Dear Music Lovers,
2019 has flown by pretty quickly so far! I’m writing to you from somewhere over the Pacific ocean, headed from Boston to Japan.
I started the year with a pop gig, of all things, with one of my favorite singers, Ms. Lizje Sarria, who is a kick-ass vocalist, and all-around great gal. I hadn’t done one of those in many years, and wanted to catch up on the repertoire. What struck me as kind of funny is that I already knew so much of the material (Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, etc.) from ages ago. It also occurred to me that many of the current pop hits are basically teched-out versions of calypso and soca rhythms. Ain’t nuthin’ nu. Working with Lizje was fun, though, and she would hold up her ipad and show me various messages (in a big white font against a black background) during the gig that had me in stitches..We played “Shut Up and Dance” (a song I only knew from going to the gym) and the message she showed me read “GRINGOS LOVE THIS STUFF.”
Back to jazz! The next adventure was at the 23rd annual International Jazz Festival in Punta del Este, Uruguay, with the Paquito D’Rivera sextet, featuring special guest bari sax master Gary Smulyan and quintet members Diego Urcola (trumpet), Alex Brown (piano) and Oscar Stagnaro (bass). It was great to be there again after 16 years! (I had played the first 7 years with Paquito, Leny Andrade, and Rosa Passos.)
This year, Paquito decided to perform an all-Chick Corea program, so I wrote up an arrangement of “La Fiesta,” basically the version Chick had recorded with Elvin Jones. It came out well, and we were all set to play it on the big stage. But the January summer thunderstorms drove us indoors that night, and we played our set in the small restaurant, to a very enthusiastic crowd. My clothes were completely soaked through, and we had a fantastic time! I also met Al Foster, one of the legends of the drums in jazz music. What a great guy, with lots of amazing stories!
On the day of departure, we were lucky enough to be given a tour of Montevideo and we paid a visit to Lobo Nuñez, master drum builder. He showed us his beautiful tamboriles, and we jammed a little candombe. That visit would have been worth the whole trip!
In mid-January, I was back in Boston mixing my record with Mark Wessel, one of the best engineers I’ve worked with, and all-around great guy. Such a pro. The same week, I had a wonderful gig at Wilde Lake high school in Baltimore with Brazilian guitarist/vocalist Chico Pinheiro, featuring Alex Brown on piano and Zach Brown on bass. The music program is very strong there, and part of the reason Alex and Zach are such great musicians. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative, and it seems I could have walked faster to back to Boston than the time it took to fly. But it was definitely worth the hassle to play with that quartet.
Next, I left for L.A., where NAMM was happening, as well as a gig with some great musicians. Miro Sprague, a wonderful pianist I’d met on Karrin Allyson’s gig, had called for a gig at a club right next to LAX called Sam First, and we played with his quartet featuring Daniel Rotem on tenor sax and Alex Boneham on bass. What a great vibe!
NAMM was a bit of a shock at first; this was my first L.A. NAMM, and it was extremely difficult to have a conversation at time, when people are banging on things all around. However, after the initial shock wore off, I was into it. I met a real legend, Chicago’s original founding member, drummer Danny Seraphine. We had both played on Jj Chardeau’s record last year and it was a real thrill to meet him in person! (I told him the story about going to the record store in Chicago’s Old Town, where I grew up, to buy Chicago V, and how 5 dudes tried to jump me that day. I outsmarted them by holding my cash in a closed fist while they checked my pockets. After they let me go, one of them noticed my hand opening, and shouted “Look at all that money in that motherf*#@^er’s hand!” Danny just said “I’m glad they didn’t get it!”)
I had lot lots of great conversations there, and just happened to discover the one quiet room in all of NAMM! I bumped into world – renowned drummer/fellow Yamaha artist David Mattacks and we ducked into the quiet room for a great conversation and coffee. (I’m not telling where the room is!)
I was very fortunate to meet Ben Scholz and Shaina House, who would up helping me out in a big way with my new record (more to come on that). I also had a great meeting with German Baratto from Meinl, and we discussed future a video project featuring Meinl‘s incredible, innovative percussion instruments.
The products at NAMM were quite amazing, just one after another. Yamaha drums has hit a home run with their new Hybrid Oak series, with a consistent, focused and singing sound. Paiste came out with some new Signature series cymbals that can only be described as delicious.
After NAMM, I had some fun gigs back in Boston with some of the best Boston-based musicians, like Tim Ray, Daniela Schacter, Doug Olsen/Latin Bash, Consuelo Candelaria and Eguie Castrillo. Eguie’s gig was a tribute to another legend, Mr. Ray Barretto, and featured Ray Vega and Ruben Rodriguez, some of the greatest musicians in Latin Jazz.
