my own free jazz blues. Somebody asked me where all that feeling comes when I plunge the bottom of the barrel. When I pick up a horn and Karl Berger reminds me to stop thinking, I may find myself deep in the recycling pit wondering just where everything went wrong. I may find myself side by side with Sheila trying to survive another shift. I may find myself with all my shit on the front lawn being thrown into a van as I leave a woman while her and her kids look at me with confusion and rage. I may find myself hobbling to work with my cane since my knee has finally had enough of carrying my body around all these years.

I may break past my own drama into the drama of the world. My trumpet may then shout very loud questions at anyone within a 55 foot radius. "Why do we still kill each other?" "Why do we still waste so much energy hating each other?"

Then my trumpet may demand that we stop just that.


You can exhaust yourself trying to confront the world like this. Good thing I have people like Ras Moshe, Francois Grillot, Chris Forbes, William Hooker, Daniel Carter, Charles Gayle and Sabir Mateen in my life.

So where do my blues come from? Where are they headed? Can the blues ever be resolved?

They come from deep down inside. My blues are encoded in my DNA. My blues are in my blood. When it's time for them to be released, they will not be denied.

I'm going somewhere with all these blues, believe that.

Watch as the 12 Houses Orchestra and I tune the world once and for all..

Special thanks to John Coltrane, who's life is a grand example of the journey of Transfiguration. You know Trane had some blues along the way.

Transfiguration Blues is dedicated to Giuseppi Logan. Your song has not yet ended my friend. Stand with me and I'll see you get to make that last statement. The one you were born to create.

Paintings by Martel Chapman, thanks Martel.





Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Devil is in the details

Louis Armstrong switches from Cornet to Trumpet. Big bands had started using trumpets back then but when Louis switched that was the signal.

Cornet, you're done.

Miles Davis pulls the stem out of his harmon mute and casts it aside as irrelevant. You may catch Ray Nance leaving it in every now and then but once Miles made the move the die was cast.

The harmon stem is useless and corny in most circumstances.

I wish I could make a decision like that. One that changes the accepted take on something for 95% of us for all of time. These days I'm left scraping the bottom of the barrel for something that was somehow overlooked. That's what we do in 2014.

I ask myself, what's one thing that Wynton Marsalis and Axel Dorner have in common.

Yes, they both have no use for the Humes & Berg Buzz Wow Mute that is guaranteed to send shivers up and down the spine of any listener within range. Back in the day I had every mute that existed but didn't know what to do with them. I had a Buzz wow mute but didn't know what to do with it.

Maybe there's something I can find in the dark. I know of the only successful use of the buzz-wow. Roy Eldridge used it on the record The Trumpet Kings meet Big Joe Turner. it's RASP was like an old blues singer getting raw and real on you. With the blues being my common denominator for all of time perhaps I can exploit this. I'll send for this cast aside forbidden mute that nobody is interested in and try to find out why. That's what I do. Why has the alto Clarinet been cast aside by 99% of the world? She deserves better.

But wait. I'm always seeing pictures of the old derby mutes. Nobody messes with them anymore. Why? Again, I recall Ray Nance using one. Boom. Clark Terry shows exactly what can be done with a derby on one single occasion. It's on the same record with Roy Eldridge, The Trumpet Kings meet Big Joe Turner. As a plunger specialist I can exploit this to no end. I'll discover something yet!

The truth is out there. So many guys have returned to cornet in 2014. I myself had a 7 month affair with it. Dave Douglas told me it happened to him as well for exactly the same amount of time. Karl Berger requests it, so I'm happy to oblige. On the recent Roy Campbell memorial concert there were so many cornet players coming I realized it was time to come back home to the Trumpet, and blew my tax return on a beautiful Bach looking to cut myself a slice of the pie that Booker Little ate from. My Cornet is bright and silver in contrast to my dark trumpet. I endorse Phaeton Flugels and have to write more about that. 

Only my boy Daniel Carter can find something left to pull from that harmon stem. It kind of links him up to Miles wah-wah from the Live Evil days back when I was learning how to walk and talk. Thanks Mom.

Experimentation is nothing new in Jazz even though in the last decade or so it has become a primary focus to the point where the categories between swing and improv are pushed to the breaking point. I feel that most of these walls will fall eventually. So many of us are into so much of everything, and there is so much to get into.

Roy Eldridge claimed to have brought the flugelhorn to America. On the great video the Sound of Jazz he brings it to the big band and SCREAMS on it. Roy would then sit in with Ornette trying to see what the fuss was all about. He couldn't roll with it but at least he tried.

Just yesterday I saw Cat Anderson's mouthpiece at the store. Like Clark Terry described it was damn near a flat piece of aluminum with a pin prick in the center. It even had El Gato inscribed on it. I have Cat's book on high note mastery as well, he took it all the way. He must have experimented to develop such a specialized niche. Isn't it a little out to scream above everything in the extreme range all the time? I'll be happy with my 1 1/2 and my G above the staff, thank you. I'll never forget playing Fats Navaro's mouthpiece courtesy of my boy Ras Miguel. Creepy, but cool as I felt ghosts of lyrical bop floating through the air.

I still wish I could speak from a place like Miles did. Those famous blindfold tests where he, in no short order calls Cecil Taylor music like sleeping with a hooker, says he wants to step on Eric Dolphy's foot for sounding so bad, and finally says that Duke can't play with Max and Mingus. Damn Miles. What can you say to the man who created Kind of Blue? I'm still baffled by that Youtube video where Branford Marsalis claims he explained to Miles what funk was. What?

I'll make the boldest claim of my career right here and right now. I'm gonna say it so stand clear.

Lee Morgan's harmon sound trumps Miles.

Whew. I've been carrying that around for the last decade or so.

Anyway, come see me wail with William Hooker Monday 4/21 at 10pm at Arts for Art, or come hear me continue the search for the real truth with Matana Roberts on Tuesday 4/22 at Union Pool at 8pm. I'm out of time these days but I always make time for music, the prime directive.

Perhaps we will discover a new paradigm. No matter what happens I can promise you this..

Evolution and Revolution will be attempted  no matter the cost.

For Roy Eldridge, Roy Hargrove, and Roy Campbell Jr.  


Update: (4/23)  On Monday William Hooker tried to realign the entire Planet from the drums. Speaking the words light, love, and power and then calling for restoration, William performed a direct assault on every last shred of negativity on Earth. After my free Buddy Bolden 2014 thang I surrendered to my lady Alto Clarinet. As I felt some Charles Gayle level of inspiration bubble to the surface my soul told me to just let it happen and get out of the way. Don't fight it I was told. We flooded the world with light.

On Tuesday I had the musical experience of a lifetime with Matana Roberts. Matana and I go back and I knew that in her music I could really plunge the depth of the blues. It was the most honest music I have ever been a part of. Storytelling beyond storytelling it was both the core and the crux of the human experience through music. Not to mention, my Derby mute experiment was a complete success! I've found something. I've actually discovered something new in Jazz by looking to the past.

Now to DO something with it.

Just don't tell Freddie Keppard.