Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mode For Joe

Undoubtedly, the most influential musical persona I have had in recent years is Joe Henderson. It has been my goal to understand what makes me love his music so much and try to incorporate it those elements into my playing. At times I feel I might be too influenced by him, but that's ok. I am confident that some of what I learnt from him will gradually be absorbed into me, the rest forgotten, and eventually my own sound will take its place.

When I hear people say they love Coltrane, I can hear it in their playing. But so far whenever someone told me they like Joe Henderson, I could never hear it.

There are a few characteristics that make Joe one of my favorite musicians. To start off, his sound is very unique and entirely his own. It has an uncanny darkness to it that attracted me from the first time I listened to him. The big difference between him and other dark sounding players such as Stan Getz, is that Joe's sound is also very focused and condensed. Usually when someone refers to a dark sound they mean the opposite of a bright, vibrant, metallic sound. Well, Joe somehow managed to combine the two together in a very special way. 

The freedom and spontaneity in his improvisation is admirable. In a day and age that everyone thrives for perfection and flawlessness, it's always nice to listen to Joe's albums that have a rough, earthy atmosphere to them. It didn't matter to him that he was in a studio, he still took chances, and understood that "mistakes" are a part of the music. Having said that, his lines are still coming directly from the chord progression and are making perfect sense.

Another interesting things is his rhythmicity. In an interview he had with Mel Martin for The Saxophone Journal, he mentioned he used to practice starting phrases in different places in the bar. This way he got more diversity from a single phrase or idea. In addition, except to up tempo tunes, his phrases are always rhythmically interesting, incorporating triplets and rests, and avoiding long eight-note-oriented lines.

Here's a list of my favorite Joe Henderson albums:
- Page One
- Our Thing
- In N' Out
- Inner Urge
- Mode For Joe 
- The Kicker
- Four
- Straight No Chaser
- The Tetragon
- Live in Japan
- Live at The Lighthouse
- Double Rainbow
- The Kicker (Bobby Hutcherson) 
- The Sidewinder (Lee Morgan)
- Cassandranite (Woody Shaw)
- Red Clay (Freddie Hubbard)

If you have other impressions of Joe Henderson's playing or any information you'd like to share, I would very much like to hear about it.

Thanks for reading,

Yaron Elyashiv.  

Click here to read the entire interview by Mel Martin.

A video of me playing one of Joe's songs - Punjab    

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tastes Good

Everybody has a sense of taste. I would argue that some have a very bad sense of taste, but it is still theirs. Taste simply refers to what we like and what we don't like. When you say you don't like a concert you listened to, or a tune someone calls on a jam session, did you ever consider maybe you are lying to yourself?

Maybe it's just me, but I found myself throwing a lot of "nah, I don't like it" in the past over stuff that today I actually like very much. If I try to look back and be honest with myself, I realize that a lot of the times the reason I didn't like the song, artist, style etc' was that I didn't get it. When I say I didn't get it I mean it was either too complicated for me to feel relaxed enough to enjoy it, or too simple that I automatically dismissed it. 

The day I finally asked myself  "Do I really not like it, or is it just too difficult for me to enjoy right now?" really opened me up to new experiences. Obviously, it didn't happen suddenly in one day. But, it was a process that matured inside of me for while. 

Today I always make sure to ask myself that question before I say I don't like a song, a style of music, or an artist. If it's something that I just can't handle right now, it's ok, it doesn't mean I won't like it later after I understand it better. And if it doesn't strike any chord with me, that's ok too, blame it on my taste.

Thanks for reading. 

Tell me if you ever had the same experience and how did you deal with it.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Guide For The Novice Booking Manager (Part 1)

A thought came to me. Practically all the jazz musicians on the scene today went through some sort of school where they studied music and honed their craft. Those schools prepare them (as much as a school can) to being a professional musician. But, when you think about it there is no school for booking managers. There's no Bachelor of Arts majoring in booking music. So where do they learn their occupation?

That's what I was thinking about. Why not give some advice from the musician's side of things, from my experiences with novice booking managers? Hey, I don't pretend to be an expert, but it wouldn't hurt to put things in perspective.

So I decided I'll try to bring some insight to those who are interested in listening.

I'll add more posts as I gather more topics to discuss.

Why Have Live Music?
Contrary to popular belief among some restaurant/bar/lounge owners, live music does not bring in any money. Now, it's true that if you run a club that is primarily dedicated to live performances, then you expect a major part of your revenue to come from selling tickets to the shows. But, any other place where the music is not the main purpose for which customers come in, you should not expect to make any revenue from the music. Actually, in most cases you will probably lose money.

