Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Band!

The single most lacking thing I have come across since moving to Colorado is the concept of the BAND. Note to anyone reading, this post will be more directed towards personal thoughts/music, as opposed to too many specifics pertaining to music I am checking out (although that will come into play). I miss being in a unified group of musicians, being on the same page, hanging out, rehearsing, playing and the like. In Virginia I was fortunate to basically have three bands throughout college that I can think of that fit this mold that I have in my head.

The first group was a quartet consisting of Matt Coyle, Matt Johnson and Josh Reed (drums, sax, trumpet respectively). This band formed out of variations of playing in a larger jazz combo with Coyle and Josh, but then rehearsing and practicing with Matt Johnson duo. My memory is shady as to how long it took for us to start playing as a quartet, and we did play with Jamie Barnes on guitar in a various version of this group, but unfortunately was short lived as Jamie graduated and moved. Either way I remember a lot of nights just hanging out with these guys again and again, listening to music, talking about music, talking about concepts, and generally coming at music from different points, but being open with one another. There was a general consenses that we should all get good at straight ahead jazz, and yet we were listening to avant garde music, and world music, and contemporary jazz (ie Dave Douglas, John Hollenbeck, Ellery Eskelin). I was always on the bounds of wanting to push it farther "out" and playing gigs at a coffee bar, the artful dodger, gave us the chance to stretch out, especially in our limited repertoire (I wish I could go back and add more charts/tunes to our sets). Luckily the artful dodger didn't care as music about what we were doing, and we were given for the most part free reign. There were certain tunes I can remember, like a few masada tunes, footprints, autumn leaves, etc... that we would experiment more with and go "out," which Coyle and myself were usually the first proponents to do so. We played many gigs with Coyle on vibes, and those harmonically stretched out in various pedal point/noise sections. The music did get very loose from time to time, and we were all pretty young, but it was invaluable to my growth, and I would think as well for everyone else.

This band/quartet mentioned above sort of morphed as people graduated and moved away, and became a larger group of retaining Matt Johnson, adding Bobby Gregg on saxophone, Greg Lyons on drums, and Paul Forrester on guitar. Some of the gigs we were playing with the quartet, turned into gigs for this larger group. I was at a spot in my life where I was finishing school, and during the time had a lot of free time to arrange music and book gigs. This group didn't last longer than a year, but was still a very memorable experience, because personally I was doing more to get a band rehearsing and performing, which I hadn't taken as much initiative in the quartet. (which I would later on with the quartet, during breaks when we would get together and play and record music). This larger group didn't hang out as much as a whole, as everyone was coming in from different parts in their life, but still we came together musically and for the most part focused. And the main thing to emphasize is that we were a BAND and in it together, working on our sound together.

The last, but not least BAND mention is the great experience I had in a trio with Matt Coyle and David Pope. Between the two bands mentioned already and this group, I feel like I grew and learned the most during these three groups. This trio was exciting, I started playing in it after only a semester of college. In retrospect I would do a lot of things over again, as far as what I was practicing (and how much) and bring charts in and the like. This trio was a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work, and was a great experience in how to accompany. I am incredibly fortunate to have had that opportunity and the opportunities to play with all the other bands as well.

Now to my point of the issue. I feel like since I have been in Colorado I have not been in any bands (in my own definition). Everything I do out here, in my opinion are projects. I have gotten to play in a LOT of groups in Colorado and it has been a lot of fun, with great players, but with these groups they all are mostly things where you show up to rehearse/play a gig, but there isn't much hanging out. Maybe I'm wrong though, because there are bands in which I play in where that does happen, and maybe what's different is I and the people I'm playing with are older, and all from very different parts of their life. The bands have their own concept usually, be it 50/60s swinging jazz, more modal/modern jazz, funk music, rock music, vocal/r&b jazz, etc...

On my own I have formed temporary groups for gigs/recordings and have played in settings with two drummers, double quartets, free improv with all sorts of different musicians, chordless quartets to replicate the quartet from virginia (as best I could approximate), and those have worked, but nothing has lasted too long.

My lament maybe goes to not feeling like I have a group to fully express what I personally want to do musically, but also incorporating in what everyone else wants to do musically. With most gigs I play, it is to play very specific music for a specific function, but I miss being able to play music with a long term group of musicians, to play, not necessarily for certain social functions. The closest I have gotten is with the COBRA ENSEMBLE, whereas we started with playing COBRA by John Zorn, then added more contemporary classical music/improv into the mix. The longer the group was together, the more of a band it felt to me. It was also nice just not having to have the pressure of confirming to a specific audience want or desire, but doing what we wanted to, and letting the audience coming and going. I also enjoyed that at times the group was 10+ people, because with something like that, the players can become the audience. I have been reading a lot of Cornelius Cardew lately and reading about the Scratch Orchestra, and remembering how that was the first music we attempted in COBRA that wasn't COBRA.

The larger, uncontrollable group of the COBRA ensemble was great, especially with it's fluctuation in membership over the years (it is still being run by other musicians now). There must have been at least 40+ members throughout the past 3 years in different incarnations of the group, from having a group with violins and cellos and basses, to having three bass clarinets, to multi percussionists, and having brass, not having brass. The current group performed last march, and the new concept was electrification, every instrument was electrified, which is interesting to me how that can affect the sound and especially the dynamics, given that it is also a smaller ensemble.

In bringing this up I wanted to say that of myself now I wish I could form a AMM-ish group, but playing compositions. I want a small group, trio to sextet size, that would be dedicated to playing group compositions/arrangements to the best of their abilities, and with the least amount of restrictions. Ideally this band would have diverse instrumentation (percussion, strings, winds, electronics) and might feature people from different genric backgrounds (rock, jazz, classical, etc...). But more than anything I want it to be a band where there are no subs, although the group could perform in smaller ensemble versions of itself (duo concerts for instance) and would be together for a long time. I have ideal musicians in my head, some I've mentioned from these earlier bands, but the problem is everyone is always moving around, and the musicians I want to do this are all in different states around the country.

The lament and point of this is that I miss being in a band, and I have an idea of what kind of group I want to play with, and even specific people in it, but that at this juncture it isn't possible. Maybe later on in life, when I live in a different area, or find the right combination of musicians, then it will work. Until then I will continue my projects and work as a side man, which is very fulfilling, just very specific on a musical level.

My apologies for this self centered post. I have a future post coming up, on the Music for Merce Boxed Set, and also on composition(s).


  1. Good post Matt. Sadly, it is difficult to find an economically feasible way of keeping a regular, working unit of musicians. I loved having the DT band, in it's various configurations. By the time I was through paying the musicians and paying the taxes, I was lucky to break even. I could do this because I wasn't relying on that bread for my livelihood.

    It's what is so admirable about guys like Ellery Eskelin and John Hollenbeck. They certainly make a lot of sacrifices to keep their different groups together!

  2. Thanks for the response Dave. To be honest most of the "bands" I've been in haven't been economically feasible, whereas the "projects" or one time gigs are usually the ones that pay out the most. I definitely sacrifice the financial gain from time to time to play music with good friends, for the sake of the music and the joy of keeping a group together.

    I have also realized part of this is part of being a younger musician for myself, while playing around through the college years everyone is close and together and in the same place, but the older I get the more I realize everyone is always all over the place, moving here and there, and it's hard with everyone and their individual paths to keep things together.