On February 7th, I went in the studio with Mike Tucker, Leo Blanco, David Zinno and Ernesto Diaz, not having any idea what we would play. We walked out with three new tunes that made my record, including Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice and two of my originals. I love the spirit of interaction, fun, and that fact that we had to get it in one or two takes.
Next up was Moscow with the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet. Getting a visa was quite a big production, but it turned out to be a great gig. We played a beautiful 1500-seat theater in the International House of Music and were joined backstage by the American ambassador, Jon Huntsman Jr., and his lovely wife. It had been 30 years since Paquito had played in Moscow. We took in the sights around the city, including Red Square, and I regret not having posed with a Putin look-alike when he hustled me for a photo.
After returning to the States, I went to Los Angeles to master my record at Capitol. I’m really glad I did, because they really put the sparkle on it! Roberto Vosgien did a spectacular job, while Ben Scholz and I set up my CD Baby account, cleared the cover songs, and set up the manufacturing, while Shaina House tweaked the CD artwork in Photoshop.
Back in Boston the same week, I worked with master saxophonist George Garzone and his mentor Frank Tiberi. Tiberi is 89, and is simply at the top of his game. His playing blew us all away, and it was such a privilege to play with both of them. It just goes to prove that age doesn’t matter…If you’re swinging, that’s all that matters!
Another Boston area gig worth mentioning was with the great trumpeter/arranger composer Greg Hopkins, who I heard with Buddy Rich when I was 13 years old. Greg’s charts are complex, swinging and fun to play. We all sight-read the whole gig, which just flew by. Greg will be featured at my upcoming record release on 5/16 at TCAN in Natick, MA.
After more great Boston gigs with Daniela Schacter, Hey Rim Jeon, and Oscar Stagnaro, it was time to head back to my hometown -Chicago, Il – where he had a concert with Paquito D’Rivera Quintet opposite Alfredo Rodriguez/Pedrito Martinez duo at Chicago Symphony Center (formerly Orchestra Hall). I realized I had played a concert there with my high school concert band, conducted by Doug Golden, and that an LP had been made of that concert! Our concert was so much fun, and the venue is just gorgeous. One of my tunes, “What About That,” was featured in the program, and I was really moved to have the opportunity to play my composition there, after so many years.
The next day I had a drum clinic (sponsored by Paiste, Vic Firth, Yamaha, Remo and Meinl) at Vic’s Drum Shop, one of the best in Chicago. John Maloney was the best host, and a rock star in his own right. It was well-attended, and a real pleasure to see and interact with my Chicago brothers and sisters of the drums. I just had to leave my credit card back home, because Vic’s has the most amazing gear!
The next night was a big night – my CD release at Martyrs’ in Chicago! Despite the CDs not making it to the gig on time, we had the greatest time playing with Jim Trompeter, Joe Rendon, Victor Garcia, John Wojciechowski and Eric Hochberg. I saw a lot of folks I haven’t seen since high school, and lots of family and close friends showed up. I just wish I had more time there. The good news is that we did well for the club, and I will be doing that gig around twice a year.
A few days later, I was back in the studio – this time, the Shames Family Scoring Stage (Studio 1) at Berklee College of Music. Mark Wessel, the same engineer who recorded and mixed my record, gave me some studio time as part of a class to train future engineers. I was originally going to record trio, but one of the musicians couldn’t make it…So, I went large-scale and hired a big band for the session, and played my big band arrangement of “Walkin’ the Walk,” a tune of mine I’d recorded with Oregon on the “Lantern” album. It was a total thrill to hear my arrangement played by professional musicians, and I hired Dave Jamrog to film the session. This will be edited and mixed soon.
Tomorrow (March 18), I fly to Tokyo for concerts in Tokyo, Hamamatsu and Sapporo, and workshops at the Hokkaido Groove Camp with trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, followed by a recording with Akio Sasajima in a beautiful studio/resort in Sapporo. Looking forward to the onsen (natural hot springs) and sushi!
Announcing my CD release and free drum clinic in the Boston MetroWest area at TCAN! Thursday, MAY 16
Joining me will be these fantastic players:
Alain Mallet – piano
Greg Hopkins – trumpet
Mike Tucker – tenor sax
Oscar Stagnaro – bass
Ernesto Diaz – percussion
Drum Clinic 4-5pm (Free)
Show at 8pm ($20, $15 for TCAN members)
TCAN (The Center For The Arts In Natick)
14 Summer St.
Natick, MA 01760
For tickets, click here. I will be signing CD’s!
I will post another update soon! Please leave your email with me and I’ll put you on the list. Hope to see you soon!
All the best,