So why have live music? Because you care about your establishment, and your customers. You want to distinguish your bar from all the other bars. You want to entertain your customers with high quality art. You understand the power that music has on a person, and how it creates memorable moments.

If you don't relate to any of these reasons and you are just trying to save your place from the inevitable "Out Of Business" sign by bringing some kids from music school, paying them a few bucks and hope their friends will save your business - You don't need live music.

Booking Management is a Profession
Yes, most places that have live music don't even have a booking manager, but the owner moonlights as one. Booking music takes time and understanding of the type of music you want to have in your business. It is no wonder that club owners have a pile of CDs they never listen to. Instead they rely on the same bad band that plays there every week.

Lets face it, operating a business is hard and often nerve-racking work. If your restrooms look like a gas station restrooms, would you go and clean it yourself every day? No, you would hire someone to do it for you. So why insist on doing a job someone else can do better than you?

If you are really passionate about music, you have experience dealing with musicians, and you have the time to invest, then maybe you could get away with running a place and booking the music. But for most people I suggest hiring a booking manager. That is, find a person with experience, understanding of what it is you are looking for, and commitment to deliver the goods.

When you finally find that special guy or gal, don't be tempted to offer them a percentage of the ticket sales just to save a few bucks. Pay them a salary and hold them accountable for their work or lack thereof. It is not their job (or the musician for that matter) to be occupied with how many people are paying to see the show. Their only concern should be hiring a professional band that delivers quality and entertaining music.

Whose job is it to bring an audience? What are the musicians responsible for? I'll answer those questions and others in later posts.

Thanks for reading.



Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Month On The Job

As you can probably understand from my previous posts, you don't become rich from being a jazz musician. At least not right away.

After graduating from college a few months ago, I ran out of excuses, and decided it was time for me to find a full-time day job. It was a long and at some point tiresome journey that had finally come to an end about a month ago. I was able to secure a full time job that will keep me busy during the day and leave me time to work on my music at night.

The very thought of a "day job" may cause some artists to shiver with fear, or to scoff at a person as not being a real artist, an amateur. But, I am not worried about those people. I am more concerned with being able to devote the fair amount of time to my craft, and my newly acquired profession.

I have to say, it hasn't been easy. Learning all the facets of a new job can be very tiresome on the body as well as mind. The last thing you want to do after you come back home is to compose something, or practice a challenging song. I guess some people can ration their energy so they spend very little during work so they can focus on their craft later in the day. Unfortunately, I am not the kind of person that allows himself to do a half-ass job, no matter what I am doing.

Luckily, the trend is beginning to change. As time goes by the daily routine becomes more familiarized, and therefore less demanding on the mind. I find that I slowly but surely am able to do more tasks with less energy. Hopefully with time I will become more and more proficient at my work so I can still feel fresh after I'm done.

Interesting fact is since I started my new job I find myself getting more and more involved in it. I actually kind of like it, even though I never could have imagined myself doing this for a living. I don't know if it's related or not, but I also began thinking differently about the music I want to do. After years of being primarily focused on my saxophone playing, I again started to focus more on the composition aspect.

Only time will tell if this is the beginning of a new chapter in my life, or just a side note of an existing one.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So what does it all mean?

One of the defining questions every artist must face at some point in his life is "In what way will I leave my mark on this world after I'm gone?" It could be phrased in numerous other ways, but the point of the question is what will I do that is original and different from what other artists have done before me.

If you think about it, it's quite a daunting question. There are so many artists in the world, many of them are much more talented and successful than I am. Could I really invent something new that no one has thought of before? Well... maybe not. But that doesn't mean you can't do something special and meaningful nevertheless. Even the slightest change of the smallest nuance can have a great impact on the final result.

What you should try to avoid is following the herd. If I see too many people trying to sound a certain way, I know I better stay away and keep looking for something different. Yet, I feel a lot of musicians are quite content sounding like someone or a group of people (who were innovators) and imitating their sound. Furthermore, they put down anyone and everyone who doesn't fit their niche. Ostracizing them as not swinging, old fashioned, modern, or in general the destroyers of jazz.

As much as I love playing standards, I can't help but thinking it's not enough in our day and age to make an impression on the world. Is there a point in playing to death a standard that was written 70 years ago? And even if there is, can I really call myself an artist, an innovator? Can I really play it any better than Bird or the other guys did without fundamentally changing how I approach it? Perhaps the problem is not so much with the tune itself, but with the presentation. It might be the time to consider that maybe the old "head-solos-head" routine doesn't cut it anymore. There has to be something new somewhere in between to make it be worth while artistically.

On the other hand, I must admit that I find most of the leading jazz figures today unappealing. I have the utmost respect for them, because they are trying to create something new, and you can hear that they have truly mastered their instruments. But, between mastering an instrument and creating an aesthetically beautiful piece of art there's a gap that not many have been able to fill. Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday weren't what you call "classically trained," yet no one can dispute their artistry. I feel more emotions coming from listening to a Bird or Coltrane album than I do listening to a Bird or Coltrane wannabe, or most of today's innovators.

So what does it all mean? 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What About The Tip?

America is the land of tips. If you eat at a restaurant, drink at a bar, take a cab, drop off your laundry or get a hair cut, you are expected to leave a hefty tip. The idea behind the tip in itself is quite a socially pleasing concept. According to Wikipedia:
A tip (also called a gratuity) is a voluntary extra payment made to certain service sector workers in addition to the advertised price of the transaction. Such payments and their size are a matter of social custom.
The problem starts when business owners use this custom and exploit their employees by not paying them a proper salary for their hard work. Which brings me to the subject I wanted to talk about.

Recently, I keep stumbling upon a phenomena that seems to be spreading rapidly. Same as any employee who performs a task for an employer and expects to get paid afterwards, musicians do too. But, it seems that more and more places would rather not pay the musicians, and leave them in the mercy of the customers.

If you were a customer who just had a nice dinner or a few drinks, and paid a good amount of money (plus a tip to the waiter/bartender), would you be inclined to tip the band too?    I'm sure there is no straight answer.

I first experienced this shortly after I moved to New York. I played the early set every week with a group of seven people at a club in Harlem. Not only did they not pay us, and we had to figure out how to divide $13 worth of tips between seven people, but the band  that played after us did get paid. After that I came across many other venues that offered the same kind of terms. Some give you food, some give you one drink, some give you a percentage of the bar, and some don't give you nothing.

Along side this trend, there is an ever growing trend of playing in the park, again, for tips. When you play in the park you set your own time, you play what you want to play, no body complains about you being too loud, you see beautiful girls jogging, and most important you get paid better tips. So why would anyone want to play in a club?

On the other hand, with the small amount of venues that feature live jazz music, and the growing number of really good musicians, where would people share their music with an audience? Those venues, paying or not, are giving an artist the most important thing he can ask for - a stage to perform his art. Whether or not there is an audience to listen to it is a different question (worthy of a post of its own). After playing at one of these venues recently, a friend of mine rightly noted that it is a great opportunity to connect and acquire new fans. Unlike restaurant gigs, you can play whatever kind of music you want to, and you have more of the audience's attention.
At the end of the day, we are all (I hope) just trying to create something that expresses us, and you can't put a price tag on that anyway.

It seems that as long as there is an endless supply of good (and starving) musicians, new venues that don't pay their bands will keep popping up. Whether it is a good or bad thing, I'll let you decide. I think what Ron Carter once said sums it up the best: musicians don't know how to say 'no'.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My 28th Birthday (Dec. 30th 2009)

A birthday is as good a time as any to take a good look at yourself - past, present, and future, and do some soul searching. I am not the kind of person who needs a birthday as an excuse for soul searching, I actually find myself doing it very often, perhaps too often. But, looking at the past three and half years since I arrived to New York, I had some good experiences, and some bad ones, I met some interesting people, and some not worth mentioning, I made good music, and music I was not satisfied with. Living in New York as a jazz artist is everything but easy, at least for me. I am not a hustler, my father wasn't a jazz star in the 70s, and I don't have the networking skills to "shmuzz" my way to the top. What I do have (some of the time) is my genuine belief that I possess, or will possess something worth saying through my music. Something that is really "me" and not anyone else, and people would want to listen to.
As I look at what I was, am, and what I want to be, I think the key is to always challenge myself to do things I am not comfortable with. I never read a blog in my life, and I never understood why someone would want to read someone else's personal feelings. A childhood friend of mine, who I recently had the opportunity to get reacquainted with, convinced me that there is something appealing in the idea that you can have access to the person behind the person. Therefore, I decided to try this "blogging" (it will never catch on) thing for myself. I will keep posting my ideas and thoughts about life, and jazz in New York.
Thanks for reading, comments are welcomed.